Over half of last week was consumed by as work trip to Michigan. I flew in and out of Chicago and then drove across Michigan visiting industrial facilities (something I find so interesting). Over the course of the trip I drove about 940 miles. Most of the roads revealed large, flat empty fields with skeletal trees surrounding them. I wanted to get out and explore the forests, to stand among the winter trees, but my driving schedule didn’t really allow it. I did, however, get some photos from the roadside.
This is probably where I should connect these miles to a metaphor about the roads I’ve traveling in my creative life, how I’ve persistently pursued poetry and fiction and filmmaking, how I’ve come across mountains and ravines and struggled my way through, how these roads have garnered me new perspectives and insights into myself and the creative world at large — but I’m just not going there right now. Maybe some other time.
What I’m Reading
I’m stoked to be reading The Obelisk Gate, the second book in N.K. Jemisin’s The Broken Earth trilogy. This book is just as fantastic as the first book, The Fifth Season, which presented a world defined by continual catastrophe (review). I love this world and the characters in it. More about this world has been revealed, making it even more interesting than it already was. I can’t wait to see where this is going.
What I’m Writing
I received three rejections for my homeless ELJ chap over the weekend, back to back. One of them said nice things about my work and offered to publish a few of the poems in their upcoming journal, even though they couldn’t take the book — which was nice.
These days, I’m finding my skin is not as thick as it used to be regarding rejections. I keep reminding myself that most manuscripts get rejected a dozen or more times before finding a home. So, I’m setting myself a requirement to send the chap out to four new publishers, and I’ll continue doing that until it finds a home.
Even with all of the traveling and holidays and life being lifelike, I’ve managed to consistently keep up with my daily erasure poetry on Instagram. I really enjoy doing these and I’m considering putting together a self-pubbed chap of erasure poems at some point.
The Running Life
The not running has continued, and I can feel it in my muscles that I need to be getting back out there again.
Longest Run of the Week: 0 miles
Total Miles for the Week: 0 miles
Total Miles for 2017: 62.54 miles
“Literature’s grand mission is to tell the complicated truths about what it means to be human, but the most powerful proof that any writer has achieved that lofty goal is in the humble phrase: me too,” says Cheryl Strayed in a response to question on the power of words.
“So maybe it was just sad, doughy me, at home stuffing the void with takeout, but it felt like Sad Girl Theory had infiltrated all the biggest moments in pop culture over the past two years. Beyonce’s visual album Lemonade, Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s breakout TV show Fleabag and Rachel Bloom’s My Crazy Ex-Girlfriend each fixated on two things: being sad and being a woman and the connection between both.,” writes Sophie Atkinson in Feminism and the Pursuit of Relentless Happiness.
Just about all the 2016 in review posts I’ve read so far have begun the same way: 2016 sucked, but there were some good things, too. I feel everyone on that sentiment.
If I look back — past the overwhelming days, past the stress — there have been some great moments, a few of which, I’m happy to share here.
The Publishing Game
I sent out a total of 32 submissions in 2016 — including poetry, fiction, and chapbooks — with a total of six acceptances, one finalist placement for a chapbook, 20 rejections, and five still under consideration.
My first collection of poetry, a chapbook titled Pantheon, was accepted for publication this year by ELJ Publications and is scheduled to come out in August 2017. I couldn’t be more excited. The cover art is currently being developed and I’m sure there will be other developments as we get closer to the publication date.
Several of my solo and collaborative poems cowritten with Laura Madeline Wiseman have appeared in or are forthcoming in several anthologies, including: The World Retold(The Writers’ Guild of Iowa State University, March 2016); Red Sky, an anthology on the global epidemic of violence against women (Sable Books, September 2016); Write Like You’re Alive 2016 (Zoetic Press, September 2016); and Undead: A Poetry Anthology of Ghouls, Ghosts, and More! (Apex, forthcoming in 2017).
Slink Chunk Press published “The Shadows Flight,” a flash fiction piece. It’s the first piece of fiction that I’ve ever published and I’m grateful to the editors for sharing it with the world.
