Date: Wednesday, March 27, 2019 Time: 12:00pm – 1:00pm Location: Piper Writer’s House, 450 E. Tyler Mall, Tempe, AZ 85281 Cost: Free
The ASU Book Group’s March 2019 reading selection is “Counting Coup” by Kelli Donley. The book group is open to all in the ASU community and meets monthly from noon to 1 p.m. in the Piper Writers House on ASU’s Tempe campus. Authors are always present. A no-host luncheon follows at the University Club. Attendees at each meeting will be entered into a drawing for a $50 gift certificate! Drawing to be held in April.
Synopsis: Happily consumed with her academic career, Professor Avery Wainwright never planned on becoming sole guardian of her octogenarian Aunt Birdie. Forced to move Birdie — and her failing memory — into her tiny apartment, Avery’s precariously balanced life loses its footing. Unearthed in the chaos is a stack of sixty-year-old letters. Written in 1951, the letters tell of a year Avery’s grandmother, Alma Jean, spent teaching in the Indian school system, in the high desert town of Winslow, Arizona. The letters are addressed to Birdie, who was teaching at the Phoenix Indian School. The ghostly yet familiar voices in the letters tell of a dark time in her grandmother’s life, a time no one has ever spoken of. Torn between caring for the old woman who cannot remember and her very different memories of a grandmother no longer alive to explain, Avery searches for answers. But the scandal and loss she finds, the revelations about abuses, atrocities and cover-ups at the Indian schools, threaten far more than she’s bargained for.
Kelli Donley is a native Arizonan who works in public health. “Counting Coup” was inspired by Donley’s colleagues’ stories about childhoods spent at the Phoenix Indian School. One of the characters is an ASU professor.
The remaining ASU Book Group meeting and selection for 2018—19 is:
I had played the mandolin since age seven, but when I entered high school, in 1964, I chose the tuba as the instrument I would play in the concert band. At the time I had little knowledge of the dented brass contraption in the corner of the band room, but it seemed to beckon me: like the Sword in the Stone. As it turned out, I had a natural talent for the tuba. The first notes I produced were stable and centered, and in less than five minutes instruction, I was playing a B-flat major scale. Four years later, I enrolled in junior college as a music major (I had been offered a one-hundred dollar “scholarship”). The junior college music department had no tuba instructor, however, so I set out on my own to find a private teacher, and in 1969 I contacted Roger Bobo—one of the greatest musicians ever to hoist that magnificent horn. He was then the tubist in the Los Angeles Philharmonic. He had also been the first tubist to give a solo recital at Carnegie Hall (see John Updike’s light verse poem: “Recital”).
I can remember clearly my first lesson with Roger. His home, at that time, was in the Hollywood hills, not far from the Hollywood Bowl. I arrived a little early and he offered me some coffee (very good coffee, as I recall). He was wearing an Irish fisherman’s sweater and he looked a little like Tyrone Power (if Tyrone Power had been a tight end for the Rams). We sat and talked for a while, and then, before hearing me play a single note, he said: “I hope you’re not planning on making a living playing the tuba.” Becoming a professional tubist was exactly what I had been planning to do. I was stunned by his remark, but when the color returned to my face, Roger added that he was not trying to discourage me from pursuing a professional career, only that I should have something else to fall back on. “It’s a tough way to make a living,” he said. “There’s a lot of competition, few openings, and no guarantees.”
I studied with Roger Bobo throughout most of the 1970s (the topic of “having something else to fall back on” was never again mentioned). Roger was (and still is) a remarkable teacher. During our first year of instruction, he would often perform with me in unison the etudes or solos I’d prepared for my lesson—his tuba-bell a foot or two from my right ear. This gave me confidence and a strong concept of proper phrasing and rhythm and sound. But he discontinued this practice after our first year. Instead, he would sit—or stand—and sometimes sing and/or conduct a passage. His comments were always precise and beneficial and never sugar-coated. In the following years, we worked almost exclusively on orchestral repertoire. I was encouraged to study the tuba part in the context of a full orchestral score. Roger helped me learn the principles of artistic discipline, daily regimen, and a reverence for the smallest details (attributes not foreign to a good writer). During one particular lesson, he said something that would take root in my mind.
“What would you say is a teacher’s job?” he asked.
I thought it was a rhetorical question and I answered without thinking. “A teacher’s job is to teach.”
