The Black Stones of Regret


You drop the children at the sitter and hurry to your car, their protests grating in your ears like bad brakes. You tell yourself you have the right to a bit of private life; this isn’t the Dark Ages, you know, women pining for knights in shining armor. You’re taking the afternoon off, to hell with diapers and soap.

It’s springtime in Santa Clara and the apricot, pear, and cherry orchards are ablaze in their pinks and whites. Traffic on Prunedale is sparse, Silicon Valley light-years away. The station wagon you drive, a ’64 Olds, is the size of a hay barn.

Nick’s fuzzy-fuzzy slips to the floor from the mattress in back. He’ll wail for it all afternoon; should you turn around? Well, he does have his bottle. Bruce’s lunch pail is open on the floor, leftover cookie disintegrating, juice can rattling. Earlier he complained about his preschool teacher; seems she didn’t care for his drawing of a pony on purple grass. Purple, she said, is wrong for a meadow. Why’s it wrong, he asked you. Purple’s not wrong, you wanted to say but didn’t. American teachers, who knows what they think.

You find yourself touching your hair, your cheek: you’re still among the living—and stylishly dressed for your afternoon; none of the women you are about to join would guess you sewed your Coco Chanel look-alike while the boys slept. A blues singer on the radio is a motherless child a long way from home. Your own song, equally as sad, is a country a long way from home, a refrain that goes, You’ll never be mine again. Never my love. Words of regret roll in the mouth like pebbles.

The Olds will be a pain to park. Your husband bought it used, the safest thing around, he said, so what if it’s a few years old? Some weekends the whole family camps in the monstrosity, the dog sleeping underneath the car. The afternoon with Lawyers’ Wives, Inc., will make up for Bradley’s idea of family time.

They’ll serve Danish and coffee. The pastry will be sickeningly sweet and the coffee a mockery of what you used to imbibe at Weise & Monski, where you translated letters to clients in England and France, described fish pumps, sewage pumps, oil pumps, flipped through dictionaries for the names of pump parts. Herr Olle, proud of his language skills, liked to dictate in French. You and Annfried corrected his malapropisms, giggling behind his back, Herr Olle pretending not to notice. Everyone in the office—the department bosses, the engineers, and “the girls,” translators all: English, Spanish, French, Portuguese, although Brigitte handled mostly German correspondence—everyone drank one cup of coffee twice a day during the rigidly-scheduled 15-minute mid-morning and mid-afternoon breaks. At lunch the chef of the Kantine scooped noodles onto employees’ plates with his bare hands, likewise the salad greens. You used to mutter under your breath to co-workers, but it would not have occurred to you to raise the matter with the men who run things. Bosses don’t mingle with cafeteria eaters; the Herren partake in the dining room. In California, though the coffee is lousy, you don’t have to put up with the server’s hands in your food.

 At the meeting you’ll refrain from alluding to your past, the bread and pastries of those years; you quite understand why television Nazis get laughs from your in-laws. Thank God Brad’s dad and stepmother live fifteen hundred miles away and show up only once every three years or so. But there’s that figure of speech your husband uses on you, German Boots. Today you’ll try to minimize your inflection. Say vegetables for me, someone said last time, I love the way you pronounce your vees. You wish you could eradicate your accent, your past, your existence in another country, that sense of being left out. If only a woman was in your life: a cousin, sister, grandmother or aunt. The longing for female companionship eats on you even here, among the well-meaning ladies. In another time, friendship existed: Annfried, in France with you as au pair and later as co-translator at Weise & Monski; Nancy, an American high-school senior from Detroit, here for the summer, who would return the following year to study at a German university; Isolde on that cruise down the Rhine where you and Brad first glimpsed each other; your cousin in Neibsheim, a few years younger and named after you. These women live in your mind as your country, your birthplace, your mother, your longing for love.

Your mother died at forty-two, which stopped the insistent wheedling of her cancer yet did not silence it, for you, too, take it as a given that you will live in a body wracked with pain. Impending doom is your family story. Your mother’s line, Just you wait till your father comes home: Do you use it on your children when you’re tired or cross? If you could say to them it’s nothing but a woman’s fantasy, the Law of the Father translated into something else. Laws are inaccurate perceptions, interpretations that don’t go by the book, there’s no such thing as a father with capital F, there is only this guy remembering his hurting. Your dad the baker, away at war and prison camp the first eight years of your life: your idea of a father was your mother’s idea, a hand-me-down fantasy of the male as persecutor, judge, and executioner, a man to whom one says, Father forgive me for I have sinned, a creature who would unite in himself all the kings, knights, gods of all the family stories and fairy tales, the Übermensch, the prince and redeemer. At the Eastern front, a stranger in a foreign country, he maimed and killed his fellow humans for their perceived inhumanity. And then to come home to Father forgive me! If you could tell your children their father, too, is an ordinary mortal, a man who has suffered, who’s been defeated, who wants to be loved for a change. As a child you could not love your dad, and now that part of your life its gone for good. From your mother you learned to withhold love; your mother likely learned from hers. Is it possible to write out your sorrow, look at yourself from a distance?

