Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Some Thoughts on Voice After an Evening of Listening to Jonathan Brown

So the other night I went to see my friend Jonathan Brown perform poetry. It'd been forever since I'd been to a poetry event. I flipped through the emails on my phone and the book of drafts I had in my purse, trying to find something to read at the microphone for the open mic portion of the evening, but, in the end, I told Jim, the emcee, just to take my name off the list. Everything was something I was already sick of --  loss of childhood, stolen cars, fouled-up love affairs. Frankly I wasn't feeling it.

For the last five years, I've been the editor of Mount Pleasant Magazine. I've arguably become a better writer since starting this gig. I've developed my "magazine voice," which admittedly sounds just like me: witty, conversational, truthful, sometimes humorous or snarky. But also in the past five years, I've come home and wondered, when it comes to my poems, memoir-in-progress and general personal writing, why none of it smacks of the heartwrench that I've focused on since, oh, college I guess, or whenever when I first decided that great literature must be sad and should mirror the more somber points of being alive.

Then I watched Jonathan Brown take the stage and read from his new book, Fight Dirty. His book is not sad. This isn't to say that it's happy either -- though I laughed myself out of my chair more than once. The book, like the reading, like the Monday, like the poet, includes a little of everything. 

Here's an embarrassing confession. Jonathan sent the book to me by mail a few weeks ago and asked me if I would review it. And I discouraged myself from the task! I told him I write "cheesy magazine articles" nowadays. I even told him to call up the City Paper. Y'all, I forgot about my own power and my own scope of vision -- then watching him read last night brought it back. 

Why the hell have I been ordering myself to be heartbroken all this time? Why can't I be that laugh-out-loud person even after work, in front of my own computer screen? This past year I've been freaking out about not writing anything personal, but what if it's only because nothing has devastated me? And yet I've trapped myself in that idea? Clearly I've been going about my role as a writer with blinders on -- sad blinders -- and to be honest, I've asked myself before, point blank, how a happy-go-lucky, pet-the-grasshopper kind of gal like me can love darkness so much? I mean, at 12 years old, I wrote poems about eating candy and hanging upside down. So what happened? At 14 years old i made up songs to the tunes of Christmas carols. What happened? 

I guess it doesn't matter what happened. I've got it all figured out. My writing needs to start reflecting me, and I'm not just sad.

As for Jonathan's book, Fight Dirty, let me show you what I mean about it. Take this line for example:

My ex's doppelganger/just surfaced from within a Christmas tree./It's past Easter; she's popping out like a pimple..."

I love this because it's ABOUT emotion - being reminded of a lost love - but it's crafted in a surprising, humorous fashion. I think this is what I like best about the collection; he manages to surprise me. I mean, before I can even start wallowing in sorrow, he turns it around like:

 "I shattered a wine glass/on my kitchen floor,/ then tried to glue it/together again/with peanut butter." 

How can I dwell on the misfortune of broken glass when the notion of using peanut butter as adhesive has been presented?! I give him mad kudos for highlighting not just our emotions, but the absurdity of said emotions. And I can confidently recommend his book to people who don't even LIKE poetry, or thought they didn't. Maybe we've never tried to teach our pet fish "to read by stacking Time magazines against the back of the glass," but we're amused by the idea.

For a long time I couldn't understand why I failed at writing sad, dark literature. I've been reading so much of it! But it is not, and it has never been, my whole voice. Thanks to Jonathan's reading, (as well as the words on the page) I remembered that it's OK if my voice is made up of more than one mood. And for those of us who experience more than one mood regularly, I heartily recommend getting your hands on a copy of Fight Dirty.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

The Process Versus the Product.

Hope y'all's 2016 is off to a good start! Been a while.

I've had the joy of working with a couple of my favorites in the under-18 set since the new year started. First, Rachel came to work with me for a couple of days over her holiday break, helping me with everything from our (downright woeful before her assistance) Pinterest account, to photo shoots, to interviewing the owner of a fabulous breakfast joint.

Then yesterday my girl Julia visited me for Charleston County's official job shadowing day and brought her friend Emily. We had a great time putting the last page of the magazine together (a "meet your neighbors" feature) and editing a couple of things around the office.

Hanging with my younger friends always make me feel good because they're amazed by what I do. I suppose it sounds fancy to be a magazine editor (I always preen a bit when I tell people my profession) but it isn't all glory for sure. In fact, if I don't stay organized, on top of my game and open to doing the grunt-work parts of the job, everything falls apart faster than you can say Mount Pleasant Magazine. That's why when I bring my proteges to the office, I try to present a pleasant mixture of hard stuff (coming up with the reasons why a sentence just doesn't sound right) and fun stuff (photo shoots). I mean, yesterday when we were out roaming around to meet people for the last page, one guy we interviewed raved about the magazine. He talked about what a good job I do, and it was nice to hear it. Of course, Julia and her friend were impressed.

"You're FAMOUS," they heartily declared. It's an overstatement, of course, but I still think it's important to recognize that when it comes to being a magazine editor, the process (sometimes tedious, boring, frustrating, etc) is just as important as the product.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Reflections on Nostalgia and Progress: A December Special

I was perusing Facebook this morning in between editing articles, and I saw a "Throwback Thursday" that my old alma mater, Coastal Carolina University, posted: a photo of the oldest building on campus -- the Singleton Building, as it stood in the 1960s. I saw the Singleton building myself just about a month ago during a fairly routine visit to campus, and I was shocked to find the building had been totally gutted. The shiny, completely renovated Singleton building will reopen in 2016. It made me a little sad. Thus, I posted this on the Throwback Thursday photograph:

This is a cool photo. I was sad to see it completely gutted when I visited Coastal a month or so ago. Yes, the Singleton building smelled weird and needed to be updated, but I clearly remember walking through it between 1998-2002 and loving it just as it was. Progress and nostalgia are always at odds, I suppose.

Today is my mom's birthday (Happy birthday, mom!), and if you don't know my mom, she's one of the finest examples of poetic nostalgia I've ever known. Part of it comes from her outstanding memory, and part of it is her sincere fascination with how things became the way they are. I spent my childhood relishing tales of her childhood, from the people to the buildings around Florence. Even if they had long since disappeared, my mom could still point out where they were.

That said, I suppose it's fitting that today I would find myself reflecting on progress and nostalgia. After all, this is the time of year when people get caught in between longing for the past and anticipating the future. I know I'm one of them -- I find myself feeling excited about what might happen in 2016 (New freelancing opportunities! Road trips!) but also missing people I haven't seen in decades -- wanting to trade stories and hold on as much as possible.

I doubt very many people, if any at all, would agree with me that the Singleton Building was fine the way it was. People complained about how dingy it was, how funny it smelled, how dark the hallways were, and everything else. But to me, it was just another part of the campus, and the campus has felt like home since my college days. Luckily, it still does, despite the renovations. I think that's the secret, when it comes to balancing progress and nostalgia: making sure you still feel at home, despite change.

When I go home next week for the holidays, things in Florence will be different, as they usually are, and people will be shifting. They'll be getting married, having children, growing older, selling their old sofas, downsizing their homes, retiring, shopping for new cars and whatever else they do to keep up the progress in their lives and move forward. But I'll still feel at home there thanks to nostalgia, which my mom passed down to me.

Merry Christmas and happy holidays, y'all!

Me, my mom and my sister Marie, circa 2008 or so.