This is a bit of a belated post. Last summer, I was contacted by James Borton to see if I was interested in helping put together a manuscript for a call he had done on illness narratives. By the end of the year, and after countless hours of work, we had a book. An anthology to be exact. The Art of Medicine in Metaphors – A Collection of Poems and Narratives came out in January and it makes my heart feel good to see the stories out and in the public. These are people, myself included, writing about illness, injury, and death. These are family members, patients, and care-givers. That’s part of what makes this collection unique. We have doctors writing poetry alongside patients writing poetry (or narratives).
In putting together the collection, I had to read the manuscript several times (it was with these stories in mind that I created the cover painting). It began with reading the Chicago Manual of Style and figuring out things like how to create a table of contents, how to number the pages, and what is the difference between a prologue and a preface. If you are a writer, I suggest you spend an evening reading it over. It is eye-opening. Even armed with this knowledge though, it was a steep learning curve when the manuscript got accepted by Copernicus Healthcare. There was formatting in the document that I wasn’t even aware of. Each time I looked over a new e-version of the manuscript, I found additional errors. We even had outside proof-readers. I guess, no matter what, there will still be some issues but it is worth the work to make sure you have put out a quality product.
What we ended up with was a quality product. When my sister proofread, The Art of Medicine in Metaphors – A Collection of Poems and Narratives she found it overwhelming. It brought up a lot for her. To me, as a memoirist, that’s the highest honor a work can receive. To have a reader say, I feel so much when I read this that I have to take it in a bite at a time is huge. To know that there is a community that has developed out of this work makes my heart happy. The comments that have started to come in on Amazon and the reviews on multiple blogs and websites prove attest to the book’s reach. The collection is $14.95 and is available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million, and many other booksellers.
I finished my one-act play a couple of weeks ago and it go me thinking about what is going on theatrewise in my local community. When I was in Colorado, I went to a show every couple of months. Out here in Columbia, I haven’t been to any shows. It’s kind of sad really. Part of what has held me back has been the cost of tickets. I realized though, that there are lots of affordable options (matinees, non-premium seats, student rates etc). As a writer and artist, I really need to be supporting my local community. Besides, if you want to get good at something you have to immerse yourself in it. If it is playwriting, one of my latest passions, read plays and go to plays. I’ve been reading The Playwright’s Guidebook: An Insightful Primer on the Art of Dramatic Writing and I find it helpful too but it is no substitute for getting your butt in the seat at a theatre.
Last night, as part of my support for local arts resolution, I went to a Jasper Magazine Salon (check out their FaceBook page for details). They had some folks out from Trustus Theatre who will be performing in the upcoming The Motherfucker with the Hat. It was a great evening and I learned a lot about theater, particularly acting and directing. Who knew there are acting theories? I didn’t. I found it fascinating and realize that in addition to reading plays, I also need to do some reading about acting theory if I want to become a better playwright (this is in addition to poet, memoirist, and educator).
Hearing about the dedication of the cast to their craft and performances really had an impact on me. I already had tickets to Trustus’ Five Lesbians Eating a Quiche ($15 tickets) but now I also plan on going to Motherfucker (that abbreviation makes me smile). I’ve got tickets to the Koger Center’s ballet – Snow White ($15 tickets!) and I am going to Columbia Marionette Theatre’sBeauty and the Beast tomorrow ($5 tickets!). There’s just so much going on around me that I haven’t even noticed. By nature, I am a workaholic and I think being a writer and painter adds to my isolationist tendencies. It was nice to get out of the house last night and do something that got me out into the community and taught me something new. I didn’t have the balls to ask about script submission (yes, my play is looking for a home) but baby steps. I also tend to operate out of lack, or perceived lack. I’m a grad student and the sole support of my household. I don’t have money but there are places I could save so I can support the local arts more. Priorities people – I need to reevaluate mine.
Next week, the Jasper Salon is on the dark side of Snow White. Come on out. I’ll be there!
So yesterday, after I finished posting about workshopping, I decided to read a few pages of Writer’s Digest before bed. There was a short piece with interviews from four Pulitzer winning novelists. I was excited to see Junot Diaz (author of The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao and Drown). First, I appreciate him being honest about the arbitrary nature of such prizes. That’s not to say that I wouldn’t be flaunting it if I won. I can’t help it, I’m a magpie and awards are bright and shiny. He did talk about the way in which the award allowed him to reach a different set of readers.