“Wrong,” he said. “A teacher’s job is to help students learn how to teach themselves.”
By the mid-1970s I was making my living as a professional tubist. In 1978 I traveled to Europe and was offered the tuba chair in the orchestra of The Teatro Regio, in Turin, Italy. It was a wonderful experience (for the most part), but at the end of the opera season, I decided not to renew my contract, and I returned to the States. Once home, I took up where I’d left off, only now my situation had improved: I was offered more studio work and I performed regularly with several of the local orchestras and other ensembles throughout southern California. And then my friend and mentor, Roger Bobo, gave me the highest honor yet: he asked me to substitute for him in the Los Angeles Philharmonic. This was something akin to being Olivier’s understudy filling in as Hamlet.
Performing with one of the world’s top symphonic orchestras is a near-approach to the gates of Heaven. It was one of the greatest experiences of my life. All those years of hard work had paid off. And I was up for the task; I felt right at home. But something horrible happened during the second concert. A malevolent force suddenly weakened my left jaw and my embouchure muscles. I was terrified. I leaned over to Jeff Reynolds, the bass trombonist, and whispered my situation. Jeff’s response was outstanding: he doubled my part, where he could, and helped me sandbag through the rest of the concert, without a hitch.
The condition that ended my music career is called “Embouchure Dystonia.” (You can read about the different forms of dystonia in Oliver Sack’s book Musicophilia.)
Midway on my life’s journey (the 1980s), I found myself with nothing to “fall back on”—except a series of low-paying, low-skilled jobs, and a major funk. My spirits rose a little when I took my mandolin out of mothballs and performed with a traditional Irish music band, but—tasteful and challenging as the music was—it didn’t supply enough nourishment to heal my soul or turn my life around.
I had been a hungry reader my whole life. As a child I loved fairytales and Arthurian legends and the poems and stories of Edgar Allen Poe. In my twenties, however, I started reading more nonfiction: history, biography, and science. It was an unbalanced diet. Fortunately, during a particularly low stretch of my mid-thirties, I instinctively increased my intake of poetry and fiction, and my soul resumed its proper course, leaving behind my overabundant self-pity.
It was about this time I encountered the first of two lifechanging events. The first event would end in an unintentional negative sell. I was at a party, engaged in a conversation about great literature. I was the greenhorn among the group, and I naively asked the Leader of the Pack about James Joyce’s Ulysses. I said I’d heard about the book and was wondering should I read it. The Leader of the Pack smirked and said that I should instead read something by Steinbeck; Ulysses was for scholars.
The next morning, I started a syllabus for what would be my self-taught course to conquer Mount Ulysses. (“The best way to get an Irishman to do something is to tell him he can’t do it.”) I made a list of the books I knew Joyce would have read: The Bible and Dante’s Divine Comedy; the works of Shakespeare, Ovid, Virgil, and, of course, Homer. I included Greek and Irish and Nordic myths and legends. I would also read Joyce’s Dubliners (three times) and Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man.
I am a very slow reader. The process took about three years to complete. When I felt ready, I went to a used book store and paid a dollar-fifty for a hardbound copy of Ulysses. It was one of the most enjoyable books I’d ever read. I learned what I knew as a child (“The child is the father of the man”): a book is something to read; not conquer. One of the best side effects from all this reading was the uncontrollable urge to write something of my own. This time, however, I decided to go the traditional route of the university, and I enrolled for night courses. I tapped into my past musician’s discipline and developed the joyful habit of writing every day. (I would eventually earn a degree in liberal studies and an elementary teaching credential.)
1991 brought the second of my lifechanging events. It was the year I met Jo-Anne Cappeluti: the most extraordinary human being I have ever known, the love of my life, and the woman I would marry. At the time we met, Jo-Anne was already a published poet and scholar, with a Ph.D. in English. She was then teaching creative writing and literature courses at a local university (a position from which she retired a few years ago, after thirty years of service). Over the years Jo-Anne has coached me on how to be my own editor—emphasizing a reverence for the smallest details and the necessity for revisions. She makes suggestions but never edits my work nor tells me what to do. Sometimes we disagree about things (sometimes we argue)—but she’s the one who usually had it right from the start. We listen to classical music and read aloud to one-another from great works of literature. Recently we read aloud from George MacDonald’s The Golden Key.
