and then today it's all weight in your sockets as you tumble headfirst-cold-feet-last down a hole of “which grad school should I go to, if one at all?” and it's by pure true accident you discover Mary-Kim Arnold and get a strange mix of shock and relief that even someone who teaches writing at Brown still questions things
Great news! I survived my first AWP conference and have 2 poems forthcoming in online spaces: MUSH/MUM and Squawk Back. I’ll link these poems on my <<poetry page>> once they go live.
As of late lots of visual artists have been capturing my attention and igniting some inspiration. When in DC for #AWP17, I spent my last full day at the capitol w a close friend who showed me around downtown.
We explored the Botanical Gardens (and were pricked by one too many cacti) and then the National Gallery of Art, specifically the East building which holds exclusively modern art by 20th and 21st century artists. I haven’t made much time for museums recently so this trip was such an invigorating kick to my senses. My friend and I discussed interpretations, first impressions, connections, saying what we saw, how we felt. And I felt revived in my own writing practice.
Perhaps that’s also the residual effects of the conference. But, in truth, those 3 days were overwhelming and at times without direction. Some scabs I thought were almost healed were picked at again, some even broke skin. And to leave the metaphor for a moment, I felt disoriented in my life’s direction—not sure on where I should be, what I should be doing, or where it's all going. (Yet again.) I’m still working all this out. It feels cyclical and never-ending at its worse, but I know I’m getting closer to something. Even writing and publishing these thoughts is an early and vital step in this whole <figuring it out> process.
On a more positive note, I was blown away by the panels and readings I attended. I listened to thoughtful, sensitive discussions about gender, identity, workshop pitfalls, ableist poetics, hybrid forms, writing trans bodies w care and intimacy. And I spent quality time with some folks I haven't seen in a while. I'll always take these moments of magic over anything else. My heart goes out to those who have helped me grow, albeit sometimes begrudgingly listening to my astrological ramblings <3
One of the biggest takeaways from last weekend: When in doubt, write. Always always write.
And with that emotional dump, I'll leave a sprinkling of recent + various favorites:
- Daniel Richter, an interview — “Life cannot just be about reproduction and buying cars.”
- Natalie Shapero, Hard Child — full disclosure: I looked over this manuscript while interning w CCP and was a fangirl since its genesis. Natalie is such a kickass punk poet and her reading at AWP was a needed jolt.
- Tyler, the Creator Interviews Vince Staples — bc who else is going to discuss perceptions of race and artist labels as they're happening right. now. so freaking well
- Histories of (Neo)-Confessional Poetry — I’ve had about half a dozen tabs open dissecting Confessional histories and changes and current states; this is just one of the plentiful gems from Fence
I might get around to transcribe-transfer-publish the notes I took throughout the conference. Or I may keep them for more private reflection. . . Regardless, time to go revise some new/er stuff and do the work that needs to be done.
One day, during my last semester of undergrad, my workshop professor asked the class if we preferred to clean as we cooked or make a mess and leave cleaning ‘til later. We were discussing the revision process for personal essays, in particular. His cooking metaphor framed the question at hand: How did we revise?
It’s a different question than the age-old process question: “How do you write?” And a much better alternative to the disastrous “What do you write?” My professor never failed to mention how literary nonfiction was doomed at cocktail parties.
“So, [insert name here], what do you do?”
“I’m a writer.”
“Oh really? What kind of stuff do you write?”
“Well, um, stories, sort of. Essays, but not boring ones, not the ones you’d write in school. Maybe ‘personal essay’ might give you a better idea of… No? Well, I guess what I write is sort of like if fiction and nonfiction had a strange, unfortunately named baby…”
This could go on for hours without a trace of comprehension from the aggrieved, martini-sipping instigator.
“I mean,” my professor would say, “what the hell is creative nonfiction anyway? What, so now I know what it isn’t? It isn’t destructive fiction?”
He’s pacing around the small classroom at this point, agitated, making a point he’s made countless times before.
“Well, my apologies, I had no idea what you do is write creatively. I’ll be damned.”
It is a bit of a face-palm moment. Of course what essayists do is always in the pursuit of something creative, something more tangible than far-fetched sci-fi, time-melting, plain old fiction. And, of course, that same professor would shake his head and strike through that previous “of course” couplet. He was like that. Get to the point. Question your italics. Say what you mean and don’t assume. Write something, breathtaking or complete shit, and then walk away. Go to sleep or eat some dinner. Don’t overwrite and don’t be afraid to let things get a little messy in the kitchen every now and then.
The chef who cleans as they go is the writer who revises as they go—maybe they polish every paragraph, every sentence, even the smallest of prepositions. Or, as my professor eloquently put it, they're constipated. And if those writers were backed up, then the chef who cooks, makes a mess, and postpones the cleanup is the writer who’s got, well, diarrhea. (Important note here: His analogy, not mine.) Those were the writers who shat words page after page.
When he posed this question, I was stumped. I saw myself as a writer in-between two cleaning methods. Sure, I craved a spotless kitchen, an open page where I was content to perfect the garnish on a perfect little sentence. I mean, if it practically came that way on the plate premade. But other sentences were messier and called for a more erratic environment: eggs left un-whipped, flour covering the stove top, butter melting on the counter.
My professor told us to raise our hand when he said what kind of cook we were. I expressed hesitation, debating when to raise my hand. My fellow small group members scoffed. Behind me I could hear Kelsey, with whom I spent over seven hours in one sitting line editing and revising.
"Of course Ashley's the clean cook."
I smiled. Of course.
But I wouldn't understand until after graduation, weeks after my small group’s intimate (read: poorly attended) reading and days after I turned in my final revision. I wasn't cooking much in college. Back home I started up again. That’s when I noticed how I put back the seasonings in the cabinet while the shrimp bubbled over the stove. How, when I was done with it, I neatly packaged the spinach in its bag, placing it next to the butter, which was safe in its allotted compartment in the fridge.
Everything was in its right place.