A branch of Lawyers’ Wives works with delinquent girls. You signed up some months ago. Since then, some of you have traveled weekly to Juvenile Hall, where you stand beside a teenager cutting into fabric pinned to a pattern. You sit next to her at a sewing machine and demonstrate how to insert the reel beneath the slide plate, guide the thread from spool to threading points, adjust the tension of pressure foot, regulate stitch length. You work slowly, deliberately, with gestures that are easy to copy. Now you try it, you say to the young woman.

She is a girl with black eyes, a child of color. Her foot experiments with the pedal, accelerates, slows down. The machine stitches at uneven speeds, careens forward in jumps, coughs into almost-halts, but eventually begins to hum along, basting a neckline here, joining sleeve to armhole there.

I’ve never made anything for myself, the girl says, too hesitant to allow astonishment into her voice. I didn’t know I could do this. 

What’s your name, you ask. 

Amina, she says. 

Amina, what a lovely name. Do you have any brothers or sisters?

My brother’s been drafted, she says, tears dripping on green-and-blue paisley. He’s leaving for ’Nam in a week. I won’t be there to say good-bye to him. I’m so scared! She continues to rattle away at the sewing.

You nod, you glance at the young woman, a child yet, a girl of fourteen or fifteen. You want to tell of airplanes that terrify, toddlerhood disrupted by air-raid sirens, weeds cooked into soup.

Amina, you say, putting your arm around her shoulders, I know what it’s like to be scared. The girl continues to sew, snuffling down on her work, making sure the fabric scoots along beneath the pressure foot.

Touching is against regulations, the hall supervisor tells you. When you violate the rules, you’re only hurting the girls. 

You stare at her mouth, thin lips pressed together. The mouth can shape itself so lovingly; surely it shapes itself even for her? 

And today, listening to the drone of minutes read at the meeting, it occurs to you that you should have protested at the German pump-manufacturing company, raised your voice to the chef or else to Herr Weise or Herr Monski. You and Annfried should have lodged a complaint. But girls don’t complain to authority figures. German individuals do not complain. Their fear of passion. Their deference to authority. Everyone is an authority in his field, even a cook dishing out noodles with his bare hands. 

But this is America. This is California, the trendsetter state. It’s time you opened your mouth. At the meeting of Lawyers’ Wives you complain. In Juvenile Hall the girls don’t get to sew except with our supervision. The machines, half a dozen of them, go unused until we get there once a week. By the third week Amina has gone home or been transferred, the half-done dress and remnants still in her cubby hole. Before Amina you worked with Debbie and Ruth and Maria and it’s always the same. None of the girls finishes what you helped her begin. You’re agitated now, you practically shout at the women in their coffee cups.    

There’s only so much we can do, the president says, a woman in high heels and matching accessories, groomed and exquisitely coiffed. 

You slink down in your seat. It’s hopeless.You’re unaccustomed to standing up for yourself. You think of your babies, driven from the womb into your arms like rag dolls. For this you drag them to the sitter?

On the way to the sitter’s housing tract you interrogate yourself. Why did you marry a lawyer? To hitch yourself to a mouth that does the talking for you?

He wasn’t a lawyer when I married him. I am trying to find my way in the world.

Why did you decide on California? To escape some cook in some cafeteria?

It got me a ticket into middle class. Bradley got things too. We both chose this. 

Someday you’ll have to take a closer look.

Your fear of water. Mother gave up on life early on but her fears have become your own. How often you fantasize about death, about loss, about dying! King Tut, the boy king of Egyptian antiquity, played at funeral all his life. All sixteen years of it.

The voyage from Amsterdam to New York, the stroll across deck. On the fourth day you wondered why the ship wasn’t making any headway. Waves heaved and lapped, but the Nieuw Amsterdam rocked in place. You imagined a shipwreck, and you unable to swim. The ocean appeared to becalm. The many small teeth below seemed to be at rest. Yet the ocean, mother of all, would swallow you alive. The future—marriage, love, sex—would slip beneath the waves.

I am going to sign up for swim classes, you decide as you exit the car at the sitter’s. Gonna learn how to swim. Presently you scoop the kids into the Olds and roar off. Nick, rolling around on the mattress in back, gropes for his fuzzy-wuzzy. A pony, says Bruce, will I have a pony someday? What does pony-grass look like? Safely home in your three-bedroom bungalow you groan with relief.

