Thursday, October 6, 2016

Publication Alert: Bibliotheca Alexandrina

Dear Reader,

First, I should note that I'm in a perpetual state of disbelief these days. (And no, I'm not talking about the election, although that's all pretty surreal lately, too.) In the last two months I've become a home-owner (!!!), been researching post-MFA degrees, and begun my final full-time year at SCSU's MFA program. Pardon the expression, but holy freaking $h*t -- when did this adulthood thing happen, and how is this program almost half over already?? To clarify, I'll probably be working on my thesis for several months after the spring (especially since I'm still figuring out what my thesis is going to be... oops), so I won't be completely graduated for awhile. Still, despite my short time here, it's going to feel bittersweet to leave this great network of writers soon.

But one more happy bit of disbelief: a new set of poems published! (This announcement is actually a month late, so I apologize for that. House-buying an' all.) I am exceptionally excited about this publication, as it has been long in-the-works and features what I consider some of my best work.
No less than three of my poems -- "Guan Yin's Lullaby," "Kuka Mama, Sown," and "Papatūānuku: A Lament" -- have been published in Bibliotheca Alexandrina's newest anthology, "Garland of the Goddess: Tales and Poems of the Feminine Divine." For those of you who haven't uncovered this gem yet, Bibliotheca Alexandrina is the printing company for Neos Alexandria, an online community of Neopagans and anyone interested in the worship or study of polytheistic deities. Now, if you're a staunch monotheist like myself, don't let that description deter you. Neos Alexandria is a beautiful, comprehensive, and fun resource for simply exploring global mythologies and polytheistic cultures. And of course, the creative work in their anthologies is enchanting. In this "Garland" anthology, we see depictions of legendary goddesses as exotic, glorious, tragic, seductive, vulnerable, humanized -- in short, as femininity in all its sublimity. I also had wonderful communications with NA/BA's editorial staff throughout the entire publishing process, so being a part of their publication has been a great pleasure.

You can read more about the "Garland" anthology here, and purchase a copy at their CreateSpace store. My poems are on pages 152, 193, and 228.

About the work:
You can find this information in my author's notes, but each of my poems are based on non-Greco-Roman goddesses that are lesser known to the Western world. I wrote "Papatūānuku: A Lament" first, years ago in a poetry course. It's inspired by a native New Zealand creation story, which I'd fallen in love with for its portrayal of longing and loneliness. After submitting it to NA/BA, I was asked to send more, so after a flurry of research and reader feedback I wrote "Guan Yin's Lullaby" (about a Chinese Buddhist deity) and "Kuka Mama, Sown" (about an Incan goddess). It was amazing how much the mythologies of other cultures fueled my writing. These stories were so powerful, but also had a surprising humanness to them, and I tried to capture that balance by re-imagining the goddess-psyche in an intimate way. I hope you find the results as rewarding as I did, and that you explore the other contributors' marvelous work, too.

Fun fact: I also had a fourth poem accepted by NA/BA for another anthology -- so be on the lookout!

Enjoy and share away! Grace and peace to you.

** UPDATE**

Previews of above-mentioned poems are now available below (images may be clearer on Web Version):









Thursday, August 25, 2016

"Lolita" Afterthoughts

Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta. She was Lo, plain Lo, in the morning, standing four feet ten in one sock. She was Lola in slacks. She was Dolly at school. She was Dolores on the dotted line. But in my arms she was always Lolita.
~ Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov, Chapter 1

The first time I came across these lines was in 2013, in a creative writing class. As a novice to writing, I was far more naive in my reading of stylistic technique, even those mere three years ago. But reading this excerpt on a small handout -- an analytical exercise in which we treated it as a poem -- I instantly fell in love with the strange playfulness of its imagery: uncomfortably intimate, neurotically shifting verbal mechanics into music and a picture. Despite having never heard of Vladimir Nabokov -- and my professor's description of the novel as "really creepy" -- I knew I had to read Lolita in full one day. This summer, I finally did; in fact, it was the only novel I managed to finish this break. While grad school has conditioned me to read multiple books in an insanely short amount of time, I'm grateful I didn't speed through this work. Like that first excerpt, it deserved to be examined slowly, attentively, lovingly, as any great work of literature does -- not binge-read like it was just another Fifty Shades off the shelf.

