Guest Post, Kristen Keckler: The Art of Memory—Writing to Remember

Even in 2019, with trusty devices always on hand to capture my daily existence, most of my life goes unrecorded (thank God). My pre-device life, a Dark Age itself, is only documented by an occasional washed-out photo, receipt, ticket stub, or “remember when?” story passed among family and friends. 

I often lament never having kept a proper journal. Only once, at age eleven, have I ever faithfully inscribed dates and happenings; the diary had a pink, puffy plastic cover studded with rhinestones. Despite the security feature, a tiny gold key, my mother and younger sister broke into it—together! —and when they later admitted it, I was relieved that I hadn’t confided anything private to its pages: no secret crushes or burning questions about my awkward, beanpole body.

In my twenties, I wrote little poems and observations in notebooks—many little notebooks. These musings now seem written in code, as if I was protecting my words from an intruder, who, strangely enough, is myself! Today, I still draft in a random, haphazard way, in spiral notebooks, and keep several going simultaneously. Writing essays, for me, is like journaling twenty years after the fact. I go easy on myself and do not—simply because I now live in a digital age—expect perfection from my memory. I figure, if I only wrote about things I remembered very well, I might never have written anything at all. 

Recently, a former student, Maritza, reached out, seeking my advice for jumpstarting her writing. “I don’t know where to begin,” she confided, a phrase I recognize in my bones. The key, for me, is not a little gold diary key, but to start somewhere—with a moment, or maybe with a song, place, or detail. I write whatever pops into mind, and don’t decide if I remember “enough” until after I’ve given it a go. 

Jumpstarting sparks remembering; you have to get the car running so that you can actually move. For me that means sometimes turning an unproductive writing day, when I’m sleep-deprived, distracted, or just not feeling it, into a semi-productive one by inventing topics and ideas for later, for when the mood strikes. (How DIY of me: a book of handcrafted, shabby chic rainy day writing exercises!) In a blank or mostly blank notebook, at the top of every other page, I write a word or a phrase; each one is a prompt. When I’m looking for inspiration, I flip through this notebook; one of the headings usually calls out to me, and off to the races I go. Occasionally, a prompt even becomes the title for a finished piece, like in the case of my SR essay “A Merry Little Group Home Christmas.”

A few months ago, I came across the words “Memories to Age Six” written atop a blank notebook page, jotted by my own hand a year or so earlier. When I re-discovered it, my husband and I had been speculating about how much, if anything, our two-year-old son would remember about being two. (Would he recall his first trip to Florida, those two-foot long iguanas? Or his Matchbook cars being confiscated, temporarily, by mean Mommy after he clocked her on the head with a Mustang and left a boo boo?) As I started to freewrite about my own early years, I was surprised by how much I actually, truly remembered from my life, especially between ages three and six. Some of my memories originated in stories told by my parents throughout my childhood, but other moments I recalled simply because I lived them: I was there. Whether routines that occurred in a pattern, or one-time events, the more I wrote, the more I remembered, and the more material I generated, until I had a finished essay draft plus pages of extra notes. 

As I drafted a six-year-old memoir, I had to quickly decide: do I comment and reflect on the child’s life, or do I let her experiences speak for themselves? I decided on the latter, to focus on the child’s impressions and lived moments, allowing the adult writer to hang back, quietly choosing language and forming a structure. I find that when writing about a very distant past, concrete details are especially important, as memories need physical objects in which to take root, spreading their shoots into the darkness and reaching for context. My Six-Year-Old Memoir has many such anchors: a sewing machine, a horse track, green shorts with daisies, a tiny tarnished silver cup, a gun, a hospital bed, a two-toned Buick, and maraschino cherries. 

Since writing is remembering, and writing is crafting, you often don’t know how much you recall about your life until you face the blank page (or screen) and dive in.  Memory is part black magic, a deeply intuitive conjuring, and part rolling a tumbleweed through the mind’s desert, gathering what sticks. The more I go with it, the more I think, (a fully focused, meditative-type thinking), and the more I perform other little exercises to jog my recollection, for example, looking at Google Maps street view or texting a family member or friend. 

