Friday, December 18, 2015

Dear September through December...

A Letter to My First Semester in the MFA


Dear September through December,

Where on earth have you gone?

When I came to Southern Connecticut, I was warned that the estimated 2+ years in the MFA program would fly quickly. But I had no idea that *you,* oh First Semester -- with all your baggage of new location, new people, new standards, new life at home -- would be so nimble and slip by so easily. Yet here we are, at the end of the experience.

So I step off the whirlwind and survey what's left. Like any new experience, you brought some things, eliminated others. There are novelties, lessons, and yes, even damage (but that's normal and okay). There are some doubts removed, others inserted. You are messier than I (naively) thought you'd be. But that doesn't I change how grateful I am for the encounter.

So September through December, with every writerly fiber of my being, thank you for teaching me the following:

1. Time is rare and precious in the MFA.
As noted earlier, I realized quickly that my time in the MFA is going to speed by. Add to that a busy semester schedule of a graduate assistantship, commuting, non-writing classes, and life in general, and I've got much less "pure writing time" than I thought I would. In fact, I was devastated to find that I produced very little *new* material for workshop this semester, but rather re-worked some old things (although that's not entirely uncommon, apparently). While the hecticness of grad school left me overwhelmed as a newbie, I think it was valuable for me to learn how easily time can be taken for granted. If I'm to make the most out of this program, I have to use wisely every minute of it (and as an ADHD-esque person, I have to work doubly hard). Short-term, that means sacrificing what little "free time" I have to do anything MFA-related, whether it's writing or reading. Long-term, it means knowing ASAP what my thesis is going to be and getting started on it. (There's no such thing as a "head start" on that.) The MFA, as a parallel to the writer's existence, is not a 9-5 job; it's a lifestyle.

2. Messy is okay.
As a perfectionist, this was a hard lesson to swallow, but a lot of times quantity trumps quality in the MFA. Because time is hard to come by in this program, it's important that I make writing a regularly scheduled habit (*not* something at the whim of the Muse) to constantly churn out new material -- and one result of that is going to be a lot of less-than-superb work. Basically, I just don't have the time or luxury to make every single thing I write brilliant, but that's okay. The expectation in my MFA workshops (in the beginning, at least) is not that I prove I'm a great writer, but that I'm writing.
Moreover, because workshops are expecting drafts and not polished pieces, they're a good opportunity to grow in my work via trial and error. After I turned in my first workshop story, my professor commented (to paraphrase): "It's a very neatly structured and deftly-written story, but human life is much messier than this. I give you permission to be messy." Essentially, I had played it safe, writing something that I knew I could pull off successfully, without endeavoring to *grow* as a writer by stretching new muscles. But in MFA workshops, taking risks -- even if the result is an ugly mess -- is commended, because it means I'm not remaining content or stagnant with my process. Conclusion: improvement will come with much more material and many more tried strategies, not with a few pretty pieces.

3. I will both love and hate my literature electives.
Due to the structure of SCSU's curriculum, I had to take 2 literature courses and 1 workshop this semester, which was a lot tougher than I anticipated. (I probably read more in this semester alone than in my whole college education combined.) On my worst days, I felt like the literature classes were a waste of time and a distraction from my writing, particularly as it's so difficult for me *not* to work hard at everything (I promise that is not a bragging right, it's a curse). But as I mentioned at the beginning of the semester, maintaining a scholarly / reading perspective is extremely helpful for the creative part of the brain, mainly because the insane amount of mandatory reading has introduced me to so many different styles and structures for writing. While I don't think I'll be producing a novel like Dickens's or Zora Neale Hurston's, reading their work (and noting their contrasts) has definitely given me some ideas for my own.

4. It's not cool to slack off in workshop critiques.
Especially with end-of-semester stress, it's very easy to get caught up in how the program is benefiting me and my writing, and yet to forget about my fellow workshoppers. The MFA is a program that relies on community, on giving and receiving feedback from fellow, professional-aspiring writers. So while an MFA writer might not necessarily follow my advice, there is nevertheless an obligation to try to give them good advice -- to respond to their work as thoughtfully, professionally, and respectfully as I'd want them to respond to mine. It's a waste of people's time to give BS-ed, last-minute critiques that are not reflective of their hard work. If my workshop experience is dependent on the quality of the people in it, I also need to strive to be a quality contributor. So, even when the personal stress is high, critiques are the last thing I can get lazy about.

5. It's all on me to prioritize my writing.
My takeaway this semester is that, if I want to be a writer, I have to be in it 100%. It's easy to blame lack of writing on my classes, my GA schedule, my ADHD-like symptoms; but at the end of the day, how much I write or don't write is all on me. If this were professional life and not grad school, I'd have even less "free time" to devote to writing. The goal of the MFA is not to make it easy for me to write, but to train me to make it a priority amid the chaos of real life. If writing is my top priority, it means I will revolve everything else I do around that -- that I will be always writing or brainstorming to write or reading to get inspiration to write or just getting a non-writing assignment out of the way so I have more time to write. Sometimes it will means doing less-than-stellar work in some areas so I can work harder on my writing. Sometimes it will mean writing even when I'm not well-rested or comfortable. But just like every other passion in life (family and friends and dreams), if I love it enough, I will make the time for it.

September through December, it's been an enlightening, harrowing, doubtful, happy, crazy, and uplifting experience. Thank you for your lessons.

January through May . . . here I come.

Grace and peace to you.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Interview with The 3288 Review

Dear Reader,

Another month come and gone, and what a busy existence grad school is! The work load is picking up, but not a day goes by that I'm not grateful to be in such a great environment, to see the skills and confidence I acquired in undergrad coming into play, and to be pursuing what I love to my geeky heart's content.

Within the publishing world, I have a brief update to share with you. In light of their recent debut, The 3288 Review (where my story "This Is How We Mourn" was published) has been conducting an interview series with contributing authors from their first issue. I'm happy to say that my interview went up last night, so if you're interested to know more about how I got into writing and about this amazing new journal, please check it!

You can read my interview with John Winkelman, editor of The 3288 Reviewhere.

In spite of the heavier work load, I'm starting to get into the rhythm of this grad school thing, so with luck I will be back with the usual excessively ranting posts in no time! :)

Grace and peace to you.
PS, did I mention I got new glasses? Because I got new glasses. I'm definitely embracing the nerd look again.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Publication Alert: WGT, "The Guilt Factor"

Dear Reader,

I'm happy to say that yet another post from the blog is featured on Writers Get Together this weekend. I can't get enough of the kindness and outreach this site provides for small bloggers like myself. Please check out not only my post, but all the great resources from fellow writers they have available!

You can read my article here.
About the work:
I think the title and subject matter pretty much speak for themselves: the piece is a look at how guilt often enters the writing process, and how I'm learning to cope with it. In grad school, I'm still coping with it. Only last weekend I was having a guilt-induced meltdown while writing a story for 20+ hours. I will add, however, that the relaxed atmosphere of my workshop class is gradually teaching me to calm down a little. A supportive workshop is the one place where it's okay to make mistakes in your writing, because everyone is only there to help.

Maybe there will be less crying sessions this semester. Yeah, that'd be good.

Oh, one other piece of exciting news: my contributor copies of The 3288 Review just came in, and with it my very first paycheck as a writer. WHAT AN AMAZING FEELING! The journal is stunningly beautiful, by the way, so do consider purchasing a copy.