The reason I bring up the Fifty Shades contrast, by the way, is to emphasize that Lolita is not the apotheosis of forbidden erotica that everyone thinks it is. (And by the way, Fifty Shades is utter trash, so get over it, America.) Delving into Lolita on the beach, in waiting rooms, at home, I received plenty of bewildered looks from scandalized strangers and friends. My own dad gagged in a horrified tone one day, "Why are you reading that awful, disgusting book?" Most of these scandalized persons, I should mention, had never read the novel. But Lolita's controversial sexual themes have made it famous even among non-literature buffs -- and given it a heinous reputation, apparently.

Nearly everyone knows Lolita is about a pedophile enamored by his step-daughter; what bothers me is that this is all that most people know about it, even within the English field. Yes, pedophilia and semi-incest are central to Nabokov's plot, but that should not obscure the miles of literary worth that exceed and, to an extent, redeem the vileness therein. Most of all, what makes Nabokov's book literature instead of trash is that it always remains a critique -- though not the kind we expect. Nabokov, you see, is completely aware of our silly expectations for a sexualized, "scandalous" novel, and toys with those expectations mercilessly. Those looking for a porno trip will be disappointed, because sex scenes are few and stubbornly abstract. Those looking for a clear-cut villainization (or condonation) of the narrator will be disappointed, because H.H. is more frequently a bumbling idiot than a sinister predator. And those looking for any semblance of a love story will be sorely disappointed -- just as grandiloquent, neoclassical, poetry-spewing H.H. is disappointed. What the reader will find instead is a deformed beauty: philosophical depth, dark humor, and hopeless poetry beneath a sickened voice.

Credit: Lyuba Haleva, via venusfebriculosa.com
It's difficult to defend Lolita without plot spoilers. But what I love about it the most is this: humanity at its best, smothered under humanity at its worst. The humanity Nabokov envisions, in other words, can never be definitively categorized as good or evil. There are surprising moments of shame (though never enough) in which H.H. tries clumsily to reconcile the ideals of a hopeless romantic with disordered desires. H.H. is a sick bastard, yet somewhere beneath all his filth, an infinitesimal part of him can still express profoundly the love and worship of another human being (however deluded that adoration may be). There are many passages in the novel that, had they come from any other narrator, might strike one as the most romantic words in literature. Coming from a pedophile narrator, of course, these words are in effect only a parody of romance; all the more so for rhapsodizing an inamorata who, incidentally, is no Beatrice. But clearly, Nabokov has meaningful intentions with such parody. He wants us to view the ideal of human love writhing under mud, with only sparkles of it visible. Lolita's image is the antithesis of that trope that depicts animalistic instincts threatening to break through a civilized exterior. H.H.'s desperate, interior outbursts of love -- or attempted love -- give us glimpses not of primal lust but of a primal tenderness, which wrestles beneath a surface of erotic perversion. Nabokov, you see, is reversing all our black-and-white concepts. He wants us to question, first, whether the ideal and the worst of human nature are truly mutually exclusive; and second, which of the two is the most basic, the most driving, the most subversive to our existence.

Out of H.H.'s vulgarity, beautiful love wants to emerge, even if it can only do so satirically.

Let us make no mistake: Lolita is not for the faint of heart. While its sexual taboos are really only one, small part of a much deeper story, they are significant enough to be disturbing to the most vulnerable of readers, I imagine. (I would not recommend this book to former victims of sexual abuse, for instance.) For everyone else, I encourage you to give this so-called "filthy" book a chance. You will undoubtedly be surprised by what you discover in the richness of even a perverted, fictional mind -- and consequently, you may discover something about your own frail, imperfect self.

Grace and peace to you.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Rambling Reflections on Rhythm

It's become my new favorite, life-describing word. But what exactly do I mean, internally, when I say "rhythm"?

I should know, shouldn't I? I'm a lifelong musician, music-lover (but not a dancer, definitely not a dancer), even a relatively new convert to the reading and writing of poetry -- fields where rhythms abide. But I am kidding myself, really: I have no innate sense of meter, either on a page or in a score; I'm not quickly aware, as the serious artists are, what kind of "foot" a poet has just used, or what sort of mischief Bach is up to with his triplets. I don't count beats when I read, write, or listen, and even when I play the beat must be pounded into me, so to speak.

