I Am A Genius Writer In The Night Hours As Proven By These 3 AM Ruminations Gifted By The Muse And Recorded On My Notes App

February 1, 2017 § 13 Comments

zsarahbroussardweaverBy Sarah Broussard Weaver

When I wake in the night to pee, I am often blessed by thoughts that are, quite frankly, genius-level. They just flow into my brain like manna from Heaven. I must then decide whether or not to blind myself by unlocking my brightly backlit phone and jotting them in my Notes app.

Sometimes I choose to spare my eyeballs, and the world loses these priceless ruminations. I apologize for my failings in this area, and to make up for it, I am sharing some of my actual notes, which are mind-blowing and may make the world implode when they are released, pure and unadulterated, into so many minds at once.

These are presented just as they flowed down to me, so they are perfect and not misspelled or otherwise flawed. Respect the Muse. If you use any as a writing prompt, please send a small token of your gratitude. I do accept PayPal.

  1. In those nights if waking sweating and shoving off blankets to be turned cold and shivering
  2. Ideas for what happened to trumps something
  3. Dad is missing link
  4. Brain doesn’t make connections roads maps oh how did we end up here?
  5. Trump America rules- dead rat hair sexiest
  6. It’s quite right then I something it’s kind of right that something it’s not right at all that something
  7. Here comes a jelly roll all dressed up and ready to go
  8. Adraid of world never been in by hone school
  9. Things I’m surprised the president has not gotten defensive about- hair etc
  10. potato chip walls
  11. Beautiful names for ugly things bluebottle fly cabbage rose opposite?
  12. Lit critmy life
  13. Maybe c mixed with bup and sert
  14. Leaky vessel making drops of life
  15. I can’t tell how much is passing I keep staring at my burge
  16. He says affected him sleepingly
  17. This busy world writing is what makes me know what I think, because I think these things and I don’t have anyone to say them to for everyone is busy and we’re all busy really that my notebook or laptop is always there when I have time to try to figure out what it is that makes us human or that makes me long for thaT

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Sarah Broussard Weaver’s essays have been published in Hippocampus, Full Grown People, The Nervous Breakdown, and The Bitter Southerner, among others. She graduated last month from University of Portland, and is now a nervous MFA applicant who refreshes her email too often. Find her at sbweaver.com or tweet her @sarahbweaver.

A Review of J. Drew Lanham’s The Home Place: Memoirs of a Colored Man’s Love Affair with Nature

January 30, 2017 § 6 Comments

the_home_place_overlayBy Amy Wright

“There are still priceless places,” J. Drew Lanham says, “where nature hangs on by tooth, talon, and tendril.” And there remain rare breeds of humans who fall in love with a land darkened by the blood and sweat of ancestors purchased to work it.

Google a list of nature writers and a band of such similar skin tones scrolls across the screen you might be viewing a steadily receding ice cap. I recognized the bias reading Thoreau, Muir, Abbey, Wilson, Dillard, etc. but did not probe the roots of that particular privilege, which itself suggests privilege. My love of nature stems from growing up on a farm that has been in my family for at least six generations, so I hadn’t appreciated before reading The Home Place: Memoirs of a Colored Man’s Love Affair with Nature that legacy could also dissuade a sense of connection. “Conservation is simply a longer word for care,” Lanham says in an interview, but our ability to care corresponds with hope of seeing our affection requited. For many in the South, where Lanham grew up and still lives, “thousands of people can’t afford a square foot of the soil that their ancestors paid for with their lives.”

This love affair with nature is a complex one, addressed to an audience accustomed to misinformation and wary of idyllic depictions, but also in need of new models of care particularly from brown and black folks like his father. A teacher, as is Lanham’s mother, James Hoover Lanham farmed their seven acres in Edgefield, South Carolina, in his spare time to feed their family and supplement their income. Like many men of his generation, “Big Chief” expressed love more often through toil than touch. Clearing brush and stream, fixing fence and roof, his hard labor brightened the blood and filled the lungs of their home place. Young Drew watched his broad-shouldered exemplar “in bone-shivering awe as he worked through the discomfort of wet and cold without complaint.” A dimensional character as likely to recite the epic poem Beowulf as point out geological specimens of feldspar, mica, and quartz, Hoover clearly influences Lanham toward his career as an ornithologist, wildlife ecologist, and professor at Clemson University.