In the kitchen with an American cookbook you chop celery and onion for a tuna-noodle casserole, but the children are restless. Hungry. You should feed them right now; why wait for the man of the house? To build a tale for him: look at the good wife, how she nurtures and feeds—myths passed from mother to daughter? Wait ‘til your dad comes home, you burst out. I’m sick of it, get out of my face.

I want to be hugged myself, sink into lullaby arms, return to the mother country. I am a daughter unloved. Mutti, my mother! Where has she gone?


EDITH COOK worked as translator before immigrating and marrying in California, where she functioned as administrator in her husband’s law office and they raised three boys. She has taught at a number of colleges and universities, including two Historically Black Universities in Tennessee. in Wyoming she has been a recipient of the Wyoming Arts Council’s Frank Nelson Doubleday Memorial Award. Her work has appeared in various anthologies and literary magazines, both in hard copy and online. Her poetry chapbook, A Slip of the Tongue, was published by Graham Press in California. From 2011 to 2017 she wrote weekly newspaper columns for Wyoming’s two main newspapers. Visit her at www.edithcook.com

Our Favorite Writing Prompts

It’s that time of year when the weather is changing, the world is being quarantined and folks are looking for new sources of inspiration and solace. Check out some of Inklette’s favorite writing prompts below to spark your creativity!



PROMPT 1

You’re sitting across the table from a character from your current work in progress. How do you start the conversation? What do you talk about? Are they talkative or reticent, joyous or subdued? Do they answer questions freely? What do they ask you? What do they notice about the world?


PROMPT 2
(Best done in a walkable place)

Pick a number between 1 and 10. Start walking, and when you reach an intersection, flip a coin. Heads, you go right; tails, you go left. Do this for as many times as the number you picked in the beginning. Write a short story set in the location that you end up in.


PROMPT 3

Choose an object near you or in front of you. Do each of these for five minutes: Ask questions to the object. Describe the object in as much detail as possible. Write the origin story of the object. Write a first-person narrative from the point of view of the object. Draw associations with the object– what else does it look like, what does it remind you of, what does it make you think– and talk about it without naming the object, using metaphors or similes. 


PROMPT 4 

Make a list of topics you would never write about, followed by a list of words you would never use. Then, write a poem on one of those topics and use as many of those words as you can.


PROMPT 5

Choose any letter from A-Z. Write the first stanza without using the letter you chose. Now choose a second letter. Write the second stanza without using the second letter as well as the first letter you chose. Keep going for 5-6 stanzas in the same way.



Best Books We Ever Received As Gifts

Regardless of which winter holiday you celebrate (if any), November and December are often filled with gift-shopping trip after gift-shopping trip. While we all like that special feeling we get when we give someone a gift they adore, it’s no secret that spending hours at the mall is exhausting, time-consuming, and, quite frankly, expensive. However, the Inklette team has compiled a list of the best books we’ve ever received as gifts to remind everybody what the holiday shopping season is about (and, if you’re unsure what gift to get your book-loving friend/family member/significant other, look no further).


The Hat-Stand Union by Caroline Bird

 

51xPRiL2IeL._SX307_BO1,204,203,200_Those who know me know that I like obscure contemporary poetry (how much people are willing to let me ramble on about it is a different story). My parents gave me this volume of poetry by British poet and playwright Caroline Bird for Christmas when I was about thirteen or fourteen and just starting to become seriously interested in creative writing. Reading poems that covered a bizarre range of topics — from King Arthur to Chekov to suburban life — helped me understand that I had the agency to write about what I found inspiring, rather than what people told me to write about. Even now, in my final year of my undergraduate, I still have The Hat-Stand Union on my shelf and pull it out from time to time when I need inspiration. 

— Joanna Cleary, Blog Editor

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

 

9780345804327_lI received this novel as a gift from one of my aunts in college, and it’s travelled with me as I’ve moved from one coast to the other, and back again. It was my first introduction to the author, Colson Whitehead, who is a brilliant Black writer living in NYC, and who is also one of my earliest inspirations for the style of writing life I want to achieve. The novel itself won the Pulitzer Prize in 2017. It’s a fascinating depiction that turns the real-life Underground Railroad into a collection of underground trains, safe houses, and secret routes. It’s one of those books that I’ll always have on my bookshelf, and which consistently reminds me to return to Whitehead’s other works to see what other challenges he has in store.

