So, this started as a Facebook status, then morphed into a note, which I’m re-posting as a blog….and eventually, I think it’ll be an essay. But for now, this is what it is.
As you all know, I really love literature and am committed to the written word. For those of you who’ve known me since high school, you remember how devoted I was and defined by my work with the high school literary magazine. Who was I at Nova High School without From Worlds Apart? (Don’t say “Dr. Marini’s daughter,” because I will punch you in the face.) From those years, I keep many of you as friends–whether you’re writers or not, or writers who are only writing in their heads now, or the redhead who could have (and has been, on occasion) my archnemesis, who’s actually been one of the best editors, second opinion-givers, and cheerleaders of my life over the past 20 years. (Yeah. That long. Jesus.)
At New College, I worked on New CollAge in a lesser capacity than I had on From Worlds Apart, but I loved it, and every creative writing class I took in college taught me how to take what was then raw talent, strong instincts and the drive to make you hear me into better stories and poems, how to see other people’s writing for what it was and could be, and how to help others fine-tune their work into the best version of itself that it could be–which in turn, taught me how to apply that to my own writing. Here also, I connected with many other talented writers–some of whom stayed with it, others who may also only be writing in their heads, and some who are so far out of my league that I hope that they pick it back up again–to the salty Jersey girl whose momma is gonna CRACK YOUR ASS that I’m going to be going to AWP with next month–and all those voices and classes and shitty booze-fueled college poems twined together to make a quilt of experience that would end up being a liferaft for me not too long after I graduated.
For the ten years I was out of school, not involved in a real literary community and struggling to keep writing, get better, and figure out how to get published, it was really a long, dark haul where I felt alone, questioned my ability, doubted that I had talent, almost gave up, and then realized that I’m competent at other things but notGOOD at them the way I’m GOOD at reading, writing, editing, understanding, explaining, and teaching the beautiful mysteries and complexities of the stories and poems that I write, and that so many other authors write. I tried to trick myself into doing something else, settled for things that weren’t what I wanted, and along the way met some people that ended up jolting me back to where I needed to be.
I met a writer who loves smelling pretty and writing urban fantasy who read me tarot cards that told me to shut the fuck up and get back to my life. I met an absolutely insane painter who is one of the most fearless, reckless, honest and soulful artists I’ve ever known, who encouraged me to keep writing, send it out, and live the life I wanted and needed to live–because as she said, “You’re dying by degrees.” I met girl friends who would love me and move away and stay close, who read my work and spent late nights and early mornings drinking coffee and reminding me that being a writer wasn’t something I could choose to be or not to be (because like dumb old Hamlet, I thought that was the question)–it was something I just was, and I could either follow it and see where it took me, or I could ignore it, and hate where ever my life took me anyway, because where ever that was, it would mean never knowing what I could have been if I’d trusted myself to try.
Finally, I sent a piece out–and it won 3rd place in a competition where I didn’t think I stood a chance of even registering on the editor’s radar. I got a rejection and asked the editor if they would help me make the piece better by telling me what worked, what didn’t, why, and what they thought would help me. I listened, considered, revised, and re-submitted. It was accepted, and I was able to see that with their help, a decent piece with good instincts became a memorable piece that was done correctly. I left the life where I’d never know what I would have been if I’d tried. I promised myself that if I failed, it’d be okay, because I’d know, and that another life would start, and it’d be better even if I’d failed–because I’d know, and I’d know that I’d tried, instead of knowing that I’d settled for okay, when I might have been extraordinary. I applied to schools. I got into some longshots that I never actually thought would accept me–I called those my “$100 lottery tickets”– explaining to people, “Well, someone’s got to win [get in]–it might be me–I won’t know if I don’t buy the ticket.” So I bought those tickets. And for more of them than not–I won.
During that time I started a new life. That new life had hard choices and death and regrets. I deferred enrollments and met a writer by accident– I’ve actually only ever seen her twice–who casually suggested a low-residency MFA program, said the name, Antioch, and I promised her that by August, I’d put the application in the mail if she did. On the way to Dragon*Con, where I was presenting a panel on graphic novel adaptations of Victorian novels, I got a call from Steve Heller. At a rest stop outside of Albany, Georgia, I jumped up and down screaming, because it was finally happening. (Luckily, Steve was unperturbed by this. I chalk this up to either patience in proportions that might put him in line for sainthood, or a well-controlled facade of professionalism that masks the heart of a lunatic. If you’ve seen the shirts, you know which way I lean.)
