2017 Summer Roundup

2017 Summer Roundup

This summer careened by, dizzy from travel (Ohio three times; Mexico; Washington, D.C.; Rhode Island; Pittsburgh) and some enormous changes. My beloved grandmother passed on July 31. Her absence is palpable, and I am still trying to adjust to the fact that she is not here—that I can’t eat dinner next to her, help feed her (after the stroke), and braid her hair for her (as she used to do for me when I was young); or bring her a jasmine flower from my plant (she loved the fragrance and would lift the tiny blossom to her face, lose her eyes, breathe in, and smile); or just sit with her and talk and laugh. I used to stop over to see her most days. She made me feel better when I was sad. My parents’ house feels empty now; my grandmother had presence.

IMG_9291I wrote a poem about her when I was sixteen, first published in my high school literary magazine, then in Hanging Loose magazine, and finally reprinted in the Hanging Loose Press anthology, Bullseye: Outstanding High School Writers. R. posted this photo of my poem on Instagram.

Now, R and I are packing up to move from our first apartment to our first home. We bought a house—I’ll finally have room (I hope) for all of my books.

In between house hunting and later-stage hospice, I taught a seven-week creative nonfiction class, which included reading and writing in response to Eula Biss’ Notes from No Man’s Land: American Essays. It feels important to be writing about race, place, responsibility, privilege, ambivalence, what we love, what we struggle with, what we hope will change about our country, and how we are part of all of it. If you haven’t read this book yet, please do.

Next on my list to read, re-read, and teach: essays by James Baldwin and Audre Lorde. What are you reading to help you get through this particular time? Please comment and let me know.

Here’s my writing-related news update—

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Writing:

My story-essay, “Skeleton, Rock, Shell,” will be published in Conjunctions 69: Being Bodies (Fall / Nov 2017). R took the screenshot of the table of contents (in-progress) above. Yes—that’s Rick Moody and Anne Waldman in the same issue (!!!). I love Conjunctions, and have been published by them online, but this will be my first time in their print journal.

My story collection, How to Make Your Mother Cry, was selected by Paul Yoon as a finalist for the 2017 Mary McCarthy Prize in Short Fiction from Sarabande Books. Sarabande will publish the winner of the prize, Tiny Heroes, Tiny Villains, by Robert Yune.

My essay collection, Things People Say, was named a finalist for the 2017 Cleveland State University Poetry Center’s Essay Collection Competition, selected by Renee Gladman. More info in the link.

Readings, Festivals, & NYFA:

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Some of the audience saying hey. Those are the other fellows smiling at me in the first row.

In June, I was a Peter Taylor Fellow at the Kenyon Review Writers’ Workshops. Here’s a photo from the fellows’ reading, where I shared my essay about a former teacher, the poet Agha Shahid Ali. When I remember to, I like to take photos of the audience. This was a great one.

Reading at The Library of Congress, July 29, 2017

Reading at The Library of Congress, July 29, 2017 (photo credit: Kundiman)


July: I also read the essay (published this past April in Mad Heart Be Brave: Essays on the Poetry of Agha Shahid Ali, edited by Kazim Ali, University of Michigan Press) at the Library of Congress, for the Smithsonian Asian American Literature Festival, with Karen Tei Yamashita and Kundiman Fellows Vt Hung and Mark Keats.

It felt significant to read in our nation’s capital at the Library of Congress, as an Asian American writer myself in front of an audience of mostly other Asian American writers, scholars, poets, and readers. Several people came up to me afterward or emailed me to say that they were moved by the essay and reading. I felt that way about the events I attended, too.

To buy a copy (and/or ask your library to buy a copy) of Mad Heart Be Brave, head over here.

IMG_3812In August, I took part in the NYFA (the New York Foundation for the Arts)  2017 Artist-as-Entrepreneur Bootcamp. Lots to learn about as I gear up to begin offering private writing workshops and mentoring in 2018. If you are a writer or artist in New York State, I recommend applying to this program, which is offered several times a year around the state—the next one is in Albany.

Thanks to Brooklyn-based writer Roohi Choudhri, who told me about the bootcamp. She teaches privately and has a terrific set of in-person and online offerings for writers. Check out her website here.

Other Nice Stuff:

Every once in a while I Google my name to see what the internet rolls back at me. I found this mention on a website library discussion board called LibraryThing. Here is what one user posted about writers of South Asian origin:

6 cindydavid4: Though I’m a big reader of Indian-American writers (or, more broadly, American writers of South Asian origin), and I’ve read some [Chitra Banerjee] Divakaruni, I’m not a fan of her work. I can’t pinpoint why exactly because I haven’t spent enough time thinking it through. I only know that, after forcing myself to get to the end of her collection of stories Arranged Marriage: Stories, I have not picked up another of her books.

These days, the most interesting writing by Indian-American (or writers of South Asian origin) women writers I am liking are: Nina McConigleyTanwi Nandini IslamTahmima AnamMira JacobSejal ShahTania JamesJade Sharma, and more.

