A couple of weeks ago, I escaped from the routines of my everyday life and disappeared into the woods for four days. As the video above explains, the intention of the trip was to shape a small writing retreat for myself. I packed up some pens, notebooks, my laptop, and printouts of a poetry project (along with some books and art and mediation supplies).
The goals of the retreat were low-key:
Disconnect from social media, the internet, and other distractions that fill my time with mental clutter.
Rest, relax, and rejuvenate through reading, walking among the trees, and meditation.
“If I get through this year, no matter how badly, it will be the biggest victory I’ve ever done.”
— The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath, November 5, 1957
Looking back on the events of 2020 is surreal — January feels like a century ago, some months have blurred together into non-existence, and others contained a constant amalgamation of mundane stress and anxiety that bubbled through the walls of my apartment space.
I find myself asking, what did I even do this year, anyway? Does it even mean anything?
Let’s be real, 2020 came along and kicked us all in the sensitive bits — and then kept on kicking. Like many people, I’m grateful to have just survived. This year has been brutal and normal measurements of one’s accomplishments seem inadequate. It’s enough to just be standing (or sitting) here, having made it to 2021.
At the same time, I want to dig through the mushy mess of this year and pull out the good things — because there were indeed a few good things that happened.
Creativity is a strange, nebulous thing — shifting between vast emptiness and the glorious noctilucence of starlight.
I’m currently in a state of vibrance, and Neil Gaiman’s quote about writing novels has never felt more appropriate. The world at large is facing massive challenges (to put it lightly) on a number of fronts, struggles that should be acknowledged and addressed — but, hey, I’m also in a state of vibrant creativity, so as far as my brain goes, it’s not all bad.
Here’s a few of the news and projects that have me in a state of joy right now:
• My chapbook, Twelve: Poems Inspired by the Brothers Grimm Fairy Tale(forthcoming from Interstellar Flight Press) has been up on NetGalley for a few weeks now — and the responses coming in have been mostly positive, such as this lovely review.
• For a long time, I’ve wanted to have my own places to write about horror movies, TV shows, video games, and dark lore. Although I’ve written about some of those things here, I’m finding it a bit too cluttered and I would like this blog to be dedicated to books and writing. Thus, I’ve finally created Once Upon the Weird, a place for all things unsettling and strange. A website is in the works, but in the meantime I’ve launched a newsletter (first issue to go out tomorrow). I’m honored by the early response. Thank you to everyone who has already subscribed.
• I’ve returned to working on my YA apocalyptic horror novel (which I started in November), progressing into the third act. A part of me feels like this should be the final section of the book, another part wonders if I need to explore the characters more before I wrap up. But the important bit is that the work is progressing and I’m feeling good about where it’s going.
• I’m starting work on a new horror movie script idea that swooped in and smacked me upside the head. Last week, I cleared my bedroom story board so that I could start putting up characters, scenes ideas, and other notes in order to begin preliminary work on the script. Movie scripts are such a different and interesting beast from any other kind of writing, and I’m fascinated by the unique challenge.
• Another new horror novel idea also came to me in the form of a Stephen King-esque nightmare, in which a girl with psychic powers takes up residence in a small town, where there’s a haunted apartment block. The idea is in the early, early stages, but I’ve started taking notes and have even dropped down a few loose scenes. This may be what I work on after I finish my current novel.
And that’s just to name a few ideas and projects that are in progress right now.
Moments of creative flight can be fleeting. Just as quickly as creativity floats into view, it can drift away again. I’m attempting to seize the moment and engage with the work as much as possible while this spark is present in my life.
As I’m in abundance, I send this blessing out to you, friends. May your creativity spark with new life, may it thrive and grow, may it cultivate and bear fruit. May your art, your words, your craft, your cooking, your endeavors gather and linger in your days and fill you with joy.
“I would rather wonder than know,” said May Rueffle in a recent Tin House interview. “…I think wondering is a way of inhabiting and lingering. There seems to be more dwelling. To dwell, inhabit, and linger. I’m interested in those things. And you can do that when you don’t know.”
My commute to my day job was effortless this morning. The roads were nearly clear and traffic was almost nonexistent. As someone who generally drives a minimum of two hours a day, this would normally be a cause of celebration. But these open roads are the result in numerous Silicon Valley folks working from home in the face of the corona virus — a reality that left me melancholy.
Turns out, nearly empty roads are a strange, haunting sight.
This month, I started a challenge to write 30 poem drafts in 30 days (a challenge I normally do in April during National Poetry Month, but I got confused and started it early, so here we are). I found a nice rhythm to the work at the start of the month, but have since fallen behind and am having to play catchup.
As more and more news flows in about all the messed up goings on in the world, the writing of poetry or fiction feels like a frivolous thing. How could putting words on a page possibly help anyone or anything?
And yet, I keep writing.
Writing is a way to help me process how I feel — about myself, the people around me, and the world. Words are a way of processing or compartmentalizing what’s happening. Not to mention that I feel more whole as a human when I remain connected to words.
In the end, I hope it goes beyond serving myself, as well. I hope that the words I write will also reach others, that they might mean something to some one else, that they might help them process their own emotions or serve them in some way. I can’t know — during the act of writing — whether the words will every be read by anyone else, let alone move them.
All I know is that here and now, the words help me. Sometimes the act of writing itself is enough.
A new episode of the New Books in Poetry podcast is up. I had a delightful conversation with Franny Choi about her new book Soft Science (Alice James Books 2019). As she notes in this interview, “this book is a study of softness,” exploring feeling, vulnerability, and desire. How can you be tender and still survive in a hard and violent world? What does it mean to have desire when you yourself are made into an object of desire? What does it mean to have a body that bears the weight of history? You can listen to the interview here or on the podcast app of your choice.
I also have a new video up, in which I talk about my love of reading and writing and my plans for making future videos.
Book of the Month
I can’t believe it’s taken me so long to read Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado — a phenomenal collection of short stories that explore the place of women in the world, with each story having its own intimate horrors. Many of these stories also explore female desire and sexuality, diving into that longing for pleasure in a world that would traditionally deny them that. All of the stories in this collection are complex and powerful in their own unique ways.
For my full review of Her Body and Other Parties, check out my Culture Consumption for February, where you’ll also find other books I read for Women in Horror Month, as well as the movies, TV, games, and podcasts that I’ve enjoyed.
More Good Stuff
Chuck Wendig provides some sage advice on running a con, conference or festival in the age of a burgeoning pandemic.
“I want to feel what I feel. What’s mine. Even if it’s not happiness, whatever that means.” — Toni Morrison in a thoughtful, moving conversation with Emma Brockes (before her death).
“I’m most interested in character. However, character is informed by culture, and culture is informed by environment. In a lot of cases, to understand the character I need to understand literally everything about their world.”
Apparently, there’s communities of folks making Book and Authortube videos, in which they essentially talk about books, writing, and publishing. Since I’ve been wanting to get back into making videos, these community topics seemed a good way to focus my ideas around.
One of the things that a lot of folks in this community do is the Newbie Tag — which is essentially a list of questions about you and your interests as a means of introduction. It sounded like fun, so I thought I’d go for it — although with my own flare.
Booktube and Authortube each have their own unique set of questions (listed below), created by Brenda C. and Jenna Streety, respectively. Rather than making them as two separate videos, I decided to incorporate them together, editing to avoid repeated questions and (hopefully) making things flow.
I hope you enjoy the video, and if you decide to do your own newbie tag, please let me know. I’d be happy to check it out.