Join Superstition Review in attending Tell Your Story, With Louise Nayer, a two part class on April 10th and April 17th that will be held over Zoom, and taught by five time published writer and winner of six California Arts Council grants, Louise Nayer.
This class will explore the elements of memoir writing, looking at how to “draw readers into your world.” Within the class, there will be “[e]xercises [that] will help you heighten language through sensory detail, learn the difference between scene and summary, and deal with time shifts by using flashback and slow-motion techniques. [The class] will also talk about how to find the right voice and fully engage your readers,” asking “What makes certain voices sing off the page?”
“In the second session of the class you’ll learn how to go deeper into scenes, how to structure a memoir, and narrative arc. Excerpts from Judith Barrington’s Writing the Memoir and from great memoir writers will be used for inspiration and to help with structure. [The class] will also discuss emotional blocks and ethical concerns, “making sure to incorporate “plenty of time for questions.” “The second session will include a supportive critique session where students bring in work to share. You’ll leave with a body of writing, some new writing friends, handouts sent by email, and the inspiration and determination to keep up a writing schedule.”
When I thought about writing this I was stumped for an opening. What catchy first line speaks to being a writer in these socially traumatic times? Then it came to me. Thank you. Thank you for all the work I know you must have done, all the work I know you must be doing. Thank you for caring about the world even when that caring takes away from the time you have to write the novel, finish the poem or invent a new form we haven’t seen yet. Thank you for even thinking about doing something – that’s actually an active step in socially responsible responses. Thanks for helping where you can, at a foodbank, in a volunteer program, on a political campaign. Or on six political campaigns.
I live in Pennsylvania, where there are always at least six political campaigns that could use my help, my money, my time and my gasoline. I’m nearly 71 so I’m not able to do all the things my younger political friends and allies can, but the one good thing about a state as mucked up as Pennsylvania is today is that there is always a job to do that will fit your skills and energy. So, although there are countless ways you can respond to the social disfunction we call modern American, I want to talk a bit here about political activity.
Full disclosure: I did not come to politics naturally. The hot ticket items of the 70’s and 80’s involved me, the Vietnam War, Nuclear Power Plants, but I was not active in social movements like aiding AIDS victims. I’ve marched on Washington a few times, but I have not marched to end genocide or to change voter laws. I kept many issues at the periphery of my attention and I hoped that someone was addressing those issues. I was a poet. I made art. And art matters. I volunteered in the art field, teaching in schools and running a free writing workshop in my living room for fifteen years. But I was not a political operative.
Then came Trump. When I got past the flattening shock of the elections results, I realized that Pennsylvania put him over the line. The Republicans who crafted his campaign had been smart and sneaky. It was new to me, the way they got him elected. I knew they were able to do it in part because I had been asleep at the wheel. Politics, I’d thought, was not my domain. I was a good enough person doing lots of good things. Other good people were taking care of this political stuff. I thought they did not need me.
So that’s me. If you’re a conservative, you can still listen to (or read) this. Just substitute your values for mine, and consider what writers are called to do when a political crisis of this magnitude overtakes their country and their generation. I will set down a few things I had to do in the past election season, and in my ongoing involvement in politics. Other writers will probably need to do them too.
I had to get educated about my local situation, and meet the local people responding to it. Here’s where I got lucky. A University of Pittsburgh professor, Marie Norman, responded to the 2016 election by forming a Facebook group to organize political action. She called it Order of the Phoenix (yup) and as soon as I caught wind of it, I joined. I was not alone.The group attracted a lot of people who were appalled not only by Trump as a man, but by the policies we knew his election would enable. When Trump said he would have all the “best people” running things Stephen Miller and Betsy De Vos showed up.
I read a critical book that described in excruciating detail the Red Mapping that had damaged the fairness of state and federal districts in my state. “Ratf**ked” by David Daley, tells the story of the gerrymandering of America, state by painful state. Daley’s facts motivated me to get involved with elections and with a group that fights gerrymandering. In Pennsylvania, legal activists took the Republican controlled State Senate to court when they drew highly gerrymandered districts that violated legal constraints. The State Supreme Court ruled that they had to re-draw the maps using parameters that resulted in fairer representation for Pennsylvania’s citizens. I could explain all this, but just read Daley’s book – especially if you live in Arizona, or Wisconsin, or Florida, or Ohio, or Michigan. Or anywhere really, just read it.
