Authors Talk: DJ Lee

DJ LeeAuthors Talk: DJ Lee

Today we are pleased to feature DJ Lee as our Authors Talk series contributor. She takes the opportunity to talk with her daughter, Steph Lee, about her creative essay “A Syntax of Splits and Ruptures”. The essay covers the period in which DJ and her daughter were estranged, their reconciliation and, in a broader sense, the complicated relationships between mothers and daughters.

The two discuss the difficulty of writing a personal piece about family, but they acknowledge writing can be a way to process family traumas. DJ considers Steph’s reaction to the essay, as she felt the person in the essay is “another form of me.” After reconciling, DJ felt she needed to publicly share their story through her writing, speaking to “people dealing with this kind of loss, especially of a child.”

DJ also considers the inspiration she found in the earthwork sculpture, Spiral Jetty, built by Robert Smithson in the Great Salt Lake. The art piece, significant to the pair, became an important element in the piece as she constructed the essay “to have a spiral form, to sort of fold back on itself like the relationship between mothers and daughters.” She also considers the idea of “something very beautiful and precious and special being under the surface.” Not only does she find meaning in this inspiring art piece but uses numbers to connect the fragments of her essay in order demonstrate the “ruptures in peoples lives” and how “a fractured relationship” can be made whole.

You can read DJ’s work in Issue 21 of Superstition Review.

Authors Talk: John Clayton

 Today we are pleased to feature author John Clayton as our Authors Talk series contributor. In the podcast, John discusses the subjectivity of memory and the dynamic nature of family as seen in his short story, “Memory Loss.” “Memory Loss” describes the journey of a son to understand the truth of his own experience in the midst of family members attempting to “rewrite the narrative” of their own history. Thus the question is, as John states: “Who is truly distorting the past? Whose memory has gotten ‘lost?'”

John notes that we “don’t remember our lives by means of a clear, objective lens,” and that everything in our lives is seen through the prism of our own subjectivity. He states that “observation is filtered by memory, and memory is always distorted.” However, he concludes by saying that, when authors make the choice to share these distorted and sometimes-painful memories, the memories are “given shape, sweetened, and made tender. The author stands apart from them, and the pain is temporarily assuaged.”

You can read John’s story, “Memory Loss,” in Issue 21 of Superstition Review.

Authors Talk: Margaret Young

Margaret YoungToday we are glad to feature poet Margaret Young as our Authors Talk series contributor. Margaret offers thoughts on her poems, “September Diary, Dreams and Walking” and “Moving On.” She identifies her mother’s absence as well as images and ideas of nature and its non-human elements as recurring characters in both poems. Margaret concludes her talk by discussing the challenge of writing about living family so directly and inviting her father’s poetry into her own work.

Margaret’s poems appear in Issue 14 of Superstition Review.

 

Guest Post, Angie Macri: The Gifts We Give Our Children

My oldest daughter confessed she wanted to study writing in college. I say confess because she struggled with feeling guilty, as if she was supposed to choose something better. I had never encouraged her to pursue this path. “But Mom,” she said, “I grew up drawing between the lines of your poems.” And this was true; all four of my children used my drafts as scrap paper to fashion airplanes, to experiment with shape and color, to publish household newspapers.

In the farmhouse where we moved when I was four, my father built one room full of books, floor to ceiling. It was little—you could touch both walls when you stood in the middle—but it seemed a kingdom. I never realized how hard reading was for my father. He marked up his books, underlining, circling, drawing arrows, writing questions or key words in the margins. I know now this was the way for a first-generation American who never read anything but comic books as he was growing up, who wasn’t taught to read or write critically because it wasn’t thought necessary, to engage the text.

My mother, a reading specialist, never read for pleasure, except with children or when she was studying how to help people learn to read. My oldest child, my daughter, read easy as breathing. My second child, my oldest son, didn’t. My mother gave me a crash course in Reading Recovery, a white board with markers, and a jar of alphabet tiles so we could explore language in a way he liked, with his hands. He and I spent hours in the recliner after school, taking turns reading with each other. He turned a corner thanks to a book my mother gave us, the first of the Henry and Mudge series, where he met a child who felt lost sometimes. The other night, as he was struggling to finish To Kill a Mockingbird for his pre-AP English class, I asked, “Would you like me to read a few chapters to you?” To my surprise, he said yes, and he listened, just like before, suddenly all eyes, what seemed a jumble brought clear.

