Thursday, December 15, 2011

Publishing Resources

I keep getting questions about publishing, and I'm hoping to put together a few posts on different areas of publishing over break.  In the meantime, I've compiled a list of resources for getting started learning about publishing:

Here is a list of the best literary magazines, ranked by the number of Pushcart Prizes their stories have received: Perpetual Folly

Here is a link to an alphabetical list of most of the literary magazines in the country, with breakdowns by genre, electronic submission, and links to websites: Literary Mags

Poets & Writers also offers a list of grants and awards that are upcoming: Grants and Awards

Nathan Bransford, an author and former literary-agent-turned-CNET-reviewer, has one of the best-known and most helpful blogs regarding the process of landing an agent and publishing a book.  From a query formula to weekly book news, this is probably the best all-around resource for writers interested in publishing a book:  Nathan Bransford

The very first agent blog, this site is no longer running, but all of the archives are still available.  Some of this info is dated, but it's a great and hilarious crash-course in the world of publishing, thanks to the infamous Miss Snark.

Janet Reid is another great resource, and she also runs the great site QueryShark in which she dissects and helps revise selected queries from an agent's point of view (for free!).

Hope this helps; more to come later this month.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

This Never Gets Old

So happy to announce that my piece, "GymnopĂ©die Paris," has been published by The Fiddleback. This magazine is a) awesome, b) easy on the eyes, and c) has some really great poetry in this issue alongside my piece.  Check it out if you get a chance.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Just...I Don't Even Know: An Ode

The human ability to live, sometimes for whole lifetimes, in contradiction to one's real desires is a thing I will never understand.  Doesn't it hurt people to be separated from what they love? I spent three years pretending I wanted to do something with my life other than be a writer, and it was the most miserable three years of my life. I was a motherf*cking mess.  I lied, I hurt the people I loved the most, I spent time trying to love all the wrong people, and more time trying to be loved by all the wrong people (which is an exercise in terrifically painful guaranteed failure, btw, just in case you ever want to experience misery to its fullest (and also, "the wrong people" can be simply defined as everyone who doesn't already love you which means, guess what, you don't need to try at all)), my hair went grey, I slept with my hands curled into fists or didn't sleep at all, and nothing was ever enough for me. I don't know how to explain fully what I mean without going into the details--but all of the things I said and did were in direct contradiction to what I really wanted, and I didn't even know it. I found ways to obsess over the details of other people's philosophies and actions in order to avoid thinking about my own. I positioned myself against ideas to try to define myself so that I didn't have to say the simple sentence, "I want to be a writer and I'm scared that I won't be very good at it." 

But for the love of God, it was painful.  Anytime I experience that kind of pain, now, I know to shut the f*ck up about whatever I think is bothering me and have a little chat with myself. And sometimes it takes me a few days or weeks and in the meantime I do stupid sh*t, but after a while I remember to ask: What is it that I really want, from myself, that I am not doing or giving or creating? The answer never has to do with other people.  If that's the answer I come up with, I'm wrong.  Have I been forgetting to spend time alone? Have I been spending too much time on work that isn't writing? Have I been cold to people I really care about because I am afraid of what they will say or do in response?  Am I getting enough g*ddamn sleep? (Sometimes that's all it is, which is when I feel really stupid.)

And, even though I know that it is out of my control, and that I have been there before, and that really it doesn't matter and I need to be a loving and kind person to them no matter what, sometimes I get really mad when the people I love are obviously not doing this. Sometimes I really just can't fathom how they can live in that kind of psychological pain and not see that it hurts.  I consider all of my own discomfort and loathing during those three years to be the greatest blessing, not because it was fun, but because it made me stop doing sh*tty things that I didn't like doing. It was the rusty nail that made me stop running around junkyards barefoot. And even though I know that it took me years to figure that out and learn to see it that way and that I was lucky I figured it out at all, some small part of me is constantly crying out, "Holy sh*t, man, your leg is broken, STOP RUNNING ON IT!!"

If it hurts, that means stop. If you think your life sucks, and it's other people's fault, or that if you could just get this one thing to happen or this one person to love you or achieve this one goal and then you will be happy, or that "that's just the way it is and I can't do anything about it," or that the system is like totally f*cked and you're just a cog in a wheel and we need change, or that people are inherently evil and/or apathetic, or that it is your destiny to be lonely or never to get what you want, F*CKING STOP. Just stop. It's not true. None of it's true. What do you want? What would you want if you didn't have any obligations or limitations at all?  Who would you call right now? What would you make? Okay, now go do that.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

In Which I Fall Short

Why do I keep writing about love?
I read Les Miserables and cried when a good man died and rejoiced that he did not die alone; I thought, there is something more here I must get at.
Then the next day I sat down and wrote about love.
I don't want to write about love; I want to write about the condition of the human heart.  I want to write about Mexicans and the way Americans say the word "Mexican" like they used to say "nigger." I want to write about children and they way they still smile at butterflies in a net even when they didn't get enough to eat that morning and have bruises on their wrists where someone grabbed them. I want to write about my classmates and they way they go out on Friday nights and inundate all the cells in their body with poison and rub their genitals against metal poles while a strobe light flashes and how on Saturdays they call it fun.
Then I come home and write about a boy in a brown workman's jacket and the way his fingers look on a guitar.
I don't want to write about love; I want to write about women and their secrets and the stupid vanities they commit in the name of what other people call love.  I want to write about failure and the men I knew and the way the American Dream has become a father's imperative, the way their good grades dictate their law school acceptance letters and the way they turn around and run back to the bars and old-fashioned manual labor in the face of what they are supposed to be earning. 
I don't want to write about long nighttimes talking about nothings with a person whose pheromones hit your nostrils in just the right way.
I don't want to write about love; I want to write about the way a man can look another man in the face and then put a gaping hole right through the middle of that face and calmly wipe the bits of brain off his forehead and walk away.  I want to write about heros and how to be a good man and how to grit one's teeth and grimly complete the task set before one, and expect no thanks. 
Then I come home and I write about the pain of separation from a man who doesn't return my phone calls.
I don't want to write about love; I want to write about why it is stupid to write about love, why love is an old wives' tale that gets lost anyway in the boring realities of running a household and not getting enough or the right kind of sex and spending too much money. I want to write about how fourteen-year-old girls'  grades drop drastically because they have begun to learn that it isn't pretty or sexy to get good grades. I want to write about how the packaging industry is the biggest industry in America and there are people who dedicate whole lives to making sure that packaging isn't dented on the train ride from a manufacturing plant and then we expect them to die happy.
Then I come home and fail, and write about love.
Some part of me insists that it's because love is the redeeming factor in a world full of pointless labor and murder, but I have seen nothing that isn't set in black and white in twenty-six roman characters to suggest that such a belief is true. I suspect that it is the fourteen-year old grade-dropping part of me that whispers such blasphemy in my ear while I am trying to write about something important. No one dies for love outside of novels, anyway; sometimes bouncers step in front of strippers when a crazed gunman enters a strip club, but more often your spouse will have a psychotic break and kill you, your children, and then himself--always the wrong order.  If you put love on a scale against an income and a working vehicle, I'll tell you which one any sensible person will choose, and I can show you the looks on the faces of your friends and mother if that fourteen-year old sucker for psychologically-backed advertising makes you choose wrong.
God, I would like to stop writing about love!

