This week’s Post: A few notes about trying to write about my dad

I am thinking of writing an essay about my dad that digs deep into my memory of what was good about him, in addition to the usual stories I tell about what was not so great about him. Below are just a few rough draft paragraphs that may not end up in the essay. But this is how the process begins: with exploration.

The memory involves sunshine and youth, and when you say those two words together, sunshine and youth, you might think I’m getting at something glorious and happy. That wouldn’t be true. It’s the song and the sunshine, the way the sunshine slants at the intersection of Pleasant and Central Streets, just at the moment Rod Stewart sings through the car radio, “Maggie, I think I got something to say to you…” that I see him: my father.

This is all kind of fucked up because I don’t think my father spent any time at the intersection of Pleasant and Central, which isn’t the nicest part of town so he would have had no interest. Yet I see him. He’s walking down the street in the 4 p.m. sun, not at its height and not yet set. Once he existed in such a space, perhaps at a different intersection, perhaps in a different town, but he walked in a 4 o’clock sun.

My father has been dead for eight and a half years.

Posted in Aging, Caring for parents, Parents, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments

‘Cross Dresser’ by Cindy Zelman

Originally posted on Steam Ticket:

Halloween, 1987, his 75th birthday, and John Jacobs reeled in a fuzzy notion that had been hovering in his brain for decades, and so indeed, he dressed as a woman for the first time. He gazed at his reflection in the glass of the Day Glow Motel entrance. Damn pretty, he thought. He held one hand on a hip and twisted at his waist to view his backside, encouraged by the sexy “v” of the neckline halfway down his back. Damn effing pretty. He entered the motel.

He sunk his plump old ass on a stool at the bar. Black fishnet stockings hugged his fat thighs, and black garters pressed hollows on his calves. He had shaven his legs, and he was grateful; the nylon hugging his skin felt sensual. His crepe evening dress clung also, an inviting dusty rose number he’d found at a flea market. The quality of…

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The weekly post I promised

I have not finished this piece. It is a short scene from February 2014. I am hoping to turn this into something more, but if not, at least it’s here, a record of a moment.

This is what it looks like: My mother is lying on a gurney for the second time in two months, the first time to remove an enormous tumor that was pushing through her breast, stage 4 breast cancer.

This time we are at the hospital for a needle biopsy of her lung. There is a chance her lung could collapse during the procedure. She says she’s more worried about peeing in the bed.

I said, “That’s a good thing to be worried about, I mean, it’s better than worrying about the spot on your lung, whether it’s lung cancer or breast cancer.” (Did I really say all that? I must have thought it.)

I had to ask four questions to get the oncologist to explain to me why the lung biopsy would be beneficial, given his stage 4 “incurable” diagnosis.

“We need to know whether the spot is breast cancer or lung cancer,” he said.

Imagine a six-foot three tall, skinny man with dark hair and a wan complexion. He looks like he should be a funeral director. I guess as an oncologist, he nearly is one.

“Why,” I ask, “do you need to know which cancer it is, since you’ve already diagnosed her as incurable?”

“Because it could be lung cancer.”

This guy could have played Lurch in The Addam’s Family show.

“And if it’s lung cancer?”

“We would want to remove it.”

And once again, given that he has diagnosed her with incurable stage 4 breast cancer, I ask, “Why?”

“Because lung cancer could spread faster than breast cancer.” Couldn’t he have just said that first?

It was the only sentence that answered my question. Will it make a significant difference, – say add a year to her life as opposed to two months? I don’t ask because I don’t know how many questions it will take to get to that answer, or even if there is an answer, or if I want to know it. I cannot process any more information coming from this ghoulish man.

Posted in Aging, Memoirs, memories, Mothers, Parents, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

I want to make a comeback

Blog

Oh right I have a blog!

When I started The Early Draft in 2010, the point was to free myself to write whatever I wanted. It was an exercise in not worrying that the writing was perfect or publication-ready. I wanted to blog because I don’t journal. I always write because I want readers. For a few years, I went great guns with this effort and started to build a following. I developed many mini-essays here, that with a little work, actually became publication-ready. Some of the early draft work that began here ended up in my chapbook, What’s in a Butch’s Purse and Other Humorous Essays. Some of it ended up as posts for lesbian.com. Some of it ended up published on other websites.  My blogging took off, and for several months, I had blogs featured on The Huffington Post, particularly in the Gay Voices Section, but also in their over 50 page and their Impact page.