It is usually not until after I’ve written quite a bit that I figure out what an essay is about, and often that “what” defies summary, is more of an emotional cue than a lesson or theme. For me, the purpose of nonfiction is not to see how much I remember, but to determine what I can do with what I think I remember. And when I’m finished writing a particular piece, I always feel like I remember those events more vividly than when I started—sometimes the writing and memories become intertwined, interchangeable. What has happened is gone, and let’s face it, there is nothing, not even writing, that can ever bring it back. What’s left is the art of memory. And I’m okay with that.

#ArtLitPhx: ASU Book Group

The ASU Book Group’s September 2019 reading selection is “By the Forces of Gravity” by Rebecca Fish Ewan. The book group is open to all in the ASU community and meets monthly from noon–1 p.m. in the Piper Writers House on ASU’s Tempe campus. Haven’t read the book? Come anyway! Authors are always present. A no-host luncheon follows at the University Club. 

Synopsis:

Ewan’s illustrated coming-of-age memoir, set in 1970s Berkeley, Calif., reflects on a childhood friendship cut short by tragedy. In an era of laissez-faire parenting, she drops out of elementary school and takes up residence in a kids commune—no parents allowed!—and we follow her, bestie Luna, and their hippie cohorts as they search for love, acceptance, and cosmic truths. Full of adventure and heartache.

The book is available from amazon.com.

Rebecca Fish Ewan is associate professor of landscape architecture in the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts. Ewan received her MFA in creative writing from ASU in 2004.

The ASU Book Group meetings and selections for 2019-2020 are:

The ASU Book Group is sponsored as a community outreach initiative by the Department of English and organized in partnership with the Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing.

Contact: Judith Smith
Email: jps@asu.edu

EVENT INFORMATION

Wednesday, Sept. 18, 2019
12-1 p.m.
Location: Piper Writers House, 400 E. Tyler Mall, Tempe
Price: Free of charge and open to the public

For more information, click here.

Authors Talk: Kate Cumiskey

Authors Talk: Kate Cumiskey

Today we are pleased to feature Kate Cumiskey as our Authors Talk series contributor. In this podcast, she discusses two factors that relate to her writing process in today’s political and social climate: community and inertia.

She reflects on the beginning of her writing career, where she felt a sort of isolation before being introduced to Atlantic Center for the Arts, which gave her a literary community that she feels changed her life and fueled her growth as a writer. With this experience, Kate encourages writers “to build a community which enhances your work.”

She also explores the importance of tackling current events in one’s poetry, explaining, “If writers—serious writers—do not write about what’s happening in their nation, then who is going to speak?” Although writing about topics like these are so critical to Kate, she admits she has difficulty approaching the heartbreaking and terrifying current events she sees happening in the news, government, and even her own classroom. To help her discuss these important topics, she plays with the idea of changing point of view and suggests that we remind ourselves that there is still good in the world and that we must remind ourselves that “there is honor in our politicians, there’s honor in our government and there’s honor in the American people.”

She closes the conversation with two poems: one published with Superstition Review that examines honor and a new poem that uses second person to approach her fears about America today.


You can read Kate’s poetry in Issue 23 of Superstition Review.


#ArtLitPhx: Flourish—The Art of Life on Earth

EVENT INFORMATION
September 13, 2019
Friday, 6–10 p.m.
Mesa Arts Center, 1 E. Main St.
FREE

Held in September, Mesa Arts Center’s annual Season Kickoff Event celebrates the start of each season and is inspired by exhibitions opening in the Mesa Contemporary Arts Museum. The festival offers an evening of celebration and entertainment, with live music, art studio demonstrations, five new exhibitions, hands-on activities, delicious foods and more!

FLOURISH: The Art of Life on Earth

Bloom and grow wild at the 2019-20 season kickoff event! The free, family-friendly festival is inspired by Flora & Fauna, one of five exhibitions opening in the Mesa Contemporary Arts Museum this fall. Through the exhibitions, live entertainment, artmaking, demonstrations, delicious food and drink and more, the event invites us all to look closer and celebrate the incredible, fascinating world in which we live.

