18-Minute Chili

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by Jessica Danger

Who wouldn’t want to apply?

I did, after reading the description from the website at Dorland Mountain Arts Colony: “Dorland Mountain Arts Colony is a beautiful retreat where artists, writers, musicians and composers can create in a secluded, natural setting.”

I had the place to myself for a week. I was about 85% done with a memoir I had been working on in the years since my father died. Coincidentally, the week that I was at Dorland included my birthday as well as the third anniversary of my father’s death due to alcoholism, also the topic of the memoir. It was the perfect week to be there, in the middle of nothing, in a little cottage with no television, no husband, children, students, none of it.

I spent the first two days just clearing my head. I read a lot. I finished A Trip to Echo Spring by Olivia Laing and started and finished a novel I found in the cottage. I re-read Marie Howe’s What the Living Do. I went for hikes, went grocery shopping. I slept A LOT.

It gets dark early out there, and the guidebook on my dining table encouraged me to let my body succumb to the natural cycle of the sun. So I did.

JessicaDangerI woke up with the sun and the cacophony of birdsong, passing leisurely mornings counting the quail out my kitchen door. I worked at the desk or read for a few hours over very strong coffee. I ate simple breakfasts then trained hard at the local CrossFit box in triple digit summer weather. I wrote all afternoon, furiously and without regard to editing or hurt feelings, still in my stinky gym clothes, the radio playing the whole time. In the evenings I mirrored the morning. I ate my dinner on the front porch, in a creaking rocking chair that I moved every twenty minutes or so to catch the sun. I watched the birds, looking them each up in the Birdwatchers Encyclopedia in the house. I counted the lizards, I scared off snakes. When the porch light could no longer suffice for reading, I went inside and simply went to bed.

Sometimes I sat on the hardwood floors, in the middle of the living room, and just cried. This stuff was so hard. The writing, the memories, the anniversary of his passing. The silence had a presence. One of my best girlfriends sent me a package, with a letterpress sign that reads, “You are doing a great fucking job.” I drank several bottles of wine, with disregard to the time of day.

I hiked a lot. I checked for ticks. I cried some more.
 I got back to work.

After a week at Dorland I did what all writers dream of doing: I left with a finished first draft of the memoir. I breathed a cavernous sigh of relief. It is finished. It has been done. I packed up my little borrowed cottage, said goodbye to the caretakers and blasted the radio on the way home, windows down.

Now all I have to do is revise it.
 No big deal, right? I mean the hard part is finished, no?

I went home to my dog and kids and home to the relentless list of things screaming and blinking at me like carnival lights on Labor Day. Things that zap your time, suck your energy, lust after you NOT TO WRITE.

My draft is piled very neatly in a plastic storage crate in an office I am borrowing from my boss until mid December.

The semester has started. I have welcomed my students. I am trying—desperately, desperately—to memorize their names and pronounce them correctly. To remind myself that I too at one time was a college freshman.

Oh yes, that pesky memoir.

Carolyn See, who sadly we just lost, offers guidance in her book Making a Literary Life. She charts two options, “Carolyn’s 18-Minute Chili” or “Carolyn’s 18-Hour Chili,” in her seemingly foolproof plan.

The one I am going to run with this semester is the 18-Minute option. Write a thousand words a day or two hours of revision every day and send off a nice note of appreciation, “five days a week for the rest of your life.” By this, she means a note of appreciation to an editor, writer, etc. See calls these “paper airplanes of affection.” (Today, from my borrowed office, I sent an email to Lily King, praising her novel Father of the Rain. Have you read it? Because you should, right now, and then you should ALSO send her a note of appreciation.)

How quickly we allow ourselves to be distracted. I repeat myself, telling my students that it is their responsibility to manage their time, just like I tell my children. I cannot do it for them. So why is it so difficult to do it myself? Why, as a mother and a teacher and a wife and friend and daughter and all the other hats we must wear, why do I allow the work to be put on the back burner? Every. Damn. Time.

Bukowski writes, in one of his many doodle crowded letters, “There is nothing more magic and beautiful than lines forming across paper. It’s all there is. It’s all there ever was.”

How easy it would be.

Why is it so impossible to duplicate the headspace I found at Dorland? Since then, I’ve found many other writers that tell me the same thing. That they cannot write in the house, they have to go somewhere else. Sometimes that means the library sometimes that means a place like Dorland. I know one author that can work right there at the kitchen table, in the afternoons, with his two beautiful daughters twirling around him in the after school madness every parent recognizes as they pull around the corner.

Me? I ignore my kids and spouse. I retreat. I shut the door. But I follow the steps. I write.
 I encourage and support the community in which I identify. That of writers.
 I send notes of gratitude.

What is your plan?

Jessica Danger lives, writes, and teaches in Southern California with her family. She holds an MFA from Bennington College in Vermont. Her work has been published in several journals, including Gold Man Review and Thin Air Magazine. She was recently shortlisted for the Iowa Review Nonfiction Prize.

The Socratic Conundrum or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Alphabet

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By Mark Nelson

Socrates never wrote anything down. Had Plato, his student, not diligently recorded his words, they would have been whisked away by the sands of time. A while back, I stumbled upon a fascinating tidbit, the fundamental reason why the great teacher eschewed writing. Socrates and Plato lived in Athens in the fifth century BC, a period commonly known as its golden age. This was a time when the Greek alphabet was taking hold. Plato embraced it. Socrates rejected it. Both had their reasons. I find myself fascinated by that fleeting yet remarkable period of time. Imagining their discussion is irresistible.

PLATO

You have such an amazing mind. It probes every subject imaginable. Aren’t you curious about this new invention, writing?

SOCRATES

Of course, I am. I questioned many of our citizens who have learned it and discovered a troubling phenomenon. It produces fundamental changes in their psyches by deceiving them.

PLATO

How is that?

