Chuck Palahniuk’s new book might be one of the most down to earth texts on the craft of writing. And I’ve long admired Palahniuk and his craft of writing–his fiction and his non-fiction. And back in the day when I started teaching fiction, I started using his lessons from litreactor.net and his compiled 36 Writing Craft Essays by Chuck Palahniuk. I used them in my classes and for my own education on craft. Reading his work in those days led me to Amy Hempel and Tom Spanbauer. (The book is dedicated to Tom Spanbauer by the way.) I very much enjoyed his take on the pretentiousness of heavy lit and how-to workshops and texts. His criticisms made me think of my own thoughts on the Writing Fiction by Janet Burroway text I use in my classes and how I feel the text doesn’t quite communicate with my intro to fiction students. There are so many lit references I don’t think they can swim with–the examples and lessons the text brings seem very heavy. That book seems good on paper for intro to fiction and I used that since my grad school days in courses. Palahniuk’s work on the other hand references films and television in a way I believe the Burroway craft text and others like it do not. And I enjoyed learning more about Palahniuk’s growing up and family life only hinted at in other essays. This may be a book when out in paperback I can bring into my classroom for a more practical way of teaching literary minimalism and writing process.
Over the last six months I feel I am finally back on a consistent writing and reading schedule. Finally taking the time to free write chapters and ideas for short pieces I’ve been carrying around in my head. This working–this practice of writing–has also come to include meditation and free writing. And it’s all because of a workshop I attended while on sabbatical.
This past June I attended a workshop and meditation seminar I’ve been wanting to get to for some time. Natalie Goldberg’s New Mexico retreat and workshop was called Sit, Walk, Write. The focus of the workshop being meditation and writing practice–the practice of sitting and engaging with my notebook.
Where can I begin with how much wisdom and inspiration I brought home. I guess the main lesson from the books–Writing Down the Bones and The True Secret of Writing–is that of equanimity. The workshop focused on writer and artist stability through guided and unguided meditation. We also practiced walking meditation which is a practice I’ve enjoyed since being introduced years ago at a Buddhist seminar. Mostly we worked individually and in small groups writing to different selected prompts and then reading the work aloud.
I’ve been back from the workshop for months now and I still think of the lessons. As a writer who studied in an MFA program I am usually prone to hating prompts or exercise like this–I’m supposed to be beyond it. But the practice–approaching the work as practice–has become so vital and necessary to my creativity. And I’ve blogged here about the importance of free writing and I’ve emphasized with my students the importance of notes and iterations of work. But recently I’ve felt re-invigorated. And I’ve even brought together small groups of friends to sit and meditate and practice. The simple exercise of bringing together focused breathing exercises to calm the mind prior to a deep dive into my notebook has been so productive for me.
One thing we also discussed at the workshop and something I’ve been wrestling with after MFA grad school was how to continue exercises in creativity. We discussed how to discipline one’s self to produce but also to care for one’s self. Natalie Goldberg emphasized taking care outside of and beyond school. To put one’s mental heath before productivity and she stresses the idea of patience and practice. Practice makes practice she would say. She emphasized getting away from computers and the internet and rely on the mind and the notebook to get down thoughts, sitting and spending time with one’s thoughts and notes.
What I perhaps was most impressed with was the message from Goldberg beyond writing. She asserts this practice of meditation and understanding one’s mind goes beyond writing but to broader mental health and mental consistency. Sitting and writing to understand one’s mind is the more meaningful way to develop as a person and not just as a writer.
I’ve admired Alfonso Cuarón for a while now–Y Tu Mama Tambien and Children of Men are two of my favorite films. And I was happy to find many similar themes from those films. And this latest film is visually stunning–I’ve read he directs and acts as cinematographer. The motif of water and family strength stayed with me long after viewing.
Discover your new favorite author at our Latino Author Spotlight!
This author meet + greet will feature two incredible authors: John Paul Jaramillo and Amy Sayre Baptisa. Monday evening 6pm-8pm at Maeva’s Coffee. Free drip coffee will be provided for guests of this event.
