Guest Blog Post, Cindy Clem: A Writing Funk, A Cage, and A Retired Potter

Cynthia ClemToo many words, I tell the man poking at my stomach. He’s doing something called Chi Nei Tsang, working with the energy of my internal organs, and he’s instructed me to name any resulting thoughts or feelings. Coming at you or coming from you? he asks.

From me, I say. Required of me, I think, but I don’t say this. I don’t want to hurt his feelings.

I’m struck by this phrase that arises from my belly. Like any teacher and writer and friend and family member, I deal in words. Speech—the demand of forming words in my head and lining them up in an articulate queue before they exit my mouth—has always drained me.

You’re a good listener, people tell me.

Where talking fails, I write. I take the chaos of words in my head and organize them on paper, mostly to get rid of them but also in the hope that if they’re good enough, they’ll entertain people who don’t know me. Writing about yourself is called memoir, and that’s what I’ve been doing for years now. Writing about myself means I never lack for ideas. I’ve also been convinced that writing about myself is essential to healing. It’s almost a form of righteousness, this therapeutic work, this writing through it.

So why the angst now? For whatever reason, writing no longer feels therapeutic. It feels oppressive. All of that meaning. All of that me.

I met a woman at a holistic health type of retreat who said she was a retired potter. How do you retire from pottery? You begin to practice Zen Buddhism and realize that you can stop putting stuff into the world.

What if I could heal myself not through words but through silence? Some meditation practices teach that we are of four minds: the senses, the ego, the intuitive decision-maker, and the memory bank.  The memory bank—the part of the self that makes demands, that begs for our return to old habits, that cries out with desire, fear, aversion—tends to make the most noise and, for me, has motivated writing. It has convinced me that its feelings and desires are the only worthy subject and that processing its feelings and desires is the most important task in the whole wide world.

Meditation teaches that we can tame this memory bank. We can sit quietly while it rages and cries, gently acknowledge it but keep it in its place. We can burrow down, down, down beneath it, to silence.

What does this mean for a writer who gets her material from this tempestuous bank? You arrive at silence, and then what? What is left to say?

“I have nothing to say / and I am saying it / and that is poetry…”

I used to think this quote was dumb and John Cage pretentious. If you have nothing to say, then prove it. Shut up.  But what if nothing truly is the space from which poems arise?

Am I trying to say I want to be a poet? I don’t know. I’ll probably change my mind about all of this in a week. In the meantime, I just know that I’m tired of words*, of having to make them make sense. Although I will always enjoy a well-written memoir, I admire writing that seems to play, that lacks any apparent agenda. It’s an ability to be sensuous, maybe, to plant flowers instead of vegetables.  Or maybe it’s Creative Writing 101: use images, not words. (Am I romanticizing the writing process, trying to take hard work out of the equation? Probably. Sounds like something I’d do.)

As I see it, these are my options:


I have so much to say

And I am saying it all

And that is Psychosis


I have so much to say

And I am trying to cage it in a coherent essay

And that is Sisyphean


I have so much to say

And I am not saying it

And that is _________

  1. A cop out
  2. Freedom
  3. Very Buddhist of me
  4. What non-writers do

*The Author is sheepishly aware that her blog post is 1) about herself and 2) has a bunch of words.

Guest Blog Post, Vanessa Blakeslee: Ten Rules for Writing Fiction

Vanessa Blakeslee1. Take care of yourself. Much like the announcements before flights regarding the placing of oxygen masks, you can’t expect to render your characters fully if you’re out of shape and eating poorly. Exercise regularly and eat fresh foods. Caffeinate moderately. Get eight hours of sleep every night. To underestimate the power of the subconscious, the breakthroughs that undoubtedly come from the dream-state and walks in the park, is foolish and undermining of the imagination at work. Never mind that your ability to contribute to the literary canon is severely compromised if you’re sick or dead.

2. Become aware of the effects of environment on your process—and change it up if need be. If you can’t settle in at your desk today, try the couch. If the sun is shining during your writing hours and you can’t stand being inside your apartment one more second, find a park bench or an outdoor café. If you’re in public and one-sided phone conversations keep intruding on your characters’ dialogue, seek out someplace quiet. Go wherever you need to be to enter the fictional dream as completely as you can.