And then it all stopped. Not just the blogging stopped, but for the most part, the writing stopped. You’re wondering why, I suppose. I’m not sure exactly, but I have a few ideas. I had commentators on The Huffington Post rip me a new asshole for an unpopular view about smoking marijuana at outdoor concerts. I didn’t realize my writing could engender so much hatred. The reaction freaked me out. Another paradox: not only was the marijuana blog my most read post (with more than 250 comments, most of them hateful), but it was linked to a national pro-marijuana website and exposed in state after state after state. The article probably got more exposure than anything I have ever written. I became known as the woman with a stick up her ass who didn’t want to inhale someone else’s pot smoke at a concert. Yes, the anti-party chick. That’s me. The buzzkill. The one who would vote against legalization — although that’s not true — I do vote for legalization, just not smoking in public where it travels up my nose. The Huffington audience didn’t catch that part. So, I had my first brush with audience hatred. Ouch.

People hate me because I don't like to smell their marijuana smoke. I'm a relic.

People hate me because I don’t like to smell their marijuana smoke. I’m a relic.

Nearly a year later, my mother was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer, incurable, and the morbid oncologist made it sound as if her death was imminent. This also dampened my spirit when it came to writing. My mother is still here, and overall, doing well, but the shock of the diagnosis threw me into a state of “Who the fuck cares about writing, death is the BIG thing…”

One cannot live in a state of morbidity or cowering from the angry mob forever. One must try again to get the writing energy going. This is what writers do. This is what human beings do under many circumstances. We fall, we fail, we try again.

The paradox of my writer’s block being that since 2013, I have had more work published than I ever thought possible (work I wrote prior to the block, of course.) I am not rock star of the literary world, but since 1991, when my first, well, creative-nonfiction-piece-disguised-as-fiction was published in the journal Feminist Studies, and decades went by and nothing was published, and I thought I was a one hit wonder, I now have a relatively (everything is relative) long list of publications. If you would like to see them and maybe read some of the pieces published online, please refer to my publications page on this blog site.

Just "angst" period.

Just “angst” period.

 

So, I’ve been sending all this stuff out in the last few years, and mostly what I get back are the typical rejections, but beyond those, are the acceptances, even minor recognition: I’ve won three honorable mentions in the last year from New Millennium Magazine (and how I’d love to crack 1st or 2nd or 3rd Prize) and one honorable mention from The Writer’s Workshop of Ashville. I’ve been flattered to have one of my essays chosen to be in the top 10 of the year (a few years back) from Connotation Press: An Online Artifact, and more recently, to have a short story (I started nearly 20 years ago) published in Volume 17 of the print journal, Steam Ticket: A Third Coast Review, which also has been chosen as a piece to republish online to represent the “Best Of…” Steam Ticket.

Why am I doing all of this humble bragging on myself. I’m sure it’s a form of compensation. I’m trying to tell you (and me) how great I’ve been doing as a writer when truly, in the last year, I’ve written nothing at all. I hope to rectify the situation. I love to write. Sometimes I write (not quite) great things. I do have an audience who enjoys my prose. I am not a brilliant writer, but I’m good, when I’m good, when I actually write something. I am trying to remind myself by all the self-congratulatory crapola expressed above.

It’s been an interesting year too, of seeing friends from the Solstice MFA program also publish books. My good friend, Faye Rapoport DesPres, has published Message From a Blue Jay: Love, Loss, and One Writer’s Journey Home, in 2014, which is a beautifully written, yet very accessible read, about the narrator’s search for an authentic life. If you’d like to read more about it before buying, I wrote a review of it on Connotation Press. However, I would just skip the review and buy the book! It’s fabulous. Faye has also published her essays in numerous literary journals. See her blog at http://www.fayrapoportdespres.com.