SOCRATES

They confuse symbols with truth. They lose the distinction between representation and reality. That is why I’ve never written anything down.

PLATO

But can’t you—

SOCRATES

It’s not that I’m unable. I’m unwilling.

PLATO

I enjoy reading–

SOCRATES

I have no problem reading. How else would I realize a written account of a conversation is but a shadow of a conversation?

PLATO

Ah! The Cave analogy–

SOCRATES

Even more than that, relying on writing would diminish me.

PLATO

In what way?

SOCRATES

The seeking of knowledge, which is the pinnacle of our aspirations as we seek the divine, is no longer a true debate.

PLATO

How so?

SOCRATES

If one side has some writing to his advantage, is that not a form of cheating?

PLATO

Precedent as cheating? I don’t think–

SOCRATES

Even our memory is affected. Our ancestors could recite the words of Homer. Our children now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise. Would you agree that a man who carries stones in order to build his house will become stronger than a man who merely orders another to do the work for him?

PLATO

Yes, most certainly.

SOCRATES

Would you agree that a man who orders another to do the work of such an important task is in danger of becoming soft and lazy?

PLATO

Not necessarily. The citizens of Athens could never have constructed this grand city only by the labor of their own hands.

SOCRATES

That is a fair point. Let us discuss the military. Is not every citizen also a Hoplite, bound by duty to defend Athens against its enemies?

PLATO

That’s true.

SOCRATES

What word would you use for a man who thought nothing of letting another perform such a sacred task?

PLATO

Parásitos.

SOCRATES

So would I. Would you agree a man’s mind is his greatest treasure?

PLATO

Yes.

SOCRATES

Does it not follow that if it makes some sense to delegate the construction of one’s house to another, no sense at all to delegate the protection of one’s polis to another, it should be inconceivable to delegate the nourishment of one’s psyche to another?

PLATO

It does.

SOCRATES

Is it not reasonable to conclude the youth of our city have been seduced by writing into relegating the care of that which they should cherish the most? Why should they bother with the labor of true thinking when another has already done the work for them?

PLATO

That does sound logical.

SOCRATES

If that is the case, why have you been scribbling on a scroll the whole time we have been talking?

PLATO

Because neither of us will live forever.

You’d think an argument from over two millennia ago would be settled by now. Not really. Around 1440, Johannes Gutenberg’s invention of mechanical movable type printing set in motion a chain of events that he almost certainly didn’t foresee. He faced bankruptcy and was exiled. By the time of his death in 1468, his invention had achieved only a modicum of success. As we all know, his legacy hardly disappeared into obscurity. As the fifteenth century drew to a close, printing presses were in operation throughout Western Europe producing what we now call incunabula. For the first time, the common man had access to books. Intellectuals had access to even more of them. It’s hard to deny the argument that the printing press fueled the Protestant Reformation, the Renaissance and the Scientific Revolution.

The old guard took notice of the impending threat to their monopoly on knowledge. Michael Servetus, a Spanish Renaissance humanist who lived during the first half of the sixteenth century, was well-versed in science, law and literature. He published books on science and theology, such as the first French translation of Ptolemy’s “Geography,” “Errors of the Trinity” and “The Restitution of Christianity.” The third work contains a groundbreaking discussion of pulmonary circulation. For his contributions, Servetus was rewarded with being burned at the stake in 1553 by order of Geneva’s city council. The Pope ordered Martin Luther’s German translation of the Bible burned in Catholic-dominated areas of Germany in 1624. The impending threat certainly wasn’t lost on the Ottoman Empire, which banned the printing press from 1483-1727—that’s 244 years—with the death penalty imposed on lawbreakers. None of that stemmed the tide of change. So, why all the fuss over this particular invention, a machine that performed the simple task of rendering letters on paper? To answer that question, let’s resurrect Socrates and Plato once again and assume they have been filled in.

SOCRATES

First, in all fairness, I must give the citizens of Athens their due. Hemlock is a much easier passage to death than being roasted alive, like poor Servetus.

PLATO

Yes, yes…your ‘Apology’ was a great speech. Obviously, the citizens of Athens didn’t share my opinion. But for all men, is not a death sentence sufficient punishment?

SOCRATES

I warned you of the dangers of writing.

PLATO

I will admit I did not have the foresight to realize simple words could be put to such nefarious purposes.

SOCRATES

I suspected as much. That’s the difference between a disagreement, a fight and a feud. The first lasts a day, the second years and the third generations. The difference between the three is time, compounded by what we choose to remember. A flaw in our nature allows us to endure the pain of an injury without fostering a corresponding understanding of the cause. I have heard that our fellow Athenians have transformed ‘The Iliad’ and ‘The Odyssey’ into this new invention you praise. Is it really a noble idea to turn oratories into letters on papyrus?

PLATO

Would you not agree that good has come of writing as well as evil?

SOCRATES

I do, but that is not my point. That good may come from murdering an evil man does not excuse the crime itself.

PLATO

That doesn’t answer my question.

SOCRATES

Allow me to elaborate. I feel responsible for my words. I do not want them to outlive me. If I am not present to explain their meaning, how can I ensure they are not misinterpreted?

That’s a reasonable question, which deserves a reasonable answer. I wish I had one. What I can say is: for all the entreaties by various schools to employ the Socratic Method, they can only emulate it. The original mode of storing experience, coalescing it and synthesizing thought has been obliterated. For better or worse, humankind has evolved intellectually in such a fashion that we are mentally incapable of replicating it. It’s no different than my using the materials and brush strokes of Botticelli and believing I’ve captured his creative essence. All I’ve done is mimic the old master by creating a painting which is basically an inspired forgery.

This conundrum within a conundrum is far from lost on me. The modern world would have little knowledge of Socrates without the writings of Plato. Plato wrote of a man who refused to write in order to convey the wisdom of a manner of obsolete intellectual discourse. And yet, the modern world is enriched because Plato did what he did for whatever reasons suited him at the time.

