3 Revisions? 6 Revisions? Try 16 years of revisions….

Sixteen year ago, I had my ass kicked by love and I’ve been trying to write about it ever since. In 1996, after a breakup with a woman named XXXXX, I attempted to write several pages of our story together. What I wrote didn’t capture what I needed it to capture; in other words, it was incomplete. What was our story together? Long-distance love? Unrequited love? Partially requited love? Breaking through mental and emotional barriers in the quest for love? None of those thoughts entered my mind all those years ago. I was much too close to the subject.revisionangst

I began the story a as a form of therapy. I’d always enjoyed writing when I was a child and accelerated my writing efforts as an adolescent  to cope with things that scared me, namely, dealing with panic attacks wherever I went – to the doctor’s office, at a restaurant, in a traffic jam (well, it was hard to scribble notes on a highway if I was the one driving.) By my mid-thirties, writing to help calm my debilitating emotional monsters was a crucial part of my therapeutic process. Apparently, writing also helped to assuage a shattered heart.

But writing for therapy is not the same as writing to craft a story or an essay or to have the piece read by an audience. Over time, I wanted to do more than write this piece for my own mental health. I’ve picked up the piece many times since 1996, dozens of times. I’ve added to it, subtracted from it, tried to find the storyline or the essay language that would move it beyond my own little written psychotherapy. There are still a few paragraphs that remain from the 1990s, and the piece has always been entitled “XXXXX Songs.” The popular music of the 1990s was thematic in the relationship with XXXXX: Alanis Morrisette, U2, Garbage, and Sophie B. Hawkins figured  prominently into our fantasies and in our romance.  

By the time I attended the Solstice MFA program of Pine Manor College in 2008, so much time had passed that the term “XXXXX Songs” had become more emblematic and less literal,  a symbol of a love relationship that doesn’t work out, which it turns out, is one of the  on-going narratives of my life. I now have a book-length manuscript about such love relationships entitled, XXXXX Songs, after the original essay.

bart-simpson-generator3Each chapter is about a love relationship that does not work in the long-run, but that I insist has its moments of true beauty or happiness. When I first arrived at grad school, someone implied that because two of my essays were about relationships that didn’t last a lifetime, that the narrator had an obvious history of failed relationships.  I said, “Do you think because a relationship doesn’t last a lifetime that the relationship is a complete failure?” I think that opinion, coming from someone who had been in a long-term and happy marriage, fueled my desire to write a book – as well as to finish the chapter about XXXXX – in such a way as to find the redeeming moments in each relationship.

snoopyIn addition, as in the essay, “XXXXX Songs,” many chapters  depict the struggle to overcome my battles with panic disorder and agoraphobia, because those conditions have had major effects on my ability to have relationships.  Some people find those passages about panic and agoraphobia the most compelling in the book. I prefer the passages about love, but that’s because I’ve had so little love and so much  panic.

Recently, the wonderful editors at Connotation Press: An Online Artifact published “XXXXX Songs.”  I’m not sure they have any idea how moved I was that they accepted the piece and that this story is finally out in the world. Last weekend was very emotional for me (in a good way) as I thought (more felt), “Oh my god, the story of XXXXX has been released to the world.”  I was choked up. It is my truth and not necessarily XXXXX’s, but it sets my emotional record straight; it affirms and reaffirms one of the most intense years in my life. I’ve been grappling with the writing for a decade and a half, and while I would not say I’ve achieved “art” with this piece, I have achieved a certain level of craft. It is more than therapy. A terrific editor thought it was good enough to publish, that readers would want to read it.  

Thank you again to editors and writers at Connotation Press,  Robert Clark Young and Ken Robidoux, for their support and belief in my work. 

While “XXXXX Songs,” is not my first publication, and hopefully won’t be my last, it may be my most significant to date, if for no other reason than I’ve been writing it for 16 years. After seeing it in print, I already note several places where I want to improve the language. This is typical of me, but I hope you will enjoy the essay anyway, if you haven’t yet read it yet.

The essay is the pivotal chapter in my book-length memoir that I will be attempting to pitch and sell in 2013.  I call this essay pivotal because there appears to be a XXXXX before XXXXX and a Cindy after XXXX (XC and XC.) Our story is one of fantasy, longing, lust, love, disappointment and heartbreak, the usual stuff (hahaha), although I hope told uniquely. While I have suffered from some broken hearts since XXXXX and before, and unfortunately, have handed out a few of my own, there will never be a heartbreak quite like that one, because it was the first time I realized that dreams really can be shattered.

And yet, there was beauty.

If you have not yet read “XXXXXSongs,” and are interested, you can find a direct link here:

http://www.connotationpress.com/creative-nonfiction/1663-cindy-zelman-creative-nonfiction

Thank you for taking the time. I appreciate it very much.

Cindy P.S. A special thanks to Elissa Rosenthal who suggested while I was at graduate school, I write  a book about all those relationships I’ve had with women. I remember saying to her, “I can’t do that in two years!” Hahaha….

The Twisty-Turn-y Journey of My “Career”

 

 

In an effort to lighten up my blog (and to lighten up generally), I’ve chosen the relatively innocuous topic of my career. I think work histories are interesting. I hope mine is to you, but if you’re bored, just stop reading. That should be a rule for anything you read.

 

Tell me the story of your work. I would be interested to hear how my readers ended up in the careers they are in – or if you are out of work – what kind of job or career would you like to find yourself in when this economy provides you with more opportunity?

 

Although I like to consider myself a writer, I don’t write for a living. I work in business and have been doing so for more than 20 years. Here I present to you the twisty-turn-y journey of my career.*

 

I sat in the conference room the other day, listening to my coworkers as they discussed “COUNT,” and “MASTER” and “UMPH” and “OWL,” and how to apply automated security level reporting around these applications. Don’t know what I’m talking about? Well, as a member of this particular review team, I barely knew what I was talking about, so don’t feel too badly.

 

The conference room smelled moldy.  When the building was constructed 10 years ago, it was built flawed. Moisture snuck in between the carpets and the floorboards and mold grew. The carpeting had to be ripped out of each floor, the floors sanded, and new industrial carpeting squares laid down. I don’t know whether the third floor didn’t receive this treatment or whether the moldy smell on this floor is a different problem. I’m surprised nobody calls OSHAto complain. 