Sunday, July 31, 2011

The Small Thing I Know

I keep learning this, over and over, in so many small ways: that the trick is to stop thinking about the externals of myself, like how I am perceived and how to get what I want, and to start thinking about my real self.  Who am I? And what can I do to shape myself into a person I love?

Monday, June 27, 2011

Dear Phoenix: It's Over

This is a breakup letter to a city I never thought I'd leave.  In the words of Neko Case, "I'm sick of doing your dishes, town--I'm out." 

   Dear Phoenix,

   This isn't working.
    I'm tired of having to make new friends every three years when your economy turns over. I'm tired of your dead downtown and your 1800 identical Walgreens.  I'm sick of your white-collar hamburger values and and I can't stand your perfect f*cking freeways for another minute.  I'm sick of having to carry around a sweater in July to deal with the schizophrenic difference between your indoor and outdoor climates, and I'm sick of you getting dark at four o'clock just when your outdoor temperature finally becomes tolerable.  I'm sick of the cum trees. 
    I'm sick of your quaint little goat farms getting bulldozed for tract housing and not being able to go to a single restaurant that I went to when I moved here because you can't put together a functional community.  I'm sick of trying to talk over your terrible music on your terrible outdoor patios at your terrible dank-lit bars to your terrible dank-lit temporary residents.  I'm tired of you trying to pass off "shitty" as "ambiance." 
    I'm tired of your contradictory politics and your platform flip-flops.  I'm tired of you trying to cover up your B.O. with citrus body spray.  I'm tired of your classist snap judgments and the way I can't use the sidewalk to go anywhere without you making me feel weird.  I'm tired of all your goddamn trucks. 
    I'm sick of the way you spend so much money on psuedo-midwestern landscaping but you won't lift a finger to help out the arts or your city parks.  I'm sick of your HOAs and also all your empty downtown dirt lots.  I'm sick of your ugly-ass autoplexes and your terrifyingly homogenous apartment complexes.  I'm sick of the bars you put down the middle of your city benches.  
    I'm sick of the fact that it takes your public transportation TWO HOURS to get me from one suburb to another, and then you complain about the gross brown pollution cloud.  I'm sick of your bitching about the heat.  It's the desert.  It's f*cking hot.  STFU about it already.  At least we don't live in a barren cultural landscape devoid of any neighborly feeling---oh, wait.  Yes, we do. 
    I'm sick of how hard you try to be like L.A. without investing in any of the things that actually make L.A. kind of sweet.  I'm sick of your obsession with new cars and big houses and fenced-in yards.  If I see another cement-block wall, I might throw up.  I'm sick of your weird fusion chain restaurants and your uncomfortable seating.  I'm sick of your disgusting man-made turquoise lakes, and your total waste of potable water in the form of misters and decorative fountains.
       In short, Phoenix, I got to know you better than almost anyone else, and you kind of suck.  Good luck with all that.


Sunday, June 12, 2011

This Week's Book/Music Choices: 6/12

    I've been desperately wishing for one of those books that come along only every few years and change your whole worldview. (In order, since high school, mine are: The Great Gatsby; One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest; The Will to Power; The Hero and the Crown; Eat, Pray, Love (Dear Elizabeth Gilbert, it annoys me that I have to change all my commas to semicolons in order to accommodate your book in a list); and Loving What Is). Last week I dropped $40 at the bookstore in search of the next one, the results of said shopping spree being $30 of FAIL, because apparently if you buy a book by Michel de Montaigne you're really just buying an abridged version of Seneca, although the Kurt Vonnegut/Lee Stringer dialogue by Seven Stories Press was fun.  Though not particularly enlightening.
     So I mentioned to my father today that I was going to go read Seneca when I got off the phone, and he was like, "Oh, who is that again?" which was strange because my father is a philosophy professor.  I told him he was a Roman stoic philosopher and I could really probably use some stoicism in the face of my recent breakup, to which he (my father) said, "Yes, good idea.  We did the stoics in my class this past year."  And a bell went off in my head (yes, I get bells in my head when something important is happening, or else when I'm in Amsterdam and the weed's really good) and I said, "Epictetus? Is that right?" and he said, "Yes, the Encheiridion," and I promptly hopped right on the Amazon website and downloaded the (free!!!) Kindle version for my phone and pretty much spent all day reading it. Yes, on my phone. And it's AMAZING.

If you're up for it, it's here.

I'm only halfway through it, but basically, Epictetus argues that the one thing in our possession is the will, and we are free because the will is both our only possession and the one thing that cannot be possessed or influenced by others. He then proceeds to draw from that statement an entire line of reasoning about which events and actions are under our control (anything having to do with our own will) and should therefore concern us, and which are not (everything else), and should therefore not concern us.  And he also, and very importantly to me right now, argues that our will should always align with reality, because "where a man is against his will, there he is in prison."  In short, our freedom and contentedness is contingent upon using our will to maintain said freedom, as the will is the only thing we actually possess.  And in the meantime he drops in some great enlightening insults:

"Wretch! You bear God within you, and know it not."

"How will I be received? How will [this great man] listen to me?"
"Slave! Just as it pleases him. Why do you care about what belongs to others?"

 On to music.  This is probably a tiresome place to begin a weekly music commentary for those of you who know me well, but we're starting with Bob Dylan.  First of all because I just bought f*cking awesome tickets for his show in Tucson, and secondly because I'm revisiting him after a few years away.

