Sunday, April 22, 2018

Observations: Dublin Vacation


Dublin seemed the obvious destination. We would be close to various restaurants and tourist attractions. It would be easy to call a cab or rideshare, and stunning natural sights, such as the cliff walk from Bray to Greystones, were close enough by to visit by bus.

When I booked our trip to Ireland, it was almost a year in advance, and the excitement around the idea was palpable. The trip kept my husband and I going on twelve-hour days, during the coldest days of winter. If the electricity went out or we got a flat tire, all we’d need to do was mention Dublin, and the vibration in the room would heighten. Now in our late thirties, this would be our first solo vacation. Unlike all previous trips, we were not going to visit family for the holidays, nor did we have work-related activities waiting on us. It was just us.  

I told everyone. Friends, family, and work associates were either excited or feigning excitement for me. All I could talk about was how refreshed I’d be when I returned. An incredible trip was non-negotiable. After all, every minute becomes precious when the overworked are finally able to breathe.

Off we went!

After a redeye and a half hour cab ride, my husband and I were equal parts exhausted and elated. We arrived at 8 a.m. in need of a place to lounge before our hotel room would be ready. That first day, we bummed around in the neighborhood near Phoenix park, taking walks nearby with our luggage stowed safely at the hotel. We talked about how crazy it was that we had an entire week to ourselves as we reveled in our haze of gratitude, which was augmented by a good island rain.

Then came the next morning.

The cappuccinos and breakfast and questions. Why did neither of us feel settled? And why in the hell were we both still thinking about work? It shouldn’t have taken so long to purge our to-do lists from our busy minds, nor should either of us have done the inevitable … checked email. Not only was the email checked, but it was continuously checked. In fact, our first full day in Dublin was riddled with work-related anxiety that piqued in the middle of our first nice dinner.

There is nothing to be done when the inevitable travel argument arrives.

We both saw it coming on the headwind of jet lag, strengthened by the persistent proximity that a small hotel room demanded. We traded a few mean jokes after a our meal, which were received sourly and soon became truly mean comments, then accusatory comments about whose comments carried more acridity.

This is when it dawned on me that a true vacation could be impossible.

There came a point when my husband and I, two tough-knuckled Gen Xers, almost forty now, getting invitations to 20-year high school reunions, needed to remind ourselves that we have opportunity to slow down, and if we don’t take it, it could be quite some time before the opportunity returns. Mindfulness, living in the moment—it’s all so trendy because it’s all so necessary to offset the constant churning. But how to turn off the switch?

I meditate daily, so I can say with authority, it can take more than meditation. Sometimes, it takes a bit of good, old fashioned, Gen Xer grit—the same grit it takes to work so hard—to slow down.
On Day 3 of our vacation, my husband and I wandered the streets of Dublin. We breathed in the rainy, overly green beauty; its unabashed street art and poetry; its brightly painted doors that led to museum after museum, pub after pub. To combat our busy minds, we agreed to shut down the phones and walk until thoroughly and appropriately soaked.

We walked to the EPIC museum (which stands for Every Person Is Connected), to the Writers Museum, and to the National Museum of Ireland. We walked to shopping malls with slightly better-cut clothes than those at home. We walked to cafes and used our phones for little more than pictures. We soaked in the island moisture as well as its pride; its widely-promoted and episodic history of oppression and uprisings, captured so adroitly on a plaque on Parnell Street that displays a telling message by Liam Mac Uistin that ends “O generations of freedom remember us, the generations of the vision.”

The freedoms of all people are often taken for granted, even squashed by our desire to achieve. Or another’s desire to achieve.

We worked long days for years to buy a home, to be able to travel; we went into indentured servitude for a higher education that enabled us to work through weekends in order to find these small bites of freedom in the form of a few days doing little more than existing and consuming. Seeing Ireland, a country home to ancestors on both sides of our family tree, was the prize. We worked our adult lives for the freedom to read Uistin’s message and do a proverbial face palm as we reflected.