But his widowed grandmother, Mamatha, may be what makes Lanham the scientist he is—capable not only of publishing in peer-reviewed research journals but also of being moved by “the perfume of place: the pleasant mustiness of decaying leaves on a Blue Ridge forest floor, the sulfur stink of a Beaufort mudflat at low tide, the drunken sweetness of an orchard in October.”

Sent at age four to provide Mamatha with company in her ramshackle behind their family’s house, young Lanham grew up in her “tin-roofed, broomstraw-swept, rusting, rural, wood-fired world.” Born in 1896—one generation removed from slavery—Mamatha, “straddled nine decades and all of the history and social evolution that came along with them.” The perfect narrative device for bringing to life the cultural landscape that fledged a black birder, her character helps illustrate his unlikely calling. Plus, with her religious superstitions and knowledge of medicinal herbs, she is a fascinating personality, “a conjurer with a foot in two dimensions—this world and the spirit one.”

Lanham finds more canonical models at school, including Aldo Leopold. Fans of Sand County Almanac will appreciate its influence on Lanham’s descriptive prose:

Loblolly is a fast grower that stretches tall and mostly straight in forests that have been touched occasionally by fire and saw. In open stands, where the widely spaced trees can grow with broom sedge and Indian grass waving underneath, bobwhite quail, Bachman’s sparrows, and a bevy of other wildlife to call home. But where flames and forestry have been excluded, spindly trees fight with one another for sun and soil and will grow thick like the hair on a dog’s back.

But giving voice to place is particularly important to those who have long been dispossessed, Lanham says, since it yields a critical sense of self-purpose and belonging.

Through his observations of loblollies and church sermons, vireos and southerners, Lanham provides another model, harvesting affection for a place that is not always receptive to it. His writing style fosters integration by drawing together the narratives of slavery and conservation and the languages of science and literature. The Home Place thus supports a promising shift in an age-old dialogue increasingly aware of diversity’s role in propagating holistic communities and resilient ecosystems.
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Amy Wright is the author of the poetry collections Everything in the Universe, and Cracker Sonnetsas well as five chapbooks, including the prose collection Wherever the Land Is. With William Wright she co-authored Creeks of the Upper South, a lyric reflection on the connection between waterways and cultural habitats.

The Rumpus: Now a Matriarchy

January 25, 2017 § 5 Comments

Marisa Siegel recently took on the role of Editor-in-Chief and owner of The Rumpus, and we are pleased to offer her our blog today to share thoughts on the magazine’s future and the challenges ahead:logo-sm.png

I sometimes believe in luck and I definitely believe in timing. But I don’t believe in fate, or destiny, or even (especially) God. Still, every now and then a series of coincidences leads to a conclusion that may in hindsight seem like fate. You look back, and it may feel like a force was guiding you toward a future you did not plan but also marched directly toward. A future that you didn’t foresee but embraced, in small but meaningful ways.

In the fall of 2012, I was on an airplane going to visit a friend I’d met on the Internet. This is not typical behavior for me, but that visit began a friendship that has become one of the dearest in my life. On that airplane, I was skimming Facebook posts and saw a call for Rumpus poetry reviews. I emailed Brian Spears, Rumpus Poetry Editor, and my first review for the site appeared a few months later.

In June of 2013, The Rumpus’s first Music Editor, Katy Henriksen, put out a call for assistant editors.  I answered that call, because I was in love with The Rumpus by this point, and looking for a way to get more involved. I became Katy’s Assistant Music Editor.

In late August 2013, Stephen Elliott sent out a Daily Rumpus asking for help with a new project, the now-defunct Weekly Rumpus. I replied, and we met for coffee. By early September, I was Managing Editor of the Weekly Rumpus, an app and PDF version of the site that also included exclusive original content.

