I saw a number of writing friends in Tampa last week during the Association of Writers and Writing Programs conference. They are creating essays, novels, journalistic articles, short fiction, and poetry, and they spoke of their projects with such enthusiasm that I felt my own creative endeavors infused with energy. We drank and ate at restaurants, walked the streets, and caught up over coffee in shops. I had finished a new short story before heading to Tampa—a surreal piece where the setting keeps shifting to the astonishment of the protagonist—and I have started sending it out to magazines with new vigor.
Giving an off-site reading with my fellow IU MFA alums during the conference was also a pleasure. We read on the back deck of an Irish restaurant at dusk, as the winds blew about, and it was fascinating to hear the new work of fellow writers I’ve followed for years.
This week, also, my article on filmmaker Paul Shoulberg came out in Indiana University’s The College Magazine. The issue also features some great work by writers Chad Anderson and Raymond Fleischmann. Paul and I had an enlivening three-hour discussion about his life and work. He spoke about his films and his reasons for creating art. You can read the entire piece here.
Cold January left me feeling disconnected from my writing—on top of the weather, I had an endless case of the flu—but I’m slowly starting to feel like myself again. The flu even generated a vivid fever dream that I am turning into a prose poem. I have also started writing about Bosnia again—a short story from the perspective of an aging couple—and it feels significant to revisit the spaces of Sarajevo now. They are providing me with a deep sense of comfort, and they are generating childhood memories, as well.
I have not been finishing pieces, really. Rather, I’m endlessly changing, tweaking, and molding things, and also starting new work. It feels good to work without pressure or expectation.
Press 53 also notified me this week that they will anthologize a story of mine, “On the Dalmatian Coast.” I initially published the story in a small literary magazine and am excited to give it new life. It is a piece I wrote while in the MFA program seven years ago, and it meant a lot to me at the time. The piece will appear in volume three of the anthology Everywhere Stories this fall.
I also have an article about filmmaker Paul Shoulberg coming out next month in IU’s The College Magazine. Paul and I met at a coffee shop in Bloomington and had a lengthy and invigorating conversation about his creative work and views on life. I will link to the article here when it comes out.
In terms of readings, several of us former MFA’s from Indiana University will have a reading in Tampa during the AWP Conference in March. The reading will take place at Four Green Fields restaurant on Saturday, March 10th, at 5:00 p.m. So look to forward to being with these gorgeous writers and friends in a relaxed setting!
On April 22, I will also participate in a benefit reading in Bloomington, Indiana. This will be a Punks Give Back event, which will feature five to six writers and two bands that will play in between readings.
I’m so grateful for all these waves as they come. It’s such a pleasure to connect with other creative people and to examine my own inner spaces again through my work.
In an attempt to reconnect with writers who have influenced me, I googled Mary Gaitskill’s name today and came across a 2015 New York Times article about connection and loneliness in Gaitskill’s work. In the piece, literary critic Parul Sehgal teases out some of the complexities that lie beneath the surface of Gaitskill’s behavior and writing.
The article left me wanting to slow down as a writer and to dig more deeply into silence, awkwardness, discomfort. To explore character traits I avert my eyes from in real life. The entire piece is available on the NYT website, but here is a short excerpt about weakness:
We are phobic of weakness, we treat it like a contagion, averting our eyes and hoping for the best. But Gaitskill puts her fingers in the wound. Even among other artists attracted to weakness as a theme, she is rare in being able to look at it on its own terms. She doesn’t treat it like a curiosity, like Diane Arbus, or a chink in the armor that might let in faith, like Flannery O’Connor. She isn’t afraid of it, like Muriel Spark; nor does she insist its depictions rouse us to action, like Sontag. She looks — just looks — and sees everything: how weakness is despised, how weakness can be cunning, how victims aren’t merely saints or dupes.
A short, fantastic interview with writer Alexander Maksik is up on the Tin House website. Maksik discusses the popular tendency to shy away from writing sex in contemporary fiction and says:
Who becomes an artist out of a desire for safety? The aversion to writing about real intimacy is symptomatic of what I see as our growing cultural aversion to sincerity. And far more frightening, is a growing atmosphere of caution. Since when have good writers been cautious?
Lately I’ve been thinking of my own hesitance to address a number of subjects openly, both on social media and in my creative writing. Up until recently, I thought that my creative writing at least was a space where I pushed forward without much self-policing, but recently I read several short stories I wrote years back and was astounded by the difference between my boldness then and my hesitance now. It is true that I did not think as much about the construction of identity/identities in those years but wrote more intuitively—and my critical eye is largely a positive development—but I would like to recapture more of that intuitive movement that allowed me to follow characters from page to page with complete openness and affection. Reading Maksik’s interview really did bring some of that energy back.
Yesterday, I read the Paris Review interview with the French writer Emmanuel Carrère, whose books often combine journalistic reporting with first-person confession. In the interview, Carrère describes a writing exercise he practices, learned from the German Romantic Ludwig Börne:
For three successive days, force yourself to write, without denaturalizing or hypocrisy, everything that crosses your mind. Write what you think of yourself, your wives, Goethe, the Turkish war, the Last Judgment, your superiors, and you will be stupefied to see how many new thoughts have poured forth. That is what constitutes the art of becoming an original writer in three days.
Carrère finds this to be excellent advice and practices it when he is not working on anything. I felt inspired and started it yesterday myself. Even though I often journal, the session yesterday felt different than it typically does. It was as if Carrère had given me permission to be entirely present with my emotions and opinions, and my assurance with the pen grew and grew the more I wrote.
In the end, after reaching clarity, I felt a need to start a new piece of fiction but was dry for ideas. So I did what I sometimes do: I read poetry by writers I admire until one of their images inflated into a whole scene in my mind. The poem that struck me was “Autumn Sky” by Charles Simic, particularly the following stanza:
The stars know everything,
So we try to read their minds.
As distant as they are,
We choose to whisper in their presence.
The scene it generated was one where two adolescents—country children who have grown up in neighboring houses—lie in a field and look to the stars. Their unusual dialogue moves the piece into a speculative realm, a genre I’ve been drawn to lately. I’m excited to be revising and polishing this piece now.
My new short story, “Secret Convention,” looks at a BDSM gathering from the perspective of an accidental bystander. I am excited to have it in the latest issue of CSU Chico’s literary journal Watershed Review. I hope that you enjoy it!
Poet Max Ritvo has passed at age 25. Thanks to the Facebook posts of a number of literary journals, I read his gorgeous work for the first time today. I was particularly moved by an interview with Ritvo on Divedapper. Below is an excerpt, but you can read the full interview here.
Everybody dies with loose ends. You can be ninety, you can be twenty-five. These are my particular loose ends. And it’s been very very comforting not to really try to do anything other than do today. I want to do this interview with you today. I’m not trying to think about whether I’m going to be well enough to edit it. Whether I’m ever going to see it in the world. What happens to me is just the next step. It’s been immensely liberating to realize so much of joy is made worse by trying to make joy stay. And so much of suffering is made worse by trying to make suffering go away. When you’re just comfortable allowing whatever sensations are there to be there, allowing the paths whatever their paths, that is healing.