Each weekend a different editor at ATTICUS REVIEW writes a letter. Today's by the creative nonfiction editor Chauna Craig has me thinking about the hope necessary to sustain a longer project. I regret abandoning my essay collection DO-IT-YOURSELF NIGHT when it was just about finished. I kept thinking I needed a stronger arc and ending, and started THE LUNATICS' BALL thinking it would be a flash chapbook (ha!) that I could complete as a distraction. Here's what Chauna Craig says about hope:
"In my morning reading I came across this quotation from writer and revolutionary Vaclav Havel: 'Hope is not a feeling. It is not the belief that things will turn out well, but the conviction that what we are doing makes sense, no matter how things turn out.' I paused. I printed those lines into a journal. I pondered. A conviction is something much more lasting than a feeling, and Havel reminds us that hope is less a look to the future than a deep grounding in the present, the affirmation that what we are (currently) doing makes sense, no matter how things turn out. When I examine my own writing life through this frame of hope, I see how much — to the detriment of my own joy — I still tend to value product over process and give too much weight to external evaluation. I’ve set aside difficult and complicated writing projects, telling myself they just need to rest. Rest is generally good, but some of my projects have gone Rip Van Winkle on me, stirring again long after the cultural moment has changed. The more that happens, the more I succumb to the belief that the current project will go the same way, that I’m not capable of really finishing, that I’m only wasting my time and energy if I don’t. The opposite of hope."
It's hard not to overvalue external evaluation, and the brief thrill of having something published and acknowledged by editors and readers on social media. It's hard to maintain the belief that what I'm working on "makes sense, no matter how things turn out." THE LUNATICS' BALL keeps growing instead of neatly cohering, but the process of discovery makes some kind of sense to me. I hope I can maintain that process.
Literary journals can only nominate a handful of flash for BEST SMALL FICTIONS. I guess individuals can too (as they can for Pushcarts: this year Jane Ciabbatari nominated me for a Pushcart and I don't know how that works either). Tom Gumbert just announced his list of nominees on twitter, nineteen of them, and I'm thrilled to be one. Already excited that JUKED nominated me for BEST SMALL FICTIONS, because JUKED is so good, and it's also a flash I like a lot. I don't know whether there's a particular flash associated with Tom Gumbert's nomination (surprisingly many authors I don't know, but Amy Stuber and Leonora Desar are on the list, and I love their work).
I would really like to get into BEST SMALL FICTIONS 2020.
Managed to get through my first week of teaching. A great group of students in my creative nonfiction workshop. It's taxing!
So proud of my San Francisco writing group The Leporine Conspiracy today. Just saw the advance blurbs for past member Caitlin Myer's forthcoming memoir WIVING. And I've been tracking advance publicity for Alia Volz's forthcoming memoir HOME BAKED (we've been in the group together for nine years, and I watched the book grow from infancy to adulthood). And in the past year went to launch parties for past member Alvin Orloff's DISASTERAMA (we read the first draft chapter by chapter, from beginning of end in group) and past member Olga Zilberbourg's LIKE WATER (we did lots of those stories in group). Sometimes the group is tough. It's always supportive and productive.
Just when I thought it was too late (the deadline was Friday) and I had no chance at all of getting into BEST SMALL FICTIONS because nothing I'd published had even been nominated, JUKED went and announced their nominations and my flash "Framed" is on their list. I was already blown away when they accepted the flash, which is one of my favorite. So I'm especially thrilled.
I didn't know this interview with RAPPAHANNOCK REVIEW was up. They asked good questions about my digressive, dream-filled lyric essay "Octopus Dreams" and I was able to talk about The Lunatics' Ball and some of my other lyric works.
Just ran across Sarah M. Broom's essay in The Paris Review about the long process of writing her book The Yellow Room. Loved this: "The unfinished work is no less real, or necessary, or powerful than the book. How we need it, this work, these long, beautiful digressions, these surprises. May we continue to gift writers with the time for wildness. May they ramble, digress, go beyond the edges of all the known and touted maps, may they hew close to the question, to unearth the questions beyond."
