Editorial Preferences in Poetry: Mary Lee

My definition of a “good poem” is expanding and shifting every day. As I continue to read, write, and learn poetry, I find that my understanding and appreciation for the art also continues to grow exponentially.

 

I believe that the poem, at its very best, is a discovery. I find that the best poems are invitations to see an object, an idea, the self, the very world, in a different light. Gaston Bachelard describes poets as individuals who are unafraid to take even the corners of a house and bring them to life. I am interested in the corners, in the ordinary that is explored and made meaningful through poetry. The unexpected image, the lyrical line, the compelling thought, the voice that flows familiar—these are all ways in which I am immediately drawn into a poem. I leave the poem not quite the same as when I entered it, and the poem still never quite leaves me.

 

I also believe the poem is an intellectual pursuit. I believe that art is meant to be constantly challenged within its own forms and notions—Dean Young says that we must “disrupt the habitations of use”. There is incredible importance in this, but ultimately, it should still be done well. As writers, we are always faced with this question in the revision process: did I say this well? Is this worthy of the page? Whether it is the utilization of form and technique, or the challenge of such through the experimental, our choices on the page should reflect our investment in the craft. I am interested in poems that are well-crafted and conscious of technique, but more importantly I am interested in poems that are meaningful enough to make the technique worthy. To quote Mary Ruefle, “It is not what a poem says with its mouth, it’s what a poem does with its eyes.”

 

Ultimately, I am always drawn to the honesty of a poem. The poem that is unafraid to explore simultaneous vulnerability and strength, authority and hesitancy, directness and tenderness. As Dorianne Laux writes in her poem “Tonight I Am in Love”: “I am wounded with tenderness for all who labored / in dim rooms with their handful of words / battering their full hearts against the moon.” Like Laux, I too appreciate poets and their ability to constantly bare themselves open through words.

Bio:

Our poetry editor for Issue 19, Mary Lee.
Our poetry editor for Issue 19, Mary Lee.

Mary Lee is completing her Bachelor’s degree in English at Arizona State University. She is in Barrett, The Honors College and is currently the poetry editor for Superstition Review.

 

Editorial Preferences in Nonfiction: Sophie Graham

When I read I want to be surprised- I want to see something new in the story that I have never seen before. I find myself drawn to more modern writing styles, the riskier and the more artful the better. How the author uses words to describe places, things, people, ideas or feelings is critical. Without art and skill in how a writer describes the concepts of the story, the writing falls flat as I am unable to really imagine what the writer is trying to describe and I can’t engage in the text. The writer should use words in a style unlike what I normally see, so the piece is entirely unique. The idea behind the words should be just as creative and original as the words themselves- I want to be lead to reflect on the piece long after I have finished reading. Presenting some new question, idea, or experience for me to read about always gets my attention.

In nonfiction, the author reigns supreme. You’re the main character of your own story in nonfiction, and it revolves around you. When I read a nonfiction piece, I want as much information and detail about the author as possible from every sense. The more detail and description the author gives in a story the more able I am to fully reflect on the story they just told me. The descriptions should not only be affective and creative- but artful, almost poetic. The more beautiful a piece is to read, and the longer I find myself thinking about it after I finish it, the better I judge the piece to be.

Bio:

Headshot for Sophie Graham
Sophie Graham, Nonfiction Editor for Superstition Review

Sophie Graham is a junior at Arizona State University double majoring in English Literature and Sociology, and minoring in Geography. She is currently the Nonfiction Editor for Superstition Review. She is also a Writing Tutor at the ASU Tutoring Center. Upon Graduation, she plans to pursue her interests in social work and education.

Intern Post, Ofelia Montelongo: What You Make is Your Power

This semester, I had the opportunity to be a trainee for Superstition Review, and when they announced a group of interns would be traveling to LA to AWP, I didn’t hesitate to join them in their adventure. Even though I wasn’t 100% sure what AWP really was, I knew I heard of it before in some other conference. I’ve heard that thousands of writers go there to meet, to talk, and to share their love for written words.
AWP

For someone who can barely pronounce “literary,” going to AWP was more than a fun and glamorous trip to LA. This was a great opportunity to interact with different writers and publishers from all over the world. I had a lot of firsts: it was my first experience with Uber (great storytellers). My first time in my 30’s sharing another room with girls I barely knew, who at the end of the first day I was lucky enough to call them my friends. When you share a passion like writing, becoming friends is easy, unproblematic, and so natural that it seems a little magical. And life sent me the best roommates I could ever ask for, Jess, Alexis, and Leslie! And I realized that when a passion unites us, age doesn’t matter.