— Naomi Day, Blog Editor

The Professor and The Housekeeper by Yoko Ogawa, translated from the Japanese by Stephen Snyder

 

9780099521341.jpgThis book was gifted to me by Trivarna Hariharan, the former editor-in-chief of Inklette Magazine. I had never heard of Ogawa’s work before and hadn’t read prose that felt so light, so porous. I think Ogawa’s work best reminds me of the kind of cinematic language of Ritesh Batra’s films such as The Lunchbox (2013) and Photograph (2019). But this book, in particular, read like that thin line between myth and realism even though the materiality of its story felt like a weight, even a burden at times I had to accept, learn how to carry. Since then, I have read Ogawa’s other works but somehow The Housekeeper and The Professor is one I keep coming back to, because it also incorporates and disguises behind the porosity and poetics of literary language a stunning mathematical language as well as logic, and if you read the book you’ll perfectly understand the role these two levels and anatomies of language play. 

-Devanshi Khetarpal, Editor-in-Chief

Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor

 

9780316133999_l (1).jpgI believe my sister gave me this book a few years ago (for Christmas or my birthday I can’t remember, they both fall in December so they tend to blur together. Both my sister and I are avid readers, so we often gift each other books, but this particular book was definitely one of my favorites.Though it took a while for me to actually open the book, once I began reading it I devoured it. The book is magical, poetic, and wonderfully poetic (I have several notes on my phone filled with pulled quotes from the novels that I use to inspire me, and I used an excerpt from the first book for an erasure assignment I was given in college). The author’s gift for world-building made me eager to get the next books in the trilogy and finish them just as quickly, and I can’t wait until I’ve forgotten enough of the series to reread it—Taylor truly knows how to wield a plot twist, and I can’t wait to experience the shock and delight of piecing the tale together all over again. 

— Savannah Summerlin, Blog Editor

The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle by Hugh Lofting

 

9780486834368_l.jpgAlthough I’ve given lots of books as gifts, I’ve never been gifted a book (other than the ones I personally requested from my parents when I was a kid). Maybe people just don’t know what to gift me because they don’t know what’s already in my collection; I don’t know. My brother, though, frequently gifts books to my 6-year-old daughter. So far, one of her favorites has been The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle. I avoided reading it when I was a kid because I hated the movie. I read it to my daughter, and we both loved it. My brother is a research scientist, so he often sends her science-y books. Another fun one he gifted her was The Number Devil: A Mathematical Adventure (Hans Magnus Enzensberger, trans. By Michael Henry Heim). Although I think my daughter needs to age a bit before she can truly appreciate it, I loved The Number Devil.

— Lisa Stice, Poetry Editor

A Necklace of Skulls: Collected Poems by Eunice de Souza

 

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Until the third year of my undergraduate degree, a lot of my poetry reading was either limited to canon, or to snippets and fragments I had read online. Reading Eunice de Souza’s work was formative for me as a poet and as a literature student not only because of the cultural similarities or her engagements with feminism, but because she spoke of the everyday with an almost unfounded sense of ease. There was this comfort in her navigation of language I hadn’t read before, which is what made her work all the more appealing – that poetry could be soft, simple, and yet impactful. 

 

— Smriti Verma, Poetry Editor

To learn more about our staff, please visit the Masthead page here.

Indigenous Voices

by Joanna Cleary and Maria Prudente

Having celebrated Canada Day and the 4th of July earlier this month, many people in North America may be feeling more patriotic than usual. However, it is of utmost importance during these days of national celebration to acknowledge and pay respect to the voices of those who rightfully claim first ownership of these lands. Here are some provocative, humourous, heartbreaking, and, above all, relevant works by Indigenous writers that you should definitely put on your summer reading list!


The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian 
Novel, Sherman Alexie 

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“I draw because words are too unpredictable.

I draw because words are too limited.

If you speak and write in English, or Spanish, or Chinese, or any other language, then only a certain percentage of human beings will get your meaning.

But when you draw a picture, everybody can understand it.

If I draw a cartoon of a flower, then every man, woman, and child in the world can look at it and say, “That’s a flower.”

So I draw because I want to talk to the world. And I want the world to pay attention to me. I feel important with a pen in my hand. I feel like I might grow up to be somebody important. An artist. Maybe a famous artist. Maybe a rich artist.

That’s the only way I can become rich and famous.” 

 

Junior, an aspiring cartoonist, has mixed feelings about growing up on the Spokane Indian Reservation. As he decides to take his future into his own hands, Junior leaves his school on the rez to attend an all-white farm town high school, one where the only other Indigenous presence is the school mascot.


Talking to the Diaspora 
Poetry, Lee Maracle

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“Some sons are trees

 

Quiet mist magic memory oddly named sequoia

General somebody or other who killed us

killed his own

killed worlds

then came to rest a crest on this man-tree”

                                          -from ‘Archer’s Body’ 

 

The second collection of poetry by one of Canada’s most prominent contemporary authors features a look at diaspora and identity that is both intimate and larger than the individual experience.


