Guest Blog Post, Mary Ann Thomas: Asking for Elephants

Photo credit: she-explores.com

In 2017, I bicycled around India for four months with a friend. We witnessed an immense range of humanity: kind strangers who led us through chaotic cities, fellow cyclists who brought us into their homes to stay a few nights, pilgrims lined up outside of temples to pay for blessings, and barefoot men smashing rocks on the edge of steep cliffs as they built roads. I was an experienced bike tourist. My travel partner was well-versed in the complications of international travel. Our skill sets complemented each other well and, as we rode through deserts, mountains, and beaches, we became intimately acquainted with the multitudes of experiences within India.

I, a queer daughter of Indian immigrants, couldn’t have expected we would pull this off. It seemed like a pipedream. Cross a country with over 1.3 billion people and 700 languages? Ride some of the tallest mountain passes in the world, carrying everything we need on bicycles? Even though I’d bicycled across the United States and Canada, riding across my parents’ homeland seemed like an impossible feat.

When I returned to the US, I was shaken: my cells rattled from the unpaved roads, my eardrums damaged from the persistent honking, my lungs coated in diesel fumes from trucks and autorickshaws. I sought stillness. I moved to upstate NY, where I lived on a property with four horses, thirty chickens, two dogs, a cat, six ducks, and wild turkeys.

While in India, I posted on my social media every day. I documented my emotional truths as they happened. At times, I was ecstatic as I cycled through busy streets with Indian bicyclists during festivals. At other times, I was overwhelmed by the men, the crowds, the chaos of the country. Because I was actively sharing these stories, people reached out to me. They asked for advice in planning their own bicycle tours. They told me that my daily posts were a source of inspiration as they drank their morning coffee. They told me that these stories made them feel like they could do anything they wanted.

As I sifted through my memories, I realized bike touring taught me a valuable lesson: Fuck Impossible.

My previous bike tour in 2014 helped me talk about my own queerness in ways that I never had before. I shared my writing for the first time through a blog. Biking across India in 2017 allowed me to be claimed by Indians as a child of the country, and allowed me to claim India for myself.

Owning my queer identity, sharing my writing and telling stories, and embracing India as where I’m from, were all things I couldn’t have imagined myself capable of. They seemed impossible to me prior to bicycling. Each time I’ve gone on a long bike ride, I’ve found myself unearthing new possibilities for myself and finding different ways to exist in this world.

The time and space of that house in upstate NY allowed me to assess why I’m writing. I’m writing for the people who messaged me n my tour. I’m writing for the kids of immigrants who are disillusioned by this country, its historical and current violence against our peoples, and who rage against the trap of the unattainable American Dream. I’m writing for queer folks, who have had our gender identities boxed in by a specific heteronormativity that lives in this culture, and who undermine colonial gender norms every time we choose to love.

My story is important in ways I couldn’t have a expected before this all started. So, my travel partner and I self-published a CNF chapbook, in which we included photography and writing from both of us. I planned a way to tell this story more broadly, to gift a physical object to the communities that have held me thus far.

I called it the Fuck Impossible Road Trip. I traveled between more than ten cities all over the United States, using my savings to give talks in bookstores, bike shops and coops, and REI stores across the country. I scheduled time in which I could sit in stillness with friends, organizers, and writers, in order to learn. I went on bike rides with Women, Trans, and Femme (WTF) folks of color in Portland. I organized a WTF Bikecamping trip in Anchorage, where I’d once lived. I spoke to rooms with fifteen people and standing-room-only rooms of seventy. Everything about this tour has been outside my comfort zone. As an adult, I’ve never made a PowerPoint presentationor spoke in front of a group I’d never self-published anything, worked with an illustrator to take the experiences in my head and translate them visually, or edited the intimate work of a friend with whom I shared experiences with. It was a new experience for both of us.

We said: If we could bike across India, we can make this chapbook together.

And I said to myself, every time I got on a stage: If I biked across India, I can tell a fucking story.

