Rudri Patel and Sudha Balagopal from the Arizona-based group Desert Flash invited me to read something and talk on nonfiction flash yesterday, along with Michelle Ross, who talked on flash fiction and read, and Jayne Martin and Dan Crawley, who read. The dimensions of the event kept changing, and in fact it turned out to be quite small, with some eminent flash writers and editors there (Michelle Finn Johnson of Split Lip, Kim Magowan of Pithead Chapel, Sara Siddiqui Chansarkar—all three amazing writers, other published emerging writers). Sudha asked me to talk about where to publish and I felt like my talk was pretty basic, aimed at a less experienced audience. But I still enjoyed the event anyway, and will attend their next event as a spectator participant. Sudha took a picture of the screen.
The English department's end-of-the-year party via Zoom on Friday was fun, and I was touched that the department recognized my retirement, and that a lot of students chimed in on the chat board saying they'd loved my classes and would miss me. It was a nicer way to exit that some of the retirement parties in the dean's conference room have been in the past, and I got to celebrate the winners of the two contests I started and have been running for the student lit mag Occam's Razor.
Hoping to catch Alia in a Zoom memoir event on Monday that includes Sejal Shah, whose writing has always interested me, especially since she outed herself as bipolar in Kenyon Review, and discussed the difficulty she had as a closeted bipolar academic (who failed to get tenure). I introduced myself to her at AWP. Her essay ("Even If You Can't See It: Invisible Disability and Neurodiversity") meant a lot to me, probably helped me to weather the self-disclosure involved in THE LUNATICS' BALL.
But I'm getting tired of Zoom events, which are definitely no substitute for in-person readings.
There has been an amazing tidal wave of response on Twitter and Facebook to my tiny 50-word micro. I have meanwhile been laboring over my pandemic micros and I think they're ready to send out. (Michelle Ross advised yesterday that you should sit on work for a few weeks or months before sending it out; I don't seem to be able to do that. She also mentioned getting 30-40 rejections on some pieces before they were accepted, but continuing to believe in her work; I don't seem to be able to do that either in the face of many rejections.) Alia needed a last-minute beta reader for an essay on Thursday, so she and I traded a couple of drafts with each other, her essay, my most problematic micro. One-on-one intensive work was really helpful.
Time to turn to comments and grades on the portfolios in my class, emails with comments and final grades to my 21 students. Perhaps typical that I've postponed my last set of final grades for so long. I remember procrastinating as a T.A. in graduate school, and pulling all-nighters before grades were due.
I'm writing some very tiny micros these days, just finishing up a set of three pandemic micros that I like a lot. Here's one I wrote about an experience with my mother. "New Shoes" came out today in 50WS: FIFTY-WORD STORIES, a magazine where Sudha Balagopal has published several micros. I just did one of her hour-long online restorative yoga classes yesterday, and I'm looking forward to seeing Sudha in the Zoom flash reading she's co-hosting tomorrow. Even though I've never met her in person, I feel like I have.
Just discovered that the combined reading/talk on flash nonfiction that I've been invited to do next Saturday via Zoom is an altogether larger affair than I'd imagined. Desert Flash is sponsored by excellent writers, Sudha Balagopal and Rudri Patel (editor of Sunlight Press, where my essay "Dear Maddy" won an Essay Contest). They've scheduled a formidable roster of well-known flash writers. Michelle Ross is also doing a talk as well as reading. Other readers: Dan Crawley, Spencer Litman, and Jayne Martin. They expect about twenty people. (For some reason I thought they might be a group of five or so, like my writing group, and that I'd be the only visitor.)
On Friday I'll be attending another Zoom event, the end of the year party for the English department, important because the Occam's Razor writers will be part of it and I supervised two writing contests, and because it's my last year. Feeling nervous about what I should say, if anything. I'll be reading the judges' comments on the winning flash and creative nonfiction and I always enjoy that.
I feel like I'm behind, when in fact I'm doing okay. CRAFT reading finished for the week (more coming tomorrow). Workshop portfolios organized and ready to grade. Grades aren't due for a week; the work is not the grading, it's the final comments I'm planning to send each student.
I was most worried about revising my essay "An Incident on Clement Street" in time to to send it to a couple of journals about to close down for the summer. Spent all day working on it today and I'm pretty pleased with the result. I think it's finished. I'll wait a day or two just in case I want to do any last-minute changes. There's something so satisfying about the hard work of revision.