 

OSHA photo
OSHA photo (Photo credit: shurestep)

 

As the meeting droned on I began to feel disoriented. Half of my brain listened and responded to the highly specific and nearly indecipherable acronyms of my colleagues. The other half of my brain was startled:  HOW DID I GET HERE, sitting in a moldy smelling conference room talking in a language we all invented amongst ourselves? Could I be further from what I initially envisioned for my career when I was a young woman – teaching and writing?

 

I held my very first job at Roxies Supermarket in Stoughton. The branch is now defunct, but during the 1970s it employed many of my fellow high school classmates. The first paycheck was for approximately $49, and I have never since received a pay check that made me feel so rich. In 1978 terms, $49 could still buy a lot, and at age 16 living at home, I had few expenses. I wish I could remember what I spend that money on: Doritos? Cigarettes at 67 cents a pack? Vinyl record albums: Santana, Aerosmith, Led Zeppelin? (I was so effing cool back then.)

 

Roxies did a lot for my educational aspirations. I was a cashier and worked up to 25 hours a week. It was my Roxie’s experience that made me decide to go to college. I decided to attend college based on one overriding career requirement: I wanted a job where I didn’t have to work on Saturdays. Well, two criteria: I also did not want to stand on my feet all day. I imagined college was my only road to such a lofty aspirations.

 

I completed a bachelor’s degree easily. Academics had always come easily, where other things came hard, nearly impossibly – like personal relationships, especially romantic ones. Academics were so simple by comparison. If I could just read and write about people and not have to kiss them and get into bed with them, I did just fine. (Sadly, this is still true of me to some extent. I like theoretical sex much more than real sex. All secrets revealed on Cindy’s blog tonight.)

 

I didn’t receive the greatest advice as an undergrad, however, when faculty advisors told me to major in “journalism” and not English because journalism had practical applications. I listened to them. This was the early 1980s. As an undergraduate, I did not take one creative writing course, always being told it was impractical so “take expository writing.” So, I did. I learned how to write argumentative essays, not even personal ones. I’m an argumentative soul so this was pretty easy for me but not very exciting.

 

I fell into a public relations writing position in higher education soon after I graduated from college. My first “professional” job was at Wheaton College. It was a great experience for me, more meaningful than my actual undergraduate education had been. I learned to write for publications, even if those publications were local newspapers, wire services, and alumna magazines and not exactly literary ones. At the time, Wheaton was still an all-women’s college, and my budding sexuality, although yet to be named, found a home there, where women were primary.

 

The job at Wheaton was only supposed to last a year, and still on that “practical” path I’d been led to as an undergraduate, I applied for and was accepted to BU’s Graduate School of Communication with a full assistantship and tuition reimbursement. This was a Ph.D. program. I was 23. If there were ever a time for me to embrace the practical and set myself up for a career teaching at the college level, this was it. But I didn’t go.

 

I could tell you I didn’t go to BU because I couldn’t walk up to the third floor of the Communications building on Commonwealth Ave. I couldn’t. I had an appointment to meet with my faculty advisor prior to attending in the fall. My panic attacks disallowed my body from climbing three sets of stairs. That is a different post about agoraphobia, but it is one reason I didn’t attend, so it is relevant here.  I think, however, that other forces were at work. I didn’t want a Ph.D. in public relations or communications, or whatever the program was. Such study didn’t have emotional teeth for me; the kind of writing I did in this field didn’t move my soul.

 

Brandeis University
Brandeis University (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Instead, I continued in a career as a writer in public relations at Wheaton, then at Clark University and finally at Boston College. I became bored. The economy was good in the mid-1980s. I job hopped. I received offers from Brandeis and Clark at the same time, with Brandeis offering me more money to come write pr crap for them. I was a young woman and the world waited for me. I feel badly for today’s college graduates who end up with debt in the tens or hundreds of thousands and no solid job prospects. For a little while, back then in the mid-80s, things were different. I wish I had chosen Brandeis, because I think it would have changed my career path; I think I might still be there and perhaps have become a teacher. There is something about Brandeis. But I chose Clark, also a great school, but not the best fit. I left after six months. I was 24. 

 

At Boston College, I worked in major gifts “development writing,” which meant I wrote to millionaires and asked them to fund this or that – a scholarship, a wing of a building, stands in a football field, etc. After pounding out the initial templates, I had nothing left to do except to fill in the names and make slight alterations. I had my own office in those days. I had an ashtray in my office. I filled it daily with my butts. All that luxury, huh? But it wasn’t enough.

 

I decided that I would finally major in English and in a BIG WAY. I applied for a master’s program (an M.A.) in creative writing. Ohhhh, how rebellious of me! I applied to three programs and I only got into one at the University of New Hampshire. They accepted me as a fiction writing student. Their mistake, hahaha…. At the time (1988), as far as I know, the “creative nonfiction genre” had yet to be named as such, or had not caught on. I thought my only choices to study writing were fiction, poetry, or drama. I was a prose writer so fiction was the closest to what I was doing.

 

UNH was a difficult experience for me on many levels and I have written about it in one or two essays. In terms of career, however, let me just say it’s hard to fit a nonfiction writer into a fiction workshop. The problem is, even I didn’t realize that I was writing in a different genre (yet to be defined). People have written essays and memoirs forever, but naming the creative nonfiction genre took a long time. Instead, I listened to all kinds of criticism of my work, which mainly went like this: That’s NOT fiction…duh. I wasn’t even invited to the student readings. Those of you who attended the Solstice MFA program or are currently attending can see how different a graduate writing program can be. But I would have to wait another 20 years  (until 2008) before I found the writing program that I was meant to be in and the genre of creative nonfiction.

 

I graduated with an M.A. in English from UNH in 1990 but those amazing career days of the 1980s had ended. I had four years of experience as a writer in higher education, I had 100+ articles published from my local freelance journalism days, and now I had an M.A. With all that behind me, I could not even buy a job making beds in higher education.  At first I tried for teaching jobs and was told college-level writing used to be the entry level for an M.A. English graduate, but no more. “We have Ph.D.s from Harvard applying for those part-time jobs,” my own alma mater told me. 1990 featured recession, similar to the one we’ve been experiencing in the 21st century.