Awp Panel

It was also my first time in a book fair with more than 800 exhibitors. Even though at the beginning, my mind compared it with the Phoenix Women’s Expo, but with authors, literary magazines, and MFA programs, it soon became overwhelming and a little challenging to see it all. However, I was still able to learn new things. I learned there is a bilingual press here at ASU, how did I not know this? I obtained information on MFA and literary presses from around the globe. Also, from the book fair I got different freebies, including enough tote bags to give away to my entire family, and a t-shirt that I was able to use in a non-planned 5k race on Saturday morning. I also was able to start my own pin collection.

AWP Pins

One of the best parts of AWP (besides having the compulsive feeling of wanting to buy every book, and wondering if the next J.K. Rowling is in the same room) was being able to represent Superstition Review in different ways: at the table giving information about the magazine, being engaged on Twitter documenting our AWP experience, and basically at every moment during the conferences interacting with people. The greatest thing about representing Superstition Review is realizing that I’m luckier than I thought I was, being able to work with Trish, founder and pretty much the soul of the magazine who has attended 13 different AWP conferences, is rewarding and inspiring. I was only for a few hours at the s[r] table, but during that time I had multiple people come by and ask about her; they wanted to meet her, they were excited and honored to be published in Superstition Review, they were grateful to be read and heard.

Besides the book fair, there were more than 500 readings and panels.  One of the advantages of having multiples panels to choose from is that you can invest your time in topics that really matter to you and contribute with your own ideas.  One of the panels I attended to, was Latinos in Lotusland, where I was able to share my opinion about Frida Kahlo not being “cool” in Mexico anymore and I shared my opinion on staying true to our own voices and to not follow what it is “cool” on the market. And my favorite part of this is that I was heard. I was reminded that even though I come from a different culture and I speak another language, I have a story worth telling and that I should never stop my writing spirit.

AWP Bag  Awp Program

For many writers, AWP is a reunion; an excuse to see each again, for me AWP was a warm welcome to the literary world. It was like I was being told, “Welcome Ofe, welcome to the literary world where you really belong.”

See you in Washington, DC!

Intern Post, Amanda Strusienski: Taking Detours and Finding my Path Post-Grad

ROad TripI love road trips, especially unexpected ones. Recently, I decided to take a drive to check out the wildflowers that bloom around Phoenix in springtime. I had planned on just driving the 60 to Globe, but I ended up veering toward Superstition Mountain and Canyon Lake. Honestly, I wasn’t sure where I was heading as I drove down the road; I was letting the road lead me. It was an adventure that brought me to a quiet trail in the middle of the desert.

Much like my random road trip, my journey toward a career post-graduation has been filled with many different twists and turns down unexpected roadways. After returning from a post-graduation trip I had expected to land the perfect job. After all a degree promises a good job, right? Yeah, my reality check came in a little late. Like many new graduates I struggled with finding a “career” job. Through a series of events I ended up working three part-time jobs for roughly six months until a full-time one was presented. It was a librarian for an elementary school—a far cry from the editor or writer position I had desired.

Writing, by this time I’d almost forgotten what that was. Following graduation I had started two different blogs, both of which had a scattering of posts. It was as though college had removed the desire to write. The pleasure I used to feel when presented with a blank page was gone. Somewhere along the line the writer in me had disappeared.

So where was I to find my inspiration and desire again? Ironically, it was as an elementary school librarian. Before this job I hadn’t read children’s literature since I was a child. I found myself in the midst of book awards and authors unknown to me. In this position I instructed 31 classes per week, kindergarten through 6th grade. The lessons I presented varied in nature, but my favorites were the author studies, genre studies, and book awards. I had the opportunity to explain the difference between fiction and nonfiction. The best was discussing authors and finding what had been the inspiration of Mo Willems or Judy Blume. Though a different form of literature, I still had the chance to learn from these authors and teach it. That was the best. Being able to add a dimension to the lessons I presented because I knew what a writer thought, or could explain the writing process.  Along the way I found my love of literature grow and a desire to use my skills in the education field. I am so grateful for my time in the library because I found my passion for education.

