Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Writing & Distance

Skyline of Pine Trees at Sunset 
in the Villa Borghese Park, Rome, Italy

Writing friends ask me if my writing has changed since I've been living in Italy. While I've been writing while doing other things, as I was in the U.S., I think there's been a small shift in my bravery.

Distance makes a difference -- I am having new conversations, seeing new things and changing my routine, which feels refreshing. I'm closer to loved ones whom I've missed for over a decade, while now missing my loved ones back in the States.

The newest, terrifying element of living abroad this time is the U.S. continuing to spiral out of control. I've been writing more directly - motherhood and our nation's deteriorating state add urgency to my creative work. This is all to say that I've been feeling braver about the necessity of using my voice.

The last year, I drafted more essays and children's picture books than poetry. I spent a lot of time playing with these forms and learning in the process. Thanks to some space and time at the DC Writers Room, I was able to do that. Most pieces felt unfinished and I didn't submit as often. I felt more like a student, which is is a healthy part of growing as a writer.

Since moving, I've been editing and submitting more. Becoming a Signora, was written, submitted and published quickly. I've completed some necessary edits and have been submitting my poetry manuscript. I've also turned my attention back to some stalled projects. This is all a part of that bravery.

I'm sending you, dear reader, bravery for your own work. Whether you are working on a particular project or free writing for discovery, do so with the confidence. You voice matters. What you learn from the writing process matters.

You don't have to show every draft to readers, but please keep writing. With edits and revisions, you'll arrive at a piece that you just might want to share with the world. We'll be here to read it when you are ready.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Writing Prompt: Looking & Learning

Insightful writing requires you to look and really see something as if for the first time. I recently took a walking tour of Florence, a city I've spent over four years in, with Elizabeth Namack of Signature Italy Tours. Her insight encouraged me to see architecture, paintings, sculpture and history in a new light.

At our request, our tour guide Elizabeth Namack started the tour in Piazza della Santissima Annunziata. She described the architecture and history of the Ospedale degli Innocenti. Parents, probably mostly mothers, could anonymously leave their child at the hospital through a revolving wheel. Many parents would include a keepsake to (possibly) later identify the child and relationship. The museum kept records of the children and the unclaimed keepsakes. Of all that Elizabeth shared with us, and there were many, this really made an impression on me. This history will definitely inform my walks downtown and perhaps a poem will evolve as I return to the museum.

To read more about the opsedale, you might start with: 

Today's writing prompt? Take a local walking tour or download a walking tour (like these from the Academy of American Poets) and think about where you are.

Planning a trip to Italy? I encourage you to look into Signature Italy's many tours throughout the country. Be sure to tell Elizabeth I say, "ciao, ciao!"

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day

Photo of stairs leading down to the Tiber River in Rome 
with green leaves from a nearby tree

October 15th is is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day. After my miscarriage, reading personal stories offered me comfort and companionship. Here are a few of those stories available online:

Grieving a Miscarriage: An Illustrated Discussion, by Jessica Zucker and Ryan Alexander-Tanner

After Infertility Diagnosis, Taking Comfort in Jewish Traditions by Dania Rajendra

Adopting A Buddhist Ritual To Mourn Miscarriage, Abortion by Deena Prichep

The Japanese Art of Grieving a Miscarriage by Angela Elon

I invite you to share links to other stories in the comments section.

I have been writing about my own miscarriage and am working on collecting them into a manuscript. You can read a few poems herehere and here at Literary Mama. Composer Lauren Spavelko has also set some of the poems to music, which she is crowdfunding to record. You can support her here. She's already met 26% of her goal as of this writing.

To any readers currently experiencing a loss, remembering a loss or supporting someone who is experiencing the loss, you are not alone. 

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Publication: Becoming a Signora in Poets Reading the News

Thank you to Poets Reading the News for publishing my piece Becoming a Signora. This journal publishes original poetry about current events. I hope you'll spend some time reading the poems in response to the news, like Catherine Strayhall's poem about gun control, Not the Time. This publication supports what William Carlos Williams famously wrote:
It is difficult
to get the news from poems
  yet men die miserably every day
    for lack
of what is found there.
The title of my piece comes from this blog post in which I wrote a bit about our time in Italy: "If I were to write a memoir about this time, I think it would be titled, "Becoming a Signora," as it feels as though I receive more respect when I speak Italian (the men listen and respond to me, instead of turning towards my English speaking husband) and our child has been embraced (folks offer their bus seats to him and everyone smiles at him.)" From that, encouragement from friends, and my visceral reaction to the news of recent rapes in Italy, came this new poem.

If the poem brings up anything for you or you are working to support someone else, you might start with these resources:

U.S. Embassy & Consulates in Italy, including resources for American Victim Assistance Programs - Sexual Assault 

RAINN (Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network - USA)

Monday, October 2, 2017

Writing While... Doing Something Else

Fiesole (FI), Italia

My friend Sara Burnett* has as an insightful blog titled, "Writing While Parenting." She's balancing writing and parenting a young child. I love her posts about her path, which includes some goals and successes while focusing on the path. Week 4 hones in on lowering her expectations and finding joy in writing. I highly recommend reading her blog and following her journey.

We're all writing while ... doing something else. I've been juggling (and sometimes dropping) three main balls: online teaching, parenting, and writing. I'm also getting settled in Italy and carving out some time to see the sights and travel with my family. As I find myself repeating to friends, this moving-abroad-adventure has been stunningly exciting and beautiful, but also irritating and frustrating. That is to say, this is life. Everything exists simultaneously.

The trick is to find time to, at the very least, think. Try to give yourself a moment of stillness and regroup. Then, maybe, read something published that inspires you or your own work first thing in the morning. Keep it in your mind as you do fairly mindless thing, like washing the dishes. Look around during your day to try to catch a surprise moment of light or laughter somewhere. If you are open to it, you will likely find it.

An important part of writing is to start with seeing. That is to really see what is around you and then build on that with emotions, metaphor and more. We were in Amsterdam recently and took our four year old to some museums. Did he love being in the museums? Not entirely. But we did have a few good moments in which he was in my arms, close so we could hear each other, and talked about what we saw in the paintings. He usually noticed something unusual - an expression, perhaps - rather than the composition or the larger scene. He doesn't yet have context to understand what the artist did that was novel in that moment in time or what the scene represents to that historical moment. But he can see color, figures and location and draw his own conclusions. That's the sight that allows us to function in the world and then create something new.

Hopefully with some organizing and a notebook or app open near you after seeing, you will write something down. Your muscles - and their memories - might surprise you as you start writing and launch yourself (back) into the habit.

*You might remember Sara Burnett from earlier posts here:
Poetry and the Process of Unlearning
The Next Big Thing Interview Project