a few thesis notes

pexels-photo-414691.jpegA confession: This blog post is a stall tactic, written during my thesis hours at a small table in the corner of a coffee shop. A friend, also a writer yet a far more disciplined one, just sent me his notes on a piece I’d convinced myself was finished. I read through his critique, thought dammit, he’s right, and hopped onto WordPress to explore potential design changes (see: the new banner photo, just added).

I also noticed that I’ve gained a few followers in the past week–not a clue as to why–and so I felt I owed those new friends a hello.

My plan: To finish this post and to get back to editing a story I’m both proud of and tired of looking at. Sometimes the thrill of accomplishing a small goal gives me the momentum to roll into a larger task.

So, some notes on thesis hours: I’m not sure there’s a right or wrong way to do it, but I’ve found a few things to be necessary for me. Here they are.

  1. Leave home. My apartment is always moderately clean, yet when I’m mulling over the phrasing of a sentence for what feels like eons, I suddenly notice the shoes that escaped the shoe basket,  the half-load of laundry that could be done, the bag of frozen peanut butter cups that I need to eat. Get away so that you don’t have a choice but to sit on your computer.
  2. Have a plan. I usually sit down with a goal in mind: edit this story from last spring’s workshop; get a few pages of that new second-person narrative drafted out. Today, I didn’t have a plan. See: this blog’s opening sentence.
  3. Make your plan attainable. By the end of these three years, I’ll have a 60,000-word thesis (Lord willing). If I sat down thinking about that, though, not a thing would get done. I’d stare at my notebook and wonder who I should ask to be on my thesis committee, what I should wear to my defense, how heavy the manuscript will be when printed.
  4. Find a way to hold yourself accountable. For some, this means writing out a strict schedule and sticking to it. For me, this means sending my story to trusted readers, as well as meeting every few weeks with my adviser. I’m extrinsically-motivated, and that’s important to recognize.
  5. Allow yourself to go off-track. I just finished a story that might be one of my strongest pieces, and it has nothing to do with the linked set I’d planned for my thesis. The great thing about choosing a linked short story set as my thesis is that I’m able to go off-track–after all, any story I write will be linked by author, if nothing else. Still, even if I were working on a novel, I think an occasional tangential trip would keep the juices flowing.
  6. Get the heck off social media. I’ve avoided Facebook the past few months with this in mind; I found that mindlessly scrolling fogged my brain to a crippling degree. How is creativity possible when the news feed assuages me with advertisements, stories, videos that have been specifically chosen based upon my interests?
  7. Do it. On that note, I’m off.

 

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an interview with saw palm journal

AWP is fast approaching; it occurred to me today that I might meet a few editors who have chosen to publish my work. As a Co-Editor for Yemassee, this is exciting on various levels. While going through old publications, though, I realized I’ve not yet posted the following interview with saw palm. Without further introduction, then, here it is (or, rather, was).

 

Short Fiction: Pickup

foothills

It’s been half a year since I’ve written here; the demands of graduate school, teaching, and wedding planning will do that. Over the summer, though, a short fiction piece of mine was published. My now-fiance and I hiked the Foothills Trail in January (2017), and while I drafted a post about the hike, I did not finish it. My apologies; perhaps I’ll unearth it one day and post it retroactively.

This flash fiction piece, accepted by Jonah Magazine, was loosely based on our trail shuttle driver. But no, we did not get engaged on the trail, thanks for asking.

Pickup

He’s been driving trail shuttle for nine years, ever since his wife took her kitchen appliances and smoking habit and left. Their dog had howled after her for a week or so, then he’d forgotten about her, curling up on her rocking chair like it’d always been vacant.

His sons check in once in a while, but it’s mostly just him and the dog now. It’s not a bad life, maintaining the trail during the day, picking up hikers when need be, getting home in time to watch the sun set over Lake Jocassee.

The couple called three days ago, having found his number on the Trail Angels website. The boy asked about getting picked up at the end of the hike. I mapped it out, the boy said, and we should get to the end seven days after starting. But Trip has been around the Foothills for a while and so he says no to that plan, because nobody finishes when they think they will, and many don’t even finish.

He picks the couple up at the trail’s end, where they’re standing next to their car and holding paper coffee cups, the girl leaning her head against the boy’s arm. The boy is skinny with a wide frame that he’ll eventually grow into. The girl is small, barely to his shoulder, her hair brushed neatly into a ponytail and her hiking boots stiff and new. She’s wearing makeup. Just looking at her, Trip knows she won’t make it.

Continue reading here.

On Snow and Fiction

{Written for a guest post for The MFA Years, a blog following the experiences of first year and second year MFA candidates in poetry, fiction and creative nonfiction.}

When I travel north from the South, the South in the winter, the South that is grey-and-brown bleary and blurred with a sleepy, grungy sort of winter, the snow is captivating. The similes have all been written: snow like glitter, snow like a blanket, soft snow, white as snow, pure and sparkling. And it is enchanting, it is, this soft, unadulterated substance that dusts the earth.

Over winter break, we drove the 14 hours north (from my school, in South Carolina, to home in Chicago). We slowly progressed towards the cold.

I let myself be enchanted by the snow this year. It’s been a while. As we neared the Chicago suburbs, I pressed my face against the glass of my passenger seat window. I giggled involuntarily at the scene.

It is magical, mystical, and that, I think, is in the soft covering. The suppression, the gentle blanketing. Overnight, in a few hours of tufts drifting down, the world is clean and new. It’s pure and sublime.

It’s not us.

While watching the evening snowfall through my window, something struck me: the fleeting nature of this enchantment. Temporary, this purity, this glittering drifting veil.