But "rhythm" is the word I run to, to describe existence. It is entirely the wrong word, I'm sure, but it's the word that I'm in love with, that repeats steadily along my attempts to make sense of the world. What does it mean for me? So many things.

Rhythm is the root of all. So much, Williams might have said, depends upon rhythm, or so I'm convinced. We all begin with a heartbeat. We all survive through the constant if not regular pumping, pumping of blood, the in of air always followed by an out. Biological rhythms, patterns, inevitabilities. And what is the daily life, I wonder, but a broader imitation of that basic beat: a steady pulse carrying us through the predictable pulse of waking and working -- with their frequent flutters. Rhythms need not be regular, after all; only perpetual.

Jackson Pollock
Rhythm is motion, any motion. Musically and poetically, we associate it with sound and its pauses, but start again with the heartbeat, or better yet a drum: isn't it really that vibration you feel, through the body, the little trembling movement down to your core? Sense of touch more than sound. And doesn't motion expand into the fundamentals of physical experience? Rhythm lives in steps; it lives in the mouth, the lift, fall, click of tongues; even, silently, in the inevitable pressing back of one set of lips into another. Everything is fast or slow, steady or fluttering, deep or trickling, isn't it? A flow or tempo of some kind. And move that movement into other senses: a rolling hill is a large sweeping motion; the quick, dotting whistle of a sparrow is a pinprick of motion. So doesn't all art, then -- the solemn bends of Beethoven and the flittering splatters of Pollock -- come back rhythm?

Rhythm, of course, is language. I don't even know how to turn rhythm off -- my addiction to lists is really an amateur's addiction to sentence-structure repetition, I suppose. And again, there is the poet's textbook understanding of rhythm in language: beginning with the natural stresses, pauses, and repetitions, ending with the stylized meters of poetry (iAMbic FEET imPLY an INesCAPaBILity).
But for me "rhythm" wants to describe everything else in language, too -- every blessed, minute detail of speech. There's the small roll, trill, before certain consonants in certain non-American accents. There's also the excited rapidity in an extroverted child's words, a contrast to the slowing and carmelizing of a lover's words. Loudness is a kind of rhythm -- a broad, single burst of timpani -- and so is quietness -- the tip-tap of rain. Pitches, too, are often inescapably tied to rhythm, as seen socially among tonal languages, musically with Africa's mysterious talking drums, which imitate such languages. None of these are an identifiable pattern, like TROchees or amPHIBrachs or pentameters, and are perhaps not patterns at all, since speech defies regularity. But diversity of sound is a kind of rhythm as well -- a wild and strange one.

"Rhythm" is the word I've fallen in love with, and I'm convinced that rhythm is what I need always as a writer. Not just to imitate the musicality of speech on the page, or to describe the flow of the world, but to actually survive as a writer. I need walks, walking to create the little internal bounce that sends the magnificent words of Nabokov bouncing freely in me: "the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta." I need the rhythm of steps, or the rhythm of stillness amid the moving world, to unclog or declutter words that need to be written. To be a writer I need to observe rhythm, always, to see the natural world as something never still but active: bodies of water with ever-trembling molecules, grand trees with their creeping cycle of green-aflame-bare. I need to practice rhythm, to make writing, reading, and simply appreciating as much of a natural constancy, bodily necessity, as breathing. We all begin with a heartbeat and we'd die without this biological rhythm; I want that to be so for all intellectual, spiritual rhythms, too.

It all sounds so "zen," so New-Agey and ridiculous coming from Roman Catholic me, to say an artist must rely upon the rhythms of existence. But for me rhythm (whether that is the right word or not) is not a philosophy so much as a hunger, an instinct, the absolutely only way to make sense of the world. Try even for a second to live in total, stagnant stillness, or to see anything as not implying an internal, glowing pulse behind it. I'll bet you can't.

Grace and peace to you.

Friday, May 27, 2016

MFA Life: Not As Scary As I Thought

A Year in Review

Yes, my fellow young writers, take heart from that title. You'd never know it from the stress of applying to MFA programs -- nor from the bedlam of controversy surrounding them, for that matter -- but actually being in the MFA is not nearly as terrifyingly intense as it sounds.