Fast forward to now: What would Plato or Gutenberg think of the Internet? For that matter, what would later generations of writers, such as Shakespeare, Twain or Hemingway think of Facebook? More importantly, what is the learning process of the youth of today? It’s clear Google is a disruptive technology. As a web developer, I use it on a daily basis. However, I’ve noticed a side effect. My memory has been compromised. I no longer have the need to retain information I can summon with the touch of a few buttons. I do wonder about what appears to be an involuntary rewiring of my brain. What must it be like to grow up in an environment where Google is ubiquitous, a world in which transient memory displaces long-term recall? I have to admit I don’t know but ask, “Is there a point where not enough is going on upstairs and true creativity stops or at least is greatly diminished? Should that occur, are the ideas coming forth merely derivative?”

Words are now commodities, mass-produced widgets accompanied by selfies. Professional journalism is fading into the past, like a palimpsest. Who needs it with the proliferation of blogs? In a way, it’s beneficial. The flow of information has become democratized. I’d say this line of thinking is great on paper, were not that very metaphor another indication of how out of step I am with the times. I will offer a bit of hard-earned wisdom about the human condition I learned from my wife. When we e-published our novel, The Dreamcrown, I embraced the marketing strategy of offering it at no cost for a trial period. She pointed out, “What people are given free, they often assume has no value.”

That got me thinking about the concept of value. What do you keep and what do you throw away? It all comes down to value—a cost/benefit analysis, if you will. By creating this fanciful, hypothetical dialogue, I’ve essentially dressed up a cost/benefit analysis as entertainment, hoping to point out both perspectives as valid. It’s easy to side with Plato. Writing was the way of the future. However, Socrates offered an insight which has been all but forgotten with the passage of time. A central tenet of history courses is the idea of progress. I don’t dispute the achievements that have led to the world in which we live today, nor that we live a fundamentally better existence than our predecessors. What I would like to note are the changes that have resulted from said progress, that it’s not all benefits. We have changed the notion of what it means to be human. We take in sights and sounds just as the ancient Greeks did, but the story we construct from them is different on a metaphysical level. Reality is a construct, not an absolute. Notions—I use that word in its Platonic sense—of being, knowing, time and space may seem abstract, but they factor into how we perceive and comprehend the world around us and change the fabric of what our minds weave. We have been enriched but diminished as well. Our capacity for recollection is a fraction of the ancients’. The form of communication Socrates practiced on the streets of Athens is lost to us. Most of us are unaware of what has been left behind. Others may consider these atrophied abilities as an acceptable price of moving forward.

I’m not so naïve as to believe our collective march to the future can or should be halted. I simply recommend that all of us pause, be aware of the tradeoffs inherent in the journey and ask ourselves, “Is what I’m giving up really worth what I’m getting?”

MarkNelsonMark Nelson is a computer and sci-fi nerd who enjoys yoga and nature walks with his friends. While his day job as a web developer pays the bills, in his spare time, he writes essays and co-writes sci-fi novels with his wife, Lisa. Together, they ePublished The Dreamcrown and are working on their second novel. 

 

On God is Round, Metaphors, and Soccer

nami-1430508One of the things that has always been a mystery to me, as an American and as a soccer player and fan, is why soccer has been so long to take hold in the USA. I grew up “on the pitch.” I began playing the sport as a small child and quickly learned to love the movement, grace, skill, and camaraderie the game requires of all its participants. Mexican journalist and Professor of Literature Juan Villoro, in his book God is Round: Tackling the Giants, Villains, Triumphs, and Scandals of the World’s Favorite Game, (Restless Books, 2015), summates this, and so much more, in a compilation of essays about soccer and what the game and its traditions represent in the South American culture.

For South American soccer fans, and for the fans of Juan Villoro, who is not just a writer but also perhaps the most prolific, well-known, and well-respected writer and analyst of the game in Mexico and beyond, God is Round might be merely a collection of his works that readers are happy to have, keep on a shelf. But, I think, for the US American picking up the book, God is Round becomes a road map of sorts, a guide that not only explains the what of the game in South America, but also the why, the how, the passion.

I happened to be reading the book (for the second time) during the COPA Americano. In reading the essays in tandem with the events of the tournament, I developed a much deeper understanding of not just the game, but the teams, players, and the whys of the events that unfolded on the pitch.

As Villoro insists, the soccer field is an allegory of space and time and each match becomes a reflection of what is happening in our society. In taking this view, we can then begin to see how not only soccer, but all sports, and indeed, all past times can become a real reflection of who and what we’re becoming and who and what we are—as individuals and as a group.

Villoro’s writings in God is Round are these short clips, almost flash non-fiction, or poetic descriptors, of usually a small moment in a game, or a play, or about a move, or a player who makes a signature move. In these moments, Villoro is a poet who translates the soccer moments into something altogether more. God is Round is a work in translation (taken from Spanish to English by Thomas Bunstead), it is a collected works, and Villoro does repeat certain ideas, events, and subjects from time to time, essay to essay. These lyrical essays are about so much more than the game of soccer. Villoro attempts to unveil the connective tissue that lies beneath every play on the field, every match result. He aspires, in his vignettes, to capture the very essence of what it is to be human on this planet. It’s a broad gesture, but oh, so very close to being accomplished here. Yet, as a whole, God is Round accomplishes something remarkable.

Reading God is Round now, as we head into the Olympics, and as soccer becomes a more present and pronounced sport on the US athletics scene, makes me wish I had not only read it sooner, but also paid more attention—to the game, to the language, the sport of it all.

God is Round is, at its very least, a rare collection of good essays about soccer and, at its very best, a guidebook to understanding the ups and downs, mastery and disaster, irony and splendor, of what we love, fight for, appreciate and claim in this game called life.