My first two children becoming young adults leads me to look at the second two with even more wonder. My second son, in the seventh grade, just scored a 32 on the science and English portions of the ACT. He wants to be a writer. For him, writing seems an adventure, a puzzle to put together, but I suspect that like his oldest sister, he sees it as a way to change the world. The youngest, almost nine, began reading her older siblings’ books as a way to connect with them. Calvin and Hobbes, Magic Tree House, 39 Clues, Harry Potter, Alex Rider, from these, she designs her own games. But her favorite is any kind of mythology, old stories that try to help us understand the human condition. “Mom,” she asked, “what would you do if Zeus was after you?”

What I wanted for my children was for their world to be better than the one I grew up in. But we aren’t working on eradicating the biases in our systems. We aren’t focusing as a whole on curing diseases or developing new technology that is more conscious of our environment. Instead, our society yearns to regain a glory and a simple time that never existed. We feel so afraid that we try to achieve invulnerability rather than realizing that we all, as mortal creatures, are vulnerable, and that this gives us a common ground from which we might truly see each other and move forward together.

What I have given my children, I hope, is what my parents gave me, a kind of faith they can return to no matter what the world is. That in the beginning, was the word. That little books hold big ideas. That writing has revolutionized the world before, and can again. That literacy brings loving and thoughtful voices into our lives especially when love or thought seems far away. That stories encourage, with the weight of what that means: stories don’t make a problem go away, but they can inspire you for what you must face.

I hope that in time, my children know I tried to change the world for the better for them as best I could, when I worked outside of the house as a teacher, in the choices I made as I raised them, in each piece I wrote. I kept writing and reading to explore, to realize, to defy, and to advocate as I believe we are intended, with love for each other. I took a chance and joined the chorus of voices, in large part because I loved my children. This one word, love, arches over chaos. Love, a simple commandment so hard to keep, is our salvation.

Authors Talk: Ruben Rodriguez

Today we are pleased to feature author Ruben Rodriguez as our Authors Talk series contributor. Ruben discusses the three poems which were published in Issue 18 of Superstition Review.

Ruben developed the poems from his memoir in verse. His poems are prose based and explore family memories from his childhood. He says of the poems, “The poems are meant to examine my coming of age, amidst my mother’s decline.” He talks of the way that family stories can become legends. The explanations that Ruben speaks about add another level to the beautiful imagery found in his poetry. Ruben plans to continue writing in this vein saying, “Moving forwward, I hope to write a couple hundred of these prose poems and whittle them down into a manuscript length.” 

You can access Ruben’s poems in Issue 18 of Superstition Review.

 

Authors Talk: Chelsea Dingman

Chelsea DingmanToday we are pleased to feature author Chelsea Dingman as our Authors Talk series contributor. In her podcast, Chelsea discusses her creative process and how it “almost always stems from reading and discussion.”  She also reveals that she loves “that poetry lives in uncomfortable, uncertain circumstances…There’s no resolution required in a poem.”

Chelsea then discusses the background and inspiration behind each of her poems in Issue 18, as well as her forthcoming collection Thaw. After discussing her other projects, like her thesis on her grandfather’s immigration experience and her current manuscript centered on the female body, Chelsea ends her podcast by repeating her earlier sentiment: “I am interested in the uncertainty of those moments and asking questions, every question. I still have so many.”

You can access Chelsea’s poems in Issue 18 of Superstition Review.

Authors Talk: Aaron Reeder

Aaron ReederToday we are pleased to feature author Aaron Reeder as our Authors Talk series contributor. In his podcast, Aaron provides insights into his poems, “Untangling” and “Failed Poem for My Mother,” both published in Issue 18. He reveals that, when he was writing these poems, he was interested in the systems people fall back on to deal with trauma and grief, specifically the system of family.