That's been the case for me, anyway, at Southern Connecticut State University's MFA in Creative Writing program, where I recently finished my first year of graduate studies. I feel like I'm being obnoxiously repetitive at this point, but I can't say enough how much I am enjoying the experience and feel that I made the right decision. Coming from a small, close-knit English department in undergrad, it feels perfect being in an environment where workshops (and even literature elective classes) are an intimate size, making it easy to develop meaningful relationships with instructors and fellow writers. One of my last experiences of the semester was attending a night of thesis readings by graduating candidates, including two brilliant women who'd been in my prose classes this year; the amount of love and support (and the lack of enough seats!) I saw in that room was astounding, and it reminded me so much of the family atmosphere I adored at Westfield State. Basically -- clichédly -- it feels pretty great to be part of a talented and passionate writing community.

To properly balance off my enthusiasm, I suppose I should note that it's not all rainbows and butterflies -- nothing is. Graduate school is no cakewalk, but I feel fortunate in that the dedication to excellence I found at Westfield made me well-prepared for the crazy workload and high standards of grad classes. What I wasn't prepared for, however, was the surprisingly relaxed atmosphere at the heart of the MFA: the workshop courses.

Relaxed? you say. In the all-intensive, higher-worldly, great-and-powerful graduate MFA? Yup. Relaxed.

I was shocked when I discovered this atmosphere. After all, I'd come from an undergraduate writing concentration that prided itself on challenging students toward their absolute best. I'd taken workshops where we were expected to churn out new stories almost every week of the semester -- and good stories, not the I-wrote-this-the-night-before kind, or even the first-draft kind. In those workshops, there was a tough-loving emphasis on always turning in one's best work and on constantly producing work, for which I'm grateful because it taught me to take writing seriously. I had imagined that an MFA program would be that kind of intensity times ten -- with maybe less personal supportiveness, more objective criticalness from faculty. But here at SCSU, it's been a different vibe altogether. In the fiction workshop, each student submits only three stories throughout the semester, consisting of any length or subject of their choosing. (By grad school, writers are assumed to be producing work independently -- no more hand-holding prompts here!) Sometimes those stories are revisions or rewrites of work from previous semesters; sometimes they are partially-completed chapters; sometimes they come with notes from the author saying they're not sure where to go with the story and are looking for suggestions. While sloppy work is still looked down upon, workshop submissions in the MFA are essentially anything-goes, and workshops themselves tend to be conversational and informal (albeit professional). But what shocked GPA-obsessed me the most, I think, was the lack of emphasis on grading: at least in the fiction workshops, nothing gets individually graded, and as long as writers put good effort into their submissions and critiques, it's not difficult to earn an A for the course.

"The Throes of Creation" by Leonid Pasternak
I'm sure that the mechanics of workshops varies by the college, and certainly things must intensify once students begin working on their theses. Yet speaking to friends who have pursued MFAs and graduate studies elsewhere makes me suspect that this low-key workshop approach is common among MFA programs. When I say I was shocked to discover this, what I mean is that I was initially skeptical -- indignant, even. Grad school was supposed to hard; it was supposed to be challenging and high-strung and make me write more and harder than I'd ever written, wasn't it? But here, the most stress I've experienced has been from my lit electives. How was I supposed to improve in my writing and keep up the motivation to work hard when my graduate professors seemed more laid-back than my undergraduate professors?

But the longer I've been in the MFA, the more I've come to understand the value and thought-process behind all this "chillin'." At the end of the fall semester, I remember asking the fiction instructor some revision questions in full high-stress m
ode, and he immediately calmed me down by saying something to the effect of: "This program is for you [the MFAers] and is your journey. Whatever you need to do to make the most of it for your writing is what what we want, too." That encouragement to take ownership of my grad studies made me realize that the low-key workshop atmosphere didn't come from an attitude of laziness, or of not taking the field seriously. Quite the opposite -- it comes from a place of respect and an expectation of maturity from student writers. In a graduate writing program, the attitude is that everyone here is an adult: we got into the program because we're good writers and we wouldn't be here if we weren't serious about writing. Thus, how much and how hard we write is not something to be micro-monitored by our instructors, but is entirely dependent on our own work ethic (as it is for any serious writer). The MFA program's function is to simply be a support system for whatever it is we are doing with our writing.