In 1997 my first publication, “The Awakening,” appeared in the Seattle Review. Since then I have had the good fortune to receive more than three-dozen acceptances in various literary journals (including two short stories in Superstition Review). Every acceptance is a magical experience; the excitement never diminishes. (I have received far more rejections than acceptances—but I quit counting them years ago.) God willing, I will continue writing short stories as long as I draw breath in this life. My passion for writing has given back to me something I had lost (and then some). I never intended to make a living by writing, and it looks like I’m in no danger of ever doing so. This doesn’t bother me in the least.
If I were asked to name the chief benefit of the house, I should say: the house shelters daydreaming, the house protects the dreamer…
The Poetics of Space, Gaston Bachelard
In her 1943 essay “We Refugees” Hannah Arendt explains the predicament of the suicide that “in their own eyes” feel themselves as having failed life’s standard. Having given into despair in themselves, they die “of a kind of selfishness”; the failure of how to define, or redefine, one’s self-worth given the loss of assumed standards makes for the quandary: “If we are saved we feel humiliated, and if we are helped we feel degraded.” This quandary speaks to standards of citizenship and social belonging that in turn speak to systems of society and behavior that are radically reconfigured in the lives of displaced peoples. The refugee being a prime example of such, one that Girogio Agamben in his 2008 essay “Beyond Human Rights” argues as “perhaps the only thinkable figure for the people of our time and the only category in which one may see today… the forms and limits of a coming political community.”
I am learning of how standards are reconfigured in a year of working with Afghan families living in a school building in the center of Athens. My assumptions of dignity and belonging are changed as I am gradually invited into these lives. It begins with an invitation to have tea on the spread blankets that cover the floor of a classroom, where we leave our shoes at the blanket’s edge. Mattresses are pushed up against walls; some pillows are on the floor. I’m urged to use a pillow as I am a guest but I shake my head, saying it’s not necessary, only to realize this creates confusion and a look of disappointment, so I accept the pillow, and drink the sweetened tea. I have a bag of raisins with me. There’s a feeling of comfort and hospitality, as we drink the sweetened tea and share the raisins. We discuss the fact that some of the children are attending the Greek public school. I’m asked if I will find a dentist for a 3 year old whose top front teeth have all rotted. It will be her birthday at the end of the month. It is not the date on her paper but the one her mother gives us in April. When I’d asked her father he said he wasn’t sure what the date of her birthday was. But her mother knows, and tells me. We plan a party. I still have a string of lights with me, a cluster I’d forgotten to bring to the Christmas party we had in December. I plug them in and they start flickering, this makes Heniah, who takes a quick intake of breath, laugh. She keeps plugging and unplugging the lights as they flicker in their nest of color.
Changed circumstances will change how we see what we see. These small living spaces are made unexpectedly new. Even the city is made new. Omonia square where buses and metro stops make for intersections and gatherings, where information on squats, cell phones, fake passports, border smugglings, and plain old advice on everything from medicine to asylum petitions are hawked. It is also a world where Unés, one of the refugee children I’ve grown close to, notices things I’ve never paid attention to. He pauses in our walk along a crowded street as someone who is selling potato peelers loses his grip, and the peeler skids across the pavement, Unés picks it up, checks the blade and gives it back to the man who is surprised anyone would pick up the now broken peeler, and thanks him. We pause at a pet shop because one of the puppies catches Unés’ attention. There’s also a snake and a parrot on display. When we leave Unés points to a huge ice-cream stand with its exaggerated plastic cone. I must have seen the thing too many times to remember because it sits just outside the metro stop, but this time I see it as he does, and smile.
