Guest Post, Cynthia Clem: Yoga, Self-Publishing, and the Importance of Ignoring Your Thoughts

Your New Self

Part 1

The story begins with me moving from mountain to cat, passing through cat tuck. Leading with the back of my neck, I pull forward, bringing my knees to ground and curling my spine outward, tucking my chin, chest, and stomach in, in, in, then flattening it all to natural alignment starting at the tailbone and moving up the spine to my head.

I kneel in cat, wrists under shoulders, head forward, back straight. The teacher approaches and reaches down to touch the vertebrae between my shoulder blades. “Can you straighten here?” she asks. I let my spine sink between my shoulder blades. “You don’t want to make a valley,” she says. I lift my spine back up a little. She presses down. “Now what about this vertebra?”  I feel her finger on the bone, and I know how she wants me to move, but I can’t imagine how to move there. “It’s as if you’re beginning cobra,” she says, and so I pull my shoulders down my back, lift up through my chest. “Where are you feeling that? What are you tightening to make that happen?” she asks.

“My arms,” I say, and my armpits are quivering with effort but it’s not quite my arms—this position is creating a curious feeling in my stomach and chest, an opening that feels close to a breaking. It doesn’t hurt, but it’s difficult—and new. It’s also triggering insight: this is my problem, this is the weak link. “That’s what you want,” she says. “Every time. Every time.”

Oh the ecstasy of self-improvement fantasies. I walked home marveling at the new lift in my chest and ribs, the catch of my breath as if the top of my lungs weren’t used to such space and struggled to fill it. I envisioned a new me, one who, empowered by strength in the small connective muscles of my back, could throw farther, lift more, sing louder, swing a bat faster, and impress my father-in-law with my steady grip on the pistol we shoot once a year or so at the hunting camp.

Poor unimproved former self, I thought. That unenlightened she found it easier to breathe when slightly slumped, could push herself harder and farther if she went sloppily, bullying past her field of energy instead of staying in it. But this NEW self leads with her heart. She moves deliberately, discerning what is needed from what is not. She knows how to be where she is and how to fill that space. She will never slump again.

 

Part 2

Cat/Dog & Other Binaries. That’s my new book, my first book. It looks real, right? It is real.

Can I tell you it is self-published? Can I say that without it feeling like a confession? It’s a book of poems, and it didn’t win any contests. No one important wrote a blurb. The back cover is blank but for my bio and a barcode. I paid for the rights to use the cover art, and I looked at other poetry books to figure out how to format the front and back matter. I chose the font type and size and spacing. I set the price. I wrote the description for amazon.com. I did it by myself on createspace.com, a division of Amazon.

My motivation to self-publish was 80% closure (i.e., get these 10-year old poems out of my head so I can move on) and 20% hope (i.e., maybe someone will like them). The first draft of my book bio: “She is happy to put this book (her first) into the world so she can forget about it and move on to other things.” I thought it was amusingly self-deprecating at the time, but on one of my final proofs it suddenly sounded sad and a little F-you if you’re dumb enough to buy this book.  Shame runs deep. I haven’t worked hard enough, I haven’t tried hard enough to win a first book contest, I don’t participate enough in the literary community. Someone important will see this and shake their head: There’s a lot of crap out there.

I changed the bio. Cutting out that sentence made it bland, but it dissipated the darkness that hung around the whole process. It inspired some much-needed revisions of a couple of poems I’d been pretending were okay. It made me excited, finally. I wrote a book! I can give it to people! Some people might even buy it!

And then the ensuing upward spiral…I will give this book of poems to people, I fantasized, and their enjoyment will grow to a fervor. They’ll tell their friends, who will tell their friends, some of whom will work at libraries and bookstores, and I’ll be invited to read, to autograph, to write the screenplay. Someone famous will nominate my book for a famous prize. More importantly, I will not be someone who has regrets on her deathbed. I will instead have a pile of my own books around me, testament to my warm embrace of the person I was meant to be.

 

Part 3

I’m a sucker for self-improvement. Caught in my visions of perfection, I never dream that I could backslide to that former dud of a self. But every time, I do. Even now, as I write this, I’m slumping in my seat and worrying that I might never finish a book again.