3. Write first drafts in longhand whenever possible. My initial drafts almost always turn out truer to my vision when I’m connected to the physical page through a pen or pencil, thus saving time later during revision. I think there might be scientific data to back this up, but regardless, one obvious benefit is that you are much more apt to cross-out and play with alternative phrasing in the margins and between sentences, etc., sometimes literally question what you may be attempting to say on the page. Whereas in word-processing software, you don’t like a phrase, Delete-delete-delete, and not only is it gone forever, but so is your record of what you were aiming for, even if your initial attempts at grasping for an image or line fell short. When you type up the handwritten pages, you’re composing your second draft—added bonus.

4. Keep questioning the stakes of your premise. Often, at the beginning of a new story or before a revision, I’ll write, “Is this a great story of love and death?” across the top. If the answer is no, then consider how you might approach the premise differently to make it more gripping. If it is a novel, trace the narrative backwards to see where you may have gotten off-track, or strayed from the tension. You may be surprised in going over your drafts at how much of what you may have considered essential is in effect tangential.

5. If you’re stuck or between scenes or sections and uncertain where your protagonist goes next, take a short nap. Again, sometimes a quick dip into the subconscious is just the trick for stirring up new ideas/images. Although you’ll have to wait until you get home if you’re at a coffee shop.

6. That said, sometimes you have to just power through. This is tricky advice to give, when to step away (or nap!) and when to power through, and largely instinctive. But powering-through happens for me after I do a good bit of questioning and jotting down of potential ideas in my notebook regarding where the story needs to go next. There follows the sort of heavy feeling of anticipation, excitement, and despair regarding how I am going to accomplish what is to take place—but all that remains is doing it. That’s when it’s time to log out of Facebook, brew a fresh caffeinated favorite, push ahead, and trust.

7. The Internet/Facebook/Twitter/Etc. Figure out your relationship to it. I love nothing more than perusing for articles on strange happenings and the idiosyncrasies of my friends’ lives; as such, I’m a self-proclaimed Facebook addict. I’ve never been a big procrastinator, either, but when I arrive at my desk I tend to scroll the Facebook newsfeed until I have an overwhelming feeling that I’ve been pummeled enough by everyone’s happenings and achievements, and am then happily driven to the page and my inner world. In between scenes or sections and when I take a snack break, I will often log back on. Sometimes I go to coffee shops because although I have a smart phone, I am much less likely to be distracted by the Internet when I have actually driven somewhere and purchased menu items with precious dollars. Only you can figure out how to balance the work/Internet pull.

8. Learn to trust and develop your gut instincts regarding your work, and others’ critique of it. True, you’ll always be too close to it, because you’re the creator. And there will always be some voices ringing out in workshop that are way off for your vision of the story, your aesthetic, etc. But then there will be some who are right on, whose searing feedback or advice matches the quiver in your middle when you hold the draft up before your eyes. Better to have a handful—even one—of these voices in your corner than none. Cherish such readers, yet also keep in mind that someone who may have resonated deeply with a previous project of yours may not have the same relationship with the next one. Have the courage to seek out fresh eyes.

9. Realize the value of your work—because if you don’t value it, why should others? Delegate as many nonessential, non-writing tasks to whatever degree you can—to agents, interns, teenage children/siblings, eager grad students, etc. If you’ve got a $50,000 a year teaching gig, hire a maid service to clean your house once or twice a month so you can invest in those precious days off to write. Figure out which holidays you prefer to celebrate with family and which ones you can skip to attend a writers’ colony, or borrow a friend’s cabin in the woods for a couple of weeks.

10. Meditate on your death every day. This meditation will usually be fleeting and hardly morbid—but certain, yes. You are going to die. Maybe not today, or tomorrow, or six months down the road. Then again, maybe today. All that will be left of your essence in this life will be what you’ve left behind, written down. Is what you have to say essential? If not, how to make it so? Most everything pertaining to the craft of writing can be boiled down to those two questions.

Guest Blog Post, Maureen Alsop: Requiescat, Self-Portrayal at Samhai

Requiescat, Self-Portrayal at Samhain: Spiritisim is Annunciation, You Thought You Were An Opera Singer

You are engaging a meditation on your death. Perhaps you broke the law, but it was an old law, a lost aria, unenforced. You are held in the residue and ascetic disaffiliation. Sleep’s epitaph, your eyes guarded by sixpence, silvered shine of wolfhounds. At the feast, they set a place for you among the dead. Cold stars languish under your crane-skin dress. Hornet’s nest kept in your hair’s gust.  Inexplicable speech. Moth light over gray meadow. You taste the hum in the walls where mule stood over the glass riverbank.  Sparrow stasis. For each animal there is a trade. There is a wormhole upon the forehead, bonfire constellations, maggot conscience. You’d been walked between bonfire’s remains, the dappled throng. Through the small barn window you saw the blistered flank of the fur-licked cattle.

