Monthly Archives: June 2015

On Seeing

I had to write an author’s note this week for my best piece ever as I prepare for its publication. No, really, it is the best thing I will ever write. I needed an author’s note that would do it justice, but I’ve never written an author’s note before. I convinced myself I didn’t know how. I asked a friend for help, but she pointed out to me that she can’t always answer my questions. I’ve been thinking about this since our text conversation, and I still can’t reconcile myself with the person that she sees me to be. A successful writer? What?? Funny, because one of my responses to her was to “see the person I see in her.” That’s me though; I can’t see the me that other people see. So I get it when I see it in someone else. No matter how many times I publish, no matter how much I write, I’m not going to see myself as a writer. I’m always going to doubt myself, always going to see the times I’m not writing and not successful before I see the times I am.

I don’t think I see me.

So who do I see?

I see round cheeks that my short hair accentuates. I see chubby thighs. I see more declined publications than accepted. A bottom shelf book, a tiny room, zero friends, a job I can’t keep up with, and a sick cat I can’t afford to pay for.

I see a girl who’s scared to try a good school and scared to apply to phD programs because no matter what happens, she is certain they will not work out. Or, more accurately, that she will not work out. A girl who does not know what she is doing.

The people in my life don’t see these things in me, which makes me feel like I’m missing something.

So what don’t I see? I mean, if I was a observer coming in blind, with no knowledge of me at all?

My hair is pretty damn cute. I have calf muscles like nobody’s business. I have more publications than others who have been writing longer. I’m moving soon to a larger place. I’m good at my job, and I like puppies. And my cat is doing well.

See, I can beat up on myself all I want. But that doesn’t make me the person that I think I am. It doesn’t make me underqualified for a phD program or unable to survive a dissertation committee.

When I was back in Wisconsin, I wrote every day. I was a writing then. I was an English major, but, for all intents and purposes, I was English literature. Now I am a creative writing graduate student, and I am lucky to find moments like these at the very end of my day where I can scribble a few incredibly lame words down. I carry around a notebook in the backpack I bring dog walking, but I rarely have time to remember to pull it out. My day is dog dog maybe eat dog dog dog dog dog etc.

I do not feel like a writer. That’s a running theme this week, but it’s the truth. I do not feel like a writer, but it doesn’t mean I’m not one.

After two rounds of heavy struggle bus edits, contract renegotiations, and a myriad of things I don’t understand or know that I did correctly, and I’ll have a shiny new large publication next week. I have survived criticism, rewrites, and editing sadness. Whether I think I know what I’m doing, whether I legitimately know what I’m doing, I’m probably a writer. I might see the bad, but there’s a lot of good there too.

I wrote an author’s note. It’s probably not the best author’s note to ever grace this magazine’s pages, but I did do it. There you have it.

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On Writing

Writing has been hard lately.

I had a difficult semester. I didn’t get a lot in terms of helpful feedback on my work. I was left really disappointed by most of the peeps in my workshop, and by my program in general. Everything I had out for publication was declined, including two pieces that were held for nearly a year by major publications. (Though it’s an honor to have work held, but…you know.) I’m also battling with a publication to which I hold a signed contract that has not yet been fulfilled. So writing is just hard.

It’s hard to find readers. My writing makes people uncomfortable. But I got invited this week to do an online writers group, sort of a last minute thing. The morning of, I looked through my files and found a piece that I thought to be quite good, but that hasn’t been published yet. It’s my struggle—I’ve got cool, well written stuff, but it’s just not getting out there. I printed off all of the submissions from the Facebook group, and almost cried at the caliber. It’s what I’ve been looking for all year and where much of my program lacked. (I have my favorite people. You know who you are). I dutifully marked them all up, with different colors for first and second reads (another thing I largely lost the spirit for last semester), and then scanned them in and sent them back to the authors. During the workshop, my friend set up a video chat on the table so that I could be a giant talking head, a la Sheldon. It was a little hard to figure out a rhythm with them all in Wisconsin and me here, and much harder to interject when I couldn’t use my hands, but I got there. And, quite honestly, I got the single best piece of feedback that I’ve received all year:

“Your writing is powerful, but it’s like punching someone over and over and over and over and never offering them an ice pack.”