I could take comfort in the Buddhist teaching that I’m already whole, that I can stop striving and just be where and who I am. But if I give up on a new self, then what becomes of these moments of experience that feel so true and inspirational? Do they matter?

Not really. What matters is that I took a single moment in yoga class and my excitement about my book and turned them into thoughts: thoughts of perfection and self-worth, thoughts of the future, thoughts of the past. All of these thoughts are illusion, and any indulgence in illusion comes with a crash. When I fail to live up to my vision, I’m left with guilt and shame.

What matters is that I did something brave with my poems. I finished something, released it to the world as a thing, an artifact, and by doing so removed it from the possibility of change. If it can’t change, I can stop thinking about it.  (If only I could publish myself, right? Then I could stop thinking about her…)

What matters is the moment of connection with my yoga teacher. I went to yoga that night grudgingly, resenting how long it would take and how crowded it would be. Instead, I was given a gift, perhaps for that night only, that made me happy I went.

Guest Post, Chris Schmidt: What Yoga Has Taught Me About Writing

YogaFor almost a year now, I’ve been an avid student of Bikram Yoga—a system of yoga that Bikram Choudhury developed from traditional hatha yoga techniques, including 26 postures and two breathing exercises in a room preset to 105 degrees and 40 percent humidity.  Four walls, a mat, a towel and my flawed reflection for 90 minutes of moving meditation.

Although Bikram’s studios are often referred to as torture chambers, the hot room has become my own restorative chamber of sorts.  Physically and mentally, it’s done more for me than any doctor I’ve seen or medication I’ve been prescribed to date. Both spiritually and emotionally, I’ve found a deeper level of peace.  And, practically, it’s taught me a few things about writing.

Here’s what I’ve learned so far:

  • Show up.  This is the hardest part about writing.  If I do that, the rest is easy.
  • Stay present in the room.  This is the second hardest part, in my opinion.  Every time I remain in the room when I’m uncomfortable—my humanness exposed—I’m training my mind to adapt to situations beyond my control.
  • Focus on the breath.  When, not if, the fight-or-flight response kicks in, I try to remember to breathe in and breathe out.  Additionally, meditation—repeating a mantra or imagining my Someday beach home—helps me to avoid potentially missing out on that epiphany I’ve been waiting for.
  • Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate.  Although it’s nothing new, the grass is greener where I water it.  It’s called research.  As the famous doctor (Seuss) once said: “The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.” —even if it’s simply on paper.
  • No one can steal your peace.  Make your writing space conducive—to writing.
  • Mind over the matter.  There’s no such thing as a true writer’s block.  Just saying.
  • Remove expectations.  Each time I show up at my pad and paper or laptop, I’m a different person.  I may be surviving on little sleep, worried about a situation outside of my power or I’m in total rock-star, can’t-do-anything-wrong mode.  No matter who I am in the moment, I receive 100 percent benefit as long as I expend 100 percent effort.
  • Eliminate excuses.  I’m responsible for my own writing.  I can’t blame other people or external circumstances for something completely within my control.
  • Every day is a practice, not a perfect.  Realizing this simple truth eliminates the pressure to perform and allows me to push the edge, risk failing and try again.  And again.
  • Eventually—Someday—I’ll achieve final expression.  For me, this means seeing my first novel in print.  And living the [writer’s] life I dream of.

The practice of Bikram Yoga is the only [physical] activity that can be improved upon as we age.  According to Bikram, “You’re never too old, never too bad, never too late and never too sick to start from scratch once again.”  In my book, this goes for writing, too.

Bikram also says that in life you only have to travel six inches—the distance [or journey] from your mind to your heart.  My definition of writing is a marriage between the heart and mind.  And despite where I am in my writing journey, it is a lifelong commitment that continues to grow stronger every time I show up, stay in the room and give it my all.