We speak a mix of English, Greek, and Farsi words, a jumble of emoji symbols, VIBER and WhatsApp emoticons and letters. There is salam, “hello” and bedrood, “goodbye”. Thanks to the weekly games and books and songs in English that Alicia, Judi, Eirini, Stephanie and other volunteers and donors have made generously available some of the children are now speaking in near-fluent English phrases. We have become as familiar to them as they have become to us – Rocha, Heniah, Unés, Narghes, Rakia, Azize, Maedeh – we know each other’s names, even ages. Judi is asked why she isn’t married, and if she was ever married. I’m asked if I have any children. One afternoon I show a video on my cell phone of couples dancing tango at the studio where I go. I’m asked if I do this too, Azize and her sister would like to come with me, next time I go. We go to a Luna Park where there are bumper cars and a Ferris wheel, and high-flying space-cars in which Heniah, fearless, pushes on the gears so the air-borne car will go higher. She is giddy and I am anxious. Maedeh, who is 14, comes with me to a play my daughter is in. It is Ramadan and she asks if she can skip the fast since she will be walking in the heat to the theater. Her mother is okay with this, and she dresses in white tights and her scarf and tells me you can tell the difference between Syrian and Afghan women by the way they wear their scarves. The Afghan women wear them more loosely around their heads, less tightly folded around their faces. There’s a moment in the play when the top comes off one of the actors, it’s a split-second; the actor is a statue that comes to life, her white, spray-painted breasts are bared. On our way back to the squat Maedeh will mention it, that the actor “lost her blouse” and I will nod and ask if she will tell her mother and she says she might which makes me think I may not be invited to take her daughter anywhere after this, but ask then if it surprised or bothered her. She shakes her head and says, very simply, “This is Europe.”
In Agamben’s essay he references Arendt’s point that one of the things the Third Reich ensured before Jews and Gypsies were sent to the extermination camps was that they had to be “fully denationalized…stripped of even that second-class citizenship to which they had been related after the Nuremberg Laws.” Agamben is making the point that the concept of the nation-state founded as it has been on assumptions of citizenship and national belonging was a way to draw the line between what lives were “doomed to death”, and which remained with human, legal, rights. He argues the point first put forward by Arendt in relation to the Jews. He notes that “What is new in our time is the growing sections of humankind are no longer representable inside the nation-state – and this novelty threatens the foundations of the later.” In other words, human rights as they have been historically tied to citizenship are now, as he explains, “Beyond Human Rights”, an insufficient insurance, or reflection, of our humanity.
I get a message from Heniah’s brother, who is 12, that her birthday party will be at 2:00, and would Judi and I like to come. Like the invitation to tea I feel it’s important to go, and want to celebrate my fearless 4 year-old’s day. I pick up a lemon pie that looks fancy and some paper plates, cups, plastic forks, party hats, and arrive after Judi. We’re invited to sit on the floor in the classroom that is now the family’s living space, the wide blankets are cleared and what was once a school desk is brought in so Heniah can sit there and blow out her candle. We’ll wait for the guests, mothers and their young children who arrive from other squats, and camps, some from as far as the Malakassa camp, where mostly Afghan families are housed; everyone arrives with a small gift, wrapped in colored paper. There are clips for Heniah’s hair, colored plastic bangles, a coloring book. There are balloons taped to the walls and the Christmas lights I’d brought are hanging from the blackboard where they have been taped. Heniah has had her hair in tiny braids so that now curls all around her face, and Rocha puts new clips into it.
But what is most impressive is the 3-layered cake that’s been prepared for the guests. My bought lemon pie, while delicious, is nothing compared to this chocolate cake, which Heniah’s mother, Azize, has made.
There is excitement as people gather. The women shed their veils and change into clothing that would make them indistinguishable from anyone else in the city. Sleeveless dresses, skirts, loose shirts with low necklines. Azize puts on make-up and earrings. When she wears lipstick I think she looks like an Italian film star, but I’m not sure which one, maybe Monica Bellucci. There is music, and then dancing; the women pull me up from the floor where I’m sitting to join them; Raikia shows me how to move my arms in a slow, sensual wave, I start to laugh, feeling awkward at first, but then happy. The children are also dancing in a circle.
Judi asks me, “who do you think is happier in a moment like this, a group of women in the UK or US or these women?” I say, without much thought, that I think right now this gathering is a very happy one, and that everyone in the room is enjoying themselves. When Judi asks Maedeh why there are no boys, or men, she says they are never present at the women’s parties but that they are not missed either. Judi asks if she wouldn’t want a boy to dance with if she liked him, and Maedeh gives an emphatic “No!” and tells us when the time comes, her father will find a boy for her and will ask her if she likes him, if not he’ll find another one. She says two boys waited for her sister who is 19; “one waited for nothing” because Mina didn’t want to go to him, and now there’s another in Sweden. Maedeh is matter-of-fact, “If a boy wants to wait and I like him then we can get married when we ready.”
