Writing: The Toolbox V

A writer who waits for ideal conditions under which to work will die without putting a word on paper. E.B. White

One of the greatest challenges of the writing process is not the writing itself, but the inception, the starting, the beginning of writing: sitting in a chair on a new day to write a new page, a new story, essay, or script.

Writing takes concentration and immersion. The battle against procrastination rages daily; the resistance to take the plunge is constant, the hesitation before the leap almost inevitable. The private hell of the writer is the unsung heroic quest. How can it be explained just how much grit it took to resist the urge to check emails or “like” another dog on Facebook? There is no medal of honor for the uncommon valor of tackling the uncertainty and doubt of the new day of writing. But there are a few tools that can help along the way. I continue my series writing about the collected tools of the craft, based on my long-standing experience of writing screenplays and books.

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13. Take Your Time

At the beginning of a writing a project, there is that slow burn that wants to take its time, before it develops into a raging fire. I don’t worry about fanning the fledgling embers at first. It’s important to protect the new creative process. Too much air will extinguish the young flame of inspiration. Every change requires adjustment. I am not concerned about the page count on the first few days during which I’m just getting my bearings. I need to feel the world, immerse and go under first, before major strides can be made. I build in time for smoldering. I research and dream and think and feel the characters and their stories before they begin to inhabit me. When characters start talking by themselves, I know I have finally entered the world and am in that zombie dream state. I will vehemently fight to stay there until the end. Once the pictures and dialogue come effortlessly, I know the path has opened up before me, and all that remains is to scale the mountain to the top. Before I’m comfortable and acclimated, I don’t push myself into frustration. I just let the writing catch its flow.

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14. The Daily Page Count

I am an immersion writer. In order to write, I have to dive deep into the material. And in order to stay focused and keep the words flowing, I have devised one trick that works for me: page counts. I like numbers. I like page numbers and word counts—numerical trickery for the mind. Like mile markers that show your slow progress to your destination, I watch the pages and words and take heart that, despite the arduous climb, there is progress being made and the distance keeps shrinking. Every morning, I set a goal for that day’s page count. When I write screenplays, that daily number is usually twelve pages. When I write a book, the number is fifteen or twenty. The number is arbitrary and varies with each project, it could be a five hundred word article, or a five page essay—as long as there is a goal. I might not always reach that goal or I might write beyond it, but the goal helps me gauge how I’m progressing throughout the day, and gives me a feeling of satisfaction that inspires me to write the next day. The daily page count means I don’t stop until I’ve reached my goal. I will write from morning until midnight if necessary, to get it done. There’s a great deal of satisfaction in having met my goal for the day. It keeps me going and that is what matters most.

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  15. Outline

This is a controversial one. There are many writers who don’t like to outline, never outline, or begin writing to find the story as they go. I’m not one of them. I don’t like to outline, but there are many reasons why I do like to have an outline—one that is as detailed as possible—to guide me through the writing process and keep me on track. I write many stories that are based on true stories set in real life, for instance, and it is imperative for me to know what parts of real life are being kept for the narrative, and which are being omitted. I also usually have to write fairly quickly under a deadline, and the outline saves a lot of time. Writing with an outline, even when that outline might change, cuts down on a lot of doubt and anxiety. It keeps the narrative on course and forces me to conceive of my story before I even begin to write, which includes developing my themes, metaphors, and meaning. My outlines will contain a numbered list of all my planned scenes, details about character motivations, intentions and feelings within those scenes, details about the locations and settings of each scene, and the dramatic progression which sets up the narrative for the next scene. I’ve seen many young screenplay writers end up having to re-conceive their scripts once they reached the third act because they found the set-up wasn’t working and they had written themselves into a corner. It could have been avoided by looking at the big picture. The creative process is something to nurture. Find tricks to keep it going from day to day. Don’t force it, let it flow. And consider having an outline, as it might minimize the doubt and maximize the output.

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Previous posts in the series:

https://lunchticket.org/writing-toolbox/
https://lunchticket.org/writing-toolbox-ii/
https://lunchticket.org/writing-the-toolbox-iii/
https://lunchticket.org/writing-the-toolbox-iv/

All images courtesy of Bettina Gilois 

How To Tell If You’re A Writer

You might be a writer if all of your books are at the bottom of your bag because you packed them first.