Maura Snell is a poet and soccer fan, and the Poetry Editor for The Tishman Review.

Intention and Resistance in Writing

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by J.L. Cooper

A friend recently asked me if I consider myself a psychologist who writes, or a writer who thinks like a psychologist. I told him to knock it off, that it’s much more confusing, not either/or, just a matter of finding my way. But the small moment generated a large curiosity about the fate of intention in writing, whether it’s critical or even useful to stay loyal to the original idea for a story, the urge to tell it, knowing it’s going to be caressed and transformed, even shredded by internal forces, some of them hidden.

It begs the question: what opposes the freedom to let a story or a poem run away with itself?

The usual fear-based suspects appear: doubts over whether the writing is any good, fear of irrelevance, fear of exposing more than we’ve thought through, negative experiences in the past. In writing, we resist being pulled away from the path we know, even though we’re well aware of the need to surrender to exploration. Otherwise, we won’t be very engaged, and will forget the magic of writing means you can try anything that comes to mind, pay off some debt owed to an impulse, bargain with death, speculate, find a torn piece of cloth in a treasure chest that was looted, and make the cloth the greater treasure.

In writing, as in daily life, we venture in and out of quasi-dissociated states constantly, in mini-daydreams, private thoughts, and reveries. Why would our characters not be allowed to do the same, to roam the twilight greys of the mind?

I believe a first draft should be a beautiful unapologetic mess: a mess of intentions and discoveries. This is exactly where it gets interesting. The forces that reside in a character can also be represented in surprising places, like a setting, an object that keeps appearing, or a fantasy told by a lesser character.

Subjectivity is so intensely personal, so reticent to being reduced, so amazing and maddening, resistant to linear thought, it’s no wonder that much of our personal realities resides in sensations, not words. There’s a daunting sense of presence in the urge to write. This, I argue, is the bread that sustains literary characters and their interactions, and links the lines of a poem, much like other tensions we cannot name, but are in us nonetheless.

My hope is to write from this region.

I recently read, Writers [on Writing]: Collected Essays from the New York Times in which Joyce Carol Oates comments: “To write is to invade another’s space, if only to memorialize it.” And, “Art by its nature is a transgressive act, and artists must accept being punished for it. The more original and unsettling their art, the more devastating the punishment.”

The courage theme is always present. There’s more.

Too much resistance to spontaneity can flatten a story, diluting its flavor. I can say as a psychologist that everyone has a unique way of feeling stuck in his or her own subjectivity. One problem I have is thinking too hard about what I want a story to be. It reduces me to metaphors about cooking, more spice here, less salt there, and I’ve accepted I’m a lousy cook.

Poet Mark Doty, in The Art of Description: Word into World, discusses timelessness, linking it to lyric qualities. “In this lyric time, we cease to be aware of forward movement; lyric is concerned neither with the impingement of the past nor with anticipation of events to come.” I think he’s inviting us to write beyond the known intention, to free the mind from all the willful clamoring.

It is not the way I’m used to thinking about lyricism.

He goes on: “Such a state of mind is ‘lyric’ not because it is musical (though the representation of these states of mind usually is) but because we are seized by a moment that suddenly seems edgeless, unbounded.”

No matter how much I want to write about a past moment, the parallels to the present moment make appearances. The old conundrums come to visit. Everyone has tensions that have been internalized. In writing, we are supported by the internalized influence of friends, past triumphs, people who love and encourage us. But we are not completely free from the influence of the bullies in our lives, the cynics and abusers. The art of writing, in my opinion, is to express the tensions, not to be constrained to resolve them.

My own response is to make room for mental associations and images to visit freely in my writing, like I’ve given them a VIP pass to enter the page. It gets a little wild, as these can come from a narrative voice, a character, or projection into an object I’m describing. I sometimes delegate an inanimate object to be the container for something a character cannot see or know. This was my solution to the overflowing grief of my protagonist in “Path of the Ground Birds,” where the glow of a refrigerator light took over some of the narration when the character was too numb to speak.

The momentary loss of the external narrative is the most astonishing gift, perhaps in therapy as well as writing. It’s the moment when a client says something completely unexpected after talking about, say, persistent headaches, he says something like, “I never told my brother I loved him,” while looking at an vase in a bookshelf. It’s true we’ve lost one thread, but picked up another that’s far more important. This is what I strive to do in writing, to make room for what emerges.

Other masters I admire, such as Alice Munroe, Donna Tartt, Adam Johnson, Charles Baxter, to name just a few, seem to delve easily into the intimate worlds of characters and describe their attachments from within.

I may be in contradiction to writers advising that to be successful, a story needs constant twists of plot, a satisfying arc, an earthquake of a beginning, a clarifying ending, etc. I’m more inclined to settle in, appreciating a mix of tones. It’s why I never tire reading passages of Henry James and Virginia Woolf. Maybe it comes to an acceptance of one’s mix, not a problem to be solved, since intentions are mixed as well.

For example, I was raised by a father who recited Rudyard Kipling and William Butler Yeats, and ballads by the dozens. He’d be transported by rhymes of Samuel Taylor Coleridge. When I think of his influence, I’m inclined to write a sentence like this: “There was dread in his voice when he said to his friends that he went for a loaf of bread.” There I am, summoning the rhythms from childhood listening.

My mother was reserved, careful, and kept her worries to herself. She rarely spoke in the first person. My parents departed long ago, but I can summon her influence too. I think of her way of saying things, and add my own spin. Now I’ll write it like this: “When he left, a loaf of bread was on his mind, sliced this time, though it was not his custom.” This way keeps my curiosity going.

I don’t think resistance as a concept is simply a barrier to creativity, since it’s just as linked to identity as the way a person walks: haltingly, or leaning slightly forward. It’s folly to think that the absence of resistance opens the door to genius. We can try to use the tension rather than be neutralized by it.

To write is to live in wonder.