As a young woman growing up in New Jersey to Indian immigrant parents, as a brown bicyclist for whom riding across rural North America seemed like a way to get killed, as a woman for whom queer love has seemed like an impossibility for so long, I’ve learned to say Fuck Impossible over and over and over again.

Fuck Impossible: a rallying cry for misfits who’ve always been questioned whether they can do something, who’ve always been told they can’t, who’ve drawn lines around themselves to keep themselves safe, to protect their hearts, and kept themselves from chasing the life they want.

Authors Talk: Timothy Reilly

Today we are pleased to feature author Timothy Reilly as our Authors Talk series contributor. In this podcast, Timothy discusses the inspiration behind his short story, “The Task at Hand,” calling it a “nod to the old Grail romances.”

Timothy states that “‘The Task at Hand’ is not a ‘Baby Boomer’ story,” even though it concerns a protagonist from that generation. Instead, he says,  it is “an internal quest… framed within a common 21st-century excursion.” During that quest the protagonist “deals with the challenges of age and memory,” as well as “the fickleness of pop culture.”

Timothy, hearkening back to his lifelong interest in Grail legends, declares that “myths are about truth, not facts.” He ends by referencing a quote from C.S Lewis, saying that when he realized this fact and “was old enough to read fairy tales again,” he began to write short stories of his own.

You can read Timothy’s story, “The Task at Hand,” in Issue 16 of Superstition Review.

 

 

 

#ArtLitPhx: Reading with Dan Beachy-Quick

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Event Description:

The Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing and Changing Hands proudly present a reading with essayist, poet, and author Dan Beachy-Quick on Friday, October 26, 2018 at Changing Hands Phoenix (300 W Camelback Rd, Phoenix, AZ 85013) at 7 p.m. This event is open to the public and free

To learn more and RSVP, visit http://piper.asu.edu/events/dan-beachy-quick/poetry-reading.

At Work in Sound and Vision with Dan Beachy-Quick takes place the following day, Saturday, October 27, 2018 at the Piper Writers House at 1:00 p.m. To learn more about Dan’s class, visit http://piper.asu.edu/classes/dan-beachy-quick/poetry-workshop.

About the Book:
Midway through the journey of his life, Dan Beachy-Quick found himself without a path, unsure how to live well. Of Silence and Song follows him through the forest of his experience, on a classical search for meaning in the world and in his particular, quiet life.

In essays, fragments, marginalia, images, travel writing, and poetry, Beachy-Quick traces relationships and the identities through which he sees the world. As father and husband. As teacher and student. As citizen and scholar. And as poet and reader, wondering at the potential and limits of literature, and guided by his studies in ancient Greek.

Of Silence and Song finds its inferno—and its paradise—in moments both historically vast and nakedly intimate. Our world’s disappearing bees, James Eagan Holmes, Columbine, and the persistent, unforgivable crime of slavery—these are the circles of hell Beachy-Quick wanders, but cannot escape. And yet he encounters redemption in the art of Marcel Duchamp, the pressed flowers in Emily Dickinson’s Bible, and long walks with his youngest daughter, Iris. “The litany in hell is weeping, weeping,” he writes, “but there are other litanies.”

Curious, earnest, and masterful, Of Silence and Song is an unforgettable exploration of the human soul.

