This past January, I was thrilled to be awarded a 2018 Oregon Literary Fellowship. I’m using the award to finish my work Quantum Entanglements, which is a fiction-memoir-personal essay hybrid. The announcement was a happy shock and also a shot of adrenalin.
I’ve used the time well and should have a finished manuscript in the next weeks.
Following is an interview with Literary Arts about Quantum Entanglements and my writing process.
Q&A with Literary Arts
What are your sources of inspiration?
When I’m overtaken by a project or an idea or even a simple creative task, everything around me becomes a source of inspiration: the light immediately before dawn, the way a crow crosses the sky, the man with dreadlocks knitting on the MAX, an overheard argument, the languid way my cat rolls when he’s content — and that’s just this morning. I collect experiences like a bowerbird building a nest. Later on, I lay them out in front of me and pick out what’s useful.
How would you describe your creative process?
It depends on where I am with a project. In the early stages, when everything is possible and the imagined result is shining in the distance, I daydream, imagine, take notes, collect experiences, dash off passages, burn with possibilities, and I read, read, read.
Once I’m a bit more into the process, I force myself to turn up at my desk regularly. Sometimes life prevents this from happening daily (which is the ideal) but I try to manage three or four times a week. Then, I write.
If it just isn’t happening, I use one of my tricks. Writing longhand helps, occasionally using my non-dominant hand, which I find jostles something loose in my brain. I might focus on some of the scaffolding of a story — the stuff of interest only to me as the writer and which will likely be cut out of the final draft. For example, I might imagine in great detail the room my characters are in. I’ve even gone as far as to draw out a plan that shows how the furniture is arranged. I imagine the drapes, the potted plants, the cold fireplace and the items on the mantle. Once I’m able to situate the characters in a space I’m familiar with, I find it’s much easier to let them get on with it. I also keep a cork board with images I’m drawn to. This used to be more explicit, with faces that resemble the characters as they appear in my imagination and pictures of ‘scenes’ I want to borrow. Lately, however, I tend to put up poems that intrigue me or an art postcard or tickets stubs to an event I’ve attended, any bits and pieces I find interesting. I think it’s more a mood I’m after or a point of focus maybe.
Even with tricks, like all writers, I have fallow periods. This used to produce enormous anxiety, but I’ve learned that if something is important I’m not going to forget it. It’s still in there, and I trust it will eventually end up on the page — hopefully richer and more flavorful for the extra simmering.
What is most exciting about receiving a fellowship?
Since the fate of a writer is to swing constantly between self-assurance and self-doubt, it’s always great to have outside acknowledgement. It’s like a jolt of electricity bringing a work new life. Since hearing the news, I’ve implemented a schedule for completion, something previously undefined. So, after a glass of champagne and a slice of chocolate mud cake, I’ll get back to writing.
What are you currently working on?
My work, Quantum Entanglements, resides in the space between fiction and memoir. It’s a narrative collage about the many ways we try and fail to love.
What advice do you have for future applicants?
Create steadily. Take risks. And don’t forget to enter.
Excerpt from Quantum Entanglements:
Ours is the saddest story. It’s been sad — the saddest — for so long, those words have come to form a refrain in mind, constantly linked together, drumming the beat I live by. Ours is the saddest. The saddest story of all. The saddest story is ours.
I only ever wanted that one simple thing, something whole that would be valued with the same fierce protectiveness by both of us to the same degree. But if a force is not met by an equal opposing force, the thing between them will eventually shatter. And so it did.
For a long time, I imagined it as something outside of us, a divine hand trying to set us aright, at first whispering when we got things wrong, and then, when we continued to ignore the signs, with an elbow to the ribs, a shove, a kick, until the sledgehammer could do nothing but bear down with all its might. A nice enough metaphor. Very tidy and convenient. And certainly one way of looking at it.
It’s impossible now to ignore it was us that whole time. It was we who failed.
The refrain returns, now with images of a shattered life. In the shards at my feet, your image stares up in a thousand different ways. Frozen broken cutting treasured moments. So present after all this time that I might bend and gather them and set them out in front of me, slowly, one by one, like Tarot cards.
Here’s one of you at the smoky end of Fast Eddie’s, a place I wouldn’t have been caught dead in except for the raging downpour, the friend who smoked, and that divine hand pushing me back to the booth next to yours.
Here’s another of your face when you leaned in to give me that first kiss on Jane Street. You wore a hat like Don Draper, both affected and affecting, which you paused to take off in order to kiss me properly.
Here we are on the Fourth of July, the only two people who didn’t have to work left in the city, asleep holding hands on the futon in your cramped apartment.
You at the altar with a rose petal dangling from your hair.
Here’s one of you returning home from work, poised on the other side of the closed door, just about to enter. We, your family, motionless, silent, and staring, waiting to see the mood that would storm in with you.
Here’s one I can’t locate in time: It’s you at your gregarious best, holding up a glass of wine in a toast. It might be you from our first days together or the very last time we entertained or on any of the 8000 days we shared in between.
And one near the end, out with friends, your arm around my waist, me explaining that being together so long had its own momentum, that we could never have such a history of moments with any other living being. The suddenness of being young in New York and in love, the shock of learning we were expecting a child, each of their eventful births, moving fearlessly to the other side of the world, languid days at the beach, rapturous nights, the daily grind turning round, rough times, calm, forgiving and being forgiven.
“You can never again have such a string of firsts,” I waxed. “Even if you have another relationship, even for the same length of time, it would just be pale seconds.”
I was raw with being ‘ill’ and thought a lot about this kind of thing.
Our friends there in a circle around us, smiling, nodding. Someone saying, “I’ve always envied what you two have.”
“Do you feel the same?” I asked you, looking into your eyes.
“I do!” you answered, squeezing my waist, pulling me close, kissing my cheek.
There you are the last time you were ever in our bedroom, the night I learned of the latest betrayal. You’re sleeping dreamlessly; I’m watching at the threshold, my heart too broken to make a sound.