A few months ago I was offered a position as a curriculum coordinator for the University of Phoenix. Given that this was the opportunity for a career position I was given the difficult task of leaving my little library for a “career” job.  It took nearly two years for me to land this position, but now I find myself using skills I gained with my English degree, such as research, proofreading, and analyzing text. I’m also fortunate that I help design education courses for teachers.  Additionally, I’m now doing freelance work for Green Living Arizona magazine; it’s wonderful seeing my name in print after all this time.

When I left the library my coworker told me that in her seven years she had never seen a librarian get the students as excited about books as they had with me. She also added that I got them interested in books that they never checked out. That was such a compliment to me. I’m convinced that my love of literature and writing was so evident that many of my 800+ students caught the same desire. I can only hope the desire will last as they progress through school.

Just like picking the random road to drive down, my road to a career has had similar twists, and detours. The road has been challenging and confusing on occasions, yet it has held the tenants of any true story. A professor told me the best stories are the ones where the characters face nothing but challenges, that those are the stories that we all want to read. Perhaps that’s part of my story, to not give in, despite the challenges. Maybe it’s cliché—but maybe it’s the truth that can strengthen us on all the roads we travel.

Intern Post, Kelly Vo: How Many Revisions Are Too Many?

howmany?

 

 

 

 

Let me clarify something first. My definition of revision:
Revision
[ri-vizh-uh n]
Noun
1. The act of completely revamping a previous version of a story.
2. When God looks down after creating the earth for six days and says, “Nope. Not so much.” And so He erases days two through six and starts again at day one. The general concept of creation wasn’t bad; it was everything that came after that was wrong.

Please understand that when I say revision, I don’t mean small edits. I mean that I trashed my previous story and started with a blank slate. That’s a revision in my world.

So, how many revisions are too many? I have asked myself this question countless times over the last six years. Six years. That number sounds frightening when I stop and realize that I’ve been working on the same story for over half a decade. Okay, so it’s not really the same story. In fact, in many respects it’s completely unrecognizable. But in my heart, it’s the same story.

Here’s how my novel began. It was my final semester of college, and I was on the top of my writing game. I wrote a short story as an assignment for my Advanced Fiction Writing course, and BAM, there it was—my future novel. Set in our world and a fantasy world, it was light-hearted, fun, meant for children, and I loved it. My classmates loved it too. And I thought, “I have the idea; that was the hard part, now to finish it. No problem!”

Two years later, college was long behind me and I hadn’t touched my story since graduation. I had thought about writing. I even broke it out now and then, but never with serious intent. So it sat, dormant but ready to be completed.

Then came NaNoWriMo 2010, and I decided to seriously attempt it. But my story couldn’t stay the same because I wasn’t the same. Suddenly within one month, it transformed from a child’s tale into a young adult novel. It was no longer light-hearted, but dark and complicated. And it was the beginning of a long journey of which I’m still caught in the middle.

Since NaNo 2010, I have revised my story over five times—until settling on an adult urban fantasy novel that’s still in the works. In some cases, my drafts have reached over 100,000 words. But inevitably, with every iteration, I reach a point where I scratch the entire thing. Whether I’m halfway through, a quarter of the way through, or even 75 percent completed, I always get to a chapter, a scene, or a character revelation where I get stuck.

Now, you might be thinking, “So, you get stuck. Figure it out and get back to work.” Well, I would love to do that. Unfortunately, when I get stuck, it’s because I find myself in a corner and even if I can, somehow, write myself out, that corner reveals something to me—that the story is not what I thought it was meant to be. Whenever I reach that point, I take a deep breath, shut my laptop, and make the decision to start over from word one and day one.
The amazing thing is, each time, my story has become better and better—more intricate and better thought out. The unfortunate aspect is, I have wasted so much time and scrapped so many stories. I have enough writing for two, if not three, books sitting on my computer, and yet I still continue to revise. At this point I fear I’ll never have a completed story, but I’m not sure how to fix it.

Can too much pickiness be a bad thing? Should I be more easily satisfied, or have each of my revisions been necessary to find the true story—wherever it is hiding?

I have to admit, there is a lot of frustration involved. I know the story is there, ready and waiting to be told, but where is it and how do I get it on paper?