James Cooper2(1)J.L Cooper is a writer, clinical psychologist in Sacramento, California, and winner of the Tupelo Quarterly prose open prize, TQ9, judged by Pulitzer winner Adam Johnson. (Read his winning piece, “Path of the Ground Birds,” here.) Additional awards include: First Place in Short Short Fiction in New Millennium Writings, 2013, and Second Place in Essay in Literal Latte, 2014. His short stories and poetry have appeared or are forthcoming in The Manhattan Review, Hippocampus, Oberon Poetry Magazine, Structo, Paper Swans Press (UK), Gold Man Review, KY Story, Folia Literary Magazine, The Sun (Reader’s Write), and in other journals and anthologies. A full-length collection of poetry is forthcoming from WordTech. For more information, go to: jlcooper.net

 

Paving the Personal Path to a Literary Life

123_1We’ve all travelled unique paths to the present. I found my way to this literary life a little later than most, after decades in information technology and corporate America, after extensively volunteering for non-profit organizations and freelancing as a business writer while raising a daughter. Computers, my fascination with them and the world they create and deliver, have been a constant thread throughout each of these opportunities.

Not many of you, and fewer as time goes on, will remember their first glimpse of a computer. I was eighteen, not long out of high school, soon to be married, and tucked into a windowless sliver of low-ceilinged room at the now-defunct First National Bank in downtown Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. The soon-to-be-married status was unfortunate as was the fact that I was NOT one of the promising Central File Clerks chosen to digitally transform the department.

I befriended the chosen. They allowed me to look at their glowing monitors, only when our supervisor, Elsie, was out of the room. They tabbed and typed names and numbers into what I found out were fields, and, oh, I so wanted to also bask in the blue light of their IBMs.

I earned that chance after escaping the dungeon and the aforementioned dragon, and transferring to another department and a keyboard of my own. Eventually, I landed with a pre-public-access-Internet information service reached by external, screeching 300-, 1200-, then 2400-baud dial-up modem, some with acoustic couplers, cabled to computers with names like Commodore 64, RadioShack TRS 80, Apple II or Apple IIe. This service, through these computers, allowed the sharing of news archives (a radical notion at that time in that industry), and the retrieval (if you had enough time and money) of the full text of articles, one letter at a time, about as fast as the slightly-above average typist could type. Starting in the early 1980s, we distributed news stories from “The Daily Oklahoman” and “The Dallas Morning News” and a growing list of news sources from across the U.S. and eventually the world. Even without delivering a single graphic or photo, and nearly two decades away from a website or hotlink, we were hot shit! What nirvana.

From the technical side of the newsroom, I formed a fascination with the writers, their stories and storytelling, and after a magical sperm-meets-egg moment that created one life (my daughter’s) and transformed another (mine), I journeyed into that side of the world. I explored this fascination with writing, choosing to better myself, further my education, and become the mother I wanted for my daughter. I pursued an undergraduate degree in English with a creative writing specialization and an MFA in literature and nonfiction.

My current role as Craft Talk Editor of The Tishman Review, marries these things I love—computers, storytelling, improvement of self. It allows me to bring together disparate perspectives and interconnect a worldwide community of writers and readers in online conversation about other writers, writing processes, books, prose, and poetry, to encourage the sharing of hard-earned insight and wisdom and to help writers deliver their best work while expanding the possibilities of that work. Bottom line, my purpose is to serve the best interest of writers in order that each is richer in idea and craft and the world is richer for having heard what each has to say.

The online world, The Tishman Review, and I are ready for your ideas.

Charlie Lewis
Craft Talk Editor

[Submissions to the Tishman Review Craft Talk are made via Submittable. While I prefer pieces between 700 and 1,000 words, I will gladly read the longer.]

Hearing Voices

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By Gretchen Ayoub

My vision of a writing class was that of a group of lofty literates who held the trade secrets to the flawless essay, not easily accessible to me, a relatively shy newcomer. Until quite recently, my writing career consisted of one essay published in an unknown magazine and my reading tended toward books such as “Quiet: The Power of an Introvert in A World That Can’t Stop Talking,” while those literates, I was certain, had long lists of award-winning books that they had read.

Despite my self-perception as an outsider, I knew that the only way to become a better writer was to write more and let people other than close girlfriends read it. I have a friend who teaches at Grub Street, a writing program in Boston, and I decided that this program was the best place to start, after she assured me that Grub Street was not in the business of outing newcomers. Of course, she was right.

In the Six Weeks, Six Essays class, I was in the company of twelve talented writers with zero pretension. They were smart, supportive, and genuine. As our ages ranged from mid-twenties through mid-sixties, the essays represented a range of viewpoints on life experiences, from the everyday through the life changing. I certainly learned much about writing, such as the importance of having a narrative arc and not introducing characters only to have them hang out in a black hole. I discovered techniques for writing beginnings and endings and I learned of numerous places to submit my work, some with cool names like Tiny Buddha and The Hairpin.

One of the more valuable lessons introduced that elusive yet central part of writing called voice. This writer’s voice is a regular feature in the many writing magazines I subscribe to. I knew I had to develop my own voice, but it was a vague, borderless concept to me. It was actually the voices of class members, spoken and written, that helped me to understand what this meant. During class, each student, each week, read aloud his or her essay. The stories were funny, sad, compassionate, heartbreaking, and often a combination of all of the above, layered with rich sensory details. There was a genuineness and authenticity in each voice that cannot be explained in an article from Writer’s Digest, Poets and Writers, or Creative Non-Fiction, and there were many memorable take aways; here are a few.