With male writers of South Asian origin, these are most interesting to me these days: Amitava GhoshAkhil SharmaVikram Chandra — whose Sacred Games is going to be a Netflix series, Kanishk TharoorKaran MahajanAnuk ArudpragasamSunil Yapa, et al.

I’m flattered to be in such company. The other folks have books. I’m working on it.

 

 

 

What We Keep

IMG_9090My latest essay for the Kenyon Review, in which I write about getting married, the books we keep, and the books we give away—along with thoughts from other writers about how to decide which books are keepers:

“In Marie Kondo’s best-selling book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, she writes, “Books are one of the three things that people find hardest to let go.” (The others are paper and miscellany / mementos. Perhaps books are especially hard because they involve aspects of the other two?) So how do we decide what to keep and what to give away? I wrote to several friends, mostly writers, curious to know their thoughts….” Read more here.

What You Did Do (Celebrate It!)

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My friend, the wonderful nonfiction writer Wendy Call, and I discovered while on a self-styled writing retreat at her house in 2012 that stickers (stars and smiley faces) are as effective as they were in first grade for motivating ourselves to get whatever writing tasks done on a given day. Rewards! Stickers! They work.

A few years ago, I returned from three months in India feeling completely lost. I was between jobs and had just moved back in with my parents. My friend Marijana suggested devoting a weekend to next year’s goals. We spent the weekend drinking tea, writing, eating, and making lists. Lists work. Before thinking about goals for the coming year, we took stock of the previous year.

Resolutions are vague—be kinder, eat healthier, get more sleep, spend more time with family, put writing first—and there is something about resolutions that make them seem predetermined to fail. Partly it’s the lack of metrics—how do you measure if you are being kinder? (Ask your mom or your spouse, I guess.)

When I was a full-time professor, I dreaded writing annual reviews. However, I’ve come to realize the value in reviewing how you spent your time. Looking over your year helps you to collect what you have done, and therefore see what you still want to do.

I’m aware of what I didn’t finish (thank you notes from our wedding, revising my first book, etc.), but I lost track of what I did. Here’s my list. I hope it might inspire you to make one, too. Revel in what you did accomplish!

2015 Year-in-Review (Accomplishments)

  1. Persistence / Book Review. I wrote my first book review last year; the publication I had in mind turned it down, but (this time) I didn’t let my writing sit in my hard drive. I sent out it out again, right away, and the review was published last summer.
  2. Writing & Yoga. I solo taught my first Writing & Yoga workshop. Though I completed yoga teacher training in 2009, prior to this workshop, I taught only the writing component. In 2015, I brought what I had been doing in my own yoga practice and drew from mindfulness exercises I had adapted to the classroom when I was teaching high school (sitting meditation, gratitude lists—see, I love lists—, freewriting, a choral reading of a poem, some stretching and gentle movement.
  3. Teaching Writing. I co-taught my first writing workshop with Creative Nonfiction Writer Gregory Gerard. I began teaching writing 20 years ago, but this was (incredibly) my first time collaborating with another writer on teaching a writing workshop together. I love how much you can learn from observing how others teach.
  4. Community Building & Literary Citizenship. I organized a December Literary Meet Up that drew fifteen or so writers, professors, teachers, & readers. Forging connections and community locally is important to me. Last fall I also learned how to create a calendar document in the ROC City Lit Meet Up Facebook group that I started two years ago (over 200 members now). It’s been rewarding to host a community calendar & virtual space that members can add to and edit — a central place to house the many readings and literary events in Rochester.
  5. Conference Presentation. I presented a paper on the lyric essay that was challenging to write at NonfictioNOW, a Creative Nonfiction conference held in Flagstaff, Arizona last fall. As I am no longer an academic, I wondered if it was worth the investment of time and money, but I met other writers, went on a much-needed hike in the Southwest, saw old friends, and learned from the panels. The conference energized me, for sure.
  6. Shout-Out! Hyphen Magazine asked 10 Asian American writers to recommend other writers / writing to read. Poet Matthew Olzmann picked out my essay, “Thank You.” Thank you, Matthew!

What my 2015 Review clarified: I had not worked on my book in a consistent way—and that is concrete a goal for 2016—to finish it and move on to my second project. Sure, I was busy: I got married, moved, changed jobs, had caregiving responsibilities for my grandmother. Still, I had not made progress on a writing goal that is a priority to me.

What are your goals for the year? Have you written them down? Do you have them in a place where you see them? Workshops can be an effective way to take time out to write down and to mindfully reflect on your goals and how you are spending your time.

I am co-leading a day-long writing & mindfulness retreat on Sunday, April 17th at Midtown Athletic Club in Rochester with yoga teacher Erin Garvin. This retreat will be an opportunity to do some mental spring cleaning and reflect on your intentions for the spring and summer. (Link forthcoming; please email me for more information.)

To have some extra structure and support around doing this work earlier, if you are local, I recommend signing up for Marijana’s terrific workshop, “Your Wild and Precious Life,” which leads you through personal writing, clarifying your goals, and creating action steps to reach them. Our goals are reachable if we keep them in mind and keep inching toward them on most days. (Baby steps. They work!) I wish us all forward movement and momentum on our goals & intentions in 2016.