Guest Post, Ashley Caveda: You Probably Think This Post Is About You

Ashley CavedaWhen I was in grad school, as a creative nonfiction writer, I was plagued by one topic in particular: the ethical requirements—as well as the possible practical fallout—of writing about real people. I devoured every article or piece of advice I could find on the subject. I attended panels and read books. I asked my professors how they handled this tricky matter. The answers were fuzzier than I wanted them to be. A simple “Do this, but not this” formula would have suited me just fine.

At times, my various sources recommended changing the name or characteristics of someone. But this proved more difficult when the person was a family member. A close relative’s relationship to me was often so central to whatever I might write that it seemed nearly impossible to recast identity. It simply wouldn’t work.

So I forged ahead, trying to get the story—as I understood it—on the page. Truly, my fears seemed to belong to some distant future that involved actually sending my work out. And once I began to submit my writing to journals, these worries were still relegated to some faraway time in which those pieces were actually accepted and, eventually, even further down the line, published. The now was just about the work.

And then it happened. Superstition Review published a short essay I’d written about my father. It was an unflattering portrait to be sure, but reflected something very real and life altering that had happened during my senior semester abroad. I was nervous, but hopeful he’d never see it. Of course, you should expect that no matter whom you’re writing about, that person will one day read what you have written. No matter if the journal is print-only, distributed to 50 people who live on the opposite side of the country. But especially you should expect this when the readership is much wider and the journal is web-based.

Sure enough, my father read the essay. He was very upset. According to my uncle, my father said, “What she wrote isn’t true. And even if it is true, she shouldn’t have written it.” I struggled with this notion. Whether or not I should have written the essay. I struggle with it every time I write. But what I always come back to is how writing is the process by which I come to know and make sense of myself and the world around me. It’s important for me to shape and share the things that make me laugh and that break my heart. This is how I communicate my humanness. It was never my intention to hurt my father.

This isn’t to say I won’t continue to write about people I know. In fact, I’m working on a memoir about my siblings, my parents, and myself. What it does mean is that maybe now I’m more aware of the awesome power writing gives me. And as an ethical person, I have to approach writing with humility and to recognize my own shortcomings and constantly consider whether I am offering my perspective in a balanced way. I want to be gentle. I don’t want to make anyone into a villain or a hero.

I should write without fear, perhaps. But I must remember that I act as editor and director of the truth when I write. I choose the moments to share and there are always moments that are left unwritten. I pick up human beings and treat them as characters, forcing them into a two-dimensional construct that attempts to mirror reality. And I have to remind myself again and again that it’s impossible to distill an entire human life down to 700 words. Or even 7,000. No matter how true I believe them to be, my words are always an approximation, a limited view of a full, three-dimensional person.

Guest Blog Post, Ashley Caveda

As a person who uses a wheelchair, there are a lot of strangers who take great pains to acknowledge my bravery. You know, for having the fortitude to keep on rollin’. I simply smile and thank them, and maybe laugh a little to myself. But the truth is, I want them to be right. Bravery, it would seem, ought to be pretty standard issue for a person who considers herself a writer of memoir.

The trouble is that I’m not brave. Even those days when a storm blows just loudly enough to remind me how cozy my home is—the kind of day that’s made for writing and sipping tea—I have to coax myself to the computer. I’m likely to invent some horrible task to occupy my time before finally settling down to work, like scraping out the cat’s litter box or, heaven help me, exercising. Over the years, instructors and peers have repeated the same chorus: “Get your butt in the chair and the writing will happen!” Well, pardon me, but my butt’s always in the chair.

Assuming the position of a dedicated writer doesn’t seem to be enough, at least for me. I’m a little ashamed to admit it, but I find writing almost never comes naturally. What does come naturally is fear. In fact, I fear everything I write is the stupidest, most boring thing anyone has ever written in the history of the universe.

That’s a pretty heavy load to bear. To be the one person who has written the stupidest thing in the whole universe.

Yeah. That was me. Nice to meet you.

So, what can be done? How can I combat this overwhelming sense that I’m not good enough, that I’m not as talented as so-and-so, that I’m revealing far too much of myself and should be ashamed of every admission I make on the page? Even this one.

Well, I don’t know exactly. What I do know is that I want that thing I had when I was 8, sitting cross-legged on the floor writing stories by hand in a black-and-white composition notebook. Filling pages without stopping to question a particular phrasing or the impact my words may or may not have on posterity. Sure, maybe I spelled ‘they’ with an ‘a’ instead of an ‘e,’ but at least I didn’t toss a story in the garbage just because a bathtub floating in an ocean filled with pirates seemed too ridiculous. I just wrote.

My older brother once told me he wanted to become a chef. When I asked him why he didn’t apply to a culinary institute, he said, “Because it’s just easier to go home at night and play video games.” And he was right. It takes bravery to face failing at something you really want. Unfortunately, my courage in writing seems to share an inverse relationship with my age.

The good news is that, over time, I think I’ve discovered that I can substitute bravery with an equal measure of faith. The faith necessary to continue writing what I know is no good. Such faith allows me to tack the word ‘yet’ to the end of that criticism.

My mentor, Lee Martin, always tells me to drown out the critical voices and to just have a conversation with myself on the page. This practice reminds me that it’s okay—possibly even really important—for my ambition to outweigh my talent. It’s okay to hate what I’ve written. I have to remember that I love writing and that what I really hate is feeling inadequate. It’s okay if I’m not that brave. I just have to have faith that underneath the rambling is the germ of an idea that at some point, with weeks and months of revision, might actually become something I’m proud to say I wrote.

Issue 8: We’re Big in Japan

Issue 8: We’re Big in Japan

Now that Issue 8 has launched, we’ve started looking at our Google Analytics to learn more about our readers. Already this has revealed some surprising facts about who visits our site and how they find it. For example, between November 6th and December 6th, 2011, 67% of our viewers visited Superstition Review for the first time. It’s great to know that we’re attracting so many newcomers.

In that same span of time, there were 4,279 unique visits to our site for a total of 13,230 page views. Our readers visited an average of 3 pages per visit, and our most popular section this month was poetry, with a total of 677 views.

41% of viewers visiting our site found us through referring websites, while only 31% found us using a search engine. This statistic shows that we are increasing our affiliations with other like-minded organizations. Not surprisingly, our traffic skyrocketed on December 1st, the day of our launch, with a total of 1,157 unique visitors to our page on that day alone.

Our most frequently viewed contributors from Issue 8 were: Ashley Caveda with 405 views, Eugenio Volpe with 185 views, Nelly Rosario with 166 views, and Steve Yarbrough with 157 views.

We got the most visits from the United States. In the last month, the top 10 cities to view SR were: Phoenix, Tempe, New York, Columbus, Chandler, Scottsdale, Chicago, Ithaca, Indianapolis, and Gilbert.

Google Analytics shows that we are growing internationally as well. Our visitors came from 75 different countries, with the second highest number of hits coming from Japan. Superstition Review was viewed in 34 languages, with the three most popular being American English, British English, and Japanese.

We had a few visitors from some unexpected places. Google Analytics shows that between November 6th and December 6th, we had visitors from Pakistan, Iran, Sudan, Latvia, Lithuania, Haiti, Laos, Kuwait, Thailand, and Iceland.

These statistics help us get a sense of who is reading Superstition Review, what sections of our site are most popular, and how our readers find their way to our magazine. It really is exciting to see the data behind our growth as a publication. Thanks to all of our readers for visiting.