Aaron also discusses his poems in the context of communication and conversation; both of his poems involve issues in communication, specifically with the speakers’ parents. For example, in “Failed Poem for My Mother,” Aaron shares, “ultimately what I think the speaker wants is that…these two individuals, the mother and the son, would be on the same plane.”

You can access Aaron’s poems in Issue 18 of Superstition Review.

Guest Post, Kristen Arnett: “I Come From a Family” Writing and Rewriting Familial Truth in Fiction

These words open our work, even if they’re not explicitly stated. Our fiction holds characters that come from all types of homes. We conjure blended families, multi-generational households, ones that contain fostered and adopted children; we’ve got queer families, racially diverse backgrounds, and created homes with loved ones of our character’s own choosing. There’s no limit to what we might come up with. Our characters are defined by these families. Their backgrounds tell us how they overcome crisis and trauma, or how they ultimately succumb to it. Even if we’re not writing about a character’s family, it’s always there, lurking in the background like a horrible upcoming family reunion. Characters come with domestic baggage.

Here’s where things get tricky. The intimate backgrounds of these characters can often extend from our own. Sometimes this is on accident – perhaps a family legend falls into the narrative; the time your father angrily emailed KFC because he hated their new commercials – but it can also be done with malice. Conjuring stories gives us a wild kind of freedom, and how nice would it be to get that thing on paper that’s been bothering you for years?

paper-family-1313628At a recent Tin House workshop, Dorothy Allison talked about writing truth in fiction. She discussed its hardness and its necessity; told us all to “write like a hammer.” These realities struck the audience silent – we’re all attempting to create something greater than ourselves in our work, something that will stand as testament that we were here and took up space. Dorothy expounded on this concept, shouting that it didn’t matter if something honest was hard to hear, because “it’s true, therefore I have the right to scare the shit out of you with it.” Everyone nodded in agreement; after all, the scary stuff is where we find the real meat of our work. After saying this, however, her tone softened. She stared out at the audience, made eye contact with nearly everyone, and said, “but truth is not a defense against destroying people.”

I went home from Tin House and thought about this a lot. I write fiction and essays, and I admit that sometimes the line between those two gets a little smudged. So much of what I am is because of who I was; the people who raised me and what my home was like. I write about Florida, I write about my queerness, and I write about the church. I write to know who I am now, and I keep writing because I am never the same person as I was the day before. My family is part of that process because I am incapable of maintaining an identity separate from them. It would be tantamount to carving up my body and saying, well, I am mostly just this thigh meat and the neck part. It can’t be done.

Fiction isn’t truth, but it contains elements of it. How we write is informed by our environment. I look to my parents and their traditions, and sometimes I say, there’s fodder here for something that once hurt me. Writing about it helps me look at all the sides of these issues – I can look at how they informed me, but I can also better see my own role in them: how I dealt with them at the time, what I took away from those experiences. Coming back from the work shop, I look at these instances in my writing and ask: what’s the ultimate cost of disclosing them?

Dorothy closed out her work shop panel by telling us that “you are trying to put something on the page worth what it cost you to put it on the page.” For myself, I took this to mean that my writing is not a way to exorcise demons. It is a way to confront established ideas and reassess them. In my quest for honesty in my work, I am saying that I require honesty from myself before I expect it from anyone else. I am saying that in order to write, I must look at the world I inhabit and understand that I am not the god of it. I live here, but so does everyone else. What I must do in my writing is take a hard look at how I write about family and decide if it rings true; not insert harmful narrative because I want to push it away from me. That’s the most truthful way for me to write fiction.

And yes, my father did email KFC – but he won’t mind that I told you about it. Just try not to bring up the Colonel; he’s still a little touchy about it.

