Guest Post, Elizabeth Sheets: The Illusion of Ascending

dad readsI’ve always been a reader. I don’t know if this is my parents’ fault or not. Recently I found a crayon drawing and questionnaire book I made when I was in elementary school. On one of the pages it asks what my parents do during the day while I’m at school. My answers were: My Dad builds Rockets. My Mom sits on the couch all day and reads love stories. I don’t think that was entirely true, I mean, my Dad read books too. In any case, I do remember that prior to puberty, trips to the mall were exciting for two reasons: first, because I could climb up and sit in the conversion vans in the car dealership that was actually in our mall; and second, we got to go to Walden Books. My family didn’t have a lot of money, so we didn’t buy a lot of new books there, but it was a thrill just to be there and look around. I knew that eventually the books on those shelves would find their way to our city library.

As a kid, I was fairly well read. Once I got beyond Dr. Seuss, I enjoyed Roald Dahl, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Scott O’Dell, Louisa May Alcott, Franklin Dixon, Carolyn Keene, the Choose Your Own Adventure Series, and of course, Judy Blume. There are a few in that list some might consider literary, but many fall into the category of good old genre fiction. I still have many of them because I saved them for my children. And now I’m saving them for my grandchildren, because I don’t think I was as successful as my parents were at passing down the love of literature.

As I got older, I dove harder into genre writing. Once I could get books from the library that didn’t have the purple dot on them, my literary world was blown wide open. I devoured everything from Jean Auel, Piers Anthony, and Marion Zimmer Bradley to Stephen King, Dean Koontz, and Anne Rice. Some of these authors I still read today. Because they’re good, and because I can get lost in the worlds they bring to my mind’s eye.

Once I started my degree program, my literary world was blown open again. Even with all of the reading in my youth, there was much that I missed. Memoirs? Whatever were those? Well, all of those English Lit classes filled me in, and filled me up to the brim with writing on every social topic I could imagine, and a few more besides.

Writing classes and workshops introduced me to the short story, and the idea that writers who don’t get paid are somehow of more value than those who do. I’m not much for martyrs, but I bought in. In my few years in school, my professors helped nurture in me a love of the short story, and an appreciation for the craft of drawing them out of myself and others. And so now, my private library grows full of chapbooks and short story collections. To my list of favorite authors I’m adding Roxane Gay, Aimee Bender, Stacey Richter, Matt Bell, Dan Chaon, Tara Ison, Margaret Atwood, and so many more.

But for all my education, and my editorship with a literary magazine, and my degree in English and Creative Writing… I still read Anne Rice. In fact, she might just be my very favorite person ever (not that I know her personally, but I do follow her on Facebook, so I feel like that counts… anyway).

I’m reminded of this funny thing that happened recently.

modest houseMy husband and I raised our children in a suburban neighborhood of the sprawling Phoenix Metropolitan Area. We had a modest income, and a modest house. We drove practical cars, and our kids went to public schools. There was a house of worship a half mile in any direction from our house. Our neighbors were diverse. To the east was a family of folks who spoke little English, had obnoxious barking dogs, and always had parties in the front yard instead of the back. To the south were the drug dealers. The husband rode a very noisy Harley and cut his entire lawn holding a Weedwacker in one hand and a beer in the other. His wife had no teeth and only wore a bra on Sundays. (I guess they weren’t very good drug dealers.)

We lived in that house 15 years, and our kids came up just fine.

And just a couple of months ago, we moved. Since our income has doubled, so has our mortgage and the square footage of our new house. Our new block is glorious. The neighbors all cut their grass on Wednesdays, and everyone drives a new car. There are bunnies and quail everywhere, and no one parks in their lawn.

School just started a couple weeks ago, and as I was driving past the elementary school on my way back from my morning Starbucks run, I noted that the crossing guard drives a Jaguar. A Jaguar.

This is it, I thought, we have definitely arrived. All of that hard work, education, ladder climbing, etc., has all paid off. Finally. Now we can live among the educated folk. People like us. Cultured people. People who read. If the people across the street are drug dealers, well they’re damn good ones because their kids drive BMWs.

And then I turned down our street. It was a Thursday. Blue barrel pick up day. About three houses in, out came a neighbor down his drive way, pushing his barrel out to the curb. He was wearing a pair of very snug fitting, bright red boxer briefs. His hairy belly was spilling over the waistband, and his tangled bedhead hair pointed in all directions from his unshaven face. He looked up as I drove past. Smiled.

I about choked on my chai.

But it’s okay. I’m glad I saw him. It’s a great reminder: there’s room on the block for everyone.  He cuts his grass, he parks in the garage. Maybe his wife builds rockets.

#ArtLitPhx: Spillers No. 4

spillers4

Spillers is Phoenix’s premier short fiction storytelling event. Spillers organizers pick 6 of Phoenix’s best writers, put them on a stage, feature them in 2 episodes of the Spillers After Show podcast, and publish their stories in a collectible book available the night of the event.

