Guest Blog Post, Beth Gilstrap: The Quiet Times

Beth GilstrapDownstage center, the footlights warmed my bare feet. I had run down the long hall, through the double doors, and kicked my shoes off upon entry –my first ritual. At the end of the school day, I no longer had to navigate the social cavern of being the Principal’s daughter.

A deep bow. My hands raised, With plenty of air behind my words, I said, “My name is Beth. This is my theater.” Since my brother had moved on to middle school, in his absence, the auditorium became mine and mine alone. Jenny, a teacher’s daughter joined me on occasion, but I was often by myself while my mom was hard at work in the office doing terrifying Principal things.

I practiced dance routines until my soles were black from stage dust. I was proud of my feet, though I wasn’t entirely sure why people praised them so much. I had good turnout.

Other times, I just lay on my stomach and did homework in pencil. When I finished, I stared at the ceiling with its crisscrossed lines, ropes, and bags. How it all worked was a mystery, but I taught myself to raise and lower curtains and snapped lights on and off in varied patterns. Just cool blue and green made the world right. I grew fond of the way the velvet felt on my arms as I slipped from behind closed curtains.  And always, as though hovering just below the surface, ready to come up for air, was an audience. If I just pulled a little harder, they’d appear.

By the end of the fourth-grade, I’d written a play with Daryl Hall and John Oates as central protagonists. I’m both proud and mortified by this fact. Unfortunately, there is no surviving copy of what was surely my masterpiece. Mom absconded with it, too disturbed by the multiple sex scenes to let the thing live, but before the manuscript was confiscated, I’d blocked out the play, and bossed Jenny into being Daryl Hall’s lover.

Somewhere in the dip of time and space on that stage, I became a seeker, and what is an artist but just that? Writers, dancers, painters, musicians, what have you, we all seek. We fight silence, each in our own way. We talk to each other through our works. Some rhetoricians and philosophers might call this a form of dialectic, or even the trialectic when we get down to ekphrasis or the attempt to interpret and transform one form of art into another, most often the verbal representation of the visual arts, but I’m not here to dig into a bag of big vocabulary. What I’m concerned with is how to get past what most call writer’s block, but I prefer to think of as writer’s funk.

Sometimes, the faces emerge easily. Just a slight tug and there’s a cast of characters fully formed in all their toxic glory. There are days it’s just one face, one body, that shows up in a seat, maybe in the back left, maybe down front, but it’s there. Other times, there’s no one who’s materialized, but you can feel them in the distance, a murmur. When I write, I do everything I can to pull that tiny sound up and out. For me, this is inspiration and these days, I see it as less ephemeral than I used to. I can still summon that stage when I need to, though I haven’t stepped foot on it in almost thirty years. When I get stuck, it is my touchstone, my birthplace as an artist, where I first learned to seek.  This wasn’t always the case.

A year ago, I finished an extensive revision of my first novel. I’d recently graduated from my MFA program, and I was exhausted. Unsure of my future or myself, I curled up with disenchantment, draped it over me like a blanket. Some writers say to read when you feel yourself drifting, but I was at such an insecure point that I couldn’t even read without thinking I could never do that. I still read, but it was not the answer for me at that moment in time. Two graduate degrees can burn the reasons you love to read, too. It was during a particularly Scarlet O’Hara bout of self-pity that I decided to visit an art museum. And there, in a sculpture built of trash, a voice seeped through.

I’d heard of and done a few writing exercises using ekphrasis before, but this was different. It wasn’t just about describing the sculpture. It was creating a world around it, a cast, and story. I had forgotten how important non-verbal arts could be to an artist working primarily with words. During the days, weeks, or months when I feel unproductive and bad at what I do, it’s usually because I haven’t left the house much. I’m too immersed in words. Though I aim for 3-4 hours of uninterrupted writing time per day, it is difficult to maintain. I get depleted. Faces recede. Distance grows.  Writing becomes the equivalent of walking into the same wall over and over. Writer’s funk takes hold.

In an effort to understand why ekphrasis works for me, I looked for other writers who’ve used the technique. According to Michael Trussler, writers such as Donald Barthelme, Salman Rushdie, and John Edgar Wideman use ekphrasis to “intimate structures of feeling or those aspects of consciousness which exist apart from taxonomies.”  Formally speaking, its aesthetic “preoccupation with flux and transcription serves to check our propensity for thinking in immutable categories.” In other words, this method of representation can be fruitful because it attempts to get at the spaces in between the visual and verbal. And so I say to you, writers, do what you have to do to get on that silent stage, to walk the land of the in between, to pull those strings a little harder. Go to paintings. Go to plays. Go to music. Seek and see what emerges. And in the meantime, we must all learn to be okay with the quiet times for they will always be.


Meet the Interns: Stacie Fraser

Interview Editor Stacie Fraser is in her senior year at Arizona State University. She is studying English Literature and will be graduating in May. All of the years spent attending classes at ASU she has also been working for Sparky’s Stadium Shop located on the Tempe Campus. After graduating, she hopes to apply her skills learned throughout college and her time at Superstition Review, to a career in editing and publishing. This is her first semester working with Superstition Review.

1. What is your position with Superstition Review and what are your responsibilities?

I am an Interview Editor at Superstition Review. I am responsible for selecting authors to interview for our page. My position has me selecting authors, emailing them and asking them if they would be willing to be interviewed for our magazine. I then create a list of interview questions specifically for that author.