Playlist For When You Are (Somewhat) Voluntarily Stripped of the Company of a Favorite Friend:
1. "Most of the Time," off of Oh, Mercy
2. "I'm Alive" by Kenny Chesney, with Dave Matthews
3. "Girl from the North Country" by Bob Dylan, with Johnny Cash, off Nashville Skyline
4. "Smoke a Little Smoke" by Eric Church
5. "Wonderwall" by Oasis (yes, I did)
6. "Come in from the Cold" by Joni Mitchell
7. "Red Ragtop" by Tim McGraw
8. "Bartender" by Regina Spektor
9. "Leaving Louisiana in the Broad Daylight" by Emmylou Harris
10. "Smile When You Call Me That," by Jakob Dylan
11. "I Don't Want to Talk About It" by Crazy Horse
12. "One More Cup of Coffee" by Bob Dylan, off Desire
13. "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes" by Crosby, Stills, and Nash

1. I don't need to say anything about this song, really. It speaks for itself. Even if you don't do the whole playlist, listen to this song.
2. I just really like this song, and even though I have a vendetta against Dave Matthews I really enjoy his vocals on this; in general, this song is about being content where you are (personal theme for this, um, year?)
3. I love this version. It really brings home that the memory is from a long time ago, and it always sounds to me like the young man who loved this woman and the old man who remembers her are singing it.  And yes, that's Bob Dylan, and yes, he can sing.
4. This song is about a breakup but that's not apparent at first (kind of like Joni Mitchell's Big Yellow Taxi), and it's also relevant to my theme of being content where you are.
5. Shut up.
6. Oh, God, this song is just so beautiful, and that intro line has stuck with me since I was five and my mom listened to this album while she was making dinner.  Also it's about--well, not regret, exactly. Trying to find what you want and never quite succeeding.
7.   This song has been on my mind because I went to Tim McGraw's concert last week.  The banjo part just kills me, and it's one of my favorite songs to cover.  But it's also a song about loss, and how decisions you make sometimes force you into choosing what you didn't want. Also, country song about abortion as a real life decision=win.  Yay progress!
8. Just a really great viewpoint on a common theme, and a pretty melody from a great singer.
9. Love. This. Song. Reminds me of my hometown.  This is a remake, but she changed the very last line (from a repeat of "The highway goes on forever" to "There ain't no way to stop the water") which I love contemplating.  Also her version is way less jug-playing country.
10. My other favorite, Neko Case, sings backup vocals on this album, and it's a gorgeous country album by Jakob Dylan.  This song is about post-breakup bad blood, and the lyrics are phenomenal. THIS GUY SHOULD GET MORE CREDIT FOR BEING BRILLIANT.
11. Apparently Rod Stewart did a version of this song, but I hope to God I never hear it.
12. Gypsy country, by the Bobster.  What can I say? I'm a sucker for the violin.
13. This is basically the whole breakup process rolled into one song with some snappy Brazilian dance music thrown in.  Classic.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

This Is the Part That Sucks: Hitting the Relationship Wall

There is a point in every relationship which I call "hitting the wall."  It's the point where you have gotten to know this person so well that you also know all of the bad things about them.  And it's the point where you have to decide if the bad things outweigh the good things.  It's sink or swim time.
I've hit the wall with quite a few people--in one case, my wall lasted for nine months--enough time to build a brand new human being to replace the original one.  But we still made up. We still missed each other so badly that we wound up being friends again, with better boundaries in place, and with better awareness of who the other person is, and, I'd venture to say, with more love.  Because now we even love the sh*tty parts.  Now we know how to deal with the sh*tty parts in a loving way.
Hitting the wall takes away a lot of the fun stuff.  Inside jokes dissolve, sex lives go sour, routines get dull, and the fun, different things about this person you love so well are suddenly the most f*cking irritating things you've ever had to deal with, and you know they are doing it just to piss you off, and if they would just stop and go back to being that person that got up in the morning to put your dishes in the dishwasher for you---
 We've all been there.
 And this is the part that sucks.  This is the worst it gets.  Isn't that great?  This is the worst part of your relationship, and all it is is irritating.  No one's beating you (hopefully; if they are, you should leave. That's beyond suck.).  No one's dying.   You are getting to know them.  The real them.  Just like you always wanted.  When this sucky part is over, you will know this person so much better, and you will know how to deal with their sh*tty parts, and you will love all of them--not just the parts that seem fun.  You will really, truly love them.  Isn't that great?  You made it to the part that sucks!
 Some relationships make it two weeks.  Some relationships make it to the part where you go to Vegas and they convince you into gambling away your next month's rent.  Some relationships don't make it past a second date.  Yours made it to the part that sucks. 

Obviously, one of my relationships is currently hitting the wall.  Today I remembered something I said to him a long time ago: "I can't wait until this gets hard.  I can't wait to know you that well."  Well, it's hard now.  It's probably going to stay hard for a while. But I still love him. And I still want him around.  Hopefully he's still going to want me, too.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Where I Write

The hilarious INTERN inspired me to talk about where I write.  I have a day job that occasionally requires nights and weekends, so the short answer is, "wherever I can freaking manage it."   But last summer, which I spent mostly alone and writing, I alternated primarily between these two spots:
This is my desk, where I am supposed to write.  It's really clean right now, which means I rather obviously haven't been writing as much as I should be.  Cute, though, right?

However, unless it's one of those Phoenix nights in July when it's over ninety degrees and my palms are sweating all over my keyboard, between the hookah and the stars I usually end up writing out here:
It comes complete with a super adorable cat and plants that are stressing from the sudden temperature change.  Note my unused bicycle in the background.

Maybe I'm just getting nostalgic, because I'm about to move to Tucson, and leave this apartment where I've lived for two years now (the longest I've lived anywhere since I moved away from home). I put down a holding deposit on a basement apartment near the university, and plan to put my desk between the two painted glass windows.  It's such a good writing space that I'm making the bedroom my office, and the front room my bedroom, because I'm a writer and that's how we roll.  Prime real estate goes to book overflow and manuscript boxes.  
Luckily, the cat is portable. 

Thursday, May 26, 2011

I Wish The Haters Were Really This Funny

I kept getting e-mail notifications on my phone today that turned out to be only advertisements for Barnes and Noble or Orbitz or NaNoWriMo, and thoughtlessly expressed a wish on twitter that I would get a real e-mail today, even if it was only a rejection letter.  At which point my friend Justin sent me this glorious beast, which is now officially my favorite rejection letter of all time:

Dear Ms. Hilary Gan,
You are hereby rejected.

We know that you really want to go to school here, but honestly you are just too damn out there. Yes, I know that we call this program "creative writing" but we expected your personal statement to be a bit more normal. Less edgy. Less... creative. We really want someone a bit more normative, who won't question our own authority and power in this program, who will be creative within the nice little padded confines that we have established here. You are not that person.

We wish you the best of luck (you'll be needing it) on all of your future (*ahem*) creative endeavors.

Thank you for your time,
The Admissions Hacks
Not-so-creative Writing Program
Big Name U

Monday, May 23, 2011

Jigsaw Falling Into Place*

This is a story about how I got into grad school for free, and how to get things to start going right for you.