Anyway, here’s what he had to say about his writing philosophy:
“To be an artist, first and foremost, which means to be always on a journey of discovery and not a journey of approval. Which is a fancy way of saying my philosophy is: Take your time, follow your freak and prefer from an audience the complexity of conversation over the simplicities of approval.”
So once again, Diaz is saving the day with his words of wisdom. No, I have not been following my freak. I’ve been open to sharing very personal work but I have wanted approval more than I have been seeking discovery. I’m not entirely sure what following my freak would look like, maybe just knowing that I am an artist and not needing the outside approval from others? The other day, on my Facebook page, I asked when I would finally make the transition from student to writer. I’m already a writer but I will always be a student. There will always be new things for me to learn that will help me grow as a writer.
Be sure to grab a copy of this month’s Writer’s Digest. There’s an interview with Robert Kirkman, the creator of The Walking Dead (on of my tv favs) and lots of other goodies. Also be on the lookout for Diaz’s new short-story collection This is How You Lose Hercoming out in September.
Yesterday I read a great article in the Jan/Feb issue of Poets & Writers. It is the inspiration issue and it was phenomenal. I spent all day yesterday reading it. The article I want to focus on is “Inner Space: Clearing Some Room for Inspiration” by Frank Bures. In the article he talks about spending less time online in order to create room for inspiration. He cites a University of California study that showed “in 2008 Americans consumed thirty-four gigabytes of information per day, the equivalent of one hundered thousand words — or 350 percent more than we consumed on a given day in 1980.” Holy crap right? I started to think about my own internet usage. Some time ago, I put a timer on my internet browser. I was surprised to see how much time was sucked away by checking my email, Facebooking, and feed reading. I often disappear down a virtual rabbithole that ends up with me watching cute baby animal videos for an hour. Not very productive to say the least.
As a response, I turned off my phone’s email notification setting. There are many times when I have been working on something that it goes off. I check it and put it back in my pocket. Moments later, the phone goes off again. I probably check my phone about a hundred times a day. Since yesterday, I have already noticed a difference in my productivity. I spent the day reading which is unusual for me. I am often afraid people will find out how little time I spend reading and writing and kick me out of the writer’s club. Yesterday I was a model student. I spent the day reading, did a writing exercise, and wrote three pages toward my thesis. Today I’ve worked out, done some reading, and am now blogging. I like checking email when I have time and choose to do so, not have it foisted upon me by my smart phone.
I spent the day reading the issue of Poets & Writers. There was another great article on inspired reading lists. It made me think about how much I have sitting around that I haven’t read. Hopefully, with the time freed up with less internet, I will get to that reading. I also want to be able to do all of the reading next semester. We’ll see on that one. Start thinking about what is holding you back. Is it TV and internet like it is for me? It is good to have some downtime by why can’t reading be a way to relax and unwind? That is a little hard for me as I was/am an English major and all reading feels like work. Happy writing.
As part of the Fall Literary Festival at USC, Junot Diaz did a public reading and a master class with the MFA students. He is the Pulitzer Prize winning author of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao and Drown. He said a lot of things that resonated with me. He talked about how writers would be better off if they spent more time with readers, if they read, and if they make space for readers within the text. Both presentations were wonderful, but what really stuck with me was his comments on fear. He put into words what I have been feeling in the program lately. I’ve felt like I am not hacking it and I’m a fraud. These are common fears for writers (especially the later one). I even had a brief moment recently where I didn’t think I could make it any longer. That’s not to alarm anyone, it was a momentary thought guided more by fear than rational thought. He talked about how all of us in MFA programs are afraid and we can’t let that fear effect our play. We have to be open and willing to explore.
After the reading, I waited in line to have my books signed. I wanted to tell him how much it helped me to hear him talk about those fears. It made a space within me where it was ok to feel those things. I knew it because I had heard other students express the same fears but, for some reason, it took Junot Diaz saying it to me for it to sink in. Anyway, when I got up to him in line, I told him about my fears that I couldn’t hack it. He told me, and mind you this is paraphrase, to “Read. Read what you love. Go back to what you love and regroup. You’re spooking yourself out. There is no one better than you girl, I don’t care how many poems or stories other people write.” His comments really struck me. He was right. Since I’ve come here, I haven’t read any nonfiction other than what has been required for class. I am letting myself get pulled in all these different directions that have nothing to do with the real reason I am here or are only secondary to it. Since last night, I’ve thrown myself back into my academic work. Instead of sitting around feeling overwhelmed, I am trying to get the work done so I can focus the rest of my time on reading and writing. It is all about creating space for the work you love.
