Guest Post: Alissa McElreath, Flying Lessons

Silhouette of small plane against the clouds
Photo by Alissa McElreath

Three weeks ago I stood in a grassy field in Bunn, NC, and wondered – not for the first time since September – how it could be that I was so impossibly far away from my sixteen-year old son. Oh, I could see him: a dark cross moving slowly across a backdrop of fluffy white, but he was some 3,000 feet above me, gliding soundlessly, on his first solo flight.

Solo. Alone. Just a boy and an airplane, the way he must have dreamed it a thousand times over from the day he could first hold a toy plane in his hands and zoom it through the air. He’s worked so hard since he started soaring lessons this past fall. I’ve had ten months to get used to the sight of him in the sky. The first time he flew with an instructor I felt my stomach drop away in a sliding lurch as they took off in tandem with the prop plane. At 3,000 feet the tether was released, and there they were: gliding in graceful loops above me and there was simply nothing I could do.

Standing in that field on that important, incredible, milestone afternoon, I could have burst open with a mixture of pride, terror, and, once he was safely on the ground again (textbook-perfect landing!), an outpouring of relief, but I didn’t. Most amazing of all to me at that moment was not that he had survived this incredible achievement because of course he had done so remarkably well, but that I had. This whole journey, from that first flight to the day I watched my son fly solo, has been one long and obvious metaphor for the process of letting go. It shouldn’t have been much of a revelation to me that day in the field, but it was.

Parents, of course, are very familiar with the bittersweet piling up of milestone after milestone after milestone – familiar with the lump-in-throat choking back of emotions that follows the first steps, the first lost tooth, the first day at school, the first broken heart, the first job, the first driver’s license, the first metaphorical, or literal, spreading of the wings. Writers are also very familiar with the process of letting go – we have to be, or we won’t survive very long. As a teacher, I have to help my creative writing students understand that if they want to succeed, whatever success as a writer inside or outside of the classroom looks like to them, a big part of the journey is about letting go. They may have to steel their hearts and cut loose a beloved character, or passage, or shiny sentence (my students always love it when I pull out the “kill your darlings” quote). They might have to delete pages and chapters, and save certain ideas for some uncertain future time. When they are more confident writers they may send their work out into the big, wide, world but then they will have to let it go, for obsessing about it will drive them mad.

I tell them that sometimes moving forward as a writer can mean letting go of the dream you have for one story, or book, or poem in order to allow another to take root and grow. But I wrestle with this advice even as I give it, because letting go of a dream – even if to allow for room for another – seems fundamentally wrong. If we let go, don’t we risk losing what we need and want the most for our hard work? Yet, it makes sense that we have to let go in order to move forward – if we spend too much time mired stubbornly in any one particular version of our dream, anchored to one spot on the ground, turning around and around in circles, we risk going nowhere.

There was a time this fall when I was ready to chuck it all in – this writing business, that is. I am only now beginning to emerge from a sort of delayed onset mourning over the shelving of my latest book. After acquiring an agent, after two rounds on submission, an almost-offer, a handful of near-misses, I had to let it go, as so many other writers have had to do with their own work. I thought I had handled it all quite well– deluded self-preservation, maybe? The loss suddenly became raw this past year, in ways it hadn’t been initially. Up until very recently I was wallowing in that self-pitying phase of the process that I suspect many writers know well – the one where we hunker down miserably, and declare that we are done with pouring our hearts into stories that no one will read. The one where we want throw away the bits and pieces of writing begun and abandoned, and select and delete the files on our computers (I may or may not know anything about this, mind you) that make up the digital roadmap of a journey to nowhere. I didn’t want to set aside that book. Shelving it felt like beginning again, except several steps back from the place where it had all begun. Somehow, I had become too focused on the outcome and not on what I had learned along the way. I thought about this after asking my son what the best part of flying solo had been for him. He shrugged. Being able to do it, he told me. Using all the stuff I know. Being capable, qualified, and confident, and putting the work and courage and persistence into doing what he loved to do the best. For me, being able to write means I must move past the what could have beens and should have beens and focus on using the stuff I know in order to do what I love the best.

As it turns out, you can let go of things – and people, too – and have them return to you again. You can let go of one dream to make room for a bigger one. You can let go of years of hard work on a favorite book, but know that its spirit is housed in another one just emerging. You can even send your heart some 3,000 feet up into the air and watch it glide effortlessly into view, closer and closer – first a small, impossible shape, until there it is, come back to you again.

 

Contributor Update: Simone Muench

Good morning, everyone! Today, we’ve got a great start to the day with some news about one our past contributors. Simone Muench, whose work was featured in the Poetry section of our 3rd issue, has recently announced that her collection of poetry “Suture,” which she co-authored with poet Dean Rader, has been selected for publication by Black Lawrence Press. You can check out Simone’s work that we featured here, and when you’re done, do yourself the favor of adding “Suture” to your bookshelf by following the link here. Congratulations, Simone!

Buy this book!
The brilliant cover for “Suture” co-authored by past contributor Simone Muench, out now from Black Lawrence Press.

Intern Update: Elijah Matthew Tubbs

A warm welcome on this warm afternoon, everybody! Today, Superstition Review is proud beyond reason to announce that former intern Elijah Matthew Tubbs, who was with us for the Fall of 2015 and the Spring of 2016, was recently featured by the good folks over at Passages North, an annual literary journal sponsored by Northern Michigan University, with his poem titled “In through a Door, out a Window.” Elijah is the founder of ELKE “a little journal,” which you can check out here, and his poem over at Northern Passages can be read here. Our congratulations to Elijah, and to our dear readers, stay posted for further updates on the successes of the staff and contributors of Superstition Review.