Such a hands-off approach may sound like an invitation for students to slack off -- and I'm sure there has been many an MFAer to do just that -- but in my experience it's been surprisingly liberating and productive. Less submissions means more time to finetune the quality of what I do submit. Seeing how much care my peers put into their writing, even without the grade incentive, motivates me to work hard as well. Most importantly, this is an environment that encourages taking risks. In the past, being obsessed with getting a good grade meant that I was likely to stick to the same kind of writing: I would use "formulas" that had previously received positive feedback, while shying away from experiments that could potentially fail and get me a lower "score." Here in the MFA, writing is seen as a personal process -- full of successes and failures -- which means I can feel comfortable experimenting with new styles for the sake of personal improvement. My last workshop story of the year, in fact, was probably the most experimental piece I've ever written (something I'd have never attempted in undergrad), and as it turns out I got positive feedback for it! But even if the feedback had been negative, the fact that I'm now brave enough to push the boundaries makes me optimistic for the progress of my writing.

I never thought that someone as intense and hardworking as me would ever appreciate a low-stress atmosphere in grad school, but I'm enjoying every minute of it. What's more, my writing is becoming better for it. So, I would call this first year in MFA life one big, crazy, and messy success.

Thanks for reading! Grace and peace to you.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Publication Alert: Barking Sycamores

Dear Reader,

It sounds utterly bonkers, but my first year of the MFA is officially completed! I can honestly say that this past semester has been one of the best I've ever had in my entire college career, and what's more is that I'm humbled and grateful by the growth I've seen in my writing in the past year. Mind you, those are very meager sentences to try to summarize what I've learned -- about writing and about myself -- but I think only a longer post about my MFA experience can do it justice. With a finals-free schedule, such a post shouldn't be too far away.

On to "business" matters (though everything feels like fun these days)... To kick off the celebration of summer, I'm happy to announce the publication of my poem "What You Must (Not) Do" in Issue 9 of Barking Sycamores. Of all the venues that have accepted my work, I must say that I'm particularly enthralled with this one. Barking Sycamores is a part-online, part-print magazine of neurodiversity: it celebrates the works of neurodivergent writers and artists, from the autistic to bipolar patients to those with synesthesia. Dedicating a whole literary magazine to neurodiversity is a beautiful step toward raising awareness about mental illness and neurodevelopmental disorders, but also toward humanizing these experiences. The works in this publication are stunning, and together they are one more reminder that we each have a unique way of looking at the world. Please take the time to look through!

You can find my poem "What You Must (Not) Do" here. (Note: for each new issue, Barking Sycamores posts one piece per every couple of days, until all the works in that issue have been posted. So if you want to explore the other pieces in Issue 9, be sure to check back frequently!)

About the work:
So, what am I doing in a publication for neurodivergent writers? Well, like all things in this world, it's complicated.

I may someday explore this more in my creative writing, I may not, but I've always been fascinated by the fact that mental illness runs in both sides of my family. Fascinated (haunted?), because while I have gone through life unofficially diagnosed, there is plenty of evidence that this mental illness runs a little in me. Since my late teens -- and most potently as an 18-year-old -- there has been a sadness and a spaciness for which only the words "depression" (minor, seasonal?) and "ADD" (mild, moderate?) makes sense. Living unmedicated and therapy-less means dealing with the raw forms of these in a strange combination; it means perceiving the world as fragmented, frayed, and with a dark cloud over it. I may someday explore the whole story of my mental struggles with readers, I may not. But for now I will simply say that I've come to appreciate my depressed-inattentive life most most strongly (albeit inexplicitly) through my writing, which allows me to make something productive out of this messy, melancholy daydream.

"What You Must (Not) Do" is one small, quiet way of being productive, I suppose. It's possibly among my most honest poems. I wrote this last summer on my own, not for a class assignment, not with the aim to write anything earth-shattering; I wrote it for me, as a way of appreciating beauty amid sad memories. I hope you're able to take something meaningful from it.