When I logged on to twitter after breakfast today, three writers had already posted my new flash "Sooner or Later," out now in the special flash issue of LITTLE FICTION/BIG TRUTHS. Really excited to see it in such a great magazine with such an amazing roster of well-known flash writers. Can't wait to read the rest of the issue.
The Zoom open mic I did yesterday for my creative nonfiction workshop went without a hitch. I'm feeling sad already that it was basically the last class of my career. What a surreal end to 34 years of teaching this final semester has been.
I don't know whether it's the ten-week WIP facebook group I'm in, or rereading "The Lunatics' Ball" now that it's online and I have new readers reacting to it, but I sat down and did a revision of "I Could Have Danced All Night in My Maidenform Bra," which I think will be the closing flash in the collection, and I really love what I've done with it. One of my problems has been writing Lunatics' Ball essays and flash so they can stand alone (and I can send them out for submission at magazines) but also function in the book. I decided to forget about the stand-alone (really I've gotten enough Lunatics' Ball writing published, at very good places) and just work on the version for the book and it flowed beautifully, arriving at just the right last line. I'll do it with the Leps in a few weeks, which will probably temper my satisfaction, but right now I love what I wrote, and I love writing again. For the first month or so of the pandemic shelter-in-place I found it so hard to focus or even imagine reading or writing anything.
Pandemic news is not good. California is flattening the curve, but beginning to reopen too soon, I think, and many states are reopening even more businesses way too soon. Trump is a catastrophe, and seems much more interested in the economy than people dying (and in himself of course, always himself). I'm scared to go out, and Steve's anxiety keeps ramping up. 71,526 deaths in the U.S. so far. (More than a million cases diagnosed in the U.S. so far, but there's such limited access to testing that the figure doesn't mean much.)
I've spent a few hours each day lately on flash and microflash and it's felt so good to be writing again, even on very small things. Managed to send a couple off to magazines. Critique in my writing group of one of them on Wednesday was very useful and inspiring; the rewrite is much better.
I joined a free ten-week facebook group on jump starting your work-in-progress run by Michael Loveday, a flash writer (specializing in the flash novella) who is also a creativity coach. One more thing to feel guilty about, as I'm supposed to have started a project journal, and I haven't. What particularly appeals to me is his suggestion that you can include pictures and collages. But somehow I'm very busy, between CRAFT reading (this week's finished yesterday) and my workshop (Sunday is my day to send out instructions, and on Tuesday I'm leading a Zoom open mic class that I'm nervous about; technology is not my forte).
I'm a bit uncomfortable with the degree of self-revelation in "The Lunatics' Ball" (glad I got my editorial job offer before this came out), but mostly pleased to have it online, a jump start to the WIP in itself. A lot of writers have commented, and many I admire have reposted it on facebook and twitter. Today I was bowled over that Kathy Fish did so: "Go read this intricate, compassionate, masterfully distilled CNF piece by @doyljacq now online @FrictionSeries."
Just discovered that my creative nonfiction "The Lunatics' Ball," which came out in the print journal F(R)ICTION last fall, has been posted online. The title piece in my WIP, it's a personal one, but I'm glad to see that it's accessible to more readers.
Among other cool things, F(R)ICTION commissions original art for every piece they publish. This art is by Ejiwa Ebenebe.
A week or so ago, Meg Tuite invited me to participate in a collaborative reading of Colin Pope's poem "Still Life with a Casket in the Distance." The video was just posted on the BENDING GENRES blog. I'm the second to last reader.
Maybe by chance, Jonathan Cardew just reposted an old craft essay I wrote for the BENDING GENRES blog denouncing plot. I was afraid to read "Plots are for Dead People," but it wears better than I expected. I still agree with myself, though I haven't written that sort of mathematical experiment in a while. I'd like to.
The flash writers Sudha Balagapal and Rudri Patel (editor of SUNLIGHT PRESS, where I won a flash essay contest) just invited me to talk about nonfiction flash via Zoom with their "Desert Flash" group later this month. I immediately had a lot of ideas, but then I asked and learned that they want me to talk for 7-8 minutes! I'm thinking about reading "The Arithmetic of Memory," which is sort of mathematical. Honored by the invitation.