They Called Me Number One: Secrets and Survival at an Indian Residential School 
Memoir, Janet Rogers

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“I read somewhere that everyone is born with the potential for success, and it is only through life’s experiences that we develop or destroy that potential. For many Aboriginal people, our most vulnerable and impressionable years, our childhood years, were spent at residential schools. Our mental, emotional and spiritual growth was extremely stunted because of the way we were treated there. You have to tell our story like it is, don’t hold back or make it seem like it wasn’t as bad as it actually was. People have to know and believe what happened to us.”

A defining part of Xatsu’ll chief Bev Sellars’ childhood was spent as a student in a church-run residential school. This honest and evocative memoir details her time at St. Joseph’s Mission, as well as how it has affected her and her family over generations. As Sellars discusses trauma, diapora, and healing, she makes it apparent that it is only through knowing the truth about these past injustices can we, as a society, can begin to properly address them.


Islands of Decolonial Love 
Short Stories, Leanne Betasamosake Simpson 

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“bringing up trauma from my life made therapy-lady cry, especially if it was “aboriginal” themed. she said “aboriginal” a lot, and i knew she was trying to be respectful so i planned on letting it slide until the breaking point and then i was going to let her have it in one spiralling long manifesto. therapy-lady liked to compare my life to refugees from war-torn countries who hid their kids in closets when airplanes flew over their houses. this was her limit of understanding on colonized intimacy. she wasn’t completely wrong, and while she tried to convince me none of us had to hide our kids anymore, we both knew that wasn’t exactly true. i knew what every ndn knows: that vulnerability, forgiveness and acceptance were privileges. she made the assumption of a white person: they were readily available to all like the fresh produce at the grocery store.”

Simpson’s debut collection of short stories explores the lives of contemporary Indigenous peoples and communities, especially those of her own Nishnaabeg nation.

Heartbreaking, absurd, and real, these stories aim to capture all aspects of what it means to be Indigenous in a world that has been taken from Indigenous people.


Prairie Rising: Indigenous Youth, Decolonization and the Politics of Intervention
Ethnography, Jaskiran Dhillon

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“The persistent sensation of being hunted, of monitored movement, of freedom being truncated through institutional caging is central to the daily reality of being an Indigenous youth in Saskatoon. It is not an anomaly. It is not the fictitious creation of a youthful imagination on overdrive. Through their existence as Indigenous youth, these young people constitute a direct threat to an already existing settler social order.” 

Dhillon’s ethnography sharply examines the indigenous-state government of Saskatoon, Canada’s strategy of dispossession and the state’s failure to uphold human and political rights of the indigenous community. We learn that indigenous alliances meant to help indigenous women, lack representation for whom they are advocating: indigenous women. Dhillon, who grew up on Treaty Six Cree Territory in Saskatchewan, details the state’s refusal to look for missing indigenous women and its failure to include indigenous participation in what they deem to be a community in need of reform. Are Canada’s state advocacy organizations merely visible tokens for what they consider invisible problems in their own country?


To read staff bios, please visit our Masthead page here.

Pride: A Reading Collection

Although the spirit of queer pride should last 365 days a year, today marks the last Friday of Pride month 2019. Here are the top picks of LGBTQ+ literature or works of literature written by LGBTQ+ writers to last you all until June 2020.

Links to buy books mentioned below through Amazon can be accessed by clicking on the titles.


Annie on my Mind by Nancy Garden

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I found this book at a time when I was just beginning to come to terms with my queerness and it helped normalize being gay for me. While this love story between two girls takes place in the 1980s, the nuanced character development and intricacies of the love explored helped me realize that being all forms of love deserve to exist not solely defined by their political status.

– Joanna Cleary, Blog Editor

Tin Man by Sarah Winman

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I read Tin Man on the recommendation of a friend, unaware of the storyline or the synopsis. The story I encountered was perhaps one of the most emotionally poignant ones I had read. Tin Man depicts love and sexuality beyond the cardboard boxes we put them in and touches upon art, friendship, and desire by freeing these from their socially gendered labels. It’s a warm, gradual narrative on sadness and nostalgia, and the transformative potential of love.

-Smriti Verma, Poetry Editor

Interpretive Work by Elizabeth Bradfield

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While the poems in this collection often deal with the conflicts of history, politics, culture, and family, hope and beauty win out for the view of the future. Her poems cross boundaries into the vulnerable to reveal how loving someone can help you love the world.It’s published by Artoi Books, which is an imprint of Red Hen Press (Arktoi Books publishes literary poetry by lesbian writers).