It starts way back when I was a freshman in college, and my dad learned that Ron Carlson would be teaching a freshman-level creative writing class, and encouraged me to take it. I told him, "Dad, you can't learn how to write by taking a class."  My dad said, "Just sit in on the first class, and if you hate it, you can drop it."  So I agreed.
I went in to the first class, and one of the very first things that Ron Carlson said that day was, "You can't learn how to write by going to class--you have to just write."  Obviously, I stuck it out for the rest of the semester, and loved it.
I took a couple more writing classes, which I enjoyed, and sent two stories out, which got rejected, and then I had to choose a major and I chose biology and kind of forgot about the whole writing thing.  After a semester-and-a-half of  med school students and professors who were maddeningly, albeit understandingly, more interested in their own research than in expanding the minds of their undergraduate students, I had a small meltdown and declared my intention of dropping out of college to become a musician.
Yes, really.
I think what I was unconsciously doing was testing the waters for declaring my love for writing--but doing it with a subject I didn't care about quite as much as I cared about writing, and books.  If I failed at or was ridiculed for making music, it didn't matter so much.  Needless to say, I am not a musician now. It kind of fell through.
While I did not, in fact, drop out of college to become a musician, I did write some not-that-sucky songs, and I did change my major to an interdisciplinary degree in bio and philosophy, which I enjoyed.  I graduated with a firm sense of "f*ck you, The Man" and the understanding that if I wanted an experience like college to be a freewheeling, mind-expanding ride, the only person who could make it that way was me, and no one else was going to guarantee it for me.
I spent six months working as a line cook at a health food restaurant, having romanticized the life of the purposely not-rich, discovered that restaurant work was restaurant work no matter how hip all the servers were, and then went on a road trip to visit all my ex-boyfriends--and started writing again, in the meantime. And it just kept coming.
Then my father suggested that I apply to Iowa, because he knew somebody who knew somebody who worked there.  I looked at all my writing, saw I didn't have any short stories I would really consider submitting, said, "Balls," and spent the next year writing short stories so that I'd have something to apply to school with.
Which I did.  And in the meantime I got a story published, and the lovely, lovely magazine that is Jersey Devil Press nominated it for some awards.  Like the Pushcart Prize. And this beast.
I did not get into Iowa, or Columbia, or Stanford, or even ASU (weird list of rejections, right?), but I was waitlisted at U of A.  I wrote off the waitlisting, thinking that it didn't mean anything, and cried when I got what I thought was my fifth and final rejection.
And then U of A e-mailed me to say they were offering me a place.  They didn't have any money for me, but I was accepted.
I thought that was very nice, and planned on not going because I wasn't about to pay for my MFA, but I drove down to sit in on a class and talk to the department head about funding options, and when I told her I did outreach for a living, she said, "Oh, well, there's a field trip intern position open at our poetry center--why don't you run down and talk to the coordinator?"  So I did.
And she called me and interviewed me, and I liked her a lot, and then three days later she offered me the position as a field trip intern, and turns out it came with a full tuition waiver and a small stipend (small meaning big enough to pay my rent for the year).

Meanwhile, back at my job, they decided to start expanding the outreach department to include satellite positions in other cities.  Like Tucson.  So guess what I'm doing this fall, part-time, while I'm in school?

And yesterday I drove down to check out apartments, and my car nearly overheated and I had to park it in a garage and wait for the engine to cool so I could add coolant, and then, on my way back to my original destination, I took a prettier side street, and stumbled upon a cute little set of studio apartments.  I called the owner today to ask about the place, and he said, "Well, it's [this awesome price in your price range] per month, no pets"--
    "No pets?" I asked, disappointed.
    "Well," he said, "what kind of pet is it?"
    My heart leapt.  "A cat."
    "How big?"
    "Eleven pounds.  But he's neutered and everything."
    "Does he stay indoors?"
    "Well, that would be alright."
    I'm headed down to look at the place on Friday.

    The main point of this long, rambly narrative, is that if you give in and let that thing you love the most have some room in your life, other people will make room for it, too.  Things and events will start falling into place, like magic.  But it's not magic--it's only love, that awesome, enthusiastic, childlike kind of love that you have for discovering new things about yourself and your world.  It's still there.  You haven't lost it by getting older.  I promise.
     I left out a lot of the parts about how f*cking scared I was to try to be a writer.  But the thing I did right, I believe, was that I cared more about the writing than I did about the outcome of the writing.  I wrote because I loved it, and I accepted that I wasn't going to make any money doing it, or get good at it quickly, and I did it anyway--and now I'm about to make money doing it.  I'm actually earning a living for the next two years because of my writing--an incredible thing to me.  But it is possible.  I am not special, or particularly lucky--I am just a person who allowed myself to give in to my enthusiasm, and to value a process above any hope for reward--to find the reward in the process, itself.
      What is your enthusiasm?  What terrifies you the most to think of losing?  And what would happen if you just--
    gave in?

*Just for the record, In Rainbows is awesome, but I actively loathe all other Radiohead albums.  It's like some kind of allergic emotional reaction I have to them which causes me to become a raging depressed b*tch wh*re.  Like, more so than usual.  

Sunday, April 24, 2011

An Easter Treatise

        I am not, technically speaking, a Christian, but I have had the opportunity this week to reflect on Jesus' teachings, and I thought I would offer what I learned here, in case it is of use to anyone.

"The Kingdom of Heaven is a condition of the heart...: Not something 'above the earth.'  The Kingdom of God does not "come" chronologically-historically, on a certain day in the calendar, something that might be here one day but not the day before: It is an 'inward change in the individual,' something that comes at every moment and at every moment has not yet arrived--"

"With that, 'Christ on the cross' had to be interpreted anew.  This death in itself was not at all the main thing--it had been only one more sign of how one ought to behave in relation to the authorities and laws of this world: not to defend oneself-- That had been the lesson."
-Friedrich Nietzsche, The Will to Power, pp 99-102

           I have always held the belief, as I think most people do, that relationships are a thing of give and take, of exchange.  But when is one supposed to give, and when should one receive?  If I am not getting what I need in a relationship at a particular point in time, do I stop giving until I start receiving again?  
          I think, perhaps, the answer to the last question is a definite no, and the answer to the first is more complicated, depending on circumstances, but generally boils down to: "Until you can't anymore."  And if that is true, then relationships, and love, are not exchanges, but gifts.
          Jesus said, and I'm quoting from memory here so please forgive any lapses, "If you love those who love you in return, what thanks have you? For the evil also love those who love them."  
         Loving someone in expectation that they will love you back is a payment for services rendered--and I, at least, don't like that definition of a loving relationship.  Am I not willing to suffer, to go without, in service to the people I love, with no expectation of return?  I want to be the kind of person who is willing to do that.  And if I am willing to suffer, and to give with no expectation, then my definition of a relationship has to change.  
         There is, of course, a point at which you can't give anymore--but it is not anyone else's job to recognize that point, or to reimburse you for what you have given away willingly.  It is your job to decide when you have given enough.  In order to decide that well, you should determine what you can afford to give without reciprocation.  This is true if we're talking about money, and it is also true if we are talking about time, and emotional investments.  
         So this week I have been thinking about how much I am willing to give, without return, to the people I love.  If I love them for who they are, and not because of what they do for me, then everything I do for them, and all the love I express to them, is a gift.  And I have been pleasantly surprised to find just how much I am willing to do, and how full I actually feel when I let go of the belief that I need to be loved in return.  It is more than I would have thought.
         In my secular version of the Jesus story, I don't think that Jesus expected to save anyone's soul.  But he died rather than retaliate, rather than defend himself against those who would hurt him, and what greater strength and generosity is there?  Maybe we are not that strong and generous, but I think we can be more generous than we normally allow ourselves to be.  I think we can approach that kind of generosity.  I think we can do more than we would have thought.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Grad School Saga: Final Update

I was lucky enough to get an internship at U of A's Poetry Center conducting field trips (aka mini poetry workshops) with school groups.  My graduate school experience is now fully funded.  I am going. 