That led me into working on the 2018 election where we did well in southwestern PA. Republican control of our State legislature was impacted by the election of many Democrats. It’s great when things go that way. But there was no time to bask in that success.
When 2019 came around, I asked, “there’s a 2019 election?” Yes, Deborah. There’s an election every year – not just when Senate and House seats are up for grabs. That year we worked to elect a better District Attorney for Allegheny County. We had a great candidate, but we lost. I look forward to helping her win next time. For me this was another lesson: if you want social change you have to think long-term while you work as if this is your only chance. You must persist in the face of defeat.
Then there was this year – and you no doubt know that Pennsylvania’s 20 electoral votes put Biden over the top. You might not know how big a part Allegheny County played in that. We made a difference, maybe even the difference. In Allegheny County the group that may have had the biggest effect is Order of the Phoenix. And when the race was called for President-Elect Biden, we all got to feel something we cannot expect to feel again soon.
So that brings us to now. What does this history have to do with you, with writers in the age of Social Unrest? Well, here are a few thoughts:
Social unrest means there’s something very wrong. Contented citizens do not spend their time hollering. So whichever side of our current divide you’re on, there is a place for you to work, and work you should. That does not mean you can’t write poems, essays and novels as well. There is no “one size fits all” in responding to current events. The many things that happen in our personal lives matter. Family and friends still matter. Music matters. Art matters. Gardening matters. Having fun matters. Laughing matters. Being lazy matters. Looking at clouds matters. But there should be some time and energy that you put into bettering this world at every stage of your life. When I was between trying to stop Nuclear Proliferation and trying to stop Trumpism, I was raising kids, sustaining my community, being a lover, a wife, a writer, a teacher and you will be (or are) those things too. Those were worthy pursuits, but I regret not keeping my eye on the way things were going nationally. I regret that my serious political involvement came so late. I regret that we were on the way to this place for such a long time while I was ignorant. This will be a lifelong regret. Mea culpa.
So we can work. We can educate ourselves in lots of areas, not just in the literary world. We should learn about our states, our towns, our cities, our neighborhoods. Who is feeding your homeless? How are school funds disbursed? None of us can work on every problem but we can keep swinging our eyes around the landscape to keep it all in mind. We can choose something to learn a lot about. I have a political ally who studies how elections are conducted. She knows the safety records behind various kinds of balloting. She knows who makes voting machines and how the contracts to do that are awarded. She knows what local governing bodies have the final say on issues related to voting. I didn’t even know we had a County Council here who makes these decisions. When I need to know about election issues, I contact Julie. I’m re-visiting everything I can find about gerrymandering – the laws and practices, the US Supreme Court cases. I hope to be a useful resource about that when I’m done. But my other specialty is being a good foot soldier. I take orders well these. When we need to get yard signs distributed, when thousands of postcards need to go in the mail to get voters to the polls, when we need to recruit other workers, I’m a good person to contact. There is always a critical issue here, and there are always great people to work with – folks who keep me at it, or let me off the hook when I need time off, because we all have lives, need rest, and all that other good stuff. But – for a start – we can get educated about how things work where we live.
I had to admit that the things I do, and the things I don’t do matter. That’s not complicated, but it’s easy to forget. Take a look at climate issues, the economy, the educational system, the healthcare system, voting rights, energy production, food distribution, and especially racial inequity which will be a part of the story in each of the preceding areas.
Find your tribe, your people, your interests, and once you do, stay loyal. These are the people who will sustain you all your life. It may be something as personal as reminding you to keep sending out your work, or as big as reminding you to care about the generations who will need this planet when we are long gone. This is what is currently called “selfcare” – a phrase I find chilly and antiseptic, but then I’m an old lady.
