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.


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