Conundrum solved!


Also, if you have any poetry recommendations for me, please let me know.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Writing Is Writing

I was waitlisted at the University of Arizona; on Thursday they wrote to tell me that I'd been accepted, but that funding was not guaranteed.

And at first I wasn't even sure what I thought, and I just forwarded the e-mail to my parents and my best friend, and then the next morning everyone was so excited for me that I was ecstatic: I was going to grad school.  I would get to spend two years doing what I love best: writing.  I went out and celebrated with my friend and told all of my close friends, and I wrote the director of the creative writing program an e-mail telling her I really wanted to go and adding questions and suggestions about potential sources of funding, and everything felt right.

But then it didn't.

Because slowly it dawned on me that even with in-state tuition, I would still have to pay for my living expenses, which would be less, but not much, than they are now.  And I would have time to write, but I would also have to dedicate time to attending class and reading a lot of other people's writing.  So I would be in the same situation I am in now, except I would be in more debt, with less free time.

And then I realized that what I actually want to do is write.  And writing and graduate school, even in a creative writing program, are not the same thing.  In order to write I need free time and as few obligations as possible.  Going to grad school without funding does not give me either of those things, and in fact, it takes me farther away from them--not only immediately, but in the future, when I'm weighed down by debt.

The real issue at stake is that I have, simply, not been writing.  I have been expending my energy on extra projects at work, and on my friends and their crises, and the way that I choose to use my free time is the real limitation on my writing--not what city I live in, or whether I'm going to school or not.

So be careful, when you are choosing your next step, that you know exactly what you want, and what it looks like.  If you choose to apply to grad schools in December instead of working on your WIP, you are making grad school your number one priority--and grad school is not the same as writing.

And if you choose to put off your goals until you get a break from your project at work, or until your boyfriend recovers from surgery, or until you make a certain amount of money, you will never achieve your goals, because you have made them secondary to other parts of your life.  If you want something, bend everything in your life around it--or else it will be bent around something else.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Now THIS Is a Rejection Letter

Dear Everyone With the Ability to Reject Potential Graduate Students,

Subject: [Name of School] Admission Decision  (See?  Nice and neutral. Doesn't slam me with rejection in the subject line, so I can procrastinate about opening it if I want to.)

Dear Hilary (personalized and friendly),
Thank you so much for your application for a [redacted] Fellowship (starts with a thank you, which is good because I did PAY to apply to these programs). Unfortunately, we are unable to offer you a place in the program. However, we wanted to let you know that your application was read with great care and appreciation. It is through the vibrancy and commitment of work like yours that the program is able to depend on an applicant pool of immense talent. Every year, after reading the submissions, all of us wish we had more fellowships to offer (Even though this is not directed specifically at me, it makes me feel better about being disappointed, and it is clearly a true statement).
While you may not have achieved your desired outcome in this instance, we suspect that you will be successful on many future occasions in other circumstances. Furthermore, the fact that we are unable to award you a fellowship this year should not be taken as a prohibition of your reapplying, as we look forward to following your growth as a writer (encouragement to keep working and reapply). 
We want to thank you for your interest in the [Redacted] Creative Writing Program, and offer you our best wishes for your future work (another thank you, and support for continuing the effort. I actually feel motivated after reading this rejection letter).

-[Redacted}University Creative Writing Program

Monday, March 14, 2011

The Grad School Saga

Okay, I get lots of rejection letters.  I've gotten at least fifty in the last two years, regarding my stories and essays which I put a lot of time and effort and, you know, soul into. Some of them were really disappointing.  But this is, quite seriously, the coldest rejection letter I have ever gotten:

Via e-mail:


March 14, 2011

ID Number:  [redacted]

Dear Ms. Gan:

Your application for admission to [name of university] to study in the Creative Writing (MFA) program has been carefully reviewed by your department. Based on their recommendation, I regret to inform you that we cannot act favorably on your application.

If you wish further information regarding this action, please feel free to contact the Creative Writing (MFA) program at:

You may wish to consider other degree/certificate programs at [name of university]. Information and web links are available at [unhelpful website].

We thank you for your interest in [name of university] and wish you success in your future endeavors.


Graduate College

I'm not super surprised, however, that I got rejected.  For your amusement, this is the most likely answer I can give you: my personal statement.  (Understand that I took a pretty serious gamble on the fact that it was a creative writing program and that I will never be able to fully shake my, um, aversion to authority figures.)

Prompt:  A personal statement including your writing background, intended area of specialization, a brief self-evaluation of recent work, and goals.

My essay:  
In preparation for my course of graduate study, I had an existential crisis my junior year of college, changed majors, read One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, wrote a thesis on whether or not my self existed and whether it was important if it did, refused to attend my own graduation ceremony, had a cap and gown foisted on me by my boyfriend's mother anyway, read Eat, Pray, Love, broke up with my boyfriend, moved in with my ex-boyfriend Peter, went on a cross-country road trip with Peter to visit all of my other ex-boyfriends, wrote a book about it.  I read Franny and Zooey, taught myself to play the guitar, started running again, drank enough Jack and Diets to fill a small lakebed, got a job as a line cook, quit my job as a line cook, fell in with a Sufi Dervish who asked me to move to Boston with him, almost moved to Boston with him until it became apparent that he only needed a supplemental income for his rented room in the Sufi House, tried not to kill Peter when he said, “I told you so,” read The Subterraneans, cried a lot.   
   I spent a whole summer unemployed, met a new friend, moved in to her old apartment when she moved out, introduced her to Peter, tried not to feel like a third wheel, fell in love with her ex-boyfriend, lost both of them, drove to San Diego to see an old high school friend, experienced my first earthquake, wrote a story about it all.   I read Twilight, tried to parse out feminist me from the part of me that loved Twilight, stayed single for a whole year, learned to broil steaks.  I read Man's Search for Meaning and Seneca's On the Shortness of Life, realized I couldn't do work I loathed for eight hours a day and still consider myself a functional human being, got a job at the Arizona Science Center, ran a half-marathon along the rim of the Grand Canyon, got a story published and nominated for a Pushcart Prize, discovered the only writer I knew had joined the Peace Corps and moved to Mongolia, and decided to apply to grad school to find more and better writers to talk to.  
My weaknesses as a writer are as follows: hot cups of tea, the way the sky looks in any state west of the Continental Divide, double yellow lines, the sound and rhythm of the King James Bible, coniferous forests, wiry men with blue eyes who lean against walls to pack their cigarettes, kittens, Uniball pens, Fitzgerald, 2 a.m., cars with their windows down, Jack and Diets, fireflies, hookahs, cheap airfare, the entire country of France, an inclination towards the term “thing” to help preserve interesting sentence structures, large bodies of water, Annie Proulx, new blue jeans, Highway 61 Revisited.
  My strengths as a writer, on the other hand, are such: an inability to tell a lie without extreme physical discomfort; general disdain for all television shows except House, M.D.; a tendency to allow the qualifier interesting to take precedence over the qualifier kind when it comes to choosing my friends; the ability to sit at a desk for nine hours at a time; a temperament that leads me to withold judgment while always believing in the best of people; the most ridiculous good luck; the inability to be told what to do or how to think; a perfectionist streak.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

I'd Like To Thank Jersey Devil Press (for like the 14th time)... they have been kind enough to nominate my story "The Pragmatist" for the storySouth Million Writers Award.