 

I couldn’t even get hired again doing PR writing. I applied for “director of pr” at a local college and had an interview with the president. I remember her saying to me, “Cindy, I really like you and you have good qualifications, but I have people with 20 years of experience who want this job because they are out of work.”

 

So, I didn’t get the job.

 

At age 28, I had bills to pay and I wanted to live independently from my mother. (Yeah, effing joke for those of you who know my current living arrangement.) I applied for anything and everything that I could find in the newspapers. I accepted a job for $9 an hour with benefits from a local company (now defunct) known then as Evernet Systems, which I now affectionately refer to as “Ever-Sweat Systems.” They were one of the many networking companies of the early 1990s who went into business and set up LANS (Local Area Networks) with ethernet wire , before Wifi was the rage, even before WINDOWS was used as an operating system. I remember the day they installed windows in our PCs at work and we all thought it looked like a cartoon. A mouse? What’s that? I am freaking old.

 

With all of my background in English and writing, Evernet systems hired me to work in this environment as an administrative assistant.

 

“I will only be there for 3 months,” I said to myself.  I ended up there for two years and ran the office toward the end of my tenure. It was fun. Truly. I was good at it. There were about 25 employees. That led to jobs at banks and then at financial services companies. I am not in investments, so don’t think I’m one of “them.”  I work in a back office, meaning, we are doing the work of keeping records for your accounts. Currently, my title is Process Improvement Analyst, although I’m not sure I improve anything – yet they keep me around. It must be my good looks. 

 

 

It turned out I was very good at working in a business environment (Dad’s genetics?) and over the next 22 years, I became more entrenched in this “career” that has absolutely nothing to do with reading or writing or teaching. Still, I am grateful for the career, for allowing me to earn a living and freeing up my mind to write. And for bringing me some very nice friends and coworkers.

 

I would love to hear the story of your career or job or work or lack therof.  Please write.

 

 *I have made some insignificant changes to the details of my current work environment so as not to reveal the company name.

 

 

 

 

 

The week when “I was supposed to be at Lambda.”

This week, I was supposed to be at the Lambda Literary Foundation Writing Retreat in Los Angeles. I was supposed to be a “Lambda Fellow,” which holds a little prestige (at least in my mind) as one of just a few selected to attend this competitive writing conference, the only one in the country designed exclusively for LBGTQ writers. I am not there this week because I was rejected – the competitive admissions process threw me into the slush pile of applicants. My own “community” spit me out and said: Not good enough.

So, in mature fashion, I unsubscribed to Lambda‘s email communications. I mean, I didn’t need to read for the next two months the bios and profiles and activities of the chosen ones, those Olympian gay writers who made the Lambda cut. Fuck that, I am truly not that big of a person nor do I wish to be.

In 2011, I was accepted into the Lambda writing retreat, but turned down the acceptance, to attend the first ever Wet Mountain Valley Writers’ Workshop held in Westcliffe, Colorado. I wanted to work with one of my writing idols. During that week, my idol fell and my dreams of her turned ugly, nightmarish. The thin air and high elevation in Wet Mountain Valley may have exaggerated our perceptions, but she and I didn’t like each other. She criticized me too harshly. “Get rid of this flat, essay-ish writing.” Then she read a few lines, looked slightly disgusted and said, “This sounds like a an old political slogan, not a story!” It’s an essay, you idiot, I didn’t say, and I’m allowed some leeway to reflect, you jerk, I didn’t say. Obviously, you are a pure fiction writer and know nothing about creative nonfiction, I didn’t say. More than once she cut me off when I read out loud in class while letting her favorites read on over the time limit or talk incessantly about themselves or their own work. I hated her. I glared at her. It was like a bad online dating experience – all build up and in person no chemistry. I left the Colorado workshop in 2011 muttering “bitch” under my breath and “You haven’t written anything good in 20 years,” and other assorted, horrible, let’s bring on the bad karma type statements.

My own fault, all of this is my own fault.And so I brought on the bad karma, manifested in one way by being rejected from the Lambda Conference in 2012.

I don’t know if I should feel like a loser because I was rejected by Lambda this year, or like a winner, because I was accepted last year. Am I good enough? Am I not good enough? Perhaps I should feel like loser for my bad attitude at Colorado last summer? After having earned an MFA, I couldn’t take some harsh criticism from this author? Or maybe I should feel like a winner for standing up for myself, at least in my own mind?

Which brings me to the point: rejection and acceptance and how one navigates these waters as a writer and as a human being. I am not an authority on the subject, but I do have experience. I don’t always know when to feel good or when to feel bad when I’m rejected or accepted. That’s what I’ve concluded. See, I’m not really going to help you figure it out. I’m just saying…

Those of you who are regular blog readers know I’ve faced a lot of rejection in 2012. I won’t list all the rejections I’ve received. A good majority of them were for an essay called “Marcela Songs,” for which I now have about a thousand versions, and as of yet, no literary journal is interested in any version, no matter how I spin it. I may have to accept that “Marcela Songs,” is a failed essay. “Marcela Songs” is the essay I sent in to Lambda in 2012, further proof, I suspect, that it just ain’t that good. That’s hard for me. I’ve been trying to write this essay since I was 35. I turned 50 this year.

I’ve had other rejections on a smaller scale for other pieces. Overall in 2012, I had come to expect that every time I heard back from a literary journal for the email to say, “Thanks but no thanks, go find somewhere else for your work.” Because of the negative state that the rejections threw me in, I failed to truly acknowledge the positives, even within the rejections – for example, I received some form rejections that encouraged me to submit again. And although they were form rejections, I don’t think form rejections always encourage you to submit again. Or do they?

More important, my blog readers (that would be all of YOU), continued to encourage me with your comments and praise of my blog, month after month. By June, I’d started to think, “Hey, I have a readership that likes my work; maybe, just possibly, I’m not a shitty writer. Maybe, just possibly, I can be an effective writer without ‘being accepted’ in the more traditional fashion.”

Such support helped to renew my confidence. As did the support of individual friends. At dinner recently, a friend of mine said the mansuscript (not the single essay) Marcela Songs should be submitted as a book. She felt very strongly about this and now that I’ve looked away from it for awhile (after madly revising for a year and a half), I’ve looked at it again. I’m going to give it a shot. The manuscript is currently in the hands of a wonderful writer, Bridget Bufford, who is editing the book (in between bouts of poisoning herself on her landscaping “day” job and trying to survive the drought in Missouri.)