I am leaving for South Carolina in sixteen days. I am excited but at the same time a little apprehensive. The program entails graduate classes (creative writing, lit, and theory), teaching classes, studying for a comprehensive exam, thesis and thesis defense, and a foreign language translation exam. It just seems like so much work (although that is the point right?). I know I will be fine as I work well when challenged but I am still nervous. Mainly because I don’t know exactly what to expect. I am glad we are arriving two weeks before school starts so I can get familiar with the area, that will help.
As far as writing, I have not been sticking to my daily goal. Mostly because I have been sick but also partly because I am avoiding it. I hope to start again on the 15th. I do have two pieces that need a final edit and then can go out.
On a side note, I finished The Two Kinds of Decay. I appreciated the way the stories moved back and forth through time but, at points, it was confusing. Her illness ends and she then struggles with alcoholism though not much information is given about that (perhaps there is another book forthcoming). It seems sort of thrown in at the end. Her treatment of the lack of details was honest and added authenticity to the work. She is up front with the reader which always goes far. It was interesting and kept me reading up until the point where she started talking about alcoholism.
One of the books I return to over and over again for writing inspiration is Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within. One reason I like it is that it is composed of short sections. I don’t have to sit and read for a long time. In fact, it is perfect for reading just before writing. Anyway, I picked it up about three days ago and the first section I came to was the part where she talks about filling one notebook a month as a writing goal. I went to Wal-mart and bought a couple of pretty spiral notebooks so I could get started. Luckily it was the 15th as I only like to start writing notebooks on the 1st or 15th of the month.
So far it has worked. It is hard sometimes to fill the required number of pages (works out to rough 4-5 pages a day). That just takes time and adjusting to the writing practice again. Most people have this romantic images of writers but it is actually hard work. Very hard work. The discipline is the hardest part. It is probably easier for those who have deadlines, which I don’t. Deadlines have always helped me get my but in gear. It is just hard when you have no one to hold you accountable.
In preparation of my upcoming move, I donated about three years worth of The Writer, Poets & Writers, and Writer’s Digest to the local Army hospital. I always keep back issues thinking I will need to look something up but, to be honest, I’ve never once done that. I buy literary journals that I never seem to get around to reading. I don’t even read the issue of One Story that comes my way every three weeks. Sometimes I wonder why I subscribe at all. Other times I think I should be subscribing to more literary journals.
As a writer, my secondary job is to read. For some reason though, it always takes a back seat to other projects. For instance, I am not reading much right now because I am crocheting a baby blanket. Part of the reason is that I am so overwhelmed during the semester it is nice to actually have a break from reading. I need to remember that the summer is time for me to read what I want to. I don’t get to read a lot of memoir or modern fiction. The Kindle does make it much easier. I guess I just have to make reading a point. It might also be good to not subscribe to anything new until I read what I have sitting around the house.
Well, I survived finals. My last paper (on the use of literary allusions to Poe as a stepping stone to critiquing mass culture in Native Son) went better than I expected. I had to cut out a lot of what I wanted to include because I was limited to ten pages. I guess that is a sign that I am ready for grad school.
Anyway, I have been practicing my French translation for the exam I will need to pass at USC. That is good and all but I haven’t done any writing since the semester ended. I suppose it is time to get off of my keister and start. I would really like to treat it like a job this summer with set hours so I go into my MFA program as prepared as I can be. It is strange not having deadlines or assignments. Usually, I am so swamped with work and extracurricular obligations that I don’t have time to think about much else.
I am not sure if I should stay home and write or find somewhere nearby. It doesn’t help much that it has been cold, foggy, and rainy/snowy here. Weather like this just saps my energy. We’ll see. In the meantime, I have two new Julia Cameron books to look over: Finding Water: The Art of Perseverance and The Sound of Paper: Starting from Scratch. They have been on my wishlist for a while and when I saw them at $3.99 buy one get one free, I couldn’t resist. Actually, it was a bit of a shopping victory. Because I am a Borders Rewards Member, I got an extra 10% off of the book. I also bought a medium chai latte and a marshmallow square. I couldn’t use the 40% coupon on the books but they did take it off of my chai. Plus I get an extra 10% off of goods in the cafe. I also had $5 in Borders bucks so for two books, a medium chai, and a marshmallow square I paid $2.73.
I know, I get too excited over discounted books but hey I don’t buy a lot of clothes or shoes. I think most writers are fetishists when it comes to books and blank journals. That went a little off topic. So, my plan is to write every day this summer. Perhaps reinstituting my 1,000 words a day requirement will help.