After the grit-filled walk, our fast-paced purging of burdensome thoughts, the trip truly began.
It began in the middle, and we came to see what was all around us. After 21,000 steps, then 23,000, then 26,000, our heels screamed, but we could see and feel it all. The fighting could be dodged after that purging, a sleepless night could be embraced, and the hundreds and thousands of people we walked with and past, those with whom we traded words and shared music in restaurants and malls, could all be met with presence.

Even those people we merely read about in museums, who couldn’t have imagined a reality in which voyages were taken so easily outside the mind, were points of connection. Those who would laugh at the idea of a small electronic device that could reach out to family from across oceans and offer us every comfort may have also been able to predict the burden of such immediate connectivity. 

Our perceived inability to disconnect is a self-inflicted oppression that seems heightened during times of supposed reprieve. But this, like jet lag, can be eased with time. And so, after walking it off the way we Midwesterners are wont to do, we began to enjoy. If you go to Dublin, I recommend that you buy a good umbrella and walk. Dine at Chapter One (there's an affordable pre-theare menu), walk quickly beyond Temple Bar (photo opp is enough), savor a Nespresso at the standing-only coffee bar, enjoy the museums.

My husband and I spent our last days enjoying the food and sights thoroughly. We watched those outside moving with heads tilted down and smiled at the few who looked straight ahead or over to nod. 

We are all going somewhere, but sometimes we need to pay attention to what is here, now. 




Writing News: Fiction is forthcoming in Juked. A few essays at Elephant Journal. An excerpt from my novel-in-stories earned semifinalist status from the Book Pipeline Competition, so I hope to have news there soon. #stillwriting




Saturday, February 17, 2018

Observations: February 2018

I spent a bit of January in San Francisco, San Jose, and Sunnyvale. The rest of the month was a blur of snow, work, family, and writing. In that order, unfortunately. Nonetheless, I learned and/or observed in January/early Feb:

  • Silicon Valley is full of contradictions. And super nice bathrooms.
  • The value of visual art is at least 50% backstory.
  • You never know who you're talking to.
  • A needless sex scene can ruin an otherwise good move (cough ... The Shape of Water).
  • Irony is something people don't like pointed out, but it needs to be pointed out.
  • If people want rights to your image, it's not usually for a glamorous shot. :) 
  • When partying with rich people, go for the second glass of wine. 
  • Driving a van is easy, parking a van is - as feared - tough.
  • Writing is a gift, but it's a tough one to keep.
  • Nonprofits are going to have a tough go of it under this administration. As are people. I mean all people. 
  • Yoga is my jam.


Writing news: New work in The Disconnect (as the name implies, you need to go in Airplane mode to read it). More new work in Flexible Persona. This one won an award (2nd place ... I'll take it). 



Thursday, January 11, 2018

Observations: January 2018

Is anyone out there?

Yes or no, I am back after a cross-country move,  a mystery stomach virus, a new job, and the quiet release of a new collection of short stories. It's been a busy couple months, and I have the eye bags to prove it.

It's 2018, and I have a few observations about the last few months, and the glorious/horrifying new year thus far. I thought I'd share...

  • Resolution should not be a bad word, and resolutions should probably never include any diet-related goals. 
  • Busy people are the most reliable solely because they have momentum.
  • Some fears are not evident until you are presented with a challenge. Case in point: I am thirty-eight, and I just realized I am afraid of parallel parking vans. 
  • Writers don't have a choice.
  • It's easy to lose focus when self-consumed.  
  • Mantras work, but they demand time. Same with meditation and any other mental training.
  • Health clinics in grocery stores are fine, but they need a separate entrance! Come on, people, don't make contagious sick people walk past registers, the produce section, and dry goods to get to the clinic. By that time, their airborne, germ-filled droplets have probably reached dozens.
  • #MeToo will only count if we continue the dialogue. This is not whining or lecturing. This is reality, and change is possible but only with conversation and consistency. 
  • Business people and artists seem to want recognition in equal measure. Likewise acceptance, respect, recognition. Same deal, different package.
  • Leaders are not necessarily good people, but there is such a thing as a good or principled leader, and we should demand that one lead our country. 
  • As much as we need to be entertained, not all entertainment serves us. (Just like as much as we need to eat, not all foods nourish us.)
  • Friendship is work, and it's the best work.