Another Solstice friend of mine, and one of my favorite guys in the world, Mike Miner, has published All She Knows, an amazingly beautiful and dark novella in stories that you don’t want to miss and you won’t be able to put down. I have also  ordered his newest book, The Immortal Game. I can’t wait to read it. See his author page on Amazon.

Faye and Mike are major talents. You don’t want to miss their stuff.

There are so many books coming from Solstice alumni and students that they are too numerous to mention in a short blog post; however, I want to reassure you this is a talented group of writers. If you have an interest in the program, here is there website: http://www.pmc.edu/mfa-news

While this attempt to get back to The Early Draft turned out to be more about my trying to pat myself on the back for successes in the midst of writer’s block, my on-going goal is to post a blog here once a week, even if it’s just a paragraph, and hopefully, one that is not about writing but that is writing.

You see,  I want to make a comeback.

 

Posted in Book publishing, Book Reviews, Creative Nonfiction, Creative writing, Essays, Memoirs, MFA Programs, publishing, Solstice MFA Pine Manor College, The Writer's Life, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

Author Mariam Kobras on the great mystery of being a writer

1376084_10201438612779684_1304077167_nThis week, Mariam Kobras, awarding winning author of The Stone Trilogy romance novel series, contemplates the mysteries of being a writer, as her next book, Waiting for a Song, Naomi’s Story, has just been released.

Being a writer…one of the great mysteries of life.
by Mariam Kobras, guest blogger

It’s right up there with: why do we dream, why do foods that aren’t good for you taste so good, why are some feelings good, and some bad, why do we make wishes, and where does that deep, almost painful yearning for something that we don’t even know come from? Why does it grip us in unexpected moments, like when we’re standing on the beach and breathing in the tangy sea wind, or when we’re at the opera, and Cecilia Bartoli sings Casta Diva?

Why do we feel that something big, some big, colossal, and yet unfathomable force is moving around us, unseen, unheard, and yet we can sense it, knowing in some mysterious way that it’s there.

Isn’t that how writing works too? Isn’t writing the attempt to catch moods, feelings and the elusive memory of something that never even happened?

Just last night, chatting with my publisher, something she said made me pause and ponder this. We were talking about the impostor syndrome, and why so many writers encounter it at some point in their career. That’s when I paused. We’re celebrating the release of my fourth book, Waiting for a Song, with this blog hop. The launch of the fifth is within sight, and the sixth is written and waiting its turn.

I said, “I have no idea what to write for Cindy’s blog. I’m no academic. I’m just a writer.”
And my publisher said, “And you know a lot more about the writing process by now. So write about that.”

But do I?
When do we turn from hopeful amateur into author, into someone who actually knows what they’re doing? Is it when an agent or publisher accepts our first book?
I think not. Writing one book is easy. Most of us have a story to tell, even if it’s only one. Only when you’ve submitted it, and a publisher has accepted it, everything changes. Publishers don’t want a book. They want an author. They want a person who—sooner rather than later—will turn into their own brand.

Following up on that first book isn’t quite as easy. Expectations and hopes are looking over your shoulder, and their shadows can be mighty daunting. Writing my second book, Under the Same Sun, was pretty daunting. I never knew I could do it until it was finished, and printed.

Did I feel like an author? No way. I felt like a bumbling amateur, again
Book Three, Song of the Storm, was a bit easier. I knew by then that I could please my publisher. She wasn’t thrilled that I wanted to write about 9/11. I understood her hesitation. It’s a difficult subject, but it was something that I had to do. My heart was demanding for it to be written.

But did it make me feel like an author? Not at all.

Strangely enough, it was only after the Stone Trilogy was finished and I’d recovered from the emotional turmoil of leading my characters through that blackest of days, after I’d seen all three books together and held them in my hands, that I could let go. It felt as if I’d done the task that I’d been set, and done it well, and now I could do whatever I wanted.

Writing Waiting for a Song, Naomi’s Story and the other prequel, The Rosewood Guitar, Jon’s Story, felt like being on vacation, like walking along that shore that Naomi and Jon walk on nearly every morning. The words bubbled from my imagination right into the keyboard. They danced onto the screen of my faithful little MacBook in no time at all.