Lots of good ideas for my "Masque of the Red Death"-inspired flash in my writing group Skype meeting Wednesday night. I spent most of yesterday going through ten drafts (ten!) of the 600-word flash, which might seem an exercise in futility to a non-writer, but made for a very satisfying day.
I also posted a photo on Facebook that I took of a sunset on Clement Street, just around the corner from Alia Volz's flat, where our writing group has been meeting for nine years. Skype works, but I miss my bimonthly trips over the Bay Bridge to meet with my brilliant fellow writers in person. I miss the neighborhood too. From the beginning, I felt like I was being lifted out of my university milieu in the East Bay into something new and unfamiliar and freeing.
The Harry Ransom Center now has a brand new Flash Fiction Collection housing more than 250 books, donated by Tom Hazuka, Tara Lyn Masih, Pamela Painter, Robert Scotellaro, and Robert Shapard. Since I know THE MISSING GIRL was part of Scotty/Robert Scotellaro's library, I'm hoping that means it's part of the collection. Who knows, maybe some graduate student writing a dissertation a hundred years from now will run across it and like it. In such anxious times, it's nice to imagine a future.
Finally have done some writing. A flash, a few micros, I like them. Finally read something that wasn't just escapist, and was not only inspiring, but good for my WIP: Sheila O'Connor's Evidence of V. So now instead of feeling guilty about not writing or reading anything good, I'm feeling guilty about falling behind in my online workshop and my reading for CRAFT. But I feel like I'm regaining the ability to concentrate, which means I should be able to catch up today and tomorrow. Almost finished grading the essays in my workshop, need to send out emails, go over the Discussion Board. Will post grades for my very last class in a career of 32 years in just a few weeks.
The summer flash issue of LITTLE FICTION/BIG TRUTHS will be out (I just went over proofs for my story "Sooner or Later") and I'm excited to be part of it. I'm not publishing all that often, and an issue like that is always like a party.
We spend a lot of time making grocery lists, getting groceries ordered and delivered (mostly Steve does that), planning meals, cooking. I'm mostly enjoying it, wondering whether we were missing the point of life by not concentrating on the pleasures of cooking and eating together in our pre-pandemic life. I'm ready to sustain this shelter in place for a long time and it looks like it might be necessary, for people in our age group at any rate. Steve and I are worried about what to do when the shelter in place is lifted and Ben moves back to Oakland. They predict that the second wave of the virus in fall/winter will be worse than the first. Will it be risky to see Ben in person after that? I'm worried about him too. If he's required to return to work, he'll be taking BART.
Today the cnf editor at ATTICUS REVIEW, Chauna Craig, posted about negative space and negative capability and the absence of so many things we're used to. Here's a rather long quotation from her letter that spoke to me:
What the pandemic and these books brought home to me is how little anything outside of my own heart and mind actually needs my attention. Yes, my children and my students both need guidance as they navigate the changed world, and my body needs the usual life-sustaining practices. But as I’ve exhausted my most useless anxieties and run out of busy-making tasks, I’m left with the me that goes deeper than the optics of Facebook or Zoom, deeper than my now heightened sense of mortality, deeper than any sense of obligation for who I think I should be in any circumstance. That deep place is a scary place only because I stopped hanging out there, stopped allowing myself familiarity with life’s negative space.
I’ve finally recognized how this long stretch of absence from my workplace and my friends and family may be my opportunity to not return to what became my normal. I want to make peace with negative space, to lose a self that wasn’t ever my own, to see what’s really there. I don’t know how this will shape my relationship to the world, my writing, my sense of self, but I don’t want to reach for those answers. I’d rather, to paraphrase Rilke, learn to (again) love the questions themselves.
Actually there are a lot of writers on the list for BEST SMALL FICTIONS 2020 that I don't know at all, and some I expected aren't there. Kathy Fish is there of course (a fabulous writer and teacher, who's posting thirty days of flash prompts on her blog right now), Amy Hempel, Etgar Keret, Amber Sparks (a cool flash I just reposted last week), Amy Stuber, some more writers I admire, and someone else from JUKED whom I don't know. But they passed over my story "Framed," nominated by JUKED, and damn, I think that's a pretty good story. Some day I hope I'll get into the anthology. Right now I'm glad that I haven't let the rejection (which it sort of is) affect my feelings about my work. I've been letting that happen too much this year.