Marisa-Siegel-square_LJ-Studios.jpgIn late November of 2013, I found out I was three weeks pregnant. This was not unexpected, because I was trying to be pregnant, but it was fraught, because I’d had three miscarriages in the prior year.

In April 2014, I was nearing the final trimester of my pregnancy. Stephen wrote and asked me if I’d consider taking on the role of Managing Editor of the site. I said yes. I didn’t even hesitate. A full-time job was not a part of my parenting plan, but this was not an opportunity I could pass on. I’m a Managing Editor through-and-through—details, organization, and structure are how I get through life. And I could work from home, staying active in the literary community and keeping my resume alive, while caring for my newborn.

In August 2014, my son was born. Four days later, we brought him home, and my mom let me know that my father died. I’ve written about my father before, in the Daily Rumpus and here on the site. He was an abusive drug addict, and dying was the only decent thing he ever did. I stopped worrying he’d find out I had a child and come around. I stopped feeling angry every time a good person passed away and I knew my father was out there breathing air and snorting coke. And, after a year of lawyers talking to lawyers, I was able to “inherit” a small sum of money that he had stolen from my mother in a nasty, long-time-coming divorce years earlier.

I put this sum of money in bank account and waited for something to do with it. I wanted to spend it on something that felt meaningful to me, something that would somehow—in light of the weight of the history surrounding this money—allow me to feel lighter. I knew I wasn’t going to spend my inheritance frivolously, but I also wasn’t going to spend it paying down student loans or buying groceries. I had to find just the right reason to use it. This fall, that reason became increasingly clear. The thing to do with the money was to buy The Rumpus, to invest in it and help it continue and grow, especially now, especially in light of a Donald Trump presidency. I promised we would not look away, and we will not.

I have valued every moment of my time at The Rumpus, in all of the above roles. As Managing Editor these last three years, I’ve had the opportunity to create amazing events, make space for and work with writers on pieces that I’m personally so very proud of, oversee a staff of talented and creative and dedicated volunteer editors, bloggers, and artists, and connect with readers in meaningful ways that continue to surprise me.

I look forward to continuing the site’s tradition of featuring underrepresented and new writers and subject matter, particularly in our country’s disturbing current political and cultural climate. The Rumpus will not back away from the dangers ahead and we believe that writing has an important role in the fight against inequality and injustice. The Rumpus will continue to be a voice of dissent against policies of hate.

Deputy Books Editor Lyz Lenz will take on the role of Managing Editor. I first “met” Lyz by email, when she answered a call for bloggers and I replied that she was overqualified for the position. I still remember her answer: I love literary magazines, and I want to write for you. After blogging for nearly two years, Lyz became Deputy Books Editor. I met Lyz “IRL” (as the kids say) at AWP Minneapolis, and she became my hero. It was my first AWP, my first time away from my then-infant son, my first time organizing a literary reading. I was a mess. She brought me allergy meds, made sure I ate food, volunteered at our bookfair table way more than she needed to, and generally proved herself to be the woman you want standing next to you when about to embark on a thrilling but also terrifying journey.

What plans do I have for The Rumpus? In addition to growing traffic, revenue, and optimizing the site for mobile readers, I hope to expand our real-world presence and continue to build its community with increased appearances at conferences and events in cities across the country (not just in New York and California) and to increase The Rumpus’s focus on small, independent presses across all verticals on the site. I want to refocus our mission such that every piece we choose to run, every book we choose to review, is selected through the lens of what is going on in our country and around the world. And, I want to reach a point where we can increase our pay to writers, from a nominal fee to a more industry-standard rate for feature articles.

We’ll also be creating an advisory board to help guide the site forward toward reaching its goals. We’ll be choosing writers, editors, and members of the literary community who we look up to, and whose opinions and advice we know will be valuable to us. We’ve already shared that we are thrilled to have Melissa Febos, who also serves on the Board of Directors of VIDA: Women in Literary Arts and the PEN America Membership Committee, and Mary-Kim Arnold, author of Litany for the Long Moment forthcoming from Essay Press in 2017 and former Rumpus Essays Editor, join us. We look forward to announcing the full advisory board shortly!