-Lisa Stice, Poetry Editor

Sea-Witch: Vol. 1 (May She Lay Us Waste) by Never Angeline Nørth (formerly Moss Angel (formerly Sara June Woods))

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I think Sea-Witch was revolutionary for me: a work centered around transsexuality, a genre-fluid/genre-defying and literature-altering book, Never Angeline Nørth’s book is about a girl monster, a witch-god, about their origin stories and journeys and narratives. I don’t know how to summarize this book but I do know that this book will change the way you look at and critique texts, and I believe it is a great introduction, both in terms of form and content (as much as I despise considering those as the two components of a text), to what the category of LGBTQ+ literature is and can be. Sea-Witch helped me come to terms with my still-developing notion of what my own sexuality is and what it means to me. The book sounds tumultuous but that is the beauty, that is its defiance, and that is what motivates me to make peace with my tumultuous sexuality.

-Devanshi Khetarpal, Editor-in-Chief

A Single Man by Christopher Isherwood

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Christopher Isherwood was one of the first queer authors I came across during my English studies, and his stories opened up new perspectives to regard the world I’d grown up in. In my private Isherwood collection, A Single Man still stands out most remarkably. An artistically crafted story about seclusion and otherness, it tells the tragic end of a curtained love in a homophobic society that grants no (public) closure for the bereaved. But more powerfully, Isherwood’s insight into a single day of a grieving man revealed to me the beauty of two men in love – physically and emotionally. Reading A Single Man, you’ll certainly be touched by the despair that travels from the first to the last page. But I also hope that you’ll be ignited – to make reality better.

– Stela Dujakovic, Prose Editor

What Belongs to You by Garth Greenwell

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Look Garth Greenwell up on Youtube and listen to him read aloud from his work before you read this novel. He was trained as poet before turning to prose, and his history shows in his work: every sentence has a rhythm that demands to be read aloud. That isn’t to say that the ideas of his work don’t matter, but auditory beauty is a nice way to ease yourself into the story that is ultimately devastating. The story follows an American professor teaching in Bulgaria, who pays a young man named Mitko for sex and comes back to him again and again. The driving question of the novel is whether Mitko really has a connection with the narrator, or if it’s all just loneliness making infatuation feel like love. I’m not gay, I’ve never been to Bulgaria, and the world of illicit sexuality described in the book is something I’ve never experienced. Which might have been part of why I liked it so much: much of the power of fiction is to show you what you’ve never known or seen. But even more powerful is the universality of the book. Wondering if your love is real or not is something that every romantically-inclined person has felt, no matter who you are or who you love.

– John S. Osler III, Prose Editor

To view staff bios and learn more about our staff, check out our Masthead page here.

Conversation on ‘REJECTION’

by Joanna Cleary and Maria Prudente

Joanna Cleary: Rejection: it’s awful. Unfortunately, however, artists– regardless of medium, experience, and to a large event, even talent– have to face rejection on a continual basis, which is why I’m so excited to have a conversation about it. Since we live in an increasingly progress-oriented world, rejection has become equated with failure and failure with shame. However, when I received my first rejection letter at the age of twelve or thirteen, I felt proud. Even though my poem wasn’t accepted by the magazine I’d submitted to (and for good reason– it was terrible), I was thrilled that somebody other than me, literary editors no less, had actually read what I’d written. I’d given something – a perspective, perhaps, or a story – to somebody else. I learned that being an artist is about giving; as long as you try to do that, you’re on the right path. Even though rejection is undeniably discouraging, I’ve learned to never be ashamed of offering my work to others. Now over to you– tell me about your first rejection.

Maria Prudente: I didn’t get a part I wanted in my high school musical. I was a sophomore, and I had my heart set on playing Velma in “Chicago,” but this senior who was known for doing beauty pageants and had never done theatre before walked in and nailed her audition. It was between the two of us in callbacks, but the director loved her; and the next day when the cast list went up I was, as expected, devastated. I think it’s common to compare and self-loathe in the first moments of rejection. I kept thinking, “If only I was older and sexier and more tan and had longer legs…” the list kept going but it was all superficial. Within a couple of hours of feeling sad about it, I realized what I had that this senior didn’t have was experience, knowledge, and a deep curiosity and love for performing.

Consequently, I ended up not only taking a small part like Mona in the “Cell Block Tango” and making my monologue land a big laugh every performance, but I ended up being an assistant director for the show. Deciding to turn the pain of that particular rejection of that role into a new role where I could contribute to the theatre in a new way was incredibly empowering. But, as you stated earlier, experiencing rejection is ongoing for artists. How do you cope?

JC: I think the key to coping with rejection is not letting it define you as a person and artist.

Whenever I receive a particularly difficult rejection, I make an effort to do something I enjoy, such as having a cup of hot chocolate or going for a run. By investing energy into who I am as a person, I don’t feel as if my self-worth relies on who I am as an artist. However, I also use rejection as a motivator when it comes to my identity as a writer – for every rejection I receive, I try to send out one or more submissions into the world so that there will always be a glimmer of possibility for me to aspire towards. Again, over to you – how do you cope with rejection?