2. Why did you decide to get involved with Superstition Review?

I applied to Superstition Review because it is a great learning opportunity. It also allows me to become more familiar with lesser known authors.

3. How do you like to spend your free time?

I love spending my free time outside in Arizona’s beautiful sunshine, running and swimming. I also love going to the movies with friends and reading novels.

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

I would also like to experience everything that the fiction section editor’s have to do at Superstition Review. I am very interested in editing novels for a career.

5. Describe one of your favorite literary works.

I am a huge fan of Salman Rushdie. His novel The Moor’s Last Sigh is one of his best works. Moraes Zogoiby, also called Moor, is the narrator who ages twice as fast as normal humans. The novel is full of magical realism, hybridity and allegory.

6. What are you currently reading?

I am currently reading Blood on the Forge, by William Attaway, for a Protest Literature course. When school is not in session, I enjoy reading books by Janet Evanovich. Her works are much lighter and easier to read than most of the novels recommended for my college courses. Even though I am an English Literature major, I have not read some great classics. Once I graduate I plan to start at the top of my list and read many famous authors like Emily Dickens and J. D. Salinger.

7. Creatively, what are you currently working on?

I am currently toying with the idea of writing fiction short stories. In the past I have written poetry, but all of my writing has been for personal accomplishments, not publication, and will most likely continue that way for a while longer.

8. What inspires you?

My personal drive for success and happiness is my biggest inspiration. I want to be able to handle whatever life throws at me.

9. What are you most proud of?

I am most proud of my college education. Graduation in May will be the best achievement I have accomplished so far. I cannot wait to continue with life and hope to be on a successful career path.

10. Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

In 10 years I hope to be working in San Francisco, or some west coast city, for a publishing company as an editor.

Catching Up with Past Interns

I am happy to bring you an exciting post this week that has been in the works for a while– an interview with Superstition Review interns from previous semesters. Here’s what they had to say about what they’re up to now, how SR helped them get there, and what they wish they had known when they were interns. Enjoy!

Superstition Review: What have you been doing since your internship with Superstition Review?

Sara Scoville: After graduating from ASU in May ’09, I have continued to conduct research for a collection of essays I’ve been working on since my last semester. The topic focuses on interaction and the relationships that form in the online gaming community amongst alpha males. I also work full time as a supervisor at a direct marketing company.

Melissa Silva: I’m now applying to work as an intern for Nordstrom. As a Capital Scholar, I’m applying to work for NPR and other media outlets in DC this summer.

Riki Meier: I’ve been working full-time at ASU during the day, and also taking a few independent study courses. Late last fall, I completed several graduate school applications, and I’m excited to say I was just accepted into the English PhD program at Tufts University! They are offering me full funding for five years. I’m absolutely thrilled as I know Tufts has an excellent program and I also love the Boston area!

Carter Nacke: Since working at Superstition Review, I have turned my focus to graduating. I’m pleased to say that I’ll be graduating in May with a degree in Print Journalism from the Cronkite School.

Alex Linden: Since my internship with Superstition Review, I finished my last year at Arizona State and applied to MFA programs for Poetry. I now attend Oklahoma State University and this semester will finish the first year of my MFA.

SR: Do you think your experience with Superstition Review has helped with what you’re doing now? How?

SS: I believe it most certainly has. I’ve worked for the same company for 12 years, so it was definitely nice to do something different. Trish is an amazing person and I absolutely loved learning from her! One thing that I appreciated most about her is the amount of trust and faith she had in me. It’s because of her belief in my abilities that I have a stronger sense of confidence in both my writing and professional life.

MS: Experience with publishing and Excel I think has helped reassure companies that I’m qualified to work for them.

RM: I do think that my work at Superstition Review helped my admission chances at Tufts, as Tufts has a reputation for wanting well-rounded (and diversified) applicants. Although I am going for a research degree, I think the fact I worked as an editor at a national literary magazine demonstrated that I don’t have only an analytical mind; I have a strong creative inclination as well.

CN: I think my experience did help. While I was in charge of financing and fundraising (which I’d never done before), SR helped me learn to balance work and school. I also saw first-hand how magazines are produced, which is extremely helpful for my magazine writing class.

AL: My experience with SR has definitely helped with what I do now. I believe my chances of getting into MFA programs would have been much less had I not done the internship. More importantly, I was exposed to the literary world and inspired to pursue similar work in the future. I now read for the Cimarron Review.

SR: Is there any advice you’d like to give current Superstition Review interns?

SS: Have respect for everyone involved throughout the entire process. Ask for help if you need it, and be willing to help if someone needs you. The success of the issue is dependent upon every single intern, so open lines of communication are of the utmost importance. Also, be proud of and enjoy what you’re contributing to the literary community.

MS: Work hard and try to learn as much as you can. I learned a lot about communicating professionally online and using Excel.

RM: For the current editors soliciting work from writers, I would say that one should approach soliciting writers like they should approach applying to graduate schools. One should have a number of “long-shots” writers on the list that one dreams of publishing, but the chances of publishing that person may be slim. Soliciting someone like Toni Morrison or Salman Rushdie may be analogous to applying to graduate school at Princeton or Harvard. If you diversify your solicitation list, you have far greater chances of getting lots of great literary pieces for review!

CN: Current interns: Get your stuff done early. Take it from someone who knows, assignments and work can pile up on you before you know what’s going on!

AL: Take advantage of every opportunity your internship provides. Research other literary journals, contact the writers you admire, and don’t read all of the submissions at once. 🙂