Candy Parker, my former editor at GAY e-magazine, recently asked me to contribute blog entries to lesbian.com, a world-wide resource for lesbians, a website that is receiving hits in the hundreds of thousands. She asked me, unsolicited, to contribute my work because she thinks so well of my writing. Lambda is not the only game in town. Neither is a bunch of “Marcela Song,” hating literary journals. Candy’s opinion means a lot. She’s a talented writer. So I should feel good about myself as a writer, right?

In July, the writing energy started to turn from negative to positive. I think this is a typical cycle for a writer, to go from negative to positive (and back again) in how one feels about one’s work and in how it’s received. I don’t believe that energy just makes itself up out of nothing, but we guide it based on our actions and attitudes. That doesn’t mean we control it or conjure it despite my claims of bad karma – just gently guide it, and hope it picks up the right wave.

The turn toward the positive started in July when I visited at the Summer Residency of the Solstice MFA Program in Creative Writing at Pine Manor College. I graduated with an MFA from that program in the summer of 2010. And as always, I was welcomed back into a community that continues to think highly of me as a person and as a writer. As always, I was re-motivated as I listened to readers, took classes, and mixed with current students and other alumni.

Next, I attended a very supportive writing retreat weekend with T.M.I. (Too Much Information), led by Eva Tenuto and Sari Botton. The retreat focuses on writing monologue, providing encouragement (not glaring criticism) and then on performance/reading of one’s work. The T.M.I. workshop is one of the best I’ve ever attended. I knew no one there would reject me or tell me my worked sucked. In fact, the atmosphere and experience were in opposition to that. The weekend was about encouragement, about unabashedly letting your story out and then shaping it into a reading or performance. We worked hard, but we celebrated our stories and our writing.

And since those events, everything has turned around. Perhaps I was able to guide my energy wave toward the positive after these experiences. Regardless, during this week when I was “supposed to be at Lambda,” this is what has happened instead:

The literary journal, Cobalt Review, has accepted one of my essays, “Stuck in the Middle” for publication in their print edition in October and has named it one of three finalists in the Cobalt Writing Contest. I don’t know yet whether it’s won but this is a first for me – to be a finalist (or even place) in a writing contest.

Two days later, Connotation Press: An Online Artifact, named my essay, “A Smirnoff and Coke,” one of the 10 best they’ve published in the last year and reprinted it in their August retrospective issue. Another first for me, to be named one of the “best.” My friend and fellow Solstice graduate, Faye Rapoport Despres also had her magnificent essay, “No One Watches the Old Lady Dance,” included in that best-of list.

A few days after THAT, Candy Parker informed me that one of my blog entries, “What’s in a Butch’s Purse?” would be reprinted in The Huffington Post Gay Voices Section. WOW. The Huffington Post is big-time exposure and therefore, big-time platform, especially since there may be more opportunities for blogs I contribute to lesbian.com to be picked up by Huffington.

That’s three pieces of good news in just a few days. Keep in mind that last year at this time, I had three essays accepted within two months before all the rejections started. So, I’m thinking this may be my cycle: 3 acceptances (of some kind) per year and dozens of rejections for the next 10 months. Should I feel good about this or bad about this? Some people never get their writing accepted. Some people get their writing accepted on a much more regular basis.

I have recently been invited to submit by two editors, and so I feel good about that, right? Absolutely. But I have learned that even when you are asked to submit, even by a friend, or a friendly acquaintance, that is no guarantee that you will have your work accepted. Late last year, a friend and acquaintance asked me to submit some short pieces to a journal she edits and she ended up rejecting all three. I should feel bad about that, right? Um, I’m not sure. Because what this tells me is that even if someone you know is making the decision to publish or not publish your work, she or he is not going to take it unless it’s good enough. This same person has published my work in the past and asked me to read at AWP in Chicago. So, it’s about my work being good enough, and I should feel good that she thought some of my work was good enough to publish and read aloud and be thankful that she showed me (by rejecting other work) that she’s doing this based off quality.

While I ride a wave of positive energy, even the rejections are getting better, or I perceive them as better.

Recently, I got a very personal rejection from The Missouri Review, one of the best literary journals in the country. I was so excited to get such a personal rejection which said, “I highly encourage you to submit more work,” and which was signed by a REAL PERSON, that I sent the rejection off to a friend and said, “The best rejection yet!” And she agreed. And then we both researched who wrote me that personal rejection. Turns out it was a senior journalism/English major at the University off Missouri and not one of the editors – an intern, a 22 year old. Should I feel good about this personal rejection from one of the best literary journals in the country? Or should I feel bad that it came from a kid? A nice kid with great taste, mind you, but a kid.

And just yesterday, I received this rejection (for a piece of fiction I wrote in the 1990s, believe it or not):

Dear Cindy Zelman:

Thank you for sending us “The Cross Dresser.” Unfortunately this particular piece was not a right fit for Slice Magazine, but we were very impressed by your writing.

We hope that you will feel encouraged by this short note and send us something else during our next reading period.

We look forward to reading more.

Sincerely, The Editors of Slice Magazine

I am choosing to feel good about this rejection, because it will likely be another year before I get my annual quota of three acceptances. 🙂 It’s a long wait for that next wave.

Thank you to everyone who reads this blog and my FB page for all of your support.

Take Two Megs, Huff It Up With Joy, and Mix in a Yoo

So what do you get when you take two Megs, Huff it up with Joy, and mix in a Yoo? You, my friend, get some of the best summer (or anytime) reading you will ever find. I am so proud to say I know each of these amazing, award-winning authors: Meg Kearney, Meg Tuite, Steven Huff, Joy Castro, and David Yoo. I don’t know how I got so lucky to get in close to these talented people, but I did. If you love to read, please keep reading this post to learn more about their books and other works available to you now or soon this summer.