  • Jellied cranberry sauce can be a very funny topic that can also speak poignantly to a daughter-father relationship over the years.
  • Dating opinions from the viewpoint of a Russian grandmother to her millennial granddaughter can be well expressed in a classic quote: “He should be international, but not foreign.”
  • Discovering a partner has cheated evokes moments of self-doubt, lack of worth, and fantasy revenge scenarios across all age groups.
  • The rich colors of fall against the backdrop of a white church provide an indelible setting for the tender relationship between a son and his mother that spans his roller-coaster adolescence through his adulthood years.
  • The new Uber driver, his “training” in the parking lot of a Holiday Inn and the creepy Norman Bates-like customers who sit directly behind him, provide a hilariously unsettling view of the world of rideshare users.
  • Slot canyons, azure blue skies, and church architecture loving atheists make for a unique vacation.
  • The girl in the “Daddy’s Little Princess” pink t-shirt living in squalor in Haiti is an understated, yet powerful, statement on contrast.
  • The financial and emotional mess made by my generation for our children can be best understood when seen through the eyes of a Thailand ESL teacher who also works long hours as a bookstore clerk.
  • The “Actor Out Alone” is a courageous piece quietly read by our incredibly competent class editor-in-residence.
  • In this Facebook world, no one wants to admit to being anything but happy and engaged.
  • Questions about sex from pre-adolescents are at the same time funny, sad, scary, and sweet.
  • A deeply compelling portrait of the emotionally complex journey of living as fully as possible while knowing the inevitable can be painted from the sacrifice, pain, and resolve of caring for a spouse with ALS.

Now, when friends ask me how the class went, I probably won’t tell them that I heard voices. I will say that learning to write well is about listening to the stories told by members of a valued community, and finding and trusting one’s own unique voice.

When not learning about writing, Gretchen Ayoub works as a school counselor at Needham High School, Needham, MA, with students from grades 9-12. This is her second published essay.

Feeding Frenzy: Eating and Drinking with Literary Greats


By Teresa C. Macdonald

On a recent sub-zero day, my back sore from shoveling a pile of wet cement-like slush, I lay on the floor and, examined the ceiling with an ice pack under my spine. In need of a good mental exercise, I pondered the question: Which of the literary greats would I invite to dinner tonight given their culinary proclivities and mine?

In an effort to attract good karma, I considered both the living and deceased as I attempted to balance my intended guest’s likes, dislikes, and allergies. I compiled a mental list of authors and their food and beverage favorites and then placed them into sub-categories: culinary tradition, writing genre, childhood favorites. I reordered the list by things I like and things I’d like to try: Hemingway and mojitos, Dorothy Parker and whiskey, Willa Cather and sweet kolaches, Jonathan Franzen and pasta (tossed with kale and garlic), Daniel Handler and carrots, Oscar Wilde and the beguiling anise flavored absinthe. In a frenzy, I understood why the topic yields volumes of blog articles, column inches, and cookbooks.

The cold, foul weather dictated a good, warm meal, and as simple as that, my mind locked on J.D. Salinger and his love of roast beef. Roast beef with carrots and steaming mounds of mashed potatoes. Roast beef served with red wine, Claret. While his seat at my table would mostly likely remain empty (given his reclusive nature) I’d still make certain to pour us both an extra glass of Claret to honor his personal favorite meal.

Claret, in the wine world, is another name for a Bordeaux wine that refers to the wines transparent nature. It was termed in the late 1300s when the French shipped their wine to England for consumption by the English. In fact, Chaucer even refers Claret in the “Merchants Tale” in The Canterbury Tales. This nomenclature continues today and I just so happen to have a bottle of Bell Wine Cellars Claret in my cellar. Yummy.

With my thoughts now locked on England, I thought Gin would be a natural pre-dinner cocktail choice: London Dry Gin (Bombay Sapphire that is). While there are three main styles of Gin, London Dry Gin is known for its purity of flavor, given the lack of added sugars and citrus profile. F. Scott Fitzgerald was famous for his preference for this distilled spirit served gimlet style. He might add some excitement to the evening.

But no, my mood called for something more precise and linear, a Martini. Anne Sexton then could enjoy a cold jigger, too. Martinis are a fantastic compliment to Borscht. Nothing is more refreshing on a hot summer day than an ice-cold martini served with a cold summer Borscht. Cold weather be damned, Allen Ginsberg loved this soup. While my recipe probably does not compare to that of his mother’s, the sour, sweetness of the soup dabbed with sour cream is expertly cleansed by the proof of the gin: juniper gives it extra herbal depth.

So Borscht and Martinis and roast beef with carrots and mashed potatoes and Claret and perhaps some mixed nuts thrown in, what next? Dessert.

Earlier in the week, while vertical, I had attended a horizontal tasting of Madeira from the Rare Wine Co.’s Historic Series. The Boston Bual would be the perfect compliment to George Orwell’s favorite, Plum Pudding. Ah, but the recipe for Plum Pudding takes weeks if not months for the fruit to soak up all the essential cognac. Walt Whitman loved coffee cake… …Emily Dickenson loved coconut cake…Steven King eats a slice of cheesecake daily. Jack Kerouac liked his apple pie. Well, I do too when it’s topped with Calvados infused whipped cream. Agatha Christie and Devonshire cream? I can lap the stuff up, especially with a good scone and cup of black tea. I decided to resort to my default dessert: brownies. I could finally pull out Elizabeth Bishop’s brownie recipe that’s somewhere in my “recipes to try” pile. Along the lines of some of my grandmother’s recipes—with mentions of pinches, dashes, and you’ll know whens—I could fudge the missing measurements and cooking times if I kept a clear head. I’d serve this with a Brachetto d’Aqui.

Brachetto d’Aqui is an Italian red wine that’s fun, affordable, and it’s ALWAYS a crowd pleaser.

Named for the grape varietal, Brachetto, it’s grown in the northern Piedmont region of Italy. This frizzante style wine bursts with sweet strawberry and raspberry flavors that heighten the fruit flavors found in chocolate. But more specifically the wine softens the feel of the chocolate tannins.

