Note: I wrote this back in November (I can’t even remember!) and then the distraction-heavy November gave me too much else to do. So I gave myself a break. But there’s some good stuff in this one, so if you’ll forgive my lateness (the title of my memoir, more than likely), I’d love to send you some more. At some point. This was always supposed to be an as-the-mood-struck-me sort of deal. So here we are, sending while the fire is hot.
The change of the seasons is difficult, even without a pandemic. Somewhere around the middle of October, I start trying to squeeze every last drop of summer like the year is a tube of toothpaste. I have to maximize our outings, maximize the daylight, and maximize my productivity. I do this every year, like clockwork. Like spring cleaning, only — with adventures. And then in the middle of November, I’m ready to collapse into a heap and hibernate until February. That’s pretty much my state of mind right now.
When we feel this way, the best thing is to take stock. Inventory the things we’ve accomplished. Triage the work yet to be finished. Set goals for a more productive quarter, year, decade. Ruminate on the possibilities rather than the missed opportunities. I’ve been doing my best to keep a paper trail of this year, to catalog and corroborate my time, and pat myself on the back whenever necessary and able.
There are a few things I’ve been doing this year to attempt to have such a paper trail. I’ve been attempting the Ray Bradbury DIY MFA, which suggests reading a short story, a poem, and an essay every day. This has not been easy, but I’ve been reading a lot and keeping track on a spreadsheet of what I have read. This part of my life pays off in so many ways — it’s so much more than just making scratch marks on the walls. Like season two of every television show ever made, it’s an expansion of my world view. You know. The part right before the gang is broken up and dispersed, again.
I’ve been keeping a journal, also. A meditation, yes, but more than anything, a paper trail in the truest sense of the word. I haven’t had an active paper journal since the days before LiveJournal became a thing, but it’s been so nice to have someplace constructive for my thoughts that is just for me. As writers we worry that some day our journals may be the source of scrutiny in order to understand and perceive our work, but I’m trying not to let that idea get to me. I’ve completed my first paper notebook in about 15 years.
And, lastly, I’ve been submitting work. There is no better paper trail than the rejection slip, of which I have accumulated many now. It’s been two years since my fiction was accepted in any outlet, but I think it’s a matter of market and timing. I still maintain that rejection letters get sent on Tuesdays and I’ve been trying not to play Rejection Roulette, where I simply check my inbox over and over with a glass of bourbon at my side to celebrate (or assuage, depending on outcome). Submissions are terrifying, but I’m learning to love them as a part of the writing life. The best part about getting a rejection is knowing that no one is going to read something you wrote that’s objectively bad. And eventually I’ll have a ticker tape parade.
New poetry online
My first poetry publication ever came alive and in the world on Election Day. Amid the nail-biting and PTSD leftover from 2016. It was the boost I needed here as I was rolling up the aforementioned toothpaste tube on 2020 and wondering what else I could possibly squeeze out of this year before throwing it in the proverbial trash. My micropoem, Lantern, is in Episode 39 of my favorite podcast of the moment, The Cryptonaturalist.
Apt, as ever, this episode is all about finding hope in the darkness, a perfect piece to read or listen to on a rainy November day. About how your life is not going to fit into the three-act structure, and it’s okay if it doesn’t, or if you haven’t figured out your midpoint yet. For the narrator, Jarod K. Anderson, lanterns are harbingers of hope. I’m trying to inject a little bit of that into my own life, writing and otherwise. This certainly fits the bill.
The Cryptonaturalist is a dark, weird, strange nature podcast. If you like Welcome to Nightvale, but also Lake Woebegon, you’ll enjoy The Cryptonaturalist. (If podcasts aren’t your thing, you can read the poem in the transcript archives.)
October’s best reads
Listen, I sat on this email for a month, okay. I haven’t tallied November’s best reads — as yet. But I bet in January I’ll have a Best of 2020 list for you. I’m always a little late to the party.
Before we dive in to the playlist, here’s another kind of play list. Some are older than others. All are new to me. Here are my favorite short stories that I read this past month, in no order of importance or favoritism. Add these to your own paper trail. You’ll be glad you did.
No Hard Feelings — A. Dot Ram
In the House of the Hummingbirds — Silvia Moreno-Garcia
The Little Black Train — Manly Wade Wellman
Blood is Another Word For Anger — Rivers Solomon
Incarnations of Burned Children — David Foster Wallace
No more wind or dirt
This month’s playlist is my musical mood board for my current longform project. Set in New Mexico, there’s childhood trauma, an abandoned well, and the possibility that an urban legend featured in a popular horror novel might be real. (Spoiler alert: it is. And it’s terrifying.)
I did my best not to include more than one Neko Case song. Or more than one Thrift Store Cowboys song. But it is heavy on the alt-country, and is something that I would have listened to on one of my many drives from Lubbock to Albuquerque, the breadth of which is the setting for the project. Will I ever stop writing about the American Southwest? Surely so, but, not for now.
Where’d All the Time Go? — Dr. Dog
From a Soon-to-Be Ghost Town — Fruit Bats
Blue — The Jayhawks
Honey and Smoke — Neko Case, k.d. lang, Laura Veirs
Damn New Mexico — Thrift Store Cowboys
Jeannie Becomes a Mom — Caroline Rose
Buena — Morphine
First Love / Late Spring — Mitski
Crystal Night — Black Lips
Unholy Faces — Florist
Rattling Bone — Iron & Wine
Pass It On — The Coral
I wrote this back in October, or November, believe it or not. I can’t quite remember how long ago. November was a roller coaster of voting, claims of fraud, publications, reading, being stuck inside, and pandemic depression. It was not my best month, and I let the newsletter backslide. But I’m still here, still truckin’. Still working, writing, reading, and trying to keep my head above water.
I hope you’re succeeding in whatever it is you’re up to.
Until next time,