About the Author:
Dan Beachy-Quick is the author, most recently, of a collection of essays, fragments, and poems, Of Silence & Song (Milkweed, 2017). He has written six books of poetry, gentlessness, Circle’s Apprentice, North True South Bright, Spell, Mulberry, and This Nest, Swift Passerine, six chapbooks, Shields & Shards & Stitches & Songs, Apology for the Book of Creatures, Overtakelesness, Heroisms, Canto and Mobius Crowns (the latter two both written in collaboration with the poet Srikanth Reddy), a book of interlinked essays on Moby-Dick, A Whaler’s Dictionary, as well as a collection of essays, meditations and tales, Wonderful Investigations. Reddy and Beachy-Quick’s collaboration has recently been released as a full-length collection, Conversities, and he has also collaborated with the essayist and performance artist Matthew Goulish on Work From Memory. In 2013, University of Iowa Press published a monograph on John Keats in their Muse Series (editor Robert D. Richardson) titled A Brighter Word Than Bright: Keats at Work, and Coffee House Press published his first novel, An Impenetrable Screen of Purest Sky. He is a contributing editor for the journals A Public Space and West Branch. After graduating from the University of Denver, he attended the Iowa Writer’s Workshop. He has taught at Grinnell College, The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and is currently teaching in the MFA Writing Program at Colorado State University. His work has been a winner of the Colorado Book Award, and has been a finalist for the William Carlos Williams Prize, and the PEN/USA Literary Award in Poetry. He is the recipient of a Lannan Foundation residency, and taught as Visiting Faculty at the Iowa Writer’s Workshop in spring 2010. He was one of two Monfort Professors at CSU for 2013-2015, and his work has been supported by the Guggenheim Fellow and by a Creative Fellow of the Woodberry Poetry Room at Harvard University.

Editorial Preferences in Poetry: Alyssa Lindsey

One of my first professors of poetry was Dr. Henry Quintero. While his lectures were full of intensity and a passion for what he did, it was how he ended his classes that taught me the most. While his students packed up their backpacks and filed out the door, Dr. Q would stand up and in that wonderful, warm, booming voice of his he would tell us to take care of ourselves because you are the most important piece of poetry you will write.

Dr. Quintero taught me that poetry is less of an art form, strict and unforgiving then it is an action. The actions we go through each day and the experiences that we share with other people in our lives. When reading poetry, I am looking for action and reaction. For a truly strong voice to jump out through the pages, making it impossible not to give that voice the space and attention it craves. Consider the work of Lorna Dee Cervantes, a proud Chicana whose works include “Emplumada” and “Sueño”. Cervantes knows how to use her actions to get the reader to pay attention, implementing line break and rhythm like just another tool in her toolbox. She writes about immigration and Chicano heritage but refuses to let her words stand alone. Her poetry is presented with action, purposeful line breaks and meaningful rhythmic and repeating phrases. These are some things that I read for in a poem for publication, mechanisms that work to expand the main idea and a speaker who is not afraid to use them. This is the poetry that brought me to creative writing; poems that speak through their actions and the people who read them.

Alyssa Lindsey is the poetry editor for issue 22. She is a Junior at Arizona State University. She is majoring in both creative writing and global health with a pre-health emphasis. After graduation, she plans to attend medical school and go on to work in pediatrics.

Guest Blog Post, Tim Reilly: How a Former Tuba Player Becomes a Writer of Short Stories

I had played the mandolin since age seven, but when I entered high school, in 1964, I chose the tuba as the instrument I would play in the concert band. At the time I had little knowledge of the dented brass contraption in the corner of the band room, but it seemed to beckon me: like the Sword in the Stone. As it turned out, I had a natural talent for the tuba. The first notes I produced were stable and centered, and in less than five minutes instruction, I was playing a B-flat major scale. Four years later, I enrolled in junior college as a music major (I had been offered a one-hundred dollar “scholarship”). The junior college music department had no tuba instructor, however, so I set out on my own to find a private teacher, and in 1969 I contacted Roger Bobo—one of the greatest musicians ever to hoist that magnificent horn. He was then the tubist in the Los Angeles Philharmonic. He had also been the first tubist to give a solo recital at Carnegie Hall (see John Updike’s light verse poem: “Recital”).  