Grace and peace to you.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Beginnings

What I've Learned in the First Two Weeks in the MFA


1) As with undergrad, days blur easily. I didn't notice until after this weekend that the first Friday of the month had come and gone without an update from me to you. (Insert guilty, cringing face.) While I don't expect I'll be able to keep up the semimonthly quota, I will nevertheless endeavor not to let this blog fall away to the wayside during this semester. Feel free to subscribe via Facebook, Twitter, or e-mail to help keep track of my whereabouts, too.

2) 1.5 hour commutes (x2) are most productively spent resorting to audiobooks to keep up with class readings. For a delve-in-deep, write-in-the-margins book lover, it's a hard transition -- but in grad school, necessity trumps taste. (Advertisement: Librivox is a great resource for free audiobooks in the public domain.)

3) Re: above, the biggest struggle is when cool words come up and I have to repeat it to myself like an idiot until I can look it up in the Dictionary later.

4) Southern Connecticut State University is very crowded, all the time, so that every time I step into the hallway I feel like I'm stepping into a raging river of people. Thankfully, the International Education office where I work during the day is a quiet haven, full of kind colleagues, so the introvert stays happy.

5) Re: above, I love my graduate assistantship position. For the time being I'm doing clerical work for the out-going students office of International Education, where 99% of my small band of colleagues are either current or former MFA students. Clerical duties might sound boring on paper, but I assure you that small tasks are beautiful for allowing the introspective creative mind (mine, at least) to breathe -- and I get to learn a lot about studying abroad. I've a lot to learn still, but I'm enjoying it.

6) Grad school is code word for "geek heaven" -- i.e., it's where people truly, fixatedly passionate about a particular field gather for meaningful discussions and study. While I was grateful to have a great deal of this at my undergrad program, there's something about grad school where the seriousness and focus of study becomes elevated, because everyone here feels invested in the literature we read. It's refreshing.

7) Re: above, my creative side needs the scholarly side to remain active. I thought I'd hate taking three lit courses on top of my workshop, but already my lazy brain is crying "Thank you." In fact, when I had to drop one course for time-management's sake, I was heartbroken to cut Shakespeare's Language, after we'd spent the first class in impassioned argument over what Old Willy meant by "stone" and "others." Meanwhile, Victorian Novel continues to bring back childhood memories, while Harlem Renaissance provides a much-needed historical perspective.

8) The quality of workshops depends upon the quality of people . . . And part of that quality is about diversity. When applying for MFA programs, I had fears of ending up in a homogenized, sophomoric bunch from whom I could learn little. But I'm glad to say that our class is refreshingly diverse: we have a single mom writing non-fiction, an Indiana native who grew up on a farm, fresh-outta-undergrad youngsters like me writing about family crises. The range of age-groups is something for which I'm particularly thankful, as I know it ensures varied degrees of skill and insight.
9) The quality of workshops depends upon the quality of people (continued) . . . And part of that quality is about picking and choosing. While your chances of finding exceptionally skilled writers increases with grad school, every workshop will still have writers whose style and input you relate to, and those you don't. In my first class, we were asked to read aloud some of our work, and judging by what I heard, there are already a few people whose writing I admire more than others, and are therefore people in whose advice I'm likely going to be more interested. That may sound mean and narrow-minded, but it's how the writing world works. Developing your writing is not a democracy; you pick only the advice you trust the most.

10) Being comfortable matters in the adult world. I'll admit that I entered the school year in fear and trembling, but very quickly I was made to feel welcomed by my colleagues and like I had a reliable support group. (On Day 3 I was already asking submission advice from a classmate.) I'll be honest: I'm a terribly sensitive person. I've fared well under pressure and the fear of judgement, but I'm a wimp who needs encouragement along with criticism in order to feel like what I'm doing is worth continuing. Here I feel relaxed (at least until the workload increases), encouraged to pursue what I love, and (lo and behold) like it's going to be a fun semester -- which provides a different kind of freedom to write than what I usually allow myself. Sometimes, we blossom most not when we are pressured, but when we are comfortable -- and maybe that's what I'll find here.

11) I'm very, very, very happy to be here.

Grace and peace to you.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Don't Make It All Brilliant

Thinking Back, Looking Ahead


Bridge over SCSU entrance

Dear Self,

You hesitated again. You were awake in the early hours, looking at the white, empty glare of a wordless page. You approached your computer, sat, and immediately felt weight, sting, a flare of fear. You dreamed, just for a instant, with your fingers suspended over the keys, of forms and voices, all your own. But you hesitated, then strode to the other side of the room again. It was a fear so visceral, it made you flee.

You're afraid lately, and you should be. (Don't let anyone tell you that you shouldn't be.) This summer has let you stand with one foot on success, the other dangling over an unknown abyss. On that one sure foot, you've grown, dear. You learned the personal discipline of writing for yourself, of not relying on others for direction or deadline but rather trusting in your own hard work and inspiration. Your blossoming publishing record has given you confidence that others find value in your work, and that you have the ability to leave a sliver-sized mark in the writing world. I mention all this not to inflate your ego or to say you've got it down pat; I say it to remind you that you are, indeed, a writer. Your heart and talent is in it, girl, and nothing fulfills you like this does.

Keep at it, for Lord's sake.

Somewhere between steadiness and instability, you've also seen what life and love can do to the artist. In love, you now know both the breaking and strength of a heart in five months' distance from a loved one; and, of course, the mend of reunion. You learned that love can be silent; that it can be an unspoken, mutual drive for creation as you work in separate corners; that, sometimes, the human warmth of another in a room is enough. In life, you've overcome months of writer's block with solitude and a hint of sad memories. You've pulled your hair over bad word-choices and confusing editors and submission etiquette, and that is perfectly okay -- you are a learner in this field, and experience is among the best of teachers.

You may feel a little woozy from the ups and downs, but they are normal, and you'll learn to make rhythms with them.

Then there is the dangling foot on the edge, that pesky thing called Future (which isn't so very far away). Tomorrow marks the beginning of your graduate studies as an MFA fictioneer. The emotions of anticipation you feel contain some excitement, I think, but mostly terror -- terror both general and
intimate. (Please, don't be ashamed of that.) With this step, you're balancing life changes, namely finding yourself loving somebody 7,000 miles away. You look forward to entering a community of fellow writers, while fearing judgement. You're grateful for the challenge to prove yourself, while fearing you'll be proven a fraud. There is the up-close, day-to-day terror: the hesitation. How to write without another supportive heartbeat in the room. How to write with the weight of giving a character life and the fear that it might not be enough life. How to write with the sting of words meant to sing and the fear that their melody might fall flat. Your strength and weakness is your high standards, dear. They will keep you improving, or they will keep you hesitating.

How do you push past the pause?

Dearest, my advice to the over-the-edge you is to look back on the on-the-ground you. When things get messy this fall (and they will -- don't delude yourself to thinking they won't); when despair and self-doubt threaten to shatter your drive, look back on what you did this summer. If a small voice ever whispers, "You're not fit for this," I give you permission to bask in your past glory a little bit, and remind yourself, "I'm a writer." Whether you write ten or three hours a week, whether you succeed at a project or fail at it, writing is what fulfills you, so a writer is what you are. Don't forget it.

