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.

Friday, December 30, 2016

Observations: January, 2017

With the new year comes possibility. Sure, many of us are afraid for the health of America's states. We worry about the integrity of our new administration, we worry about basic human rights, we worry that families won't be able to afford basic healthcare and that our educational systems are broken beyond repair, but 2017 could surprise us. Our mistakes and complacency and greed are being amplified, and this can teach us a lot.

We got here together, to a time of disbelief and propaganda-fueled beliefs. We need to listen to each other more than ever before, and we need to talk to each other more than ever before. Things may seem dark, but I believe real change will come from it. In the words of the late Leonard Cohen: "There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in."

In 2016, I learned:
  • Family is everything.
  • Fear can either be turned into energy or it can sap energy.
  • The weak and uninformed follow anyone who gives them a common enemy and an excuse, but there is no enemy greater than hate and division. #resist #listen
  • If there was an award for person who places as a finalist in the most contests, I'd win in 2016. (Or be a finalist.)
  • I wrote that last bullet point before I got the good news below.
  • The word elitist seems to fit as many republicans as it does democrats. 
  • When you help someone to achieve their dreams, yours are more likely to come true.
  • It's OK to say NO.
  • It's not OK to avoid answering questions you don't want to answer.
  • I'm getting old. ("I don't understand why these young people don't look people in the eye...")
  • Transparency is fine, so long as you're a willing participant.
  • With all the loss of talented artists this year, we have a lot of powerhouse angels.
  • Art is more important than ever.
In 2017, I will:
  • Write unapologetically and as often as I can.
  • Stand up for what I believe and listen to those I do not agree with.
  • Buy my first home.
  • Eat well.
  • Exercise well.
  • Try new things.
  • Call those I love, even when things are going well or I have nothing big to announce.
  • Support my writing friends.
  • Learn from my students.
  • Support my family.
  • Tackle big problems one angle at a time.
  • Run on my own terms.
  • Find the perfect computer bag.
  • Age gracefully.
  • Drink more water.
  • Travel every chance I get.
  • Say NO to what is too much without guilt.
  • Say YES to what I want but scares me.
  • Post to this blog monthly.
  • Listen to everything and make the best decisions I can.
I'm excited to announce that my unpublished short fiction collection, The Glass City, won the 2016 Americana Prize for Prose. I'm hoping the book will find its way to print soon. I also received word that my short story "Running Toward the Sun" got finalist status in the Aestas Short Story Competition 2016 and will be published in Fabula Press's Aestas Anthology soon.

Prompt: Write a short story or poem that begins with the line "The curtain parts, and..."

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Observations, December: Part 15

The best way to reach out is to look within. Sounds good anyway, right? It definitely seems the basis for meditation and the theme of Westworld, so how can it not be true?

I've been taking a break from social media, specifically Facebook, to focus on a few writing projects. In a way, looking within through art. Or maybe I'm just strategizing about how to live in a less-than-ideal reality.

Whatever the answers... here are my observations from the last month:
  • Don't take HVAC systems for granted.
  • Internet advertisers: Send me a coupon, get a click. Send me twelve coupons, I'll block you.
  • Most of us are dehydrated (drink some water).
  • Cold weather = increased coffee consumption.
  • Basic civics, logic, and humanities curriculums need more attention in America. Too many people are under-informed and easily manipulated. 
  • Art saves. Action saves. Bitching is just bitching.
  • There are way too many dystopic films for my comfort. (*cough* education)
  • One can resist respectfully. Love regardless. Love relentlessly.
  • House hunting is equal parts fun and a PITA.
Prompt: Your character is living The American Dream. What's his or her day like?

I published a few interviews at Black Fox Literary Magazine and Superstition Review, both on writing/the writing life. Check 'em out!!

Love, Jen

Friday, November 11, 2016

Observations, November: Part 14

I've had trouble distilling my thoughts since November 8th.

I have worries surrounding the future of our nation, including the very real loss of my rights as a woman. I am worried about the economy, foreign relations, a racist police state, and illogical and emotional responses to real threats.

I saw this morning that the president elect said something positive in regards to the thousands who are protesting his presidency. Something about how their passion for country is a positive thing.