Product DetailsMeg Tuite is one of my writing idols. You think Facebook is good for nothing? Think again. Somehow, along my cyber travels through the writing stratosphere, I bumped into Meg, who is a prolific fiction writer, and wonderful editor at two journals, the amazing Connotation Press and The Santa Fe Literary Review. Meg’s fiction has been published widely, in too many places to mention here. Her first full-length book, Domestic Apparition is a masterpiece. Her prose is a jungle safari through the English language, a wild, rare and colorful ride. I had had the pleasure of meeting Meg in person at AWP in Chicago in March. She has called the kind of creative nonfiction writing I do “warrior writing” and said she wants to do more of that herself. I felt so honored that I would be someone she might admire. Well, Meg has done a masterful job at warrior writing with this piece, “Her Mother’s Daughter,” one of her first memoir pieces, recently published on the Psychology Today Blog:

http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/one-true-thing/201206/her-mothers-daughter

Next I highlight the the fabulous and multi-talented Meg Kearney, Director of the Solstice MFA program of Pine Manor College, one of the best low-residency creative writing programs in the country. I know, because I spent two years there earning my MFA. Meg has become a great friend and inspiration to me as a writer and as a wonderful positive spirit. Her poetry is graceful and accessible (to us regular non-poet types) and yet her poetic sensibilities are deep and edgy. Not only can she write a poem and run an MFA program, but she can create a series of YA novels written in lyrical verse and journal entries. You see, not just one random poem, but poems that narrate an entire book, two books, in fact! The first of the series, The Secret of Me, is breathtaking, and you do not need to be a young adult to love this book. The second book in the series, The Girl in the Mirror, was recently released and has received a great review in Publisher’s Weekly. Both books take you through the life of Lizzie McLane, an adopted girl who seeks to know more about her birth family. Meg’s musical poetry and narrative will mesmerize you. Read the Publisher’s Weekly review of Girl in the Mirror here:

http://www.publishersweekly.com/978-0-892-55385-3

Product DetailsAnother writer associated with the Solstice MFA Program – Joy Castro – will be a guest lecturer and reader at the Solstice July 2012 residency. Joy’s brilliance is evident in the numerous essays and other works she has published in myriad journals. I was honored to work with her in my third semester at Solstice as she guided me through a thrilling and challenging critical thesis. She said my writing was elegant! She should know, as her own writing is gorgeous. Her first memoir, the critically acclaimed, The Truth Book, will blow you away with its honesty and beautifully crafted prose. Joy Castro is a writer to watch, and she has two books soon to be released, Island of Bones, a collection of essays, available in September 2012, and Hell or High Water: A Novel, available July 17th. Pre-order them, or begin with The Truth Book. Joy is one of those writers people will be reading and studying for centuries; her work is powerful, relentless, original, and always elegant. Here is a recent review of her collection of essays, Island of Bones, in Publisher’s Weekly:

http://www.publishersweekly.com/978-0-8032-7142-5

Now for two very talented and funny men….

First, Steven Huff, author of poetry and prose, whose book of flash fiction, A Pig in Paris, helped me to survive a recent 5-hour delay at the ludicrous and horrifying Penn Station. Steve’s short fiction is a showcase for the ludicrous and horrifying – as well as the hilarious irony of our everyday lives. He is a born storyteller and his understated delivery is second to none. For those who love a good story, especially those stories where life is awkwardly and charmingly off-kilter, read A Pig in Paris. For those of you who love poetry, well, Steve has plenty of that to share, too. Check out More Daring Escapes, due out this fall.

And if you haven’t yet heard of David Yoo, you will. A writer of YA prose and creative nonfiction, David is an amazing talent. I have had the pleasure of hearing him read more than once at the Solstice MFA program where he teaches and mentors graduate level writing students. His writing is incisive, dry, witty, and often hilarious. One of the greatest moments of my own writing life came when he walked up to me after I did a short reading at Pine Manor and said, “You’re very funny.” I looked him in the eye and said, “You’re very funny,” and we went back and forth like this for quite a few minutes. Trust me, David Yoo is VERY funny. His first collection of essays, The Choke Artist: Confessions of a Chronic Underachiever, epitomizes David’s self-deprecating humor. Read the review on The Daily Beast. http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2012/06/11/this-week-s-hot-reads-june-11-2012.html

Meg Kearney, Steven Huff, Joy Castro, and David Yoo will all be at the July 2012 residency of the Solstice MFA Program of Pine Manor College, so if you have the time, check the schedule to attend free and wonderful readings. To check out Meg Tuite’s reading schedule, as well as her numerous publications, please see her blog at http://megtuite.wordpress.com/ or her website, www.megtuite.com.

For me as a writer, 2012 has been a bad publishing year, with rejection after rejection coming my way. The five authors I’ve just highlighted make me want to trouper on. They are each uniquely gifted. I feel lucky to know them personally and through their writing. Thank you to each.

Secret Facebook Sex Conversation REVEALED

First, disclaimers and qualifications:

Yesterday, I found myself involved in a four-way or five-way, I mean, a multiple conversation in Facebook Message. Of the women mentioned in the conversation below, I’ve only met Ann in person. She is a student of the Solstice MFA Program of Pine Manor College. I’m a graduate of that program. I poke fun at Bridget Bufford, a friend of Ann’s, but I hope she knows it’s all in good fun. She and I have a running fiction versus nonfiction argument. Bridget is a terrific author, with two novels published thus far: Minue One: A Twelve Step, which I’ve read, loved, and reviewed on my blog. And Cemetery Bird, which is in queue to read, because I’m a huge fan of her writing. The other women I just got to know during the conversation. The texts in brown are my secret thoughts that I did not reveal until NOW! The conversation is only about half of the total length of our talk.  Sometimes Facebook is worth it. Thank you everyone, for cheering me up. Readers, I hope you enjoy.  Cindy

Ann Detwiler Breidenbach

  • Dear Blogging Friends,As many of you know, I’m preparing to take the BIG leap into the blogosphere. I’m planning on doing a blog over the summer about my experience preparing to turn 50 – my birthday is August 23. The idea is to chronicle the upcoming summer as I go through a very intentional process to prepare for this landmark birthday.My question for you: What do you think of my choice for title?

    “My Summer of Turning Fifty”

    You all have had far more experience with this than I have so I’m not even sure what to consider when choosing a title.Thanks so much for your thoughts!

    btw, after feedback I’ve chosen to go with WordPress. Cindy, your blog looks absolutely beautiful on there.

    I guess this message is part of my process, yes? The importance of support and collaboration as I enter this next decade…

    Thanks to you all in advance! You’re wonderful, smart, supportive women!
    Ann

Poor Ann, so sincere, she thinks we’re really going to help her. -CZ

Jennifer Gravley

  • Lovely title. Please give us the link as soon as you have your first post!