My second advice to you is confusing, and I don't know if others will quite understand it, but it is this: don't make it all brilliant. This is not permission to be lazy. Don't you ever, ever cast aside that desperate, insatiable, impossible desire to be the best writer you can be. But at the same time, when you feel suffocated under the weight of what feels like a duty to be perfect, I bid you to take a moment to look back on what you wrote this summer, without professors or community or grades. Did every item you wrote achieve perfection in every aspect? No. Didn't every poem, every piece, fall short, just a little, on something: a flowing rhythm, but a limited vocabulary; glittering words, but simplified form? In your strive for greatness, it is tempting to think you must shine in every stylistic element -- but you'll only blind yourself and your readers that way. Don't be afraid to let one area sparkle, and highlight that sparkle with understatement elsewhere.

Moreover, dear, when your heart is aching because one story didn't achieve everything another did, I want you to look back and count, both in your writings and in others'. Does every piece you've read or written shatter the world? Does every piece represent the author at his or her absolute best? No. But I ask you this: does that eliminate the piece's value? Wasn't there always some one, small, beautiful thing to capture? Didn't the smudge of imperfection somehow make it all the more moving? Don't make it all brilliant, writer. Have faith that your work can be pleasant, or glorious, or simple, or far-reaching, and that in any of those it can achieve something valuable. You don't always have to shout symphonies; be content with a little ditty at times.

It sounds selfish, but remember that this is all to make you happy. And if happy is writing one great novel and a million mediocre poems, there is no one in the universe who can call that wrong.

Grace and peace and best wishes to you.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Publication Alert: The 3288 Review

Dear Reader,

Sorry to be posting so late this evening. To be honest, I hadn't planned on releasing anything today, but not for any wish to neglect you. As you might have seen on my Facebook announcement, I've been dealing with some rough things in my personal life, so I had fully intended to declare this a day of rest. However, happy news of another publication (my final one of a successful summer, it seems) changed those plans.
Just a hint of a key "character" in the story.
What prompted me to share this publication alert now is that it comes with a thrilling announcement: I've officially made my first earnings as a writer!!! (Can I get in enough exclamation points there?) My short story, "This Is How We Mourn," was published in the debut issue of The 3288 Review this month, a quarterly journal from Caffeinated Press, Inc. Both the publication and the paycheck came as a total surprise to me. Originally, I submitted "This Is How We Mourn" to another journal of Caffeinated Press; then, early last month, I received word from the editors that while they didn't have room for my story, they liked it so much that they decided to place it at The 3288 Review. Because the original journal didn't include compensation, I was pleasantly surprised to learn, a few weeks later, that I'd be receiving a small payment for this publication. So, I completely lucked out. It may not be enough to quit the day-job (figuratively speaking), but it nevertheless gives me an enormous sense of validation. For me, it's the culmination of my summer efforts to write and submit independently, and a milestone in my career that says, "I'm a writer. This isn't just a hobby. I'm in this for real."

You can purchase a copy of the issue in print here.

About the work:
"This Is How We Mourn" was the title story of a collection I wrote for my Fall 2014 Advanced Prose course at Westfield State University. The collection explored family death and its effects on the relationships between surviving family members. While that project was a fail as a unified, publishable manuscript, I did manage to get a few good stories out of it -- like this one. In fact, back in March I presented the unpublished version of "This Is How We Mourn" at the 2015 Sigma Tau Delta Convention in Albuquerque, NM to English students and faculty from around the country.

In other news, I spent part of my "day off" visiting SCSU campus, where I'll be starting the MFA grad program this Monday. (Oh, how the heart aches with nervous excitement.) With luck I'll have an update with my thoughts and feelings on this new adventure (pre- and post-start-day) within the next few days. Thank you again for your patience and support. Happy reading!

Grace and peace to you.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Publication Alert: The Syzygy Poetry Journal

Dear Reader,

I sit and write to you with clicks of rain at the window and an oboe trilling robustly at me from across the table. The world is right again with the simple pleasures of sounds and glances trembling in lovesickness, with loved ones home and home made lovelier than ever.

It's in the midst of such happiness that I write to inform you of another happy announcement: on Friday, no less than six of my poems were published in the maiden issue of The Syzygy Poetry Journal -- a far-reaching, starry-eyed, celestial-inspired online publication that is, in many ways, a poem in itself. The creative arrangement of poets into constellations creates a feeling of journey through this issue, as though each poet and poem were a beckoning star or planet with some gift of exploration to offer you. This is certainly a beautifully crafted publication that I'll be spending some time exploring myself, and I hope you'll do the same.

You can read my poems -- in Constellation Metaphorum -- here.
About the works: While there are quite a few poems in this publication, each one is very meaningful to me, so I find it worth sharing a brief note on all of them.

1) "absurdity has grace" -- a poem I wrote this summer, so that's another independent-writing victory for me. It's inspired by an actual moment I experienced at the piano one evening, touching upon the poeticism and meaning one can draw from the tiniest, awkwardest, simplest objects in everyday life.

2) "apparition / lost" -- a short poem I wrote for my Writing Poetry course last year, describing the simultaneous dread and thrill of having one's identity obliterated by one's surroundings.

3) "moonface" -- a shape poem depicting a lonely but resigned acceptance of slowly losing a sense of self.

4) "Faith Enough, Adam" -- yet another poem written independently this summer, which attempts to capture the loving and heartbreaking desire to express this world accurately in my awkward little words.

5) "A Child's Letter to the Sun" -- a fun, silly poem that was the first piece I wrote for my Writing Poetry course, in an assignment meant to explore different kinds of diction and voices; in this case, child's breathless, misspelled, rambling examination of the sun contrasted with sophisticated and esoteric praises. (Some of the formatting got a little off in the page layout, but it still works.)

6) "Koev halev, Sanctum somnium" -- a poem very close to my heart, as it is dedicated to my beloved beau and captures the distances we had to cross to find our way to one another. For those wondering, "koev halev" is a beautiful, obscure Hebrew phrase for which there is no proper English translation, but the closest translation is: "identifying with the suffering of another so deeply that one hurts oneself, that one's heart aches." (Definitely a future tattoo.) Meanwhile, "Sanctum somnium" is Latin for "holy dream." (Unfortunately, quite a bit of the formatting for this poem was off from its original appearance, too, with many lines right-adjusted where they should have been indented. Hopefully you can still draw the same emotions from it.)

I hope you enjoy the heavy reading today. Grace and peace to you.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Publication Alert: Yellow Chair Review

Dear Reader,

I am writing this with my heart pounding. I want to start by stating that it's probable that posts will be a rarity this month, due to a special home-coming happening only hours away. My loved one in the Army has finally finished his training and is coming home on leave today, so much of my time and loving attention will likely be directed elsewhere for a little while. I'm sure you'll understand.
On to that publication announcement: my poem "Lack of Redemption" was released last Friday in Issue 3 of Yellow Chair Review, a monthly online literary arts journal that features mainly poetry but also shorter works of prose, as well as some art. It's a young publication -- still in its first year -- which makes the volume of works included all the more impressive, and my inclusion in it all the more special for me. I have a huge respect for independent literary journal editors; it takes guts to devote all that time creating and promoting a magazine and wading through hundreds of submissions, and to still strive to display nothing but excellence. Please be sure to check out YCR's issues and share with friends.

You can view my poem here, on page 58.