What a fine last minute dinner party. I imagine that we’ll get along smashingly, even if the lopsided menu resembles a potluck and more people drop in. Afterall, we have so much in common. We’re writers and we like the same things.

Sustenance. It’s the stuff of settlement, wars, trade routes, passion, and vice. My fascination with the nip and nibble preferences of my literary heroes is not so I can imitate their vices to project greatness. I’m interested because, in addition to knowing their work, I want to know them as people. I picture them at my table slurping soup, spilling Claret on the carpet, staining my linen with lipstick and au jus, smoking cigarettes, and even breaking my Riedel in a sincere effort to help wash up. And in knowing them, I’m that much closer to understanding how to channel the act of living and the frenzy of my own inner genius.

Teresa C. Macdonald is a writer of fiction and a connoisseur of good food and fine wine. She grew up in Bryn Mawr, PA, and received a BA in English at Franklin & Marshall College, a MS in Integrated Marketing Communications from Northwestern University, and an MFA from the Bennington Writing Seminars. She is a Certified Sommelier, Certified Specialist of Wine, and has her Advanced Certificate in Wine and Spirits from the Wine & Spirits Education Trust. When she isn’t demystifying the grape for wine enthusiasts, she can be found playing ball with her sidekick, Fig, a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel.

Tips for Submitting to Literary Magazines

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Dear Next Hemingway,

You’ve written what you think is a great poem, a standout story, a brilliant essay. You’ve read and re-read it, given it the ruthless red pen treatment, and feel it’s done. Done enough that you’re thinking about finding it a home.

Yet the list of potential literary homes is vast and intimidating. There are fees, prestige, accessibility, and readership to consider. Maybe you’ve never even read a literary magazine cover to cover. It’s easy to get discouraged and just slip that piece of work you are so proud of into some obscure folder. But part of being a responsible writer is taking ownership of your skill and your work and seeing it to its fullest potential, not simply amassing great work.

So you decide to submit. First, get a second reader to read your piece beforehand. It’s amazing how often you’ll read right over obvious typos and word swaps (i.e. “isle” versus “aisle”) because you’re so focused on what you meant to say, not what you said. Since most publications have formatting specifics, don’t worry about getting too fancy with your document until you’ve read a journal’s criteria. Then be sure to follow it to the letter.

I suggest you treat writing as your job, and expect a paycheck. When you produce something that takes time to create, it has value and worth. Because of my commitment to submit to journals that pay writers, I feel a Submittable fee is fair. I’d rather pay something for a chance at a check, than submit my work for free and get very little or nothing back. For me, it’s no longer just about seeing my name in print. That glory wears off relatively quickly. It’s about marketing my work to venues that share similar values and give me a better chance of getting published elsewhere. Make a personalized list of the top ten places you’d like to see your work, and start submitting your polished piece. Although most journals accept simultaneous submissions, double check. I tier my list so I am submitting to a few journals that are in the same bracket: reputation, payment, circulation, theme—consider all of these elements when deciding where to submit.

Pay attention to when work is accepted. Most journals have spring and fall submission periods, some accept year round, and some, like ecotone, have a fifteen-day window. I keep a notebook with opening dates written under each month, so I can look and see upcoming opportunities. Some writers complain about the cost of purchasing literary magazines. If you indulge in fancy coffee or edible treats, consider feeding your brain instead. If you are indeed on the starving artist budget, many literary magazines, like TTR, have their content available for free online. Some offer a no-fee submission policy for the financially strapped. Look for the journals that don’t charge a fee and still pay writers, like OneStory, Slice, AGNI, and The Kenyon Review. State-specific publications (in my case New Mexico Magazine) can be wonderful places to submit and they often pay generously. If it’s in your power to do so, consider befriending a literary magazine by purchasing a copy or annual subscription. It’s good literary citizenship.

Keep the cover letter that accompanies your submission concise. List the top few places you’ve been published (if you have a publication history). Always address your cover letter to the appropriate editor at the magazine you’re submitting to, and double check the spelling of the editor’s name. When you hand over your two or three dollars to Submittable, your final step, you might think more carefully about where your work is going, and why. Mindful submissions are more effective than a scattergun approach that floods every journal in sight with your wonderful work, whether it fits the aesthetic or not.

When you finally receive that acceptance letter, celebrate! You just sold your art, and that takes guts and perseverance and a chin-up attitude. Then be ready to roll up your sleeves and work with the editors: as polished and “done” as your work felt to you, there’s a good chance something will be tweaked. If you have a social media presence, use it to unabashedly self-promote. Send some virtual love to the journal that accepted your work by promoting work you admired in the same publication.

Above all, write for yourself first. Treat your writing as something of value. Know your market. Submit strategically. Be patient. Learn from rejections. Use your list to work through publication possibilities. Celebrate yourself and your work when the check comes in the mail. And in between these phases, be humble, be kind, be confident. (And did I mention, be patient?)

– Someone Who’s Still Learning

Laura Jean Schneider is currently Craft Talk Assistant Editor and an MFA candidate at Vermont College of Fine Arts. She won the inaugural Big Snowy Prize in Fiction in 2014. Her essays about living on a remote working cattle ranch appear regularly in “Ranch Diaries,” her ongoing web series for High Country News.

An Excerpt: From the Foreword of The Tishman Review 1.4

By Ani Kazarian

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I recently watched a movie—I know, I should have been reading, or writing, instead—Words and Pictures. The protagonists are an art teacher and an English teacher at an elite prep school who wage a playful war between art and literature: “Words Against Pictures.” Which expresses more truth? More beauty? More precisely? Which can do what the other cannot? Which is  more important?

I had never thought of one against the other, or placed a specific value on either. What I’ve found is that many writers are artists and artists are writers. We are together on the same path, constantly seeking ways of expressing our particular perspectives within this place and time in light of our histories and in anticipation of our futures.

