Monday, March 24, 2014

Writing Groups: It Takes a Village ...

"Showing up" on a walk with our bambino

… to keep writing. I could easily spend my days vacuuming under the high chair and folding load after load of laundry. But writing friends encourage me with deadlines.

I'm in two small writing workshops, one poetry and one multi-genre. Between the two, we live in many different cities and two countries. Every week, we email each other new pieces and share some feedback on the work.

Yes, sometimes I'm very excited to share a new poem and sometimes I'm at a loss as to what to write. Sometimes, when the baby is screaming, I'm unnerved by the fact that I think I can balance three jobs: mother, teacher & writer.

Having a self-imposed deadline and feeling responsible to other writers in the group - who wants to be the weak link? - helps me to find the time to compose new work. Part of that composition might happen as I'm on a walk with the baby and the majority of it happens when I'm sitting at the computer writing.

As Hila Ratzabi, of the Red Sofa Salon, wrote about her residency at Vermont Studio Center, simply showing up to write is a major part of writing at all. "And I know people say this a lot, but you really have to show up. And showing up is brave. I totally dread approaching my work sometimes cause I think I have nothing to say or it’s not going to be great. But I surprise myself over and over."As a (still fairly new) mother, "showing up" sometimes happens at unusual times, but it still counts.

Last week I emailed into my two writing groups to say that while I didn't have anything new, I had been revising and submitting work. A writer in one of the groups had encouraged me to try Duotrope, the submissions database. I hadn't submitted anything in months and months. One week later, I've submitted about 2/3rds of the individual poems from my current manuscript. Phew!

Tomorrow is our deadline. I have a virtual stack of grading to finish and I'm teaching a memoir workshop at Politics & Prose bookstore today. I'm accountable to my students to fulfill my commitment to teaching them to the best of my ability. I'm accountable to my writing friends to keep writing.

And, most of all, I'm accountable to myself.

Back to work.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

On Memoir & Reading Holding Silvan by Monica Wesolowska


Lee Gutkind writes, "the memoir is the writer’s particular story, nobody else’s. The writer owns it." Monica Wesolowska's memoir about her son, Holding Silvan, tells her own story, even as family, friends and the medical community enter into it.

I read the memoir Holding Silvan by Monica Wesolowska on the plane back from the AWP conference in Seattle. I wasn’t sure if I should or could read a book about losing a child. After finishing the book in one day, it was clear that I was wrong about the subject. It wasn't about losing a child. It was about, quite literally, holding a baby and and being together. 

Monica's intimate, and perhaps controversial, subject and focus also offer lessons to a reading writer. It isn't easy to write a memoir that includes others, as they almost always do. Writers must decide what to include, exclude and how to tell a tale that, inevitably, has many angles and versions.

In memoir writing classes, I encourage students to tell their own tale from their experience. That is their story to tell. They have the right to untangle and share that story for themselves and others. They don't, of course, have the right to write a revenge tale or ruin someone else (well, they can, but should think twice about publishing it.) There are decisions that a writer can make - changing names, for example - that help to keep the tale true while protecting others, especially those who are unable to tell their own version.

I found comfort in this book, as it seems Monica was hoping readers would. In her panel at AWP with other memoirists, she alluded to the importance of letting this intimate tale be told. The publisher from Hawthorne books told me in the book fair that an honest book like this was why he went into publishing. I, too, strongly recommend it.

During the panel, Monica said that the process of writing allows the author to start to see patterns emerging from a tale. She also noted that part of writing memoir is that the author must acknowledge mistakes and face them. She emphasized that it is important to see yourself as flawed and face those flaws directly in order to craft an honest book.

Ariel Gore, a memoirist also on the panel, said that memoir is for strangers and a larger community beyond your family. The utility of memoir is for authors to break out of their isolation. With that in mind, memoir isn't ultimately for the subjects. 

In Holding Silvan, Monica and her husband made the decision to allow their child to die naturally and surrounded by love. They made this humane decision that allowed so much to survive during and after Silvan’s life.

For more on Monica, read this interview with Late Night Library or click through her author page on Hawthorne Books. 

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Summer Co-op Sign-Up Time!


I am excited to teach my son about fruits and veggies this summer. Together, we'll walk to the main street to pick up the CSA delivery, prepare and then savor the boxes of treats all week. He'll learn about different kinds of foods, taste new flavors and we'll spend some quality time together. 

Ok, so he'll only be celebrating his one year birthday in May, so his focus is likely to be on the eating (and schmearing and throwing?) the colorful foods.

We participated in this same CSA, the Lancaster Farm Fresh Cooperative, before I was pregnant and really loved it. Sometimes it was a little stressful to figure out what to do with new veggies (admittedly, that was the first I'd heard of garlic scapes), but we learned a lot and ate some delicious meals. I couldn't fathom having anything "extra" to do last year with a new baby, so we took some time off last summer. 

Since he has been tasting, and generally enjoying, all kinds of foods, from bananas to ricotta to quinoa cereal, it should be a healthy family adventure. 

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

AWPing: Tabling & Paneling & Listening & Napping

When my flight was delayed, 
I was able to sneak in a visit to the Seattle Art Museum

Did I “do” the AWP conference right this year? Probably not.

I did present on a panel about teaching, sign copies of Unrest at Finishing Line Press' table, “tabled” for toadlily press and attended a few readings and panels. Most importantly, perhaps, I caught up with writer friends, slept deeply (and for 8 continuous hours) and remembered Kurt Brown.

As a mamma of 9 month old (who turned nine months when I was in Seattle, away from him for the first time), I’m still pretty exhausted from pregnancy, giving birth and mothering our sweet son. Passing some quiet and thoughtful time alone was, frankly, invigorating. I had some beautifully quiet and delicious breakfasts (at Bacco and Athenian) and watched the sky shift as the sun rose every morning. I wandered through the market, tasting chocolates and drinking too much coffee.

In the past, I’ve attended many more panels, readings, off-site events and stayed up late chatting with writers. I’d go home exhausted and ready to catch up on sleep. This trip seemed very much like the opposite.

Was it worth the time, money and effort to fly across the nation? Being able to hug Laure-Anne Bosselaar and attend the panel dedicated to her late husband, Kurt Brown, made it clear that it was. Kurt Brown was my poetry thesis advisor at Sarah Lawrence College. He patiently read through my poems, prepared notes and talked with me about them. I learned so much from him and felt happily challenged and motivated after every meeting. I had Laure-Anne as a professor and they both always made me, and everyone else as I understand it, comfortable in their presence. Through the years since I graduated in 2005, Kurt was always responsive and encouraging.

I was terribly sorry to hear of his passing. Tiger Bark Press, with Laure-Anne, published a collection of selected and new poems by Kurt Brown. Along with the preface, it is a beautiful book dedicated to a kind and wonderful poet. Laure-Anne read the poem Kiss, a testimony to their deep love.

My flight home was delayed by a day due to storms in the northeast. I am writing this on the plane literally aching to hold my baby boy. Soon. And I will read Kurt Brown’s poems to him.

Available from Tiger Bark Press