The magnanimity of this magazine with regard to my person has been incalculable.  Thank you!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Title Change, and the Post-Valentine-Apocalypse Recap

In honor of my newest re-realization, I've changed the title of my blog.
I was going to tattoo this phrase on my wrist but I decided I would try it out here first.

As a sufferer of demand resistance, the idea "I don't have to" is the most freeing concept I've found.  Statements like "just be yourself" and "enjoy the moment" or any of those happiness concepts that are phrased positively just feel like commands to me, and that makes me feel trapped, and feeling trapped makes me howl in misery and have mini freak-outs.  "I don't have to," however, makes me remember that I'm doing what I'm doing because I want to, and makes me feel like I still have a choice.

How this came about: last week was the week before Valentine's Day. My relationship right now is just one of those complicated whatsits that make people hate Valentine's Day.  So I was confused.
 Normally I love Valentine's Day.  Normally I get all my friends presents and make it all about how much I love everybody in my life.  But I was not in a giving mood.  And I was all, wtf do I do about Valentine's Day?  Do I explain to this person that it's important to me? Or just let it go?  Can I let it go and then not be mad about it? Maybe I should just get him a present.  But no! Why would I get him a present, when secretly I want him to just say Happy Valentine's Day and, like, send me a heart emoticon? And yada yada idiocy.

So I walked into work on Friday and poured myself a cup of tea with all this on my mind and my co-worker, the Godsend MB who is like my own personal life coach and God I hope I'm like her when I'm forty, walks in and goes, "How are y--? Whoa.  What's wrong?"
"Monday is Valentine's Day," I snarled, and viciously stirred my tea.
MB sighed.  "That's why I hate Valentine's Day.  Because of people in your situation."
So I went on to tell her all about the stuff I already told you in the last blog stanza, and then she goes, "Well, you know, you don't have to celebrate it.  February 14th doesn't have to be a convenient day for you to express these things."
And it was like f*cking angels were singing at me.  Right!  I didn't have to.  It was not convenient for me.

And I tra-la-laed through the rest of the weekend and right on through Valentine's Day, and the word Valentine never even came out of my mouth, and I legit did not have any expectations, and it was just February the 14th which happened to be a day when it wasn't convenient for me to have an overpriced dinner or exchange delightful pre-packaged sentiments with my loved one, because he is in another state and lately we are both making each other snarl due to the fact that the telephone is a poor excuse for human interaction.

Because there are other, more convenient days, such as December 17 of last year, which was quite a nice one for us, and also February 26th will probably be more fun, and I don't have to have my romances when other people, and especially stupid corporations, suggest that I do.  Because guess what?  We did not celebrate Valentine's Day, and we are fine.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

On the Gender Disparity in Literature

The latest publishing indignation is that someone has discovered that it's 2011 and there are still more men getting published than women.

1) Duh.
2) The particular article I linked to is claiming that while women read books written by both men and women, most men only read books written by men.  And the initial response is that this is due to sexism on the part of the men.
     However, it's equally likely that it's due to sexism on the part of women--outside of the world of literature.  Our culture has not made this a place where men can be interested in women's issues without forfeiting their own sexual identity and gender roles.  We also live in a culture where fiction is split into "literary fiction" and "women's fiction."  Nobody likes men who read p*ssy literature.  Not even women.
      This is absolutely no justification for the disparity here.  It bothers the sh*t out of me, and as a writer I've seriously considered going by an androgynous pseudonym just so I won't lose my male audience.  I like men and want their approval.  I want them to read my work.  And apparently, the fact that the spermatozoa that fertilized my mother's ovule happened to have an X chromosome in it means my work is less likely to get published.  The whole thing blows.
      However.  Maybe we all should try not dismissing a man as less than a man if he happens to be holding a book whose cover is pink.  Or maybe we shouldn't give only women's books pink covers. When was the last time somebody put out a new edition of a Hemingway book with a neon pink cover?  Can we please do that?  Instead of insisting that women's issues get acknowledged, maybe we should think about the fact that women's issues are human issues, and so are men's.  Let's talk about the way we have managed to begin to redefine women's roles in our culture, and then talk about the way that as a culture we haven't addressed the male role and whether it's healthy or allows men to be complete and actualized human beings.  If we want men to be interested in women's issues, maybe we should be interested in their issues, and the gender stereotypes we inflict on them.
3) Everyone, including women, should really read bell hooks' book, The Will To Change, in which she  (a postmodern feminist who for reasons I don't understand won't capitalize her name) talks about the harm our culture does to men.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Get Your Glands Out of My Face

    I want to take a moment to complain about the state of adult literature.
    Specifically, this book, The Magicians, by Lev Grossman, which I am reading, and which I am not yet done with, and probably won't ever be, because I don't want to finish it. (UPDATE: I did finish it, and I'm still right.)
   Now, this book is very, very well written.  It's a really good book.  The plot is good. I really want to know what happens.  In fact, it's so well-written that it's making me depressed and anxious, because the main character is depressed and anxious.

   Which is great.  I love talent.

    But f*ck, Mr. Grossman.

    I don't want to read your books about apathy.  Apathy and sex and drugs don't make a person an adult.  Perhaps apathy and meaninglessness are adult issues, but for f*ck's sake, your character should grapple with these things.  There should be striving to overcome.  I don't mind if there is failure.  But a portrait of a character who is never happy, and jumps from one thing to the next hoping that it will fulfill him, and is never fulfilled by any of it, does not a story make.  Maybe it did, the first hundred times I read this story in undergraduate workshops.  But I am so tired of adult literature characters who do nothing and say nothing and want nothing and strive for nothing, and I am tired of stories about the failure of a man who failed because he never tried for anything at all.