What I Wrote in 2016
I left the novel on the sideline last year, focussing instead on smaller work like poems and short stories — trying to get drafts completed and edited and sent out into the world. Although I felt a bit lacking in productivity toward the end of 2016, I have to admit that it’s been a fairly productive year. I’m pretty sure I came close to doubling the number of submissions I sent out, which means an increased amount of words were written to enable that.
The bulk of my writing was completed while participating in three writing challenges — for ELJ Write Now, I wrote 30 poems in the 30 days of April as a series of Our Lady poems praising pop culture characters, which became the basis for the soon-to-be-published Pantheon; Zoetic Press’ Write Like Your Alive challenge in the month of July drove me to complete another 23 poem drafts (of varying quality); and finally, The POEMING 2016 in October was a found poetry challenge in which poets were each assigned one novel by Stephen King and were required to create one found or erasure poem per day for all 31 days. I usually sign myself up for a month-long challenge at some point every year for the past few years and rarely complete them. So, I surprised myself by signing up for not just one challenge, but three and completing each one.
I also participated in a Short Film Scriptwriting Challenge through MMtB. Although my script was not one of the ones selected to be produced that night, it was an great experience that provided me with some contacts of people working on indy films in the Bay Area and reminded me how much I want to work on films.
More writing and editing and writing and editing happened throughout 2016, I’m sure, although I can’t remember it at the moment. Nevertheless, I feel confident about the work I’ve done and am feeling good as I move in to 2017, ready to accomplish even more. Maybe even move back toward working on the novel again.
I’ll put together another post on my writing goals for the year in a later post.
Travel in 2016
Most of my travel has been within the U.S. on a variety of work trips. Nashville was a delight — I loved the music and the history and food (oh, my goodness the food). I also ended up in parts of Ohio, Kentucky, and Alabama for a day or two at a time.
Closer to home was a weekend in Yosemite National Park. It was frigidly cold and so, so beautiful, worth every shiver and layer of shirt, sweater, sweater, coat, scarf, gloves, and hat that I had to put on.
I also made it out of Dusseldorf, Germany for a week (also for work). It’s a trip I’ve made several times before, made delightful by the fact that my brother joined me. We walked through the Christmas Market, tasted spiced wine, and rode the ferris wheel. So much fun.
Running in 2016
I’ve been continually trying to progress in my running — although like most of my goals, it sort of dropped off toward the last few months of 2016. I haven’t accomplished my goal of running a Half Marathon yet, but I did run the She is Beautiful 10K again, which is always a delight. Nevertheless, I have made progress — because despite skipping running for weeks at a time sometime, I can come back and get back into the groove fairly quickly. Apparently, I’ve been consistent enough for my muscles to remember, so that I don’t feel as though I’m starting from scratch each time I restart.
How was 2016 for you? I’d love to hear about some of your good things.
As we drove along the dark roads under the sheltering shadows of trees, the face of a mountain rose up before us like a monolith, ghostly in the blue moonlight, while the stars sprinkled the noctilucent sky behind. All of us in the car — except the one sleeping — gasped. The night could not hide the grandeur of the mountains that sheltered us in Yosemite valley.
It was the first time to Yosemite National Park for most of us (my mom, my sister, my sister’s friend, and I), and somehow entering the park in the dark, barely being able to see anything other than the mountain aglow was the perfect introduction.
* * *
Visiting Yosemite in the winter is beautiful, but the cold can be exhausting. Our group was in a constant battle against the cold, grasping for every ounce of heat, the heater in our tent barely holding up against the drafts that slipped in through the door and window flaps. It was a good thing we brought our own sleeping bags and an extra assortment of winter gear.
My clothing was mostly California-thin, laughable as winter wear. The cold was a creeping thing, working its way through layers of clothing, to crawl along the skin, slip its way in to settle under the surface, nestle in my bones. I layered pattern upon pattern, not caring about hat conflicting with scarf conflicting with coat, in an attempt to maintain warmth.
* * *
The only time we really got warm was on our hike, our bodies becoming furnaces fighting against the frost and wind as the trail inclined upward, leading us toward rivers and waterfalls and mossy stones and vistas.
Water was everywhere on this trip, sliding over rock faces in grand cascades glittering with a framework of ice or dribbling through cracks, rushing through rivers, leaving slick patches on the trails, nearly invisible and dangerous underneath our feet. It covered everything in during each night, making the whole world glitter.
