Hello friends and family!
We are going through a time. I believe we will come out stronger and more aware on the other side. It's been hard to think or even concentrate on small, day-to-day or feel grateful as we watch these terrible growing pains wrack our country. If you can donate or you're interested in books, articles, and art you can engage with on the subject, feel free to leave a comment or message me. A lot of writers have been posting resources and getting involved in ways besides just sending money or protesting.
When the coronavirus hit, I already knew it was about to happen from watching the news about China and talking to students there. Staying at home more often underlined how limited my life can be as a freelancer with a variable schedule. However, I was able to be productive. I worked a ton in April and May since my students became more available, forced to quarantine, work from home, or cease activities that gave meaning to their lives. The last week+ has been very difficult for me. Sometimes, all I want to do is cry when I see the news. I've felt deep rage in my bones, deep sadness in my gut. Sometimes, I've been on the verge of cancelling commitments or getting a migraine.
I'm trying to help in any way I can and practice self care. I hope that you are too. That's why I'm writing this post: to give some good news (and hopefully entertainment) in these dark times.
Last night, I had an informal interview/call with the editor-in-chief of a literary magazine. She wants me to be their art editor, taking point on visual submissions, giving some direction to the magazine, and contributing to reading all regular submissions and deciding which pieces to publish. I'm thrilled to do this exciting work for them and I hope that it will help me learn and grow a lot along with them. Right now, I need to send a bio and photo for their masthead and then choose the right time to announce everything on social media. One big perk for me is that they have weekly video meetings to discuss submissions and other stuff. I'm looking forward to being part of a small community and making friends.
Last month, I also began volunteering as a fiction reader for Longleaf. You can see me on the masthead here. They are a bigger group and they have four submission windows each year. My task is to read and assign scores to about twenty submissions per week! I've already read some fantastic stories that I hope we will publish.
As far as my own writing and publications, there has been a lot since the quarantine. I went from a place where I was barely publishing at all to a place where I can't fit all my 2020 publications on my one-page CVs. I have new publications forthcoming in Serotonin, Moonchild Magazine, Ayaskala, Cypress, Ligeia, *82, and the Mark Literary Review (along with some older acceptances I'm still waiting on)! I have new work that I'm proud of that I hope will be picked up quickly.
If you missed it, Vox Viola published three of my poems in their spring issue. I'm especially proud of 'To my cat, who loves pens' and 'What Is, Enough.' You can read them here.
Good news on the 'Maria is taking classes' front: I've received several scholarships and awards to attend workshops this summer. I'm taking a one-day translation workshop from GrubStreet Programs that I'm very excited for, a lot of one- and two-hour craft seminars at Lighthouse Writers Workshop, and even a workshop for free through my literary magazine, Longleaf (a great perk for the staff and current contributors to the magazine). I also received bigger grants to attend two poetry workshops through the Speakeasy Project. In one, we will generate about twenty-five pages of work. In the other, we will hone about eight poems and make them as strong as possible. I expect to emerge from the summer with more confidence, knowledge, and work (and probably exhausted and weeping haha). The last workshop (I promise) is a four-week hybrid and multimedia workshop to learn to create visual art, poetry, and writing projects. I will finally be able to achieve my ultimate goal, wrapping cat text around an image of Minwu!
If you've ever been a 'hey I've always wanted to learn to write' kind of person, a lot of venues are offering free or very cheap workshops and events at the moment that you can participate in remotely. I'd be happy to recommend some options to you if you ask and tell me what it is you want to write. A lot of courses are geared towards beginners, so no worries if you are new-ish. I've even met a lot of people who are writing in their second language! Finally, I would, of course, be thrilled to help you with any writing- or editing-based projects you are working on.
In Minwu news: the other day, I was eating lunch and I had to work. I ate the outside part (around the crust) of a salami sandwich and put it on my desk next to my mouse, figuring I'd finish it after the class ended forty minutes later. I began class as normal. Minwu had left to go in the other room (I assumed to watch the bird or be with Cody). Twenty minutes later, a piece of bread hit me in the chest and bounced onto the floor behind me. I said some not-so-safe-for-work words and picked up the bread. The other part of my sandwich was gone and Minwu was half-cowering under the bed. I told my student I needed a minute, muted myself (thank God), got up and started pursuing him. He went to Cat Jail for a long time!
He had dragged the other half of the sandwich, salami, mustard, and all, under the bed to eat. I hadn't even noticed that he had come back! But yes, he is still alive and doing well. I don't think he ate any of the sandwich because he was too busy hunting the other half. Usually he's not very aggressive when it comes to food and he is also not very good at stealth. So it was a huge surprise when he hunted that sandwich! He does love popcorn, chips of any kind (we caught him once with his entire body in a Doritos bag), dairy products (I think something about the milk drives him nuts) and noodles. He is the curator of noodles when I make spicy noodles, with thin spaghetti/angel hair being his second favorite.