    I guess I need to make it clear what I mean by trying.  I don't mean "doing stuff."  Quentin, the main character in The Magicians, went to magic school.  He learned things.  He met a girl and had sex with her.  He moved out and did drugs.  He cheated on his girlfriend.  He found a magical pathway into the fictional world of his favorite books.  But he didn't ever reach beyond himself.  He didn't ever try to grow, or become more than the things that he did.  He never declared himself on one side or another of the deep abyss.  He never strove for greatness.  I am on page 387 and I still have no idea what this character wants, beyond a magic f*cking fairy to come render him magically happy. He certainly hasn't desired any of the Faulkner six: love, honor, pity, pride, compassion, sacrifice.  Faulkner said that these were the only verities worth writing about, and that if one does not write about them then one writes only of the glands, and not of the heart.

    I am tired of reading books about the glands.

    And while I'm ranting, can we talk Hemingway and Fitzgerald for a bit?  Also, Salinger?  It took me years to understand these books.  For a long time I did not; for a long time I did not allow myself to understand how important the Faulkner six were, either in my writing or in my life.  But The Great Gatsby is about Fitzgerald's recognition of the loss of these values--he saw that money and wealth brought only a desire to be entertained, to be sated.  To be drunk.  The narrator of Gatsby loathed Gatsby, but Gatsby had been the only one of that whole wealthy set who believed in something greater, and Fitzgerald was lamenting Gatbsy's failure to achieve it.  Gatsby's fatal flaw was the desire to earn approval of people who didn't enjoy living.
    Hemingway--he wrote about these truths, only he preferred to write about them without ever naming them.  He used language as a frame for a picture of the heart of his characters, and let the truths fill themselves in.  Which, yes, gets confusing.  He wrote an entire story about abortion without saying the words "abortion" or "baby" or "pregnant," and he wrote about courage the same way.
    And Salinger--I have one phrase for you.  Unreliable narrator.  Holden Caulfield is guilty of everything he accuses others of.  He is a phony, and a coward, and the story is about the way a man will put out his own eyes to avoid going to war.

    These stories are about the failure of the heart to rally over the demands of the universe, but they are also about the attempt. And somehow, in this world where it has become funny to laugh at compassion and pity and honor, the narrators of our stories--and also a lot of the real people I know--are more afraid of being laughed at than of failing at living.  And I am f*cking tired of it.

    So, writers (and painters and musicians and everybody, really) I would like to request this:  do your best to write about the heart, and not the glands.  Take that which could hurt you the most, and put it on the page.  Stop trying to be clever, and philosophical, and deep, and rich, and for f*ck's sake write about something that matters.  I will try to do the same.  But give me stories I want to read, and give yourselves a life worth living.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Note to Self

I spent the whole weekend hiking and hanging out with girlfriends.

I know I harp on about this, but it's really because somehow I always manage to forget it: when my brain does its little maya-based obsessiveness, I must. take care. of my body.

Sometimes I wake up in the morning and it all hits me like a ton of bricks: all of the parts of my life that make me uncomfortable rear their ugly heads as future possibilities, and my brain entertains itself trying to figure out how it's going to handle it all: whatif my job stays stagnant; whatif I don't get into grad school; whatif this person does/says/decides this; whatif my mother acts this way.  These things are not real, but they feel necessary and important.

So I have to go outside and move my ass.
I walked around a lake today, and it was one of those dyed-green lakes that we have here in Arizona, but it was still pretty.  My friend and I hurled rocks at the side of the canal.  We sat on the sidewalk around the lake and watched the mallards dive for algae and insects, and every single one of those ducks was different and individual and irreplaceable, and each one of them made beautiful patterns in the water as they swum along, and I forgot about all the stupid shit I made up that doesn't matter and hasn't happened yet and probably won't happen ever.

And then we went for a four-mile walk and climbed A Mountain, and watched the planes come in overhead, and looked out at Phoenix, and my endorphins kicked in and I talked to my friend and everything is okay.

When my mind is hurting me, I need to remember to kick it out of the driver's seat and put my body in charge instead.  My body lives in the real universe of stuff that is actually happening, and not in the made-up crap universe of stuff that could possibly happen.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Where Are My Supersoaker Friends?

It's bad when an XKCD character reminds me of me, right?

Thursday, February 3, 2011

The Paragraph... Plus Paragraph #2

       Jesus Arturo Alvarez was born on the thirteenth of September in the year of the Lord, after Whom he was named, nineteen hundred and ninety-six.  It was a Friday, and also market day in the village of Guadalupe, Arizona, which lay just east of Ahwahtukee and southeast of Phoenix proper.  During her most severe labor pains his mother screamed at the nurses for a drink and his father pinched her hard on that soft skin just above the elbow and told her to shut up.  She didn't feel the pinch but she told him to go to hell anyway and then bit him on his left hand between the thumb and forefinger.   Forever after Jesus' father had a crescent-shaped, dotted-line scar that he would rub absentmindedly with his right thumb during conversation.

On the same day, in a hospital in Scottsdale, Arizona, which lay just north of Tempe and northeast of Phoenix proper, Vicente Juan Nunez was delivered by a male nurse named Sonny.  His mother had an epidural and his three aunts and father stood shoulder-to-shoulder in a line down the right side of the hospital bed and took turns telling her to breathe and push.  She spent fourteen hours in labor and when, inevitably, she released her bowels, her husband turned to the window and tried not to vomit.  It wasn't until Juan grew a full head of hair that his father could look at him without experiencing a small wave of nausea.  

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

This Writing Thing Ain't All Bad

Ok, now that the voting is officially over and I can pretty well say I lost the popular vote, I am pleased to announce that the first paragraph of the novel I'm working on made finalist in a contest on Nathan Bransford's blog. I'd love to hear comments/criticism from you guys on here!

And, because it's my blog and I can, I'll post the SECOND paragraph tomorrow.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

An Ode to Jack Daniel's Tennessee Whiskey

Taking you to work's taboo
but still I think sweet thoughts of you.
I count on you to resurrect
the remnants of my intellect.
Oh, Jack Daniel's, you're a blast
now for the sake of the sweet lord Jesus Christ Almighty get in my glass!

Monday, January 24, 2011

The Magnolia Tree

First came the dolphins, at the beach in Newport. M.was out in the water and I was on the sand on a towel reading a book because I didn’t like the big waves; and there were dolphins in the surf, and I knew looking at them that M. wouldn’t be able to see them from where he was and that I wouldn’t be able to swim out to him in time to draw them to his attention, and so I just sat, and watched the dolphins. For the first time in years I was simply exactly where I was: and the sun was warm and the breeze was cold and the sand was dry and dusty under my feet and the towel was red and folded just right against the sand and the smell of salt and brine and water hung in the air and there were dolphins in the surf and I had them all to myself until they were gone.

