Guest Post, Nicole Rollender: Quiet: What It Means for Your (Writing) Life

When my husband and I recently took a road trip with our two young children, the talking was deafening. As we hit open highway surrounded by mostly trees and hills, my husband tried to play a game. “OK, I’m going to count to 15 and see who can stay quiet,” he said. The record for silence in the car that day was about six seconds.

quiet-area-1450738Silence is an interesting concept. Pre-children, when I was surrounded by too much of it, I created noise and clamor: turned on a fan, tapped my pencil against my desk, hummed Blondie. I rebelled against either its calmness or vastness that forced me to think too much. These days, as a parent of young children who barely let me finish a full sentence or a thought or a line of poetry, silence is a locked room whose key I lost in some dream years ago.

I was reading an interview with Pulitzer Prize-winning poet and memoirist Tracy K. Smith on femmeliterate, where she talks about 21st century feminism, being a teacher of language, social responsibility as a poet and how motherhood has changed her writing. She had an insightful take on it, which was that caring for young children has forced her to develop a lightning-reflex creativity and agility – and this new form of response crossed over into her writing process:

I have to pick someone up from school, drop somebody off, etc., etc., so my ritual or my practice is when I have the time, and I know I need to get down to work, I just get down to work. And oddly enough, I think those constraints made me more productive. When I was younger and living alone, I could waste all this time, and I could kind of just tinker with things slowly; now there’s a real hunger when I have the space …

I’ve been thinking about the ways my life changed – mostly since having my second child two years ago. The demands of caring for small children has its many ups (all the firsts, the enchanting laughter, the hugs, etc.), downs (tantrums, projectile vomiting, the aforementioned unceasing talking and activity) and the unexpected (how the energy and needs of two children seems to create its own tornado that only quiets when they’ve gone to sleep). At the end of the day, it’s hard, no, let’s say almost impossible, to push my tired, still-feeling-like-post-pregnancy body and mind into writing and editing mode.

I was reading Amy Clampitt’s poem, “A Silence,” and kept re-reading this part, which shows all the chaos we’re surrounded by (all kinds of disordered things) and how after processing them, a (creative) silence opens:

beyond the woven
unicorn the maiden
(man-carved worm-eaten)
God at her hip
the untransfigured
bluebell and primrose
growing wild a strawberry
chagrin night terrors
past the earthlit
unearthly masquerade

(we shall be changed)

a silence opens

For writing parents, that silence might be different than what it used to be. As I steal time here and there even to write this blog, the dishwasher runs noisily behind me, my daughter is playing a loud game on her tablet and my old cat is meowing for his night food. It’s hard to sink deep into that creative trance I used to get into before when I really did have hours of silence. So it’s two things: It’s writing through the din, and it’s also looking for a space and time to secure that needed and actual silence.

What’s seemingly contradictory to me saying how exhausted I am and how hard it is to write is that this year and early next, I’ve got three chapbooks and my first full-length poetry collection coming out. Ray Bradbury wrote, “We are cups, constantly and quietly being filled. The trick is, knowing how to tip ourselves over and let the beautiful stuff out.” This feels true, in that having children opened me up (bodily and spiritually) in a way I hadn’t been before – and both vulnerable and resilient in a way I hadn’t been. I found strength in the ability to grow my children, but also to persevere in my work. But like Bradbury wrote, you need to know how to tap your tired self to let our writing fodder out.

Being a mother writer, I often feel that I shouldn’t ask for help, or that I should be able to nurture my children all the time, and work at the job that pays me a salary, and then also do the writing that fuels my heart. And do it all in the clamor, in the middle of the fatigue. A few weeks ago on a Saturday, I went to the dentist to get two cavities filled (my children were at my parents’ house). When I got home, my lips hung strangely because of the Novocain and I couldn’t speak clearly: Yet the house was strangely silent. It was like floating underwater. I felt hungry. For one hour, I wrote, rewrote and edited in the bright sunlight and was nourished in a way I hadn’t been.

In that same interview with femmeliterate, Smith also talks about being strong enough to know she deserves to take time away from mothering for her creative work. That’s an area where I still struggle, in acknowledging that it’s OK to take time away from parenting, that perhaps it doesn’t have to be at 5 am or midnight, when I should be sleeping. That I can find an easier way to make it work, instead of making it hurt when I take that time:

… it’s really important to find a way to secure that time and space to make the work. As a mother there are so many demands that it’s a genuine struggle to say ok, I’m not going to be a mom for two hours; I’m going to write. But I think it’s essential to do that: enlist somebody to help you with your child so you can be a writer for part of your day. … it’s really important to create security for the writerly self that is a woman and that is an author. Without apology.

Listen to Franz Kafka who wrote, “You do not need to leave your room. Remain sitting at your table and listen. Do not even listen, simply wait, be quiet, still and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked, it has no choice, it will roll in ecstasy at your feet.” And it seems so simple – find the silent time and the whole world will come to you, so you can translate it into your art. But parenting and writing are never simple, of course, so as I write now into dusk, into squinting through my glasses at this bright screen, with my son calling good night, mama over and over, I commit to writing through the din and then making my own silences (where I can transfigure what world I find).