The event takes place Monday, May 2nd, 2016 @ 7:30 PM in the Crescent Ballroom.

The Spillers are:

1. Joel Salcido: Joel translates the poetry of the barrio pigeons into surrealist prophecies. He is an MFA candidate in poetry at Arizona State University, and a member of the Gutta Collective, ARTRATs, and Chronic Illness.

2. Michael Holladay: Michael was born and raised in Kentucky. He is an MFA candidate at Arizona State University. His fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in The Saint Ann’s Review, Paper Darts, Fiction Southeast, and elsewhere.

3. David Waid: David has two published short stories available on Amazon: Wicked and Loving Lies and Festival of Rogues. His debut novel, The Conjurers, is currently available for pre-order and publishes on June 1st.

4. Tara Ison: Tara is the author of the novels, A Child out of Alcatraz, The List, and Rockaway, the award-winning essay collection, Reeling Through Life: How I Learned to Live, Love, and Die at the Movies, and the short story collection Ball. She is an Associate Professor of Fiction at ASU.

5. Paul Mosier: Paul’s fourth novel was acquired by HarperCollins as part of a two-book deal. The middle-grade Train I Ride will appear everywhere on January 10, 2017, and an even more depressing novel will come a year after that.

6. Matt Bell: Matt is the author of the novels Scrapper and In the House upon the Dirt between the Lake and the Woods, as well as several other books. His next story collection, A Tree or a Person or a Wall, will be published in Fall 2016. A native of Michigan, he now teaches creative writing at Arizona State University.

Crescent Ballroom is a 21+ venue, so review the entrance policies on their website. The event is ticketed.

All ticket sale proceeds go to the Harmony Mosier GoFundMe campaign.

Spillers Website | Facebook Event | Tickets

#ArtLitPhx: Tara Ison at MOD

Tara IsonDate & Time: 
Friday, Oct 23, 2015, 7-9 p.m.
Location: 
Mod Phx-Midtown (2828 N Central Ave, Ste 100) Phoenix, AZ
Grab a friend and join us for an evening of formative film and good conversation paired with craft beer, great wine and small bites from the Mod kitchen. We’ll talk with novelist and ASU English Associate Professor Tara Ison (in conversation with Perry Allen, film curator of the Phoenix Art Museum) about the films that shape our lives and identities, with readings and selected scenes drawn from her novel, Reeling Through Life: How I learned to Live, Love and Die at the Movies.

Admission is free and open to the public. Not recommended for guests 18 and under.

More information: http://mod.work/events/2015/10/23/reeling-through-life-how-we-learn-to-live-love-and-die-at-the-movies

Tempe | Award-winning Authors Peter Turchi and Tara Ison

When: Tuesday 02/24/2015 at 7pm

Peter Turchi visits with A Muse and A Maze, his followup to Maps of the Imagination. Joining him is screenwriter Tara Ison, who presents Reeling Through Life: How I Learned to Live, Love and Die at the Movies,her new collection of non-fiction essays.
With his characteristic genius for finding connections between writing and the stuff of our lives, Peter Turchi ventures into new and even more surprising territory. In A Muse and a Maze, Turchi draws out the similarities between writing and puzzle making and its flip side, puzzle solving. As he teases out how mystery lies at the heart of all storytelling, he uncovers the magic—the creation of credible illusion—that writers share with the likes of Houdini and master magicians.Cinema is a universal cultural experience, one that floods our senses with images and sounds, a powerful force that influences our perspective on the world around us. Ison discusses the universal aspects of film as she makes them personal, looking at how certain films across time shaped and molded who she has become. Drawing on a wide ranging catalog of films, both cult and classic, popular and art-house, Reeling Through Life examines how cinema shapes our views on how to make love, how to deal with mental illness, how to be Jewish, how to be a woman, how to be a drunk, and how to die with style.
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Called “one of the country’s foremost thinkers on the art of writing” by the Houston Chronicle, PETER TURCHI’S books include A Muse and A Maze: Writing as Puzzle, Mystery, and Magic, Maps of the Imagination: The Writer as Cartographer; Suburban Journals: The Sketchbooks. He has also coedited, with Andrea Barrett, A Kite in the Wind: Fiction Writers on Their Craft and The Story Behind the Story: 26 Stories by Contemporary Writers and How They Work; and, with Charles Baxter, Bringing the Devil to His Knees: The Craft of Fiction and the Writing Life. From 1993 to 2008 he directed the MFA Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College in Asheville, North Carolina. Turchi recently taught at Arizona State University, where he was director of the creative writing program, and he’s currently a professor of creative writing at the University of Houston.Tara Ison is the author of the novels The List, A Child Out of Alcatraz (a Finalist for The Los AngelesTimes Book Prize), and Rockaway, selected as a 2013 Best Books of Summer by O Magazine. Her short fiction and essays have appeared in Tin House, The Kenyon Review, Nerve, Publishers Weekly, and numerous anthologies. She is the co-author of the cult film Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead.For more information please visit: http://www.changinghands.com/event/turchi-feb2015