Contributor Update, Jackie Shannon Hollis: ‘This Particular Happiness’

Join us in congratulating SR interview contributor Jackie Shannon Hollis. Her forthcoming memoir, This Particular Happiness: A Childless Love Story, will be released by Forest Avenue Press on October 1. The book is now available for preorder.

In the memoir, Jackie explores her decision to marry Bill and commit to a childless life. But soon after the wedding, she holds her newborn niece and begins to question her decision to not have children. Told in short nonlinear chapters, the book examines what we gain and sacrifice when we love another person.

More information about Jackie and her new book can be found here. You can find her interview from Issue 7 here.

Congratulations, Jackie!

“This Particular Happiness, is a deeply moving story about Jackie Shannon Hollis’s decades-long yearning to have a child―and her complicated decision not to. But it’s also about so much more than that. With honesty, generosity, precision and insight, Hollis writes the story of her life―from her girlhood in rural Oregon, where she both broke and followed the rules, to her hard-earned self-acceptance at middle age. This Particular Happiness is a gloriously wise memoir about one woman’s unexpected path to becoming.”

―Cheryl Strayed, author of Wild

Guest Post, Kristen Keckler: The Art of Memory—Writing to Remember

Even in 2019, with trusty devices always on hand to capture my daily existence, most of my life goes unrecorded (thank God). My pre-device life, a Dark Age itself, is only documented by an occasional washed-out photo, receipt, ticket stub, or “remember when?” story passed among family and friends. 

I often lament never having kept a proper journal. Only once, at age eleven, have I ever faithfully inscribed dates and happenings; the diary had a pink, puffy plastic cover studded with rhinestones. Despite the security feature, a tiny gold key, my mother and younger sister broke into it—together! —and when they later admitted it, I was relieved that I hadn’t confided anything private to its pages: no secret crushes or burning questions about my awkward, beanpole body.

In my twenties, I wrote little poems and observations in notebooks—many little notebooks. These musings now seem written in code, as if I was protecting my words from an intruder, who, strangely enough, is myself! Today, I still draft in a random, haphazard way, in spiral notebooks, and keep several going simultaneously. Writing essays, for me, is like journaling twenty years after the fact. I go easy on myself and do not—simply because I now live in a digital age—expect perfection from my memory. I figure, if I only wrote about things I remembered very well, I might never have written anything at all. 

Recently, a former student, Maritza, reached out, seeking my advice for jumpstarting her writing. “I don’t know where to begin,” she confided, a phrase I recognize in my bones. The key, for me, is not a little gold diary key, but to start somewhere—with a moment, or maybe with a song, place, or detail. I write whatever pops into mind, and don’t decide if I remember “enough” until after I’ve given it a go. 

Jumpstarting sparks remembering; you have to get the car running so that you can actually move. For me that means sometimes turning an unproductive writing day, when I’m sleep-deprived, distracted, or just not feeling it, into a semi-productive one by inventing topics and ideas for later, for when the mood strikes. (How DIY of me: a book of handcrafted, shabby chic rainy day writing exercises!) In a blank or mostly blank notebook, at the top of every other page, I write a word or a phrase; each one is a prompt. When I’m looking for inspiration, I flip through this notebook; one of the headings usually calls out to me, and off to the races I go. Occasionally, a prompt even becomes the title for a finished piece, like in the case of my SR essay “A Merry Little Group Home Christmas.”

A few months ago, I came across the words “Memories to Age Six” written atop a blank notebook page, jotted by my own hand a year or so earlier. When I re-discovered it, my husband and I had been speculating about how much, if anything, our two-year-old son would remember about being two. (Would he recall his first trip to Florida, those two-foot long iguanas? Or his Matchbox cars being confiscated, temporarily, by mean Mommy after he clocked her on the head with a Mustang and left a boo boo?) As I started to freewrite about my own early years, I was surprised by how much I actually, truly remembered from my life, especially between ages three and six. Some of my memories originated in stories told by my parents throughout my childhood, but other moments I recalled simply because I lived them: I was there. Whether routines that occurred in a pattern, or one-time events, the more I wrote, the more I remembered, and the more material I generated, until I had a finished essay draft plus pages of extra notes. 