I can remember clearly my first lesson with Roger. His home, at that time, was in the Hollywood hills, not far from the Hollywood Bowl. I arrived a little early and he offered me some coffee (very good coffee, as I recall). He was wearing an Irish fisherman’s sweater and he looked a little like Tyrone Power (if Tyrone Power had been a tight end for the Rams). We sat and talked for a while, and then, before hearing me play a single note, he said: “I hope you’re not planning on making a living playing the tuba.” Becoming a professional tubist was exactly what I had been planning to do. I was stunned by his remark, but when the color returned to my face, Roger added that he was not trying to discourage me from pursuing a professional career, only that I should have something else to fall back on. “It’s a tough way to make a living,” he said. “There’s a lot of competition, few openings, and no guarantees.”  

I studied with Roger Bobo throughout most of the 1970s (the topic of “having something else to fall back on” was never again mentioned). Roger was (and still is) a remarkable teacher. During our first year of instruction, he would often perform with me in unison the etudes or solos I’d prepared for my lesson—his tuba-bell a foot or two from my right ear. This gave me confidence and a strong concept of proper phrasing and rhythm and sound. But he discontinued this practice after our first year. Instead, he would sit—or stand—and sometimes sing and/or conduct a passage. His comments were always precise and beneficial and never sugar-coated. In the following years, we worked almost exclusively on orchestral repertoire. I was encouraged to study the tuba part in the context of a full orchestral score. Roger helped me learn the principles of artistic discipline, daily regimen, and a reverence for the smallest details (attributes not foreign to a good writer). During one particular lesson, he said something that would take root in my mind.

“What would you say is a teacher’s job?” he asked.

I thought it was a rhetorical question and I answered without thinking. “A teacher’s job is to teach.”

“Wrong,” he said. “A teacher’s job is to help students learn how to teach themselves.”

By the mid-1970s I was making my living as a professional tubist. In 1978 I traveled to Europe and was offered the tuba chair in the orchestra of The Teatro Regio, in Turin, Italy. It was a wonderful experience (for the most part), but at the end of the opera season, I decided not to renew my contract, and I returned to the States. Once home, I took up where I’d left off, only now my situation had improved: I was offered more studio work and I performed regularly with several of the local orchestras and other ensembles throughout southern California. And then my friend and mentor, Roger Bobo, gave me the highest honor yet: he asked me to substitute for him in the Los Angeles Philharmonic. This was something akin to being Olivier’s understudy filling in as Hamlet.

Performing with one of the world’s top symphonic orchestras is a near-approach to the gates of Heaven. It was one of the greatest experiences of my life. All those years of hard work had paid off. And I was up for the task; I felt right at home. But something horrible happened during the second concert. A malevolent force suddenly weakened my left jaw and my embouchure muscles. I was terrified. I leaned over to Jeff Reynolds, the bass trombonist, and whispered my situation. Jeff’s response was outstanding: he doubled my part, where he could, and helped me sandbag through the rest of the concert, without a hitch.

The condition that ended my music career is called “Embouchure Dystonia.” (You can read about the different forms of dystonia in Oliver Sack’s book Musicophilia.)

II

Midway on my life’s journey (the 1980s), I found myself with nothing to “fall back on”—except a series of low-paying, low-skilled jobs, and a major funk. My spirits rose a little when I took my mandolin out of mothballs and performed with a traditional Irish music band, but—tasteful and challenging as the music was—it didn’t supply enough nourishment to heal my soul or turn my life around.

I had been a hungry reader my whole life. As a child I loved fairytales and Arthurian legends and the poems and stories of Edgar Allen Poe. In my twenties, however, I started reading more nonfiction: history, biography, and science. It was an unbalanced diet. Fortunately, during a particularly low stretch of my mid-thirties, I instinctively increased my intake of poetry and fiction, and my soul resumed its proper course, leaving behind my overabundant self-pity.

It was about this time I encountered the first of two lifechanging events. The first event would end in an unintentional negative sell. I was at a party, engaged in a conversation about great literature. I was the greenhorn among the group, and I naively asked the Leader of the Pack about James Joyce’s Ulysses. I said I’d heard about the book and was wondering should I read it. The Leader of the Pack smirked and said that I should instead read something by Steinbeck; Ulysses was for scholars.