ACTIVITIES

  • Succulent cuttings by Desert Botanical Garden
  • Compost demonstrations with Recycle City
  • Art Studios open house and demonstrations
    •  Glass hotshop
    • Glass flameworking
    • Ceramics
    • Painting and drawing: instructor exhibition
    • Printmaking
    • Metal

LIVE MUSIC AND PERFORMANCES BY

  • CAZO Dance Company
  • More to be announced soon!

TASTY EATS 

  • Bring your own water bottle! Stay hydrated and fill your own water bottle at City of Mesa’s Water Resources Water Bar 
  • Freak Brothers Pizza
  • Awesomesauce Bowls
  • SuperFarm SuperTruck
  • Udder Delights
  • Paletas Betty
  • Not Your Granny’s Apples
  • Cuties Lemonade
  • More to be announced soon!

BOTANICAL VENDORS
SW Herbs
Holistic Earth Remedies
Ahimsa Essentials

BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE

  • Blooming flowers projections by Kendra Sollars
  • Photo station by Lauren Lee

For more information, click here.

Contributor Update, Hannah Brown: ‘Look After Her’

Today we are happy to announce the news of past SR fiction contributor Hannah Brown. Hannah’s debut novel, Look After Her, published by Inanna Publications, is now available for preorder. The novel takes place in the 1930s and follows two young Jewish sisters through the betrayal of a family friend, captivity, addiction, and danger. 

“With the background of anti-Semitism and exploitation, of sex and love and art and dramatic ruses, all during the terrifying rise of fascism in Austria and Italy, Look After Her reveals this truth: no matter how close we are to another human being, even a beloved sister, that’s what we are: close—we all have our own secrets to keep.” 

Next year, in September 2020, Inanna Publications will also publish a collection of her interlinked short stories, including “On Any Windy Day,” which appeared in SR’s Issue 15.

More information about Hannah and her forthcoming novel can be found here. You can find her fiction piece, “On Any Windy Day,” from Issue 15 here.

Congratulations, Hannah!

Contributor Update, Elizabeth Searle: ‘Four-Sided’ Film Screening

Join us in congratulating SR fiction contributor Elizabeth Searle. Massachusetts Independent Film Festival accepted Elizabeth’s short film, “Four-Sided,” based on her critically acclaimed novel, A Four-Sided Bed, for this September’s festival. Directed by Vittoria Colonna, the film stars transgender Rain Valdez and explores the dynamics between four lovers who each react differently when it comes to accepting their sexual identities and desires. The film screening will take place in Arlington’s Regent Theater on September 7.

To read more about Elizabeth’s book and the upcoming film, click here. You can find her story from SR Issue 3 here.

Congratulation, Elizabeth!

#ArtLitPhx: ‘Aladdin’ by Rhythm Dance Company

Rhythm Dance Company presents: Aladdin, Ek Anokhi Prem Kahani—A unique love story

Enjoy a Bollywood musical presented by Rhythm Dance Company production team that shares the classic love story of Aladdin and Jasmine in the good old city of Agrabah. The Bollywood dancers promise an extraordinarily colorful and extravagant event that is sure to impress!

EVENT INFORMATION

Date: Saturday, August 24

Time: 5 p.m.

Location: Tempe Center for the Arts, 700 W. Rio Salado Pkwy.

For more information, click here.

Guest Post, Dara Elerath: Going by Way of the Unknown

Writing poetry requires us to get away from the rote maps of meaning we follow in our daily lives and enter our imaginations. There are many ways of doing this, but one of the most helpful I’ve found is to focus on a subject I am not particularly knowledgeable about and have little to no emotional stake in. I don’t mean areas of expertise that are not my own, like cellular biology, beekeeping or astrophysics. I mean small things: words or objects I encounter that do not appear to carry great weight or significance. Certain objects, like knives, are so laden with symbolism that it seems almost impossible to approach them without invoking particular narratives; however, other, less freighted objects retain their mystery because they’re often overlooked. They exist in shadows—dropped under one’s desk, forgotten in a drawer or hidden beneath a pile of papers. An eraser, for example, is a small, functional piece of rubber that we’ve all likely interacted with on numerous occasions, but have probably never had reason to give much thought to. It embodies the concept of erasure, of course, but erasure on a small scale. I think of times I used one as a child—when trying to learn cursive, or when sketching figures in a notebook; otherwise, the object is not associated with any moment of great importance in my life. For me, these things make it an ideal starting point for a poem.