And that’s it from me. Thanks for reading this. I’d love to hear from those of you engaged in political work, big issue work, little issue work, any of it. I don’t go to writers’ conventions anymore, but I sometimes imagine a session where there is no panel, no major writer. Regular writers just come in and write briefly about the work for the world they are doing. Then those descriptions, those pieces of paper, are pinned to a very big wall so we can see how effective we can be. This is the age for the fully engaged citizen and the fully engaged writer. Meet you on the ramparts.
Join Equality Arizona in celebrating queer artists this Saturday, October 17th, in a Queer Poetry Salon event held virtually. Queer Virtual Salon is local organization that acknowledges the voices and poetry of queer individuals. There will be an open mic where six people will have a chance to share their work. From then, the event will focus on the publication of a new full-length poetry collection by féi Hernandez published by Sun Dress Publications. féi Hernandez is an immigrant trans non-binary artist whose work has been featured in several literary magazines. They are an Advisory Board member of Gender Justice Los Angeles. The event will also feature guest speaker Nicole Goodwin, a New York-based poet and performance artist. Click the link here to register for the event.
“The one thing I always know is mine is my artwork…my writing life…”
During her divorce in 2017, Frankie Rollins began creating her most recent work: The Grief Manuscript, as both a “compulsive and cathartic” way to channel the grief she found herself experiencing.
As humans, we are no stranger to grief—it can come in many shapes and forms, and it often affects us in ways we cannot predict. Oftentimes, we see grief as a negative experience, but, during this raw and vulnerable podcast, Frankie shares how grief can produce beautiful things—if we let it.
Frankie also discusses the power that art and writing provided her with in overcoming grief and turning it into a project that propelled and inspired her.
This Authors Talk with Frankie Rollins and Eric Aldrich is a rejuvenating, gentle (and much needed) reminder that though we may feel the grief of what we have lost, we can always hold onto the one thing that will always be ours—art.
“Reading to relate is like looking in a mirror; I want to walk through a door.”
In this insightful Authors Talk, Patricia Ann McNair delves into the idea — and issue — of readers and writers only finding value in work they can relate to.
Many times she has heard the phrase, “I can’t relate,” from students and peers in regards to stories. As readers, it can be easy for us to become uncomfortable when confronted with stories that we cannot relate to and we cannot understand, but Patricia argues that it is exactly these stories we need to be reading.
When we read only stories we can understand, we are simply looking in a mirror; but, when we read stories that do not resemble our own, we are shown through an open door into a world we never would have encountered before.
“Write what you don’t know….”
Listen to her full Authors Talk below.
Check out Patricia’s newest work, Responsible Adults, coming out in December of 2020 (Cornerstone Press).
Check out our latest YouTube video! Our Social Media Manager Roxanne Bingham took the time to sit down with Superstition ReviewFounding Editor Patricia Murphy and Hayden’s Ferry Review Supervising Editor Katherine Berta to give you some insider advice as the submission season begins.
Don’t miss the tips and tricks they discussed in this video, and don’t forget to submit your work to Superstition Review by August 31st for the chance to be featured in our 26th Issue!
In Worstward Ho, Samuel Beckett says, “Sick of the either, try the other.” To write, or to live and to love is to exist in the either. When is it time to try something else? How long must we wait? How many others are there?
When we write, if we scrawl a story, scribble a poem, even if we use a keyboard, we bring something to life, we invite others (do these others include the other I seek) to love as we have loved, to live as we have lived, to rethink our thoughts. Should I say imagination? Should I remind us that the root of the word imagination is image? The images we live are the real sensory experiences the world offers. The images we write create another possibility, a sensory experience made of words. Nothing works harder than words, but when we look closer, they are only words. Is this the other?
Something written is not a lived experience, but it is a version. It may be something that has never happened, and as we write, it happens. Anything we write, it happens. Maybe the other arrives.
Twelve years ago, I found my best friend dead. I have tried to write about it. I lived it, and many times, I have tried to write about it. Version after version, it doesn’t hold together. It is all either. Not enough other.
I knock. No answer.
I stand on the porch of my friend Tom’s trailer house, the trailer where I lived when I was in grad school. Tom let me live there for four years in his spare bedroom, rent free.
I knock again. No answer.