Guest Post, Meg Tuite: Christmas Twinkies

Meg TuiteChristmas was filled with a different light that didn’t filter through the rest of the year, sent electric shivers through the complacent houses up and down the block. Anything was possible. We made the pilgrimage to pick out the exquisite tree as soon as December hit. My siblings and I argued over which tree was the tree until Dad said ‘This is it.’ Then the guy who worked there, cut off the bottom while Mom collected boughs to place on the mantel and around a candle on the dining room table. The tree was strapped to the top of the station wagon and everyone was smiling, even Dad. We spent that night decorating, with Mom leading the way. The pulsating large, multi-colored lights blasted around the picture window and the tree until nothing was stagnant in our house. Our faces flickered on and off in flaming reds, blues, greens and yellows. Mom was somebody else during the holidays, a treasure chest filled with some kind of happiness and brilliance that blazed out of her being. She would put on the Dylan Thomas scratchy album “A Child’s Christmas in Wales,” and we’d all hover close by with the throbbing neon bulbs illuminating our faces as we listened to that lilting waver of a voice that sounded like crashing waves against rocks from a distant planet.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QjCJd9Bc-qA

Our neighbors and my older brother and sister went to the midnight mass, smoked cigarettes and drank whatever they could steal from their parent’s stash that night, while the rest of us sat in the living room, stared into a space that believed everything could change like the glistening snow and the charged air and rainbows that rearranged the tragic misery of that room. Mom chugged her glass of wine and laughed, sat back in her recliner as the deceptive varnish of fresh snow and glittering lights through the night air wedded all of us to a holiday season packed with expectation.

The brutal realm of day-to-day existence had multitudes dissociated, walking back and forth through malls with bags full of ridiculous crap they would never think of buying at any other time of year, unless they were under the gun, which ‘twas the season. Thank god for wrapping paper. Even a package of Hanes underwear looked much better in a box under a bow.

It was a state of siege that had me engulfed in that anticipatory surge of life that came with sledding, snowball fights, transient lights and music. Tearing open presents always rocked more than what was beneath the ribbon and paper. It was this belief that inside one of those presents was the promise of another life. The reality was that a week later, snow was gray and yellow, gifts were forgotten, and parents, school, neighborhood and myself were still there.

And so what about the special delectables? I’d always assumed Christmas snacks would come through with what they promised and why wouldn’t I? They had never let me down. Yes, I sat in the lunchroom when I was eight, psyched that instead of a few Fig Newtons glued to each other, my mom had packed an exquisite Twinkie for the holiday. Now that was golden!  The outside was peachy and euphoric in the phallic shape of dessert ecstasy, but when I took that first bite of a third of the submarine, I realized something was wrong. It was grainy like when you get smacked by a wave in the lake and come up with sand in your mouth. The thing about a Twinkie was that when you bit into it your eyes close automatically. It was only for one sense to absorb. The sad part was that when I opened my eyes to look at the two-thirds left of my spongy delicacy, I was face to face with the color green puffing out of the center. Not a pastel green or an olive green, but the Christmas evergreen that had no pretense of hiding its ornamental beauty from anyone. I was positive I turned a green that gave away the Irish half-breed of me as I imagined what the rest of the tasty treat was doing now to my stomach and my brain. I was sweating and nauseated when Maggie Felsteder asked if she could finish the remnants of the Twinkie I was stuffing into my brown paper bag. I never liked Felsteder. I started to feel a little bit better at that point. Yeah, sure, I said, as I launched the torpedo at her from the unbitten end.  Merry Christmas.

Guest Blog Post, Jacob Oet: Cancer

Jacob OetMy grandmother died on December 15, 2003.

            To what extent is digital technology an alienating influence?

A Google search for “Gabriela Nudelman Hamden Connecticut” yields nothing pertinent but a webpage from Mylife.com, where another Gabriela Nudelman had set up a profile.

This is not my grandmother. My grandmother does not exist, according to the internet. She is null.

This is what society has to say about Gabriela Nudelman: She was a civil engineer. She was a Russian immigrant. She was Jewish. She was the wife of David Nudelman and the mother of my father and my aunt. She was buried in a Jewish cemetery in New Haven and her gravestone is in the shape of the Hebrew symbol “Chai.”

It means “living.”