The next four years will surely test us all. Likewise, taking on the task of running a business—yes, there is a business to this literary world we love—and trying to keep a small, independent literary website alive will surely test me. I hope you’ll join me in trying my very best to make a difference. To keep the importance of storytelling and poetry and craft vibrant at a time when those in power will be doing anything but.

Let’s go ahead and keep writing like motherfuckers, and keep fighting like motherfuckers. Always stronger together, and always looking right at the truth.

 

 

 

 

 

Why I Write Personal Essays

January 24, 2017 § 9 Comments

By David Bersell

After Major Jackson

zz-david-bersell-headshotBecause I relate to Kanye West.

Because I am not a rapper.

Because I am not a comedian.

Because I am not a poet.

Because I am like you.

Because you are special, but your loneliness isn’t.

Because a tornado pulled me from my mother’s arm and I learned to fly.

Because AOL Instant Messenger and The Real World killed music videos and newsprint on fingers, on tongue.

Because my war was watching towers fall.

Because trees are beautiful.

 

Because Joan Didion is a fox.

Because I am where antique-green water meets mud, the in-between.

Because please, because thank you.

Because the train rumbles past my house every day. I used to pause when the walls started shaking, but now I know I am safe.

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David Bersell is the author of The Way I’ve Seen Her Ever Since (The Lettered Streets Press) and Nashville Notebook (forthcoming from Ursus Americanus Press). He is from New Hampshire and lives in Brooklyn.

The Life-Changing Magic of Brevity’s 54th Issue

January 17, 2017 § 1 Comment

salvage-slideBrevity’s January 2017 issue looks at typos, teeth, Toledo, lunch lady arms, and Einstein’s theory of time and space, featuring fine flash nonfiction from Brenda Miller, Daisy Hernandez, Sonya Huber, Sean Thomas Dougherty, Sean Lovelace, Beth Ann Fennelly, Lucinda Roy, Jill Talbot, Lori Jakiela, Elizabeth K. Brown, Paula Cisewski, Eleanor Stanford, Allegra Hyde, Michele Morano, David Naimon, Staci Greason, and Maya Zeller. With original artwork by Allison Dalton.

In our craft section, Brandon Schrand considers our ability to equivocate artfully in the essay, Peter Selgin examines the need to resist total seduction by sounds and surfaces, and Rachel Tolliver and M. Sausun discuss nonfiction and social justice in the new political era.

Exactly what are you waiting for?

A Writing Life, Despite

January 16, 2017 § 9 Comments

zz_nina_bw_02smallBy Nina B. Lichtenstein

A few years ago I took a fancy-schmancy aptitude test in an elegant historic brownstone in Boston. I had just completed my PhD in French lit, and had fast come to realize that a little “portfolio diversification” would be wise, considering French departments were shutting down across the nation, and that to each job opening there were typically 400+ applicants; this regardless if it was for a tenure-track or a contingent faculty position, or if it was in Muskogee, Oklahoma or at a small New England private college where I had envisioned myself growing old amidst the climbing ivy and quintessential campus quad.

I decided it would be worth the rather steep price for the two-day testing with a follow-up session deciphering the results, because as long as my work could involve writing of some sort, I was committed to keeping an open mind to options beyond academia. I wanted, or hoped, to leave with some proof on paper of other useful abilities of mine that I could combine with writing. What if I was really cut out for being a dairy farmer or social worker instead and just didn’t know it? The idea intrigued me as much as it horrified me. While I was afraid to learn things I was not prepared for, I also needed to find out that I hadn’t come this far for no reason.

After two days of intense testing, I left with one big, strange new word in my pocket: Ideaphoria: “An experience where one feels a constant onslaught of new ideas, creating a euphoric state of idea creation.” I, however, remain convinced that this term is just nice talk for ADD, the state of mind that can be both a blessing and a curse.