About the work:
Briefly . . . "Lack of Redemption" had humble beginnings at my alma mater, Westfield State University. Previously untitled, it was written during a small flash poetry contest on campus. I can't recall the prompt I received for this contest -- something about "she" and "flowers" -- nor can I quite explain what is happening in this poem. What I can tell you is that it is a tumbling, highly emotional journey full of brokenness and disconnect (maybe the aftermath of the nasty break-up I'd been dealing with months prior -- who knows).

Sorry for the brevity, my heart's practically out of my chest now. God bless America and the Armed forces, and I will write again when I can.

Grace and peace to you.

**UPDATE***

A preview of the above-mentioned poem is now available below (image may be clearer on Web Version):

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

O'Connor Meets Chesterton

My Presentation on Flannery O'Connor
at the Springfield Chesterton Society




Earlier this month, I was privileged to be a guest speaker at the G.K. Chesterton Society of Springfield, MA, presenting on one of my all-time favorite authors, Flannery O'Connor. If you're wondering what a "Chesterton Society" is, in this case it's a men's discussion group dedicated to the late British writer G.K. Chesterton, which meets monthly to discuss topics in the spirit of one of the finest wits and most brilliant minds of the 20th century. There are many such groups around the country, although this local chapter happens to be founded by my father and is the oldest, continuing Chesterton Society in Massachusetts.

Although it's a men's group, once in awhile the society will hold a Lady's Night, which is led by a woman upon invitation and is open to all female acquaintances. I was honored and nervous to be given the opportunity to speak at this month's meeting about O'Connor, a Southern Gothic writer whose unsettling fiction dared to look boldly into the ugly parts of human nature. Though Chesterton died ten years shy of O'Connor's first publication, and though the two hailed from nations on opposing sides of the Atlantic, in much of their writings they shared common ground: fierce wit, philosophical prowess, a vivid love for Catholicism, and a strong distaste for bad art. Therefore, I couldn't think of a better setting to present on O'Connors life, philosophy, and ingenious works.


You can view my presentation in the video above.* Before you watch, a few disclaimers:

1) The nature of these meetings, particularly since they're run by my father and include several long-time friends, is informal. Therefore, chips will be eaten, cigars will be smoked, and overenthusiastic laughter at inside jokes will ensue.

2) I suffer from an unfortunate condition known as Perpetual Child's Face and Voice Syndrome. This condition becomes all the more manifest when I appear on camera, along with my nervous addiction to phrases like "um" and "y'know." I apologize for painful viewing.

3) You may be confused at moments in the video when it looks like I'm speaking without opening my mouth. Don't be. That's my twin sister's voice coming from off-camera.

4) I think most people will be fine with this given the subject matter of the talk, but just in case: an obscenity is spoken briefly to name the title of a short story by O'Connor, "The Artificial Nigger." Please note that this word is used strictly within a literary context, and is not intended to be derogatory.

Enjoy and share away, fellow lit geeks! Grace and peace to you.


*Also available on the Springfield Chesterton Society's gallery page and YouTube channel.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Publication Alert: Thin Air Magazine, Writers Get Together, and more to come!

Dear Reader,

The world never stops spinning, does it? It seemed as though the minute I returned home from the lull of a week-long vacation, I was stepping into a whirlwind of business, inconveniences, and surprises.
View of the sunset from my family's vacation stay
First, on Tuesday I received word that my story, "This Is How We Mourn," has been accepted for publication at a new magazine that's set to debut in August. I presented this story back in March at the Sigma Tau Delta Convention in Albuquerque, NM, and have received a great deal of positive feedback on it from fellow writers, so I'm excited that it will be finally appearing in published form. More details on that as it develops.

Second, by chance I discovered a nasty glitch in my e-mails that was causing multiple correspondences to skip my inbox, leaving me to wade through a mess of unread e-mails dating from up to six weeks ago. (Remember last month's publication that I didn't know about? Yep, this is what happened to that notice.) In the midst of that clean-up, I found several rejections from venues I'd been waiting to hear from, as well as -- more importantly -- two acceptance letters.

The first accepted piece has already been released at Thin Air Magazine, which is a part-online, part-print publication by Northern Arizona University's MFA Program. This prose piece is called "Night Noise," which you can view here. The second accepted piece is my poem "Lack of Redemption." That will be appearing at Yellow Chair Review in August.

Third, as of tonight, my blog as been featured yet again on Writers Get Together, a writers' networking website that has been gracious enough to publish three of my blog articles so far. You can read my article "Blue Writings," detailing the terrible dry-spell I went through some months back, on WGT's site here. (Be sure to look for my past articles on there if you haven't read them yet!)

Phew! Four publication announcements in one week. It's overwhelming. I recently glanced at my resume and realized that I've managed to land at least one publication every month since January -- and I still have stuff scheduled through to September! I continue to feel like such a beginner in this field, and yet it's humbling to see the recognition I've received in the past few months. I don't feel worthy of it at all -- there are still so many areas I need to grow in my writing -- but I am grateful knowing that so many of these small successes have been because of the constant support of my family, friends, readers, proof-readers, and fellow-writers. Without you all, I have no one to write for. I wish I could thank you all by name. But for now, please know that, even if you're an internet-reader I've never met, or a friend that only peruses my blog because I guilted you into it (ha), every tiny thing you do for me is appreciated. Thank you. With all my heart, thank you.
Grace and peace to you all.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Publication Alert: Right Hand Pointing

Dear Reader,

A few weeks ago I made an announcement on social media that, in order to make the most quality time for other creative writing projects, I am reducing the posts on this blog to the first and last Friday each month. While on a normal basis this would not include publication alerts (which would be more frequent, I hope), forgive me if this week I forgo one of my normal rants and keep it strictly business . . .
. . . Mainly because, at the moment, I am away from business. I'm writing to you from my family's vacation spot at an enigmatic beach, where I'm enjoying some of nature's most beautiful and inspirational phenomenons: ocean, sunsets, and ice-cream (okay, the latter's not nature, but it's still beautiful). However, I couldn't wait to get home before telling you about my most recent publication. This week, Right Hand Pointing published their 88th issue, with my poem "Waking Moment" appearing on the first page of contributed works. For those unfamiliar with Right Hand Pointing, it is an eleven-year-old, monthly online magazine featuring very short works of poetry (sixteen lines or less) and fiction (500 words or less). In addition to publishing a nice array of emerging writers, its focus on flash and short-short genres makes it a solid read for lessons in momentism (my own word, and by golly I'm going to get it into a glossary of literary terms someday). Well worth a read.

You can read my poem here.

About the work: This has always been a favorite little poem of mine, something short and sweet to convey how hopelessly beautiful a tiny moment can be. Language, science, analysis -- even though they make up the world around us, they are often useless in showing how or why a brief, insignificant movement in the everyday can have an almost magical and spiritual effect on us. I hope and pray that my writing will always contain a tone of being in love with moments.