Nicole’s website

Meet the Review Crew: Ofure Ikharebha

Ofure Ikharebha is a social networking intern pursuing a degree in Linguistics with a concentration in English, and a certificate in TESOL (teaching English to speakers of other languages). Upon graduating, she hopes to either attend graduate school for a master’s degree or jump into a career in publishing, editing, or localization.

Ofure was born on the West Coast, but Phoenix is where she has spent the majority of her time growing up. As a child, she was always an avid reader and developed a burgeoning interest in literature and language; Ofure believes that this is all due in part to her parents having used “Hooked on Phonics” and an interactive alphabet desk. Oh, to be a child of the ’90s…

While many might find the “classics” boring, they are Ofure’s literature of choice. This interest was first cultivated in middle school after reading various works by John Steinbeck, George Orwell, and Ray Bradbury. (You’d actually be hard-pressed to find her admitting her deep appreciation for old school sci-fi.) Aside from reading, she also enjoys embarking on creative projects, studying languages, watching a wide variety of television shows (from Asian dramas to Breaking Bad), and blogging.

Ofure applied to SR out of necessity and curiosity; while the extrinsic values of gaining more internship experience within a desired field are important, she is most excited about working with a team to organize a literary magazine issue and the publishing process. With her internship at Superstition Review, she hopes to help develop and maintain an active social media presence and put her years of extensive social networking use to good work.

One of Ofure’s favorite poems is John Gillespie Magee, Jr’s “High Flight”:

Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
of sun-split clouds, — and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of — wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there,
I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air….

Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue
I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace.
Where never lark, or even eagle flew —
And, while with silent, lifting mind I’ve trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
– Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.

Meet the Interns: Frederick Raehl

Fiction Editor Frederick “Brandon” Raehl is a senior at ASU completing concurrent degrees in Psychology and Literature, Writing, and Film. As well as working in healthcare as a CT Technologist, he plays music, writes screenplays, and develops black and white photographs. After completing his honors thesis in psychology titled, The Effect of Workload on Academic Performance, his time is now devoted towards writing. Though his current ambitions outside of college are unclear, he intends on using writing in any endeavor he decides to pursue. His favorite all-time book is The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury.

1. What is your position with Superstition Review and what are your responsibilities?

I am one of the Fiction Editors for Superstition Review. My responsibilities include reviewing work from fiction writers for our upcoming issue. Some of my duties include preparing response emails, reading and voting on what to publish,  and completing weekly tasks and reports. I need to check Blackboard frequently and keep the instructor informed of my progress.

2. Why did you decide to get involved with Superstition Review?

One of my goals of being an undergraduate student is to obtain a diverse and challenging education. Being a part of the Superstition Review allows me to pursue this goal. I love writing, and I’m curious about what goes into the process of  publishing. I enjoy new experiences and new challenges.

3. How do you like to spend your free time?

With the little free time that I have, I enjoy pleasure reading, playing guitar and drums, going to movies, journaling, and playing with my dogs. Most of my time goes towards school and work. I first went to x-ray school, which I do for a living, then decided to go  back to obtain my undergraduate.

4. What other position(s) for Superstition Review would you like to try out?

I think interview and content editing would be interesting, as well as web design.

5. Describe one of your favorite literary work

I would have to say that Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles is still my favorite  book. I first read it in 7th grade and came back to it when I first started college. It feels like every time I read it I discover something else that I love about it. I’ve read many books in my life, but none have ever replaced my long time favorite.

6. What are you currently reading?

I am currently reading Drinking: A Love Story by Caroline Knapp. No, I’m not an alcoholic, but I really enjoy reading about personal triumphs over adversity. It’s a great read, if anyone is looking for something to pick up.

7. Creatively, what are you currently working on?

I’m beginning to write a screenplay for my capstone course. I’m always writing new music and journaling as well.

8. What inspires you?

I’m inspired by authenticity. When I see something that I know is real and not just something crafted to make money, I’m inspired. I believe that one should be brave enough to create something that comes from within, regardless of what the world will feel about it. When people do what they know is right in their heart instead of what may be right in society’s eyes, I am inspired. Finally, and the most simple, I’m inspired by decency. I love it when I see people working together and treating each other in a civil manner.

9. What are you most proud of?

I’m most proud of obtaining a college education with honors. It may seem miniscule to some, but going to college has challenged and changed me in many ways. I believe that if I hadn’t decided to go to ASU after x-ray school, my life would not be as hopeful as it is now. Many people think I’m crazy to go back to school when I already have a decent-paying job. The pay is not the problem. I feel like I’m meant to do something  more with my life than what I’m doing now. I don’t know exactly what that is right now, but going to college has allowed me to investigate this. And I know that my decision to obtain a college degree will help me live a happier life.

10. Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

I see my life moving forward. I will not be in the career I’m in now. I know this for certain. What I don’t know is what I will be doing. I know that I want a life that allows me to be creative while also benefiting society. I have several ideas that I will investigate. Being successful is important, but more so I would like to find myself in a career that is in tune with my values and I feel passionately about. Who knows where I’ll end up, but I will never stop looking.