You might be a writer if you see landscapes in descriptions. The cumulus clouds drifted high above us; the water lapped its wet tongue at our toes.

You might be a writer if you mouth the words “he said” when your friend tells you stories. You avoid modifiers, though, because that’s B-league.

You might be a writer if you can’t leave your notebook behind, not even when you travel to exotic locations. Panama. Iceland. Machu Pichu. Vacation? No. New place to scrawl words.

You might be a writer if you don’t know what some of your biggest idols look like.

You might be a writer if the smell of books arouses you.

You might be a writer if you are prepared to employ your friends’ personality traits in fictional characters.

You might be a writer if Alzheimer’s terrifies you more than any other mortal disease. You would rather your body wither than your mind.

You might be a writer if you find yourself gravitating towards words, reciting them repeatedly under your breath, simply because they sound good. Deforestation. Defenestration. Slipstream. Slipshod. Reshod. Relegate. Renegade. Reengage. Reprimand. You are concerned that this is a sign of Alzheimer’s.

You might be a writer if you think the word meandering is really fucking cool.

You might be a writer if a part of you becomes excited about a bad breakup. You think that poetry comes from misery.

You might be a writer if you have ever heard the word duende.

You might be a writer if, when someone asks you if you’ve read a work written in a foreign language, you immediately ask, “which translation?”

You might be a writer if you are able to state that you are a writer without examining your shoelaces. You still think it’s a conceited thing to say.

You might be a writer if you’ve heard the above quote numerous times, but cannot attribute it.

You might be a writer if you have something to say about Oxford commas, semicolons, and how lists are best written in threes.

You might be a writer if using a thesaurus feels dishonest, duplicitous, deceitful, dishonorable.

You might be a writer if you write in thought interruption because—squirrel!—your mind works that way.

You might be a writer if you become secretly and unreasonably resentful when a peer uses a word that you do not recognize.

You might be a writer if your brain overflows with fleeting profundities, but you find them impossible to grab hold of.

You might be a writer if you caught the sentence-ending preposition above, and you’ve already rearranged the sentence in your mind.

You might be a writer if your head is full of words you can spell and define but not pronounce.

You might be a writer if you find the following sentence funny: “I looked out the tiny window at the airplane’s carefully constructed wing. It was riveting.”

You might be a writer if you see tragedy in flippancy.

You might be a writer if you fall in love only reluctantly because of your resistance to the ideal. The perfect partner is boring, you think. Flat. One-dimensional. Give me character flaws. Give me emotional instability. Let me cavort with crazy. Let me tango with terrible. I only jive with jealous.

You might be a writer if you can’t stop alliterating, even though you know it’s terrible.

You might be a writer if you find it difficult to have experiences because you are always wondering if this would make a good personal essay.

You might be a writer if you defer emotions for when you are alone and able to put them to paper.

You might be a writer if you assume strangers cannot possibly notice you staring at them. You are, after all, the invisible narrator.

You might be a writer if you read every one of these reasons why you might be a writer, because you already know you are.

Adobe Bookstore. Photo credit: Alex Simand.

A Week in the Back Bay

We wandered your city

for five days, hemmed within

those same cobbled creases,

tucked between brownstones-

mordant lines grown soft

in the damp October night.

 

As the slow, sibilant traffic

parted for us with lumbering grace,

we streamed through the darkness,

faces pearlescent, strung together

in shadow, flowing into

patient, silent homes,

or hidden cafes carved

into sheer cliff sides.

 

Children of green steel trestles

and granite curbing, unwearied-

my vision fails before the end

of your wharves and spires

that stretch beyond

the sharpened fume of idling taxis,

and bleared lights

that sting the wet asphalt.

 

What is it you see among

these crumbling abutments

and slabs of crooked concrete

shelved against the silhouettes

of trees that drip and quiver against

the chain-links and brick?

What words form for you

in this dim language,

dissolved and dank beneath

these watery lights pooling?

 

Cleanliness

Ammonia is a wrinkled sting,

a reedy fist of bees

that prickles kitchen counters

like a morning sun’s

rasping, saffron luster.

 

And the snap and tang

of bleach that fries olfaction

will gouge and grate-

a flaming tabletop glaze

that sizzles in its livid puddles.

 

But the lye that hisses

in malignant whispers

from the can of oven cleaner

shears the sheen from porcelain,

scours blenching lungs,

 

diffuses through these rooms

as if to blear, dissolve,

all dross and flaws

within this house,

like the breath of a fastidious god.

 

Timbre to Color

Today I have at last perfectly matched ‘v’ with “Rose Quartz” in Maerz and Paul’s Dictionary of Color.

— Vladimir Nabokov

 

“Azure” leaves the mouth thrumming on the tongue

like a tooth-trapped hummingbird-

the iridescence of a fly rattling in a web.

 

The acrid chartreuse scent of tansy belies

its yolky glow, while the strokes

and curls of its name evoke

the taut, smoky skin of an aubergine.

 

A matchstick flaring has a fine-grained,

saffron edge that abrades against stillness,

then abates to a lambent sigh.

 

And the mottled sky is steadied

by the weight of these wave-tossed cobbles,

heeled into a sea as smooth as a herring gull bone,

bleached and salt wind-burnished.

Kevin CaseyKevin Casey has contributed poems to recent editions of Grasslimb, Frostwriting, Words Dance, Turtle Island Review, decomP, and other publications.  A graduate of UMass, Amherst, and the University of Connecticut, his new chapbook “The wind considers everything-” (Flutter Press) will appear this spring.  He currently teaches literature at a small university in Maine, where he enjoys fishing, snowshoeing, and hiking.

A Third Path in the MFA v. NYC Debate

When my brother was little, his bedroom was a minefield of broken things. He took stuff apart, wanted to see how it worked. Toy cars, radios. He was just as happy with hand-me-down junk from our grandparents’ basement as he was with something new from the store. It all had the same dismantling fate. Beware, bare feet. Bits of Hot Wheels in the plush carpet awaited a trespasser’s vulnerable step. The greatest gift to our family was a huge denim bag that closed with a bright red drawstring and, when fully opened, was laid flat in a gigantic circle. With the bag spread out on his floor like a round tablecloth, my brother could work happily for hours, and then our mom would cinch up the drawstring and stuff it in the closet. Easy clean-up and foot-friendly floors.

There’s a debate in the literary world about the merits of attending an MFA program versus simply experiencing life and writing. (Here’s the book, a Slate piece, a New Yorker piece, New York Times, Salon, and a personal essay series on the topic at Zoetic Press.) I find the whole discussion fascinating, and it’s worthwhile not because there’s any right or wrong way to hone a craft, to develop an art, or to live a life, but because the robust discussion is like my brother’s parts-strewn bedroom floor. Working writers are taking apart their experiences, holding magnifying glasses to their lives, and offering advice to emerging writers. How did they build their writing life? Where did they learn to do what they do? What experiences gave the best bang for the buck? How do they make a living? What path do they recommend?

So far, my eighteen months in AULA’s low-residency MFA program have been deeply gratifying. But, in my time here I’ve found a third path that offers invaluable experience for an emerging writer. If we’re talking about bang-to-buck ratio, hands down, the advice I’d give to any writer is the advice Antioch’s MFA program director, Steve Heller, offered to me in my first term when I came to his office and asked what I should be doing to support my interests in writing and teaching: find a literary journal, volunteer to do whatever needs doing.

I’ve been serving on Lunch Ticket since a few months after that conversation, and do not intend to exit soon. I have found that the main qualities I seek in the MFA program—to develop as a writer, to develop skills and credentials for professional growth, and to connect with a community of writers—are deepened by serving on this journal. Lately I’ve been trying to sort out the reasons why. Here are a few:

Develop as a writer. Like my brother with his toys, being a writer means taking things apart, trying to figure out how they work, or why they don’t. As a reader for the Creative Nonfiction submissions that come in, I’m always unscrewing sentences, holding a magnifying glass to the bits, shining a flashlight on myself, on my attention, on my reactions. While reading, I map the structure of a piece, take note of the style, voice, story. I discern levels of polish, and whether a piece feels complete, or if it still needs work. Reading for a journal is much different from reading already-published work. It offers the opportunity to read pieces from writers across a broad spectrum of skill and artistry. Much like how yoga is good cross-training for a runner, reading submissions is good cross-training for a writer. There’s as much to learn from pieces that don’t work as from pieces that do.

Develop skills for professional growth. Like every shiny toy car that my brother dismantled, publications have a lot of moving parts. They’re all nuts and bolts on the inside, full of web pages and publishing schedules. I could have paid for a WordPress class, but being on the Blog team has provided hands-on learning. Being a reader on the CNF team has meant learning how to write clear analysis of a piece to back up my opinion of it, and to effectively discuss submissions with my co-editor and our assistant. Working with the copyeditors, and copyediting the Blog, has meant a sharper eye to typos, formatting, and grammatical issues. Being Blog Editor has helped me hone my developmental editing skills while working with the wonderfully varied voices of my fellow bloggers.

Connect with a community of writers. Most literary journals are built and staffed just like Lunch Ticket—with writers. We all know the solo journey of writing, the lonesome company of sitting with our thoughts. Being part of a journal means having a lifeline to people grappling with their own solo paths. Here at Lunch Ticket, everyone struggles with time, how to balance art and life, how to write authentically, how to get over fears. We check in with each other, and every person on Lunch Ticket knows the hesitancy of a submissions button, the hope of an acceptance, the sting of rejection. We read each other’s work when it’s published, and share the links with our other communities. Corresponding primarily through email, half a year usually goes by before we see each other face-to-face. Still, we are connected, and we bolster our individual writing journeys through our shared work on the journal.

Perhaps one of the most emotionally valuable benefits I’ve found is that working on a journal puts rejection in perspective. I imagine most journals want as many submissions as possible. We do too. Generally, the higher the quantity, the higher the quality. And yet the volume of submissions can be humbling. So many to read. And then I find an essay that floors me. I know the whole pile was so worth it just to find this one piece. I vote to publish it with a resounding YES, only to be countered by another reader’s tepid “hmmm.” We discuss it, and every time I am reminded that, when it comes to reading personal essays or poems or stories, there is no such thing as objectivity. What hits me with its beauty struck another as overwrought. Or my co-reader reminds me that we just accepted another similarly-themed piece a week ago. Sometimes, simple timing plays into the mix. So, too, does basic space limitation. We send the rejection letter, hoping that our careful wording buoys the writer more than it stings her ego. We are all that writer. We want to be buoyed up with hope, at least enough to send us back on that lonesome journey of sitting with our thoughts, writing them down, and sending them out.

My little brother’s all grown up now. Like most older sisters, I am constantly shocked at how much taller he is than me. Who knows where that bag with the drawstring ended up. I imagine it was passed on to another kid when my brother outgrew it. I am tickled by the thought that now, decades later, the bag might be spread on some kid’s bedroom floor, holding all the components of a toy car so that after she tears it apart, it can be put back together. This is what I’m hoping for myself also, from my time at Lunch Ticket. That this opportunity to unscrew other writers’ sentences helps me put  together my own. That learning the nuts and bolts of this journal gives me courage to submit to others. And that long after I receive my MFA diploma, Lunch Ticket stays cinched together, continuing the community of writers, because we buoy each other up.

Tricksack

Tricksack

 

Submission as Social Action

Once when I was in my early twenties, the tires on my car had gone bald, and my mother offered to take me to Sears to get replacements. At the time I didn’t even know the department store sold tires. And who still shopped there anyway? But my mom assured me that with a Sears credit card we could get a good discounted price. Having been a working mother of four for over thirty years, she knew more about this than me, and being a new teacher with few funds, I happily accepted her help.

“Will you be paying with a Sears card today, ma’am?” a boyish, blond cashier asked. My car sat on new tires just outside the automatic doors, keys in the ignition.

“I lost the card, but I can give you my ID.” My mother tugged at her license, stuck in a bulging wallet the shape of a brick, and handed over an ID that displayed the same address she has lived at since 1974. I wasn’t born until 1980, but 1974 is an important date in my family’s history because it is the year my parents moved from an apartment in Boyle Heights, a low-income neighborhood in East L.A., to their first and only house in San Gabriel, a sunny suburb ten miles east of Downtown Los Angeles and nestled below the San Gabriel Mountains. At the time, my oldest brother was only three and my mother was eight months pregnant with my second brother.

“I’m sorry, ma’am, but your name isn’t on this card,” the cashier said.

“That’s my husband’s name,” my mother said with a flick of her hand. My cheeks flushed because she never had patience for cashiers, phone tellers, or repairmen.

“But it’s not your name, ma’am, so I can’t take it,” the cashier said, looking nervous.

“Well, I wasn’t allowed to have a credit card when we got it,” she said matter-of-factly, and the skinny, reed of a cashier with loose blond hair and I shared puzzled looks.

“Mom, what do you mean you weren’t allowed to have a credit card?” I asked, confused.

“It’s an old card,” she sighed, “I never come to Sears. I don’t know, maybe I won’t come back.” She snatched her ID from the cashier and stuffed it back into her wallet, stuffing the wallet back into her over-filled purse that sat sprawled and gaping over the counter like a sinkhole.

“I’m sorry ma’am,” he said hurriedly, going back to the keys of the cash register, “I guess I can do it this once.” Within minutes the transaction was finished, and we were walking out sliding glass doors to my newly re-tired car.

It was a sunny afternoon. The San Gabriel Mountains created an impenetrable wall behind the parking lot that mirrored the walls I now imagined around my mother, walls I had never before considered.

“Mom, you couldn’t have a credit card?” I asked still dumbfounded.

“No. Back when we first got it, they would only let men have credit cards. I had to put it under your father’s name.” We climbed into the car.

“You put it under dad’s name?”

“Well, yeah. I applied for the card, but I couldn’t use my name. I had to use his.” She was short in her answers, and maybe still agitated by the cashier, so I silenced my questions, started the engine, and drove us home, just two women fixing a car.

Until that moment, I had never realized how close I was to a completely different reality from the one I lived. I was just one small generation away from living in a society that did not allow women to have credit cards, which meant they couldn’t buy their own cars or own property.

The car my mother helped me with was an army green 2004 Scion xB. It was my very first new car, and I bought it with a two thousand dollar down payment I saved from my first year of teaching high school English at a tiny private school in Arcadia. Like the car, the full-time job was a first too. When it came time to sign a loan, my mother agreed to cosign.

I remember sitting side by side at the banker’s desk, the contract laid out in front of us.

“Why are these numbers different?” I pointed to two places where the monthly payment did not match.

“The payments are scheduled for the fifteenth of the month, but today is the eighth. If we schedule payments for the eighth of the month, it won’t be different. Do you want that?” he asked me.

“Yes, let’s do that,” I said. After he made the adjustment, I signed, my mother signed, and then he took us out to the lot to show me my new car.

“You made me so proud, mija,” she said when we met back at home.

“How?” I asked.

“The way you looked over the numbers and asked questions. That made me very proud.” I never thought I was any different from her, but looking back now, I see it’s possible.

In 2011, I co-founded an organization with two other women called Women Who Submit. Our focus was to empower women writers to submit work for publication after VIDA: Women in Literary Arts began counting how many women were published in top literary journals and publications. What they found was no surprise. Compared to men, women were grossly underrepresented in the highest and most prestigious literary journals. When VIDA started asking editors why the numbers were so, the most common reply was, “women don’t submit as often men.” And many believed that statement because women are believed to be quieter than men, less aggressive, and yes, submissive.

When I think of submission and women, I never think of my mother. I think of grandmothers. I think of the 1950s’ kitchen. I think of a poster I once saw of a woman in nothing but an apron and holding a beer, next to a banner encouraging, “Know how to keep your man happy.” And even though my mother was born in 1947, I never thought of her living in that time. Maybe it is because my mother has never been the submissive type. In fact, she despises submissive women with their soft giggles and simple-minded pretenses. I was taught at an early age that I was just as strong and just as smart as boys, and I could never act otherwise. If my three older brothers could do it, so could I. Baseball, camping, twenty-mile bike rides to the beach, algebra summer school classes, if it was good enough for her boys, it was good enough for her girl.

In her own life, my mother worked full-time in Downtown L.A. offices as a secretary and clerk, but also took the jobs no one else wanted, like the office emergency manager—this person created the office emergency plans and scheduled earthquake drills. I never saw her do this job, but I imagine her wearing a hardhat and barking orders. At home, it was often me and my brothers’ responsibility to put dinner on the table and keep the house clean. This makes it sound like my father was not there, but he was. While my mother worked full-time and we were expected to keep the house, my father was allowed to follow his economic dreams and whims after he lost his job as a welder. There was a video rental store, a flower shop, a burrito stand, a party balloon business, a catering business, and weekends spent selling cowboy boots, serapes, and whatever goods my father could pick up on turnarounds to Tijuana at charreadas and banda concerts at the Pico Rivera Sports Arena. My mother worked Monday through Friday keeping the steady money coming in, but come Saturday she rose early to cook a vat of beans for burritos, or drove to the flower shop in East L.A. to bunch batches of white roses into prom corsages and boutonnieres. This was my first introduction to women’s work and gender roles, and from what I saw women could do anything because my mother did everything.

A Women Who Submit submission party

A Women Who Submit submission party

Women Who Submit was created with the idea that if we hosted submission parties—meet-ups for women writers in private homes where women could ask questions, gain support and resources, set goals, and submit work in real time—maybe more women would submit regularly, and maybe the numbers would change. Think 1950s’ Tupperware party, but instead of sharing products to improve our kitchens, we shared information to improve our chances of being published in the literary journals of our choosing.

Our first submission party was in July 2011, at my mother’s house in San Gabriel. Six women gathered around my mother’s kitchen table to create a lending library of literary journals, share food and drink, establish personal goals and submit work for publication. Every time a woman pressed “send” we cheered and clapped. And this is how the first submission party was born.

Soon after, we started to think of a name. I suggested “Ladies who Submit,” because it reminded me of “Ladies who Lunch” and thought it was a fun play on an activity seen as benign and shallow. But that got vetoed for Women Who Submit. I didn’t think much of the name at the time or the double entendre, until other women began to hear of us and make comments.

“Do you know what comes up when you Google Women Who Submit?” one woman prompted. When I tried, I found Bible versus, Christian sites, and the headline, “Submit to your Husband: Should Women be Submissive?”

Recently, our Facebook page received a message from a woman who was recommended to our site by a friend. She wrote: “I have to say, I was thrown by the name of the group. I lived through the ’50s …Cool idea…scary name.”

This statement made me realize that Women Who Submit is in fact the perfect name for our organization, because at its core it is a social action that helps women break free of societal boundaries caused by centuries of female submission.

Sometimes I think $0.77 to every dollar a man makes isn’t so bad. Sometimes I think 20% less representation in journal A isn’t so bad when journal B has equal representation. But then I think of my mother and how unbearably close it was that women couldn’t apply for credit cards, or own property, or work in an office without being harassed. The Clarence Thomas case took place in 1991, and it was only a short twenty-four years ago that the name Anita Hill and the term “sexual harassment” came into our public consciousness. And then I think of Juarez, Mexico where in the present day women are abducted and killed while on their way to work. And I think of those young women in Nigeria who were kidnapped from their beds and sold off because they wanted to go to school. And I think of women in Saudi Arabia being threatened with imprisonment and violence if they dare to drive.

Women Who Submit is a group of women who submit work for publication because they refuse to be marginalized. Through the support of community and resources we seek empowerment and equality in our chosen professions as writers, editors, and publishers. But more than that, it represents a voice for all women who refuse to be intimidated or silenced.

When I think of my mother, I think of her hard edges, her refusal to accept “no” and her ability to put her head down and do the dirty work. She’s a bulldozer, and I think maybe she got that way because no one else fought for her. No one else cheered her on. No one ever told her, “You made me so proud.”

Mom, you make me so proud!

Xochitl-Julisa BermejoXochitl-Julisa Bermejo is the 2013 poetry winner of the Poets & Writers California Writers Exchange, and her manuscript, Built with Safe Spaces, was a 2014 finalist in the Andres Montoya Poetry Prize. She has work published in American Poetry Review, CALYX, Acentos Review, Los Angeles Review, and The Nervous Breakdown. A short dramatization of her poem “Our Lady of the Water Gallons,” directed by Chicano activist and Hollywood director, Jesús Salvador Treviño can be viewed at latinopia.com. She is the creator and curator of the quarterly reading series HITCHED and a co-founding member of Women Who Submit.

Some Memories of Daniel G. Reinhold

Daniel in his studio, Ithaca, NY

Lunch Ticket’s inaugural poetry editor and MFA graduate, Daniel G. Reinhold, died unexpectedly in the early hours of Tuesday, April 21, 2015, while sitting up working at his computer. He died as he lived his entire adult life, engaged with art. Daniel had been a member of the Antioch community in one way or another for five years, touching the lives of countless students and faculty.

Daniel was an artists’ artist—a painter, writer, and poet. In all his media, he infused color with pathos and humanity. His brilliant, vibrant paintings of animals and objects, the surprise of his surreal and absurdist poems (i.e., Icarus eating only chicken because chickens cannot fly, a man who replaced his broken heart with a piñata, a woman in a hospital selling thought balloons to the Thought Police), and the truth-telling of his memoir, were each populated with people and animals, storytelling and engaging loss.

Daniel Reinhold, Watermelon Dog, 1998. Acrylic, 18 X 24 in.

Daniel Reinhold, Watermelon Dog, 1998. Acrylic, 18 X 24 in.

Other younger artists may complain about what art “costs” them in their “outside” lives. For Daniel, there was no “outside” of art. Everything real could fit inside that sphere of his creating. He made a series of digital art, titled after the times he spent “on hold” with various corporations. He sent all his friends an annual rhino holiday card. Daniel’s commitment as a working artist spanned four or five decades and many geographies. During the half-decade he spent connected to Antioch, Daniel shared his move from Ithaca to New Orleans, the construction of a house and studio there, followed by his marriage to Patty (the love of his life with whom he had passionately, triumphantly reconnected), the generous and embracing family they had recently formed together with a young adult son, Lionel, and later with Daniel’s mom and two dogs. Daniel and Lionel planned and took trips together, traveling up to Northern California after Daniel’s MFA graduation, and into many corners of Louisiana.

Daniel Reinhold, Holiday Card, 2011. Electronic art (distributed via email).

One of Daniel’s holiday cards, from 2011. (distributed via email)

Over the years that Daniel and I knew each other, we participated in and shared any number of meaningful conversations about writing, his writing, and community engagement around the arts.

In the last conversation we had in early April 2015, we tossed around ideas about the purpose of art in a life. Was art a stay against oblivion? A method of consciousness, a way of being present here and now? Was the purpose of art to be famous, to have a poem in the New Yorker? Then Daniel suggested that art mattered most to him in the quirky honorable communities of practice that form around its making. He told me that while he worked hard on his poems, and was proud of his craft, and would love to have a poem in the New Yorker one day, it was more important to him to let his art mix and mingle with the art of other people, to show up to readings, even when he felt shy or it was hard, to appreciate the way art delivers us to one another.

Daniel with Zelda the boxer, Ithaca, NY

Daniel with Zelda the boxer, Ithaca, NY

Our wireless connection was spotty. We had set the appointment to ‘catch up’ a week before. But Daniel liked to take artist field trips at the last minute, exploring the Mississippi Delta and its eddies, pulling off into the little communities of Louisiana to write or sketch. So on this morning, he’d decided to take a drive; in fact, we often talked while he was driving across bridges. And so it was that I last heard his tentative, dragging, thoughtful voice against a backdrop of seagulls and car sounds. He had pulled into the parking lot of a general store. The water was in front of him. I heard the light on the water glinting against his thoughts.

In the weeks since his death, there’s been an outpouring of very personal grief from the Antioch University Los Angeles creative writing community and the Lunch Ticket team. It turns out that we each thought some memory of this very private man belonged to us alone. One person’s Daniel had noticed when she felt lost and called her over and introduced her to someone who became her best friend. Someone else’s Daniel had pointed out how to do an annotation in their first term in the program. Several people’s Daniel had recognized a need and had begun the MFA residency’s first twelve-step program. And Daniel’s mentors (I among them) had shared Daniel’s thrilling creative process, and had planned with him how his memoir could be finished, his poems make it out into the world.

Daniel Reinhold, Michael: My Brother, 2000. Acrylic, 48 x 36 in.

Daniel Reinhold, Michael: My Brother, 2000. Acrylic, 48 x 36 in.

Uncertainty and discovery, dogged discipline and shame and suffering, are part of what living as an artist implies. Daniel exampled for so many of us what it could mean to make adequate room for ourselves, for a self the size of an artist’s—not only under duress, but as a day-in, day-out commitment toward self-gentleness. In spite of life’s challenges, he was unendingly positive—returning again and again, in full awareness, to a brighter palette. A kind man, both in art and life, he treated others with tenderness and steady compassion. Something about the space Daniel moved through always increased the possibility for truthfulness in other people.

At his graduation from the MFA program in 2013, Daniel left me an encaustic painting of a sailboat, its vivid yellow sail high against a complex red sky. It hangs to this day in my office. Although we never spoke of it, I think he knew that I’d see it as a life boat. I think he wanted me to have one.

So I like to think of Daniel up there on a bridge. His work is still down here, all around us. Light is glinting off the water. I miss him. I miss that beautiful, positive man who knew all about the shadows, but never loved them or stepped willingly into them. I miss his color and his light.

I need his voice in the darkness.

—Jenny Factor

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HURDY-GURDY MAN

by Daniel G. Reinhold

The all night pawn shop on Alvarado Street
offered me a hundred and fifty bucks
for the piece of the moon I stole
on that first fragile night we met
after the sweat lodge above San Miguel.
I was passionate about selling it,
driven like a junkie on a mission from God,
sweaty and fidgety, shaking like a leaf
(pardon the cliché I am delirious)
searching for an answer to a question
you had asked me in despair.

You seemed troubled by the enigma and the paradox,
the terrible ennui and angst of the fallen,
angels in the rough you call them,
prisoners of their own desires.
I am indignant and yet pious
as I barter with the pawnbroker.
I want two-hundred and fifty bucks minimum
for that stolen piece of moon
He says two-hundred bucks tops.
It is a Mexican standoff.
(Again pardon the cliché. I am now forsaken)

You have become ambivalent,
deliciously ambiguous at best
after those two years we spent in Algiers.
We were once motherfuckers for the cause,
troubadours of the tenuous night,
succubae for freedom.
I was never a pantheist or a panhandler
though I sold myself for silver and gold.
(I am no Judas.)

All this rigmarole started when I poisoned you
in Marseille
with botulism and grace.
It was before the cabaret
and the hurdy-gurdy man was pissed.
(He was always pissed)
Light a candle made of earwax and alfalfa,
let it burn until its flame expires
and then I’ll promise you anything,
I’ll promise you our little piece of moon,
I’ll promise you anything,
I’ll promise you rain.

Jenny Factor is an archaeologist of object and mind. Her poem collection, Unraveling at the Name (Copper Canyon Press), was a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award. She serves on the Core Faculty at Antioch University Los Angeles.

Word from the Editor

As this is my final issue as Editor for Lunch Ticket, and thus my last “Word from the Editor,” I wanted to take a moment to reiterate what I think is a core belief of the magazine before exiting.

Now more than ever we writers face the question of whether art can still function as a vessel for social change. I say that it can, but there first needs to be a revaluation of the role of the artist in a world where change is continuous and swift.

How can creative writers make an impact on such a world? Simply put: through sharing the moral imagination. Everyone understands there is a relationship between art and culture. Unfortunately, the growing trend in contemporary writing is to further deepen our culture of impatience, intolerance, and violence. The moral imagination still exists in art, but too often it lives on only in small and often unread pockets. The role of the subjective has become so prevalent and lauded that we need to remember that art is inherently an outward expression—that while we use it as a form of self-expression and self-excision, it is as much a form of communication, a way to share ideas and experiences with others for their sake and benefit. While art is at its core concerned with telling the stories of individuals, it can function as a vessel of wide social address. What we say as writers matters. And we shouldn’t shy away from saying what we must when we worry that it may be disagreeable. We must not be afraid. Art has always been controversial, the controversies and struggles surrounding and depicted in stories and poems and other forms of art lead to change. We must unite private conscience with public responsibility—we must bring our moral imagination into public view. Art is about relations, relationships, and the interpretation of the significance of those relations. Art needs to make us both think and feel.

Many believe that the role of art and literature is simply to be beautiful. That is a damaging stereotype. While there is much beauty in this world and all that it contains, we must remember that we need to also reveal the ugly. Only by presenting the ugly, the brutal and the brutish, the horrifying and the horrifyingly unjust, can we face such things and do something about them.

Art and literature, as aesthetic experiences driven by thinking and feeling, provide a platform for transcendent understanding. It allows us to vicariously experience, live with, and learn from others whose viewpoints are not our own. In other words, they promote empathy, a felt kind of understanding; and from empathy comes compassion. Don’t let the opportunities for widespread social change afforded by that possibility go to waste. Not now when communication on a massive scale is easier and more impactful it has ever been. Make your stories matter.

 

David Bumpus
Editor-in-Chief