Guest post, Natalie Sypolt: A Retreat from Distraction

Natalie Sypolt bio photoIn my last Superstition Review blog post, I wrote about how to have the best possible experience at writer’s workshops and conferences. At that point in my life, I’d started branching out from the big conferences, like AWP, that can feel overwhelming, and finding smaller, more personal conference experiences that combined a little workshopping and a little craft. I still find great value in these experiences and attended the Kentucky Women Writers Conference this September for the first time in several years; however, what I’m coming to understand about myself, is that the most productive experiences for my writing–times when I can actually get the job done–are not conferences or workshops, but residencies and retreats.

Of course, I am not saying anything revolutionary here. Writers and artists have been going to residencies and colonies for a century or more, communing with other artists, secluding themselves from the “real world” to create their craft. There is a certain romanticism that comes with thinking about places like Yaddo and McDowell. One imagines lots of champagne, and long walks, and beautiful people lounging around thinking deep and beautiful thoughts. There is a certain prestige connected to attending these colonies, and what writer doesn’t want to find themselves among the small and elite group accepted to the “best places”? Here is the truth, though: we aren’t all going to get there, for a variety of reasons. Another truth: just because these are the “best places” for some, does not mean they are the best for all.

In 2015, I decided I needed to see what this writer’s residence business was all about, and applied for entrance to the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. VCCA is on a beautiful compound about six hours from where I live (so driveable) and not far from family members that live in Fredericksburg, VA (in case, you know, I break a limb or something). I am lucky enough that I could take two weeks in the summer and head to Amherst, VA (just outside Lynchburg). I was doubly lucky to receive a grant from the Mid-Atlantic Arts Foundation that paid for my stay.

I was assigned to a coveted location (though I didn’t know that at the time). I was in one of the apartment studios, so I slept and worked in the same location, which was separate from where most of the other residents were staying. There were sculptors, painters, composers, other fiction writers and poets. Every evening at dinner I listened to people talk about their amazing projects, and felt incredibly inferior. I don’t know that I was, and everyone was very kind to me, but my own insecurities and social awkwardness were inhibiting the work I’d set out to do.

It was only towards the end of my time at VCCA, when I’d begun finally to adjust to my surroundings, take lots of walks, and relax at dinner, that I became a bit more productive. I came away with a couple of new stories–one that I know I would not have written had I not been inspired by some things that happened there.  It was also very helpful when my friend, the excellent writer Laura Long who lives in nearby Lynchburg, rescued me for an evening, took me out to dinner and a poetry reading, and told me that she’d felt much the same way her first time at VCCA, that–in fact–lots of people do. Someday I might go back, give it another shot.

Last summer, I decided to try and arrange my own little retreat. I would not spend money on applications, but on rent. I posted a general question to Facebook, asking for ideas about a place where I might seclude myself for a few days. I had a ton of amazing suggestions for rental cabins and resorts. One friend offered her entire house while she was traveling. Another suggested Friends of Silence, a retreat community here, in my own state, not far from where my friend Melissa lives. I started looking into Friends of Silence and, even though the dates I wanted were pretty close to the date I started my queries, I was able to confirm a reservation for a cabin (which actually turned out to be a pretty large house). I was too late to reserve the smaller places that would been a little cheaper and more suitable to a solo resident (like the yurt–yes, the yurt), but the price was still very reasonable and the location ideal.

There’s remote, and then there is remote. My cabin was at the very top of a long, windy road. Actually, there was a road, which then turned into a gravel road, and then turned to dirt. From the large back deck of the cabin, I could look out over the mountains. Somewhere down below was the Potomac River. I was there for four days and saw not one other person. I heard a bear, but luckily didn’t see one. I walked the labyrinth, a meditative rock garden.  It was totally magical. And I did almost no writing.

I was distracted by my solitude. When I did finally sit down to write, I wrote about being alone. Again, it was also near the end of my time with Friends of Silence that I was able to settle down and do some work.

For some, being completely isolated–no people, no outside influences (like tv, radio, internet) is just want they need. For me, though, I’ve realized that when I’m completely isolated, I think a lot about being completely isolated. I miss tv because it helps my brain calm down a little and then I can get back to work. I’ve decided to stop feeling guilty about this. I want to be out of my house, but I also need some of those familiar comforts in order to feel like myself. Too many people is too much, no people is not enough. What is a girl to do?

So far, the very best and most productive experiences I’ve had have been at the Troublesome Creek Writers Retreats at Hindman Settlement School in Hindman, Kentucky. These retreats–which happen twice a year and last from a Friday evening to a Sunday morning–take place at the same location as the famous Appalachian Writers’ Workshop. If you’re a writer living in the Appalachian region, chances are you’ve been told that you need to get to Hindman, and I concur. The retreat is a smaller, condensed version of the workshop with only about 20-25 people attending.

The very first time I stepped out of my car there, I knew this place was different. It felt like home, like a place I knew and understood, and that understood me. I know that sounds crazy, but that’s how it was.

