Guest Blog Post, Mary Ann Thomas: Asking for Elephants

Photo credit: she-explores.com

In 2017, I bicycled around India for four months with a friend. We witnessed an immense range of humanity: kind strangers who led us through chaotic cities, fellow cyclists who brought us into their homes to stay a few nights, pilgrims lined up outside of temples to pay for blessings, and barefoot men smashing rocks on the edge of steep cliffs as they built roads. I was an experienced bike tourist. My travel partner was well-versed in the complications of international travel. Our skill sets complemented each other well and, as we rode through deserts, mountains, and beaches, we became intimately acquainted with the multitudes of experiences within India.

I, a queer daughter of Indian immigrants, couldn’t have expected we would pull this off. It seemed like a pipe dream. Cross a country with over 1.3 billion people and 700 languages? Ride some of the tallest mountain passes in the world, carrying everything we need on bicycles? Even though I’d bicycled across the United States and Canada, riding across my parents’ homeland seemed like an impossible feat.

When I returned to the US, I was shaken: my cells rattled from the unpaved roads, my eardrums damaged from the persistent honking, my lungs coated in diesel fumes from trucks and autorickshaws. I sought stillness. I moved to upstate NY, where I lived on a property with four horses, thirty chickens, two dogs, a cat, six ducks, and wild turkeys.

While in India, I posted on my social media every day. I documented my emotional truths as they happened. At times, I was ecstatic as I cycled through busy streets with Indian bicyclists during festivals. At other times, I was overwhelmed by the men, the crowds, the chaos of the country. Because I was actively sharing these stories, people reached out to me. They asked for advice in planning their own bicycle tours. They told me that my daily posts were a source of inspiration as they drank their morning coffee. They told me that these stories made them feel like they could do anything they wanted.

As I sifted through my memories, I realized bike touring taught me a valuable lesson: Fuck Impossible.

My previous bike tour in 2014 helped me talk about my own queerness in ways that I never had before. I shared my writing for the first time through a blog. Biking across India in 2017 allowed me to be claimed by Indians as a child of the country, and allowed me to claim India for myself.

Owning my queer identity, sharing my writing and telling stories, and embracing India as where I’m from, were all things I couldn’t have imagined myself capable of. They seemed impossible to me prior to bicycling. Each time I’ve gone on a long bike ride, I’ve found myself unearthing new possibilities for myself and finding different ways to exist in this world.

The time and space of that house in upstate NY allowed me to assess why I’m writing. I’m writing for the people who messaged me on my tour. I’m writing for the kids of immigrants who are disillusioned by this country, its historical and current violence against our peoples, and who rage against the trap of the unattainable American Dream. I’m writing for queer folks, who have had our gender identities boxed in by a specific heteronormativity that lives in this culture, and who undermine colonial gender norms every time we choose to love.

My story is important in ways I couldn’t have a expected before this all started. So, my travel partner and I self-published a CNF chapbook, in which we included photography and writing from both of us. I planned a way to tell this story more broadly, to gift a physical object to the communities that have held me thus far.

I called it the Fuck Impossible Road Trip. I traveled between more than ten cities all over the United States, using my savings to give talks in bookstores, bike shops and coops, and REI stores across the country. I scheduled time in which I could sit in stillness with friends, organizers, and writers, in order to learn. I went on bike rides with Women, Trans, and Femme (WTF) folks of color in Portland. I organized a WTF Bike camping trip in Anchorage, where I’d once lived. I spoke to rooms with fifteen people and standing-room-only rooms of seventy. Everything about this tour has been outside my comfort zone. As an adult, I’d never made a PowerPoint presentation or spoke in front of a group. I’d never self-published anything, worked with an illustrator to take the experiences in my head and translate them visually, or edited the intimate work of a friend with whom I shared experiences with. It was a new experience for both of us.

We said: If we could bike across India, we can make this chapbook together.

And I said to myself, every time I got on a stage: If I biked across India, I can tell a fucking story.

As a young woman growing up in New Jersey to Indian immigrant parents, as a brown bicyclist for whom riding across rural North America seemed like a way to get killed, as a woman for whom queer love has seemed like an impossibility for so long, I’ve learned to say Fuck Impossible over and over and over again.

Fuck Impossible: a rallying cry for misfits who’ve always been questioned whether they can do something, who’ve always been told they can’t, who’ve drawn lines around themselves to keep themselves safe, to protect their hearts, and kept themselves from chasing the life they want.

Event: AZ Humanities

AUTHORS NIGHT WITH ROBERT ISENBERG EXPLORES TRAVEL WRITING, AND LIVING IN COSTA RICA

Kick off your summer with stories of travel inspiration June 7th in downtown Phoenix

Phoenix, AZ – The public is invited to join Arizona Humanities for a talk with local author Robert Isenberg. Isenberg will kick off your summer travels with stories and inspiration from his works, including his newest book, The Green Season about his life as a journalist in Costa Rica. The Authors Night takes place at the historic Ellis-Shackelford House in downtown Phoenix (1242 N. Central Avenue Phoenix, AZ 85004) on Tuesday, June 7th from 6:00-8:00pm. The program is free and light refreshments are included.

Isenberg describes his many years as a travel writer and journalist, scouring the globe for provocative stories. Hear about his rustic New England origins, life as a freelancer, and the evolving nature of long-form nonfiction. Considering a trip to Costa Rica? Ask him anything. This author night promises lively discussion about adventure in the age of the smartphone.

Seating is limited and guests are encouraged to RSVP at https://robertisenbergauthorsnight.eventbrite.com or call 602-257-0335.