I realized immediately that that was what I’ve been missing this year. The ice pack. I’ve been so set on telling a story, just straight forward, no holds barred, telling it, that I forget that the reader needs to know there’s another side. The reader needs to know that I’m not still 16, not still in my 20s, that I’m on the other side.

The problem is, I’m not as confident in myself and my abilities as everyone else seems to be. I still FEEL like a failure. A lot. I do realize that it’s a major accomplishment to pack up all of my things and leave my safety net to move across the country. But it doesn’t feel that way. It feels like I picked the wrong program. It feels like I picked the wrong city. It feels like I am no longer really a writer. I walk dogs all day, and keep getting more and more dog related things to do. I’ve written more this week than I’ve written since the semester ended, which says a lot as I haven’t written much. This time last year, I was cranking out at LEAST 1000 words a day. And now that I’m getting an MFA? Nothing real for months. The workshop this week was the best writing thing that’s happened this year. I need it again.

I’ve been writing my next book all wrong. And to be honest, I’m not sure that I want to write it anymore. I’m worried I don’t have the distance that I need to have from the material in order to shape it properly. In order to give the reader that other side, that ice pack. I don’t know how to fix my book when I don’t know how to be the 31 year old narrator.

I’m worried that I don’t know who I am a writer apart from my experience.

So please, writing gods, send more readers, more workshops, more valuable feedback. Thesis time is coming, and my publication queue is empty.

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On Acceptance and the Detrimental Value of Assumptions

I took a class once during undergrad. I can’t remember now precisely which class, but I believe was environmental science. The professor showed us a video regarding the science of evolution. The person in the video was incredibly well spoken. He seemed very knowledgable regarding the topic, and I found many things in his lecture to be quite interesting. I went into this video hoping to learn more about a topic I admittedly didn’t know that much about. But the speaker in the video resorted numerous times to either insulting religion or just plain poking fun at it. To quote one such instance, “The Creator didn’t want them (dolphins) to have feet, it was pleasing for Him to see them develop, and then pleasing for Him to take them away.”, comes across a bit as poking fun at said Creator. There was another where he referred to people who believed in religion as perverse, a completely derogatory term. Regardless of whether I believe in evolution or not, I did not find the argument in the video to be sound. By insulting the other side of his argument, the speaker in question completely invalidated himself and his beliefs and rendered his own argument null and void.

A friend sent me an interesting blog post today. You can find it here, though honestly, I’m quoting most of it below. I’ve pretty much stayed to the side of reading positive articles regarding Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner, because they make me sad. Comments on articles make me sad. Judgements without understanding make me sad.

Let’s face it. The internet makes me sad.

As a result of my intentional selectivity, this was the first anti-Caitlyn post that I read. The author claims to be following her beliefs, and I fully support that. Everybody should be allowed to have their own belief system. But what I do not and cannot support are judgmental statements that lack an educational foundation; this lack completely invalidates the argument that the post is presenting. It all starts here:

“You see, he has decided that he is a woman and that by saying it and probably some very extensive surgery, he can make it so. In today’s world, we think gender is something we get to choose, like our career path or our clothes. So, people across the nation have lauded him as a hero. Certainly, this is the current opinion of the masses, but I have to say it. The emperor has no clothes and Bruce Jenner is not a woman.”