The retreats are loosely organized. Each as a facilitator, a writer who organizes a couple of optional craft classes and a community reading at the end of the weekend. Primarily, this is a weekend designed for writing. You are encouraged to do what feels best for you. There are community dinners where people sit on rickety chairs and eat excellent home cooking and talk. I have never come home from Hindman without having written a new story–sometimes three. I’ve done as much there in a couple days as I did at VCCA in two weeks.

The difference, you see, is me. And the moral of my story here is to find what works for you. Just because everyone says the thing to do is to “go to Breadloaf” or “go to Yaddo”, doesn’t mean that these will be the best, most productive experience for you.

It’s also really important for you to determine what “productive” means for you at that moment, and what you hope to get out of the experience. For instance, I expect very different things from AWP than I expect from Troublesome Creek Writers Retreat. At AWP, I want to learn from other presenters, fangirl when I see some famous writers, and hopefully find some good books. I know going in that I will likely not write a word. That conference is not productive for me in that way.

Also, don’t be afraid to try a bunch of different things until you get what you want. In April, I’m going back to Hindman, but my friend Melissa and I have also talked about going to a resort in Maryland for a weekend or getting a cabin in Hocking Hills, Ohio for a self-made retreat. That will be a little isolated, but not so much so that it will be distracting because another person will be there, sharing that creative spirit. We’ve also both applied for the first time to Barrelhouse Magazine’s Writer Camp in August. Who knows how that will be, but I’m excited to find out.

Stay tuned. My next dispatch may be from a yurt high in the Appalachian Mountains, a cabin along Troublesome, a hammock at Writers Camp, or maybe even near a lake in Wales. Happy retreating!

 

#ArtLitPhx: World Poetry Day Festival

In celebration of World Poetry Day, the ALAC is celebrating the beauty of poetry and spoken word with some very exciting performances in Phoenix through verse, music, and interpretive dance.

The World Poetry Day Festival will take place on Saturday March 25th, 2017  from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. at the Arizona Latino Arts and Cultural Center (147 E Adams St, Phoenix, Arizona 85004.)

There will be a variety of languages featured in poetic form on stage including Nahuatl, Spanish, Navajo, Portuguese, English, Spanish, Spanglish (Chicano style), Sign Language and more!

ALAC is a cultural center that promotes and preserves Latino~Mexican~Chicano~Indigenous Arts and Cultures.

The event is hosted by Maggie Messerschmidt with performances by Sergio Herrera, Rashaad Thomas, Deborah Berman-Montano, Joe Montano III, Joel Joelskii Salcido, Khalifah Ahmeedou, Varnadeaux, Jules Dinehdeal, Talima Flores-Allah, Maria Rodriguez-Pope, Teatro Nervo, JC Koffy, Chris Danowski, Diana Noquetzal Garcia, Reyna E. Montoya and Ileana Salinas-Mireles, Yovani Flores, Raay Francy, Melissa Dunmore, Adrian de Hoyos, Freddy Lopez, Susan Nguyen, and Bojan Louis.

A suggested donation of $5 per person is greatly appreciated. See the Facebook Event Page for more information.

All transactions are cash only purchases, including drinks, snacks and collections of poetry from the performing artists will be available the day of the event.

Contributor Update: Adam Houle Brings It Home With “Stray”

Good afternoon! Superstition Review is elated to announce that past contributor Adam Houle’s first book, titled “Stray” will be dropping March 21st from the good folks over at Lithic Press. Lauded by press and peers alike, “Stray” features an updated version of one of Houle’s poems that were featured in the Poetry section of Issue 9, which can all be found here. Go pre-order your copy of “Stray” right here, right now, and behold the wonders of Houle’s poetry!

Buy this book!

The cover art for Adam Houle’s first book “Stray,” forthcoming from Lithic Press.

Authors Talk: Sherril Jaffe

Sherril Jaffe Today we are pleased to feature author Sherril Jaffe as our Authors Talk series contributor. Sherril discusses her opinions on art and its relationship to character. In particular, she explains the multifaceted purpose of art and how it is interested in the truth, which is currently under assault.

She also discusses the nature of the short story as an art form, referring to her piece in Issue 18, “During the Republican Convention.” She reveals that short stories are powerful because they can break all the rules, and she emphasizes that “a short story should crack something open in us.”

You can access Sherril’s pieces in Issue 18 of Superstition Review and Issue 4 of Superstition Review.

Contributor Update: Victor Lodato Waxes Romantic In The Times

Hey there dear readers! Superstition Review is back after a brief hiatus with more good news: past contributor Victor Lodato’s essay “When Your Greatest Romance Is a Friendship” has been published in The New York Times‘ “Modern Love” column. Lodato was featured in our Interview section of Issue 8 in an interview conducted by former intern Marie Lazaro. In addition to being a recipient of the PEN Center USA Award for fiction, Victor Lodato has also been the recipient of fellowships from the Guggenheim Institute as well as the National Endowment for the Arts.  His latest novel, “Edgar and Lucy” is out now from Macmillan, and can be found both online as well as at most major bookstores. Do yourself a favor and check out the essay here, and buy one (or two, or seven) copies of “Edgar and Lucy” here. Congratulations Victor, we couldn’t be happier to know you!

Read the essay and buy the book!

