Death and Other Holidays

This book arrived unbidden at my doorstep on a day I heard news I did not want to hear about my beloved partner Jon Lathrop. As I am a writer and sometime book reviewer, author interviewer, essayist, books sometimes show up as enticements for my attention. I’m not a hugely high profile book writer, but still, some do come.

But why this book? Why that day? I was expecting Revolution Sunday by Wendy Guerra (trans. Achy Obejas), a book I’d expressed specific interest in, and it did come a few weeks later. My plans had been to interview her for Full Stop. As that book isn’t due out until later in the year, thankfully, I have some time. I’m on holiday, you see. One that death has caused.

I can tell you that I read Marci Vogel’s book. I can tell you that it did for me what the nonfiction works on suicide and surviving the loss of a loved one couldn’t. I will read Joyce Carol Oates’ A Widow’s Tale. I have read Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking. I want to tell you what Vogel’s novella managed that the non-literary works didn’t, but I’m on holiday. Maybe I’ll get there before its pub date. I don’t know. I’ve got my own novel to return to, and I’ve no idea how or when to do that. Death doesn’t end, but holidays do.

That’s all I got for now.

death and other holidays

Reading in Arlington

Participants from the Writing About Politics workshops I led at Grub Street will read work from the class – and you should come! Not kidding this work was so moving, inspiring, depressing, funny, and inventive. We laughed, we cried, we wrote. If you are in the area, do yourself a favor and check out this cool cafe while supporting these amazing writers:

Jody Carlson
Anna Lee Hirschi
Martha McCollough
Raymond Tatten
Cara Benson – Instructor

Come out to hear creative responses to the current political climate! Short works inspired by Grace Paley, Omar Robert Hamilton, Claudia Rankine, and others. Bring your own 2 minute piece, and we’ll have an open read after. Here’s the event page.

Kickstand Writing Abt Politics Flyer JUNE 6

Join Me!

This will be super short because I’m on deadlines, but I’ve got two workshops coming up the you can join in on – and I hope you do! Also, take a listen/look at the video at the bottom of this post and tell me if it doesn’t make you feel good. As with much music, but certainly with this one, I suggest playing it loud. “Do you really think I care what you eat or what you wear?” I don’t. I really and truly don’t. What I do care about is joining. Writing. Living. Loving. Changing that which harms us. The planet. Each other.

Join me in these two workshops!

Writing About Politics at Grub Street in Boston on Sat, May 5.

Creative Writing at East Greenbush (NY) Public Library on Sat, May 12.

Everybody join together….

Slow Writing, Flash, & Hanging in There

We are makers, we humans. Other species too, of course, but I’m trying to limit myself here so that this blog post has a shot at completion. I could easily open so many doors in my thinking that I never hit “publish” on this thing. I might look out my window at the black-capped chickadees and slate colored juncos helicoptering around the feeder and wonder at their nests, if they’ve strewn any found bright purple yarn into their creations. Then I might think about why they would do this. Some species do it to attract mates. Others, like us, we do it, in part, to experience original response. Something more than our own echo off the cave wall.

Oh boy. See? Now what was I saying. That’s write. Right. Unfolding ideas in writing, pursuing these lines of thinking into a legible made thing takes time. I don’t even know if my opening paragraph has done its work yet, but I’m going to leave it behind because I have bigger fish to fry at the moment: the novel I’m working on. And also, some flash! Crazy? So crazy it just might work. I wrote about how the one can help the process of making the other for Grub Street so I won’t go into it too much here. (6 Tips: How to Stay Motivated for Big Creative Projects) I’ll briefly say that making short works while working on long form can be incredibly helpful to my morale.

And so I have, made shorts. In fact, one just got picked up by the prickly formercactus for their special 10th issue coming out this July. What a boon to this gal while at it on the longer work day after day. Even in and of itself, though, I do absolutely adore micros. Minis. Shorts. Flash. Fiction, creative nonfiction. Prose poems? Sure. In fact my first book is chock full of these bits. Also, I am leading an online flash writing workshop for Writing Workshops Dallas and the amazing Blake Kimzey. This is starting on April 9, so tout de suite get right over there and sign up if you’re wanting to makes some ditties in 8 weeks with me. I am LOVING the reading list I’m putting together and especially the prompts for writing. We’ll also  talk about where to send your works once revised (yes – we’ll workshop).

There’s more to say on all of this (I almost always say that!), but I’ve got to get back to the novel. Meantime, for your viewing pleasure, here’s this:

 

Zap, Pow, Bam

Those words exploded on the screen of my youth (and maybe yours, too) during the famously cheesy fight scenes in the Batman TV series. I loved them. Their primal colors and expanding letters syncing with horn blares, punctuating the show with such onomatopoetic pleasure – who could resist? It was the psychedelic 60’s on the heels of the afrofuturism that began in the 50’s, and the art and streets were in full rebellion against, well, you name it.

This is an oversimplification, of course, times and people being what they are — complicated and variable. Besides, I didn’t know any of that then. Heck, I wasn’t even born when the episode at the bottom of this post first aired. But I am looking back on those scenes, overlaying them with colorized scrims of meaning for myself.