The poem you see printed at RHP is not, however, the original version I created for my Writing Poetry class last year. It's actually (gasp!) a revision. Shocking, I know, given my notorious dislike of the revision process and preference for one-and-done perfectionism. When I submitted "Waking Moment" to RHP, I received a response from the editors expressing an interest in it, but asking if I'd be willing to revise the final stanza for something stronger. As a new and naive writer, receiving a request like that can evoke a mix of emotions. It's easy to have a gut reaction of feeling insulted or misunderstood, and to brush the response off as an example of someone who just doesn't "get" you. But I learned quickly (with help from more experienced writer friends) that a "rejection" of this kind is extremely good. It means the editor cares enough about your work to communicate with you about its existing issues -- issues that editors from other magazines probably noticed but only responded to with a flat-out, no-second-chance rejection. It saves you the time of submitting to countless other venues and getting only silent rejections because the editors were all seeing the same flaws that you had missed, and not bothering to tell you about them. Rather than saying, "We don't like your work, you need to change it for us," a request for revision or additional work says, "We love your work so much that we're taking the time to tell you how to get it published here." (There's a good article floating around the internet called "Submit Like A Man." Read it, love it, and for Lord's sake, follow its advice.)

I hemmed and hawed a bit, got feedback from a few writer friends, and finally decided to give the revision a go -- which proved rather challenging. Granted, the revision being asked of me was minor, but it was difficult too, considering that the last stanza is the entire crux of the poem. I was afraid I'd have to butcher my poor little poem, sacrificing its original intent for something else; but I was fortunate enough that, one morning, something finally came to me ("in a flash," as Marcel Dupré would say). The revision meant keeping the original goal intact, but changing the mechanics of its delivery: I had to reflect on what the editors might have seen wrong with my poem and why; then, instead of altering the message, I had to ask myself how to reword it in a way they could grasp.

Lessons learned from the experience: 1) Don't be afraid of being asked to revise -- it's not an insult, it's a huge compliment and a door to get in; 2) Don't let a revision mean an overhaul of your work (unless it's necessary) for someone else, but make it an opportunity to help readers recognize and love your intentions better.

Hope you are all enjoying the summer. Grace and peace to you.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Prayerful Eyes

Observing and Writing with Reverence

Forgive me if I take a moment, reader, to discuss something close to my devotional heart.
I promise I am not a proselytizer. Nor have I ever identified as a "religious writer," "Catholic writer," or faith-based writer of any kind. Those are terms that, unfortunately, have come to connote the kind of cheesy, depthless work one often sees among Christians trying to promote godly messages with no regard to artistic talent. I know I'm not a good apologist, so I usually steer far away from explicitly religious topics in my writing. Call me cowardly, if you like -- I think it's honesty.

This does not mean I've drawn a line between my religion and my art, however. Far, far from it. My Catholicism is my life. It confuses me when I hear people use the phrase "Religion isn't everything" as an excuse to write it off. No, I don't believe "religion is everything" -- that one's every word, thought, or deed must directly pertain to one's spiritual life. But (and I say this emphatically) everything is religion, in that I believe it's impossible to live a single moment without encountering something that whispers of the divine. If all good things (spiritual, physical, intellectual, and emotional) belong to God, then religion is everywhere, whether we want it to be or not. It may sound like a fluffy, narrow perspective to say that my Catholicism is the lens with which I see the world, but one mustn't forget that "catholic" means "universal" -- all-embracing. Rather than denying the physical world, or blurring it with a spiritual brush, my religion allows me to see it plainly, widely, and to love it passionately.

Perhaps, reader, you are non-religious (which is fine, I'm not here to convert you), and don't relate to the idea of finding a daily connection between spirituality and the physical realm. Let me present it this way: everything we see, whether we look for it or not, hints at something deeper, something hidden. Maybe you don't believe in the soul, but you believe in the mind, so you know that human interactions go beyond external acts -- each movement of the body connects to the brain that powers it, but also contains the nuances of feelings, thoughts, motivations. Simply being aware of those hidden elements is what gives physical humanity the kind of other-worldly aura that artists have tried to capture and lovers have tried to hold for centuries.
What does all of this mean as a writer? Even though religious concepts are mainly lacking in my writing, I want my writing process to nevertheless be permeated with the view that everything has spiritual depth. As a writer, an appreciator, a lover of the world, I am striving to see things with a prayerful eye, by which I mean four things:

First, to observe with a sense of searching. In spite of stereotypes that religion consists of blind acceptance of spoon-fed beliefs, true Catholicism (universalism) demands inquiry, study, reflection -- a careful examination of all areas of life and what it means. In examining her surroundings for inspiration, just as in religious study or literary analysis, the prayerful writers strives to look beyond surfaces and immediate impressions, believing that there is something deeper to be found (even if it's only an invented metaphor).

Second, to observe with humility. I don't know if other writers experience this, but the most moving moments in my life are when beauty (stars, conversations, musical voices) compels me to realize that creation isn't mine; humanity could write and paint for millions of years and never come close to articulating the full splendor of the natural world. Yet somehow, that helplessness to express it -- and the knowledge, as a spiritual person, that it was all created with love for us -- is what makes the prayerful writer desperate to praise, to at least write to this beautiful existence: "How will I ever adore you enough?"

Third, to observe with love. I honestly believe this: there is a virtue in loving beautiful things. If there are callings in life, I believe mine is simply to love and find beauty in whatever is in front of me. Love has many forms, but in the writing process it means having a deep appreciation, an avid attentiveness for the details of everything.  In observing, the prayerful writer must acknowledge that all persons and daily things possess hidden value and story-worthy essence. In actual writing, she must try to express that value. Writing is little more than a love letter to whatever and whomever one encounters.

Fourth, to observe, well, with prayerfulness. While I'm a die-hard church-going girl with traditional ideas about liturgical worship, I'm not one who thinks that God can only be found in explicitly godly things. Like G.K. Chesterton's practice of saying grace before concerts as well as meals, I believe that one can -- and should -- serve God by pursuing our passions ardently, whatever they may be. As Vincent van Gogh stated, "The best way to know God is to love many things" -- which is why I equate seeing a beautiful painting or reading an exquisite poem to a religious experience. Being a writer is my simple, silly way of praying, saying thank you, attempting poorly to give something back. I pray with my eyes open.

My faith has never limited my view of the universe -- only enhanced it. It makes me love and appreciate things passionately, knowing that they have a depth, a meaning; that it's all a glimpse of something more. Whether you believe in deities or not, I think we would all benefit to treat this life with reverence.

Grace and peace to you.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Publication Alert: Life in 10 Minutes

Dear Reader,

Well, talk about a surprise this morning.

Here I was, doing my semi-routine check on submission statuses (I've been sending a lot of work out lately -- hurrah submissions!), when on a whim I wandered over to the Life in 10 Minutes website and saw that the flash fiction piece I submitted to them recently was published last week.

Ironically, the piece is called "Realization."

I discovered Life in 10 Minutes only a few weeks ago, but I'm already an adoring fan. For this blog-style venue, the concept is simple: what can you express, invent, indulge in, or confess in a matter of ten minutes? Form can be almost anything -- fiction, non-fiction, poetry -- so long as it's "flash," spur-of-the-moment writing. I used to despise the idea of flash-anything, but over the years I've seen how the condensed space and (in this case) the time constraint gives one permission to freely explore the emotional aspect of the piece -- the moment-ism -- without getting caught up in details of structure. Once in awhile, it's good to shut off that analytical side of the brain, and just let go.

