Tag Archives: writer

Some Kind of Blogging Award

sunshine-blogger-awardI’m honored that fellow blogger Charles French has recognized me for the Sunshine Blogger Award (even though it’s completely overcast and raining in Lincoln right now). Nevertheless, I’m very thankful for the recognition! I’ve never actually received one of these blogging awards I’ve heard so much about, but from what I gather, they are ways to recognize other bloggers for doing cool things (or tasty or artsy or sciencey things, depending on context).

The Rules for the award:

1. Thank the person that nominated you.

2. Answer the 11 questions from your nominator.

3. Nominate and notify 11 bloggers.

4. Give them 11 questions to answer.

The questions I was given, and my answers, are as follows:

1.) If you could visit any country that you have never been to, where would you go? I’ve always wanted to visit Afghanistan.

2.) What is your favorite book? Impossible to name just one, so I’ll split it between fiction (Sum by David Eagleman), poetry (The Iraqi Nights by Dunya Mikhail), and drama (Wit by Margaret Edson).

3.) Coffee or tea? While I enjoy both, I strongly prefer coffee.

4.) What is your favorite meal of the day? Breakfast. It combines waffles, coffee, syrup, coffee, and powdered sugar, in my coffee.

5.) What do you think is the most pressing issue of the day? I think climate change is the most pressing issue of the day, which is why I’m voting for Treebeard of the Ent Party this election, on a platform of reforestation and smashing society with large boulders. #feeltheboulders

6.) Are you a day or night person? I’m a morning person, until only a few weeks are left in the semester, at which point I stay awake day and night cramming.

7.) What is your favorite snack? Cheese quesadilla with diced bell peppers (plus coffee).

8.) What is the time period for which you have the most interest? I’m most interested in the period immediately after the Second World War and the beginning of the Cold War, but the inter-war period (1918-1939) is a close second.

9.) Movie or live theater? I’ve come to enjoy live theater more and more in recent years.

10.) What is your favorite season? I love winter, and I’m not sure if that’s because I’m a romantic introvert or just like it when everything is cold and dead. I’ll say the first one.

11.) Dog or cat? Again, while I enjoy both, dogs are obviously superior to cats in every way and fill me with immeasurable joy.

Now I need to nominate more bloggers. I’m choosing blogs I always look forward to reading, ones I find delightful and thoughtful. My list is as follows:

Hanna McCall at https://proofreaderhannah.com/

The Twenty Something Social Recluse

Annamarie Carlson at https://annamarieabroad.wordpress.com/

Lois Elsden

Robert Okaji at O At the Edges

Hummings

Simon Bowler at https://simonbowlerphotos.wordpress.com/

M Weaver at https://sorrysongbird.wordpress.com/

J. W. Eberle at https://jweberle.com/

Chris Helzer at The Prairie Ecologist

Lizzy Nichols at The Lizzysaurus

My questions, if you choose to accept, are as follows:

  1. What book are you reading now, or are eager to start?
  2. What music do you listen to while working (if anything)?
  3. What is the most useful tool for your work or hobbies?
  4. The Grim Reaper rings your doorbell; you challenge the Reaper to a board game, and if you win you won’t be taken to Hades; what board game do you choose?
  5. What is your ideal pet (apart from a domesticated Grim Reaper)?
  6. Is there a past (or future) decade for which you are nostalgic? If so, what and why?
  7. What is your best method for coping with stress? (I swear I’m not asking because I’m stressed. I swear).
  8. How do you celebrate a major achievement or accomplishment?
  9. What is your preferred mode of transportation (bike, plane, feet, racing team of twelve congresspeople tied to a sled, etc.)?
  10. Where do you do most of your work (home, office, school department, coffee shop, in a sled pulled by twelve congresspeople)?
  11. And lastly, how much wood could a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could get a law degree from Harvard and join a lobby group on behalf of small locally owned and operated woodchucking facilities and successfully bring down Big Wood and their death grip on the international woodchucking industry?