This is what I have to say about a woman who grew stranger after her death: She was adopted. She wore a Chai on a golden chain around her neck until she died. She used to take me to work with her. She worked in a cubicle. I had my first experience with computers at her work. Her screensaver was “Deep Space.” It showed thousands of white dots blurring out from the center of the screen, which were meant to represent stars and the movement of a spaceship. Now that I think of it, “Deep Space” is emblematic of our extreme isolation in this digital age. I played my first computer game on her office-computer. It was pin-ball, the sci-fi deep-space pin-ball that has always been a facet of a Windows operating system.

She was killed by ovarian cancer, discovered too late to prevent.

This is what Google has to say about ovarian cancer: “Ovarian cancer is cancer that starts in the ovaries. The ovaries are the female reproductive organs that produce eggs.”

This description is difficult to read. Why? It is painfully disconnected. Like my own reaction to my grandmother’s death.

I was tough. I never cried, not once. I don’t remember the burial. Was I even there? My father cried in front of her grave one year later. It was wonderful and frightening.

I hated her after she died. I always thought that she was disappointed in me. My father kept her picture on his computer desk next to the living room. It was a black and white, candid setting, but she smiled as if posing, nervous and warm, as if caught in mid-twitch. I saw her in my dreams, but I didn’t want to. She was manifested in my poems. Truly, inextricable from my life story. Here are two of my many poems about my grandmother:

In December

Stuck in the blue other house,

my grandmother, croaking like floor,

said what a big boy.

I was.

Night my parents left

us in the house on the lake,

the air terribly.

Hands pressed dark for nothing.

My father’s face the next

morning and I knew

cold.

Blue the end of sound.

He said she didn’t open her eyes.

I said the entire body when that happens.

The head has an empty room.

 

Touch

In my father’s first house we are having dinner.

The dead grandmother

suddenly beside me.

She reaches over plates to touch faces.

When she touches my cheek

it’s cold.

When she left I was too young.

To be touched in a dream

is better.

 

The only way I can be “real” is through my writing. Who wants to be real? Raise your hand. The truth is, we were born into this digital age. And it sucks.

In ten years, I have not cried over my grandmother, except in dreams. Tears are a rare commodity. The last time I cried was one month ago. One of my favorite websites is Wouldhavesaid.com. Anonymous users upload letters of regret or thanks, addressed to entities who will never read them.

This is what the website has to say about itself: “Whether the person has passed away, contact was lost, or the strength needed at the time was lacking, this is a chance to say what you have always wanted them to know.” It is a good example of how the internet can be used for good, for storytelling, to evoke reality.

There is one letter on this site that I repeatedly read for catharsis, late at night, because it makes me cry. It is titled “Mr. Biggs.”

In it, Vincent, age 19, writes an apologetic but resolutely thankful letter to his first dog, the twelve-inch-tall and unappreciated friend who always loved him.

It is somewhat similar to my story. Ten years have passed. The writer gains a fulfilling understanding of the relationship through the catharsis of story-telling. He must have told the story ten times in his mind before it cleared enough for the page.

I’m telling this story: Baba Gala died of ovarian cancer. She lives again in this telling, but only so long as I am speaking.

I’m repeating this story, so you don’t forget it. So I don’t forget it.

Baba Gala lives. She dies. I change. I remain.

 

When revising a poem, I must distance myself from the emotion, to better understand the poem’s technical weaknesses.

This is well and good for the writer. Going over and over this story in my head for ten years, I have come to understand it better. But for my audience, or for any audience, once is simply not enough.

Gabriela Nudelman was my Yin; digital technology, my Yang—dualities in equilibrium; without the one, chaos. This is the difference between digital technology and story-telling. Digital technology seeks to inform. Facts cannot bring back my grandmother. Stories make her seem to live. Information is not evocation.

Computers are just another facet of a cancer which has been killing us since the beginning of recorded history. This cancer is the cancer of the once-told story, the story that is forgotten almost before it is read, and the story that entertains us only as long as it informs us.

Our lives are changing. I’m still telling this story. Our story. This story. Of a life, of the death of a loved one, and its emotional yield.

Breathe. Everyone. In, out.

Our lives are changing. I’m still telling this story.