Blog Hop: Thoughts on creative process and where I’m at now

….so, a few months ago, my friend and fellow Hope creative writing alum Katie Budris (sidenote: the photo in that post was one I took on film in 2006, when she visited Schenectady, NY, where I was living at the time) asked me to participate in a blog hop with her. I asked a few people to keep this going and participate with me, but it was a crazy point in the semester and I had no takers. I just realized I didn’t hit publish while I was waiting for responses, and well, here we are.

Not much has changed, so I’m posting this now. Creative friends, if you want to join after the fact, let me know!

Some thoughts on my writing and photography these days….

I am preparing a collection of essays that I hope will be part of a graduate school application and eventually a full-length manuscript. Part of this process will involve submitting for publication in journals, which terrifies me. I completed an undergraduate degree in English with creative writing emphasis a decade ago (!!!) and chose not to pursue graduate school at the time because I felt burnt out and like I hadn’t really had material to begin with. I’m very grateful for the experience as it was a workshop-intensive curriculum that taught me how to give and receive constructive criticism on my work, and I do feel I grew as a writer during those four years. But I left knowing I needed to just go live, and let the stories accumulate.

And, they have. I now feel like I have more stories than I have time to write, which is a new and frustrating problem! I have three children and work fulltime as a commercial photographer, which leaves exactly no time for writing unless I drag myself out of bed in the morning to do it. And that’s what I’m trying to do. I largely failed this summer, but I did write and am working on making it more disciplined practice. I have a finished room in my attic that’s my art/craft/writing studio. I’ve had this space for five years and have let it just scare the shit out of me, seriously. I have gone out of my way to avoid this room. And I have only just realized how much time I wasted, that I could have been up here writing (where I am now) in this little haven all this time. So last weekend, I took a few hours to clean it out, to prepare surfaces and organize things, and create up here.

My writing is almost entirely creative non-fiction. I want to write lines that snap. I want to pull from my life experience and write a story that hums, that is beautiful and tightly written. Most of it will draw from my feeling of being constantly between cultures and never fully in one (I am half-Cuban, and my husband was born in Pakistan). Identity politics matter a lot to me, as well as the varied details that make us human: how we dress, what we eat, and why.

I just finished re-reading Naomi Shahib Nye’s short non-fiction piece “Mint Snowball,” and it’s this sort of poetic essay that I’m most drawn to, I think partly because I can’t really give up poetry and am still writing some in the background. And maybe publish that, but it’s not really my focus at the moment. But I do think and write and photograph like a poet, zooming in on these glowy or messy little moments that focus in on a tight glimmer of the human experience.

Perhaps the “how is your work different” question is the one that stumps me most, about my writing and my photography. I spent a lot of years comparing myself to other writers in my program, or to other photographers locally, and that always makes me feel about two inches tall and like an untalented hack. So lately I’ve tried to focus on making my work really sing on its own, to focus on creating and presenting work to the world that I feel is polished and completed according to my standards for that project, and to worry much less about how it’s received or whether it’s different. For instance, a few years ago I started to try to only use my own editing process for photos, because I was worrying too much about the trends of portrait photography. That’s really allowed me to relax into my work.

For both writing and photography, I’ve found it’s really important to know the craft. I’ve spent a lot of time on learning off-camera lighting, for instance, so that I can worry less about technical concerns and more about the photo session at hand. It’s a really great feeling to walk into a shoot and know that I can usually creatively handle the lighting even if it’s not what I expect. For writing, it means reading more poetry and creative non-fiction to get back in that rhythm. And writing, often and freely. And need to go back to revisit some grammar rules that I’ve noticed are growing rusty in my craft!

At my office at work, I taped William Stafford’s poem “How These Words Happened” to my wall. And I’ve listened over and over to interviews with Natasha Trethewey and Elizabeth Alexander, loving how they talk about their craft and words and inspiration. Alexander talks about being a mother, too, about women who have written around the kitchen table.

Oh, and I’ve listened to PoetryFoundation.org’s recording of Gwendolyn Brooks’ “Children of the Poor” close to 50 times in the past couple of months. The reading is beautiful — I don’t know who is reading it, but his voice is emphatic and sonorous and lovely — and every time I hear it, I notice something new she’s done with language.

Why do I work? I think beause I have to, because ever since I was old enough to write, I’ve strung words together. I still have a book of poems I wrote as a kid, and what cracks me up is that there’s a poem about snow. I grew up in north Georgia and probably only ever saw a dusting, so maybe it was reading Little House on the Prairie so many times, but there it is: lines about snow falling.

Writing and telling stories is my way of relating to the world, and trying to understand what I see and experience.

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