Former intern Elijah Matthew Tubbs, whose poem "In through a Window, out a Door" was featured over at Northern Passages.
Former intern Elijah Matthew Tubbs, whose poem “In through a Window, out a Door” was featured over at Northern Passages.

Contributor Update: Jennifer Givhan

Good afternoon, dear readers! We here at Superstition Review are thrilled to announce that past contributor Jennifer Givhan, who was featured in the Poetry section of our 14th issue, has won the 2017 Blue Light Books Prize for her collection “Girl With Death Mask.” Says contest judge Ross Gay “How many times I found myself looking into space, sort of shaken, sort of grasping, turning and turning inside a line or phrase, inside an image or metaphor, inside some devastating music while reading these poems, I do not know. But again and again. Put it like that.  These poems beautifully, convincingly do what I hope poems might–they disrupt what I know, or what I thought I knew. And in that way they invent for me a world.  A world haunted and brutal, yes. But one mended, too, by the love and tenderness and vision and magic by which these poems are made.” The winning collection will be published in 2018 by Indiana University Press, but you can get a taste of Givhan’s work now, by checking out her poem here.

Stay posted for more contributor updates!
Past contributor Jennifer Givhan, whose collection of poetry “Girl With Death Mask” won the 2017 Blue Light Books Prize.

Contributor Update: Victor Lodato

Morning, readers! Today we’ve got a spectacular bit of news: past contributor Victor Lodato, who was featured in the Interviews section of our 8th issue (which can be read here), has published his newest novel, titled “Edgar & Lucy,” out now from St. Martin’s Press. Hailed by the New York Times as a “riveting and exuberant ride,” Lodato’s novel can be purchased here. Do yourself a favor and read the novel Lodato spent ten years in the making, and see for yourself exactly why we here at  Superstition Review think that “Edgar & Lucy” is destined to be your new favorite book.

Buy this book!
“Edgar & Lucy,” the new novel out from St. Martin’s Press by past contributor Victor Lodato.

Contributor Update: Darrin Doyle

Well howdy, readers! This afternoon, Superstition Review is glad to announce that past contributor Darrin Doyle, who was featured in the Interviews section of our 8th issue (which can be read here) and the Fiction section of our 16th issue (which can be read here), has recently released the first album from his rock/folk/karate trio Daryl & the Beans, titled Burnin’ the Eagle, which can be purchased here. The album itself is $8, and all proceeds from the sale of this record go to funding a scholarship for students in the Creative Writing program at Central Michigan University. If you’re so inclined, feel free to up the proverbial ante and pitch a few extra bucks toward this wonderful cause when you purchase the album! Do yourself, and the students of Central Michigan University, a huge favor and purchase Burnin’ the Eagle.

Buy this record!
Burnin’ The Eagle, the debut album from Daryl & the Beans, featuring past contributor Darrin Doyle.

Contributor Update: Anthony Varallo

Hey everybody! We have some great news today that’s been some time in the making: past contributor  Anthony Varallo, featured in the Fiction section of our 5th issue, has a new short story collection titled Everyone Was There, out now from Elixir Press. You can read the title story of the collection here, and when you’re finished, go ahead and grab the rest of the collection at this link hereEveryone Was There was the recipient of the Elixir Press 2016 Fiction Award, and we here at Superstition Review could not be any happier than to have been there along the way to this wonderful accomplishment.

Buy this book!
Everyone Was There, the new collection of short stories out from Elixir Press, written by past contributor Anthony Varallo.

Contributor Update: Kevin Prufer

Greetings, dear readers! We’ve got some tremendous news for you all today: past contributor Kevin Prufer, featured in the Interviews section of our 7th Issue, has a poem in the Spring 2017 issue of The Paris Review, titled “The Translator.” Check it out here, and do yourself the kindness of reading our interview with Kevin here. If you’d like to see more Kevin’s work, go ahead and check out his website, found here. Congratulations, Kevin! And readers, stay posted for more updates on the happenings of the incredible community here at Superstition Review.

Read "The Translator!"
Past contributor Kevin Prufer, whose poem “The Translator” was featured in the Spring 2017 issue of The Paris Review.

Contributor Update: Alison Hawthorne Deming

Hello everybody! Today, we here at Superstition Review are thrilled to announce that past contributor Alison Hawthorne Deming, who read for us back in April of 2011, has just been named Regents’ Professor at the University of Arizona, by the Arizona Board of Regents. To be named a Regents’ Professor is the highest honor that can be bestowed on a faculty member in the university system, and we can think of none more deserving than Alison Hawthorne Deming. You can read the full press release here, and if you’re interested in Alison’s work, check out her most recent publications: a new book of poetry titled”Stairway to Heaven,” out now from Penguin (found here), and her collaboration with photographer Stephen Strom, titled “Death Valley: Painted Light” (found here). Congratulations to Alison and the University of Arizona!

Congratulations!
Past contributor for Superstition Review and newly named Regents’ Professor Alison Hawthorne Deming.

Contributor Update: Tayari Jones

Good afternoon, dear readers! Today, we are thrilled beyond reason to announce that former contributor and fan favorite Tayari Jones has a new novel coming out next year, titled “An American Marriage,” which will be put out by Algonquin Books. Jones has previously penned the novel titled “Silver Sparrow,” and was featured in the Interview section of our 2nd issue here at Superstition Review. “An American Marriage” is available for pre-order here, and the aforementioned interview can be read here. If you’d like to get the news straight from Tayari herself, sign up for her mailing list here.

The stunning cover for “An American Marriage” by Tayari Jones, out next February from Algonquin Books.