MP: I think you have a really healthy outlook. Creating routines to feel connected to our sense of self or reciting positive self-talk is an ideal way to deal with rejection. It’s also a really hard thing to practice. There have been days where I have found out from several publications that my work hasn’t been accepted. Sometimes I’ll read that my work was being considered but wasn’t quite right for their issue and I obsess over what thing it was that kept them from putting my piece in the “yes” pile. I think tailoring work for certain publications is important for writers to improve their chances especially if they are trying to build a body of work. Submitting work and finding out what people like is so subjective and completely out of our control. All we can do is revise, rewrite and re-wire the way we accept rejections and instead use them to, as you say, motivate us. When I’m looking for a win, I write something that I feel really good about and I save it to my documents for my eyes only. I think sometimes having something in my back pocket helps me to feel confident. Returning to a piece and cutting it or building on it can be really satisfying because it isn’t being judged by anyone but you, the writer. I can tell a story and chip away at the truth the way I want to. What’s important for writers to remember is why they write and for whom they write. This helps me keep a grip on reality and reminds me of what I love about writing in the first place.

An acting teacher of mine always said: “tell the story simply and clearly”. The same can be said for writing. I often remember this phrase when I feel caught up on using flowery language or I’m inside an overly stylized piece and I fall away from what I’m trying to say. Have any mentors from your past or present given you advice that you’ve found valuable in your writing?

JC: A creative writing mentor of mine once told me not to think of rejection as a lost opportunity, but as an opportunity to give meaning to hardship through growth. Like you say, we need to revise the way we accept rejections so they enhance our ambition instead of draining it. It’s all about finding a balance between controlling our stories and accepting that, oftentimes, we can’t control everything in our lives. I’ve learned to tell myself that I can control what happens to me, but I do have more say over what I make happen.  


155113583331125364MARIA PRUDENTE has written about feminist ethics for Manifest-Station and is featured in Grey Wolfe Publishing’s upcoming anthology of nonfiction short stories. Maria is a professional stage and film actress. She received her training from the Lee Strasberg Theatre & Film Institute and graduated from the American Musical & Dramatic Academy with a concentration in Musical Theatre performance. Maria is the Content Editor at CountrySkyline, LLC and proud member of Actor’s Equity Association. She lives in NYC where she studies Creative Writing at Columbia University.

149460297287447JOANNA CLEARY is a college student double majoring in English Literature and Drama. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Cicada MagazineInkletteGlass Kite AnthologyParallel Ink, Phosphene Literary Journal, HIV Here and Now, and On the Rusk. Poetry has been a long-time passion of hers. When she is not writing, she can be found reading, eating various forms of chocolate, and, of course, thinking about writing.

 

Interview with Mihir Vatsa

Our Blog Editors interviewed Mihir Vatsa, an Indian poet and the editor of Vayavya, for this week’s blog. In this interview, we ask him about the practice of writing and the habits that pertain to it in some way or another. We also ask Mihir about not only staying committed to writing, but also staying committed to writing about Hazaribagh.


Blog Editors: Ernest Hemingway wrote first thing in the morning. Maya Angelou reserved hotel rooms just to write. Stephen King forced himself to write six pages every day. Susan Sontag instructed people when not to call. Have you developed any specific methods for writing?

Mihir Vatsa: I wish I could reserve hotel rooms to write. Someday, perhaps, I will. I usually write at night– the darkness sorts relevance from distraction. When I am writing to meet a deadline, I set a target. With prose, it is thousand words. Poetry is more malleable that way– just three lines could be a poem too, as long as they are good three lines. I am more relaxed with poetry, less so with prose. The latter demands some discipline, I have learned recently.  

BE: Do you journal? And how well do you work with or meet deadlines?

MV: Unfortunately, no, I don’t maintain a journal. I do have some romantic affinity towards the process though, and I like to hear stories that involve journal writing. I have tried it before, but have stopped midway. Trivial things begin to annoy me– is the notebook cover journalish enough, what if I wrote something and someone read it, if I am doing it on my PC then what should be the password, do I really want it personal or do I secretly want it read? I think of these clearly pressing thoughts and defer it.

I think I can work with deadlines, though I procrastinate a lot. So if the deadline is tomorrow, I would get working today, not sleeping, not eating, a bit possessed. It’s not a healthy practice for a writer, but then writers are not really known for their exemplary health.

BE:Do you outline ideas before or do you let the form teach you what kind of story you are writing?

