- Some years teach, some years leave you with more questions than answers.
- How to surf (or at least, how to begin to surf…I stood up, which is what counts).
- From Melody Beattie’s Journey to the Heart, shared from a friend during a trip to Costa Rica: “Take your place in the world. Know you are part of a complete universe, but remember you are a complete universe, too.”
- My Nonna was right: one day you’ll stop plucking your eyebrows and you’ll see there’s beauty in being bold, dark, and thick.
- From ire’ne lara silva, during the reading and launch of her book of poems, Blood Sugar Canto: “I really don’t believe you can heal if fear is the constant emotion that you have.”
- When words fail, do.
- What a mess we are. What a glorious, complicated mess.
- My dogs are more resilient than I’ll ever be.
- Why I write: “And maybe we will seed the earth with our understanding.” — Puro Border, Dispatches, Snapshots and Grafitti from La Frontera, by Bobby Byrd & Luis Humberto Crosthwaite
- How to drive a quad (much forearm strength needed).
- The best experience I had this year was thanks to postcard on a random bulletin board. (Read, read everything.)
- I’ve spent too much time and energy trying to avoid admitting to myself that I am feeling drained and hurt and hopeless.
- That is not my only reality, though (I say reassuringly, to myself and to you).
- We fear conflict, but conflict fears our voices.
- There’s beauty in vulnerability; it’s honest and means we’re learning.
- One day, I will stop mourning that happy, carefree part of me that died a little in 2016 and embrace the fearless, purposeful spirit that came knocking in its place.
In other words, I have news!
In other words, I am so, so, so happy and excited to share this story with you.
I’ll have updates soon, and will definitely be back to write more about EVERYONE CARRIES THEIR OWN WATER and how this story came to be…
…but for now I just want to share this moment with you all, and send a big, huge Thank You to all of you who’ve come along on this journey over the years. I’ve been very quiet for some time now, not blogging as much as I used to…
…I blame this story, and the process of writing and revising and hoping to publish it. It consumed me so completely these past few years, in the best possible way. And while I got to be selfish for a while, keeping it all to myself, watching as it grew and became what it was going to become, my biggest hope was that one day it’d be out in the world. So you can imagine my excitement that now, one day in 2018, it will be.
love & thanks always,
I’ve been taking a break from blogging to journal more—you know, pen and paper style. Every once in a while I look back and find I’d like to share a snippet or two here. From Oct. 2015…
But we choose these journeys and for the most part we take every step convinced we can’t do it, or we’re doing it wrong, or we’ll turn around and realize we’ve gone so far but it’s really all for nothing. But I can’t assume it’s not as difficult for someone else to pursue their desires. I can’t assume mine are so self-important. Still, it fills me up in ways I could never fully convey. When someone asks me how I’ve been & I say good because I just finished this draft, what I’m really saying is I’ve spent hours weeks & months doubting & discovering & growing as a person & human. I’ve created things from nothing & been surprised by words & thoughts I didn’t know were a part of me. I’ve explored lives greater than my own and my life feels greater because of them. I am trying & attempting to make something bigger than myself, reach across time & space to people I could never & would never know, and it makes me feel a part of something more permanent & meaningful than this one existence I’ve been given.
Funny story, really…
The summer between eighth and ninth grade, I spent much of my time hanging out with my sister and her friends. She’s two years older than me, and by the time I was 14, we’d begun closing the gap of our age difference.
Of course, this still meant I saw her friends as cool, and more mature, and me cool and more mature-ish by association. We were all hanging around our kitchen one day when one of her friends walked down the hall to use the restroom. Alvaro (we’ll call him Alvaro because that’s his name and I doubt he’ll ever read this blog) had a bit of a crush on me, and though I didn’t return the feelings, I saw him as a friend.
At first, we didn’t really notice how long he was taking in the bathroom. We headed to my sister’s room to listen to some music, but noticed the bathroom door was open and my sister’s bedroom empty. The group of three or four of us popped into my bedroom next, wondering where he’d wandered off to.
We found Alvaro sitting on my bed. Holding my heart-covered journal open in his hands. Reading it.
I should mention now that my journal was a hardcover, bound book, about 6 x 9 inches and maybe half an inch thick.
I mention this because I snatched it from his hands, held it in both of mine, and with a force the doctor’s daughter in me is still embarrassed to admit, hit him square on the head with it.
Then I held the journal in front of his face and said, stone cold: “This is private. You don’t read this.”
I can still hear the thunk. Can still see the way he blinked, one eye after the other, shocked. I can still hear my sister laughing, and I suppress a laugh too, when I think about it. Head injury is serious stuff. I could’ve really hurt him.