I know that this “diagnosis” might be a common problem among writers: Many of us keep generating neat ideas for essays and short stories, and we sit ourselves down, like Anne Lamott tells us to, butt in chair, and begin to write with enthusiasm and energy, only to find that after the second or third paragraph, we open another document, feeling urgently the need to move on to the next exciting idea, of which several have revealed themselves by association as we were writing. Enthused anew like a butterfly in its mid-morning ecstasy on a mild summer day, fluttering from flower to flower in an instinctive and euphoric search of the sweet nectar, we move on.

The problem is, of course, that few things are completed this way for humans looking to develop their vocation as a writer.

I can tell you that this ideaphoria thing feels like being high, and when it hits I run as if airborne to my computer where my fingers dance on the keyboard while I float, gleefully, like I’m catching an exhilarating ride on the wings of a butterfly. However, contrary to the butterfly who might be rescuing a colony of pupae, or ensuring the continuity of a genus of wild roses as it moves on to the next source, my fluttering remains just that: a sweet but brief lingering among fertile but incomplete paragraphs that cannot and will not develop unless I pollinate them consistently and with conviction. The result is that I have countless folders of undeveloped barely begun stories.

Just now, for example, I feel an immense and uncomfortable restlessness because since I sat down this morning and began writing this piece, I have a new, brilliant, and urgent idea for a blog post. I also thought of a pitch for “Israel Story,” the Israeli version of “This American Life,” that I simply must pursue, like now. Waiting until I’m done here feels like torture. Or masochism, since I don’t have to take it, but do anyway.

But, I will take it this time, because it would be too ironic if I leave this page now.

Since I was born and raised both in a time (1960s-70s) and in a country (Norway) where diagnosis such as ADD and ADHD were neither made nor medicated, I must have taught myself how to adapt and adjust. I recall report cards reading, “Nina disrupts in class and walks around the room without asking permission,” and as a kid I didn’t hide under the covers with a flashlight and book, but roamed my neighborhood in search of curiosities I would get in trouble for exploring.

Somehow, I managed along the way to complete a BA, an MA and then the PHD, requiring no small effort of task completion. I forgot to say that I’m also insanely stubborn and have occasional perfectionistic tendencies: curses in relationships but blessings in the business of finishing a project, although more often the butt out of chair kind, like painting or re-organizing my closet.

I have come to realize that in many ways I’ve learned to navigate this “diagnosis” ever since those early years in Oslo, since although I struggle to bring all the ideas I get so euphoric about to paper, and then onward toward completion, the stubborn part in me enables me to eventually finish a few of them, and send them out into the world. And there is struggle: the frustrations and disappointments from rejections as well as the inevitable self-doubt laced with resignation and self-loathing. But, occasionally it happens, an essay is accepted, and a veil is lifted as I realize I can do it. In fact, this sounds just like what I keep reading a writer’s life is often like.

And nobody said it was going to be easy.

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Nina B. Lichtenstein is a native of Oslo, Norway, and holds a PhD in French literature from UCONN. She has lived, studied/taught, and raised three sons in CT. A fresh empty-nester, she migrated north to Maine to pursue a quiet writing life, which is constantly interrupted (see diagnosis). Her first book Sephardic Women’s Voices: Out of North Africa just came out, and currently she lives in Jerusalem working on a new book project. Some of Nina’s writing lives on her blog https://vikingjewess.com/, and other essays have been published in The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, Lilith Magazine, and Literary Mama, among other places.

Rejection Apocalypse

January 13, 2017 § 13 Comments

zz-roger_099By L. Roger Owens

John, author of the Bible’s book of Revelation—his apocalypse occurred on the island of Patmos. Mine began in a shopping plaza parking lot two days before Christmas.

I’d just dropped my wife off at the grocery store to buy the final foodstuffs for Christmas Eve dinner, along with everyone else, judging by the traffic. I decided to walk to Wine & Spirits to buy her a bottle of Bailey’s Irish Cream, the one gift she wouldn’t expect. As I stepped out of the car I pulled out my phone so I could check my email, which I hadn’t done it in the past two hours. We’d just finished a long lunch with friends at the new Indian restaurant, during which I managed to keep the thing out of sight. But I’d checked it often the past two days, expecting confirmation that a magazine piece I’d written had been accepted. An associate editor praised the piece two days earlier and forecasted that the buck-stops-here editor would say, “Great; do a little editing.” I was weaving among the parked cars like a lab rat mazing his way toward cheese when I saw it. But I didn’t have to open the email to know its contents. I could see enough from the first two lines—an obligatory “thank you,” an ominous “but,” a definitive “not.”