MV: I do outline, but mostly in mind. I prefer having some ideas, some thoughts about what I should write once I start the computer. Often a poem is left hanging for a few days: one stanza emerges, then there is the wait, then another line comes up. When I am not writing, I am working with collages– cut here, paste there. When I think I have enough to go with, I start typing. With longer poems, I take it slow, filling in the blanks first, then tying the content up as the form suggests. With prose, and especially essays, I have found that it’s helpful to have some pointers beforehand, a road map, on how to progress from one thought to the other without jarring the flow.  

BE: What do you do when you become stuck while writing?

MV: If the deadline is far, I give in to the block. I switch to Netflix or Youtube, or take up a book which I had been meaning to read. You can only watch something for so long. When saturation hits, writing becomes a needed retreat. Sometimes I get stuck because I don’t want to put an idea into a form that I have already done before. Then, reading helps. I go to the internet and read whatever poetry I can find, preferably by poets who are alive. That way, I get to see what other poets in the world are doing, how they are managing language, how they are working with form, and so on. The last time I got stuck, the deadline was close. So I ordered a book and told myself not to touch it before I finished writing. It kind of worked.

BE: How do you stay committed to Hazaribagh? Is there a different lens or observation you require in order to practice the writing of something so close when you want it to reach far?

MV: This is a really good question, actually. My upcoming book A Highland in the East (Speaking Tiger Books 2019) is a memoir about living and travelling in the Hazaribagh plateau, and though I had a great time writing it, I was also often conflicted about my loyalty to Hazaribagh. I am not talking about the town per se– Hazaribagh is like any other small Indian town. It has its half-finished buildings with exposed brickwork, it has its temples and mosques and narrow streets. Somehow these things haven’t appealed to me yet. I am more attached to Hazaribagh’s landscape. Therefore, the hills, the trees, the rivers, etc are my points of affect. I remember, this one time, my friend Raza Kazmi and I were staying for a few days at Palamu Tiger Reserve in Latehar. The place is about a six-hour drive from Hazaribagh. There, I was surrounded by taller hills, denser forests, reliable waterfalls, and it made me sad. What if I outgrow Hazaribagh? “You can be committed to Hazaribagh and still enjoy Palamu,” Raza said something along this line, and though I understood him, I was still uncertain. What I fear is that one day there will be nothing wonderful about Hazaribagh for me. No waterfall will excite me. Been there, done that– that kind of boredom, you know, and so I try to modify perspectives. There is a lot in Hazaribagh, things that I still don’t know, so maybe one day I will enjoy the roads, or the history, or engage with the place in a more direct, participatory way. At the moment, I am gripped by the plateau; later, it might be some other aspect of the town.

Perception is universal– the way I perceive Hazaribagh may be similar or different to people who perceive other places, but the act is not uniquely mine. As writers, we work in and with shared cultures, so I think while Hazaribagh may be a little-known, “niche” place to write about, the things I feel when I am in Hazaribagh do resonate with people outside. When I post a photo of a hill range and see the reactions on it, I know I am doing something right. I try to understand the relevance of Hazaribagh for other people, and this is a conjecture at best, but I think that in Hazaribagh, I work through a dual-gaze. I am both an insider and the outsider, insider to the town, outsider to the plateau. When I look for information on, say, how the lake came about, or how the hill was fashioned earlier to appear the way it does now, I am being a hopeless local historian; on the other hand, when I venture into the forest, trailing a stream and not knowing where it would take me, I feel more like a tourist. Perhaps this duality works, though I am not sure yet.

BE: Do you think your editorial practice, or editorial ethics, have impacted your practice as a writer?

MV: Maybe? I don’t really know. Earlier I used to get irritated at the long wait to get a response, but as someone who has also been on the other side of things, I realise now that such delays happen, especially if you are working as a small, un- or underpaid team. One thing that I loved doing as an editor was to really edit– and not just select– a poem for publication, you know, the old-fashioned way. I would chance upon a poem which was almost ready, except that it didn’t work in some parts and patches. Whenever it was the case, I offered detailed feedback, putting the ball in the poet’s court. Here is what I think. If you agree, we can go ahead with the publication. With my own writing too, I am not averse to feedback or revision. I appreciate it if someone devotes a chunk of their time to offer comments on my work. This is something that I cherish with respect to writing, mine or someone else’s.


155727205559673739MIHIR VATSA is the author of the poetry collections Painting That Red Circle White (Authors Press 2014) and Wingman (Aainanagar & Vayavya 2017). A former Charles Wallace Fellow of Writing at University of Stirling, UK, Mihir is the winner of Srinivas Rayaprol Poetry Prize and a Toto Funds the Arts Award in Writing. Mihir lives in the plateau-town of Hazaribagh, India, where he works across the disciplines of literature, writing and human geography.