Guest Blog Post, Elizabyth A. Hiscox: Part of What it Is

(This piece was originally delivered as part of the panel “Yoga & the Life of the Writer” at the 2013 AWP Conference)

It was suggested—perhaps in a sly way to urge us to hit that sacred middle-mark of the AWP Panel between 5 and 10 minutes—that each of us contribute testimonials of 7 minutes or so; quote: “one minute for each chakra.” Coming to yoga practice as I have, which is recently and already invested in a practice of poetry, I thought what you might expect: “too bad about the seven chakras, six would have made such a swell entrance to the form of the sestina.”

This is just to say that I am coming to most of the teaching of a yoga practice through my understanding of verse. So that when it is suggested I might visualize a purplish ball of light, it is not at all unlikely I will think of Williams Carlos Williams’ icebox plums, sweet and cold. I don’t see this as a conflict. It is in translation altered but enriched. There are connections; obvious alliances: the way we are encouraged to take our poetry off the page, carry our embodied mindfulness off the mat. An implicit understanding that boundaries blur and that to begin a poem or a session is to begin again living the practice in that strange and arresting world of the moment.

I was once staffing a function at which the general consensus was that the best verse was that which could be recited with military vigor. After hearing C.D. Wright read from her impressionistic, liminal, experiential, imagistic, voice-heavy, Deepstep Come Shining an indignant audience member asked the poet an interesting and entirely impossible question: “So, if it doesn’t have to rhyme, then what is poetry?” I thought her response graceful. Savvy. It was not reactionary against one who wanted parameters by which to appreciate and condemn, but something along the lines of “I don’t pretend to have a definition, but I can tell you what some other people have said about the art of poetry.” She then presented an eclectic array of possibilities about how one—or many—might get at not defining an art. And what is “yoga and the life of the writer” if it doesn’t rhyme? If it is not simply this pose, this form, this collection of stressed and unstressed moments, how can it feed us or be made valuable? I offer seven non-definitions of the connective tissue:

 

1.

In translation. It begins with breath, with which the history of poetry begins. It is the most basic. It is salvation. Inspiration is not a misnomer. So, thus, as a writer I cast back to that call from an outside source with which to work: my time on the mat is an act not of pure creation, but of translation. Chuparosa: the Spanish for hummingbird. Rose sucker. Does it hum or rose? Yes. The French have a word for the moisture created around inclusions in an omelet. I need that word but know it already in my body. What is found there.

2.

Alice Fulton’s Feeling as a Foreign Language on the table beside my desk. She is gesturing at the content of poetry rather than form alone, that the correct form, rather than being debated for its external merits be the one that allows us to feel something. In a poem. Perhaps elsewhere.

3.

Kathleen Fraser’s Translating the Unspeakable is on the table too. These titles resonate. They are next to each other and close in my mind to this project. And that vibrates. There is field poetics in this book. And in this moment. There is Charles Olson’s “the unit/ the smallest/ there is.” There is the concept that placement in space matters, that proximity matters and the slightest adjustment makes major cognitive shifts possible. I am speaking in analogies. There is the concept that placement in space matters and that the slightest adjustment makes major cognitive shifts possible. Adjust your shoulders, adjust your margins.

4.

I speak to my beginning writing students of the embodied character or moment. I am channeling a bit—something that one of my instructors, Ron Carlson, was wont to say. When students became—and would complain of—(what they viewed as) “mentally exhausted” from the process of creating, Carlson would underline another possible aspect; would emphasize the relation between the actual etymology of “manuscript”—something manual, something built by the sweat of your brow. The connection of your physical body to an abstract concept. I, too, recall Carolyn Forché saying whether you ever go back to the notes you are taking for a poem that the jotting down of them physically, them passing through your body, changes you. It is not merely—and I mean ‘mere’ in the Yeats-ian sense: ‘mere anarchy is loosed’—it is not merely the life of the mind we engage when we write. It is clearly not merely only my hamstrings I go to the mat to limber up.

5.