When writing this blog, I asked myself the same question, “How many revisions are too many?” This is the fifth iteration of my blog, and as I write this sentence, I wonder if I’ll get to the next sentence or the next paragraph and decide, “No, this wasn’t the blog waiting to be told. I need to try again.”

Have you been here and faced these same struggles? How did you finally decide enough was enough, or are you still struggling like me?

For this blog at least, I’ve decided to suck it up and say, “Enough is enough.” I guess, you, my readers, will have to let me know if I made the right decision. And that’s the crux of the matter. At the end of the day, it’s not up to me. I could write the story that I know, I know, is the right story, but I’m the writer, not the reader. When all is said and done, the quality of my story, its effectiveness, and the joy it brings, is not only up to me. It’s up to you.

So be kind, dear reader. We pour our hearts and souls into our work and yet we are never fully satisfied, not until our writing makes it to you. When you read, remember that in your hands you not only hold the story you’re reading, but the endless revisions that helped it take shape. You can tell us if we did enough, if our writing passes muster, and that too many revisions were worth it in the end.

So, what do you think? How many revisions are too many?

S[R] Interns Attend UMOM Read-To-Me Night

SR at UMOMThis semester, a handful of the Superstition Review interns attended one of UMOM’s weekly Read-To-Me nights, and I was lucky enough to be there.

UMOM is the largest homeless shelter in Arizona, located in our very own downtown Phoenix. Their mission is to provide homeless families and individuals with safe shelter and supportive services including classes and daycare in an effort to assist the residents in reaching their greatest potential. UMOM aims to break the cycle of homelessness by teaching their residents how to grow as members of society. The Read-To-Me night that we attended is a program that they’ve designed to break the cycle of illiteracy among the children of these families.

We walked in not knowing what to expect. A then vacant room would soon be filled with tables of books for volunteers to read to the children living at the UMOM center, an old hotel in Phoenix that has been reverted into housing for families in need of assistance and guidance. Every Tuesday night the recreation room at UMOM is converted into a makeshift library where children can come pick out books for volunteers to read to them. There are picture books and storybooks for the beginning reader to about the middle school aged reading level. At the end of the night the children are allowed to take three books with them to help build their own personal libraries and reading habits.

Before the children came, the program director went over a few helpful tips for the night. “Don’t be let down if you get dumped,” she said, “It’s nothing personal.” We all laughed and before we knew it there were children everywhere picking up books and partnering with readers. Some wanted to read, and others wanted to be read to; other children simply went around collecting books from different series for their collections of Goosebumps or The Magic Tree House.

I tried more than a few times to sit one of the children down to be read to, but it seemed like most of them had other plans. As I waited for a child to ask me to read to him, I marveled over the spectacle in front of me. The room that had once been empty and silent was now alive with people picking through books and turning through pages. Even though most of us had stock piled the books we remembered and loved from our own childhoods, the children presented us with the books that they wanted to explore. Obviously, this was not the first rodeo for many of the children. It was they who held the reins in the literary roundabout. Friends were made over books and memories, and the shared smiles on the faces of the volunteers and children alike showed the true magic that can only be found with one’s nose stuck in a book.

After about fifteen minutes of waiting, one of the directors asked if I had any experience with young children and if I would mind going into the nursery. “Sure, I guess,” I told him. No, I did not have any experience with young children, and no, I had no idea what I was doing, but I figured I would help in any way they needed. They were the experts after all.

I left the recreation room and went back to the nursery where about eight young children under the age of five sat playing with three older women. I was apprehensive at first, but as soon as I entered the tiny room a young boy greeted me with a toy fire truck ready to play. I sat on the floor and pushed the truck around with him and tried my best to keep his attention, but sure enough he soon got bored with me and another child was ready to play.

After a while I found myself at the table coloring with a young girl. She was not rowdy or unruly like the boys, but rather she was calm and sure of herself. “Why don’t you sit here,” she said patting the small chair next to her. I was sure that if I sat down I would break the chair, but I more or less crouched down steadily next to her. She was playing with an ancient toy, a blue, plastic turntable that you tape paper plates to and hold markers over as it turns. Most of the plates were what you would expect from a child aged four or younger, but this young girl kept a steady hand and drew solid circles with many different colors. To say the least, I was quite impressed. We were having a full conversation on colors that led to the ocean. She moved the turntable away and grabbed a piece of paper. “Let me show you,” she said. She proceeded to draw a seal, as she told me, and I colored in the waves above its head.

