(Not) Writing Through Grief

It has been nearly half a year since my last post. I have largely been avoiding this website because to look at it would be to acknowledge how much has changed in just six months (and I don't mean that in an emo way, but in an actual grieving way). 

My last post was published on June 24th. One month later my father passed away suddenly and unexpectedly. My dad was an artist. He threw pots, painted, did glassblowing, welding, sand painting, and woodwork. He ran The Whole Gamut Studio along with my mother, who paints and draws. To say that I am devastated would be an understatement. I don't usually talk about my age on this site, but I am not even thirty. I do not feel prepared whatsoever to handle a death of this magnitude. All my life my family has been a small, close-knit trio: Dad, Mum, and me. It's a cliche, but I never realized how much my father was the glue that held the three of us together.

In my "writing life" I have always heard how writers "write through their grief." Joan Didion did it, Elizabeth Alexander did it, Cheryl Strayed did it. What I want to know is: how did they do it? How long did it take them to do it? I grew up in a house full of artists, where art was life. Now that my father, the first person to show me what art was, is gone I feel like the creative drive in me has died. I am in the middle of my last year of graduate school. I think my advisor and I can both see that my current essays and revisions are just barely limping by. I don't read anymore, I don't submit to journals anymore. I definitely don't write anymore. I just don't want to do anything.

I've always been told to write through pain, and that, when the time comes, to write through grief. "All great works of art come from pain." Someone told me something to that effect in the days after my father's death. Well here Grief is: barging through my door like a robber wielding a handgun, destroying everything I every cared about. How do I handle that? How do I write through something that isn't just sad, but feels violent, too? How do I overcome it?

I'd like to believe I'll write again someday. I know it's barely been six months and that I should give it time, but it's hard. My motivation, my energy, and my spirit in general just feel defeated. My father never took a break from his art. Up until the day he passed away he was sketching and glassblowing. I'd like to honor his memory and continue doing my art like he did and like he'd want me to, but it's hard. It is so damn hard.

Print Publication

About a month ago I received my first acceptance for a print publication. I jumped up and down with excitement for about 15 straight minutes. And then, last weekend, the excitement started all over again because I received my contributor's copies in the mail! The essay is entitled "Stormy Seas" and is about a harrowing boat trip I took to and from the Shetland Islands in Scotland. Contact me if you'd like to learn more!

Rejection City. Population: 1

As the child of two artists, I know that a big part of being in the art world is criticism and rejections. I've always prided myself on having a thick skin, but I've got to admit - the constant wave of rejections is getting hard to stomach! Maybe it's because the stream of recent rejections has been topped with constant criticism from my thesis advisor and sprinkled with disappointment from freelance clients, but I've been feeling more dejected about my writing than ever lately.

Mary Karr wrote in The Art of Memoir, "Some students in our three-year MFA program come in defending every word; by mid-term second year, the more determined ones find themselves in despair at their own pages. Through reading and thinking, they've raised their taste beyond their skill levels. So when they stare down at their pages, they can no longer superimpose what's in their heads onto the work." I think this is where I am at at the moment. Sadly, I am past the "mid-term second year" point in my three-year MFA program so this passage actually makes me feel double despair. Hopefully it'll change before classes start up in August? I've written 2.5 essays since summer break began. One of them may actually be good. That's something, right?

All I can hope is that this wave of constant rejections will eventually pass. Maybe my next freelance client will love what I write and insist we not change a thing! Maybe my thesis advisor will give me one tiny little compliment on my next essay. One can only hope! What I most hope, however, is that Mary Karr's other statement about MFA students comes true: "By third year, though, most seem to grow muscles to maneuver in that armor."

Spring Update

I just realized I haven't written an update in a few months. My submissions and acceptances have hit a small lull as I continue to work on my graduate thesis. I have a few essays out for submission right now and hope to hear back sometime during the summer. For those that don't know, I have started a small online journal with two friends. We published monthly and have been able to compile some quality work! Here is the website for anyone that is interested: https://ontheverandaliteraryjournal.wordpress.com/

We're doing a free wordpress site at the moment just to see if this thing can get off the ground. I hope we can move to a new domain in the next year!

Last night I had two poems of mine accepted by a literary ezine. That's both exciting and surprising seeing as poetry is definitely NOT my strongest genre. The autumn issue will be out on November 5th!

When It Rains It Pours

January is becoming the month I think all writers (and artists) dream about: I have so many publications and writing assignments that I can hardly keep track of them all! I am hard at work on my thesis (turned in an essay last week and have a new revision due next week), my steady freelance job is waiting for three projects from me, and not only did I have another fiction piece published on the 15th, but I just had an essay accepted elsewhere today! Fingers crossed that every month of 2016 looks like January.

Check out my latest story, "Corpse Flower," which was published by ink&coda. Stay tuned for the release of my next article!

Proposal Accepted to 2016 Conference

More exciting news! My proposal was accepted for a talk at HippoCamp 2016: A Conference for Nonfiction Writers. My presentation is called We Need to Talk: the Dos and Don'ts of Writing Effective Dialogue. This will be my first solo conference presentation! The keynote speaker is Mary Karr, author of The Liars Club, which I adore and have read twice. Can't wait for August 2016 to arrive!

My panel details can be found here.

Finding Time to Write

Moving to Colorado for the summer has not given me the opportunity to write like I thought it would. How do professional writers do it? Or rather, how do budding writers do it? I know how professional writers find time to write -- it's their job! That's all they have to do. Aspiring writers, however? How do they find the time to write prolifically when they also need time for a job to pay the bills?

I came out to Estes Park at the beginning of May to work as a front desk clerk for a local hotel. I was only supposed to be here from May to mid-August, but it looks like that is changing as this place is too dramatic to handle. The management is horrendous, the guests are practically demonic, and it's only a matter of time before some unwanted furry creatures start roaming the halls of the staff dormitory (and I'm not talking about the cute and cuddly kind!). My goal for the summer was to spend the time working, writing, and exploring. I am a below-sea-level girl so the chance to spend some time at 7,500+ feet enthralled me. However, my hours at work and the exhausting drama have given me very little time to do anything expect take a four-mile stroll around a neighboring lake every other day.

How did writers like Stephen King, James Patterson, Zora Neal Hurston, or even Stephanie Meyer start out? How did they find the time to sit and write for hours on end? I've tried waking up early to write. I've tried going to a local coffee shop to write. Thus far I have produced one Millennimist, edited a website for a client, and written two posts for my steady freelance gig. Have I written anything for myself? Have I written anything for my grad school thesis? No.

How do I find the time for my own writing, but still make enough money to support myself? Or should I just submit myself to the reality of the starving artist? Since I'm currently sharing a bedroom with a roommate and eating meals out of a rice cooker, I feel like I'm already there.

 

Does This Make Me a Real Writer?

Recently, I was advised to build my own website and secure a domain with my name. I was told all "real writers" should do this. Naturally, I was skeptical, but after much Googling and a poll of my trusted advisers (read: three best friends from college, of whom I can hardly buy a pair of jeans without consulting) I decided to take the plunge and build a professional website. Ta-da! I hope to fill the Home Page with musings about writing, both professionally and personally, and what it's like to be in an esteemed, small town Masters of Fine Arts Program. I'll probably sneak in a few casual blog posts, too, just to spice things up!