We share stories, and our lives. When Maedeh speaks Judi and I expect that she and perhaps some of the other women would wish to have some of the choices we in our western worlds assume are the better ones, and find out that’s not the case, that things are also less patriarchal if more gender-specific, than what we assume. For example, Narghes, who is also 14, tells me it is her mother who will pick the wife, or suggest someone, for her older brother, because her father is dead. She tells me her father had taught her to read, and wanted her to learn languages. At some point in our conversations, I share a anecdote from Greek Orthodox weddings, that the liturgy uses the quote from the Bible about the wife fearing her husband at which point the wife stamps her husband’s foot in symbolic resistance. Azize and Maedeh look suprised, and ask why a wife would be told to be afraid of her husband, I say to remind them of who has the authority, they tell me both have, but each has a different kind.
There are other ironies and surprises; that we communicate across language and culture in ways that reinvent our language and culture. My VIBER messaging with Narghes was a mash-up of discourses, and went on from our first month of friendship. When she messaged me that she’d like a pair of black tights if I could find them for her, to when the family moved to the Malakassa camp, and finally got their papers under the family reunification law to go to Geneva. We shared hundreds of texts, emojis, voice messages, in our digital exchanges –
Bai Bai [Bye Bye] – Narghes writes, Okey [Okay]; You vato slip??? [you want to sleep???]; Hi you kam tomoro [you come tomorrow]; Andrstan [Understand]; vat taim you kam [what time you come]; Hi Adrianne you kam tomoro my mazr koking for you [you come tomorrow my mother cooking for you]; Ined nmbr hosin and maide [I need number hossein and maedeh]
The nation state, says Agamben is in demise, borders are being contested, people are being smuggled through at costs that sometimes include their lives, certainly the EU is in crisis, and the refugee influx has magnified what Agamben explains as the “unstoppable decline of the nation-state and general corrosion of traditional political-juridical categories.” But as Arendt said of the Jews in 1943, “Refugees driven from country to country represent the vanguard of their peoples – if they keep their identity.” These families, unhoused, as they are from country and citizenship are examples of this challenge; rather than feeling themselves as having failed life’s standard, they show us how the standard is life itself, as in sheer life, as in what it means to continue with the traditions and values that shelter us.
Narghes’ mother wants to give me a gift, it is a black patent leather bag someone has given her, and she thinks I might like it. She also ties up the bag of raisins I’ve brought because there are still some in the bag, but I say I want her to keep the raisins, and she says tashakor [thank you]. My proximity to these lives has made the obvious newly tenable, and newly proximate.
From the window of our Tokyo hotel, we overlook an economics college on whose balconies and roof deck congregate about a dozen students. A couple of them throw a football; some go off and stand alone on the roof to smoke cigarettes. I haven’t seen a lot of activity at the school today, compared to yesterday; it’s a Friday evening. As I scan the brick facade, in another set of windows I see a man practicing what appears to be agile karate moves. When I look again, the group is making their way down to the fifth level deck. Several in this group run around, in what appears to be an aggressive game of tag. Much good-natured yelling and hooting is going on.
It doesn’t matter that this is Japan. It could be in New York City and I still wouldn’t know what those kids are doing, although I’m culturally closer to understanding the activities of a group of American college students.
I’m writing this near the end of almost two weeks in Japan, and what has struck me about the country is how little I know about what I see around me. As well, how in the dark I am with the language, having picked up some while here. But as this is rudimentary, I struggle to communicate.
A few observations: How are the streets so clean they look like you could eat off them–yet how can there be no trash bins to be found anywhere? Why the high-tech toilets with a control panel that looks like it requires a Ph.D. in rocket science to operate? How come I can’t find any fruit and when I do, it’s outrageously pricey? Why are there only five brands of beer (all Japanese, all lager)? Why is everyone in such a hurry to get where they are going, at any time of the day (even the Metro signs read “Don’t Rush” in English)? In the Tsukiji fish market—a warehouse about the size of three football fields–where will all that fish go? And what is the obsession with baseball, and American jazz, the latter of which is like muzak, it’s everywhere. As are vending machines.
For a Californian who is making his best effort to match the symbols on the map with the ones he sees on the street signs, this is Japan.
The people, I should add, are generally nice, even uncannily respectful. An old man shook my hand when I held the door open for him. Japan is a curiously orderly society. I’m reminded of what first intrigued me when I watched Chris Marker’s 1983 experimental film, Sans Soleil, which is only indirectly about Japan, but contains enough enigmas about the country to pique a writer’s curiosity.
