Thursday, January 7, 2016

Department of Shameless Self-Promotion: Good News!

So, this happened: A Pushcart Prize nomination. 

It happened in early December, and I shouted (loud, apparently, almost directly into my son's ear!) when I got the email from the lovely editors at Front Porch Journal, who nominated my essay, "Your Boyfriend's Back" from their Winter 2015 issue.

But I haven't shouted about it here on the blog yet. 

Truth is, a lot of writers get nominated each year. Literary journals can select up to six pieces each year, and many writers have been nominated in multiple years. Some writers have won several Pushcarts.

(A jaded writer told me that when you get past your "first" Pushcart nomination, you're over it and don't get excited anymore. I don't like jaded writers.)

This is my first time, so why not be a little bit excited?

I am EXCITED, HONORED, PROUD, SURPRISED, HAPPY. All that uppercase stuff. 

Why not?

We write, alone and quietly. We revise, mostly alone, mostly quietly (expletives aside).

We agonize, ponder, submit, usually alone and quietly. 

We are rejected, alone, in silence (expletives aside).

Maybe we give out a little yelp when we get an acceptance. We try to make some noise when our work is published.

So, if getting nominated for an award that recognizes excellence in creative published work, isn't a reason to shout, what is?

I noticed at least a half dozen writers I know announcing their own Pushcart Prize nominations over the last few weeks--and why not! Congratulations to all of us! 

To celebrate, I bought the book that emerged from the previous year's round of Pushcart nominations. Maybe I could have done something flashier to celebrate, like buy that new computer I need, but the book was enough; I think I did it partly to honor those who were selected for the Prizes most recently, and partly as a silly, private little goodwill offering to the writing prize gods. (Then I started to read it, and wanted to hide under a sheet: such stunning work!)

Most of those nominated of course, don't win. That's how any nomination process works. That's okay. Now I finally believe those Oscar folks who say, almost convincingly, "It's an honor just to be nominated." 

Only I'd delete the "just".

Monday, January 4, 2016

The Sound of One Essay Writing Itself

I'm so pleased that my year ended with the publication of an essay that surprised me a bit. Since I wrote it, I've wondered: Where do essays come from?

I've pondered the question before and will again, and the answer is: from many sources. Some I will into existence (when I've accepted an unsought assignment), others emerge from the deleted sentences or passages of another piece of work. Sometimes I have an idea that asserts itself and I must pay attention; sometimes a memory trigger brings me a new idea, unbidden but clear.

I'm convinced, too, that a very few pieces wait, fully formed, lodged deep in my brain, until the right moment. I know only that there's a niggling in the back of my brain about….something…that has to do with….something. Then, a moment of recognition, a swift gravity plunge, from the brain's dusty attic, through my fingers to keyboard to computer screen.

I tell people that good work doesn't really materialize that way. That waiting for The Muse to visit, sprinkling writer fairy dust, is silly. Write, revise, rewrite—that's the ticket. That when someone says a piece "just wrote itself," they're exaggerating, lying, or forgetting the thinking, drafting, revising process.

But not always. These things occasionally do happen—rarely.

I'd thought before of writing something about my elder son's struggles as a small boy with audio issues—more than the three paragraphs I gave it in a long essay eight years ago. But it was a vague, quiet idea, always out-shouted by noisier, more insistent ones. Eventually I "forgot" about it.

Last summer, I saw that Synaethesia Magazine was planning a themed issue on Sound. I made note of it (on my office white board, where I write, and then sometimes erase, possible submission goals). Then I "forgot" about it. Except that I did look at that board every day, wondering, do I have anything to say about sound? My brain was quiet.

Until one morning, something (I can't remember what) clicked: sound…audio…my son… I sat at the keyboard and in about 20 minutes had the essay, written instinctively in second person. Where did it come from? My fingers were only a conduit, connecting nearly subconscious thought with memory, with the screen. (In itself unusual, because I typically start new essays in longhand.)

To check my theory that the piece "wrote itself" (see: exaggerating, lying, forgetting, above), yesterday I looked at my electronic files (I date and number drafts), and the paper file (I print out a lot, and keep my hand-scribbled notes). Only two drafts: the original, and one with very minor revisions.

Here's an excerpt from "Sound and Fury, Signifying"

…You begin to listen. What does a goose's honk sound like from a two-foot high perspective anyway? Why is the neighbor's fishpond pump glugging like that today, when yesterday it glugged a bit more softly, less rhythmically? What drives human beings to seek out (or just endure, when we have the choice) the frightening booms of fireworks, crashing decibels of hard rock concerts, the annoying din of crowded parties in small rooms.
            There are no answers. There is listening therapy, exercises, practice, role-playing,
de-sensitization, speech therapy, exposure therapy, more.
            There is your small child, your little boy, your son, your adolescent, your teenager, your young man, your college student, and he is coping, modifying his behavior, learning to understand his limits, his boundaries, his tolerance….

I hope you'll click over to Synaesthesia Magazine to read the whole piece (as essays go, it's on the short side), and also page through this visually beautiful journal to see what others have to say and show about sound.

With a year of writing looming ahead, I wish I knew for sure that I'd get to watch myself write another "gift from The Muse" essay, but of course I don't. And yet…

Friday, January 1, 2016

Single Words, A New Year, Lentils, and Being Human

Here's the message from my newsletter, sent out on New Year's Eve. Enjoy! (Why the pic of lentils? I learned last night that a pocketful of lentils at midnight on New Year's Eve is good luck for the coming year. I didn't have any pockets. I hope it works even if you dropped them in your purse.)

Hello Friends,
What kind  of a year did you have? If you're like me--human, and an adult--I'll bet it was mixed: laughter and love, tears and sadness. Since the roller coaster is, in fact, normal, one can only be thankful, try to find the horizon.
Isn't that what writers do? Look back, think about life, try to make some kind of crazy sense of it all, write it down.
In that universal way then, 2015 was a good year, exactly in the natural human rhythm, the universe pushing and pulling.
Work: I saw a lot of my writing published, spoke at conferences, got nominated for a nifty award. Family: the extended clan welcomed three new babies, a beloved aunt turned 100, a son grew Eagle wings.
Highs, and huzzah.
There were lows, certainly. The "best" part of that was having people to link arms with. We cried, wiped tears, cracked inappropriate jokes.
I have my new secret word of inspiration all picked out for 2016. Do you?
It may seem like a silly or inconsequential thing, choosing a single, simple word. Though writers know: a word--well, that is power. Some days, it is my secret year-long word that lifts me, reminds me the coaster will climb again.
I hope, as you welcome 2016, that your roller coaster car is cranking skyward. That when it races to earth, someone is next to you, arms strongly linked.
Next year, let's all be human together.