Jennifer is really nice.  I just met her in this chain. -CZ

  • Jen, you’re sweet! Really? It works?
  • sure!
  • Yay! Very cool. I like the title, too. My only suggestion is that the title limits the blog in the event you decide to keep blogging about your fifties or something like that. But if you want it to encapsule just your experience preparing to turn fifty, it is perfect!
  • See Ann, it gets more complicated – CZ
  • Good point, Laura. Since this is my first foray into this medium I want to make no promises of further work, in case it doesn’t work for me. I thought this was a good way to create a very definite end point. HOwever, if I LOVE it and the fans clamor for more (Ha!) I would segue into a different version. I guess. A sort of Next Chapter?
  • That sounds good! I will be following all your posts! And I can’t wait for this big birthday celebration.
  • Ann has already been guaranteed a loyal blog follower before she’s even posted and at least one person at her birthday party – CZ
  • Thanks!!! And I’ll keep you posted on the plans for the big shindig. There simply must be one!
  • At this point, I’m wondering – Do I get invited? Well, instead, I try to sound mature. See below. -CZ
  • Ann, most of all, have fun. Blogging is fun. With WordPress you can easily add pages with different titles or start a second blog. So, it’s okay if you want to be specific with the title. I’d like you to spice up the title a little. Maybe an edgy adjective – My Summer of Angst and Turning Fifty, or something that suits you. Your call. Can’t wait to read it, regardless of title.
  • I’m going to make Ann work harder on her title. I’m like that. -CZ
  • Well. I guess I added a noun.
  • I’m embarrassed I called a noun an adjective. I’ve really had a shitty week of bad writing karma.  -CZ

cindyzelman.com

On this perfect day in May, I give myself a break from everything: from worrying about what to do about my mother as she ages, to feeling, for the first time, that there may not be enough years lef…

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  • – I’m thinking OMG, this woman Ann is WAY too nice. She doesn’t know what a bitch I really am, although, ironically, her friend Bridget, whom I’ve never met, does. -CZ
  • btw, CoMo friends, Cindy is a graduate of Solstice! A fellow traveler down the road of Creative Nonfiction.
  • CoMO?  Homo? I’ll let this go for now.  -CZ
  • Yes, we get edgy, angst-y, and wise. And aren’t you sweet to promote my blog. I really love blogging, Ann, and see it as its own art form (and craft challenge). Really, have fun. Turning 50 is a great topic. Can’t wait to read.
  • I mean all this. -CZ
  • Thanks Cindy! I love the way you think of it – as an “art form” and a “craft challenge.
  • I like you more and more  Now Bridget is another story. Hahaha
  • hahahaha! Bridget, where are you??? Napping, again?
  • Where have I been? Just caught this thread! Edging toward 50? (not Slouching, as in Slouching toward Bethlehem?
  • I was facilitating the Friday morning creative writing workshop. Working on a piece about The Blue Fairy and Geppetto meeting up in San Francisco; the Fairy, still in his teens, is too young to know how to deal with Geppetto’s shame over being Catholic, divorced and gay. Edgy and angsty. Fiction.But I do like Cindy’s blog, and am eager to catch yours once it appears. Thanks for including me in this announcement.
  • Oh Gawd, Bridget’s here talking about FICTION. She won’t admit that she’s really Geppetto. -CZ
  • LOL. You are so funny, Bridget. Have a good weekend.
  • There, take THAT!
  • You, too. BTW, Ann should have known where I was; she sometimes attends that workshop.
  • So Ann, wtf? -CZ
  • Oops.

Yep – CZ.

  • Bridget, you are too funny!
  • Jen, her head’s gonna explode. -CZ
  • I do respect Cindy’s work, but I’m a bit concerned about her choice of a title for you. “My Summer of Angst and Turning 50” seems like it could end badly, considering it’s only June 1.
  • Thanks, J. Not as funny as that Wednesday workshop; you all are out of control. Becky wonders what we’re doing downstairs; said she feels like she’s missing out.
  • Does she really respect my work?  -CZ
  • She should come down–as long as she agrees not to try to whip us into shape.
  • Now they’re talking whips. CoMOs and Whips. -CZ
  • I don’t think “angst” would be the word I would choose to “spice” it up, but I do wonder about adding some sort of “spicy” something or other. Is “turning fifty” alone spicy enough???
  • omg, Jen. I can’t believe you just gave Bridget that opening. Batten down the hatches!
  • She’d have to write, though. One thing works in my favor–she needn’t fear that I’m writing about her, or our relationship. I don’t think anyone is going to mistake my WIP for nonfiction or memoir.
  • Bailey brought the Friday morning workshop a fledgling that she killed. I think she likes them better.
  • Ann–it could use a bit more savor.
  • “savor”… Not sweetness. I like that. Ideas, anyone? What about a subtitle that suggests “savor?”
  • I always mistake Bridget’s work for closeted CNF. And “Angst” is my life, not Ann’s, I agree. Ann, find a better word than “Turning” and a two word title will be spicy. Your challenge for the weekend.
  • Becoming Fifty?
  • Never mind. Boring.
  • Better… but don’t stop there. And Ann/Jennifer, I’d like to hear you weigh in on the CNF question. Does BAD PUPPET strike you as a closeted memoir?
  • Uhhhh…
  • Jen?
  • First, I’m going to have to hear some more details from your personal life, Bridget!
  • Ha, Jen! -CZ
  • Good answer. Some hints: at no point have I ever been a) a tree; b) a drag queen. I have, however, worked in a cabinet shop, though I never spontaneously animated a piece.
  • Well, not yet, Bridget. -CZ
  • Did you ever want to?
  • Spicey comeback, Ann! -CZ
  • The opposite urge came to me often; i.e., I fantasized about killing my boss.The piece of Bad Puppet that truest of me–I am terrified of dolls.
  • Note to self – Buy Bridget a doll for Christmas. -CZ
  • *that’s*
  • I’m supposed to be mowing and watering this afternoon, but hanging out here is much more fun.
  • You can throw me out of the email chain after saying this, but all fiction is closeted nonfiction to some degree. Even your puppet. Even gay, Catholic Gepetto. Are you gay and Catholic, Bridget? Terry in Minus One was one hell of a lover. Did you just make up all that awesome sex, Bridget? Damn, what an imagination! I’ll give you this: all CNF is closeted fiction to some degree. It’s impossible to ever tell the whole truth because none of us ever knows it. We are all writing the same thing just pretending it’s something else. There is no pure genre, just good writing or bad writing. Chew on that. And remember, CNF is not journalism, which isn’t pure either, just FYI.
  • Jesus, no wonder I don’t have a girlfriend. I am BORING.  -CZ
  • That’s rather a double bind. Should I say that my sex life is really that awesome, or my writing is?
  • Damn, she’s clever. -CZ
  • Hahahaha. They both are.
  • I had nothing. -CZ
  • Another good answer. You CNF people are quick.
  • I don’t think she means this. -CZ
  • You guys are too funny!
  • On that note, I’m going to head home for the weekend before a third devastating article is published in the Trib about the press.
  • We have to be to keep all our lies in check. . Nice to meet you, Jen.
  • Why did I say that about the lies? -CZ
  • I’d like to just end the work week on good sex & good writing!
  • You, too. I guess we are going to have to give Ann her due now and become FB friends!
  • I’m liking this chick. -CZ
  • Good call.
  • Yay!!! I love it when my friends become friends… You two were destined to meet. Remember AWP???
  • And good sex AND good writing? We should all be so lucky. I think there is a blog post in there somewhere. Unfortunately it can’t be mine. Yet.
  • You can bet it won’t be mine. Guess that leaves Cindy.
  • How does this woman know me so well? -CZ
  • Oh, the perfect blog post for me. Do you mind if I mention your name, Bridget? I’ll plug Minus One. Jen, you want to be friends with me, too, I hope?
  • Ann, I love the “yet” in your last comment. You’ve got the good writing down, soooo….. Love your hopefulness.
  • hahaha!
  • But I’m not sure I’ll make that journey part of the “becoming 50” experience that I’ll share with my readers. Or maybe I should…
  • Oh, but wait. What if I simply don’t have any material for that?!
  • oops, did I just stumble into 50 shades of turning 50?!
  • This chick is brilliant! -CZ
  • HAHAHA!!!!!
  • Oooh, Allison! Yes. I mean, Ahhhh, yes, yes, yes, YESSSSSS!
  • Ann, share it all. Write naked.