You can read "Realization" here.
About the work: There is a whirlwind of emotions surrounding this little publication. I am, of course, surprised and excited at the news of another publication, and also slightly flabbergasted to see that someone took a liking to my attempt at flash-fiction -- which can be a delightful bridge between poetry and prose, by the way. (The single-sentence, stream-of-consciousness style here is probably also indicative of my current Virginia Woolf obsession.) But it occurred to me, after I did my initial inner hurrah-another-published-story dance, that this is actually a significant milestone for me as a writer.

I've been trying to write a lot this summer, and although I haven't mastered it as a daily habit, I've been steadily producing at least one solid piece a week. It's frightening, sometimes, trying to approach the craft independently without a professor or deadlines to keep me in line. Occasionally I find myself staring at a new poem or story, wondering if it's any good, or if I'm incapable of producing publishable work on my own.

What makes the publication of "Realization" important to me is the fact that it was a summer project, something I wrote independently outside of any academic setting. Aside from this blog and its appearance on Writers Get Together, it is my first published creative piece that I wrote, edited, sent out, and had accepted entirely on my own (rather quickly, too), without feedback from a teacher or fellow writers. It took trusting my own judgement to know it was well-written, well-edited, and presentable work. It was a leap of faith, and somehow I made it. Few things have felt as validating as this.

I hope you enjoy the piece, and I hope to have more independent work to share with you soon.

Grace and peace to you.

Friday, June 5, 2015

The Guilt Factor

Motivation by Fear and the Means to Empathy

For me, the need to write has always had a face.
Whose face that is and what expression it wears varies. Typically, it's been the face of a writing professor that's haunted me during those long middle-of-the-night writing sessions. It doesn't matter how fair or kind the professor is; for some reason (maybe it's the dark and caffeine jitters), my imagination paints them with a steady frown, causing my stomach to knot over every word with the thought that they might be unamused by my metaphors. Other times, the face has been warmer -- that of a close friend, perhaps -- but with eyes sad and disappointed as they strain to find some value in my work. More recently, the face has been the loved one in Army training, patient and smiling, invoking a twinge of pain in me as I remember my promise to write novels in his absence, his cheerful voice saying, "It's okay, don't feel too bad about it."

There has always been a sense of guilt associated with my work, and that guilt has always felt personal because I've associated it with important people in my life. It's not that uncommon of a trait among overachievers, I suppose. How often have we psychoanalyzed the artist driven by a neurotic need to please an ever-dissatisfied parent or mentor, even years after the latter's demise? Whether it is for God or husband or mommy dearest, history is full of creators desperately striving to impress someone.

Why? Isn't love of the art enough?

For my part, guilt in its worst moments has caused the writing process to be miserable. Mainly because those disappointed faces in my mind are entirely fictitious, not at all founded upon reality. I'm naturally self-critical to begin with, and for some reason or another I often project that criticism onto others. Even if any of the people whose faces I see tell me my work is fine, a small corner of my subconscious doesn't believe them, doesn't want to believe they're being honest in their praise. There's a fine line between constructive encouragement and being too nice, and I'll be damned if I can tell the difference.

But whether those frowns are fabricated or not, my fear of disappointing others says something interesting about the writing process, I think. I would like to believe that love of writing could be its own motivator, but for me it isn't so. Even as one who thrives on solitude, I find myself needing others in my writing -- for validation, for support. Call it insecurity (and I'm sure it is, partly), but I suspect that it has more to do with empathy. While "writing for the self" is a popular trend these days, and valid in its own right, I think it fails to see what makes great literature great: its ability to evoke something in another person, to touch something deep in his roots and make him see a commonality between himself and a stranger on a page. Writing gives the guise of speaking as an individual, when in reality it speaks of humanity.

While I have no grand illusions about inspiring millions, I can't bring myself to pull the "misunderstood writer" card and write without any regard to what others think. It goes against what has impacted me as a reader, and consequently what I can only hope to achieve as a writer: if what I write doesn't inspire, if it doesn't resonate with someone, I have failed.

But I know I don't have to please everyone, nor do I want to. In his part-memoir, part-advice book On Writing, Stephen King explains that "you can't let the whole world into your story," but you can -- and should -- let in those who matter most. According to King, every good writer must have an Ideal Reader (I.R., for short); someone for whom you write, someone who, in flesh or in spirit, is always "going to be in your writing room." As King points out, sometimes a writer's Ideal Reader (like the neurotic patient's mommy dearest) is miles away or many years dead. It doesn't matter. An I.R. gives the writer a tangible audience, a direction for the writing process; someone who the writer wants to make think, laugh, cry, and feel deeply. "And you know what?" King adds. "You'll find yourself bending the story [for them] even before the Ideal Reader glimpses so much as the first sentence [sic]."

It takes a certain empathy to write with another person in mind, and to know that person well enough (at least, to think one does) to impact them. And that's marvelous, because empathy -- seeing and valuing each other's common humanity -- is what writing's all about, isn't it?

As for myself, I've found that guilt is not such a terrible thing to live with after all. That fear of disappointing my reader is what forces me to analyze my own work critically; it makes me take a second, third, and fourth look at everything, asking myself, "Is there anything else I can do to improve this part?" Having someone else in mind, moreover, often gives me a reason to write on my darkest days. As a naturally self-deprecating self-critic, I find it easy to conclude on a bad day that I'm not worth the time or effort to write. But, because I'm a compassion-driven person, someone else is always worth the work.

So, in spite of its bad rap, I don't mind living with guilt. If a visitation from a frowning face is what produces the work, so be it. Maybe, someday, I'll finally make that face smile.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Publication Alert: Facebook & WGT

Dear Reader,

It's been a good week. My pseudo seasonal-depression has been aided with the long overdue presence of outdoor weather; reunions with traveling loved ones are fast approaching; three (yes three!) solid drafts of creative writing were written in the course of seven days; and publications continue to come along steadily. Fortune must be in a pleasant mood.

First exciting writing news: Antiquarian Desiderium now has an official Facebook page, making it easier for all my fellow FB users to keep track of new posts and writerly happenings. (NOTE: the Facebook icon on the sidebar is currently under construction -- my apologies if it doesn't work.) The Twitter account is still up, too, although I continue to be befuddled by its inner workings (and that 140-character limit . . . what's a verbose girl to do?). Happy social media reading!

Second exciting writing news: For those who might have missed this announcement, I received word recently that one of my poems is destined to be published in Prairie Margin's Fall 2015 issue. More details on that as it approaches!

Third exciting writing news: It is with humble gratitude and great pleasure that I announce that Antiquarian Desiderium has, yet again, been featured on Writer's Get Together, an international writer-blogger networking site. I adored working with the WGT editors back in February, due to their genuine enthusiasm and encouragement of my work, so I was thrilled to have another chance to be featured on their site. This time they were gracious enough to publish my fan-girl praises of the sage queen-poet, Mary Oliver, which originally appeared in my two-part series entitled "Little Pink Notebook." You can view it on Writers Get Together here. Thanks again, WGT!

About the work:
There is not much that I can add to what's already said in the post itself. I am continually awed by the subtle brilliance in Mary Oliver's work. I've finally started to read her poetry in addition to her non-fiction, and have found it to be just as marvelous.

As I look back on this post, however, it causes me to reflect deeply on how much that tattered pink notebook has meant to me in the past few months. Yes, I still have it -- tumbling around in my purse, a few pages bent, illegible notes scattered so far beyond its cover that it may be time to think about a new one. Although it's seen a great deal of use, I hadn't really thought about its importance in my life until very recently, during a period of personal despair. I was ashamed of myself as a writer, finding that my computer folder of Personal Writings had been mainly neglected in the past four months. I had been lazy, I told myself; I had failed the test of being a writer on my own; perhaps I had forgotten how to write at all. I was a fake, I believed.

