Friday, May 27, 2011

Do Other Things

Artists don't wait for approval, and they don't wait for anyone else to tell them that they're good. But they do have to wait until they think work is ready. They are true to the voice (that elusive thing!), and they make that voice as strong as possible through hard work and constant reevaluation.

There. That's my art-centered, self-improvement rant. And, to be completely honest, it's a mantra as well as a statement. I've had a little trouble getting new work down lately. The reason is, paradoxically, because I've been getting more acceptances of my work lately. You'd think confidence would improve, right? Oddly, the opposite is happening. I'm feeling a heightened pressure each time I put a work out there for consideration. I'm rereading my old work and wondering why my current work feels so comparatively inadequate. Granted, when that old work was current, it too felt inadequate.

I guess what I'm saying is that I'm having a little bout of block. I've been spending most of my time copy editing, which I actually love to do. It feels like exercise, and better, it pays. Also, I've spent a lot of computer time preparing a syllabus for a summer course that I'm hoping will make (we adjuncts never know) and outlines for a few appearances I'll be doing in SA (more soon). And yes, I have been writing. But the writing has been slow-going, and I suspect that the reason for this is that I'm putting too much pressure on myself to ride the publication wave. It's the same problem I had when I was just beginning to write--the whole write to publish mentality--when by now I should know that to write is to take the first in a long series of steps. Write, ruminate, revise, do other things, revise with distance, cut all unnecessary words, do other things, reread, then think about publication.

I'll get over it, I know. Writing is, after all, about ups and downs. If I'm down, there's only one direction to go. In the meantime, I'm going to try and have some fun this Memorial Day weekend. I'm not drinking like, it seems, the rest of the world will be. But, I will be partying, in air conditioning (San Antonio just hit 110 on the heat index -- and it's still May!!!). I'm not saying I'm taking a break from writing. There's no such thing. But I am definitely in the "do other things" part of the cycle with much of my existing work. No matter how much we writers perfect routines, the very nature of this work doesn't allow for too much conformity. This is an easy thing to forget.

Happy Memorial Day Weekend Everyone!!!   To doing other things!!!

Monday, May 23, 2011

Born from Rejection

Late last week, I got word that To Begin Again won the 2011 Next Generation Indie Book Award for Short Stories. This is beautiful news, but let me tell you, I'm not here to pat myself on the back! I am humbled, and though I can't make the awards ceremony in New York, I will be there in spirit, imagining what it would be like to accept a physical award for a creative work.

I remember the awards ceremonies I ued to attend for running races, how it felt, walking up to receive a medal for completing a five mile race. I tended to win in my category (for me, it was easy because I was usually the youngest in the race, collecting the 10 & under awards with routine smiles and winks). It was a nice feeling but one that proved a bit underwhelming and always made me think of the next race. Even as a child I knew that awards were a pat on the back, a pat that would be nice but would not carry me to the next race. After shelving the award, it was back to training. 

In this case, I have to say, it is not underwhelming, it's simply nice. Let me just say, the stories in this collection are all dear to me. Some of them were published in literary journals, such as Annalemma Magazine and Foundling Review prior to the publication of this book, others were not. Many of the stories were rejected many times. But, for the record, I've taken any rejections, digested them, and aimed toward learning from them. In an odd way, I'm thankful for those rejections because without them, who knows, many of the stories in the collection might not have been nearly as strong.

So, as I accept my award in my solitude, on my blog, I want to express my appreciation for both the honor and recognition but also for those who were keen and honest enough to tell me I might want to revisit a story or two in the collection while they were still in the process of being molded. It is the urgings of some generous editors as well as exhaustive revision that makes a collection of short creative works. I do hope that you'll consider reading the collection as we indie authors struggle to be read. We don't have the corporate backing of the big houses, but we have no less interest or drive to share our art. If you read it, please, let me know what you think. It is my goal and plan to make the next book (the problem novel-in-progress (anything this problematic will either be great or trashed in a few years)) stronger than anything else I've written. In the meantime, you'll get a glimpse of the character in this book (see Wallace). 

So, I appreciate the pat on the back, and I will strive to keep moving forward and not, as a good friend advised, rest on my laurels. I have writing to do. :)

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Responding to Art: Language and Place on the Edge

Image by Mark R. Knox, KnoxworX Multimedia
I looked to her for definition. The artificial. The perfect. She redefined delicacy when she found her place in nature, in images around my home. She held my own rough image, magnified, enlivened, so that I only wanted to close my eyes in front of the mirror, hoping for smoother lines. Fragile, younger then, I looked to her, to art, to the place of light. I look still. And sometimes the light peeks out, around the trees, above the moist and fragrant ground. It begs reflection, tells me to seek other forms of beauty. Look to the whole, it says, redefine.

