Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Fighting In the Shade, by Sterling Watson - Power, sports, secrets, and the South

As part of preparation for my first MFA residency this coming January, I am reading the books of potential mentors. I just finished Sterling Watson's "Fighting in the Shade." While some of the setting seemed older, and perhaps too familiar in a way (I've seen it in movies) the style of writing made it entirely fresh and new. 

Michael Koryta summed it up pretty well, "Sterling Watson's polished prose carries this coming-of-age story smoothly from the enthralling to the unsettling, from the poignant to the disturbing, leaving the reader in emotional knots. An uncompromising look at sports, secrets, sexuality, and the South that makes a commentary on relationships ranging from personal to universal."

The only thing I would add to that, is the theme of power, physically, financially, relationally, etc. Perhaps this would be overlooked by male readers, as it may seem natural? As a female reader, I noticed it. Looking forward to meeting the author.

Monday, October 13, 2014

A little more human - We Are Us Because They Were Them

"After a while I realized that, even if I hadn't directly experienced war situations or similar situations, there was a reason people were bringing their lives and stories to me and wanting me to create poetry out of their testimony, although it took a long time to figure out that that's what was going on. I feel like I'm from a generation of people who didn't live through these experiences, but at the same time I'm a repository of these experiences. And I'm called on periodically to carry on the legacy or the memory that these people had. That's really a big part of my role as a person and as a poet, and I can't really get around it." 

- Cryus Cassells
(Interview in the October/November 2014
The Writer's Chronicle)

I'm not a poet, but Cryus' words clicked with me. Even though I'm not a veteran, even though I'm not the survivor of a horrible tragedy, even though I haven't lost someone dear to me, somehow deep inside, I know that I hear these stories and give them voice for a reason. Perhaps to bridge a gap between those who have experienced, and those who need to know. We all can become just a little more human. 

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Did I already live the best parts of my life? ... And Why I Did What I Did - Nathaniel Fick

U.S. Marines in Kuwait, February 16th, 2003
Photo Originally Property of the Federal Government

"I drifted after leaving the Corps. At age twenty-six, I feared I had already lived the best years of my life. Never again would I enjoy the sense of purpose and belonging that I had felt in the Marines. Also, I realized that combat had nearly unhinged me. Despite my loving family, supportive friends, and good education, the war flooded into every part of my life, carrying me along toward an unknown fate. If it could do that to me, what about my Marines? What about the guys without families, whose friends didn't try to understand, who got out of the Corps without the prospects I had? I worried that they had survived the war only to be killed in its wake." 

"I took sixty-five men to war and brought sixty-five home. I gave them everything I had. Together, we passed the test. Fear didn't beat us. I hope life improves for the people of Afghanistan and Iraq, but that's not why we did it. We fought for each other." 

- Nathaniel Fick, "One Bullet Away"

One thing in this book that really stands out to me is Fick's attempts to explain why he did what he did. But, yet, you can feel his regret in the words. He doesn't ever condone evil. But he shows so clearly, that sometimes the only choice he and his men had was between wrong and wrong, and he just did the best he could with what he had and hoped and prayed that he could live with the results. Perhaps the most evil thing about war is not only all the death and tragedy, but rather the demands it places on those who survive.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

How do we know we're human?

Fallujah, Iraq, November 9th, 2004

Gunnery Sgt. Ryan P. Shane Trying to Recover 
a Fatally Wounded Team Member

Photo Courtesy of the U.S. Military

We know we're human, because we feel. When we stop feeling, we must begin to question, what has happened to us? Feeling does not mean slogging through every day overwhelmed by the burden of grief and horror at the evils and pain in the world. 

Though some days may be like that. 

But rather, feeling means, that we look, we see, and we act. We don't just glimpse and walk on by. Something in our heart hurts when other's hurt, when we see the desperation that they lived. And we must do something. Prayers. Writing letters. Sending packages. Getting together with those left behind. Financial Contributions. 

Seeking to understand. 

Offering respect and gratitude.

Anyone who looks with anguish on evils so great must acknowledge the tragedy of it all; and if anyone experiences them without anguish, his condition is even more tragic, since he remains serene by losing his humanity.

- Augustine of Hippo

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Good Writing Isn't a Conveyor Belt

"Writing isn't a conveyor belt bearing the reader to 'the point' at the end of the piece where the meaning will be revealed. Good writing is significant everywhere. Delightful everywhere." 

Verlyn Klinkenborg - "Several Short Sentences About Writing"

When Acceptance Comes, We Dance in the Rain

Photo Courtesy of National Telefilm Associates - Picture in the Public Domain
The need for acceptance and validation reside on almost spiritual levels within our psyches. We crave other's approval, especially when it is difficult to acquire. Are we on the right track? Do we have what it takes? Do we matter? Did our Life Purpose walk on by us one sunny day laughing over its shoulder as we failed to reach out and snag it in time. 

Did we miss it?

I'm afraid I don't have the answers. How can we ever be sure that we're doing what we were supposed to be doing? Life, especially American life, has so many choices and any one of them could change our lives forever. It's like we're caught in "It's a Wonderful Life" with no Clarence Odbody angel to give us a glimpse into a different "what if" life? 

But writing isn't about success or validation, but rather the overflowing of a bubbling soul fountain. For many writers, it's not so much a question of if as much as it is a question of how. We write because we must.

And when the acceptance come, for surely it must if we keep at it, we embrace that affirmation and for just a moment, we laugh at the clouds, dance in the rain, and revel in the glory of knowing for just a moment, someone, somewhere thought we got it right. 

I was recently accepted into three MFA programs, Antioch University of Los Angeles, Pine Manor College, and Goddard College. I know their acceptance of my writing is at least due in part to the fact that I will be paying one of them a substantial amount of money. But not all applicants are accepted into these programs. My writing had something that caught their attention. And in that, there is encouragement and affirmation. 

"Priscilla Cash's manuscript . . . exemplifies solid character development and promising attention to vivid scenes. She also has a knack for creating tension." - Admissions Committee of the Creative Writing Programs of Pine Manor College.

So, I tuck the acceptance letter back in it's folder and walk away with my head a little higher, my step a little quicker, and my heart a little lighter.