So do I feel like an author now?
The truth is, I’m still not sure. It’s good enough for me that my publisher is sure. I’ll just keep on writing and pour out the stories, and let others judge if they’re good enough to be read or not. And anyway, does it matter whether I feel like an author or not?

Stone-Series-WEB

I’m in a happy place.
That’s really all that matters in life. That’s the real mystery, happiness.

Thank you so much for hosting me today, Cindy!

Photo on 5-2-14 at 4.37 PM #3This was the ninth stop in Mariam’s Book Launch Blog hop & Giveaway to celebrate the release of Waiting for a Song, Naomi’s Story. Don’t miss the next stop on June 19th on Nita Beshear’s blog where Nita will review Mariam’s new book!

GIVEAWAY: ONE LUCKY WINNER will receive a red leather journal with cream pages and a ribbon marker—like the one Naomi used when she wrote the lyrics that won Jon’s heart. To enter, just leave a comment below (US and Canada only please). Prize courtesy of Buddhapuss Ink LLC.

For more chances to win, please visit the Buddhapuss Ink or Mariam’s author page on Facebook and click on the Giveaway Tab!

Rafflecopter giveaway – a Rafflecopter giveaway

 

Posted in Book publishing, Creative writing, publishing, Reading, The Writer's Life, Uncategorized, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

In the quest to free my Persecuted Ugandan friends — SUCCESS — and more…

We are getting there!

We are getting there!

As it turns out, Bryan, one of two gay Ugandan men I have raised money for (with the help of very generous friends) is leaving with another friend for South Africa THIS WEEK! I am very excited for him. Harold’s passport is being held up. Practically, this means I could use another $500 for Harold, who will need to make the trip at a later date. The campaign is still on until June 25th, so if you could make small (or large) contributions until then, anything would help. That will be three people saved. I will get Harold out on my own if I must. I’m so excited for Bryan!!! He is leaving this coming week. Thank you, everyone.

For more on this story, please go to the campaign to read all about it: We have met the goal but need another $500!

Or, see my post on Lesbian.com about the situation in Uganda where an entire population of people are being persecuted.

Thank you, everyone.
Cindy

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Is the MFA Worth It?: Guest blog by Message from a Blue Jay Author Faye Rapoport DesPres!

Blue-Jay-Cover-10.2-for-webuseToday my friend, Faye Rapoport DesPres, is guest blogging! Her book, Message from a Blue Jay, was released just yesterday, and it sold out on Amazon in half a day! It’s a fabulous and beautiful read about one’s woman’s journey home. You can still order on Amazon as more copies are being shipped ASAP. Below, please read Faye’s guest post, then enter the giveaway by leaving a comment after the post!

Faye Rapoport DesPres

Faye Rapoport DesPres is the author of the new memoir in essays titled Message from a Blue Jay(Buddhapuss Ink, May 2014). Faye was born in New York City and raised in upstate New York, and she has also lived in Colorado, England, and Israel. Her personal essays, fiction, poetry, reviews, and interviews have appeared in a variety of literary journals and magazines including Ascent, Connotation Press: An Online Artifact, Fourth Genre, Platte Valley Review, Superstition Review, and the Writer’s Chronicle. Faye earned her MFA from the Solstice Creative Writing Program at Pine Manor College.

The MFA in Creative Writing: Is it Worth It?

 By Faye Rapoport DesPres

It is appropriate that my first guest post for the Message from a Blue Jay “blog hop” (or virtual book tour) is being published on Cindy Zelman’s blog. I have been a fan of The Early Draft since Cindy began publishing her lively, insightful posts here several years ago. That was before she was stolen away by larger blogging venues like the Huffington Post – I hope she shares more of her writing here soon. Check back when she does – you won’t be sorry.

Cindy and I met as Creative Nonfiction students at the Solstice MFA Program in Creative Writing at Pine Manor College, so I thought I would use this space on her blog to address an often-asked question: Is earning an MFA in Creative Writing worth the money, time, and commitment?

Before I began my own studies at Solstice, I posed this question to several friends who are writers. Two of the people I spoke to had graduated from well-known MFA programs, and one held an MA in English Literature. Perhaps predictably, the two MFA grads recommended that I apply, while the third friend did not.

