Cisneros and More Random Thoughts on Failed Writing

I had the opportunity the summer before last to attend a Sandra Cisneros reading here in Illinois at the National Women’s Studies Conference. Attending this reading also inspired me to read her latest book Caramelo and I have to say I was so inspired by her words.

As I enter Week 12 of my creative writing course here at Lincoln Land I do not feel I have been able to inspire my students. And this is nothing new–I felt this at Colorado State and at Oregon State. I used to believe and repeat the mantra in my head that writing was about inspiration. But I have to say over the last few years I have had trouble motiviating and inspiring myself. I felt this even though Stephen Minot tells us we as creative writing instructors must not only read and write but also lead our students. And Wallace Stegner wrote we must “enlarge our students.” Somehow create interest in the act of failing to create fictive spaces from draft to draft. And I again I find it dificult to lead myself at times. And it felt so good to hear Cisneros echo these words. In fact she went as far as to say internet relationships and familial relationships motivated her more than her individual drive to write on a consistent basis. I was 32 at the time I saw her speak and she related several anecdotes about being 32 and finding dead ends throughout her career–personally and professionally. Perhaps that alone was why I connected to her.

This site is my continual try to inspire myself to get words down. Now, since that ficton reading I have completed the Huerfanos novel and have begun a new project I call the Notorious Cornbread Baca project. In Cisneros’ words–you just have to get it down no matter how it comes. So maybe she has inspired me and motivated me in more powerful ways than I can easily articulate for myself.

As for my students, I continually receive emails from them regarding their trepidation and angst regarding workshop and having to sit in a room while others speak of their writing. Audiences can be so scary but for that is not as fearful as not being able to get it down as Cisnoeros stated. Everything else is just literature and not passion or life as Rimbaud would say. So perhaps my fear of failure in relation to audience is less than my fear of failure as it relates to getting my words down.

I have Ray Carver notes from reading his book Fires where he also dreads finding the time to focus and concentrate on longer projects–works of fiction and non-fiction. I have similar notes in my reading of Kerouac’s published journals. The need in both of these manuscripts to simply write beats out the need to succeed. In one letter Kerouac says no one will accept his manuscripts and he feels like the only thing that will accept him is death. And I love Kerouac so because of his undying want and need to simply become a writer of quality. Like Cisneros to get something down for an audience before inevitable breakdown or death.

Now Cisneros also went there in her lecture. She spoke of spiritual failure as it relates to failure of her art or of her aesthetic. Her depression was so profound she says like everyone in their 30’s she felt if she could not write successfully she would have to end her life. Failure in creation of art leading to a feeling of a feeling of failure in life–with no end but to terminate life. She spoke very lightly about it regarding the end of a love affair she was in and the end of a stage in her life and her fear in beginning the next stage. Expansion of consciousness like Frank Water describes.

Failure in writing perhaps then is more personal–or failure in art in general–might seem more powerful than failure in keeping a job or keeping sober. These are the things that connect me to my Tio Lolo and his consistent failures at legitimate life. I have strong fears about that. Fear of not paying rent or fear of not doing for myself and having to rely on others. Those of us who live alone or do not have strong family bonds understand that type of failure.

So am I saying that the young chicano artist feels failure more personally? Or the writer with no consistent father-figure in his or her life? No, but I am saying that failure in manuscripts feels like falure against a dominant literary tradition–a canon of more stock writing. And, yes, when I receive my failure of publication notices I do wonder if it is about the content of chicano identity I try so hard to explore. Or maybe it is the lack of quotation marks. Are there connections to Lolo’s not fitting in to a more legitimate world and to my not fitting in to publishable markets?

More on failed writing to come…

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john paul jaramillo

John Paul Jaramillo’s debut story collection The House of Order was named a 2013 Int’l Latino Book Award Finalist, and his most recent work Little Mocos is now available from Twelve Winters Press. In 2013 Latino Boom: An Anthology of U.S. Latino Literature listed Jaramillo as one of its Top 10 New Latino Authors to Watch and Read. He is currently a professor of composition and literature at Lincoln Land College-Springfield, Illinois.

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