John Paul Jaramillo, author of “The House of Order” and “Little Mocos”, was named Int’l Latino Book Award Finalist for both of his story collections. Named in the “Top 10 New Latino Authors to Read” by Latino Boom, his works are a profound narrative of the Latino community. Jaramillo will be sharing a reading from his most recent short story collection, “Little Mocos” and will be available after for Q&A.
Amy Sayre Baptista’s work has appeared in countless publications. She has been awarded a SAFTA fellowship, a CantoMundo Poetry Fellowship, and a scholarship to participate at the Disquiet Literary Festival in Lisbon, Portgual. Her work is written both in English and Portuguese and often explores the nature of immigration and immigrant communities. Baptista will be sharing work from her September 2018 release “Primitivity” and will be available for Q&A following.
We hope you will join us to celebrate these two amazing artists and share in a cup of coffee!
Such an odd and strange little book from O’Brien. What I liked: Definitely not a book you can easily categorize. The plot was meandering–more so than At Swim Two Birds–and completely unpredictable. A place wholly away from reality was the setting, and late in the novel we learn the “place” of the novel was a type of hell. Again, a novel reminding me of David Lynch’s Twin Peaks–an exploration of a created place parallel to reality trapping guilty souls. As multi-dimensional as a book can become–an exploration of time, place and dimension. I very much like the spirit behind the line, “A journey is an hallucination.”
Spending more and more time before getting to sleep at night reading and trying to re-develop my focus. And I decided to work on Barthelme’s syllabus and suggested readings. And O’Brien’s book At Swim Two Birds was a challenge–rather a maze of a book. A labyrinth, to steal from Borges. Have to admit I put the book away again and again.
What I enjoyed: I liked the meta-fiction and idea of a book about writing a book about writing a book. And I most enjoyed the idea of characters being developed by a writer–or I guess more specifically an un-skilled writer. And I enjoyed the idea of those characters turning on the author. It is telling I guess that I completely related to the idea of the lazy writer and student. I also like the idea of Gaelic mythology mixing with the author’s reality of writing a book. What I didn’t like: overly clever and overly cute opening.
When finally finished I was feeling a James Joyce vibe and thinking of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. A parody of Irish styles of storytelling. A post modern version of Joyce’s modernist Irish style.
Over the last year or so I am finding I have more and more unread or half finished books on my desk and shelf. I think that has to do with an issue of focus and depression. And I have revision tasks I’ve put off and off for far too long as well. My Monte Stories manuscript I am now calling simply Carlos Montoya I’ve yet to get back to in a more meaningful way. And this is distressing because I’ve always prided myself on my work ethic. Maybe in the past I have had a way of focusing on work and distracting myself from family, personal and work issues.
So what are my excuses? The year has been stressful and I chalk it up to grieving personal losses. I blame my lack of discipline and my own loss of a literary way. I don’t stick to schedules of reading and writing I make for myself. I devote most of my time to teaching and grading–prepping for classroom lectures. So balancing family issues and work have gotten the best of me. I have blogged quite a bit on this site about the need for the writer to balance writing and teaching and obviously I have put teaching first and the writing has fallen by the wayside unfortunately.
So what to do about it? Well I did happen to get my stuff together in terms of applying for a sabbatical from my school. So I do have the time in the near future to focus on my writing and my revision. And now I want to get on track by focusing on a lists of books and a goal of reading. My thought this last weekend was to to do something I’ve wanted to do for a while–reading more of Donald Barthelme’s suggested books from his syllabus. There are 82 books listed on here and hopefully I can get back on track by devoting more time to read these 82 selections or as many of these 82 as I can.
I’ve been listening to One Hundred Years of Solitude as an audiobook and watching this documentary on Marquez’ life and work. I’m still taken by the idea of a large story following several generations–seven generations I think and I’m taken by the idea he was influenced by his Grandparent’s stories where local stories, fantastic details and family legends mix together. I also love how the doc is unapolegetically in Spanish.
Quite a few students asked me about watching this 2017 Netflix documentary on Joan Didion. One of my favorite writers and I enjoyed the film. Fascinating to see personal interviews as well as to hear excerpts of some of her iconic essays.