The writer who felt that an MFA wasn’t necessary basically told me this: “If you want to write, just write.” Armed with a strong background in literature and the experiences he’d had in his MA workshops, he felt motivated enough to read and work on his creative writing on his own. He noted that there are writing workshops, writing groups, and plenty of other opportunities to practice and perfect one’s craft without making the commitment (financial and otherwise) required to earn an MFA.

I have seen this work for some writers. I have a friend, for example, who has published five novels and a memoir with several independent presses. She even owned her own press at one point – and she never studied creative writing in any formal way. She was simply an avid reader from a very young age, and writing comes naturally to her. She is also highly disciplined, and because she loves writing and reading so much, both are a major part of her life.

On the other hand, the MFA grads who I spoke to felt that their MFA programs contributed in important ways to their experiences and eventual successes as writers. One person is still writing regularly as part of a writing group, and his MFA qualifications helped him land a job as an adjunct writing instructor at a state university. The other grad won a major poetry prize a few years ago that resulted in the publication of her first book; since then, she has published several chapbooks and a second book-length manuscript. She also teaches creative writing at a well-known college.

In the end, I decided that the discipline and experience of a Creative Writing program would help me – and that decision proved to be the watershed moment that propelled me toward the publication of Message from a Blue Jay. Before I studied Creative Nonfiction at Solstice, the bulk of my writing experience included a few poetry-writing classes I’d taken years before and my ongoing work as a professional journalist and a business/non-profit writer. I read a lot of classical literature during college and the years that followed, but I was out of touch with contemporary literature and the literary community in general. Most important, I had never learned some of the basic aspects of creative prose-writing craft.

I chose the Solstice program because it is a low-residency program that allowed me to continue with my professional freelance work while I pursued my interest in creative writing. Solstice is a small, more affordable program with an incredibly talented faculty, and it is located in the Boston area, where I live. As I had hoped, my creative work improved leaps and bounds during the two-year period that I participated in the program. I also met other writers and became part of an unexpectedly supportive community of writers and teachers.

Message from a Blue Jay was written one chapter at a time, starting in the early days at Solstice when I started practicing the personal essay form. Slowly, over the two-year period of my studies, I began building a body of work I could be proud of. Still, the essay collection that became my final Creative Thesis was not the end of the road – not by far. I revised the essays many times after graduation and continued to produce new work. I also struggled through the process of submitting to literary journals and wrestling with the standard rejections, which came far more often than the acceptances. Through it all, my teachers along with fellow students and graduates encouraged me by believing in my work.

It wasn’t until two and a half years after graduation that I finally felt my essays merited inclusion in a publishable collection – the manuscript that eventually evolved into the memoir-in-essays that is Message from a Blue Jay. The study, the revision, the persistence, and the waiting were all worth it. I finally have a book that I’m proud of.

As to the argument that MFA programs produce robotic, unoriginal writers, all I can say is that Cindy Zelman, whose blog I’m posting on today, and I couldn’t be more dissimilar writers. Yet we graduated from the same MFA program and had many of the same instructors. We’re different people with different perspectives and different voices – yet we enjoy and respect each others’ work. We’ve celebrated each others’ successes over a hot cup of coffee and we’ve encouraged each other to keep going after the sting of rejection. When one of us says, “This is it! I’m done! I can’t do this anymore,” the other listens patiently and then says, “Okay. Now get back to work.” Having colleagues like that on your side is priceless.

So – is an MFA worth it? I think the answer to that question is different for different people. All I can say is that in my specific case, the answer was definitely “yes.”

 

This was the second stop on Faye Rapoport DesPres’s Virtual Book Tour.

Don’t miss the next stop on 5/16 at Chloe Yelena Miller‘s blog!

The publisher is offering a personalized, signed copy of Message from a Blue Jay plus swag to the winner of their Virtual Tour Giveaway.
We invite you to leave a comment below to enter.
For more chances to enter, please visit the Buddhapuss Ink or Message from a Blue Jay Facebook pages and click on the Giveaway Tab!

Posted in Book publishing, Creative Nonfiction, Creative writing, Essays, Memoirs, MFA Programs, publishing, Reading, Solstice MFA Pine Manor College, The Writer's Life, Uncategorized, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments