Essay Fragments

Essay Fragments

gray and black hive printed textile
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Does your writing sometimes exist in fragments for months at a time?

I have so many ideas for essays, titles, little pieces I’ve written here and there, observations, journal and free-write entries that might eventually become something. Many of my essays come into being sprawled across multiple notebooks and on pages stuck into my folders at school. Once I have an idea, I muse on it for quite a while, and it comes to me in flashes, which I write down fast, pen flying, and then I take a long break, knowing that I’ll eventually . This makes sense, and I think it even makes my writing better, because I’m often dealing with multiple ideas that get twisted up into what I hope becomes an interesting yarn.

I’ll share a couple of my fragments with you:

i.

The probable site of my future wedding is Providence City Hall. 

I feel not tied down to this idea, but excited. Rhode Island has welcomed me and I’ve made it home, so much so that I feel like putting down money for a house; so much so that I want strings of lights in the basement for the many Christmases I’ll spend here. I can imagine walking hand in hand with my little ones down these streets, and meeting them at the library when they’re old enough to go on their own. 

I like that I can smell salt water and drive to the ocean. I like the way people know and honor each other. I like that this place welcomes and values me; that I am not a stray but a refugee seeking haven, that I have found a way to envision futures away from where I came from. 

ii.

At times it seems inevitable. When I tell people I’m a high school English teacher (even in bars; especially in bars), they will look a little sheepish. “I wasn’t very good at English in school,” they will say. And they will follow this with a confession that they either hated reading or writing, or both.

I’ve grown interested in the catalogue of reasons to not read: books never captured their interest, they found all the class books boring, they liked reading as kids but somehow school took the joy out of it, they had learning issues, a disability, ADHD, or were just slow at reading, and they couldn’t keep up. Or they just had better things to do.

My students often hate reading too, and they tell me. Some seem adamant that I will NOT like them, because they DON’T like reading. They’re defiant at the start of the year, and though I wish I could say that every kid in my class learns to love reading by the end of the year, I know that many of them leave for summer and won’t crack a book’s spine for months. As an educator, it’s my responsibility to care about the reasons kids aren’t reading, and to intervene when I can. But as I explain to my classes, I am not personally offended. I intend to make the argument to every teenager I meet that reading is awesome, but if they resist, I do not wither and die. I do have a life outside school, and enough of a solidity in my love for reading that it can resist a little shoving around. I know what books mean to me.

 

brown black and white tiles
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See, I have to have hope that someday (maybe someday soon, as I’ve been paying a little more attention to prose this week), I will take up these fragments in my hands and lovingly fit them together into something that makes sense. And then, once I have a whole picture to look at, I’ll probably add a frame to my mosaic, then a title, and then smooth out the surface into something beautiful and telling.

 

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What I’m writing: 2019 goals

What I’m writing: 2019 goals

I’ve been thinking a lot about writing these past few days; where I’ve been and where I’m going next. It’s tempting to make huge, impossible goals for the new year, or to resolve to somehow *be better.* There is an incredibly articulate toddler version of myself that runs around my brain screaming “I’m GONNA write a novel and I’m GONNA get poetry published and I’m SO MAD about it but I’m HAPPY.” I’m going to continue to let her run around at will — she’s in charge of morale. But in terms of actual planning for my future as a writer, my thought process needs to be moderated a little. Let’s start with where I am.

What I’m writing these days:

  • Over the holiday season, I wrote Christmas cards.
  • I wrote a couple of longer Christmas letters to people I’m especially lovingly close to. In the future, I’d like to make Christmas Letters a real tradition within the family I create, because what better gift exists than that of writing how we feel?
  • I wrote a review of a book I really liked
  • I wrote three really smashing recommendation letters
  • I wrote a list of kids for whom I want to keep track of college acceptances
  • I wrote in my journal so much that I changed my mindset and left a lot of bad things behind. Pages upon pages.
  • I rewrote the first ~700 words of this novel I’d like to write
  • I wrote four poems (are they good? idk)
  • I started writing two pieces of an essay about why literature matters (another piece is already written).

 

So, where to go next:

I’ve been primarily writing poetry since 2017, and while the poems keep coming on like waves, there now seems to be more room for other things. I really would like to write this novel. It’s a Western, it’s psychologically complex, it has a woman protagonist, and it’s going to deal with some historical things I think about a lot. Can I write a novel in a year? Is 2019 “the year of the novel?” Maybe, but I’ve never done that before so I’m not really sure how that works for me. My novels in the past have been long stretched-out projects that take years or don’t make it.

Have you heard of the “85K90 Challenge”? I first read about it on Ari Meghlin’s site, here: “Are you doing the 85K90 Writing Challenge?” but the official website can be found here: 85k90.com. I’m hesitant to start a challenge because it doesn’t quite fit with my writing process, because it would be wrong to prioritize something over my teaching, and because I highly doubt I’ll be ready to actually get published by the end of the year, but I like the concept! Thinking about joining to just see what happens. If anyone has done this I would LOVE to hear about your experience.

Poetry submissions were scary at first, but I think I’ve mastered it (or at least, I’m respectable now). But I need to submit WAY more poetry to WAY more places. So in 2019, one of my goals is to double my submissions. Rejection isn’t fun, but I’ve learned that it feels better if I have multiple irons in the fire at all times.

And in 2019, I’d like to write more essays. One of my favorite things that I’ve ever written was the last essay I wrote alongside my AP Lang class last year. I’ll probably pull that out in the next month or two and edit it, then decide if there’s anywhere that would be a reasonable fit. I’m not sure how to become an essayist except “be Annie Dillard,” but I enjoy piecing things together and thinking about a particular problem in nonfiction form.

Other Goals:

  • Connect with more writers who actually do the kind of writing I do.
    (which is what? okay, point taken)
  • Go to a writing conference or retreat or take a class.
  • Fill up a big notebook
  • Finish more short pieces of prose and practice good revision.
  • Continue to write alongside my students, which is one of my favorite things to do.
  • Write more on the blog — and hey, if I started a “tiny letter,” would anyone read it?

 

What are your writing goals? Want to be my writing friend? Give me a comment; I’d love to follow you. 

 

girls I’ve known (part one)

I wish I had a name like Frankie DeBella. Back when I was a kid playing rec league soccer in my hometown, she was renowned for her prodigious skill. For years we dreaded the weeks we played “Frankie’s team,” because she could dribble circles around us and through us. She’d score on us four or five times int he first half and even when their coach (her father) would take her out after half time, we were so shaken by the maelstrom that hit us that we would play badly.

It was always “Frankie’s team” because there was no amount of mediocrity that could dull her, and no amount of skill that could compete. It was irrelevant who else was on her team that season; she carried them.

At one point in middle school I grew into a solid defender (as long as I didn’t have to run too much) and when we played Frankie, I was assigned to mark her. It was probably the most aggressive I ever played, the most competitive I ever felt. If I could beat that name, stop her progress, slow her down, I could be important to the game, and people would notice me.

Up close, she was beautiful, Francesca DeBella with Italian skin and long swishing dark hair like a horse’s tail. She seemed older than the rest of us, svelte and muscular without the pudginess that ringed our midriffs and thick ankles. She wore eyeliner. She never crowed and never smiled. She was hyperfocused without being overly aggressive. She knew she was on another plane; I’m sure she knew how her name was thrown about in loving, fearful whisper. But for her, the only chase was the ball, the only game was perfection, the only living person at that game was her father, and maybe if she scored one more goal, he would take the rage out of his voice when he screamed the name he gave her.

importance of breathing

part of an essay in progress about how we view our lives….I’m thinking about how air is so easy to see through and move through that we are always looking ahead toward our goals. But water– water is immersive experience, and if we tried to swim through life, maybe we could be more present in the moments around us. 

i.

the importance of breathing is that it’s molecular.

Our bodies are porous and admit toxins of all colors, but breathing is what we choose to bring in. Like water, we imbibe air to sustain and purify our every inch. Think about a square inch of your body: how much blood, how much oxygen, how much nitrogen, how much water? We are but fragile things. Delicate ratios.

In air, breathing is plentiful, easy, mindless. In water, it becomes a primary concern. Like in winter, but louder, we see our breath, we hold it like a petal we are slowly crushing, we struggle upward for it.

In water, breathing is an intensely sought break from intensity. It is a moment of self-care more intimate than any other. It is the only life we can find.

 

ii.

the importance of breathing

is that it fills and fullfills, sustains, tames: we take deep breaths to calm ourselves. It lets us pause the moment and imbibe time. Yet we breathe while every other moment is ocurring, so it’s not a forced, separated break. We can allow time to move in a way we choose (for once) by breathing low and long, devoting attention to what the body usually does without us asking. A breath is a set of parentheses around time, ours to employ at will and as needed.

 

iii.

the importance of breathing is that it’s instinctual. I can hear the wail of a newly loosed infant, emergent from the womb in which it swam, complacent, warm, stunned by silence. Suddenly it ruptures into air. Breath is everywhere, cold, to be grabbed, sucked in eagerly.

And once we stop breathing, we’re gone. First to last breath. Desperate clutching at life to gentle loosening of hands. Last breaths like melodies, like white flags, like sinking deeper into water and no longer looking at the surface. When we stop breathing, we curl into ourselves, fetal and petaled into bloomy curls. Then we sink.