1. What are you working on?
I have two projects in the works right now. The first is a series of poems that I’ve been calling prayers to my body part(s). These grew out of the realization that I am a creature of multitudes: my belief that some essential version of myself is in control of all the rest of it is entirely misguided. In my body live a hundred voices, all yammering away at once. Eat the cookie. Don’t eat it. I’m bored! Let’s be quiet, let’s drink water. Itch, scratch, sigh & sleep. This is what health looks like: a cacophony of body bits that grumble and mumble and battle it out. I realized that any dissatisfaction I might have about my body — its shape, history, behavior, abilities — was driven by my assumption that my head is in charge of the rest of the body-minions, who should shape up, shut up, and fall in line. Turns out, my poor ham-brain is a failing dictator who needs to appeal to the generosity of his subordinates. In acknowledging and celebrating various bits of the self, physical and otherwise, I’ve found a way to get to give voice to aspects of my identity that have been otherwise under-represented. The characters and relationships that have grown out of this way of thinking about my body have been surprising to me; I often write from the mind, not the ankles, and it turns out that my ankles have a thing or two to say… and they sure don’t sound like the typical brainy-voice that keeps me company so much of the time. Berryman had his Mr. Bones, but I have a whole host of fleshy interlocutors who root and holla, sass me back and pick me up, hold my nose in all my mess and let me get away with it.
The second project is a series of braided essays called “This Word Is.” Each essay uses a single word as a hub, or a lens, to tell some kind of story. I look to etymology, connotation, social context, personal anecdote, and the mystical, magical properties of language to bring everything back together. The very kind Kristy Harding of Paper Tape Magazine has been good enough to edit and publish this series.
2. How does your work differ from others of its genre?
How could it not be different? There’s no such thing as same. Even if there was, every now is something new. Isn’t that exciting? Besides, I can’t be Shelley Jackson and I can’t be Lauren Zuniga, but I can covet all their sweet moves.
3. Why do you write what you do?
Because it’s fun. Because it’s hard. Because words are free and don’t require as much prep and clean up as clay or paint or ballet. Because it helps me see my self inside my world inside my process of perceiving it. Sometimes, because it’s what I’ve stumbled into, and I might as well. Sometimes, because I’ve assigned something similar to my students, and it’s only fair I do it, too. I think the hardest thing about writing is to actually write the way you do, not the way you wish you could. Finding the authentic self inside all the ego and intention is a challenge, and its own reward.
4. How does your writing process work?
My writing moves like an old-school roller coaster: it’s slow to start, and everything underneath me feels clunky and exciting, all at the same time. I always question the viability of the mechanics: was that noise natural? how far up does this thing go? at what point do I bail on this contraption? — and so on. Then, just when I’m sitting at the apex, at the crest of the track when all motion seems to halt and hang in the balance, I like to stall the process, wait a few days, admire the view. Then, it happens all at once, and I don’t have much say in how it goes. In other words, in the actual writing, I have to stop worrying about the wisdom of my choices. I have to just keep up with gravity, because isn’t this — this writing, in itself — isn’t this good fun & oh god, when will it be over? Then — afterwards, I try to laugh a little, shake it off. I eat some toast to settle my stomach, do something that requires direct contact with the earth. I move my mouth around in the word-shapes most people use to communicate with others. I pass myself off as a functional human who does the normal things that normal people do. Later on, I find my inner editor and delete half of what I’ve written, re-write almost all the rest, and then re-read it obsessively until I almost know it all by heart. That’s when I ask someone else to give me new perspective, and suddenly, everything changes and I say pluck up, girl (and then I work some more) and then I call it done, and if I’m very lucky, I can say that I still like that story, that that was a good ride.
Many thanks to Barbara Duffey for including me in this round-robin blog tour! Barbara is a fabulous poet and professor — check out her work at http://barbaraduffey.com.
Next up on the blog tour will be Kirsten Jorgenson, writer, teacher, new mother, and no-sass-taker-from-anybody-er. You can find her work in all corners of the internet, including the blog Public Radio.