It was at that moment, thinking about how smart this girl seemed to be, that I realized how truly sorry I felt. I was born into a family that was able to send me to a private elementary school that I by no means deserved. I was told that I could be anything I wanted, and encouraged to dream. I had a backyard in a safe neighborhood that bordered the forest, and I was able to play everyday, and grow and dream. It was all I knew at her age, but here she was, this little girl, smart as could be, funny and sociable. Surely she was smarter than I was at that same age. But who was telling her to dream, and where were those dreams allowed to grow? She was four years old and growing up in a shelter, and this was not a life with which I was familiar. Here I had been given most everything in my life, and I knew that she was going to have to work much harder for it all.

When I said goodbye, I knew that it was going to be the first and last time I would ever see her, and I wished her the best. I wished that she’d find her way and someone would tell her that she was smart and could do anything she ever wanted, just like all those people that told me when I was young. And then I was happy to know that at least she was safe and had a roof over her head, and that the people of UMOM were taking steps towards the betterment of the lives of these children and their parents.

So, reader, if you ever get the chance, I highly recommend volunteering at a Read-To-Me night, and if you are not able, please visit their website to learn more ways that you can help. They are always in need of donations, and since the children are allowed to take three books home each week, UMOM is always in need of more books for the children to read.

I want to thank the people of UMOM for giving me and the other interns of Superstition Review the opportunity to volunteer with them, and I wish them a wonderful holiday season.

Guest Post, Sydni Budelier: Superstition [Review] Collaborates with Combs High School Creative Writers

Last fall, Superstition Review initiated a collaboration with Combs High School that brought S[R] interns face to face with some of San Tan Valley’s most ambitious high school creative writing students. This semester, that collaboration continues.

SRCombs1Since the spring of 2013, Jess Burnquist’s creative writing class has almost doubled in size, presumably becoming one of the more popular class choices for seniors looking for creative expression and exposure to literature. Word must be getting out that reading and writing is cool. Or that literary magazines are. Aside from honing their craft, these students are responsible for producing their high school’s online literary magazine, IMPRINT.

The work published in IMPRINT is not limited to those taking the creative writing class. Anyone attending CHS is welcome to submit work under an extensive array of categories including poetry, fiction, music, memes, visual arts, and photography. Yes. You read that right. Memes. They’re taking the lit mag to a whole new level, showcasing how brevity paired with familiar images can transcend language barriers and tell stories and jokes.

SRCombs2Needless to say, Superstition Review was ecstatic about meeting the students behind such an innovative publication. In an organized discussion panel, interns aimed to compare and contrast the production methods of IMPRINT and s[r] and provide insight to students on everything from marketing to getting submissions to making editorial selections.

As each of our interns stood up to speak about their roles and how they contribute to Superstition Review’s final product, they offered advice to students who may wish to become a part of the literary community one day and confirmed that at the core of all great projects is a hardworking and flexible team. S[R] poetry Editor, Abner Porzio recalls one of the questions he was asked:

Q. What if you  like one of the poems a lot but none of the other editors do? What happens then?

A. When I vote yes for a poem and no one else fights for it during our meeting, I let it go knowing that the decision to not publish the poem is a team decision. After discussing it, even though it’s sad to let it go, I know it’s what’s best for the literary magazine.

We have no doubt that the decisions made for IMPRINT’s upcoming issue will be outstanding. With an unrestricted “dream” theme, the art and writing of the issue will be inspired by the daydreams, nightmares, goals and aspirations of Combs’ students. When asked about their own goals and pursuits, students amazed us with their confidence and ambitiousness. A future botanist, fashion designer, CEO, video game developer, performing artist, and comic book writer were among the group. We hope that these students follow their dreams and continue to write about them.

s[r] Goodreads #FridayReads

Recently on the s[r] goodreads page, some of our staff shared their insightful reviews of the books they’ve been reading this semester. Enjoy!

Signs and WondersSigns and Wonders by Alix Ohlin

Alix Ohlin understands human emotions, even those of young men, war veterans, miserable middle-aged married women, and stepmothers trying to belong. But Ohlin proves through her piercingly honest writing that she knows the same emotions are present within all of us. She shines a spotlight on the vulnerability and fragility, the resilience and hope beneath our outer shells.

