Last night I attended an online workshop put on by the local library, which featured a writer who was also once a literary agent in NYC. This was a grand opportunity to learn some upcoming steps I will have to make to shop the first novel I completed this year.
The business end of traditional publishing is overwhelming and I can understand why many people take the time to write novels but never publish them. Or how they never quite finish their novel so they don’t have to think about the process.
During the session, the audio messed up when it came time for me to explain what I was working on and this started my frustration and anxiety. I never really got another chance to get the same attention the rest of the writer’s received, so I felt let down. Technology is not always our friends.
This workshop has two parts, and she assigned us the task of finding five current writers (within the last five years) who we feel have some relationship to the novel we are working on whether it is style, subject, journey etc. Trying to figure out where your work would fit among those already published is hard enough. Then to ask you to compare your raw, unpublished work with those who have sold millions of copies is daunting.
If I’m honest, I never thought I’d finish the novel, anyway. I had started it ten years ago and would take it out every few years, add a few paragraphs and put it back. It was something I attempted but failed in my mind. My background has always been heavy in poetry and I have been writing since I was ten years old. My father was a poet, and I spent my life trying to capture every beautiful moment I saw to connect us in our estranged relationship.
When I started publishing poetry in the small press, both online and in print, I met other writers and began dabbling in flash fiction, short fiction, and micro fiction. These always felt like extensions of poetry to me and I didn’t consider myself a fiction writer until I attempted the novel. Because of this, I never thought about finding an agent or ever moving beyond the small press.
Having my work published was satisfying if one person told me they experienced something from the piece. This has always been the basis of my desire to publish. I want the reader to feel something for a moment… to pause or look at the world in a unique light even if it doesn’t change them profoundly.
Somehow, I lost grasp of this last night. Being vulnerable and rejected repeatedly for a novel I’ve worked so hard to complete put me over the edge. I had a sudden wave of imposter syndrome which made me want to give it all up. The thought of doing all the business side truly makes me not want to write anymore. This is sad because writing is all I have ever known. It saved my life on so many occasions and has brought me to the dearest people in my life.
After the workshop, I locked myself in my room and cried while crocheting. My best girlfriend talked me off the ledge with her kind, matter-of-fact positivity. My boyfriend asked me a series of questions to tease out the genuine reason for my fear. Together then brought me back to center. Things always feel impossible until you begin them. The thought of what it will cost you emotionally and mentally are often less than the high price tag you place on them.
I have spent a life overcoming impossible odds. Now is not the time to give up trying. For all of you folks out there feeling down or that you are the biggest impostor in the world, just know we are all there with you. Be kind to yourself. Dig a little deeper. Work a little harder. You’ve got this.
Recently, I have been reading poems at night and recording them. My friend and I send them back and forth. This is a helpful tool to understanding where changes need to be made in the flow of a poem. This particular poem is an old one and was previously published. Most of the poems you read here are published except for the occasional recent work.
My life as a nurse has afforded me the opportunity to see people in every shade of their personality and to imagine myself in their heads. This poem will someday be part of a manuscript I’m putting together called “Little Graveyards” which chronicles small and large deaths I’ve seen in the ER or just in vulnerable people in general.
Skin heals inside out. We watch the wounds close, pushing up new cells daily.
It’s her own small miracle self-created again and again and again and again with the razor slowly biting into microcosmic layers.
Each thickness its own dimension in time. She stands witness to blood rising from skin folds, valleys made of her innate need for destruction.
A river is nourished with every ripple it pushes up over the banks, spilling into the empty valley of her heart.
It’s easy medicine for her.
Each groove alleviates pain quicker than any pill, or couch session. Making her remember, that despite it all, she’s still alive.
They ducked into the stoop of the closed cafe a second before the sky opened up with the wrath of an unseen god. The ferocity of the thunder rattled Cynthia’s bones. Next to her, George didn’t seem phased in the slightest, having spent a lifetime amidst the cornfields of Iowa. Storms there meant life and food on the table. He never gave them a regretful thought.
The two were practically strangers and tucked in close, elbow to elbow. They’d “talked” for months through various forms of social media. Cynthia regretted this was the only way people like to meet anymore and longed for the bygone times when their awkwardness fleshed out in person. It was easier to weed out the weirdos that way.
Electronically, the two had investigated each other. They checked off lists and probabilities weighed before deciding to appear in human form. They both were more gregarious and brave through the glowing screens in front of their noses. They could be themselves without fear of rejection or ridicule, however, they hadn’t planned on reality.
Cynthia found George handsome and rugged, but in person his charm was lacking and his conversation skills stunted. She spent much of the dinner driving their exchanges and waited for him to lead, just once. It made her feel like she was boring and that whatever interest he’d had in her approximation was squandered sitting across from him.
Huddled under the awning, their bodies were close, but with so much silence between their mouths.