Looking out my hotel window, I feel like Jimmy Stewart in Rear Window. I get that lazy voyeuristic survey, waiting and expecting, or not, to see something, all of which would barely register in my awareness but for the fact that I am curious.
So much of my writing practice is inward looking. To write is to imagine. Usually I write fiction, or I write about what I am reading. I often write on what I’m thinking about. The notes I make for myself are a few steps removed from my attempt to put them into a context where I might utilize them.
I’m much less versed in the task I set for myself in Japan, writing about what is happening around me. As I want to document my trip, I attempt to catch myself in the act of noticing. This could be too obvious, perhaps to the point of self-consciousness. But on the other hand, it is not, because I lose myself in the unfamiliar, the people, their mannerisms, the general conforming of a populace to local customs. Being 5500 miles removed from my usual day to day experience, I am immersed.
There’s not much practical use I have for these observations, unless of course I can apply them to a character, but it’s hard for me to see how I would extract from the general, into the particular. And to know a character, I need particulars. To inhabit an unfamiliar culture means that I can’t really know what motivates people, nor in what I’m going to find. I’m trying to do this without any Western bias of interpretation, yet the process of observation seems to get me no closer to understanding.
This dovetails with a notion I have about the writing process: writing is so generated by unknowable impulses that it cannot help but enfold a mystery. And because of this, the result itself, whether fiction or nonfiction, is often an illustration of the process.
On the other hand, so many writers seem to pay lip service to this notion of not knowing what it is they do—am I making the mistake of trying to demystify the process? I’m only concerned if it takes away the motivation, or places undue expectation on what I will write.
The workings of writing are unconscious. If I know ahead of time what I’m going to write, why should I bother to write it? I let the mechanism work unimpeded. Writing is 99% not knowing what I’m going to write, and 1% knowing only that I’m going to write. The unknown for me—and I’d suspect, for a lot of writers—is in, what will I write?
But to return to the economics college roof deck. I still have no idea what those students are doing. I have seen, and will see, before the trip is out, many more things I have no clue about, and have no basis for understanding. And so I make notes.
I love the inherent mystery of not knowing. Maybe this is what keeps me writing. Maybe I never know, even after I try to convince myself of what I’m writing, what I’m writing about. This is a metaphor for my experience in Japan. It’s also a metaphor for my writing. I remind myself that the more I write, the closer I get.
Well howdy, readers! This afternoon, Superstition Review is glad to announce that past contributor Darrin Doyle, who was featured in the Interviews section of our 8th issue (which can be read here) and the Fiction section of our 16th issue (which can be read here), has recently released the first album from his rock/folk/karate trio Daryl & the Beans, titled Burnin’ the Eagle, which can be purchased here. The album itself is $8, and all proceeds from the sale of this record go to funding a scholarship for students in the Creative Writing program at Central Michigan University. If you’re so inclined, feel free to up the proverbial ante and pitch a few extra bucks toward this wonderful cause when you purchase the album! Do yourself, and the students of Central Michigan University, a huge favor and purchase Burnin’ the Eagle.
Hello everybody! Today, we here at Superstition Review are thrilled to announce that past contributor Alison Hawthorne Deming, who read for us back in April of 2011, has just been named Regents’ Professor at the University of Arizona, by the Arizona Board of Regents. To be named a Regents’ Professor is the highest honor that can be bestowed on a faculty member in the university system, and we can think of none more deserving than Alison Hawthorne Deming. You can read the full press release here, and if you’re interested in Alison’s work, check out her most recent publications: a new book of poetry titled”Stairway to Heaven,” out now from Penguin (found here), and her collaboration with photographer Stephen Strom, titled “Death Valley: Painted Light” (found here). Congratulations to Alison and the University of Arizona!
Hey readers! Superstition Review is proud to announce that Ruben Quesada, a former faculty member at Eastern Illinois University who was featured in the Poetry section of Issue 13, has been named a faculty member at the UCLA Extension, and will be teaching a course on Poetry and Popular Culture alongside Rosebud Ben-Oni this summer. Do yourself a favor, and check out Ruben Quesada’s poem “On Witness” here, and stay tuned to the blog for more updates on the beautiful happenings here at Superstition Review.
The Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing at ASU is proud to offer four creative writing classes through the Piper Writers Studio. Classes are taught by acclaimed and award-winning writers from the community, and cover topics such as first-draft novel writing, novel revisions, persona poetry, and creative non-fiction.
The faculty for the Fall 2016 session of the Piper Writers Studio are:
Michael A Stackpole, a New York Times best-selling author known for his extensive fantasy and science fiction work in the Stars Wars, Conan, and World of Warcraft universes. Stackpole will be teaching Winning NaNoWriMo Tuesdays, October 4 – 25, 2016 from 6 – 8 p.m.
Carol Test, an award-winning short-story writer and former editor in chief of the Sonora Review who has taught workshops for the University of Arizona, Arizona State University, Phoenix College, and Mesa Community College. Test will be teaching Remodel Your Novel: Five Key Scenes for Fiction Writers Wednesdays, October 5 – 26, 2016 from 6 – 8 p.m.
Marshall Terrill, veteran film, sports, music, history and popular culture writer with over 20 books to his credit, including bestselling biographies of Steve McQueen, Elvis Presley, and Pete Maravich. Terrill will be teaching Beyond the Facts: Writing Compelling Non-fiction Wednesdays, October 5 – 26, 2016 from 6 – 8 p.m.
Lois Roma-Deeley, an author with three collections of poetry and numerous publications in anthologies in journals who founded the creative writing program at Paradise Valley Community College and received an Artist Research and Development Grant from the Arizona State Commission on the Arts in 2016. Roma-Deeley will be teaching Another Voice: Creating Memorable Poetic Personas Saturday, October 22, 2016 from 9 a.m. – 1 p.m.
Classes are open to individuals of all backgrounds, skill levels, and experiences, and are designed to fit around the schedules of working adults (taking place weekday evenings or weekend afternoons). Most classes are held at the Piper Writers House, the historic President’s Cottage on the ASU Tempe Campus. Class sizes range between 8 and 12 students in order to ensure an intimate, individualized educational experience, and start at $75 (with discounts for individuals who are members of the Piper Circle of Friends). Classes can also qualify for professional development credit with the Arizona Department of Education. Individuals can register for classes through the Piper Center’s website until Monday, October 3rd, 2016.
When I say Mrs. Dalloway is unforgettable, I don’t mean that I didn’t accidentally leave my copy by my bedside table on a day I was supposed to teach with it. Two days, in fact. It’s the beginning of the semester, and my students keep calling me “Doctor” like we’re suddenly in a hospital. I have a last name, but maybe they’ve forgotten it and are embarrassed about asking. For my part, I was afraid to ask them for page numbers and look like an idiot professor who forgets his book (twice); therefore I kept beginning my questions with, “Just off the top of your head…”
I think I covered fairly well, thanks to the memorable antics of Sally Seton—you know her—Mrs. Dalloway’s youth-hood friend who, to my students’ delight, once forgot her bath sponge and ran naked through the crowded house to fetch it. “I like Sally because she doesn’t care what people think,” a shy student said from the third row. Me, I like Sally because she doesn’t let embarrassment get in the way, and this may be why she’s reached literature stardom even though she shines for only a dozen or so pages of the twentieth century.
Sally knows something that we writers sometimes forget.
You’re at your writing desk, and you have a maybe-great idea, but it’s actually a horrible idea. Because mixing metaphors is always a horrible idea. Wrong, wrong, wrong—do you want people to think you’ve never read a good book or attended a workshop in your whole life? A horrible idea—except maybe this one risky time it could work? Hamlet, after all, does say, without apology, “…to take arms against a sea of troubles.”
In my daydream, Ezra Pound sits at his desk chewing his lips and thinking, “Will anyone take a two-line poem about a metro station seriously?”
Other wrong ideas include putting on a jumpsuit and pretending to be a dancing cat. (You’ve seen this?) Maybe in the production days of this video, those members of Ballet Zoom didn’t admit to their families exactly what they were up to. Maybe when their spouses or children asked, “How was work today?” they changed the subject. Or maybe their cheerful leaps weren’t just performance, but a sincere, artistic moment. Either way, look at the joy they’ve given many of us viewers now.
We often hide from potential embarrassment, but everything new is embarrassing. Every poem, essay, or story draft is gangly before it outgrows adolescence. And taking a risk gives others permission to do the same. From time to time, let’s all dare to eat a peach, even if we might end up with food between our teeth.