As I drafted a six-year-old memoir, I had to quickly decide: do I comment and reflect on the child’s life, or do I let her experiences speak for themselves? I decided on the latter, to focus on the child’s impressions and lived moments, allowing the adult writer to hang back, quietly choosing language and forming a structure. I find that when writing about a very distant past, concrete details are especially important, as memories need physical objects in which to take root, spreading their shoots into the darkness and reaching for context. My Six-Year-Old Memoir has many such anchors: a sewing machine, a horse track, green shorts with daisies, a tiny tarnished silver cup, a gun, a hospital bed, a two-toned Buick, and maraschino cherries. 

Since writing is remembering, and writing is crafting, you often don’t know how much you recall about your life until you face the blank page (or screen) and dive in.  Memory is part black magic, a deeply intuitive conjuring, and part rolling a tumbleweed through the mind’s desert, gathering what sticks. The more I go with it, the more I think, (a fully focused, meditative-type thinking), and the more I perform other little exercises to jog my recollection, for example, looking at Google Maps street view or texting a family member or friend. 

It is usually not until after I’ve written quite a bit that I figure out what an essay is about, and often that “what” defies summary, is more of an emotional cue than a lesson or theme. For me, the purpose of nonfiction is not to see how much I remember, but to determine what I can do with what I think I remember. And when I’m finished writing a particular piece, I always feel like I remember those events more vividly than when I started—sometimes the writing and memories become intertwined, interchangeable. What has happened is gone, and let’s face it, there is nothing, not even writing, that can ever bring it back. What’s left is the art of memory. And I’m okay with that.

#ArtLitPhx: Am I American Yet? with Abdi Nor Iftin

Date: Sunday, May 5, 2019

Time: 4:30 PM – 6:30 PM

Location: Changing Hands Phoenix, 300 W Camelback Rd, Phoenix, AZ 85013

Cost: Free

Event Details:

Join author Abdi Nor Iftin in partnership with Snell and Wilmer and The Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing for a community reading and book signing Sunday, May 5, 2019 from 4:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. at Changing Hands Phoenix (300 W Camelback Rd, Phoenix, AZ 85013).

While encouraged, RSVPs are purely for the purposes of monitoring attendance, gauging interest, and communicating information about parking, directions, and other aspects of the event. You do not have to register or RSVP to attend this event. This event is open to the public and free.

About the Book

Abdi Nor Iftin first fell in love with America from afar. As a child, he learned English by listening to American pop and watching action films starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. When U.S. Marines landed in Mogadishu to take on the warlords, Abdi cheered the arrival of these Americans, who seemed as heroic as those of the movies.

Sporting American clothes and dance moves, he became known around Mogadishu as Abdi American, but when the radical Islamist group al-Shabaab rose to power in 2006, it became dangerous to celebrate Western culture. Desperate to make a living, Abdi used his language skills to post secret dispatches, which found an audience of worldwide listeners. Eventually, though, Abdi was forced to flee to Kenya.

In an amazing stroke of luck, Abdi won entrance to the U.S. in the annual visa lottery, though his route to America did not come easily. Parts of his story were first heard on the BBC World Service and This American Life. Now a proud resident of Maine, on the path to citizenship, Abdi Nor Iftin’s dramatic, deeply stirring memoir is truly a story for our time: a vivid reminder of why America still beckons to those looking to make a better life. (Penguin Random House)

About the Author
Abdi Nor Iftin

When the civil war in Somalia began, Abdi Nor Iftin was five; he and his brother became the sole providers for the family while they also attended a madrassa. Amidst the daily shelling and the famine, Abdi had one escape: American movies and music. At neighborhood showings of RamboCommando, and The Terminator, Abdi learned of America, and taught himself English, and began to dream of a life in the United States.  

In Call Me American, Iftin recounts his harrowing, extraordinary, and uplifting story. His love of western culture and music earned him the name “Abdi American.” This became a liability when Islamic extremism took hold of Somalia. Evading conscription by al-Shabaab while secretly filing stories for NPR under penalty of death, he stayed in Somalia until he had no choice but to flee. He smuggled himself into Kenya, where a different but grinding life of hopelessness awaited. He spent days hiding silently in an apartment from raids by Kenyan police, once passing time reading The Art of the Deal by Donald Trump. And then, a stroke of incredible luck: he won the Diversity Visa Lottery.  

Now a proud and legal resident of Maine and on the path to citizenship this year, Abdi is attending a university in Maine, and working on a film about his book. He volunteers with his immigrant community in Maine, he translates for people with limited English.