When George leaned over to whisper in Cynthia’s ear he felt his heart rip out of his chest onto the sidewalk with the rain washing away his blood and courage. He tried to find a shadow of his online bravado to tell her how much he loved listening to her speak, watching her mouth form words, and the way she bit her bottom lip when she was nervous. George liked her, a lot. He choked on his words as his mind went blank. Now, he was just a weirdo breathing heavy in her ear.
Cynthia felt something strange tickling her ear and turned her head quick. Almost in slow motion her skull collided with George’s nose with a deafening crack, followed by blood rushing down his clean white Oxford shirt.
“Oh, god. Oh, I’m so sorry,” Cynthia said, trying to stop the hemorrhage.
He clutched his nose, embarrassed. Great, she thought, I mortally wounded him. There goes that.
I know I previously posted to the home page and maybe another post about being published at the Big Windows Review, but here is another. I have two poems in Issue 19, Spring 2020
This literary magazine is part of the Writing Center at Washtenaw Community College in Ann Arbor, MI which is run by Tom Zimmerman and Katherine Snow. Thanks so much to them both for including my work in their spring issue.
I’ve come to realize that at 46, I have spent a lifetime chasing the idea of love. It’s an abstract concept that most have a hard time holding in their hand long enough to understand. The feeling, when it’s true, might have you huddled in the corner whispering “my precious.”
Love is something we want to keep, but can’t name or map or diagram out to know when it is true. Like many people, I have spent the aforementioned lifetime with a conglomerate definition of love that comes from society, movies, books, and learned environment.
The concept is often too heavy for a person to consider individually. This would mean each of us would have to stand before the mirror and not be ashamed of what looks back at us. What happens when all those areas I have gleaned a definition of love from are broken?
The last three years have been a journey to love myself. I have started this late in life, but with a good set of tools: experience, knowledge, friendship. The journey will continue as my years tack on, but right now, in the strangest of times, I have found my definition of love.
Any of It
Sometimes I want to write a poem where our breath meets as it dances over our lips and tongue.
I’d forgotten what it felt like to be loved
to know the weight of an arm across my chest,
the wet warmth of velvet kisses, unexpected.
The way laughter pulls two souls together, or the surprise of existence the morning sun brings,
Or how a hand slides into another, grounding the world into reality,
the quiet closeness in awe of a sunset, fingers tangled in the soft waves of my hair.
These were all dreams I once had, the sweet rambles of sleep and rearranged heartbeats, soft delirium easily trapped in the dark minutes before midnight.
“Do you ever have those days when you feel so disconnected you aren’t sure you exist?” asked Sound.
“But you do exist, because I see you sitting there. I hear your voice. I can reach out and smack your pouty mouth if I want to,” said Fury.
Sound sighed. “I know I exist, you asshole… I’m just saying that sensation of utter despair and complete invisibility gives the impression of non-existence.”
“How do you know you exist?” Fury asked.
He challenged her to explain the things in the world that couldn’t be captured. He made her furious for sure and smiled knowing he was aptly named.
“Didn’t you just confirm my existence a few minutes ago? Why do I have to prove it to you if you have already proved it to yourself?”
The space between them filled with an electric and violent silence. The conversation went nowhere fast. Each of them lived their lives as separate sides of a coin. Neither of their faces could be seen at the same time unless the universe stood on its head.
Sound loved her brother just as much as she hated him. She knew Fury felt the same about her, but what were twins supposed to do with that indelible mark? That gossamer seam stitched them together whether they liked it or not.
“You have to prove it because I know you love the musicality of your own voice. Why do you think we are having this conversation in the first place?”
I wrote the bones of this poem last night and then cleaned it up this morning. Most of the time I share work that has already been published, but today, you get a freshie. Enjoy.
I pulled into the grocery store parking lot, leaping from the car to race headlong to the concrete wall separating the river from the city it likes to drown when too many tears fill its banks.
The sun set so fast throwing amber rays into the sky like a confident painter perfectly placing a thick brush stroke, its reflection on the water, a liquid fire.
These months in isolation pull all the silver linings from the bottom of my pockets, remind me of what hard life used to be and the pain of loneliness
and how this is an inconvenience, a sheltered reduction of years and thoughts, a gratitude building up for something as simple as the evening star over our heads always pointing us in the right direction.
It’s strange, but as a child I was not into collaboration. I feel like this is when we would be at our most viable to handle it. Our egos don’t get in the way. But as I have gotten older, the more I love to collaborate in some way. It pulls the mind open. It gets uncomfortable and this is where your craft grows. In 2010, I did a fair bit of poetry crafting with my friend Brad Burjan. Many of the poems we created together were published.
I would later go on to work on short fiction in a collaborative setting with people I had never met before and learning to trust where they were taking the story. It is an exercise that allows you to play and take chances you otherwise may not have taken. I started using conversations with other people to create characters for stories. Things began to have lives of their own.
Collaboration has so many levels of sharing. It can be in your face construction of a piece of writing or art. It can be subtle in the sense that another person’s presence in the room or the sound of their voice lends to creation. Often we take collaboration to be this big undertaking but it is truly about interaction with another person who has their own unique picture of the world. Never be afraid to try something that makes you feel on the edge of your comfort zone. You’ll come back happier than when you started.