This image is one of my father's "Mannequin Series". Each piece within the series stars the same mannequin--sometimes pieces of her. She is often photographed in natural scenes or against gritty backgrounds. She creates smooth, gentle lines, always in contrast to the enviornment. In this piece, I like the juxtaposition between the artificial perfection of her hands as they hold up a fragile, mirrored orb and the dark, textural beauty of the forest. I wrote this to examine the juxtaposition as well as my own definition of beauty in art.

More about Language and Place on the Edge here:

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

A Time to Heal

I tore a tendon (I think) in my wrist a month or so ago, which made my work - writing, teaching online, grading, editing - incredibly difficult. I kept my hand as idle as possible for a while, which helped.

In the past few weeks, however, I've been on the computer even more than usual, trying to makeup work that was lost when my computer was stolen. I got a few gigs doing contract work, techincal writing, which will help pay bills (yay!) but also adds to my computer time. So in the midst of all this typing, my hand and wrist began to ache and swell again. I really think I need to stay off this hand and wrist altogether, but I refuse to stop writing in any capacity.
Illustration by Christopher J Shanahan

I'm doing my best to work left-handed, and this brings me to my reason for this post. Writing left-handed (my non-dominant hand) is tough, but I've been doing it. The strange thing is, the slowing down of the process is proving oddly beneficial. With the slowing comes frustration, sure, but also a more intentional, carefully-worded first draft when it comes to my creative work (which no torn tendon will keep me from).

This is the sort of thing that takes energy and dedication, not to mention time, but I suggest it as an exercise: try writing, or even typing, with you non-dominant hand. I recomend starting with something really short. But try it. It's a strangly beneficial exercise. There's science to support the fact that ambidexterity is benefical in that it stimulates both hemispheres of the brain, which makes a person more adaptable and better at sports (I could stand to have a little more coordination, believe me). Although the left hemisphere is responsible for language function, the right hemisphere is responsible for spatial abilities, music and visual imagery (yes, I minored in psychology): all functions that can work to heighten the artistic output on the page.

We'll see how this goes... If you try it, let me know how it works for you.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

A Fun Essay in Pure Slush

I wrote a little piece entitle On 'Friend'ship, an analysis of the nature of social networking sites. Here it is in PURE SLUSH

After you read it, if you agree with me, 'Friend' me. Here I am on Facebook. :)!/Author.Jen.Knox

Coming Back

Oh boy! Things get messy when your computer is stolen. This past week, I've felt like a chicken with her head and feet cut off, spinning around on my ass, trying to figure out which way to go and how to get there. Despite this feeling, however, I have finally begun to catch up with my work. I've been able to salvage most of my writing projects and have quickly recreated lesson plans to get through the last few weeks of the English courses I'm currently teaching. There's still a lot to do, but things are looking far more manageable.

So, now that I've been through this ordeal, I wanted to share with you a few things that have helped me to bounce back quicker from such a loss of information:

1. Dropbox - This is an excellent service, especially for writers, to back up work in a way that is secure. Dropbox saves your writing to the cloud, which means even if you lose your computer and your drives, you still have a saved version of your writing accessible on the web. A Twitter friend of mine suggested it, and to him: Thank you!

2. Rewriting - There are times when I just need to rewrite and never do. I've known this for some time, but it can be a difficult step to take unless forced. Rather than revising a thing to death, which seems easier, sometimes a piece just need to be started over, with new energy and new resolve. Of course, I was forced to do this. I had a really short story that I had been reworking for a few months, and on one of the nights I couldn't sleep over the past week, I decided to just rewrite the thing, and guess what? The kinks came out in an organic sort of way I doubt they ever would have if I found the piece and continued to tinker at it.

3. Appreciation - There's nothing like catastrophe, even a minor one like getting robbed, to remind me how valuable it is to write through the hard stuff. Writing is always there for me, and again it has served as a way that seems far more therapeutic than any counseling I could undergo. The strongest writing comes from a push of emotion, and whether or not this writing is shared, it remains my foundation, my grounding.

The beauty of being a writer is that nothing can stop us from doing what we do. Writers are resilient that way.

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...