Ohlin connects these people so different from each other by the most crushing emotion – loss. And yet, there is always an element of hope in her stories: hope for the unknown, the unlikely, or the uncertain, and also the new connections that loss will create. “There was the death of hope and then the beginning of it, and sometimes in her memory she could no longer separate the two.”

Through the story of a married couple whose connection is threatened, Ohlin concludes, “They hadn’t said: I will ask you for things no person should ask. Or: I will hurt you so much it will suck you dry. What they’d said was: I will love you forever. And every word of it was true.”

In Ohlin’s title story, a woman who discovers she is miserable is tested when her soon to be ex-husband lies trapped in a coma. Ohlin uses images of birds to highlight both the caging of a soul and the freedom it longs to have. Her characters are delicate and fierce like birds, and they question their fragile existence: “she could feel them all around her, the questions of her life, at times beating like wings, at times soaring cleanly through the air, and she could only wonder how it was that she had never felt them before.”

Reviewed by Rikki Lux, from Advertising.

 

The Monsters of TempletonThe Monsters of Templeton by Lauren Groff

“The more frightening the future is, the more complicated it seems to be, the more we steady ourselves with the past.”

Lauren Groff’s The Monsters of Templeton is a story that blurs the lines between fantasy and reality, inviting the reader on a journey to explore a world that is both recognizable and completely new at the same time. From the very first page, Groff weaves a fantastical mystery centered around a town bursting at the seams with secrets.

Wilhelmina Upton and her search for her father could, if told in the wrong way, become a tedious and uninteresting tale. However, Groff mastered the art of keeping her readers engrossed in the story, by including peeks into the past, either through diary entries, or flashbacks, every few chapters. This allows the story to be told from multiple points of view, from people living centuries apart yet sharing in the mystery that is Templeton, and ensuring the reader has the full story.

The Monsters of Templeton is a story about discovery, and the overwhelming desire in everyone, to know where they came from and who they are. For this reason Willie and her adventures have the ability to resonate with the reader on a personal level. Reminding each person of their own ongoing search to figure out their place in the world, and who they will one day become.

Groff’s writing makes a person want to stay up until two in the morning, furiously turning pages, dying to know what will happen next. Until the truth about Willie is brought to light, until the monster’s origin is uncovered, until the very last page, Groff has a way of keeping the reader interested and completely invested in the story unraveling around them.

Reviewed by our Goodreads staff member, Lindsey Bosak

 

Willful CreaturesWillful Creatures by Aimee Bender

Willful Creatures is a thought-provoking collection of stories that demands an all new level of open-mindedness from its readers. Bender introduces a group of unique characters who exhibit their own brand of willfulness as they tackle issues of acceptance, love, intimacy, death, rebirth, commitment, and self-worth. The choice to leave all of her main characters nameless is an interesting one. Also interesting is Bender’s use of a plural first person narrator in Debbieland. I think she pulls it off very well.

Bender’s talent for taking ordinary inanimate objects and bringing them to life with her unique sense of irony and symbolism is applied throughout Willful Creatures. A child with an iron for a head born into a family of pumpkinheads (Ironhead), a boy with keys for fingers (The Leading Man), and an entire town of people evolving into objects and born with innate talents to bond their community (Hymn), are just a few examples of the way Bender applies her genius.

Reviewed by Blogger, Elizabeth Sheets

Guest Post, David Klose: The Art of Falling Behind

The truth of the matter is that I am at least a week behind in three of my classes and just finally caught with up the other three. In more detail, I’d say that I still need to read Beowulf and haven’t even begun to read the essays and poems by the masters of the Harlem Renaissance and that upcoming exam, the one that takes places either on a Thursday or Saturday, is worth 100 points, like all the others, and I’ve already missed one. 100 points is just how it sounds: significant. Don’t even get me started on the History of Medieval Inquisition. The textbook for that class has an uncreased spine and, as I write this, is holding up my half empty can of soda. I will be, by the Arizona Fall, a collector of the most expensive coasters, paper weights and bug killers you can find, the kind you can only buy after waiting for an hour in a gold and maroon line at the Textbook store. That’s to say I am not making improvement. That’s to say there hasn’t been progress. But there has – I just have a hard time of seeing it. And the grades, so easy to derail, are slow on the incline.