I read art in the same way that I read poetry and literature. In each of these we find the universality of expressions, the language of our innermost shifts and, if we’re lucky, we lose the weight of ourselves and join a timeless dialogue. While a poem can stand alone, and an image can speak for itself, together they hold different possibilities.

Experience the “timeless dialogue” of literature and art in the latest edition of The Tishman ReviewRead it for free for a limited time only or subscribe now.

Some Notes on the Teaching of Writing

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I was in the midst of scribbling notes during a lecture about writing when it struck me that I was learning as much about the teaching of writing as I was about the actual act of writing. There is a nice symmetry in these processes. A give and take that is worth thinking about and looking into a little further. Many, if not most, writers will find themselves at one time or another in the role of teacher – whether in an actual job or in just giving advice to another writer. These are a few of the discoveries I’ve made during my life as both a student and a teacher of writing.

You can have opinions. I used to think that teachers should be neutral and present a balanced view of any information they are imparting. But now I believe that the best teachers, like the best writers, do have a point of view and will back up that point of view with concrete examples from their own experiences. You may have some hard and fast rules about writing. But be aware of the fine line between being confident in your correctness and being strident and intimidating. You should share your guidelines, but also encourage students to experiment with new forms for their work. The classroom or workshop should be considered a safe place to stretch one’s writing muscles.

The most effective lectures or presentations are organized. One of the best lectures on writing I’ve attended was a craft seminar with the rather loosey-goosey title: “Some stuff that will make narrative writing easier, and some stuff that will make it far more difficult.” The lecture itself was far from loosey-goosey. The instructor had well-organized pages of printed notes that he presented to the audience in a fast-paced yet coherent manner that had us hanging on (and copying down) every word.

Present the material as advertised. If your presentation is billed as “Revision: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” talk about the good, bad and ugly of revision; avoid veering off into a lengthy discussion of beginnings or character development. You can certainly discuss those topics within the context of the revision process, but always loop back to the topic at hand.

Handle student interruptions in a firm yet friendly manner. It seems that in most classroom-type situations there is at least one student who either has an agenda or is just plain annoying. If you allow questions or comments during your talk, keep students on topic and responses brief. If someone starts to become unmanageable (i.e. won’t take a hint or keeps interrupting), a firm, “Why don’t you see me after the lecture, and we’ll discuss it further,” is the best approach. Neither you nor your students want valuable time taken up by a rogue student who hijacks the discussion.

Support your suggestions or thoughts with quotes or examples from authors with whom most of your students will identify and respond to. We all enjoy hearing real-life tales such as the number of rejection letters a well-known author might have received, quotations from other authors that illustrate a point you are trying to make, or inspiring true success stories from the publishing trenches. Plan to leave behind a list of recommended readings–books, short stories, essays–by new authors the students may never have heard of or established ones I may have forgotten about. Also, recommend films or other art forms that might spur your students to further explore the points you are making after your session ends.

Use your own personality strengths in teaching, especially if humor is one of them. Humor can be a very effective tool in teaching (and in writing), but only if it’s your natural personae. Being overly jokey is never effective. You should adapt your style to your venue and audience. A lecture for an endowed chair in front of a group of tenured professors will not be the same as a lecture where the students are crammed into desks in a funky auditorium.

Instill trust and build camaraderie. Be modest about your own accomplishments, but not so much so that your students think you are trying too hard to be like them. Avoid being boastful and establish a certain camaraderie. A teacher who is imperious or unassailable is downright insufferable. Andrea Barrett (who is quite the opposite of insufferable) had just won the National Book award for her story collection Ship Fever, when I was lucky enough to have her as my workshop teacher at Bread Loaf. One of the very first things she said to us, as we sat perched eager and nervous at our desks was, “We are all floating on a vast sea of insecurity.” By putting herself in the sea with us, in her quiet and unassuming manner, she made us relax and trust her.

You can learn a lot from your students. Nowhere have I seen this better illustrated than by writer and teacher Dinah Lenney in her nonfiction craft talks at the Bennington Writing Seminars. Dinah hands out a sheaf of readings to each student, then jumps right in with timed writing exercises that she eagerly engages in with the class. She is both guide and student, reminding us that as we teach, we learn. In fact, it is her infectious excitement over the shared learning process that energizes the class and revs up the creative engine.

Accept and embrace your role as expert. So it turns out that you are really good at writing. There are a lot of other people who also want to write well, and you—as someone who has written and published and suffered rejection and piled up the pages and honed your craft—are uniquely qualified to share your skills with apprentices in the field. It is no small thing to be the encourager and cheerleader for a motivated student who later has some success. (In fact, it’s a pretty cool thing, almost like the pride a parent feels when your kid does something great.

Wallace Stegner, both a writer and a teacher said, “I can’t teach my students how to write; all I can do is create the circumstances and atmosphere in which their learning is possible.” Writing is not a zero-sum game. There are unlimited stories and infinite ways of telling them. In nearly every writing presentation I have done, I have had a student come up to me afterward and ask, “Aren’t you afraid that someone will steal your ideas?” They want to know why I would share my hard-won knowledge with people I don’t even know. Won’t that diminish my chances of competing in a business (yes, it is a business) that is already extremely difficult to gain a foothold in?

What I say to those people is that I am confident that they can’t write my story and I can’t write their story. But I can help them see different ways to approach their story and get it out into the world.

 

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The essays and short stories of Kathy Stevenson have appeared in an eclectic array of magazines and newspapers, including The New York Times, Newsweek, Red Rock Review, Chicago Tribune, The Writer, Philadelphia Inquirer, South Boston Literary Gazette, Los Angeles Times, Clapboard House, and many others. Kathy is a frequent contributor to newsworks.org, the online news source for WHYY (NPR) in Philadelphia. She earned an MFA from Bennington College. A link to her essays can be found at: www.kathleenstevenson.blogspot.com