Victor Lodato, author of “When Your Greatest Romance Is a Friendship” and “Edgar and Lucy.”

Guest Post, Nelly Rosario: Welcome III

Pratt Institute Sculpture Park

Brooklyn, 2006

Photo of statues kneeling in parkA head goes missing on Monday.  Man #2, second from left, suffered the blow. I stand above him, nursing the cutaway view of his neck. Overnight, the lipstick mark I planted on his neck the day prior had been cut in half. The concrete grain feels like bone.

Just yesterday, Sunday, I posed between him and Man #1. I knelt in Virasana. It was a struggle forming prayer hands behind my back; reverse Atmanjali mudra always hurts shoulders, arms, and wrists. The days of the arrested being handcuffed hands-front are long gone, an aspiring cop once told me; the standard today is behind-the-back, palms faced outward. Bad yoga. I switched to Dhyani mudra, hands visible on lap for the camera. The stranger who took my photo was careless: a campus security guard cheeses at us in the background.

So Monday is sucking. Concrete is supposed to be strong, even on its knees. My morning walk through Pratt is supposed to remind me that life is good. Like a sawed-off index finger, the beheading gives me the urge to vomit up my shitty job, then eat an everything bagel. The E train with my name on it must be in Manhattan by now. Boss will have to swallow my latest excuse: “Man #2 needed a memorial.” I flag down an art student, who takes my picture: me kneeling behind Man #2 so that he bears my head.

“Welcome II” is a “commentary and protest on recent events” by South African sculptor Raphael Zollinger. The work “examines both personal and public representations of social change”. But now the eye has begun the inevitable countdown: four to go. I stay up too late, counting. Checking account balances, my daughter’s math homework, sheep. Insomnia has me munching popcorn tonight, watching “The Battle of Algiers”. Sleep finally comes during Mambo #0, just as the French bar blows up. In the dream I argue with Raphael:

Pérez Prado invented the mambo.

Benny Moré invented the mambo.

No, he didn’t.

Yes, he fucking did.

1010 WINS breaks the loop. Tuesday is staticky. New York’s terrorist alert is “high,” worse than yesterday’s “elevated,” yellow to orange in mambo time. “Let them throw the bomb, already,” growls a woman waiting for the bus near Pratt. I’m also tired of wincing. Yesterday my boss complained about my tardiness to the temp agency. Today I must delay again and check up on the Pratt 5. Hurry never turns out well. So I will delay my delay and get coffee. “They should cut off his hands,” growls the bodega owner. We hope the vandal will get caught soon. His son walks with me to see the carnage at Pratt, breaking some news along the way: “Yo, I got into the Police Academy.” No more bodega counters for him. I’m happy for him, really I am, but I tell him to go ahead and look at the Pratt 5 without me. I stay at the rose garden, where I pick dandelions, smoke a cigarette, finish my coffee. Once the coast is clear, I walk to the Pratt 5 and find that the four remaining lips taste like nickels.

Wednesday morning, Mambo #0: I’m fired. The temp agent’s voice is sunny with the news. I have Man #5 listen to the voicemail. He is stone-faced. I lay on the grass beside him in Shavasana, waiting for the vandal. The dead man’s pose is illuminating. I think of things thought to have never been: Humpty Dumpty was never described as an egg and Marie Antoinette never said, “Let’em eat cake,” and Van Gogh never cut off his whole ear. Let the vandal come now.

The rain is insane on Thursday. I do not have to fax or answer phones or proofread legalese. It’s proper that I do some writing. It’s proper that I stop to notice that one of my goldfish is swimming upside-down: swimbladder disease. It’s proper that I eat red-velvet cake for breakfast at Mike’s. It’s proper that I return books to the library, then take a quick nap over a stack of graphic novels. And after a clap of thunder wakes me up at noon, it’s proper that I pick up my kid at school, earlier than usual. She helps me administer the medicine to our sickly goldfish: feeding it peas gets it swimming right-side-up in no time.

Friday lands on new proofreading gig at Ogilve & Mather. En route to the subway, a sight makes me spill my coffee: the Pratt 5 is whole again. Man #2 has a brand-new head. Seen up close, the change back to normal drains my solar plexus, like the dry-heave withdrawal at the end of a hiccup spell. Had the artist been the vandal all along? I don’t know, and I don’t want to know. What I do want to know is that Cachao invented the mambo, and whether I would make it to work on time.

Authors Talk: Kimberly Grabowski Strayer

Kimberly Grabowski Strayer

Today we are pleased to feature author Kimberly Grabowski Strayer as our Authors Talk series contributor. Kimberly brackets her podcast with letters to “K,” or Franz Kafka, inspired by his quote: “Writing letters is actually an intercourse with ghosts, and by no means just the ghost of the addressee, but also with one’s own ghost, which secretly evolves inside the letter one is writing.”

Throughout the podcast, Kimberly eloquently paints a picture of the frustrating moths that plague her apartment, and she eventually compares them to poems. In the process of reaching this conclusion, she reveals many insights about writing, including the idea that “the beauty and the absurdity–the terror–of language is that it is a world-building tool and a self-building tool.”

You can access Kimberly’s poems in Issue 18 of Superstition Review.