On Writing, Rejection, and Living to Tell the Tale

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Today I determined that I’ve been rejected by Warren Wilson’s low-residency MFA program. I say determined because my application has been marked completed. In Submittable speak, that’s a nice way to say rejected. I expect a thin envelope to arrive in a matter of days. This rejection is coming on the tail end of a slew of rejections. I’ve consistently poured 10 to 15 hours a week into writing, revising, and reading poems. I have had one acceptance (forthcoming) and approximately 30 writing related rejections. I know this is part of the game, but it is still crushing.

I am amazingly okay right now.

Let me make clear that I am aware that an MFA is not the only path to becoming a writer. I want to earn an MFA because that has been my dream since high school and because I crave intentional time to write. I spend time away from my husband, children, and friends in order to write poems that have a less than 3% chance of getting accepted and offers zero to little pay. When people ask what I’m doing and I say I’m writing, the assumption is the writing will be published and make money (ha!) or it must be for some other tangible reason like earning a degree. That is a mostly correct assumption (except I know there’s no money in it).  I’m not writing poems in a void. I want someone to read and connect with them and that means pursing writing in a professional vein and not filling a journal with stanzas that only I will read. Publication is the goal. I want my “writer self” to be full and fleshed out; in other words, this isn’t a hobby. I am compelled to write.

All of this writing takes time and space. As a woman and a mother it is difficult to carve out time and identity to oneself. I wanted the 20 days a year away from home to write and engage with other writers (is that bad?). I wanted to have an excuse to let the kids go to daycare when I’m off work and let them subsist on pizza rolls while I hole up in a coffee shop to write and read. Call me selfish, but I tell you that when my husband leaves the house to paint no one is asking him if I am at home babysitting. There’s a double standard. Working on an MFA would have given me a chance to deepen my reading, learn from kick ass writers, and separate myself from my identity as a mother. Motherhood informs and enriches my writing and I love my children, but I want my daughters to know they have a self outside of motherhood and I want my son to realize that women are more than caretakers. Think of it this way, Sam is an artist, student, and dad. He is always those three things whether he is painting, in class, or playing with the kids. Society grants men the right to move fluidly through different roles. As a mom I’m a mom and then everything else comes second or I’m perceived as a shitty mom. As a result, I’m a mom who works at a library and writes. Mom consumes most of my identity and the other things are in addition to motherhood.

Some may argue with this assertion and they wouldn’t be necessarily wrong. There are intersections at work here that extend beyond gender. Class figures into this predominantly.  What if I could afford to stay home and write while the little kids are at school from 7:30 until 2:30? What if I could afford to take an online poetry class or travel to a writing conference?  What if I could pay someone to babysit several times a month while I go to readings or a workshop? The what ifs are pointless and the reality is that I have a 40-hour a week job, I’m the primary breadwinner, and I rely on the quality medical insurance I have at my job to keep my mental health in check.

And mental health is where we get to the amazingly okay part.

In college I tried to commit suicide. I have PTSD and – at the time undiagnosed – Bipolar II disorder. When you have depression everything feels insurmountable and at the same time it feels like it is completely your own stupid fault. Well, that’s how it was for me. Nothing happened just because shit happens. I thought shit happened because I was shit. My child was having behavior problems at school (probably because I’m a shitty mom). I was earning a C in a class that really mattered to me (probably because I’m really stupid). I would have periods of time where I was brash, angry, and rambled incoherently for hours and thought I was brilliant and then I would be embarrassed when I realized I was ridiculous. On the flip side, I would have days on end where things like “bathing” and “going to work” were impossible. Also, coming from a past with abuse and having PTSD meant that being vulnerable was scary. Any perception of rejection or dislike was internalized and scraped at an already bruised self that felt unworthy, unloved, and stupid. In the days before I tried to die I felt the same thud of words in my brain, “burden, burden, burden.” I was the burden. A waste of space and time and air. It all felt like too much.

I didn’t die. I got help, but it was spotty. Recovery was complicated by too many or too few pills, inconsistent finances, unattainable mental health services, and trying to work a enough hours to take care of my daughter. I spent the next thirteen years becoming stable: building a career in the library, meeting Sam and getting married, and having more babies. I still wanted to write, but I didn’t want to end up in the dark place rejection sent me. No more of that. I’d blog and write in my journal, but I pushed aside all dreams of poems and publication.

Then, in April of 2015, I found a good therapist and we started to peel away years of hurt, secrets, and despair. I was feeling better, but then last fall I felt angry all the time, I hardly slept, and I was almost terminated from my job. December found me depressed and in outpatient psych hospitalization. I was diagnosed as having Bipolar II disorder and began medication.

Then, a breath of relief. In March I wanted to write a poem. I had to write the poem. I started writing every day. I sent stuff out and it was rejected. Oh reader, I was able to see and acknowledge those feelings from rejection- yes, disappointment, frustration, embarrassment, and impatience, I see you – and then put them away and carry on with revising and rewriting.