This brings me to the approach I took when writing “Oriflamme.” Instead of an object, I began with a word I did not know the meaning of (it was not oriflamme, incidentally, but another word with similar qualities). I chose it because it was not associated with any crucial stories or memories in my life; it was merely a series of syllables that pleased my ear. Granted, there may have been certain ideas the sound evoked, or echoes of other words that informed my thinking, but, on the whole, it was a sealed box I had to open by way of language. Knowing only the music of the syllables I was compelled to use my sonic imagination; instead of following a particular narrative thread, I imagined possible definitions of the word by following the syntax of the language and the sounds of the words, looking for rhymes, slant rhymes and patterns that might guide me towards meaning. I used this same approach when writing “{ }”; taking a mathematical symbol I had little knowledge of, I began to make associations with it visually. Over time I’ve come to realize that the more my sonic or visual imagination is engaged, the more elastic my thoughts grow; at such moments the language of metaphor and figuration comes to me naturally. 

Our minds want to make meaning; they want to recite, over and over, the particular myths and stories that constitute the logic of our lives. If we write expressively and choose a conduit through which to channel this poetic thought—be it a crumb, a pair of hands, or a beetle—these stories will begin to manifest themselves. The key thing is to surprise ourselves, and this is most possible when what we’re describing is somewhat unknown to us. Chances are that the image or sound will trigger some associated thoughts that, if we follow them deftly, will guide us down towards deeper meaning. There is also the fact that we experience these everyday things—an eraser, an orange, a word—tactilely and intimately, by the way an eraser feels in our palms, the way an orange smells and tastes, or the way letters look as our eyes move across them on the page. We can use these simple, physical facts to anchor our writing in reality and sensory detail. These objects and words (if we are speaking of words with definitions we choose to remain ignorant of) can have as much or as little meaning as we elect to ascribe to them, whereas the subject of one’s parents or other high-stakes topics come with expectations that we may be inclined to lean into. Often, the sentiments and ideas that emerge when I write about subjects of known importance tend towards the cliché, as though I’m merely reflecting back the many stories about birthdays, death, pet dogs, and so on, that I’ve heard or seen over the years, instead of discovering anything new about myself. 

Going by way of my own unknowing (innocence with regards to the self might be another way of thinking about it) is certainly not the only way to approach poetry, but it helps me to overcome the cultural and personal maps of reality that I’m used to orienting myself by. It allows me to become disoriented, to discover the secret mythologies that my psyche is always trying to find a way to speak. Because the self is small and the heart is vulnerable, the smaller, more vulnerable and lesser known objects (in my experience) often make the best conduits through which to pull the weight of the tender and diffident psyche.

#ArtLitPhx: Long and Short of It

Long and Short of It Book Club is a new bimonthly club that explores one book and one story collection connected by a theme.

Tonight the group discusses The Gone Dead and The Man Who Shot My Eye Out is Dead, both by Chanelle Benz. The Gone Dead is a debut novel about a young woman who returns to her childhood home in the American South and uncovers secrets about her father’s life and death. The Man Who Shot My Eye Out is Dead is a debut collection about lives across history marked by violence and longing.

Stop by Changing Hands Phoenix or Tempe (or order online by clicking “add to cart” below) to get your copies of The Gone Dead for 20% OFF and The Man Who Shot My Eye Out is Dead for 10% OFF.

Then meet fellow book lovers at First Draft Book Bar to discuss the pick.

FREE PARKING / LIGHT RAIL

  • Don’t want to drive? Take the Light Rail! It lets off at the Central Avenue/Camelback Park-and-Ride, which has hundreds of free parking spaces across the street from Changing Hands.


About The Gone Dead:
Billie James’ inheritance isn’t much: a little money and a shack in the Mississippi Delta. The house once belonged to her father, a renowned black poet who died unexpectedly when Billie was four years old. Though Billie was there when the accident happened, she has no memory of that day—and she hasn’t been back to the South since.