Peace and happy blogging,

-jk

 

Short Story Published in Circa

sparks upI’m pleased to announce that my short story “The End of Akrotiri” has been published in Circa, an excellent online journal of historical fiction. The story is about life in a historical Bronze Age Aegean site called Akrotiri before it was destroyed during the eruption of Thera in the 1600s BCE. I would be honored if you took a gander at it, and please check out the other stories I have the privilege of sharing this volume with.

This story is also a taste of what I intend to be my Master’s Thesis: a collection of short historical fiction stories set in different moments of cataclysm and transition. I want to explore varying forms of intimacy between people and places as ways of transcending climactic turmoil. But these are all details for my committee. For now, just enjoy a gentle, loving story about a volcanic eruption that killed everyone everywhere.

-jk

P.S. I listened to “All Used Up” by the wonderful Utah Phillips and “Funtimes in Babylon by Father John Misty while writing and revising this story. Neither of these songs have anything to do with ancient Greek volcanoes, but they did put me in the right mood for writing about the end of the world.

Juggling Poetry and Prose

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April is National Poetry Month, and by tradition I dedicate this month to writing thirty poems, one each day. I may never have reached that goal, but it’s still an opportunity to write forward. Poetry is a nearly religious part of my life, but I treat every other form of writing the same way.

As long as I’ve written I’ve juggled poetry, fiction, and nonfiction, but in grad school I’m unofficially designated a fiction student. My master’s thesis will (probably, maybe, don’t ask me) be a collection of short stories,  but I’ve never thought of myself as a specialist. Most writers do specialize, though, and as April begins, I can understand why writers might want to dedicate themselves to mastering only one form.

During March, I pushed myself to the writerly limits. I churned out four short story drafts and seven poems, and started a nonfiction essay. While planning my Fall schedule, I schemed ways to take both a poetry tutorial and a creative nonfiction class. The few publications I can claim have ranged from poetry to prose to drama. As a result, my overall portfolio increases steadily, but my skill as a writer continues to be scattered across genres, and while all forms have some things in common, they each require different kinds of effort.

I probably should focus on just one form. I could master fiction, inhabiting characters and pushing plots, or poetry, and improve how I carve roads out of language. Mastering nonfiction would force me into my own head, and theater would confine my characters to the concrete realm of the stage. Or I could shock the world by submitting a series of interconnected Foucauldian pizzas to my committee for cooking competition-style judgment.

The truth is that I simply don’t want to specialize. I started writing because I loved reading and wanted to make others feel what I feel. If my prose suffers for my poetry, or the other way around, so be it. I know the consequences of being scattered, and I’ll write forward in spite of them.

-jk

Comfort in a Cookie

You Are Not What You EatFor an exercise in my fiction workshop, each student was given a fortune cookie and asked to interact with it. We interacted: we broke them, read the fortunes, nibbled on the cookie chunks or chomped them down in one bite. The exercise was about magical thinking in our own lives and our readers’ lives, and how stories so often rely upon the magic of symbols, the mystical confluence of coincidences. Despite of our capacity for logic, we often attach special meaning to mundane things.

I wanted to resist that superstitious behavior. I am, after all, a pretentious English Major, cold and unfeeling, so I instinctively dismiss all fortunes found in cookies, or any other bourgeois baked goods.

In this class, we have also discussed publication (and lack thereof) at great length. “Writing is an industry of rejection,” the instructor has pointed out. While we try to have thick skin, rejections pile up and start to hurt. So when I read my fortune, I will admit that for a moment I gave into magical thinking:

You will soon be receiving some good written news.

It could have been written just for me. Why not? Why can’t I find a little comfort in a cookie? Most writers know to take rejections in stride, but it’s difficult to take for so long, so why not admit that I wanted some factory-produced strip of paper to let me know that if I wait just a moment longer, I’ll get a big publication in a well-known journal?

After class yesterday, I checked my email, and was surprised to find a response from a literary journal I’d sent a collection of environmental poems to back in December. My heart skipped a beat as I read the email quickly, and to my utter amazement, the journal rejected the poems.