Today when I realized I’d been rejected to Warren Wilson I spent a half hour feeling shitty, worthless, and frustrated.Then I moved on. I MOVED ON.  I wasn’t plunged into depression, I didn’t have to fight the urge to drink or hurt myself, I didn’t throw all my writing into a big fire and refuse to read another line . Tonight I’ll probably tell myself I deserve a pumpkin spice latte and spend the evening with a large classic novel on the couch. I’ll probably have blips of disappointment and I may have a week or two before I get back into writing. BUT SWEET JESUS WHAT A CHANGE! I’m not depressed. I’m not depressed. When I realized that I was able to see this as a career blip and not catastrophic indication that my writing sucks, I was filled with the biggest sense of peace and a hell of a lot of pride in how far I’m come in being mentally well.

Silver linings, y’all. I didn’t get into grad school, but it proved that the medicine and therapy is working and making my life better each day. As far as grad school goes, I’ll apply again and to a few other low-res places. With a 10% or less acceptance rate I cannot be too upset. I’m channeling my frustration into drawing up my own reading lists and rejigging my schedule to make as much time as I can for writing. Warren Wilson, expect my application to hit you again in the spring!

 

 

 

Crazy About Autumn

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Georgia is still hot and humid, but we have had some teases of rain with cooler winds hinting at autumn. The leaves are just starting to turn. I’m excited for our move in October (to a town home in the same apartment complex) because the sidewalk in front is lined with trees that turn fiery orange and red in autumn. From the back porch is a clear view to the mountains and the lake.

I’ve had my fair share of pumpkin spice lattes, but I’m really behaving and only buying one on Friday and then sometimes picking up one if I am working a closing shift. I’ve made some delicious soups and the recipes are forthcoming on Fig and Thistle. I’m crocheting a blanket in the evenings. Listening to loads of Keaton Henson. Dreaming of autumn clothes.

Well, I have some autumn clothes. I’m waiting until the weather dips below 80 to wear them and I don’t care if I sweat. I bought two pairs of sumptuous skinny corduroy pants from ModCloth and I cannot wait to wear them. My favorite fall purchase so far is this bag:

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I love it! Everything fits so nicely in my bag. I’m not a purse person; I have to have a tote bag or satchel for all of my books and notebooks or I feel naked. The navy and fox pattern on this one hints at autumn woodlands so I really dig it.

Readerly Rambles: 19 September 2016

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What I finished: Not a damn thing.

What I’m reading: I have three books going at the moment. I am participating in #GerminalAlong, but I’m behind. Last week I read the first 50 pages and I’m ready to read more. Germinal is a favorite that I haven’t read in ages. I’m also dipping into The Virago Book of Ghost Stories for RIP XI. It is perfectly spooky for rainy days (now if the cooler temps could just get here!). For poetry I’m reading Rupi Kaur’s Milk and Honey. Can I be honest? I don’t love it. I am deeply moved by the subject manner and as a sort of journaling about trauma, but I don’t dig this style of poetry. It verges on the cloyingly over dramatic. I’ll finish it and see if my opinion changes.

What’s up next: I’m hoping to finish at least one of the above titles this week and pick up some Patricia Highsmith reading for next week.

 

Happy Reading!

What’s Happening (And What’s Not)

What's Happening(and what's not)One day I’ll blog without referencing my lack of blogging or the busyness that consumes my life at the moment. Today is not that day. Instead of dwelling on the tumultuous past few weeks I thought I’d move forward as best as I can. I’m in a bit of a rough patch. Not a plunge into depression like last year, but my PTSD is bad. It started at a Crystal Castles concert earlier in the month. I was up front, got separated from Sam, and someone trying to get a picture was pulling on my shoulder/neck area to reach over me and get a picture. I proceeded to have a panic attack in the middle of the show. Sam got me outside and we left early. The next day I slept even though I had nightmares. Yesterday I had a flashback. I cannot divulge the circumstances as they concern someone else whose story is not mine to tell, but it was horrible. More nightmares. More sleeplessness.

Wow. I had no intentions of blogging all that. Suffice it to say I felt the need to explain why I am making a concentrated effort to return to blogging. Here I may blog about the difficult stuff, but I am always more focused on the fullness and loveliness of my life. Also, I’m really fucking lonely right now. Our schedules are busy and I can feel myself turning inwards too much. Introverting, yes. Isolation, no. I need community.

There are good things happening right now. We found out a town home in our apartment complex is opening up. We managed to nab it and will be moving in October 15th. We’ll be gaining about 250 square feet, a larger porch, storage, and a gas fireplace. It will feel more like a home than our current apartment. In October Sam is conducting a workshop at an Art Education Conference and I’m presenting at a library conference. I’m going to see Sharon Olds and Emma Donoghue in October.