Writing News:

The Glass City is out! Buy a few ... you'll be glad you did.
The Best Small Fictions is out! 
Buy them both in multiples. Samples are here: http://www.americanpopularculture.com/review_americana/fall_2017/knox.htm

Friday, April 7, 2017

Observations: April, 2017

My father once told me he'd been a genius for a few days. For fewer than a hundred hours in his life, sometime in his early forties, everything made sense. All the pieces fit, and everything felt easy to him. In those days, art flowed (he's a visual artist), math was cake, the right word was always on the tip of his tongue. Answers came readily, and nothing felt overwhelming. The universal codes seemed to materialize everywhere. Then, he said, as fast as the feeling came, it disappeared.

I like to believe those genius days hit us all, though they will sometimes be more dispersed - seconds or minutes spread out over a lifetime. I woke up this morning, after what I think was a brilliant dream, worrying that all of my genius time will be spent asleep. One can hope we all have a few minutes to come.

Some observations from last month:
  • Today's terrorized are tomorrow's terrorists.
  • If you trust that people can rise to the occasion, good or bad, they usually will.
  • Belief in one's self is easy for a day, but becomes tougher to maintain as time passes.
  • Writers need to constantly remind themselves to value their words and value their time.
  • As I get older, I know what I like and I know what I don't like (but sometimes I still realize I'm wrong).
  • Artists need to fight harder, write/create more. #resist
  • Buying a house now is like building on a cliff when the view is most beautiful, just before the rampart begins to crack below us.
  • College lectures make me happy.
  • Human connections are everything.
  • A society is only as fiscally healthy as its people are physically healthy.
  • I should probably start journaling during these dark times. I think we all should.   
Writing News: "Lottery Days" was selected for inclusion in The Best Small Fictions 2017, guest edited by Amy Hempel. It should be out in September, and I'm really thrilled to be a part. I'll post a link when available. Also, The Glass City is in the works and should be out from Hollywood Books International around the same time. I'll post the date soon. In the meantime, I got in a few blurbs. Here's one...

"Jen Knox is a master cartographer of the human psyche. In the stories of The Glass City, she maps the depths and complexity of the human mind against the backdrop of a future so possible yet so surreal that it’s nearly futile to try to set the book down. I kept telling myself, just one more page before bed, just one more story—until I found myself turning the last page in the middle of the night, having forgotten to eat dinner. Ultimately, The Glass City is the miracle of artistic imagination at its absolute peak: read casually, it thrills and entertains us with insightful depictions of who we are; read deeply, it shows us who we can become." 
—Melissa Studdard, author of I Ate the Cosmos for Breakfast
Prompt: Start a story or a piece of art with the line/idea "I never told anyone..." Write as long as you'd like.

xo Jen

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Observations: March, 2017

A few observations for March....
  • Giving without thinking about personal gain ends up bringing personal gain.
  • I've meditated for over 60 days straight, and the only way this is possible in my life is to lock doors and/or wake up at 5 a.m.
  • I've meditated for over 60 days straight, and I'm just now over the angry-all-the-time stage.
  • Repetition, for all its simplicity, is probably the fastest way to brainwash large numbers of people.
  • People will only hear what they want to hear, until they see.
  • Distracting people is not difficult in the digital age. (This is what's happening while we're distracted by Twitter: https://www.congress.gov/)
  • Mobility is a blessing and a curse.
  • Magic is everywhere, but it can be condensed in story.
  • Transparency is both a blessing and a curse.
  • I cannot make myself enjoy drinking any beverage that contains bubbles.
  • Espresso, as a general rule, is far less potent than drip coffee.
  • If all adjuncts quit, the system would have to change (more of a speculation than observation).
  • Making space means creating opportunity.
  • Minds can change.
Also, a new story about coffee addiction, coffee pretension, and public speaking at The Saturday Evening Post, my favorite publication to work with.