* * *
I’ve fallen in love with Yosemite. The place is too beautiful not to return to again and again. I hope I’ll get the chance to return again soon, whether in the frigid cold of winter or the heat of summer.
Thank you to the editors of Undead: A Poetry Anthology of Ghouls, Ghosts, and More! I’m looking forward to seeing my poem “Beware of Attics” reprinted within its pages sometime in 2017.
I’m enjoying Ghosts by Raina Telgemeier, a graphic novel about two sisters who move to a coastal town with a local population of specters. The artwork is bright with clean lines and slightly cartoony (as in the characters have large round eyes and exaggerated expressions. Fun, so far.
What I’m Writing
Mostly I’m dealing with end of the year stuff, figuring out just what I accomplished this year and what I need to finish up in order to clean out my files and prep for the new year. This will involve a considerable amount of gathering and editing and arranging, I’m sure.
Goals for the Week:
Edit, edit, edit — and submit something
“The women in her stories are often constrained – by convention, by their families, by their own fears and subconscious desires. And beneath it all is a sense of powerful, hidden rage – a rage that belies the setting of so much of her fiction. Under the bland surface of these small, suburban communities, something dark is fermenting; something is about to erupt,” writes Joanne Harris on the Shirley Jackson centenary.
For the past several weeks, I’ve been avoiding writing much of anything, either here on my blog or poetry and other projects. I’ve been overwhelmed following the election and also busy spending time with the family over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend followed by jumping on a plane to Germany for a week long work trip.
Life is like that sometimes. But I’m back home and back writing. I will probably have a string of posts wrapping up the year over the next couple of weeks.
In the meantime, here are a few pics from my time in Dusseldorf, Germany last week.
What I’m Reading
Independent Ed by Edward Burns is a memoir describing the filmmaker’s passion for the process of directing movies and his focus on independent work, as well as some stories from his acting career. Rather interesting and enjoyable with a few useful tidbits of advice here and there.
I’m also working my way through Tim Burton: Essays on the Films, edited by Johnson Cheu. The essays present some fascinating analyses of Burton’s movies. For example, one of the essays examines atypical bodies as presented in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
What I’m Writing
I have not been writing much of anything lately — all a part of giving myself time to decompress. I tend to feel two ways whenever I’m not writing. The first is guilty, as I know in order to improve at writing and to develop my career, I need to put words on the page and send them out into the world in one manner or another. The second thing I tend to feel is acceptance, a kind of forgiveness mixed with relief, because I also know that there is no sense in beating myself up when I’m not in a place to deal with words directly.
This whole not-writing thing is going to shift, I’m sure — in part from necessity, as I had a meeting yesterday regarding an upcoming project that could be an amazing amount of fun. As the project is in its initial stages of discussion, I can’t really share what it is yet, but I may be able to do so over the coming months, assuming everything pans out.
I also have some writing assignments that I need to finish up this week.
Goals for the Week:
Finishing writing assignments
Type up and send out meeting notes regarding mystery project
“We are living through a time when dark, violent forces have been released, encouraged, and applified, on both sides of the Atlantic: by Trump in America, the Brexiteers here, Le Pen in France and too many others eager to extend its reach. I contend that in the face of such ugliness we need the beacon of light that is beauty more than ever — and I hold this belief as someone who has not lead a sheltered life, nor is unaware of the true cost of violence on body and soul. It is because of the scars that I carry that I know that beauty, and art, and story, are not luxuries. They are bread. They are water. They sustain us.” — Terry Windling in Dark Beauty.
“The 2016 presidential campaign was decidedly lacking in poetry. Yet in its aftermath, as Americans consider the contours of their new government, they are, often, turning to poems,” writes Megan Garber in Still, Poetry Will Rise.
My trip to Nashville last week was necessarily mellow, because I fell sick halfway through. Nevertheless, my mom and I managed to get out, see some historical sites, and have some good eats. I could write a whole other post on the food in Nashville — bonuts from Biscuit Love and fried chicken from Hattie B’s (which has six levels of spicy including “Shut the Cluck Up”) — um, yum. But I really want to share some of the history we learned about and how it was portrayed.