We THINK gender is something we get to choose. We THINK. The comparison here of choosing a gender identity to choosing the day’s outfit alone is enough to make my head spin. But the fact of the matter is, the author is partially correct—we don’t get to choose who we are. Girls can be born girls, boys can be born boys. Or, in Caitlyn’s case, boys can be born girls. It’s not a choice. Absolutely no one but the person in question knows who they are on the inside. In no way are any of us qualified to make that judgement for or about someone else. It is not an issue that should be taken lightly or treated in a trivial manner. The author follows this up with the Bible:

“You can tell me that there is a difference between gender and sex, that Bruce was born with a male body and a female soul, but I would ask where did he get this soul? … if there is a God, would He make the mistake of putting a female soul in a male body? How can we know? We can know by what He tells us in His word. “Male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27) and He does not make mistakes, but does everything perfectly with love and wisdom.”

Easy. We don’t know. I can take the God made man and woman idea. But the person that we are inside is not a mistake. We don’t know the logistics or the blueprints for that operation. We can use the Bible all we want, People can use the Bible to back up their views all they want, but there is nowhere within it that states “having an identity other than cisgender is a mistake.” All this says to me is that men and women were created. Next, we have the author’s biggest assumption:

“We seem to want to erase the idea of gender and reinforce it all at once. We don’t want to have to conform to gender stereotypes. We don’t want to be put into categories and yet we want to be able to transfer ourselves by self-declaration from one category to another. We are so in love with our rebellion against God that we cannot see the absurdity and inconsistency of it all.”

This is where everything really comes apart. You see, maybe the author didn’t intend this, but I read the last statement as “People who don’t fit the traditional expectations of gender choose not to fit them because they want to rebel against God.” It boils down an important decision to a virtual temper tantrum, an “I’m going to take my ball and go home because you won’t play with me” moment. Changing of sexual orientation or gender is not a flip of the moment decision; it can be a struggle for many, and it’s incredibly serious. The societally perpetuated issues that come with this decision shouldn’t be taken lightly.

“If you don’t see things from the same Christian world view that I do, we probably do not agree and that is no surprise, but I must insist on one thing. Bruce Jenner is not a hero. A hero is someone who has done something brave or noble, who has sacrificed for others. Bruce Jenner has done none of these things. He is a man who has posed in women’s clothing on the cover of a magazine, garnering excessive media attention. What’s more he has waited to do so until the optimum moment when he was most sure to receive praise and acceptance. Heroes risk much and gain little. Bruce Jenner has risked little and gained much. I am sure there are many people out there who do things to deserve the title of “hero,” but Bruce Jenner is not one of them. He is not a hero and he is not a woman. He is what we all are: lost, sinful, and desperately in need of Jesus. I pray he finds Him.”

I disagree. Bruce Jenner was both brave and noble. While I feel like his position in the spotlight put him the unique position of being a transgender spokesperson that he may or may not have deserved, I do feel that he was incredibly brave. Now Caitlyn, she is still brave. Her transition does not change that. Bruce sat in the background of his famous family for years, quietly denying what he knew to be true. As Caitlyn, she became free to finally be herself, to wear what she wanted and speak her mind the way she wanted. Her posing on a magazine cover (well again, only afforded to her because of Bruce’s previous experience in the spotlight) is like a beacon to other people out there, a shining light that says “you can be who you want to be because I have become who I wanted to become.” Bruce did not wait until the “optimum moment” of media attention to transition to Caitlyn. Bruce waited until he was ready. He risked possible judgment and condemnation and scorn for becoming Caitlyn, and yet, he toughed it out. There are different types of heroes in this world, but the first that pops into my head are the type that save lives. And quite honestly, I believe that Caitlyn on the cover being who she is is likely to save more than one.

I don’t claim to know all the things related to gender or sexual identity. Nor do I claim to be the star representative of either of these things. But what I don’t know, where I feel uneducated, I make a genuine effort to learn. My biggest problem, and my biggest offense, with the linked blog post is that there is no effort made to learn about people who are different from the author. There is only assumption and doubt. It is one thing to follow your beliefs, but it is another entirely to make assumptions that discount the beliefs of others. The assumptions, like the insults in my science class, dismantle the argument of this author all on their own.

All I ask is that, whatever your belief system is, you make an effort to learn. Be accepting of others, even those that are different than you. Especially those that are different from you. It will make you a better person.

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