Prompt: Pick a pic and write for 20 minutes: http://photography.nationalgeographic.com/photography/photo-of-the-day/people-culture/

xo Jen

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Observations: February 2017

I just got back in town from a trip to Ohio, where I visited family, then a trip to D.C., where I hung out with 12,000 writers at the AWP conference. I learned a few things.
  • Saying goodbye is always hard.
  • Life will end, and might end soon, so live it up.
  • Shiny scrambled eggs will never fail to hurt my stomach (see: free continental breakfast).
  • Free scrambled eggs are tough to say no to (see: free continental breakfast).
  • Michael Bolton is rather funny.
  • Fiction does pay.
  • Sudoku can create the illusion that one is good at math.
  • Sleep is helpful when I want to be charismatic.
  • Sleep is helpful when I want to be coherent.
  • Airports are the only place I will read an entire magazine.
  • Daily controversies are exhausting.
  • There are a lot of writers in the world.
  • Writers are the best people in the world.
  • Lyft rocks.
  • D.C. is oddly enchanting. 
  • History reminds us how much we forget.
  • Twitter behavior says a lot about a person. 
  • Radical self-acceptance is great, but a healthy amount of self-critique propels growth.
  • The amount of talent in this world is staggering.
  • My neighbor's dog's howling coincides with ambulances (took me too long to figure out).
As a creativity prompt, consider a routine. Pick a place you find yourself often, make it the opening setting of a new story. Pick a routine, and try to incorporate that as well. As for your character, make him or her your opposite. If you're an extrovert, make this person an introvert. If you're cheery, make this person a curmudgeon. You get the idea.

Till next month, folks...

xo Jen

PS - I updated my site. If you check it out, let me know if it takes a while to load. I'm struggling with it. http://www.jenknox.com/

Monday, January 23, 2017

Short interview with Agnes Marton

What an inspiring week. After seeing the peaceful outpouring of supporters at the Women's Marches around the world, I can't help but feel hope for our country. People are power.

Speaking of strong women, I sent the amazing Agnes Marton a few interview questions and am thrilled to share them with you today. Agnes will speak on creativity and the creative life. So, without further ado...   

Agnes Marton is a poet, writer, Reviews Editor of The Ofi Press, founding member of Phoneme Media, Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts. Recent publications include Estuary: A Confluence of Art and Poetry (winning the Saboteur Award) and her poetry collection Captain Fly’s Bucket List. She has participated in an expedition to the Arctic Circle.


Hi, Agnes! Thank you so much for taking the time to answer a few questions. So as a writer, I'm curious as to what a day in your life looks like.
I have a day job – otherwise I avoid routines. I write whenever I can. I travel a lot. I love writers' residencies.

When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
At the age of four when I became a compulsive reader and storyteller.

What inspires you to write a poem?
Deep and complex feelings.
Anything unpredictable.
Myths (but then I create my personal mythology).
Travel (however, I don't describe the landscape – I observe how my attitude changes).

What's the last book you read?
'The Wonder' by Emma Donoghue and 'A Manual For Cleaning Women' by Lucia Berlin.

How did this collection come together?
It seemed reasonable to compile a collection of my poems while preparing for the London premiere of my opera 'Captain Fly's Bucket List.' I hadn't written the poems with the intention of compiling them but I put much effort in editing the book, in shaping the three chapters, forming an arc. Now, on my return from my Arctic Circle residency, the situation is different. My responses to this expedition will definitely make a book, I've known that from the very first minute.

Do you ever find yourself creatively blocked, and if so, how do you find your way through?  
Not really. I have a close look at some unusual details, and immediately feel like writing.

Do you ever use prompts?
Rarely. When I'm invited to submit to a themed anthology.

What advice do you have for other writers?
Don't write when you have nothing to say. Wait.

What is the best advice you ever received?
Leave your comfort zone.

What are you working on now?
I'm in collaboration with visual artists Sarah Gerats and Viel Bjerkeset Andersen, their videos are accompanied by my Arctic poems. Also, with composer Vasiliki Legaki, we are creating the extended version of our opera. It is scheduled to be performed at the Burning Man Festival in Nevada in 2018. 

Thanks for stopping by!

I'll be posting again in Feb, so prompts are forthcoming... in the meantime, here are a few links to writing residencies.

Observations: Dublin Vacation

Dublin seemed the obvious destination. We would be close to various restaurants and tourist attractions. It would be easy to call a cab or...