There is a certain amount of rewriting of history in the South, a romanticizing of the antebellum era, giving the period a soft glow that blurs out the uglier aspects of slavery. Traveling to the South, I wondered how much of this I would see while visiting historical museums.
The Lotz House
Driving on a road trip to see the countryside, my mom and I accidentally discovered the Lotz House in Franklin. We were just exploring and didn’t have any destination in mind while we were driving, but the sign indicating that the house was a Civil War museum called to us.
Since we were there on a weekday, we were were the only two people on the tour. Our guide explained how the house was a center point for an epic battle in which thousands of Northern and Confederate soldiers died. The Lotz family, including the children, were present during the battle and hid inside a brick basement while events raged outside.
Johann Albert Lotz was a master woodworker and he used his home as a showpiece for his profession, displaying elaborate mantles and carved banisters. Following the battle, his family returned to their home, which had been battered and badly damaged, a home full of bullet and cannon holes. The evidence of his quick repairs to make the house livable again are still evident in the home. There are still scars in the brickwork, still bloodstains in the wood floors.
Despite all these repairs, Lotz and his family were forced to flee Tennessee when the KKK threatened to end Lotz’s life for carving a piano that portrayed an eagle holding a tattered confederate flag. He fled all the way to San Jose, California, as far away as he could get before hitting water. (My mom and I have plans to visit his gravesite, which is nearby where we live.)
What was interesting about the Lotz house was that it centered around an everyday sort of family. They were not rich. They were just craftsmen trying to get by and survive impossible circumstances.
Andrew Jackson’s Hermitage
The Hermitage is the home-turned-museum of President Andrew Jackson. The primary focus of the museum is the life of Jackson, his role as a general and as a president, and the legacy he and his family left behind. The tour of the manor house was interesting, although it also felt brief giving a perfunctory view of the household and how it operated (though this is likely because of the large number of tours and tourists coming through there everyday).
The Hermitage was a working plantation, which was made profitable by slavery. It was no surprise to me that, in being a museum dedicated to a former president of the United States, the museum glossed over much regarding the lives of the slaves. Most of the information stated or hinted at the idea of Jackson considered to have been a “benevolent” slave owner, who treated the slaves as his “black family.” Even the former slave buildings say little, explaining only that little is known about the lives of the slaves who lived there. Anything more than that is mostly related is subtle hints and insinuations, at best.
However, there was an interesting display about the life of Alfred Jackson, who was born as a slave at the Hermitage to the cook, Betty. Following the end of the Civil War, Alfred continued to work at the Hermitage as a caretaker. When the plantation was converted into a museum in 1889, he became one of the first tour guides.
The Belle Meade Plantation
We visited the Belle Meade plantation in a rush at the end of the day after returning of our tour of Andrew Jackson’s Hermitage. The Belle Meade plantation includes a manor house tour (which we did not take), a beautiful stables and carriage house, a large collection of antique carriages and sleds, and outbuildings. A winery has also started up on the site, with wine tastings available as part of the tour.
The collection of horse-drawn carriages was wonderful (although our experience of it was frustrated by the wedding that was being set up for the night). All of the carriages are beautiful and well preserved, and I enjoyed learning about the various uses of each one.
The plantation was known for its horse breeding. According to our Uber driver, all of the horses that have participated in the Kentucky Derby can trace their lineage back to the Belle Meade plantation. I have no idea if that’s true, but it’s fascinating either way.
The thing I appreciate the most about Belle Meade, however, was how it handled the history of slavery. The property includes a reconstruction of the slave quarters, which is used exclusively to explore the lives of the slaves who once lived on the plantation with video recordings forming an oral history of black lives and excavated artifacts revealing fragments of how the slaves lived found in and around the Belle Meade site.
Belle Meade acknowledges that an important aspect of history has been erased and is making strides to combat that erasure through an archeological project called Journey to Jubilee. The mission statement of the project is “to preserve and interpret the African-American story at Belle Meade plantation while educating the public about the significance of the contributions made by African-Americans and their significance in American history.”
After seeing how the Hermitage glossed over this important part of history, it was so refreshing to see a historical site making efforts to share and discuss challenging topics. The three to five year project is ongoing and hopefully, they will put together an excellent historical resource as they work to tell more of the whole story.