Then, that same week, came the magnolia tree. M. and I went in to Santa Monica to see his aunt and uncle and niece in their new house.  One afternoon we all went out to the yard and M. and his uncle practiced Kung Fu in the grass and the baby held with tight baby fists onto her mother’s index fingers and walked up and down the flagstones from the garage to the house, and I was under the magnolia tree in a green plastic chair and a breeze shook the browning flowers down from their stems to the grass and the white blossoms hung heavy and fragrant amongst the leaves and this tree was the most beautiful tree I had ever seen—I saw it like it was the first tree I’d ever seen, or maybe the last, with its gnarled old branches and thick healthy leaves and so many flowers, so many flowers.
And then I thought, I remember feeling like this before, when I was a child.
And then I thought, I want to keep feeling this way.
And then I froze and a ball of panic formed in my throat and all of a sudden I didn’t know how it had even come to me in the first place, and I didn’t know how to keep that feeling and it was slipping away from me but I didn't want it to! and my body tensed and then it was gone.

It was not possible for me at the time to see familiar objects like I saw the magnolia tree.

I ended up leaving M., because it is hardest of all to bring the magnolia tree to the ones you love.

I left M. the way an adult rips off a child’s band-aid after assuring him it won’t hurt as much; but a child isn’t so weary yet that getting a lot of pain over with quickly is necessarily better than feeling a little pain at a time, slowly. I told M. he didn’t love me the way I loved him; later he said, “You just don’t feel like I’m in love with you, and there’s nothing I can do about that.” I hated him for it when he said it, but he was right.
And I would wake up with my hands balled into fists, more exhausted than when I fell asleep; sometimes I would wake up and cry to think that I had to do it all over again that day. The only thing that kept me going was not a happy thought, which worked because I couldn’t be disappointed by it: I was determined that I would not have sacrificed my relationship with a man like M. only to continue being unhappy.

There were so many things I did to try to get better. I don’t know which was the most important. But I will list them all, and try to explain what each step meant to me.  And I will tell you that I am mostly better, and that the work comes easier, but I still must do it, all the time. 

I started running again. I had always liked running, and running gave me a choice, a role to play in my own recovery. I could get out of bed and go running and thus make a concerted effort to deliberately feel better. And even if it didn’t work—hey, at least I’d gone running. The endorphins only ever helped, and it made me take care of my body in other ways: if I didn’t get enough sleep, I couldn’t go running. If I didn’t eat right, my run was miserable and I got cramps. But the best thing about running was that it automatically shut my brain up for the length of my run. My body was working too hard to allow my mind to latch onto anything; thoughts came, and they went, and that was all. But this was running at its best only. Sometimes I had to walk. Sometimes I couldn’t run long enough to find a groove for my mind or my body. Sometimes I was tired and bitchy and not even running could cure my depression. But sometimes it did, and that was enough.

I refocused my attention. This is still difficult for me. What I mean is that any time I caught myself thinking about something other than what was directly in front of me, such as the future or the past or what I wanted or what someone else wanted, I refocused my attention onto what was in front of me. I used a mantra: “Shut up and look at a tree;” an especially effective mantra for when I had nothing to do, specifically, to focus my attention on. It was a reminder to mentally explore and experience the world around me, instead of the made-up one that was nowhere to be found. The future is not real, not yet, and maybe not ever. The past did not happen only in the way you remember it happening; the people who were there for an event perceived parts of what happened through the interpretation of their own thoughts, which is not nearly the whole of the event. And that doesn’t even take into account the sorts of happenings humans can’t experience directly, like the way the ultraviolet light looked or the sounds and smells present that you can’t hear or smell. Or, even more importantly, the views of other people which you can’t ever experience. The present, from your point of view, is the only reality you have access to, and it is worth being there for.
I didn’t yell at myself for doing badly at refocusing, but I didn’t let myself off the hook with excuses about how I needed to solve the problem I didn’t currently have. If it wasn’t in front of me, it was not pressing enough to be spending my time on it; or, if it was, in fact, that pressing, I would just put it in front of me. I make this sound easy. It is not. Sometimes I would go for whole days without managing to correct my attention. Sometimes I still do. This becomes incredibly difficult when an issue requires not only present work but an investment in the future—another reason relationships seem to evade the magnolia tree. But the way I describe the process was the goal.

I brushed my teeth and washed my face. This sounds silly. What I mean is that I took care of my body. Without the body, there is no experience, bad or good, tainted or relaxed. Without the body, there is only the mind and what it can do to you as it tries to entertain itself. I am a terribly cerebral person, sometimes to the point that I forget my body is there, except as a vague sort of vessel to cart around this beast of a mind I possess. I bump into things. I get bruises and can’t remember how they got there. I can completely ignore discomfort and pain because I am so caught up in my little thought-universe. But my thought-universe does not exist. It is made up. It is fiction. The real universe is the one my body inhabits. So I flossed my teeth.

I wrote. By this I mean: I took care of my mind. My mind can send me into spasms of invented torture. But it is also an amazing contraption. When my mind is healthy, I am forgiving and honest and creative and compassionate; I can identify the root of problems most people can’t even see; I can perceive the emotional states of the people around me. My mind is enormously capable, and when I ask it to do things like simply walk down a street I have walked down a thousand times before, it rebels at the monotony, and makes up problems it can solve instead, which are more interesting, and infinitely available. So I wrote to try to give my mind something to do. Articulating abstract thoughts is tough work for a mind; examining those articulated abstract thoughts for bias and for truth is even tougher. But such activity uses my mind to full capacity, in a positive way. I would write my thoughts and feelings down, and then they did not twist and turn when I tried to examine them for fallacies. The truth came in baby steps, but I got to know myself, got to know my own tendencies and traps, got to know the best ways to work myself out of those same tendencies and traps. I could create generous, wild hypotheses about the roots of my own behavior, but then I could leave them on the page and not take them with me.

Finally, I learned how to accept myself the way I accepted reality. I still have trouble with this; I am always changing, and reality is always changing, and it is easier sometimes when one is tired and overwhelmed to make believe oneself and reality will remain the same. But I was home at my parents’ house in western New York State, sitting up at two in the morning in my pajamas looking out the tall breakfast room windows into the blue snow and cloudy night skies, going over and over my decision to leave M.: had I made a mistake? Maybe he was the one for me. Would he take me back if I asked? Why had I treated him like that? I had failed at loving him properly; how could there be anyone else as good for me as he had been? And on and on in full detail about our painful relationship. And then again: Maybe I made a mistake.
And then I thought: So the fuck what?
And then I thought: He made lots of mistakes, and I still loved him. Aren’t I entitled to at least one?
And then I felt better, and I went to bed. It wasn’t the last time I had those thoughts; but it was the first time I’d allowed myself to have them without feeling bad. It was the first time I had admitted to a definition of myself that included mistakes, imperfections, reality. It is difficult. There is a person I want to be, and it is important to work towards being her as best I can. But it is also important not to get angry or ashamed or frustrated with myself for failing to be her; it is important simply to correct what can be corrected, and try again.

It is important to sit under magnolia trees.