Maybe you thought for a moment that I got a big publication. I’d hoped so, too. Maybe I’ve just demonstrated how easily I can connect an arbitrary object (a fortune cookie) with the right combination of values and aspirations lurking in you, the reader. Or maybe not. Perhaps I’ve manipulated your own experience with rejection, especially if you’re a writer. This is an industry of rejection, and good fortune doesn’t correlate with publication. I’ll keep submitting, and I’ll keep writing and revising, and every now and then I’ll allow myself the comfort of dreaming that maybe, just maybe, I’ll get some good written news.

Fellow writers, how do you cope with rejections? Or have you fortuitously gotten any publications lately? Let me know in the comments, and spread the writerly love.

-jk

Reading at the Southwest Popular/American Culture Association Conference

In other news, I read some poetry at a big fancy academic conference.

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This week, scholars, musicians, writers, film critics, professors, fans of The Grateful Dead, zombie fanatics, pop culture critics and lovers (one in the same, here) flocked to Albuquerque, New Mexico, to discuss their ideas, share their theses, their creative works, their analysis of other people’s creative works, and generally enjoy the spirit of popular culture.

In one day alone, I’ve heard scholar/fans discuss the relationship between Rick and Morty in Rick and Morty, compare Jurassic World and the TV series Zoo, analyze countless horror movies (from Poltergeist to The Babadook), explore various media’s fixation with underage serial killers, give two different interpretations of David Cronenberg’s eXistenZ, explore the role of nature as a setting in The Walking Dead, critique consumer culture in prepper magazines and the capitalist frenzy to buy things before the coming apocalypse, and read a variety of poetry.

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Reading my own work for an audience was not entirely new to me; I’ve made use of open-mic nights and poetry slams now and again. This venue certainly was new to me, though, but I don’t want readers to assume that I think a conference is somehow better than a slam. Poetry is meant to be read out loud, and all venues are equally worthy and professional; poetry slams are just as important as big fancy academic conferences. But here, my audience differs, and the tone is more critical, more focused on poetry within popular culture rather than poetry alone. Where else can I backup a poem about the end of the world with information I’d heard half an hour before?

I’m centered in the academic world, and this is an academic pilgrimage that I’m honored to take. Reading in front of a live audience, of course, is terrifying, but also thrilling, and I hope to enjoy that thrill again soon.

There are still plenty of days left in the conference, and there is more to come.

-jk

 

A Public Apology From This Blog

FOE

It has come to my attention that there is a slight possibility that some readers of this blog might find my portrayal of writers to be unfair.

It was not my intention to portray writers as living in the excesses of caffeine, alcohol, or both, or as people who experiment with certain stimulants that some states have outlawed. I did not intend to give the impression that writers are difficult people who have trouble coping with rejection, or that they have limited social skills. I also had no intention of portraying writers as hyper-critical egomaniacs who write for revenge, and who publish unflattering stories about their friends and families when they feel resentful of their almost constant sense of rejection by publishers, friends, strangers, and that guy at the bookstore with the mustache.

Additionally, it was not my intention to portray writers as the kind of people who use creative writing workshops as a means to external validation by submitting work that has already been accepted for publication, to insist upon the value and merit of their submitted workshop material on the basis that it has been accepted for publication, while simultaneously engaging in pretentious, esoteric discussions of craft that have little, if anything, to do with the actual content of their peers’ work, leading their peers, instructors, loved ones, and Rick from the bookstore to question if they ever actually read their peers’ work and merely have a list of bland, useless comments that can easily apply to any written work, or as people who spend their time rubbing their toes on others’ property and rummaging through Rick’s medicine cabinet when he’s not looking, and who drunk text their lovers at 2:34 in the morning while standing outside Rick’s house and wondering why Marsha’s car is there, or as the sort of people who deliberately loan you their sunglasses when they have pinkeye and leave their beard shavings in your glove compartment.

It was not my intention to portray writers this way, but I can understand why some readers might think that I had such an agenda in mind.

While I’m at it, my lawyers inform me I should apologize for my portrayal of historians. Any interpretation of historians, based on this blog, as resentful, conceited, pretentious, hyper-liberal anti-social Harvard rejects who hate their countries and take pleasure in reducing anybody’s joy in holidays to a crime against humanity and who spend their free time burning copies of the U.S. Constitution in their backyards in their underwear in a massive green cloud of pot smoke, is merely a misunderstanding.

