With only two weeks left of the semester, it feels like the perfect time to write an update.
Within the last couple weeks, I received news that I had been nominated two different times for the Pushcart Prize, once by Gimmick Press and once by Sweet Tree Review. I’m so excited to represent small literary magazines/presses in particular. I’m aware, of course, that it’s not a particularly high honor unless one actually makes the shortlist or wins. I’m currently thinking about how to balance feeling good about my nominations with the knowledge that they don’t mean much by themselves in the long run. I’m not yet sure how this balance is to be achieved; despite my nonbinary gender and nonbinary philosophical bent, I’m very much a black-and-white person.
Speaking of growth, I want to briefly sing the praises of another class I’m taking, called Narrative Medicine: How Writing Can Heal. Not only has my writing –– especially my ‘personal essay’ writing –– improved technically since I started the class, but that class also gave me a more concrete toolkit for addressing life experiences I have yet to narrativize for myself. All history is narrative, and, in a sense, fiction; what is “legitimate history” is more a question of whose narrative gains dominance, rather than adherence to an arbitrary standard of objectivity. Objectivity is used all too often to mask what’s really a white supremacist, patriarchal, abled, etc. point of view. It’s used as the only way to advance a highly specific way of perceiving reality as the singular truth. More people are realizing the dangers of such hegemonic perspectives that are wildly discordant with the material lives of subjugated groups of people –– for example, the dismissal of sexual assault survivors’ stories in favor of the perpetrators’.
Narrative Medicine has given me the opportunity to write a final paper on Virginia Woolf’s essay On Being Ill, which I’ve talked incessantly about to many people close to me (because that’s what happens when I discover something I’m into). For anyone who, like me, was taken by Woolf’s biting critique of the medico-psychiatric system and its abuse and neglect toward patients in Mrs. Dalloway, On Being Ill is a must-read. My edition has an introduction from Hermione Lee, who shares that Woolf was actually sick in bed while writing the essay. This in and of itself helps prove one of her main theses: that conceiving of The Writer as rational, cerebral, and divorced from the messiness of the body is limiting and inaccurate. I weave my own personal experience into my analysis of the text, which is reflective of the feminist turn in literary analysis which began decades ago. I argue that Woolf did it too –– albeit in the 1920s and 30s –– and her bold discussion of trauma, disability, patriarchy, and hegemonic “rationalism” paved the way for more identifiable feminist criticism.
In other word-news, last week, I also got the opportunity to read a short story aloud at a small open mic at MHC. It was a lot scarier than I thought it would be, as I’m not usually so afraid of speaking in front of people. I had a small identity crisis following that experience: who am I if I can’t even get up and speak confidently in front of an audience the way that I used to? I’m still not sure where the sudden barrage of anxiety that day came from, all I know is that I was shaking so hard as I read that I thought I was going to fall over. I’m still thinking hard about why the sudden change in my public speaking self-confidence occurred. Let me know if you have any insight. Regardless, I’m really glad I did it, as many of my friends and classmates, as well as professors, were there, and they all gave me positive feedback. That always feels good. I’m thankful for having chosen to take creative writing as a class this semester, as that class was the reason I learned about the open mic, and the reason for much of my recent growth as a writer in general.
In the last week-and-a-half before break, it feels like everyone is trying to squeeze in as many events as possible. This is partially also because Hanukkah is happening this week and I’ve been trying to go to the various celebrations our Jewish Student Union has been hosting. Several days ago, on the first night of Hanukkah, I learned to play dreidel, which was great fun! Tonight I hope to listen to some Klezmer music; I’ve loved it since an online friend of mine introduced me to The Klezmatics. I’m looking forward to hopefully listening to some Klezmer live!
Lastly, I’d like to update you regarding the progress I’ve made on my “project” which I’m refusing to call a “novel” (even saying the word “novel” makes me cringe). I’m at a little over 30,000 words / 100-ish pages. I’ve implemented a writing strategy that’s been effective for me before, namely to write at least a little of that project every day, even if it’s only one line. I wrote a novella when I was fifteen and used this strategy to keep up with it, and happily, I think I’m soon going to surpass the length of that work in writing this new, more sophisticated project. Every day, I fear that yesterday’s idea was my last good one, and this whole project is going to go down the drain, but so far, I’ve been able to continue. Scary as it is, I think this constant state of insecurity is also important in that it’s humbling.
I’ll try to post again around my birthday, which is in exactly two weeks. I’ll be 20! If all goes according to plan, I’ll be able to go to Barnes and Noble that day, my favorite activity. Talk to you soon!
ETA: I didn’t have the spoons to attend the Klezmer concert, but did spend some quality time supervising the menorahs until they burnt out and then having dinner with friends.