Today’s America and the travel/immigration ban worry Abdi, a Muslim; as he writes, his brother, still in Kenya, is now often the one comforting him. Abdi’s dramatic, deeply stirring memoir is truly a story for our time: a vivid portrait of the desperation refugees seek to escape and a reminder of why western democracies still beckon to those looking to make a better life.

Learn More About the Event or RSVP

Contributor Update, Tania Katan: Creative Trespassing

Today we are happy to announce the news of past contributor Tania Katan! Tania’s instruction manual for inserting creativity into your work and personal life, titled “Creative Trespassing,” was just published in February by Penguin Random House. Creator of the viral campaign #ItWasNeverADress is no stranger to integrating feminism, power and creative strength into everyday life. The book is full of her own incredible stories and encourages all readers to make their own opportunities and fun.

More information about Tania’s book can be found here, her non-fiction short story from Issue 4 can be found here, along with her interview from the same issue.

Congratulations Tania!

#ArtLitPhx: Writing Autobiographies and Memoirs with Dr. Duane Roen

artlitphx

Date: 03/09/2019
Time: 10:30 AM – 12:00 PM
Location: Library Meeting Room B, Tempe Public Library, 3500 S. Rural Rd., Tempe, Arizona 85282
Cost: Free

Event Description:
Learn to use strategies and resources for writing autobiography and memoir to tell your family’s story. Participants will write about a life event, so please bring paper and a pen or a laptop computer.

QUESTIONS? 480-350-5500

FEE: None

REGISTRATION: Not required

Contributor Update, Paul Lisicky: LATER

Today we are happy to share news about past contributor Paul Lisicky. Paul will be presenting his forthcoming novel LATER at the Tin House Writer Workshop in Oregon this March, the novel will be published a year from then (March 2020) by Greywolf Press. His sixth book, LATER recounts Paul’s life in the early 90s during the AIDS epidemic as he explored the artistic and real world.

 

Information about the workshop can be found here, refer to Paul’s website for updates on his book here.

 

Congratulations Paul!

Contributor Update, Emily Matyas: Sol y Tierra

Today we are happy to share news about past contributor photographer Emily Matyas. Emily has a new book releasing this spring titled “Sol y Tierra: Views Beyond the U.S. – Mexico Border, 1988-2018.” The collection of photographs explores life just south of the border, beginning a conversation between the two countries. Along with the photographs, journalists Linda Valdez and Sergio Anaya have included essays and one of the photographic subjects have included a short memoir.

Some more of Emily’s work, published in our 14th issue, can be found here. Be sure to look out this spring for more information on the book and events!

Congratulations Emily!

Contributor Update, Pam Houston: Deep Creek, Finding Hope in the High Country

Today we are happy to share the news of past contributor Pam Houston. Pam’s memoir “Deep Creek: Finding Hope in the High Country” was just published by W. W. Norton & Company in January of 2019. Reminiscing about her life living in the Colorado Rockies, Pam discusses the beauty and pain of human life and her ties to the earth, specifically her 120-acre ranch. The memoir not only includes her essays but also 12 of the author’s own black and white photographs.

The book can be purchased here, and information about her signing event at Bookshop Santa Cruz can be found here.

Congratulations Pam!

Guest Blog Post, Denise Emanuel Clemen: At the Heart of Memory

A woman's shadow on sand.
Photo courtesy of the author.

Editor’s note: This piece contains discussion of sexual assault and rape. 

I’m interested in lies. I’m interested in truth. And in memory. How accurate are my memories? Do I trust that what I remember is true?

A few days ago I had coffee with a friend I see only every couple of years. Rebooting our conversation from when we last met, he wanted to know if he correctly remembered the story of the end of my marriage. “You were on a weekend get-away with your husband in San Diego,” he said. “He told you as you were unpacking your suitcases that the marriage was over, he was in love with someone from the office, she was pregnant, they were getting married, and he wanted to keep the house so he could raise his new family there.” Except for the weekend in San Diego and the pregnancy my friend’s memory had served him well.

It’s easy to explain the insertion of these two erroneous details. I had probably told my friend that only a month before our end-of-marriage conversation, my husband and I, and our children, and grandchildren had gone to San Diego for a family vacation. As for the pregnancy, in the fractured aftermath of learning that the life I knew was over, I concocted a scenario for my own survival. My husband didn’t want to end our marriage, but he was in a tough spot. Yes, he’d slept with her. Once. Maybe twice. She was on the pill, she’d told him, but that was a lie. Now she was pregnant. Or said she was. She wanted the baby, but her parents would be devastated that she was unmarried. They’d been saving and planning for her wedding since the day she was born. After much angst, my husband promised her that he’d leave me. They announced their engagement to her parents, and then she had a “miscarriage.” My husband had been duped, but he didn’t know it.

