Tag Archives: writer

From Coffee Shops to Mountaintops

Macy's

For a too-short time this summer, I’m on a pilgrimage to my hometown of Flagstaff, Arizona. Here, I’ve been working on a collection of short stories that will become my Master’s Thesis in less than a year (no pressure), because I won’t have much time to write come Fall when I’ll take four graduate classes, teach two classes, hold office hours, and try to get published. Flagstaff is a nice place to be productive. It’s also a nice place to be useless.

This month, I’ve been scurrying from one Flagstaff coffee shop (many in gentrified neighborhoods, admittedly) to the next. Maybe sitting all day in Macy’s or Firecreek or Steep (technically a tea house) is a bit of a yuppee activity, but for many writers it’s an easy solution. Coffee shops induce productivity with comfortable spaces, lots of light, energetic music, and socially acceptable drugs like caffeine. They remove us from crammed apartments, English departments, and work places; they spark quiet, collective inspiration. I’ve also enjoyed the aggressively supportive environments that seem to define the West, where even complete strangers encourage you to keep going and pursue your dreams, even if they’re strange and uncomfortable. My writing has been very productive.

But there was another pilgrimage I needed. Yesterday, after writing and reading stories in Firecreek all morning, I took the afternoon to hike up Mount Elden. I did not take anything to write with, and although I’m a strong advocate for making art in the wilderness (alone or with friends), I wanted a more complete silence. I wanted the overwhelming smell of bark and dust and dew. When I return to Nebraska, I’ll have to find the same solitude in the prairies, out on the range.

Mountaintop

From the mountainside where I stopped to rest, the only thing I could hear were crickets and the distant whistle of a train. There was no traffic; there was no music; sometimes a bird chirped, or a deer fluttered through the forest below the steep cliff’s edge. I was not alone, but I was alone from people, and from myself.

It was windy, almost cold, but closer to the sun I felt warm. It was peaceful to be nobody for a while, to be free of the need to be someone. The pressure to be someone these days, the millennial fixation with making something of oneself, being a successful talented individual with a totally unique, self-owned identity, is sometimes too much.

Sometimes I’d rather sit on a mountaintop and be useless. No fast pace. No updates. No news. No one to impress. Just one more organism in an ecosystem finding, at last, its place therein: a lone and unimportant creature in a society of deer, coyote, foxes, crows, ponderosa, a cityscape of boulders and greenery.

-jk

The Nine Circles of Term Paper Writing

College students across the country are about to walk through hell, a hell of term papers and cramming and source-hunting. Many of you will not make it, but all of you can expect to pass through several of the dreaded Nine Circles of Term Paper Writing.

First is Limbo, otherwise known as procrastination. This is where most of you will die. Limbo is where you need fifteen cups of coffee before even looking at your sources, where you are forever logged into facebook no matter how hard you try to leave. It’s a place of endless scrolling, a place where the due date at the end of the tunnel is miles away. It takes a concentrated effort to work through this circle.

2

After sitting down to start, you will find yourself in Lust. Now you have a thesis that you want to prove, and it becomes an obsession. You really, really want to prove this wonderful thesis of yours. You want to prove it until the sun comes up. Maybe you want to write a postpostmodern analysis of the presidential race, or argue that Plato was just a whale’s intestine and Aristophanes actually wrote all his works. Whatever it is, it will consume you, no matter how ridiculous.

3

Moving on from Lust, you will find yourself in Gluttony. Here you will quench your desire to prove your thesis by binging on the various amenities college life offers: ramen noodles and your RA’s stash of confiscated alcohol. Gluttony tends to resurface throughout the rest of your journey.

4

Next comes Greed. Filled with calories and “inspired” by Rick the RA’s vodka, you will push yourself to secure more sources than needed. Your paper is on the American Revolution, but you will find a way to incorporate Mad Max into it. Or your paper is on Mad Max, and you just need the perfect Plato quote for the intro. If the sources and vodka don’t kill you, unless you revise extensively, your professors might.

5

Sobering up a bit, you will find yourself in Anger. In this circle, you are taunted by your computer screen showing that after three hours of work, you put your name as the title, misspelled the date, and have written nothing else. Filled with rage and sudden hunger, you will seek satisfaction by insulting your roommate who wrote his final papers last week like a total jerk.

6

Soon, you will find yourself passing through Heresy. Here, you begin to question things: the due date on the syllabus, the current day of the month, whether or not you need to pass this class. You even find yourself questioning petty things, like whether or not the nineteenth century even happened in the first place (it didn’t).

7

Failing to arrive at sufficient answers, you will move on to Violence. This circle will last only briefly, and if it doesn’t, your jerk roommate will bring Rick the RA in, and you’ll have to apologize and watch that jerk return to his video games while Rick cuts you off from the vodka like the dingo’s bladder he is.

8

Next comes Fraud. Seriously, run through this circle. Sprint through it. Fraud is perfectly acceptable in other circumstances, such as politics, banking, military spending, the EPA, trade regulations, local/state/federal elections, corporate taxes, government surveillance, international gambling rings, working as an RA in a dorm, and even important places like twitter, but it is not acceptable in an academic paper, so just move on to the next circle.

9

Finally, you will come to Treachery. By now you have a paragraph of rewritten thesis statements that somehow ended up in second-person plural. You remove every instance of “all ya’ll” from your intro and realize that your problems all started with procrastination. This is where you realize that you have betrayed yourself by putting off this paper for so long. Maybe you spent too much time blogging and taking stupid pictures of yourself for your blog. Who knows? Whatever the case, you have procrastinated yourself into a hole, and procrastination is a terrible way to climb back out. So you slap yourself in the face and focus all your attention on one valiant goal: a high C. After this, you vow to never procrastinate so much again, just like last semester. But this time it’s for real.

10

To my fellow academics, happy End of the Semester. Now stop wasting time reading this and get back to work.

-jk

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

IMG_2158

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