I can only hope this small bit of positivity, if genuine and not written by an intern, grows. I did not vote for Trump, and I do not feel he is fit for the position. He is not my choice, and quite honestly, I am terrified. I am acting, in what small ways I can to reroute. In case we cannot, however, I do hope I'm wrong.

I am thankful that good people surround me, people who give me hope. They remind me that in the darkest of times, the light shines brightest. It is Veterans Day, and today I will be going to an event at an elementary school in which our writers-in-communities program has been coaching young people how to write poetry and personal essays. Our students have been working hard and having fun exploring their creative voices. They remind me that people are resilient and strong. Tomorrow's generation may still be about unity and inclusion. Today, the children will perform a poem in tribute to our vets. I am eager to see their light. I think we all need it.

I hope to be back to my normal self next month. Right now, I'm just too sad.

Thank you to all who served and serve. Thank you to those who are shedding light during a time of division.

In solidarity,


Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Observations, October: Part 13

I'm writing this after the second presidential debate. This, the town hall debate between Donald Trump, reality television star turned presidential candidate, and Hillary Clinton, former New York Senator and Secretary of State. The debate was painful to watch, and I won't dwell on it here, but I will say that I think our country needs the arts more than ever. We need a Renaissance, a wave of innovation and insight to offset what seems an increasingly uninformed and divided country. We need to grow, not devolve.

A few other observations from this past month:
  • This election engages. It engages because it infuriates, much like a bad script. I hope the nation does not condemn itself. I hope those who take the trouble to self-educate and read widely vote. 
  • Locker room talk is still talk. This is still a story. It will continue to be a story until November 8th.
  • People who go all-out with Halloween decorations are just good and fun people, in general. 
  • Westworld is reflecting some scary truths.
  • Clowns are just fine. Scary clowns are not. Not all clowns are scary. (Logic!)
  • The news today feels like the bad day-time TV of my youth.
  • The first few cool days in South Texas are divine.
  • Teaching is one thing, teaching well is another.
  • There is nothing as gratifying as a good story.
  • Marginal utility should be practiced with all food and drink. It just makes sense.
  • Loosing the internet at home for an evening can lead to unexpected peace.
  • Reading is good for the soul, so check out my new short story, a ghost story: FORTUNE IN SMOKE at SFWP Quarterly.
Ahti watching Westworld

Creativity: Write about or draw a clown who is a hero, a champion of all things good. By doing so, you may write a fantastic short story/create good art and restore balance to the world.  



Monday, September 26, 2016

Observations on Mood, September: Part 12

Here's the overview of my day so far (if I survive, it might be comical): illness kept me up in pain all night; in the morning, I purchased the wrong item at the grocery, so I had to go back; rain flooded my neighborhood; lunch looked good but wasn't; I finally got reimbursed for a extraneous charge from a company but ended up having to pay more than that for my prescription because I haven't yet met my deductible; I got backed up on work; I took a pain reliever that gave me hives; I logged on to gmail to find that everyone who hasn't gotten back to me in the last two weeks decided to email me today; I had trouble concentrating because I was tired; I responded to a personal email after misreading it, so had to respond again, but the person had already responded to my response, so it kept on; my leg fell asleep when I tried to meditate, then I fell asleep and almost hit my head on the wall (still trying to meditate); I found it difficult to exercise; and so on.

This day makes me want advice, but instead of asking someone, I'm thinking about all the advice I'd give someone else who is having a bad day. Are you having a bad day? Ordinarily, I'd say...

  • Meditate
  • Read
  • Exercise
  • Eat well
  • Talk to a friend
  • Be grateful for what you have
  • Drink lots of water (I say this to people no matter what's wrong)
  • Take a bath
  • Take a long walk
  • Hang out with your dog or cat or bird

I didn't drink that much water today, but I tried most of this other stuff at some point. Now, I'm brooding. I'm dwelling in my misery, digging deep into it and adding up all the factors. In fact, I'm starting to feel a weensy bit better with each word I type, so maybe the secret to being in a bad mood is to just own it fully. Maybe when we try to fight the bad feelings, they fight back.  

Creativity prompt: Write or paint or sketch something inspired by a truly horrible day. (The book above is fantastic, by the way.)

Recent publications (short stuff): Polygon in Chicago Literati, Lottery Days in Literary Orphans.