I think I just scooped the “Write Naked” phrase from fellow writer Hannah Goodman. Sorry, Hannah. -CZ

  • Cindy, that sounded a bit like When Harry Met Sally. What is this email rated?
  • Are you all serious?

Are we corrupting this sweet woman? -CZ

  • XXXtremely!
  • I’m always never serious.
  • OMG!
  • This blog is going to be cr-razy!
  • You, too, Jen?!
  • omg… I’m laughing so hard I have tears streaming down my cheeks and my dog is looking at me with his head tilted. “Has she lost her marbles?”
  • Well, Bridget writes sex better than I do, Allison, because she “makes it all up” and it’s FICTION. I just sound like a bad movie, as does my sex life.
  • May I have everyone’s permission to replicate this string on my blog? People would love it. Let me know.
  • Doesn’t all good sex sound like a bad movie?
  • Someone finally understands me. -CZ
  • Ha. Okay, then I’m doing it right.
  • Oh, please Cindy… give this exchange some greater meaning!
  • I’m still trying to remember if that is indeed what sex sounds like…
  • Aw, Ann, you’re such a sweetie. You’ll find love/sex… – CZ
  • Thank you, Ann. Everyone else?
  • Ann, umm, me, too.
  • Really, when’s the last time I had good sex. “Good” being the operative term. -CZ
  • Dirty girls! There’s a lot more than hot flashes going on in Como!
  • There’s that “CoMO” again. What the hell is that? -CZ
  • Perhaps we should commission Bridget to write up some good sex for us! … make us the main characters. Bridget???
  • What’s Como? Yes, commission Bridget.
  • I finally ask. -CZ
  • Columbia, MI
  • MO
  • It’s a Missouri thang. -CZ
  • Call it Bridget’s Diary
  • Hahahaha, Allison, awesome. -CZ
  • Allison, You are on Fire today!!! Do not waste this surge of inspiration…
  • You know, I’m really liking “Fifty Shades of Turning Fifty…
  • I like it too
  • Allison, LOL. Love it. I, too like the Fifty Shades. You’ll get a lot of hits, too, by playing off that popular book title. I’d use it, Ann.
  • Okay, Gals… You heard it here first: Fifty Shades of Turning Fifty!

Gifts That Are Hard to Take: Trip to Woodstock, Part I.

Portrait of Vita Sackville-West
Portrait of Vita Sackville-West (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s a new week. Time for one of those I’m-turning-50-gifts that I’m giving to myself  in April. This gift comes in the form of a new challenge – to drive 200+ miles to New York to participate in a page to stage writing workshop because I don’t know what the hell else to do with my life. Here’s a quote from Vita Sackville-West (she’s the chick who did it with Virginia Woolf):

“It is necessary to write, if the days are not to slip emptily by. How else, indeed, to clap the net over the butterfly of the moment?”

I came across this quote in Dinty Moore’s wonderful new book, The Mindful Writer: Noble Truths of the Writing Life.

All of this is to explain why I ended up on Mass I-90 today – because I want to be a writer who claps the moment with a butterfly net, although for much of the trip, I felt like someone in a white coat should throw a net over me.  To keep driving in the direction of New York, I had to employ a lot of self-talk, and sometimes, self-inner-scream-and-banshee-cry.  All necessary so I would not turn around and go home. My self-talk was impressive, the way a natural disaster impresses in its relentlessness. That tsunami will scare you and probably kill you, but damn, look at it, how can you not see the beauty of that disaster, that big beautiful deadly wave coming at you? I think the only thing beautiful about me is that I’m a natural disaster that I keep living through, year after year, decade after decade.

I'll get to that freaking workshop if it kills me.
 

As I drove and fought anxiety, I made plans for my imminent medical emergency. These plans formed and grew in layers of depth and sophistication.  At first, I thought I might just need a couple of Advil. By the my fourth pit stop, I frantically tried to figure out where I could find a hospital to admit me in a strange new land called the Catskills of New York.  I was astonished at my propensity to feel this fucked up by anxiety, after a lifetime of living with it and learning to manage it. You know, year after year. Decade after decade.