Belief in the body is attempted, form found without words, form given. Leaving the mind starts out as a little joke. Here, Spiritism is a woman riding a colt; the space toward which she is moving is an immeasurable dark. How did you think things would improve? She gives night the permission to erase the host. Your architectures had always been enough, and perfectly therein.

Meet the Interns: Lisa Mortensen, Reading Series Coordinator

Lisa Mortensen is a third year Imaginative Writing major at ASU.

What is your position with Superstition Review and what are your responsibilities?
Reading Series Coordinator—I set up Superstition Review’s three readings for the semester.

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

Lisa Mortensen: My Fiction 288 professor announced to our class about the possibility of working with Superstition Review. I was super excited to work on a project which promoted literature and art, not to mention the enthusiasm I had about being part of a publication which is created by undergraduate students of ASU.

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

LM: After working with Superstition Review I hope to take away the knowledge and experience necessary to work for a publishing house as an Acquisitions Editor.

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

LM: Although I have specific authors in mind when I think about my favorite literary works, I must take a moment to talk about three genres that have recently demanded my attention: The Short, Prose Poetry, and Flash Fiction. At first glance, or read, it would be easy to call these genres simplistic, because of their length. However, a closer inspection reveals thoughtful and careful word choice, where quality of word takes over quantity. The powerful words, images and thoughts of the narrator are coming at you so quickly that your attention never wanders or strays from the piece. The effect is like being in the moment with the narrator when the surprises and twists come along, as well as the reader themselves feeling vulnerable to the raw emotions that come along with those experiences.

SR: What are you currently reading?

LM: In keeping with my newly found favorite genres, I have recently read and highly recommend Judith Ortiz Cofer’s “Volar,” Brian Doyle’s “Two Hearts,” Denis Johnson’s “Crash While Hitchhiking,” Russell Edson’s “Dinner Time,” and Luisa Valenzuela’s “Vision out of the Corner of One Eye.”

SR: What is your favorite Superstition Review section, and why?

LM: I am rarely able to narrow down any choice to just one, therefore I have two favorite sections of Superstition Review and they are the fiction and art sections. The fiction section is my favorite, because the content comes from a variety of authors who offer up memoir, short story, and essay. The art section is also my favorite due to the gallery’s assorted collection of art and artists from around the world. I also appreciated the bios and headshots that went along with each author and artist.

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

LM: For the fiction writing portion that would be Toni Morrison, and as far as art goes I would love to see more collage artists featured.

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

LM: Art or Fiction Editor

SR: Do you prefer reading literary magazines online or in print?

LM: Until recently I would have said that I prefer literary magazines in print. However after a recent assignment that had us review several online literary magazines I now appreciate the convenience of locating articles of art and literature online. There isn’t the delay of snail mail or money spent on gas to retrieve the latest literary works. Which leads me to my other appreciation of online literary magazines; they are very eco-friendly!

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

LM: Recently, I’ve combined my love of writing and art and created a collage called, “Élan Vital” which is made of words and pictures. I am an Imaginative Writing major at ASU’s Polytechnic Campus, therefore I am always creating pieces of fiction, mostly on demand. Nevertheless, I actually enjoy both writing fiction and drawing in my spare time. In fact, this is only the second semester where I haven’t taken any art classes since high school.

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

LM: I have adopted two children, one from Ethiopia and another from the US foster care system; so much of my spare time is spent with them. However, in the precious moments that I have to be child-free I enjoy riding motorcycles, traveling, having book club discussions, going to concerts, theater and art shows, singing, yoga and spoiling myself with an occasional spa day.

SR: What is your favorite mode of relaxation?

LM: My favorite mode of relaxation is meditation, for sure. Since I have a hard time shutting my mind off, I grab my headphones and go sit in a darkened room while I listen to soothing music or Emmett Miller’s meditation MP3s. I’ve also found that shutting down my cell phone for an hour works wonders too.

SR: Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

LM: In 10 years I definitely see myself as a credible and published author. I also see myself owning a publishing company and teaching Creative Writing to be used as a way of therapy. I realize that this is a lot to accomplish, but I think 10 years is a reasonable enough time to attain all of my goals.