Two days ago, we had a huge bee scare. I had to teach and I came out into the sunroom for just a minute. One thing he is good at is finding bugs (usually small ones like silverfish). He will chirp at a silverfish on the ceiling until I notice and we Do Something about it. This time, he was very interested in something next to the window, so I came to expect. Now, this is a cat who jumps at birds and bees flying outside our windows, so I didn't have high expectations until I noticed that yes, there was an actual freaking bee on this side of the glass, and he was swatting at it with his paw. Visions of My Girl danced in my head and I had to run for a glass and trap the bee in between my water glass and a video game case that was sitting nearby. I didn't have time to do anything else so I rushed him into the bedroom and inspected him. He seemed fine, a bit curious as to why I was so crazy. I shut the door and taught my class since I didn't have time to deal with the bee.
Thankfully, Cody came home and dealt with the bee. He said Minwu had basically beat it up and it couldn't fly too well when he put it outside. Minwu was fine, too. If anything, he wanted to see where his new toy had gotten off to! I fear for this cat's life sometimes.
Okay, I don't think I can follow that one up with anything nearly as good. Just know that I'm thinking about you, wondering how you are, and hoping that we will come out of this moment stronger and wiser (and healthy!)
I'll be posting more in general as the days go on. If you'd like to support me, you can sign up on Patreon for just $1 a month. Today I'm spending quality time with Cody and Minwu and making art! I hope you have a good day, too.
Remembering Tango: +1 Year
Once, I was asked how many years it took for grief to go by, and I responded that it had been six years between Elizabeth, my first cat, running away and adopting Timmy, our new family cat. Timmy is alive and well, but Tango, the Bengal rescue cat we loved so much, passed away a bit over a year ago. Although he was old when we adopted him, he deserved the best life we could give him, and more of it in my opinion.
Pets are a strange subject to write about because they are both an eminent commonality and very proprietary. You risk adhering to the familiar and sentimental or boring your audience. I wanted to publish work about Tango; I wanted to prove that I could memorialize him in that way.
A while back, I wrote a blog post about list poems. I was experimenting with new forms, and that's how I won an honorable mention in the Binnacle's Ultra Short Contest this year for cat: a google search. Although I marketed it for the contest as poetry, it is nonfiction: a list of terms in my search history, curated over a year of owning a wonderful Bengal cat.
Why did this idea stand out? Well, after Tango's death it was hard for me to browse the web on my computer or ipad because I had spent a year googling cat terms including a lot of items towards the end of his life. Thanks to Google's autocomplete feature, which says, "Hey, you're searching for something that starts with 'ca'--let me suggest some things!" I couldn't look up anything, and I didn't want to clear my search history either. That, right there, is what grief is.
Although the first works I wrote as a child were fiction and creative non-fiction, it was poetry that captured me. In the fourth grade, our city shuffled school districts and I ended up at another elementary school--a relief to my parents, who had witnessed my social struggles, but not to me, since I had to start over. I ended up meeting a lifelong friend who just happened to want to write poems together. We lived an artistic life then, exchanging books, collaborating on poems, and even going to a writer's conference at the behest of our teacher.
Throughout high school, I wrote. Though I was working on two novel-length projects at the time, I filled several notebooks with poems of all sorts: experimental freeform, perfectly-metered formal poems, translations, poems that used different languages, poems and translations in a fantasy language I developed for my writing project.
In college, I stopped writing long-form fiction, and my poetry writing also tapered off. I wrote some short stories, but after I applied to a poetry workshop--because yes, you have to apply to take a writing class at Princeton--and got rejected, I thought my poems were derivative, useless. (I took one fiction seminar, in a semester riddled with personal issues, where I was afraid to write in my authentic voice and I had no idea who Chimamanda Adichie was.)
Between 2007 and 2013, I wrote almost no poetry, but I kept coming back to the urge to create. When I enrolled at Goddard, I wanted to work on poetry, but it took a backseat to fiction-writing because that was my chosen genre, and writing a thesis in two years requires concentration. I also happened to work with advisors who were not poets in any way. However, I did write a few poems, and even got published thanks to a spur-of-the-moment Rilke translation and a poetry class I took from UWisc's Writing Center (they're a great resource).
I say this because I've dealt with impostor syndrome, the feeling that you don't really belong and are lying about what you are, in many forms--when I first went to Princeton, when I first went to graduate school, every day as I sit here and pretend to be a writer. But there has never been a genre of work where I feel more like an impostor than poetry.
This is stupid because I have had so much practice as a translator it's mind-numbing, and because I went out of my way at Goddard to study the density and intensity of poetic writing.
Yet, even though I will never claim that poetry is my main genre, it is an annoying habit I can't quit, so I might as well get better at it.