I thought of my ten-year-old son. Last spring he auditioned for the middle school honors band. He was a rising six-grader, the best saxophonist in his elementary school band. He brimmed with confidence. A week after the audition a letter arrived. Daddy-spy that I am, I held it to the light before giving it to him. I saw typed on the band director’s floral-print stationary, the font inappropriately cheery, her judgment: “not this year.”

“It’s probably the letter telling me I got in,” my son said as I handed it to him.

“Well, there’s no way to know what the competition was like, or how many sixth-graders she accepts,” I warned. As he read, the confidence leeched from his face, his expression turned from hopeful to puzzled to sad, saltwater pooled in his eyelids.

Now frozen in that parking lot, flurries whirling around me, I became a ten-year-old boy again—deflated and confused. Until an impatient SUV driver honked to hasten me along.

By the time I made it to Wine & Spirits disappointment had turned to anger, the kind that keeps you from thinking straight, which explains why I was looking for the Bailey’s in the domestic whites aisle. Why did that first editor have to give me false hope? I thought, as I wandered the store aimlessly. I needed someone to blame.

Apocalypse: in the popular imagination, a cataclysm. But really it’s a revelation, an unveiling. An apocalypse doesn’t destroy reality. It discloses reality by destroying illusion. John’s revealed a cosmic battle between good and evil. But they don’t have to be cosmic in scope. A rejection email can occasion one on a blustery day in a strip mall parking lot.

I began to see that in the past two days I’d invested that article with a significance embarrassingly beyond its due. I imagined the future: my academic dean passing around the magazine at a faculty meeting, as she does with faculty publications, and my wine-sipping colleagues admiring my article. They nod their approval, finally seeing the value in my dabbling in creative writing. The essay would certainly secure my receipt of tenure.

I imagined the senior editor of the magazine loving it so much he invites me to become a contributing editor. Roger, you simply have to write for us every month!

I imagined the acquisitions editor of a major press asking me to turn it into a book—the book destined to secure my promotion to full professor.

“Dreams of fame and fortune die hard,” Frederick Buechner once wrote, “if they ever die at all.” It took a rejection email to kill these dreams, to reveal them for what they were: sad delusions. This little crow-bar of an apocalypse began to pry apart the joints of the imaginary mansion I’d been living in until all that was left was a pile of rubbish. And watching the demolition hurts.

Until it doesn’t anymore. Because seeing clearly will always—eventually—feel better than living in the mist of make-believe.

Many have written about writing as a spiritual practice, usually referring to the act of writing itself: facing the terror of the blank page, keeping the hand moving, relinquishing perfectionism, not fearing what shows us, not so much you won’t put it on the page—all of this, the spirituality of writing.

But it also includes the disillusionment caused by rejection. Because before we can see what’s there, what’s real, we have to break off our love affair with illusion. Let the dreams of fame and fortune die. Submit to apocalypse. We can choose not to—we can keep spinning the narratives in our minds, keep blaming the editors or writing-group members or anyone else whose reaction to our work doesn’t fit into our imaginary world.

Or we can let the revelation do its work.

Now that my essay doesn’t bear the weight of winning me tenure or wowing book editors, I can begin to see it for what it is: a decently crafted piece that—as the senior editor said—would fail to capture a reader not already familiar with its subject. I can begin to remodel it, improve it. I can explore other publications, even less prestigious ones, that might make a better home for it. And I can see that making this essay do what it can do—all that it can, but not more than it can—is no one’s responsibility but my own.

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Roger Owens teaches spirituality at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. He’s written for numerous publications including The Christian Century, Weavings, and Faith & Leadership. He is the author of, among other books, Abba, Give Me a Word: The Path of Spiritual Direction.

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