Then one afternoon, after having jotted something in my pink notebook, I paused and started to flip back through the pages. I was always adding things, but rarely stopped to actually go back through what I'd written, thinking it was all only momentary flashes but very little of anything reusable. When I read through it, I was astonished at what I found. There were repetitions, concepts that began in January and recurred intermittently through to May. There were real poetic excerpts, phrases that word-for-word would make a solid line for a piece. There were whole poems, essays, and stories fragmented throughout, needing only to have its pieces gathered and put together in the right order (to date, I've already made four poems and one non-fiction piece from my notes since January, and have plans for more works).

I was flabbergasted. All this time, I thought I hadn't accomplished a thing in writing for four months. I thought my ideas-well had run dry, and that I had nowhere to begin. All that time, all that material was right here, in this tiny little book, which I had been meticulously filling almost daily.

Turns out, I am a writer, after all.

Grace and peace to you.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Publication Alert: Thoreau's Rooster (And Brief Update)

Dear Reader,

The last month has been one of chaos, confusion, and changes. One moment I'm flailing my way through final exams, the next I'm donning a cap and gown, walking up to a stage and shaking hands with the president of Westfield State University to receive my Bachelor of Arts in English. My undergraduate career is officially completed, and I'm left in a daze wondering how it ended so quickly. As cliched as it sounds, I mean it when I say that Westfield was my home, my life, the place where I developed confidence in my ability as a writer and human being. I am truly humbled by the loving support I received there from professors and friends, and could never repay them for such a beautiful experience if I worked my whole life for it.

Thank you so much Westfield, you wonderful, wonderful place.
My graduation cap, with a quote taken from poet Edna St. Vincent Millay
Regarding other matters of business, I just found out today that Thoreau's Rooster, a national undergraduate journal, just released their 2014 volume on their website. My short nonfiction essay "Then Autumn Came," which appeared in the print version in the fall, is featured. I'm so excited to finally be able to share it widely with friends and family. You can read it here.

About the work:
There's a special reason why I'm ecstatic to share this with essay with you: it was my first piece to be accepted for publication. Ever. I still remember the rocket that launched inside my chest when I came across that e-mail with the subject line "Congratulations!", and the string of all-caps texts that went out to my beau and family announcing the news. That rush of joy in your first acceptance is an incredible feeling; in that moment, all your previous self-doubt flies away, your love of writing swells, and that realization of "I'm a writer" pounds strongly. It's a wonderful beginning to a lifelong journey.
The subject of the piece, additionally, is one rather close to my heart. The weaving narrative form is known as the "journal" genre, in which the focus is not on a particular anecdote but on providing glimpses that make up a person's daily life. When I wrote this for my Creative Non-Fiction class, I was in a strange place. I'd recently been through a bad break-up of a 3-year relationship, and while dealing with this disorientation, I found my writing taking a turn. In previous attempts to write, I'd always struggled with the element of plot structure: how to build up to a believable but powerful climax, and how to resolve it sufficiently in a short piece; in other words, how to transform characters quickly. As I started to experiment with my writing more, however, I discovered that the appeal of a story need not be in a journey. Sometimes, simply exploring an existing circumstance, revealing what's already there, is enough. So began my greatest aim in writing: to show the value of daily life by not embellishing it, not resolving it, but only by showing it through a different lens.

Enjoy! Grace and peace to you.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

There's a Purpose, Not a Destiny

Grad School, Life, and The Art of Deciding

(MFA decision included!)

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
To where it bent in the undergrowth . . .
~ Robert Frost, "The Road Not Taken"

Few poems have been quoted as widely or as colloquially as Robert Frost's "The Road Not Taken." For decades, it has been commonly admired as a rebellious sanction for the road "less traveled by," and is seen as a bold statement against following societal standards blindly. While the poem certainly holds a place for this optimistic view, it has always befuddled me (and several English teachers) that no one ever seems to remember anything before the final three lines. Readers are apt to quote the final stanza while ignoring Frost's prevalent tone of despair, his disappointment that he will never know what lies down that other road. (The title, after all, is not "The Road Less Taken," but "The Road Not Taken.")

Having been drowning in some major life decisions lately, I can relate strongly to Frost's agony. I was recently accepted at two graduate schools for my MFA (no fully-funded ones, sadly), and the past few weeks has consisted of many phone-calls, much hair-pulling, and much sleep deprivation as I weighed my financial and family needs carefully. In the end, I decided to attend Southern Connecticut State University's MFA program in the fall, going part-time my first year.* When I was applying for grad schools, SCSU just seemed like a safety-net option, but after speaking with past students and current professors I realized that it was a perfect fit for me right now: it seems to have that same close-knit, supportive environment that I've become so dependent upon at my undergrad school, and because it's only an hour away, the home-girl in me doesn't have to uproot her life alone. It wasn't an easy decision, though. By nature, I'm extremely risk-adverse -- which is good for keeping me out of trouble on the weekends, but it makes life decisions absolutely terrifying. No matter how much I analyze or map out each and every possibility, there's a paralyzing fear of the unknown, of the variables I can't predict or control.

Certainly, I'd say that my fear of life decisions is influenced in part by the prodigy-mania -- the cultural glorification of youth claiming that dreams must be achieved in the prime of our life, or they'll never be achieved at all. I gave up writing at 13, for almost a decade, because I foolishly thought if I didn't have my first novel written by 18 (Mary Shelley's age when she first drafted Frankenstein), I'd already failed. Yet I think there's been another, stronger factor in my fear of decisions: the vision of a single, perfect, right decision. As a Catholic, I've sometimes found that the concept of a vocation (God's personal call for your life, e.g., to the married or religious life) can invoke a sense of a destiny set in stone, some predetermined path that contains the highest achievable happiness for one's life. Of course, God doesn't expect perfection, I knew. We may stray from that path or wobble on it here and there, but if we only stay as close as possible to it, everything will fall neatly into place.

Unfortunately, from a young age I created my own obsessive, warped perception of what a vocation meant, and as a result developed a sense of guilt around the idea of not "getting it exactly right." I felt as though I'd be tampering with some perfect, divinely ordained system if I messed up along the way. As I've gotten older, I still struggle with a subconscious belief that if my life journey isn't clear-cut and well-planned, it means I haven't dedicated enough time or thought into it, or am wasting part of myself, or am letting others down.
This kind of thinking can be especially hard on writers (and artists), I think. In an ideal world, we'd write to our heart's content, publish a New York Times bestseller by age 30, have big-venue publishers begging us for a contract, and spend the rest our days churning out a couple books a year while balancing a professional career in the English field. Add an MFA degree in there and you've got what I've often thought my life "should" look like. But, for a field as competitive as ours, it's not reality. I may not publish anywhere beyond no- to low-paying magazines until I'm 60, and that may be a self-publish breakthrough at best. I may try a professional career like teaching and decide I hate it, even after working so hard for it. Life has interruptions, unexpected turns -- in short, it's goddamn messy.