Billie James’ inheritance isn’t much: a little money and a shack in the Mississippi Delta. The house once belonged to her father, a renowned black poet who died unexpectedly when Billie was four years old. Though Billie was there when the accident happened, she has no memory of that day—and she hasn’t been back to the South since.

Thirty years later, Billie returns but her father’s home is unnervingly secluded: her only neighbors are the McGees, the family whose history has been entangled with hers since the days of slavery. As Billie encounters the locals, she hears a strange rumor: that she herself went missing on the day her father died. As the mystery intensifies, she finds out that this forgotten piece of her past could put her in danger.

Inventive, gritty, and openhearted, The Gone Dead is an astonishing debut novel about race, justice, and memory that lays bare the long-concealed wounds of a family and a country.


About The Man Who Shot Out My Eye Is Dead:
A brother and sister turn outlaw in a wild and brutal landscape. The daughter of a diplomat disappears and resurfaces across the world as a deadly woman of many names. A young Philadelphia boy struggles with the contradictions of privilege, violence, and the sway of an incarcerated father. A monk in sixteenth century England suffers the dissolution of his monastery and the loss of all that he held sacred.

The characters in The Man Who Shot Out My Eye Is Dead, Benz’s wildly imaginative debut, are as varied as any in recent literature, but they share a thirst for adventure which sends them rushing full-tilt toward the moral crossroads, becoming victims and perpetrators along the way. Riveting, visceral, and heartbreaking, Benz’s stories of identity, abandonment, and fierce love come together in a daring, arresting vision.

EVENT INFORMATION

Location: Changing Hands Bookstore, 300 W. Camelback Rd., Phoenix 

Date: Tuesday, August 20

Time: 7 p.m.

For more information about the event, click here.

#ArtLitPhx: Found in Translation Meeting

This month Changing Hands will discuss China Dream by Ma Jian, translated by Flora Drew.

Whether you’re a seasoned traveler, a voracious reader, or a dreamer who wants to see the world, all are invited to our newest book club focused on international literature. Sometimes visiting other countries doesn’t always give travelers an insider’s view into foreign cultures; sometimes we are still too outside, too different, to get at the heart of a place. Often the best way to understand distant lands and peoples is to read their literature, to get inside the head of a foreign author, to hear their myths and fairy tales molded around words they penned in their mother tongue.

In Found in Translation, you will delve into a work of international literature in a small group setting while enjoying coffee, beer, or wine drinks from First Draft Book Bar, located in Changing Hands Phoenix.

Stop by Changing Hands Phoenix or Tempe (or order online by clicking “add to cart” below) to get your copy of China Dream for 20% OFF.

Then meet us at First Draft Book Bar to discuss the pick and enjoy happy hour prices all through the event.

FREE PARKING / LIGHT RAIL

  • Don’t want to drive? Take the Light Rail! It lets off at the Central Avenue/Camelback Park-and-Ride, which has hundreds of free parking spaces across the street from Changing Hands.

ABOUT THE BOOK 
Blending fact and fiction, China Dream is an unflinching satire of totalitarianism. Ma Daode, a corrupt and lecherous party official, is feeling pleased with himself. He has an impressive office, three properties, and multiple mistresses who text him day and night. After decades of loyal service, he has been appointed director of the China Dream Bureau, charged with replacing people’s private dreams with President Xi Jinping’s great China Dream of national rejuvenation. But just as he is about to present his plan for a mass golden wedding anniversary celebration, his sanity begins to unravel. Suddenly plagued by flashbacks of the Cultural Revolution, Ma Daode’s nightmare visions from the past threaten to destroy his dream of a glorious future.

This darkly comic fable exposes the damage inflicted on a nation’s soul when authoritarian regimes, driven by an insatiable hunger for power, seek to erase memory, rewrite history, and falsify the truth. It is a dystopian vision of repression, violence, and state-imposed amnesia that is set not in the future, but in China today.

EVENT INFORMATION

Location: Changing Hands Bookstore, 300 W. Camelback Rd., Phoenix 

Date: Wednesday, August 14

Time: 7 p.m.

For more information about the event, click here.