Let me back up. I have taken more classes than I can handle. Let me back up again. I have not adequately prepared for the classes which I am taking. I am sure I can handle them, with a little bit of care, with a little less time spent at work. They are random classes, being used to fill up the elective space on my DARS report. They range from Mythology to Geography to Beginner’s German and only one class, really, can be said to be about English literature, which is my major. Still, they involve reading and note taking and, because of my job, which requires more of my life than I’d like to admit, all of these classes are online. Over the summer, I bought a new writing desk and stocked it with paperclips and a desk calendar, nearly a yard long, with fist sized spaces for each day of the month, that is now blank. I tried it for August and the beginning of September and I tried sitting at the desk and keeping my mind on the discussion board in front of me. But, it didn’t work. I’d suddenly remember that I hadn’t vacuumed in a while or that I need to Google the “paleo diet” to find out what it is and see why everyone is going so crazy over it. Then I’d get tired and cross the day off the calendar, moving the tasks onto tomorrow and go to bed.

This is my first year at ASU. I came from Mesa Community College, where I was a full time student taking one class a semester online, the rest on campus. I passed everything easily, except for math, which, I used to joke, is how one decides to become an English major. I did the homework, of course, and studied for the tests — though never for very long — and always with a TV show on in the background or with music playing. I can’t read in silence. I will fall asleep. Nine times out of ten, I will fall asleep, no matter what I am reading, no matter if I love it and can’t wait to see how the story plays out–I am dead asleep two to three pages deep.

Now, at ASU, I am behind. The kind of behind that has me a little worried. I am behind when you don’t want to be behind. You can be behind at community college. They won’t tell you that, and I probably shouldn’t say it, and I mean no offense, but it’s true. You can be behind there for a pretty long time before you have to worry about failing. But now I am at ASU and now I am behind and the semester seems almost over–is it almost over?–and I can’t tell you what I’ve learned except a few blurbs about this topic and that topic and I know all of the history, I just don’t know the dates or names. I am so behind I’ve pulled all nighters and fallen asleep at work, scrunched down in my office chair while on a conference call. I’ve been woken up by co-workers and they joke that I must’ve been real drunk the night before. God, I wish it had been a case of being real drunk the night before.

How do I fix this? I can’t work less. I cannot change the ever shifting hours which come with retail, from working 7 am to 4pm, followed by a 1pm to 10pm, followed by another 7 am to 4 pm, then an 11am-8pm. And I can’t seem to find the time to be so completely alone with my homework. I can’t seem to do what I wanted to do with my first semester at ASU. That is, to pull a Jonathan Franzen. You know Jonathan Franzen. The guy who insulted Oprah, and also happened to write a few books. His books are long books and they are good, though I haven’t finished them because I keep falling asleep at the part where the flashbacks begin. He writes them on an old laptop using an old word processor. The genius even breaks the ports so he can’t hook his laptop up to the internet. He probably burns the wi-fi out of the air with a lighter and writes in log cabins with no electricity.

But I’m sorry, I’m no good at writing in cabins or reading in silence, or turning off the rest of the world and living solely and completely in one particular task. Most of it, I admit, is weakness. I am weak when it comes to movies and going out and listening to music and reading other books, other stories, stuff not on the syllabus. What am I to do? The only answer seems to be to try and study chaotically.

Let me explain. I like to stay up late and I read a little bit of each assigned text at a time, so as not to get bored and fall asleep. I am writing this in my bed, blankets over my body, pillow holding up my head, typing slowly and awkwardly, the kind of typing you do when it’s hard to move one hand but you don’t want to get up because you’re so damn comfortable. Did I mention that YouTube is open on the browser? Did I mention that, no joke, I really can’t get enough of Wrecking Ball by Miley Cyrus (not just for the video) and that last week, when I should have been writing about feminism in early African American literature, I was listening to thirty minutes of Eminem rap battling raps with other rap battling rappers? I now keep copies of stories and poems that I need to read at home, at work, and in my car. On really lucky days I get stuck waiting for the train to cross the tracks at Center and Broadway and can read three to five paragraphs on the the history of Vikings before traffic starts to move again. And, I am not kidding here, I keep most of my school books in the bathroom, stacked on top of the no-touch wastebasket. The more time I spend in the bathroom, the more reading I can do (I’ve only fallen asleep on the toilet once before) and if I get bored, as happens from time to time, I just put down the book and take out my phone and read BBC news or play Ruzzle or look at Instagram to see what foods my friends are eating.