Enjoy and share away. Grace and peace to you.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Strategizing the Mess

MFA Semester 2 and Adapting to My Flawed Process

March already. Halfway into my second semester as an MFA student. Strange, the only suitable response that comes to mind is an arms-outstretched, juvenile yell of "Craziness!" (In my mind, of course.)
What I will say, here, is that it's been a great semester so far. I'm in two workshops this spring -- graduate-level prose and undergraduate-level poetry -- and LORD is it fun! I've sorely missed writing and learning about poetry in an academic setting. There's something very freeing about poems, maybe because they allow my overcrowded mind to tackle the world in bite-size; moreover, the attention to language, to moments, never fails to reinvigorate my enthusiasm for sentence-level writing. The prose workshop this semester ain't shabby either: I'm impressed by the quality of work, response, and support from this group, and the over-observer in me also revels in the experience of silently cheering my classmates on when I see their craft developing. I'm also happy to be taking a third class at my old stomping grounds this semester -- a cross-cultural lit course at my undergrad alma mater. In addition to the great reading, it's always uplifting to be back at the place I still call "home."

Clearly "somebody up there likes me," because my weekly schedule also has its major perks. During the week, I'm fortunate to have writers as coworkers: we've made a ritual of devoting 15-20 minutes semi-weekly to creative writing, sometimes sharing what we've written when we're done. Talk about Nerd Heaven! I also somehow ended up with a four-day weekend in my schedule -- which translates to ample hours to develop some new productive habits. Working out, for instance (a nice way to reverse some of those sitting-at-a-desk-all-day effects), but more importantly, an Unapologetic Writing Day (yes, it's capitalized). One full day to put all other work aside, close the door, and focus exclusively on my writing.

Or drinking tea.

Or pacing around my room.

Or despairing over writer's block.

From adultaddadhd.org
Well, Unapologetic Writing Day has its issues. Mainly, this has to do with the convoluted mess that is my mind and, consequently, my writing process. I've mentioned before on this blog that I sometimes deal with ADD-esque symptoms, something I've always attributed to my introversion and easily-stimulated brain. Lately, though, the presence of these symptoms when I write is downright disheartening. Sometimes I think I have the attention span of a squirrel. (See what I did there? Oh nevermind.) My mind wanders, or freezes up, or feels like its grasp on words has dissipated like smoke. Not being officially diagnosed, I suppose I have no right to call these symptoms straight-up ADD. It may simply be subliminal stress, self-doubt, damned procrastination -- nothing that any other writer has not experienced as well. But the results are disturbing. I'm lucky if I can get one paragraph in four hours on some days.

I think one of the scariest things on the planet is not understanding your own mind. I could spend all day coming up with theories for why my writing stamina feels like it's deteriorating. Perhaps the size of a prose/fiction project scares me, because unlike a poem, there's no way to predict how long a story might become; perhaps I'm paralyzed by my own reservation, afraid of accidentally writing about myself; perhaps I've just become too comfortable, lazier. But at the end of the day, there's no way to really know. All I know is I have this problem, this mind-wandering mess, and it could ruin my writing.

My process, my natural writing inclinations, are flawed beyond question. But I learned a long time ago that I can't always eliminate my weaknesses, I just have to work around them. I believe that self-improvement often has little to do with changing who you are as it does with applying your natural self strategically. So how does one strategize one's writing flaws?

Step 1, I can observe and acknowledge my weakness. Be this a temporary or permanent issue, I know now that unless I'm writing a really short story, I can no longer write a story in a day. I can't -- or at least, any attempts to makes me miserable, and misery makes work harder. So, step 2, I work around that flaw: I break up the drafting process. Against all inner voices yelling for perfect completion ASAP, I've forced myself into a system of working on a story's dialogue one day, action another day, description on another. Sometimes, the only type of "writing" I can get done for a story is the thought behind it -- the brainstorming, the planning, and not a lick of it on paper -- and I tell myself consciously (despite sulking emotions) that it's absolutely fine. That brings me to Step 3, I guess: doing what works right, not what feels right, in a writing crisis. There will be many times in writing where our heads and emotions disagree: my emotions want to say that adapting my process shouldn't be necessary, that I used to write whole stories in a day, that one-sitting writing is the only way to get the "flow" right, dammit. But if that's what my current situation isn't letting me do, if that's what's not productive right now, I have to ignore those feelings. I have to adapt to the problem at hand, and that means being comfortable with one part of me being at odds with the other (at least temporarily).

