Who Art Thou Mona Lisa?

I was giddy with unspent energy as I traversed the halls of the Louvre. People shedding their winter coats walked down the checkered hallway, pausing to snap pictures of the headless Nike statue before moving on. Glass skylights illuminated a grand hallway with towering ceilings embellished in ornate carvings. I followed the congested flow of people, my school friends in tow, as we rushed past life-sized battle scenes, mythological images, and picturesque landscapes rendered in remarkable detail. The crowd slowed, and the top of a dark painting rested with a glass case on the wall. I saw Da Vinci’s famous lady, surrounded by people scrambling to get near, and I laughed.

She was small, and her colors were muted, but she monopolized everyone’s attention. She sat across from a grand painting ten times her size with ten times her vibrancy of color. She was underwhelming. Or perhaps, I was just very young.

I would later learn that my approach to art, and to the world, was still developing past its shallow stage. Appreciation of the arts was more complex than its surface level, and that to access something beyond a superficial approach was key in understanding not only the world, but myself as well.

I grew up on TV, fast ads, and colorful cereal boxes. My attention span was here and then out the window watching a cat climb a tree.  But I was living in a society that fostered my behavior. There was sugar in my breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Colorful signs trying to sell me something fast. Time was money, and money made the world go around. Worship it, worry over it, waste it. But do not waste time.

I didn’t have time to be staring out windows. I had to be focused on my grades, on sports, on my friends, on my social media. I had to worry about how my life appeared to colleges and how my face appeared to the world. Because those things were important, right?

It wasn’t until I got to college that I learned that I worry too much about the world’s perception of myself. I worry about the words I write on this page. That they will never be good enough. Never perfect.

But to create art in any form involves leaving yourself at the mercy of others’ scrutiny. It is my primary reason for writer’s block. Why I am constantly conflicted, because I am a writer that does not write as often as I should. Can I call myself a writer and admit that I sometimes hate writing? I tell myself to stop trying to fit into a box of what a writer should be and to just be me.

It’s a popular mantra now days. Just be yourself. And through living it, people are breaking down barriers not only in literature and writing, but in all facets of life. This freedom of expression allows for a plethora of diverse perspectives and allows us to look beyond the surface level to find greater understanding and greater human connectivity.

Four Influential 20th century Female Horror Writers

When we think about modern horror, the great and disturbing Stephen King pops into most people’s minds. While King is  wonderfully spooky and influential to one of my favorite literary genres, there are also plenty of women who wrote many creepy tales that impacted the 20th century and the horror genre as a whole.

Daphne du Maurier

Daphne du Maurier began her writing career in the early 1930s with one of her most successful works being the Gothic novel Rebecca (1938). In a similar way to traditional Gothic novels, Rebecca contains a heroine, who is never given a name, who is forced to deal with the oppressive and almost ghostly past of her new home. The real terror in this novel comes from the titular Rebecca’s grasp on the protagonist’s psyche, causing the heroine to feel a kind of inadequacy that many people experience when constantly compared to another, seemingly perfect, person. With discussions of identity, obsession, and even suicidal thoughts, Daphne du Maurier’s novel is an intricate modern Gothic novel with a dark and well-written twist ending.

Shirley Jackson

Shirley Jackson has written many creepy novels and short stories that have become classics in the Horror genre. Her novel The Haunting of Hill House (1959) is often considered one of the best haunted house stories ever written. This novel contains creepy hauntings, shocking incidents that are never truly explained, explorations of mental illness, bisexuality, and a diverse small cast discovering the ominous character of the titular mansion. The Haunting of Hill House is a suspenseful horror novel that leaves readers with chilling images and thoughtful explorations of fear, paranoia, and isolation.

Anne Rice

Anne Rice first appeared during the horror boom of the 70s and 80s with her debut novel Interview with the Vampire (1976). This vampire novel has been cited as the beginning of the “romantic vampire” trend that took off in the 20th and 21st centuries. Despite writing about vampires who are human in many ways, Rice’s characters are complex and intriguing monsters who give the reader a striking and bleak look into the life of the monster that usually is just in the story to be defeated by the good guys. Interview with the Vampire is also revered for its positive depictions of sexuality between its vampire protagonists as well as discussing morality in a philosophical way.  With deep introspection, a disturbing and well written cast of characters, and a deep look into the monster’s point of view, Interview with the Vampire is an enchanting and horrifying look into the psyches of humans turned into monsters.

Angela Carter

Angela Carter is a great British author who has written many plays, short stories, children’s stories, and some novels during her lifetime. While Carter’s work usually falls under the umbrella of Magical Realism, her body of work also contains some horror novels too.  One of her most popular short story anthologies The Bloody Chamber (1979) is one such work. The Bloody Chamber is an atmospheric and mature reworking of different fairy tales such as Little Red Riding Hood, Sleeping Beauty, and Snow White with a dark and distinctly feminist edge. Dealing with women’s sexual identities, luscious and graphic prose, and a chilling harken back to the more adult Grimm’s fairytales, The Bloody Chamber is a startling collection of feminist fairy tale horror that is scary as it is thought provoking.