Please enjoy this poem from 2010 by Brad Burjan and myself:
Generation of Guns
Sometimes these bones are strangers, touching each other in the night like blind/deaf lovers. They call each other by name, their words Morse code vibrating into fresh cells.
Like frightened armies cut off at the river, they move together in the trenches, faces smeared with mud, limbs articulated with their sentences hovering in the open mouth of the air…searching.
Legions of men rise and fall in this mist, this place of stopped time and stolen history, exhaling the exposed wounds we’d rather not carry.
All that dried blood of reality pools and hardens in cold chambers— in a generation of guns now frozen in the memory’s trigger and I’d rather shoot the teeth out of love than admit defeat or truth.
So I’ll just sit here choking on every syllable that weighs down my throat, and cease to resist destiny.
Jorge climbed the stairs of the tenement apartment building whose walls were as thin as whispers. He heard snippets of each family’s life as he ascended. His feet bowed the worn wood making them groan and creak.The dark hallways were scattered with mouse droppings and smelled of decay. Garbage cluttered the corners, broken toys scattered across the dirty floors like orphans.
The death of sounds was common here. No one cared where they went or who made them unless it disturbed their sleeping habits. It wasn’t unusual to eat lunch with gunfire or hang the clothes in the apartment to dry, listening to the sound of fists contacting a face.
He lamented the fact that life took away their compassion and left them numb to the atrocities in their own backyards. But this place was what he could afford on his meager pension from the mill. He couldn’t do better than this. It gave him pause, his head hanging for a moment.
On the fourth floor, he stopped. From apartment 22 came a noise he wasn’t accustomed to hearing. It drew him closer to the door with its peeling burgundy paint and lopsided, black metal numbers.
It was music.
Tender and passionate, he hovered at the door, fingers just grazing the paint. The space around his body filled with his own excited warmth. He leaned in with his ear pressed to the jamb forgetting about the building’s filth, forgetting many would sooner shoot you than look at you if you came close to their doors. He couldn’t draw away… not yet.
Jorge held his breath to not miss a sound. His entire body set afired right there in the dirty hallway. His cock twinged between his legs the louder the music got. For the first time in years, he felt like a man. Jorge wandered through thoughts of his youth and the nights spent with women clutched in his arms. How he’d slide into them deep, enjoying the musk of their bodies. Their mouths betraying the music of their sex.
Notes escaped from the cracks around the door spilling into the stale, heavy air. They were sweet melodic effluvia that danced in the air, kissing his face, and Jorge knew at once it was a woodwind. He listened carefully as the woman, yes….he was sure it was a woman playing, blew into the instrument.
He imagined the delicious pout of her lips pursed over the curved hole. The deftness of her fingers flew over the padded keys pressing them into the silver body. As she covered the holes the air stretched into music. Jorge heard the sole of her show tapping the hardwood, imagined her graceful neck and slender fingers.
Jorge closed his eyes and drank her in imagining the swell of her breasts as she inhaled to put strength behind the notes. He wanted to run his hand up her knee while she played a melody for him and watch her body stiffen at his touch.
His body betrayed him. His face flushed. Jorge’s body trembled and he was hard as stone, standing like a lecherous old man at a young girl’s door. The landlord lumbered up the stairs and his heart froze.
She was drunk and Jorge smelled the stale alcohol pouring from her skin from where she stood at the top of the stairs. Her body swayed and she held herself steady with the railing. The look in her eye devious as a vultures.
“What the hell are you doing over there?” she slurred.
“By the looks of the party in your pants, it doesn’t look like nothing, Jorge. You’re a dirty old man leaning against the door, huddled in the corner stroking yourself like a peeping Tom.” The landlord scolded, “I should kick you out, or better yet post your sad face in the lobby as a pervert. But you pay on time so I’ll just remember this. You will owe me.”
Something in the way she looked at Jorge made his stomach sick. He wanted nothing to do with being under her thumb or any other part of her body.
“I’m going now, up to my apartment. Sorry. I meant nothing. The music put me in a trance.” Jorge tried to explain, but the landlord just looked at his pants with a grin of a wolf.
She licked her lips and smiled, showing her poorly kept teeth. Another wave of her pickled insides came toward him as she spoke. He held back the vomit in his throat. Jorge looked down to see the pleats of his trousers tented like the pants of an adolescent, a wet spot forming there like a lewd death for everyone to see.
Jorge’s excitement faded and wished his cock would shrivel back into its cotton grave. He wanted nothing to do with this weak excuse for a woman and her wasted life. He wanted the dove behind the door, wanted to kiss her skin and please her….take her from this wretched place. But he said nothing more as he looked at the door again.
He hung his head as he walked past the landlord avoiding her intentions. Now he would never know the beauty behind the door. Reluctant, Jorge left the woman of his dreams with her music, her body of grace, her answer to the reawakening of his heart, and trudged past more death, to his own.