I had a rejection notice today and it lifted my spirits. No, I’m not being sarcastic! There is a HUGE difference between a form rejection and a personal rejection letter. This note said that one of my three submissions was a favorite and almost made it in and they would love to see my work in the future. That makes my day. It gives me a renewed sense of purpose. All of this writing and editing and submitting will come to fruition one day. I’m so worried that I didn’t get into graduate school or the writing residency I applied for and I’m feeling like a big ole faker. A rejection noticed like this affirms that I have what it takes if only I will keep writing and refining.

If I don’t blog in the next day or two I want someone to come harass me on social media. I need to get my rear out of this funk.

 

Book Review: Eyes on the Island by Frank Reddy

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Order here from Fiction Advocate. I was provided a complimentary copy in exchange for an honest review.

 

A mysterious island with secretive inhabitants, a troubled preacher, and plenty of coastal Georgia’s muggy storms are all featured in *Frank Reddy’s first novel, Eyes on the Island. Your spoiler free review? This is a damn good novel.

Will Fordham is a young preacher who has recently lost everything he ever cared about: his family, his position as a well-loved preacher, and his faith. When a long time mentor informs him of a preaching position on an island with a small artist colony, Will jumps at the chance to leave the past behind and work towards a new future. Instead, Will’s new position causes him to assess his values and finds him clinging even more strongly to the past.

I’ll leave it at that for plot. This book is best approached with fresh non-spoiler exposed eyes. I gulped down each page and wondered if there was a Lovecraftian horror lurking around the corner, or if Will was a delusional and unreliable narrator, or if a redemptive god would save Will. I didn’t know if I was reading a thriller concerning a cult or if it was a novel exposing the seedy underbelly of American church culture. With each turn of the page I was challenged to question where Reddy was taking me and it made for a thrilling ride.

Eyes on the Island is a quick and immersive read because it is perfectly paced and has excellent character development. This is not an empty fluffy thriller. In just over 160 pages, Reddy is able to weave together Fordham’s childhood, first career, marriage, and fatherhood and also provide a complex – albeit mysterious – history of the island and the inhabitants with ease. He does this by  using letters, journals, and news articles while splicing together the past and present throughout the narrative. The reader is easily able to transition between time periods and gain a full understanding of Will and develop a hunger to discover the secret of the island. This fully fleshed timeline helps Will emerge as a complex and sympathetic character. Often preachers are portrayed as wholly good or wholly evil. Will Fordham is wholly human. He struggles with choosing between what is easy and what is right. At moments I doubted his sanity and veracity and at other moments I was urging him to get the hell off that island.

Slim in size and big on thrills, Eyes on the Island is an engaging and thought-provoking read. Five stars!

 

 

*Disclaimer: Frank and I go way back. As in our mom’s were friends and we played together when we were in preschool. Honestly all I remember about Frank is his mom’s rad station wagon (sorry, Frank). We caught up over Facebook, but this is still an honest review. If it had sucked I would have thought of some reason not to review it. Thankfully, this novel is bad ass. Go read it. Now. Seriously, I’ll wait right here. 

 

 

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Crazy about Autumn

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Can you guess my favorite season?

Go ahead and guess… I’ll wait right here.

AUTUMN, duh. Yeah I know autumn doesn’t “officially” begin until later in the month and yeah it is still in the 80s in Georgia, but WHATEVER. I’ll make autumn work for me. Hence my autumn themed bullet journal, the pumpkin oatmeal cookies I baked with the kids this weekend, the cocoa, and the pumpkin spice candle.

Because I am one of those folks into Instagramming cozy pics of hot beverages and warm-hued blankets you better believe there will be tons of autumnal goodness saturating Fig and Thistle. I’ll be popping in periodically to blog about my autumn indulgences (could I maybe type the word autumn more? autumnautumnautumn). I’m also about to start up my season of soup posts. So much soup. Much warm belly. Good thing the library is constantly freezing; it helps me pretend the weather is cool. Grab a pumpkin spice latte, don a sweater, and join me in fangirling over dead leaves.

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R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril XI

Hey yo, look whose blogging!

Carl’s darkly delightful R.I.P. Challenge started on September 1st and runs through Halloween and I’m joining in! Carl describes RIP as:

“…a quest to bring a community of readers together to enjoy the literature most associated with the darkening days and cooling temperatures of Autumn:

Mystery
Suspense
Thriller
Gothic
Horror
Dark Fantasy”

I’m all about some autumn reading. I’ll be participating in several of the “perils.”

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This peril is to read four books in the above genres (genre is loosely applied here). I present my RIPXI List:

  • Eyes on the Island by Frank Reddy
  • Suspension of Mercy by Patricia Highsmith
  • The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
  • The Supernatural Enhancements by Edgar Cantero

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I’ll be dipping into The Virago Book of Ghost Stories and The Thing on the Doorstep by H.P. Lovecraft to get my short story fix.

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I haven’t watched a blasted movie or TV show in ages. Let’s see here, I’ll try to watch at least three creepy things. I need to determine what I want to watch. There will certainly be some vintage horror in there.

Let me know if you’re joining in the spooky fun and what you have on your RIP list!