I've matured a bit, thankfully, from my guilt-ridden days of vocational extremism. While I do think that God is active in our lives and has plans for us, I've realized that the idea of a concrete destiny is both absurd and harmful. I think it's easy for religious people (or even non-religious people, like Myers-Briggs fanatics or horoscope followers) to find solace in the concept of a predetermined path, to feel that the direction for our lives is not on our shoulders. I relate, but I disagree now. Though it may give us some comfort to think that it's not all "up to us," I don't believe God would give us the beautiful gift of free will and then impose such a fastidious life map on us.

We have a purpose, but not a destiny.

That may sound depressing and intimidating, but don't get me wrong: I honestly believe, with all my heart, that we each have a purpose, in the form of unique gifts that we are meant to pursue passionately and with generosity. How we pursue those gifts, however, is anyone's guess. It depends on where our interruptions and unexpected turns take us. Hell, I may figure out at age 35 that I can't stand writing and want to be a fencing champion instead (okay, bad example, but it could happen, hypothetically). It's easy to feel shame for those miscalculations, to view them as marks of failure. But those feelings all stem from the idea that success is measured by the smoothness of our journey, by its predictability, by how close we stay to one path.

Self, and Reader, I give you permission, right here and now: do not feel guilty for how messy your life looks, for how imperfect it is. You are not letting anyone down. If tangles, steps backward, and a little (little) debt is what eventually makes you realize that fencing is for you (ha), so be it.

It is this realization that gave me courage to accept enrollment at SCSU. There were so many factors to weigh, so many what-ifs, but I finally sat myself down and came to terms with the fact that mistakes won't kill me. I may love SCSU; I may not. I may want to stay; I may not be able to stay. That's the nice thing about not having a destiny: there's no reason I can't go back to that road not taken.

There will always be a million and one things you can do with your life. The only things you must do is to be good and happy.

Grace and peace to you.


*Writer's Note: Since the writing of this article, my plans at SCSU have changed; thanks to the generosity of the graduate program, I will now be attending SCSU full-time with a graduate assistantship in the Office of International Education.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Publication Alert: "Something"

Dear Reader,

No, the title is not a joke. "Something" is really the name of my newly published piece.

I was delighted to have this little flash fiction piece picked up by Cheat River Review, a lovely journal run by the MFA program at West Virginia University. You can view my piece here.

About the Work:
I consider this piece as proof of my conviction that intimate conversation fuels creativity. I was working on a series of experimental forms for a Writing Fiction class. After playing around with condensed prose, parables, and strategic conceits, I had only the flash fiction form left (also known as micro-fiction or a short-short), which essentially means an extremely short story. Having never written a story without all the usual elements of plot, I found myself suffering from severe writer's block with this assignment. At dinner with some college friends, I lamented to a buddy of mine about my futile attempts to start and start over this project, to which he perked up and replied, "I know who you should talk to."
Ken (name changed for privacy) is a mutual friend known among our school's music students for three things: his dry sense of humor, his insane sax skills, and his habit of having crazy things happen to him. When he told me one of his ridiculous experiences at dinner that night, the wheels in my head turned madly. As soon as I finished eating, I rushed to a computer lab and typed up an off-shoot of his story (taking creative license, of course) in about 45 minutes. For someone who usually takes half-a-day to write the first words of a story, that kind of inspired drive is refreshingly thrilling -- that excitement is what writers live for.

Moral of the tale: converse with others often. You have no idea what amazing stories they have to share.

In other news, I am happy to say that I wrote my first decent poem in months yesterday while recovering from a cold. It's been a slow process, but with more reading and hard work, my writing confidence is gradually coming back. Hurrah writing!

Grace and peace to you.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Publications and Goings-On


Dear Reader,

You are beautiful and kind for your patience as the old soul in me gets used to keeping up with this befuddlement called the Internet. As evidenced by my creation and consequent neglect of a Twitter account (God help me, I succumbed), maintaining a reliable presence on social media is a skill I have yet to master. (Seriously, how do I not bore you with random 140-character spats throughout the day?) However, I am determined, and hope that with more practice I can improve.

My recent absence on this blog, however, is not due to inactivity. On the contrary -- I am happy to inform you that my writing life has been rather busy in the past few weeks.

First, I have two exciting publication announcements. I was recently informed that a flash fiction piece of mine has been accepted for publication at a national journal. That should be out in April, so I will be sure to provide a more formal update when that appears.

Secondly, after a lovely Spring Break in sunny Southern California, I came home pleasantly surprised to find that one of my pending publications had now been sent to me in print. My short story, "Big Things," is now available in the current volume of The Sigma Tau Delta Rectangle, an international journal featuring the creative works of chapter members of the Sigma Tau Delta English Honors Society. As far as undergraduate-level publications go, this is huge; my understanding is that I'm one out of only two or three students from my college who has ever been printed in STDR. I am deeply humbled, then, to have my little story (one of my best, I think) published by such a distinguished journal.

You can view the story via PDF online (page 116) here.

Third piece of news: two days ago I returned from my first Sigma Tau Delta International Convention, held this year in Albuquerque, New Mexico. I have to admit, I truly loved this trip -- all day, every day, the convention offered numerous student readings, round-table discussions, featured speakers, and all-around geekiness to satisfy any English-loving heart. I was elated to experience the intellectual stimulation I've been missing through some lovely presentations and discussion sessions (I got to witness the full meaning of "Janeite" at a round-table discussion of Jane Austen fan-fiction). My muse went crazy hearing some wildly talented peers at creative writing readings. And Bad Poetry Night? Well, overused sexual puns aside, at least I got to see the amusing side of the English language.
The Westfield State University chapter of Sigma Tau Delta
at the Sigma Tau Delta International Convention's Red & Black Gala Dinner
Additionally, I read my one of my own short stories at a student reading session on Thursday. I'll have you know, as a crowd-fearing introvert, I was terrified for this occasion. In the days leading up to the convention, I can't remember how many times I made family and friends listen to me rehearse, stumbling over piled adverbs and awkward conception jokes (why do I even put those in there if I can't stand to read them aloud??). However, karma was kind to me, and the overpopulated audience I had envisioned turned out to be an intimate group in a tiny corner room of the convention hall. I was relieved, preferring this setting not only for the smaller numbers but for how freely it allowed me to express myself. Literature was never meant for the stadium, folks -- as a written form, it is meant to be experienced closely, quietly, conversationally, never flaunting loudly in the stage-light (at least, that's how I feel about it). So the small group was a welcome venue, and in spite of slightly shaking knees, my reading went rather well.

What I enjoyed most about that reading, however, was the discussion afterwards, in which audience members were invited to pose questions to the writers. Speaking extemporaneously is not one of my strengths, but I was surprised to find that it came easily when asked about my writing. If you ever want to make an artist's day, ask her about her work -- and I mean, really ask. Dig deep beyond the general "What do you write?", and ask about her inspiration, her process, her philosophy. It's not so much a desire to brag (hey, I still think my story sucks) as it is an unbridled passion for one's field and its possibilities. A wise poet once told me that writing is conversation. However awkward I was, then, I was unexpectedly thrilled to further an appreciation for art by participating in such wonderful dialogue.

I am going to try to be stricter with myself in the coming weeks (i.e., not leaving blog-writing to the last minute) so that I can bore you at a more regular pace. ;) In the meantime, thank you to all who have followed me up to this point, and for all those who have supported me in my silly writing pursuits.

Grace and peace to you.