This tale helped me get out of bed in the morning. It was the story I told myself in the dark, alone. But as far as I recall, I hadn’t shared it with anyone. Then again, where did my friend come up with the idea of the pregnancy? Had I recounted my byzantine fake pregnancy, fake miscarriage theory to him? Was I so unhinged that I uttered it aloud? Maybe. And maybe, in the course of my ramblings, my friend was paying more attention to how I was negotiating the wreckage of my life than to the parsing of theory and fact. Regardless, the heart of the story as my friend remembered it was true.

Forty-two years ago I was raped by a business associate. I don’t remember his last name. I don’t remember if it happened in Indianapolis or South Bend. A couple of years earlier an acquaintance attacked me and nearly strangled me. I don’t remember his last name either. In fact, I don’t even remember his first name. What I remember is how swiftly he pinned me to the front seat of my car. What I remember is the pressure of his thumbs against my throat.

I write both nonfiction and fiction, and sometimes when there are details I don’t recall while writing an essay or memoir, I ask myself if it might be better to use my idea as a jumping off point for a short story. How can I write the piece as nonfiction when there are so many things I don’t remember? How do I flesh out the missing pieces of a true story?  Is it even necessary to do that?

Since watching the Senate testimony of Christine Blasey Ford, I feel stronger than ever that the bones of a personal essay can stand on their own, sans padding. Those exposed bones, like a skeleton hanging from a porch on Halloween night, are more dramatic without additional detail. The bareness delivers commonality.  My skeleton, in so many ways, looks just like yours.

There’s power in forgetting. Sometimes forgetting saves us. What we don’t remember is what we want to forget. The details that stay with us, in combination with the details that lay submerged beyond the access of memory, combine to render a story woven with complexity. There’s no need to embellish or invent. There’s a whole story lodged in our bones. Negative space is part of the picture. The erasure wrought by trauma tells its own part of the story. Just as sensory detail can engage the reader, the writer can draw the reader into the emptiness. I cannot recall a single feature of my attacker’s face. I can’t see his eyes, or whether or not he had a mustache, or freckles, or any type of a scar. He was quite pale, I think, or maybe just seemed so there on the dark street where he’d offered to walk me to my car.

The emptiness unites writer and reader. We struggle together to make out that pale face in the dark car. You are with me, clawing back your own memories just as I am with Dr. Basey Ford, running down the stairs and out the door of a house on a street with no name—a street that led us back home without knowing how we got there. Our memories can fail us. That failure is part of the story.

Guest Blog Post, Judith Sara Gelt: But Some of My Best Friends Are Novelists

But Some of My Best Friends Are Novelists

By Judith Sara Gelt, Memoirist

Photo of author with family.
Source: http://www.judithsaragelt.com/about.html

Novelists don’t need to wait for people to die.

 

Novelists don’t have to use their families’ real names.

 

Agents don’t wear a cheesy smile and declare that a novelist’s true-life narrative “cannot be differentiated from others in the market.”

 

By creating names, places, people and events (and, well, whatever they want), novelists build a bulwark of invention to keep their agonizing, lived experiences at bay while concealing them in their fictions.

 

Novelists don’t create in a genre tagged with terms like “naval gazing” or paired with adjectives like misery as in misery memoir.

 

Agents don’t shake their heads and explain that novelists’ life stories don’t have enough of a “hook.”

 

Novelists don’t workshop their manuscripts in mixed-genre groups only to be neglected—

“I couldn’t really write my opinions or leave comments. I just wasn’t comfortable. After all, yours is so personal.”

 

When someone asks, “Come on, did that really happen?” Novelists answer, “Of course not.” (Whether it did or not.)

 

When novelists compose outrageous fictitious scenes, readers don’t flinch. When a memoirist records an outrageous real-life scene, readers complain—

“No way this happened!” “I don’t believe it.”

 

Novelists don’t confront questions like—

“What is a memoir, again? Okay, and who wrote it? But, who is it about? Shit, you must have had a really amazing life!”

 

After their books are published, novelists aren’t in jeopardy of family and friends ostracizing them or of being disowned. They don’t witness their families and friends sob and dodge others when their lives are exposed.

 

Okeydokey, novelists, bring it on!