Grean Season CoverAbout The Green Season: “A dynamic collection of essays and reportage, The Green Season illustrates daily life in Costa Rica, a tiny Central American nation dedicated to peace and teeming with tropical life. With his trademark humor and observation, Robert Isenberg describes the people, culture, and biodiversity that make Costa Rica so unique—from a centuries-old indigenous ceremony to a remote jungle crisscrossed by crocodile-filled canals. Isenberg explores the country head-on, fighting his way through San José traffic, mingling with venomous snakes, and even making a cameo in an epic soccer film at the height of World Cup fever. Richly detailed and tenderly written, The Green Season is one expat’s love letter to his adoptive homeland.”

Robert IsenbergAbout Robert Isenberg is a freelance writer, filmmaker, and stage performer. Most recently, he is the author of The Green Season, about his life as a journalist in Costa Rica. His work includes five books, 17 produced plays, dozens of short documentaries, and hundreds of articles for various magazines and newspapers. He created two one-man shows, The Archipelago (about his travels in postwar Bosnia) and One Million Elephants (about the Secret War in Laos). Isenberg is a past Whitford Fellow, Brackenridge Fellow, and recipient of two Golden Quill Awards, as well as a Pushcart Prize nominee. Visit him at robertisenberg.net.

Call for Submissions: Creative Nonfiction

creative nonfictionDeadline: May 11, 2015

For an upcoming issue, Creative Nonfiction is seeking new essays about THE WEATHER. We’re not just making idle chit-chat; the weather affects us all, and talking about the weather is a fundamental human experience. Now, as we confront our changing climate, talking about the weather may be more important than ever.

Send us your true stories—personal, historical, reported—about fog, drought, flooding, tornado-chasing, blizzards, hurricanes, hail the size of golfballs, or whatever’s happening where you are. We’re looking for well-crafted essays that will change the way we see the world around us.

Essays must be vivid and dramatic; they should combine a strong and compelling narrative with an informative or reflective element and reach beyond a strictly personal experience for some universal or deeper meaning. We’re looking for well-written prose, rich with detail and a distinctive voice; all essays must tell true stories and be factually accurate.

A note about fact-checking: Essays accepted for publication in Creative Nonfiction undergo a rigorous fact-checking process. To the extent your essay draws on research and/or reportage (and it should, at least to some degree), CNF editors will ask you to send documentation of your sources and to help with the fact-checking process. We do not require that citations be submitted with essays, but you may find it helpful to keep a file of your essay that includes footnotes and/or a bibliography.

Creative Nonfiction editors will award $1,000 for Best Essay and $500 for runner-up. All essays will be considered for publication in a special “Weather” issue of the magazine.

Guidelines: Essays must be previously unpublished and no longer than 4,000 words. There is a $20 reading fee, or $25 to include a 4-issue subscription to Creative Nonfiction (US addresses only). If you’re already a subscriber, you may use this option to extend your current subscription or give your new subscription as a gift. Multiple entries are welcome ($20/essay) as are entries from outside the United States (though due to shipping costs we cannot offer the subscription deal). All proceeds will go to prize pools and printing costs.

More info: https://www.creativenonfiction.org/submissions/weather

2012 Constance Rooke Creative Nonfiction Prize Invites Entries

Canadian literary magazine, The Malahat Review invites entries from Canadian, American, and overseas authors for its Constance Rooke Creative Nonfiction Prize. One award of $1,000 CAD is given.

The Constance Rooke Creative Nonfiction Prize is awarded to the best work submitted to the magazine’s annual contest for a genre that embraces, but is not limited to, the personal essay, memoir, narrative nonfiction, social commentary, travel writing, historical accounts, and biography, all enhanced by such elements as description, dramatic scenes, dialogue, and characterization.

The award is named after Constance “Connie” Merriam Raymond Rooke (1942-2008), former Fiction Editor for The Malahat Review.

The deadline for the 2012 Creative Nonfiction Prize is August 1, 2012 (postmark date).

This year’s judge will be Madeline Sonik. See Guidelines for more a complete description.

Previous Constance Rooke Creative Nonfiction Prize Winners:

Meet The Interns: Kylie Powell

Kylie Powell is currently a junior at Arizona State University where she is studying Literature, Writing, and Film. She is now part of the Superstition Review team where she is in charge of the advertising. Kylie someday hopes to take her advertising and writing experience and work with companies to advertise their products.

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

My position with Superstition Review is Advertising Coordinator. My responsibilities include seeking out places to advertise SR, and then contacting those places to get the best deal for an ad that we can get. I also try to build partnerships with other literary magazines by also helping them to advertise with us.

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

I decided to get involved with Superstition Review because I looked at it as a great opportunity to get experience in the field of both writing and advertising. It is also a helpful way to get more involved and learn the behind the scenes of how a literary magazine is put together.

3. Besides interning for Superstition Review, how do you spend your time?

Most of my time is spent working for the Campus Recreation department at ASU. I work at the gym and also with intramural sports, so between the three things it keeps my life pretty busy, but I love everything that I do.

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

I would like to try out being a fiction editor or maybe even a blogger because it would give me more opportunities to write.

5. Describe one of your favorite literary works.

One of my favorite literary works is Breakfast at Tiffany’s. I read it for a film class and was able to compare a movie to a novel and it really showed me how different literary works can be from what someone portrays when making a movie. It was a novel that was impossible to put down and always had something exciting to grab the reader.

6. What are you currently reading?

I am currently reading a lot of travel stories. They have really sparked my interest after beginning a travel writing class and it is a whole new kind of reading and learning.

7. Creatively, what are you currently working on?

I am currently working on ideas for a fiction book. I have always wanted to write a book not to sell but more so for myself and family.

8. Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

In 10 years I see myself doing some kind of writing whether it be in a magazine, newspaper, or even writing a book.