Why am I doing this? Because I’ve been ruminating on small packages of words that convey a lot with a little. In a word, I’m thinking about FLASH. Also known as sudden, micro, mini, prose poem and hybrid, flash pieces are writing of up to about 1500 words. We might think of them as works that make their own small screens and then fill them. My first book, (made), is a concatenated collection of such writing. Bhanu Kapil called it a “magical dictionary….It’s not trajectory. It’s not narrative. It’s vibration.” (Thanks, Bhanu!)

In these shorter works, the words do extra work. They do vibrate together. And so we must pay extra attention to how they are fitting together. And yet, we can also shoot out of the cannon without worrying we will fall to the ground before hitting our target because we do not have to go as far as we do in the short story or essay or novella or, god forbid, the book. So much possibility in brevity! Which isn’t to say that we need to think of truncating our expression; hardly. We can think of it as an explosion onto the page.

That’s one way, anyway. I also adore flash that sneaks up on me. Or quietly and kaleidoscopically turns around its subject creating prisms on the walls in the room in which I’m reading. There are so many modes for making in this form. I’m back to working on a few of them of late as helpmates to the multimedia novel I’ve been writing for a handful of years now. They serve to give me a sense of completion while I spend the majority of my days with the sense of leaving everything unfinished each time I shut down my computer.

And so I decided to share my process. To that end, I’ve created a Flash Writing workshop for Writing Workshops Dallas. Come write with me! You can respond in fiction or CNF (creative non-fiction). It’s online so you can join in from anywhere. We will read, write, critique, and discuss these gems and also cover avenues for publishing. A one-on-one consultation with me on your work is included.

All the details are here at Writing Workshops Dallas.

And now, back to our regularly scheduled programming.

Writing Bravely

I’ve heard it said that white is a color. Meaning, we need to rethink the fact that if race is not named in a story, it’s assumed the writer and the characters are white. But if the character is a person of color, then that color is named, right? Why not name whiteness so that it, too, can be examined rather than operate as the water we swim in?

I am white, and in my latest book-length work I have called that out. I am attempting to write what whiteness is for me, among many other things. It’s tricky because it also means that I might be centering the white experience. In fact, I am. Well, my white experience. Also, my female experience. Also a writer’s. A Leftie. An Emma Goldman fanatic. A pb&j eater. Bleeding heart animal lover. Joke teller. Raconteur! Okay, you get the picture (or a picture, anyway).

Is this a brave act, confronting race as a white person? I don’t know. But I want to pivot here to an amazing interview with Tiphanie Yanique by Namrata Poddar at Kweli Journal that digs into race and its role in storytelling, also among other things.

“The first thing I tell my students is that they must write bravely. That means writing towards the things that most make you uncomfortable—and part of why that is brave is mostly because it’s not easy.  Brave writing means failing a lot of the time—even when writing well, there will be failures in the work.”

Are you willing to fail? Are you willing to take on that which makes you uncomfortable? Either way, please do read the full interview. It is rich with insight and will urge you toward writing what you’re afraid of.

tiphanie yanique
Tiphanie Yanique

Don’t Be Afraid to Suck

I’m working on a piece for Grub Street on how to stay motivated while working on a long term creative project — in my case, a novel. That, too, isn’t happening overnight, but it’s coming. Meantime, for your viewing and #MondayMotivation pleasure, here’s Junot Diaz on developing a tolerance for imperfection in your own writing. It’s three minutes well worth watching.

Reading and Writing Weather

As I write this, the snow is bombing the East Coast where I live. My cat is curled up in my lap, positioned in the beneficent path of the space heater at my feet. Slate coated juncos, black capped chickadees, yellow bellied woodpeckers, mourning doves, and (of course) gray and red squirrels are swarming the seed in the feeder – in this bluster! The wind is whipping the snow as if it was snapping bed linens outside my window. It’s extreme out there, folks.

Fortunately, I have lots to read. I’m loaded up with books by Italo Calvino, Rivka Galchen, Emma Goldman, and Karl Ove Knausgaard, while eagerly awaiting Toni Cade Bambara’s The Salt Eaters to come in. I just came across her earlier this week and can’t believe I didn’t know of her sooner. Actually, scratch that. It is not surprising that as an African American woman she’d been slighted by many a syllabus. Herenow, I assign you this story. Then snatch up every last thing she’s written, and we’ll compare notes. (I’m not  kidding – let me know what you think.)

Also keeping me warm are client manuscripts. This winter, I’ve been working with short story writers, sketch comedians, poets, novelists, and a doctor working on a nonfiction book that promises to explode the way we think about a major component of healthcare. I love how helping other writers to make their work better also helps me to do the good work on my own.

Speaking of which, I’m excited to tell you that I just found out Junot Diaz took ten years to write The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. I’m clocking in at roughly four at this point, so I’m in pretty good stead. Not four continuous years, mind you (I took a year off to fight a casino), but no kidding the seed of the project first came in 2012. It has transformed so remarkably with each round of revision that I have made peace, for the most part, with the time it is taking to bring this book to fruition.

Off to make a fire!

books, Italo Calvino, Rivka Galchen