I don’t know what possessed Alvaro to think reading my journal would be a good idea. My reaction came without a thought, purely visceral and fueled by a need to reclaim something I’d never thought to lock away or protect.
For years after, this was often the moment I pulled from when I needed to muster strength. Not for the writing kind, but for actual, physical strength. It’s how I got my overhead serve in volleyball to go over the net. It’s how I spiked the ball with a force I didn’t know I had. “You don’t read this” became my mantra. Those words in those pages were mine.
Which is funny when you think about it, because these days, many of us probably wish we could hit readers over the heads with our books and say “read this!”
But I digress.
That privacy of our first words is so sacred. The agency to keep some close and share others. Unfortunately for Alvaro, he learned this lesson the hard way.* Wherever he is, I hope his head is in good health, and if it is, I hope he thinks real hard before the next time he cracks open a writer’s journal.
I did an Ask Me Anything hour with Inkitt today and have been thinking about one of the questions posed to me ever since.
If you’ve ever read my bio on my site, I pretty much pledge my love of em dashes and alliteration (all in moderation, says the inner editor). One of the writers on today’s AMA saw this and noted that he does, too; however, he’s under the impression that publishing is leaning towards “a more ‘internet’ style of writing that eschews any ‘fancy’ punctuation or stylistics excesses.”
He wanted to know how I balance the possibilities of style while staying marketable.
I had a few reactions to this.
First, I got a kick out of em dashes being called fancy. I was flattered, on behalf of em dashes everywhere. I curtsied and batted my lashes and everything.
Then, my heart began to break a little. It does this every time I think about a writer being discouraged by this vague idea of “the market.”
So then…I got into cheerleader mode and wrote him my response:
When it comes to your voice and writing style (and I know this is going to sound idealistic) but the market should be the last thing you’re thinking about. The market is always changing. It is, more importantly, being changed by new and exciting voices. People and their views and experiences are being changed by new and exciting voices. So there’s no point in trying to write in a voice or style that isn’t yours (it’d be like trying to wear clothes that’s completely uncomfortable—none of us would wear it well, and our discomfort would be obvious). Better to devote that time and energy to YOUR voice, the one that’s true and that, by virtue of it being the right voice for you, would be the one you write in best.
And lastly I gave him a small disclaimer, to not mistake excessive habits for style or voice. (More of that in an older post here.)
And then we come to now. Now, I’m still thinking about this because I realize that getting the old “don’t worry about the market” advice from a published writer is probably the last thing a writer who is hoping to be published ever wants to hear. It sounds like one of those, “easy for you to say” pieces of advice.
But here’s the thing about your voice. About finding it. About claiming it. About shaping it as you grow and accepting that, just as it may mold you, you’ll mold it. Finding your voice is probably the hardest thing a writer ever has to do. People will give you all sorts of advice on how to do it, but no one really knows. Even those of us who think we’ve found it can only say we’ve found the voice that is ours or closest to it right now. Writing is a constant process of discovering what you have to say and how you’ll say it. As long as we are alive and breathing, we are simply translators, trying to extract everything we are and everything we want to tell into something tangible. Something that comes close.
And when you think of it that way, isn’t that the whole point of writing? Isn’t publishing simply a record of a moment in a writer’s evolution? A still frame of their ever-changing voice?
And if that’s the case, isn’t it like memory? Isn’t it proof of our existence, once past is past? Isn’t it worthy of being true?
Before the end of the year I decided to take a break from my edits and step away from the story for a bit. I resorted to what I always do when I need to refuel my writing: reading.
Despite the reusable bag full of to-be-read books next to my nightstand, and the endless piles in my office, I went for an old favorite.
You could say, the old favorite.
Like many writers, reading Little Women as a child had an immeasurable influence on me. I wanted to be Jo, with her ink-stained hands and big dreams. I wanted to be the rebel storyteller. I never, ever forgave Amy for burning Jo’s manuscript (I suspect this is also why I can’t stand the sight of Kirsten Dunst) and I begrudged the passage of time, the inevitable growing up that came with it.
Re-reading Little Women was my equivalent of curling up under a warm blanket and pulling it over my head. It was me shutting out the rest of the world. It was me looking for comfort, not craft (though it’s certainly there), in the pages. All I intended to do was fall in love with story again.
The last the time I read Little Women, publishing a book was nowhere near a reality for me. Who we are inevitably changes how we read the books we love: suddenly I was catching bits of Louisa May Alcott’s feminism I hadn’t noticed as a young reader, and I found myself chuckling at her jabs at the publishing industry. In a scene where Jo submits her manuscript to an editor, Alcott writes he said “We’ll take this.” Then she adds: “(editors never say ‘I’)”.