As always, I thank you for your concerns about my portrayal of people on this blog.

-jk

Coffee: A Steamy Love Affair

Coffee Poet.jpg

Those who know me know that I love coffee. Those who don’t know me can easily guess, thus far, that I have a moderate fondness for coffee. To be clear, I’m not picky; I like tea, cocoa, water, smoothies, milkshakes, juice. But coffee has a special place in my life.

I had my first cup in my high school cooking class. During one of the baking sessions, our teacher turned on the coffee pot near my station while our muffins were still in the oven. That’s when I had my first cup of caffeinated hot brown acidic water, filled with cream and sugar like most first-timers. After a while, I started drinking coffee whenever I cooked, then every morning, then every morning and afternoon, then several times a day. For a while, I got headaches when I didn’t consume any caffeine by 10:00 AM.

I’ve since become less addicted. I once considered giving it up for Lent but decided that not even Jesus would have gone that far. Nevertheless, I have cut back, and not just because I’ll probably have an ulcer by the age of twenty-six if I don’t.

There are coffee addicts and there are coffee lovers, and I want to be the latter. The difference between a violinist and someone with a violin is making every note a masterpiece. The difference between a chef and somebody who cooks every meal is mastering the kitchen’s tools and ingredients, and cooking with gusto rather than mere hunger. Anything can be an art, and the only way to become an artist is to inhabit a practice so fully that we infuse ourselves with it.

Everything about coffee is perfect to me, and if not I try to make it perfect. Espresso, lattes, dark roasts, light roasts, the smell of the beans, the feel of them in my fingers, the careful measurement of fresh grounds into the coffee pot, pouring the first cup, breathing in the scented steam before the first sip, and feeling it run down my throat hot and fresh, until it bounces around my stomach looking for a place to sit. I write with it; I read with it; I get to know people with it. It’s not for everyone, but it’s certainly for me, which is likely why I haven’t slept since 2015.

What practice or hobby or food do you love? Let me know in the comments!

-jk

P.S. If you thought the title was cheap, consider all the other possibilities I had to work with. Drip coffee was only a starting place.

Very Near the Last Best Place

“I’m in love with Montana. For other states I have admiration, respect, recognition, even some affection. But with Montana it is love. And it’s difficult to analyze love when you’re in it.” -John Steinbeck, Travels with Charley

Snowy Horseman

It’s been especially cold in the Bitterroot Valley this week. The air is fat with moisture, and below-freezing temperatures are typical. Still, there is clarity in the cold, standing at the center of the Valley’s balding head. The crown of mountains rolling up and down across the horizon like changing statistics are garnished with snow and the torn fabric of clouds. The trees carry tufts of it, the fields and sleepy barns hold sheets of it stretched thin into ice, and the sky lets down more, flake by perfect, God’s-eye flake.

River Icy

In the middle of the ring of mountains, I stand surrounded by the monumental totality, the jagged white-purple strips draped below a hazy, bitter blue sky, like skin left out in the cold too long.  My nose hairs freeze as I breathe in and look at the sunlit snowscape, a territory lost in cold dreams of something to bloom later, something better to come, something beautiful in the future. I find beauty in the waiting, or try to. The snow is a fixation for me. This frigid terrarium of agriculture and forestry is astounding.

Fence

Maybe there really is such a thing as timelessness. Maybe there’s a way to stop time, step out of it like out of a beater truck, and frame time within electrical confines. Keep it forever, or send the past into the future untarnished by change. But the snow will melt, and something gorgeous will replace it. Trees will philosophize, flowers will converse, and a listlessness of birdsong will fill the air.

Snow Mountain

I pull my camera from my bag, take my gloves off, and take a picture of the landscape. The snow is so lovely, and it melts so quickly when touched, so I try to hold it in another way. I can hardly use my fingers when I lower the camera. I didn’t notice how numb they’d gotten in the photographic thrill of momentlessness.

-jk

All photos copyrighted material of Lost Compass Photography, 2016. Donations, or else get-well-financially cards, are always welcome.