I turn the key, walk in. I say his name. I walk through the kitchen. He is in the hallway on his back on the floor. His eyes are open. He wears a dirty, old t-shirt and boxer shorts. The soles of his feet are toward me. His genitals spill from the right leg of his shorts. I look away. I suppose he was walking to the kitchen, got light-headed, and sat down on the floor. Then, he laid back. Maybe he knew he was dying. Maybe he just wanted to rest.
I say his name again. I bend down, take his cold wrist. I feel his neck. No pulse. I stand. I walk back out the door.
I enter again. He is still on the floor, still dead.
The evening before, I begged him to let me take him back to the doctor. He’d been there earlier in the week. They’d said he had a sinus infection. Does it matter? Do you need to know what his death certificate said? Now, as a metaphor, does he live again? If I had stayed with him that night, if I had refused to leave until he went to the doctor, would I be telling a different story? Where is the other when you need it?
Should I tell a different story now? I call his name, and Tom sits up, adjusts his boxers, and says, “Weldon Kees’ death wasn’t a suicide.” An angel breaks through the floor with a crowbar, climbs up into the room, and takes us all out to get ice cream.
Ok. Fine. People die, but what happens to our writing? Is it either or other? How many drafts have I let go too soon? Do I diminish my old friend by using his death as a figure? Am I grieving? Where is the other now?
I sit and wait. Will something worth saving appear on this page?
The staff here at Superstition Review would like to congratulate our past intern, Jordyn Ochser, in her freelance editing career. Jordyn acted as our Fiction Editor for Issue 21 of Superstition Review.
After graduating from ASU with a BA in Creative Writing and Minor in Film Studies, Jordyn went on to create a career for herself as a freelance editor while she studies Forensic Linguistics at Hofstra University as a graduate student.
Congratulations on all your achievements Jordyn, we are so proud of you and look forward to seeing what else you will do.
If you’d like to learn more about Jordyn, you can check out her LinkedIn here.
In between working on remote classes for his freshmen year in college, my son has spent a little time installing whimsical signage in unexpected places around our scrap of land in the Ozarks. On a walk not long ago, I came across a sign on a tree in the middle of a field. Painted by hand was the Beckett directive to “Fail Better.”
In the time we’ve been staying home, the field around the tree has passed from early spring to early summer—the field is too overgrown and hazardous to walk through now.
While I was writing this, an email arrived. It brought news of a magazine rejecting a submission of poems. When I came back to this piece later and read the previous sentence, I had already forgotten that happened. Rejections are swift blows, quickly absorbed and leaving no lingering pain. It’s the same approach many of us take to writing: take risks, cast aside failure, forge ahead.
“…cast aside failure, forge ahead.”
A couple of months ago, I wrote a sequence on the anxiety of the impending threat. I have a screenshot on my phone from “Find My Friends,” my “friends” being my daughter and my son. There she is in Miami. There he is in New York. Here we are in Arkansas. There were many mitigating factors beyond mere geography, and writing a frantic, disjointed sequence that moved my terrors from my mind to the page was a balm. It was early March, and I embedded into the sequence the technique of counting backwards as a self-calming device while trying to fall asleep.
Since then, my social media feed is a veritable onslaught of pandemic-related special issues, calls for submissions, anthologies, and the like. Were my own two cents worth sharing? My two teenagers managed to get home in good time and good health, and I managed, through writing, counting backwards, and various other forms of self-medication, to survive with a strong sense of gratitude. It was worth writing. If it’s deemed worth sharing, who knows if anyone would ever have the time or desire to read it. And how much does that even matter?
“It was worth writing.”
Before I ever encountered the Beckett quote, (which is, in its entirety: “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”) I always saw rejection as an opporrunity to improve a thing that, by sending it out somewhere, I had stamped as “done.” I’d been given a second chance. Any manner of creative pursuit, and any manner of being a parent, are prime environments for getting something wrong and trying to do better. I don’t know how many more books I’ll write, and I’m in the late stages of raising my kids. Right now, they would’ve been half home, half gone, pulling away in a getting-grown stage. Instead they are, for the moment, as present as they were before they even started kindergarten. It’s a second chance at being less imperfect, and all four of us have plenty of time to consider the question of what constitutes failure.