Though I didn’t highlight or take notes, I dog-eared several passages. Then this morning, before I got back to work on my manuscript, I revisited the book and found this:
In her first post of 2016, Lindsey Mead writes about how, instead of resolutions, she chooses a word of the year (or rather, the word chooses her). I’d hoped one would choose me as well, then promptly forgot about it until I re-opened my copy of Little Women.
So, yes, they’re more like eight words, but they speak to me.
They are exactly how I want to live and write this year.
1. How to throw a punch.
2. That I’m stronger than I think.
3. Compassion for only those just like us is not compassion; it’s self-interest.
4. To teach is to learn without keeping all the good stuff to yourself.
5. The joy of hiking.
6. As a matter of fact, I really, really do like Indian food.
7. Gratitude for my body and what it’s done for me, despite the rough times.
8. There is no truth that doesn’t come undone a bit when you look at it from the opposite side.
9. How ugly pride can be.
10. How beautiful humbleness.
11. From a late night talk with family: “We all have a choice between two realities: that which we live through and that which we suffer through.
12. The joy of a thrift shop gem discovery.
13. How to strip and refinish furniture—and that keeping what I have and making it new is more rewarding because it’s preserving history.
14. For beings made up entirely of memory, we forget all too easily.
15. People will surprise you with their capacity to change. People will surprise you with their capacity to change you.
I’ve been in a quiet place lately, lost deep in the next book and a rough draft that surprises me every time I sit down to write. But I wanted to pop in to tell you about a couple of new developments.
I’ve joined the faculty at Regis University’s Mile-High MFA, a low-residency program in Denver, CO. Twice a year, I’ll be in Denver for a nine-day residency period where MFA students get to immerse themselves in workshops, seminars, and readings. The rest of each semester, I’ll be working remotely one-on-one with students as we come up with a curriculum tailored to their specific writing projects, needs and interests. I love the low-res model because I’ve always felt it reflects what the writing life is really like—a balance between finding a community and carving out a place and time in our own private lives for our writing. Applications are now open for the 2016 year. To learn more about the program or apply, visit the Mile-High MFA website.
Also, starting March 24, I’ll be teaching a 6-week literary fiction course in Austin, TX, called Writing a Literary, Page-Turning Novel. A short preview of the description:
“It’s time to throw the myth of the literary navel-gazer into obscurity. Learn how to write a literary novel that feels both true and compelling in this six-week writing course that will focus on the intersection of creative expression and gripping storytelling.”
If you’re in the Austin area, I’d love it if you joined us. It’ll be a small class with no more than 15 students, and in addition to craft lectures and writing exercises, we’ll also workshop each others’ work. Learn more about the class and how you can register here.
Oh! And while I’m on the topic of announcements: I’m traveling to these book festivals this spring and would love to see you there!
March 14 & 15: Tucson Festival of Books, Tucson, AZ
April 11: San Antonio Book Festival, San Antonio, TX
But enough about me…what’s new with you?
Looking through my library this weekend , I realized something: I haven’t read all these books yet, and I may not for years (or never, because the piles will only keep growing). But I’ll keep buying them and stocking them and often wish I had more time to read them all. Maybe it’s not about finding time for all the books so much as it is about trusting you’ll read one at the right time.
It’s the time of the year when everyone’s coming up with Book Lists. Best ofs and Favorites and Most-Anticipated in 2015. Most of the time, I love them. I usually use them to add books to my TBR list and inevitably only get around to reading a select few.
The rest of the time, they become itemized proof of what our reading culture lacks. Book lists are supposed to call attention to works we might’ve otherwise missed, but lately I’m caught off guard by how much they make the list-maker’s homogenous worldview glaringly obvious.
Like Graywolf Press’s “Looking Ahead” to 2015 made up solely of 11 men. Or this list of 60 Books Everyone Should Read Before They Turn 30 that left me wondering: where are the Latino voices, the Asian or Pacific Islander voices, the African or Native American voices or Middle Eastern voices or LGBT voices or anything outside of mainstream American or British voices?
I read these lists and I think, Wow, they’re really missing out. It makes me sad—not just for writers who are constantly overlooked, but for readers whose stacks and stacks of books they’ve read are lacking in ways that are completely invisible to them.
It’s not about broadening our perspectives; this implies these writers and voices are somewhere out of reach, when in fact they’re everywhere. It’s not even about diversity; we are not here to add flavor or color to any list—we are here because we are here, too.
This is supposed to be a time of year where we reflect and look ahead. Why not let our lists do that? They’re not just suggesting to us what to read. They’re showing us what we haven’t.
So here’s my end-of-year challenge to you: Make a list of all the books you read in 2014. What are you not seeing? What voices are missing? Start there in 2015.