So yes, I forgot the book like an idiot, and both days turned out fine. Sally Seton forgot her soap, which led my shy student to speak up in class. And in offices, and kitchens, and empty corners, many of us heard that 1970s beat, and—even if we won’t admit it—tossed up our hands as if they were feline paws and bounced them a bit, laughing like (to mix a metaphor) happy hyenas at a birthday party.
I teach 11th grade English at a high school located in downtown Portland, Oregon. I see my students every day, and as you might imagine, I have my ups and downs. Some days, when the lesson plan is solid and I’m properly caffeinated, I feel like I’m nailing it. The conversation is great, kids are forming opinions and getting passionate about the subject matter, and any minute my trophy will arrive for teacher of the year. But other times, I can’t help but wonder why somebody hasn’t come along and yanked me off the stage already.
I do a lot of talking to the students, and in turn the students do a lot of talking with me and with each other. Mostly, we talk about literature and writing. Stuff like tone, character, plot structure, symbolism, the works. How we feel about the characters. How we feel about the author. How we suspect the author might want us to feel about the characters. I really do love it, and I consider myself incredibly lucky that I get to have these conversations all the time with people who are engaged and informed and excited to learn.
But when it comes to writing, there’s a limit to the value of talking. At a certain point, I truly believe, you have to shut up and listen, and not just to other people, but to the world itself.
So on one particular afternoon, when I saw that the conversation was dragging, the eyelids were getting heavy, and the post-lunch yawns were on the creep, I decided that it was no longer time to yap. It was time to take a walk, as a class, around the neighborhood.
Before we set out, I laid down the rules. No talking. No cell phones. Avoid forms of nonverbal communication with each other (e.g. poking, tripping, massaging, mouthing curse words, etc.). We were going to shut up and walk, taking note of anything that we might come across. This, I hoped, was going to be an important lesson on writing.
A few nightmare scenarios ran through my mind just as we set out. The sky might suddenly open up and cast down rain, hail, lightning, brimstone, etc. upon us, sending my tightly organized and mindful class into a frenzied, save-your-own-ass stampede. One of the many disenfranchised individuals camping on the street might decide it’s the right time to take issue with my face. A student might get so absorbed in the present moment that she wanders into the middle of traffic. Or, more realistically, the whole thing will feel weird and just…kind of silly.
But there we were, walking out of the school building and onto the busy sidewalk. We made our way through the city streets silently, a slow-moving mass emitting no sounds except maybe the rhythmic pads and clicks of our shoes against the pavement. On the first block, we carried with us a kind of shrugging sheepishness; we’d pass by people and greet their puzzled expressions with half-smiles, all too aware of our unusual noiselessness. This was a new thing, to simply observe without the distraction of conversation or the filter of a Spotify playlist or podcast in our earbuds. It felt awkward.
Gradually, we settled into it. It’s a totally bizarre and worthwhile feeling to move in a silent group. You feel calm, reflective, but also sort of badass. Based on their quizzical expressions, the people we passed by on the street were unnerved by us. How often do you see a group of 20 teenagers just walking? Not talking, not looking at their phones. Just walking. Were we some kind of cult?
As we waited for the walk signal at an intersection, a blue BMW with tinted windows boomed and rattled past us. From its slightly cracked windows blasted UB40’s “Red, Red Wine.” The car’s presence was enormous. We resisted the immediate urges to laugh, dance, sing along, or scoff. Instead, we just watched as it trundled down the avenue, rippling its effects across the afternoon.
When you’re doing nothing but observing, every movement in the world becomes a story, and every image becomes a composition: construction workers framed by the cubic bones of an unfinished apartment building; the catch and release of cars at a four-way intersection; the violent hock-hock-spit of a red-faced jogger. And, to me at least, an ineffable humor becomes apparent. From a detached eye, the disparate elements of an urban street corner can come together in a cosmic and gentle punchline.
Now, in full disclosure, I have no idea what my students felt about this exercise. I kind of lost track of time, and when we finally arrived back to the classroom the period was just ending. I dismissed the students with a thank you and a nod. Maybe some of them were wondering why we just wasted fifteen minutes of class time. Maybe some of them were just happy to get outside for a little bit. But I prefer to think that a few of them, at least, were genuinely moved by the experience. Maybe they saw the same old neighborhood with a completely new perspective. And that is as good a place as any to begin writing.