Not a loss exactly, a lost chance. Nominations for BEST SMALL FICTIONS close today, and despite numerous award nominations (four Pushcarts, one Best of the Net, one Best Microfictions), I didn't get any nominations for next year's anthology at all. So I won't be getting into that one. I didn't get into last year's (despite nominations), and the year before I had two flash on the Finalist list at the back of the anthology (they don't do that any more). I'm disappointed.
The results of the Soul-Making Keats Literary Competition are in and I got Honorable Mentions in Flash (for "After Dinner" and "Free Fall") and in Creative Nonfiction (for "A Eulogy, Despite," which was a Notable in Best American Essays). Since I placed in three categories the only other time I entered this contest (first place in Memoir-Vignette, second place in Creative Nonfiction, second place in Flash, all with cash awards), this doesn't feel like a lot. But I'll get to read in their grand awards ceremony in the Koret Auditorium at the San Francisco Public Library on March 22, and I haven't read from the essay or read either of those flash before.
Finally finished the 600+ page biography of Vivienne Eliot and drafted that portion of my LUNATICS' BALL chapter. I need to read up on Zelda Fitzgerald for the other portion, and I have four books from the library, and I'm wondering why I'm working on a project that requires me to read up to six books and a ton of articles before I can write a four-page chapter/flash/short essay/profile/whatever I'm calling these. (Maybe it's no more insane than my PhD dissertation that had chapters on four different authors and a literary period and myriad minor modernist writers and was also 600 pages.) This started as a potential flash chapbook and just grew and grew.
Finished reading the short story and flash submissions for CRAFT. I enjoyed it.
I haven't gotten my first rejection of 2020 yet (or acceptance, for that matter). I have far fewer submissions out there than usual. Working on THE LUNATICS' BALL has slowed my other writing. And I think I've really been impeding my progress by worrying about which LUNATICS' BALL chapters can be sent out as stand-alones, writing two versions of each. I've gotten some excellent pubs and acceptances, more than enough to suggest that the project has merit, so I don't really need to send out more. It's easier to write in a conversational voice if I assume the reader is partway through the book, instead of introducing the reader to its central premise in each new chapter. I think I'm managing it, the conversational voice, and it makes inserting memoir easier since there's already an "I" on the page..
Planning changes in my creative nonfiction workshop in Spring Semester, and I need to work up a new syllabus and get it copied for class soon. Classes start on January 21!!! But today we're enjoying the semester break by driving out to the coast.
Alyssa Jordan does a cool horoscope series at F(R)ICTION that includes recommended reading. In December, my flash “Raining Blackbirds” in GHOST PARACHUTE was recommended reading for Aries. This month, my micros “Girls in the Woods” and “After Dinner” in CRAFT are recommended reading for Taurus. Sagittarius (my sign) isn’t predicted to have a great January. (Gorgeous art below by Joana Coccarelli.)
January's been great so far, though. I've made some real progress on THE LUNATICS' BALL (a really useful discussion of voice in the last Leps meeting). I'm way behind on syllabus and class preparation for the spring semester, but I've got a week. Almost two before classes start.
I started reading fiction for CRAFT; it's time-consuming, but interesting. I think it will feel less time-consuming when I get used to it and figure out a schedule (maybe Fridays).
And I've met out of town writer friends in San Francisco: Jayne Martin for a great breakfast at Sears by Union Square (photo below signing her new book Tender Cuts), and Claire Polders and her husband Daniel Presley (for the first time), Lynn Mundell, and Dorothy Rice for a great dinner at Tomasso's in North Beach. (Tomasso's looks like someone's kitchen in the photo of Lynn, Claire, Dorothy and me below.) Steve and I are planning to drive to the coast for a crab dinner on Friday.
Love “What Happened on December 21” over at ESSAY DAILY, an “exercise in mass attention” by hundreds of writers that's been going on for days and will probably last another couple of weeks at least. Mine's up today. This time around I paid closer attention to my day than I did last June. There was nothing remarkable about the day for me, but now I have a record of it, and a strange expansive sense of many unremarkable lives unfolding simultaneously. There’s some remarkable writing in this series of accounts. Take a look. It’s not too late to contribute your own.