If I've learned anything this semester, it's that my writing will never be consistent, neither in quality nor productivity nor method. There will be periods where it comes easily, others where it will struggle, still others where previous joy-inducing exercises will become painful as hell. There is no sure-fire formula to writing, simply because I am a fickle, moody, ever-changing human being. My writing flaws will always evolve as I do, so I have to make my process evolve with them.


Thanks for enduring the long and rambling update, which I will conclude with one belated bit of news about change, in the words of my favorite literary heroine:

Reader, I married him.

(Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte)


Friday, January 15, 2016

Publication Alert: Thoreau's Rooster & Prairie Margins

Dear Reader,

Happy New Year! My hope and prayer is that your 2015 ended smoothly and that your 2016 began with joy. For my own part, the New Years stretch was a bit rocky (finals right to the end, plus some traveling mayhems), so it is only now that I've had a chance to update you on the good end of 2015: two new publications!

It occurs to me as I write that that it is only the conclusion of what was a very full and wonderful year of publishing -- over 20 pieces in 2015 alone! (Whoa.) I realize how fortunate and rare it is to have that kind of success (even at non-elite, non-paying venues), and I'm extremely humbled by it. 99% of the time in this field, I'm a self-stabbing self-critic and a frightened rabbit; it is only with love, support, and patience from my mentors that I can even muster up the courage to submit anything. So, thank you, to everyone who helped make last year a successful year for me.

Now, back to those publications . . .

Both pieces are featured in major undergraduate literary magazines, due to my submitting them just before graduation. My nonfiction essay "Bella" is my second time appearing in Thoreau's Rooster, while my poem "Sometimes a Banana…" is my debut in Prairie Margins. It's always a privilege to be re-featured in a national publication, especially as I'm in the company of some wonderful beginning writers at Thoreau's Rooster. Prairie Margins, moreover, is an enormous honor since the magazine is historic: founded in 1963 at Bowling State Green University under original title Inkstone, the yearly publication has over fifty years of experience publishing new writers from around the nation.

While the websites do not yet reflect the current issues, you should be able to purchase print copies of the 2015 magazines by contacting the editors of Thoreau's Rooster and Prairie Margins via these links. Prairie Margins also updates its Facebook page relatively frequently, so I'd recommend checking that out here.
Beautiful spot to write (taken during a hike on my recent travels)
About the works:
Both pieces were written during my undergraduate years at Westfield State -- "Bella" in Spring 2013, and "Sometimes a Banana..." in Spring 2014.

The first piece is meaningful to me on many levels: it was composed not only during my first semester as an English major, but also in my first creative writing class. I was still tentative about pursuing creative writing at that time, especially as I hadn't attempted to write creatively since I was a young teenager; so this class was me testing the waters. The entire course ended up changing my life, but "Bella" was particularly impacting for me as my first breakthrough in nonfiction, both stylistically and emotionally. Its subject matter dealt with a family tragedy from some years before that I'd never properly processed; in writing, it was always too difficult to talk about myself and my thoughts at that time, especially with any kind of traditional story arc. After reading Lois-Ann Yamanaka's "JohnJohn's World," I suddenly found myself asking: "What if I told this story from someone else's perspective? And what if it didn't have to be a story, but anything I needed it to be -- fragments, scenes, pieces of a life? What would the impact be?" So began "Bella," along with my ability to talk about a subject that once paralyzed me.

Fast-forward a year later, and I was writing "Sometimes a Banana" for a poetry class. Its backstory is a little humorous. I'd been slightly frustrated with a teacher who put a perverted spin in his explanation of one of my favorite poems, which I'd interpreted as mere innocent beauty. In addition to this, there was an ongoing inside-joke among my friends about how paranoid I was of writing something that could accidentally be interpreted as sexual. (Oh, Freudianism abounds in English departments!) In response to this self-turmoil, I ended up penning this poem as a way to poke fun both at myself and at how much Freudian analysis has taken root in the literary world. Hope you get a good laugh!


In other news, Grad School Semester 2 starts next week, I've just returned from a beautiful and perfect trip abroad, and I'm looking forward to making some big changes in my life. (Including exercise! Oh boy...) More updates soon, I hope. Enjoy the works!

Grace and peace to you.