 

Reflections on a First Semester in Grad School

AcademyI’m twenty-five percent of the way finished with my Master’s Degree in English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Most of what I’ve encountered is unsurprising: the workload is tough, the Midwest is flat. However, there are certain things I’ve learned, perhaps unique to my own situation, that I wish I’d known earlier this summer.

  1. Maturity is a state of mind. I’m the youngest person I’ve met in the creative writing segment of my department, and I’m often made to feel like a little kid, like I don’t quite belong, among the adults (at least among most of the writers I’ve met). Many are PhD students with an MFA or an MA. In truth, I don’t quite fit in with most of the other writers stylistically, humorously, or aesthetically. Both my writing and self are plain weird, and I’m surrounded by tradition and formality. I don’t want to sacrifice my identity to fit in, though. I’d rather be a transplanted weirdo in the Midwest than a converted Midwesterner. Growing up isn’t about leaving behind parts of myself that don’t meet others’ expectations; it’s about maintaining myself in increasingly diverse and challenging situations.
  2. Discussions of craft are not as important as craft itself. Every discussion of craft I’ve had so far consists of an extensive mythology of what other writers did to keep themselves writing, followed by the refrain, do what works for you; coffee, rum, fishing in the Missouri River, whatever will help crank out a daily three to four pages. My own method involves writing for those who inspire me, unhealthy amounts of caffeine, and hikes in nature (which I’ve yet to find near Lincoln).
  3. Nothing is more important than the writing. I came to graduate school to write, and to publish, and to understand literature and improve myself intellectually, but my primary goal is to crank out three to four pages a day, no matter what.
  4. Friendship is more important than the writing. Friends are increasingly hard to come by the higher I climb into academia. Allies are nice, but the few friends I’ve made are crucial to my survival. Without them, I’d have no support for my experimentation. Plus, writing can be lonely, and being cooped up all day is a good way to get cabin fever.
  5. Contradictions are okay (and inevitable). Graduate life, much like undergraduate life, is complex and full of numerous contradictions. Some are basic: a free ride still requires one thousand dollars of student fees per semester. Some are more complex: writing depends upon time and inspiration, but inspiration usually comes from things requiring time not spent writing (loved ones, caffeine, hiking). Fortunately, I now have the benefit of knowing exactly what I need to survive the next seventy-five percent of my degree: writing, friends, coffee, a place to hike, more confidence in my weirdness, and a few more publications would be tolerable, I suppose.

Look out, 2016, here I come.

-jk

When a Story Strikes

Blank PagesCreativity is sneaky; it can strike at the most inopportune moments, and writers need to be prepared. Writers can find inspiration while showering, cooking biscotti, giving back rubs, performing open heart surgery, or in my case all of the above simultaneously, and creative ideas can whither if not recorded quickly enough. Many writers, myself included, carry around small notebooks to salvage sudden ideas.

Sometimes, the best preparations fall short. While flying home this week, I was enjoying the on-flight complimentary burned coffee when something in my brain clicked, and an idea for a story crystallized.

Before I could pull out my notebook and pen, the plane began to shake. The pilot announced that we should remain seated through the turbulence, “even if you do like it shaken, not stirred.” My tray table lurched as I flipped to the next blank page and scribbled down every detail of my brilliant, wonderful story idea while it was still fresh.

Several hours later, as I waited for the shuttle to my hometown, I had a few spare moments to look back at the brilliant, wonderful, award-winning story idea. Instead, I found in my notebook a slim paragraph of what looked like ancient hieroglyphics. My handwriting is bad to begin with; add a jittery writing space and a lack of patience, and clarity is doomed. I could make out the words “old man” and “saucepan” amid the scribbles, but otherwise my brilliant, wonderful, paradigm-shifting story idea was illegible.

Rest in peace, story idea. I’m sure what I would have titled “The Old Man and the Saucepan” would have been excellent. In my rush to preserve it intact, I lost it entirely. As a writer, I should slow down sometimes. More importantly, I should learn to trust myself to utilize a half-formed idea. Even the best ideas I’ve recorded legibly have evolved. Art, after all, is a process of evolution, patient and sometimes careless. The key to producing good art is the ability to improvise. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to clean biscotti dough out of my shower drain.

-jk