After work, when it’s time write an essay or take a quiz, I click on the TV and put on my favorite show. Then I turn the volume down to barely noticeable and I keep it down until the funny parts comes up and then I turn it up and laugh. Then I turn it back down and continue on with my work.

Now, I am looking forward to the next semester where I can plan better. Now, I’m a big believer in partial credit, because it always seems to add up to just enough. I think that’s how I have resorted to getting things done: a partial bit at a time. I like to write the beginnings of my essays on the yellow legal pad we use to write up action plans at work. I read the prompts to my discussion board assignments before going to work, so during work, when I don’t need all of my mental capacity for the subject at hand, I form sentences in my mind, how I will answer the prompt later. I try to get at least 80% done with the question before I get home and type it up.

I don’t study. At least, I don’t sit at home and study. As you can probably guess, I usually fall asleep. I don’t need to count sheep, just notecards. Instead, I like to read a little and talk a lot about the little that I read. At work, instead of telling people about my weekend, I will tell them something I learned. A little bit of history or how to say something in German. This doesn’t make me the most popular person, but sometimes you find things out about other people, like which of your co-workers speak a foreign language and which of them never will.

It’s not about multitasking which, everyone loves to tell me, is technically impossible. No, it’s about not wasting the minutes of the day. It’s about stacking a little bit of work on top of a little bit of work until the entire task is done. It’s about connecting the five minutes I had of reading in the morning while drinking coffee to the ten minutes late at night I have for answering questions while waiting for the water to boil soft the hard pasta.

I am behind in my studies. At this very moment, I am behind. I am behind, I think, in this blog post. I am behind at work, which is hard to believe since it is only October and we are already almost done with setting up our Christmas displays. I have set up alerts on my phone for all the due dates of all my assignments for the rest of the semester but so far I’ve just been ignoring the alarm, like a text from an old friend I don’t talk to anymore. The desk calendar is still blank and most of my homework is done standing up. I just have to sit down to write it out. It isn’t a good thing to be behind, but I guess it’s better than being stagnant. That isn’t probably the best lesson to learn (and spread) but at least I’ll get partial credit and that will stack onto other credit until the task is done. And if you want to catch me sitting still, your best luck is to find me on the toilet, flipping through pages of Chaucer, looking for the parts I plan on quoting on the next discussion board, looking for the parts that sound right.

Former Superstition Review Intern Returns to Relate the Work/Life Balance

Brooke StevensonYou may remember me, SR readers, as the former intern who wrote a post in Summer 2012 about my early years navigating the “real world.” When I left off last year, I mentioned that I still freelance for one of my internship mentors as a break from my technical-focused day job (proposal coordinator for an engineering firm). I appreciated the creative outlet, and still do.

 

I’m here to tell you that side gigs are all well and good, but there’s something to be said for a work/life balance—especially for the college student or recent graduate. I remember being so caught up on preparing for my next assignment, paper, test, or final, that when I graduated, I thought I’d have more time in the day. Instead, I continued to fill my day planner without even thinking about it.

 

So, finding time for personal writing projects and other leisure activities has only become more difficult. I write out weekly goals, and somehow, those activities always get pushed to the bottom of the priority pile. There’s always something to do.

 

When I set out to write this post, I realized how much I looked forward to writing my post last year, and again, how much I looked forward to it this year. I have plenty of incentive when I know I’m writing a piece that will be followed by a 1099 Form at the end of the year. So, I thought, what makes this blog post so motivating?

 

For me, writing this post feels like leisure time, but it is also a commitment that I made to SR. It sits on the line between recreation and responsibility, so that I can’t just brush it off as something I might get to later. Ultimately, it’s a personal thing.

 

Even as an intern, contributing to SR has never felt like “work.” And, taking time to browse the pages within helps me put aside my day planner for a bit. Nothing causes me to pause like a good literary magazine! I mentioned in my last post that I try to focus on humility and embracing the big picture that there is always room to grow. I’m learning that growth doesn’t always come with a paycheck or a packed schedule.

 

Like many people, I found myself moving from one obligation to the next, catching moments out of the corner of my eye. Starting today, returning the balance ranks higher on my to-do list.