In the three months between being accepted to Antioch and starting my first residency, I started having my work accepted and published at a rate that astonished me–I was getting more yeses than I’d ever gotten nos in my ten years of either not trying, or only half-assing it. I had a decade’s worth of stories and poems flooding out of me and even if it all wasn’t brilliant, most of it at least had potential.
So now, I feel incredibly blessed to be involved in a real, literary community–I know writers from all these different stages of my life, and we’ve grown and changed together and celebrate our successes and bitch about our failures, because we know in 20 more years, we’ll be even more on top of our game than we are now. I’ve met writers because we kept seeing each other’s names in the same publications and wanted to interact with each other on a personal and professional level. I know people who edit journals, who make those tough calls, who spend long thankless nights reading and deciding and sending out acceptance letters that might change that one writer’s life and rejections that might, too. I know that for most of these editors, saying no to another writer is as awful for them as the sender as it is for the writer whose work is rejected, because they know.
I’ve used Facebook to stalk down the writers published in the same journals as I’ve been published, who wrote the stories or poems that I wish I’d written. I’ve been to three residencies at Antioch and have been humbled by the caliber of authors who I am lucky enough to call my peers, have learned so much from editors and authors more talented than I am, and am making the connections that are going to be that liferaft when the magic time of school is over again. Every time I receive a workshop packet in the mail I am quite literally blown away by these people, and I wonder why I waited so long, I think about what my life would have been if I hadn’t decided to just try, and I’m thankful that so many of you who knew me at 15, 16, 17–when it wasn’t just a talent and a fondness, it was the call of the siren, making me sail into the cliffs and rocks because DAMMIT THAT SONG IS FUCKING BEAUTIFUL–and reminded me that I was still that girl who needed to be heard–more so at 30 than I did at 15–because now I actually had a real message to bring and the experience to deliver it in a way that would make them listen.
I am lucky enough to not only be in school surrounded by authors, but interacting professionally with authors and editors and book lovers and a host of people who like me, are dedicated to the power of writing as a means to understanding each other as humans by hearing each others stories. I am working for the third project period as the business manager of AULA’s Lunch Ticket–I’m proud to be one of the behind-the-scenes wheels that keep submissions flowing in, so that the magazine has an amazing array of choice when it comes to publishing an issue. I write book reviews for The Bookshelf Bombshells–where I am lucky enough to promote the books that change me and be honest about the ones that didn’t, and say why. And for the next few months, I’m honored to have been invited to be a reader for a journal who published my work and thought I was pretty rad–Spry Literary Journal–and let me tell you, being a reader, a decider–it’s harder than being a necessary cog in the wheel that keeps the journal in motion. Because I know.
Every piece that’s written–ever–is an act of courage and an expression of the writer’s sense of self and their place in and relation to the world around them–and whether or not it’s right for a certain journal at a certain time for a certain issue, I respect the author for having been brave and introspective enough to sit down and try to pin their thoughts, emotions, experiences, triumphs or tragedies onto the page.
Every submission that makes its way to a journal’s editors and readers is an act of courage and a show of trust, and is not to be taken lightly. Even things that I read and hate (or worse, that make me think, “Meh,” because at least hate is a vigorous reaction), I try to make sure to be respectful, tactful, and to try to point out as many strengths as I do weaknesses. And I’ve learned from the best editor I’ve ever seen at work how to workshop pieces that are difficult because they’re offensive or misguided–she taught me how to delicately tweeze the writing from the writer, and the editor/reader from the Allie to talk about what’s really important–the writing.
I hope that the writers that are only writing in their heads will scratch something down on the back of a receipt, maybe tomorrow, a napkin, and maybe next week or next month, a piece of paper. I hope the writers that gave up go to a tent revival and get their souls saved, find religion, and start preaching. I hope I catch up to the friends and peers who are more talented than I am. I hope that those writers run towards their stories and never stop, and God help whoever gets in their way, because they’re going to get plowed (and I don’t feel a bit sorry for them either, because in the words of Kele, “Get out of the way, or get fucked up.”)
I hope that someday soon, you read something that raises the bar so high for you that you sit down to write a Facebook status, and it becomes a note, and then a blog entry, and that before you know it, two hours have passed, and you’re pretty sure you just wrote a piece of creative non-fiction, and because you had something to say, and dammit, they’re going to hear you.