In a one-of-a-kind erasure book by Mary Ruefle, Now It, there are certain lines of a previous text uncovered or, in light of her technique of obscuring with white-out, left uncovered. One struck me particularly because it included a poetic noun that, like the nightingale, resonates almost prismatically, within poetry: Seamus Heaney’s “Blackberry Picking,” Sylvia Plath’s “Blackberrying,” Robert Hass’Picking Blackberries with a Friend Who Has Been Reading Jacques Lacan,” Galway Kinnell’s “Blackberry Eating.” And yet it undid expectation: the un-covered lines were: “looked for blackberries/ else you would never find the strawberries.” A reaching to a known edge and finding something else beyond that is just as sweet, more vibrant: a new place within you, a new access, a greater access-point.

6.

In a sculpture park outside of Grand Rapids, Michigan is a massive work by Mark di Suvero: Scarlatti. It is situated in an open field and it is—to my eye—doing a forward-bend of immense weight and gravity. Its nonfigurative, inhuman sits-bones thrust beautifully back and to a cool sky. But the wind is moving—almost imperceptibly, but perceive it—moving the enormous steel beams that are the childhood slash of stick-figure arms. So there is stillness and balance without rigidity. Make it new.

Sculpture

 

 

7.

Finally, a line from Permission, an incredible forthcoming collection of poems by Katie Peterson: “The raven lifts/ like having to is part/ of what it is”

Meet The Interns: Mary Richardson

Mary Richardson is a sophomore at Arizona State University and is a student of the Barrett Honors College. She is pursuing a concurrent major in English Literature and European History. She is also a Fiction Reviewer for ASU’s Lux Literary Magazine. Her career aspirations are to work in editing/publishing or to be a professor.

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

I am the Reading Series Coordinator for the magazine, which means I organize readings events that display the works and talents of selected writers/poets.

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

I’m really interested in publishing as a career possibility. Also, literature and poetry are very enriching for me, and I appreciate that this internship is centered around these subjects.

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

I spend a majority of my time running, doing yoga, reading, or writing. It’s also very important to be with my close friends and family.

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

I would be very interested in the Content Coordinator position once I have more experience.

5. Describe one of your favorite literary works.

Wuthering Heights has long been my favorite novel. I’m very intrigued by Emily Brontë’s use of language to present and develop the characters. I’m also interested in how she delves into the concepts of time, memory, and human nature.

6. What are you currently reading?

I recently began One Hundred Years of Solitude.

7. Creatively, what are you currently working on?

I really enjoy writing short stories. Right now I’m in the process of brainstorming a new one.

8. Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

I see myself continuing my current hobbies and interests, while also pursuing new ones. I hope to be part of a community that appreciates the same aspects of life as I do.

Meet the Interns: Gina Rossi, Fiction Editor

Gina Rossi is a junior majoring in Creative Writing.

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

Gina Rossi: As Fiction Editor, my responsibilities mainly involve reading submissions and giving my input on what gets published.

SR: How did you hear about Superstition Review and what made you decide to get involved?

GR: I was looking for a publishing related internship and heard about SR through one of my professors. It seemed like the perfect internship for someone looking to learn more about the publishing field.

SR: What are you hoping to take away from your Superstition Review experience?

GR: I hope to read a lot of great fiction, improve my own writing/interviewing skills, and learn as much as possible about publishing an online literary magazine.

SR: Describe one of your favorite literary or artistic works.

GR: Artistic work would have to be Picasso’s Guernica. I saw all 26 ft. x 11 ft. of it in person and it’s breathtaking, very odd but inspiring. As far as literary work, anything Jane Austen will do.

SR: What are you currently reading?

GR: Being Dead by Jim Crace.

SR: Who would be the Superstition Review contributor of your dreams?

GR: Andrea Avery Decker.

SR: Do you write or create art? What are you currently working on?

GR: I write short fiction. During the school semesters it’s hard for me to give ample amounts time to my personal projects so I’m writing drafts of stories for my classes.

SR: Besides interning for Superstition Review, how do you spend your time?

GR: I travel to San Diego a lot to spend time with my boyfriend. I enjoy photography, specifically black and white film photography that I develop myself. I love to bake/cook, read, learn yoga, and spend time with family.

SR: What is your favorite mode of relaxation?

GR: Ben & Jerry’s and a good classic movie–something Audrey Hepburn.

SR: Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

GR: I’m hoping to be published by then, and happy, definitely happy.