This is how it started. (I often tell stories backwards.)

When I left my house this morning, I noted that my lower back ached. I didn’t think too much about it. I made my first pit stop in Framingham, along the Massachusetts Turnpike.

Boy, my lower back is really hurting me, I thought, as I exited the Ladies Room. Well, humph….I carried on.

Forty minutes later I turned off the turnpike at the next rest stop. I had to pee again.  This is not so unusual for me. But damn, by the time I left the second ladies’ room my lower back was killing me.

Last week I took antibiotics for a urinary tract infection, one discovered at a physical and for which I’d had no symptoms. As I headed back to the turnpike, I was convinced the infection had returned and had traveled up to my kidneys and I would need hospitalization if I didn’t figure out a way to get more antibiotics and this whole fucking trip would be a disaster. It didn’t help, I’m sure, that when I walked outside after the second pit stop, I noticed part of the plastic shield from the front end of my car was hanging down, and I wondered if it would fall off, pulling the entire front end down with it. I’d recently spent a fortune to get the front end repaired, have other car repairs, and four new tires put on after a recent 2-hour drive over 15 miles to Cambridge only to get dumped by the lady who was not the one of my dreams. It’s just the tires blowing out that broke my heart.

What the hell, I thought to myself (inner scream) as I re-entered the Turnpike, I felt fine yesterday, just fine, strong and fit and a great specimen of a nearly 50 year old woman. And in less than 24 hours, I’m in so much pain I’m sure I will not be able to make that writer’s workshop. I’m not sure I can make it to the hotel. Fuck.

I will need to find a pharmacy near my hotel. I’ll need to call my doctor and let him know the infection is back and what if I can’t find a CVS?!!??!!??? OH MY GOD….

I drove on, many more miles down the Turnpike. That Mass Turnpike is effing long.

This is just the beginning. Or is it the end?

As I sat in the car, the pain in my lower back lessened, but I had to pee again. I stopped at the next rest area. This was my third stop and the last one on the Massachusetts side of the turnpike. By the time I returned to my car, I thought: Turn around and go home, you need medical care, urgent care, emergency care. You are dying.

My lower back was throbbing. The infection was eating up my kidneys. I would only live if I turned around and traveled back home.

Oh, fuck, Cindy, are you kidding me? Really, dying? Just fucking cut the shit.

I’m a mean self-talker. Sometimes I’m a rational self-talker:

Cindy, your AT&T Navigator says you have 63 miles left to the hotel, but if you turn around, you will have 160 miles to drive to get home.

Panic at the moments of indecision:  keep traveling to New York and die because you can’t find a CVS, or turn the car around and travel 3 hours back just so you can panic in your own bed. Well, eff that. Home is where ever you make it.

I repeated, Home is where ever you make it. Got that Cindy-girl? Got it??? Now fucking DRIVE.

Maybe it’s the Mass Turnpike I don’t like. I don’t have the greatest memories of traveling to western Massachusetts or Vermont. Years ago, in my early twenties, I left what was then the Bennington College summer writing workshops after two days. I actually made it to the Green Mountains in my old yellow Datsun (now Nissan, look it up), and I was just about to acclimate to being so far from home. So, why did I rush home? The workshop leaders tried to get me to stay, but home, equal to safety, a grand illusion if there ever was one, beckoned, demanded, downright insisted, that I make that long ride back to Boston after only two days. The workshop was a two-week event. What a schmoe I was. I wonder what kind of illness I thought I had then, more than 25 years ago.

But a quarter of a century has come and gone and here I am, traveling to New York, with my lower back in pain and the need to pee at every pit stop.

What do you call this strange planet?

When I turned onto Route 87 South in New York, a change came upon me.  I found the scenery on either side of the highway and far down the road mesmerizing. From many angles, I could see the Catskill Mountains, or maybe the Adirondacks, silhouetted in gray against the sky. They weren’t as high as the mountains I saw in Colorado last summer, but they were high enough, and beautiful. Farmland occupied much of the green spaces on either side of the highway. I saw cows. I love cows. I saw farm buildings. Why is it that seeing farm buildings and farmhouses and cows makes for a serene experience? Is it some kind of weird, nostalgic, sentimental emotional illusion that brings me back to what I think was a simpler time in life or in the history of humanity? Yeah, the history of HUMANITY. If I’m going to drive this far, I will think BIG thoughts.

I stopped at the first rest stop on the New York highway. This was stop number four or five. I’d lost count. I dreaded getting out of the car and panicking all over again as I figured the pain in my infected kidneys would roar once I stood up. I was so far from home. And what if I couldn’t find a CVS for that next round of antibiotics? I was forty miles from my destination, so I figured I should pee one final time. You know, urinary tract infections make you pee a lot.

You know what else makes you pee a lot? Anxiety.

Why doesn’t my back hurt anymore?

I stepped out of my car at the New York rest stop. Certainly it will hurt by the time I get out of the Ladies’ Room. And yet, miraculously, my kidney infection-pain-imagination-fantasy-illness was gone. I was almost at my destination, so my anxiety was almost gone. Coincidence? I think not!

It’s taken 35 years to understand how to both suffer with the anxiety and all of its crazy symptoms and manage it through self-talk, inner banshee screaming, losing the will to go on but going on anyway, and through multiple bathroom breaks along major state turnpikes and thruways.  I haven’t taken any Xanax because I save that for the BIG stuff, and as hard as this trip may have been, it’s not the big stuff. The big stuff is landing in Colorado and trying to breathe thin air. You know?

I am not actually in Woodstock right now, although the Writer’s Festival starts tonight. The one event on the calendar is sold out and it would have been too much for me, anyway. I’m staying 15 miles away in a Courtyard by Marriot in Kingston, NY. In the morning, I will travel to Woodstock for my workshop and hopefully, for some sightseeing after the workshop, unless my kidney disease returns via my anxiety tsunami.

I’ll let you know how that goes.

Happy 50th Cindy. How many more of these gifts must I accept between now and April 27th?

The place that transformed my life – Solstice MFA in Creative Writing

If you’re interested in writing or MFA programs or where I spent two years transforming my life and becoming a writer, please watch this great video for the Solstice MFA program of Pine Manor College, located in Chestnut Hill, MA, just outside of Boston. Pass it along to your friends.  Enjoy. Thank you.