This year has been ugly. It’s been full of anger, full of discrimination and shame and ugly words and harshness. And this ugliness isn’t done. Our nation has healing to do, but it also has work to do, hard work to bring about justice and care and to fight for those who can’t fight. I don’t think what we’re seeing is a turn for the worse; I think it’s an uncovering. The exposure isn’t something to fight. We should not wish to blanket the ugly—we should embrace this uncovering, painful as it is, so that we can fight against what is ugly underneath and work toward growth. I won’t assume for a second to know how to do this, but my vote would be a return to our humanity and commonality.

What the snow does: it covers those grey sidewalks with their flattened, darker-grey gum patches. It covers the dog shit in the parks, the mucky puddles in parking lots. It covers with white, with pure, with intricate designs of crystal. If only our society had a reset like this I thought while watching this snow float down, my face pressed against the car window.

But no. Covering doesn’t heal; blanketing doesn’t repair what’s underneath. Snow is temporary, and it soon melts. It is plowed so that we can get on with our lives, so that we can get on to our jobs and our endlessly busy schedules of do-see-make. It becomes sludge, and then it is gone. We’re left with what’s uncovered.

I’ve been grappling, in this difficult year, of what the role of a writer should be in a broken world. I’m in graduate school for my MFA in fiction—to what purpose? Why write things that don’t exist, people who haven’t been born, events that have transpired? What’s the point?

Art can make an impact. Art can certainly be a catalyst for change. But when the ugliness and brokenness is deeply ingrained in society, we need more than a gentle catalyst.

In my MFA program, I’m surrounded by observers, feelers, thinkers. Writing requires examining and imagining. Within the fiction discipline in particular, my peers are habitual empathizers. We spend our time crafting voices and characters often vastly different than ourselves. We use our own experiences as insight into the human condition. We feel, we observe, and we write.

The weeks after the election, my classes were quiet, heavy, shaded by fear. Heavy with the fears of my cohort, but also heavy with the fears they observe in all of society.

Writing, to me, is about shedding light on the human condition. It’s about what we have in common, the good and the bad.

“We are a species that needs and wants to understand who we are,” says Anne Lamott of writers. Sometimes, the understanding is uncomfortable.

In some senses, maybe we artists are a little like snow. We offer a moment to focus on something carefully created instead of what’s unpleasant and present.

This, though, like all covering, must be temporary. What I write will be likely forgotten, and that is okay. It’s okay as long as, somehow, what I write also illuminates a commonality. Humanity, all of us, we fear. We experience joy and pain and confusion. Art reminds us of that; fiction reminds us of that.

Effort will be necessary to change this splintering country, so necessary, but it’s also crucial, I think, to remember how much we have in common. As I continue my MFA, that will be my focus: the human condition and our universal ability to sympathize, because like it or not, we’re not as different as we’d sometimes believe. I think fiction proves that.

Amuse-Bouche Spotlight in Lunch Ticket

I hunt in the morning, because the world makes sense when you watch it beginning.

The woods, they wake up like my 5-year-old, Emma. Kind of slowly, fluttering, then suddenly it’s all action everywhere all at once and you can’t keep up. The trees and bushes light up from inside, and then the sun peeks up and you realize the glowing was just the light rays racing faster than the sunrise and sticking themselves to everything they hit. Then the squirrels start up trees and before you can take it all in it’s the day already.

This October morning, I bring my ten-year-old, Heathcliff, along to the woods. It’s his first time hunting. Tessa took a picture of us in front of my truck, him in his camo clothes and neon orange hat and shaking like an aspen leaf from excitement. The flash of the camera left black splotches in my line of vision for half of the drive out here, to the woods where I hunt. We didn’t talk during the drive, because mornings are a time for quiet peace, and Heath knows that, too, I can tell.

It’s a cold dark, and I can feel my breath turn wet on my lips when I breathe into my collar. Heath’s eyes are wide, probably so he can see better, and he picks his feet up high to get over the corn stalks sticking out of the frosted field. It looks like he’s got tapetum in those dark eyes – tapetum’s the iridescent pigment layer in a deer’s eye, the part that glints when they run in front of your truck and your headlights shine at them. They’re eyes like his mother’s, when they glint at me. Like when we were on our honeymoon, and went swimming in the ocean at night. Wait, she’d said when I waded away from her. Be careful. There might be a current. The moonlight had flashed off her eyes and her pale shoulders.

Click to continue reading.

Interview with The 3288 Review

I was interviewed. Couldn’t figure out how to post a live webpage, so click here to check it out.

3288 has published three of my pieces–one nonfiction, two fiction. They recently accepted another fiction piece, which will be coming in February (Issue 2.3).

[The 3288 Review is a project of Caffeinated Press. They are a quarterly literary journal focused on discovering and showcasing artistic talent from West Michigan and beyond.]

 

 

to tell the truth I don’t want to let go of the wrists of idleness

mary-oliver-2

Why don’t you get going?

I said this to myself once, twice, three times this week. Grab that computer. Pound out some fiction.

But that’s not writing. It’s not deadlines, ambition, check check check done. It’s a relationship, a lover, time spent reveling because nothing else seems worth the time of day in contrast.

Sometimes it’s finished stories. Sometimes, though, it’s not. Often, it’s just words and imaginings and grasping at truth and finding that it’s only possible to capture a glimpse of life.

“Why fiction?,” one of my literature profs asked me last week. “Why do you waste your time with fiction?” That’s a direct quote.

Because it’s art. Because it’s science. Because it’s trying to portray the human condition while telling an untruth. Because it’s indefinable, and I’ll never reach the end or exhaust of all of the words.

Because even though Ambition is tugging, I frankly don’t care to come in out of the rain.