The next morning, I started a syllabus for what would be my self-taught course to conquer Mount Ulysses. (“The best way to get an Irishman to do something is to tell him he can’t do it.”) I made a list of the books I knew Joyce would have read: The Bible and Dante’s Divine Comedy; the works of Shakespeare, Ovid, Virgil, and, of course, Homer. I included Greek and Irish and Nordic myths and legends. I would also read Joyce’s Dubliners (three times) and Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man.

I am a very slow reader. The process took about three years to complete. When I felt ready, I went to a used book store and paid a dollar-fifty for a hardbound copy of Ulysses. It was one of the most enjoyable books I’d ever read. I learned what I knew as a child (“The child is the father of the man”): a book is something to read; not conquer. One of the best side effects from all this reading was the uncontrollable urge to write something of my own. This time, however, I decided to go the traditional route of the university, and I enrolled for night courses. I tapped into my past musician’s discipline and developed the joyful habit of writing every day. (I would eventually earn a degree in liberal studies and an elementary teaching credential.)   

1991 brought the second of my lifechanging events. It was the year I met Jo-Anne Cappeluti: the most extraordinary human being I have ever known, the love of my life, and the woman I would marry. At the time we met, Jo-Anne was already a published poet and scholar, with a Ph.D. in English. She was then teaching creative writing and literature courses at a local university (a position from which she retired a few years ago, after thirty years of service). Over the years Jo-Anne has coached me on how to be my own editor—emphasizing a reverence for the smallest details and the necessity for revisions. She makes suggestions but never edits my work nor tells me what to do. Sometimes we disagree about things (sometimes we argue)—but she’s the one who usually had it right from the start. We listen to classical music and read aloud to one-another from great works of literature. Recently we read aloud from George MacDonald’s The Golden Key.

In 1997 my first publication, “The Awakening,” appeared in the Seattle Review. Since then I have had the good fortune to receive more than three-dozen acceptances in various literary journals (including two short stories in Superstition Review). Every acceptance is a magical experience; the excitement never diminishes. (I have received far more rejections than acceptances—but I quit counting them years ago.) God willing, I will continue writing short stories as long as I draw breath in this life. My passion for writing has given back to me something I had lost (and then some). I never intended to make a living by writing, and it looks like I’m in no danger of ever doing so. This doesn’t bother me in the least.

Contributor Update, Natalie Sypolt: The Sound of Holding Your Breath

The Sound of Holding Your Breath by Natalie SypoltToday we are happy to announce that Natalie Sypolt’s new book, The Sound of Holding Your Breath, is upcoming this November, 2018 from WVU Press. The Sound of Holding Your Breath centers around residents of the twenty-first-century Appalachia, “each struggling with secrets and losses, entrenched in navigating the complex requirements of family in all its forms.” Silas House, author of Southernmost, has to say the following about Natalie’s debut collection: “A bold and important debut that announces a major new voice. It’s also the best story collection I’ve read in a long while.” The Sound of Holding Your Breath is available for purchase through West Virginia University Press here.

Congratulations, Natalie!

Natalie’s short story, “Fractured,” can be read in Issue 10 of Superstition Review.

#ArtLitPhx: Spark! After Dark

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Event Description:

Fade the lights and turn up the music. Every third Saturday from October to May MAC’s campus is taken over by a new artist with a unique, crazy fun theme – complete with live art, live music, great eats, and tasty adult drinks.

OCTOBER 20:
SPOOKTACULAR
Curated by: Martin Taylor with Taylor Family Circus
Featuring:
Live performances by the Taylor Family Circus
A fire show
Flamenco!… the Studio
Live music
Live murals by spark paint artist Roger Johnston
Spanish and Flamenco guitarist Ricardo De Cristóbal
Halloween costume contest & prizes
Tasty treats
Spooky drinks
And more!

mesaartscenter.com/sparkafterdark

#sparkafterdark