Dyslexia: Spell Check is for the Weak

As an editor, it can be hard to admit that my greatest passion is also the source of one of my biggest inhibitions. A big part of this stems from the fact that not many people are vocal about learning disorders, and those who are aren’t always the most constructive. I’ve known from an early age that I am dyslexic. Even though this isn’t anything world-ending, or even something that’s necessarily complicated, I’ve noticed that there is still a significant amount of stigma surrounding learning disorders. Being a student of the Liberal Arts means that I am surrounded by bright and intelligent people on a daily basis, who not only analyze everything they read, but are obnoxiously good at it. Initially, this intensified a fear that I’ve harbored since the first grade, in which I feel that everyone around me understands something that I don’t, and that my cover will be blown at any moment. Of course, the only logical response to this was to double up on literature classes and enroll in a second language. Because that’s not overcompensation, right?

As unhealthy as it may sound, this has been my approach to tackling dyslexia for years. It’s almost like a vigorous hike; every time I start to get winded, I see that the peak is that much closer and I force myself to pick up the pace. When I first learned to read, this was how I kept myself going. If a book tripped me up, I would pick up another and read them back to back until they both made sense. Even today, I still read roughly five to six books at a time to keep myself engaged.

Before I go any further, I suppose I should explain what dyslexia means for me. Most people understand dyslexia as that thing where kids sometimes confuse the letter “b” with “d,” but dyslexia can go so much farther than that. In fact, once my parents had realized what was going on, mirrored consonants became the least of my concerns. My biggest challenge was, and still is, the struggle of being inconsistent. What is a reflex one day is foreign the next. Just the other day I tried spelling “optimist” as “optemest” and had to review Greek and Latin root words until I could understand where I went wrong. This word has never been a problem in the past, and I use it pretty frequently, but out the window it went.

I can see when my words come out wrong and I can recognize broken sentences and phrases, but this is because I had to develop an intuition that could save me when my brain short circuited. This is how I first developed an interest in editing. Suspicious, right? In a way, every error I catch and every student I tutor justifies the ridiculous amount of time and effort I’ve put in to learning the written English language.

Dyslexia may not be particularly interesting for those who are unfamiliar with it, but for me it’s like the ultimate challenge. It has forced me to think outside the box and learn things in unconventional ways. It’s popular advice that writers should read the works of their favorite authors so they can emulate their writing style. I took this a step further and turned to literature for lessons in grammar. Not only was I trying to capture the elegant sentences of Poe and the subtleties of Philip K. Dick, but I was also trying to figure out what the heck a dependant clause was and why my teacher kept circling mine but not my partner’s. In my case, dyslexia has driven me to better understand the written word, because I can’t handle the idea of being inherently bad at something. Of course, being dyslexic still has its issues, and it always will. The takeaway here is not that learning disabilities can be cured, but that they can be overcome, and every step I take as an editor is a massive victory.

“Where are you from?”

While easy enough to answer for most people, it exists to some of us as one of the most complicated questions in our lives. It’s an impossibly loaded interrogation that has been long embodied in the small-talk canon, not taking into account a large number of factors that may distort the reply, and not caring. It demands a simple answer, a recognizable place on the map. It doesn’t take into account those of us that just don’t know, whether it be lost to history, or left enigmatic by circumstance.

In my case, I can’t establish or trace back to home-base. I never lived anywhere long enough to really set up camp and lay claim to a cultural or regional piece of identity. I’ve also come to learn that identity is everything to a person, and knowing where you are from is one of the largest pieces of the puzzle, and when absent, can leave you feeling blank.

 

Where is home?


What is home?

 

What am I?

 

Who am I?

 

However, my passport tells me I have a home — Guanajuato, Mexico. And while I can show you beautiful, postcard-like pictures of my little birth-town, and maybe tell a tourist brochure’s slogans worth about it, claiming it as my own would be a fallacy. I was never able to own it; I simply never lived there. And when I’ve tried, the cut-throat nature of Mexican culture has prohibited me from laying claim to it, not having met enough of its criteria: I have printer paper white skin and speak none of the language.

The reality is that locations are often just stops to people—distant memories. Nomadic as that is, a lot of us yearn for a “home” of our own — an answer to the ever-present question that we can just yell out with excitement and dignity. A “home” is a place which we can embrace and say, “that’s me.” A place whose colors and histories you can stand by, good and bad; a place that fills in the missing piece.

Really, we draw too much validity from places. Like children trying to conform and make friends in the classroom, always worrying about being ostracized and ignored because we’re the most different face in the room; but also, that we are not different enough, concerned that we may be boring and lost in a sea of average.

I can’t help but feel like we’re misconstruing diversity, diversity always being heritage and appearance, but seldom this implicit thing that can’t be categorized in absolutes. We can’t always be expected to look the part, and part the look, and more often than not, most of diversity can’t be seen. Living a wandering life has made me realize that. We can’t expect people to be pigeon-holed, or to pigeon-hole themselves. I’ve always been “American,” not by my own creed but because I look the part, despite only living here for the last couple of years and way out of my formative period.

We, as people, are collages of experiences, and that should be reflected in our writing. We are seldom token characters, and it pays to reflect the reality of what really creates diversity among us. The real world is complex, and so are we; we should all be making an effort to portray mélange in both the characters we create, and the real people we talk about—humanizing those we know little about, and avoiding cheap attempts at emulating or portraying pseudo-authenticity.

So, when people ask me where I’m from, I tell them “I don’t know.” Because I don’t. I blank on the thought, and a big enough part of me is tired of giving one line lies or convenient truths that codify my life into something appreciably short enough: “I’m American.” “I’m Mexican.” There’s no way in hell I’m accepting the grand total of my genetic lineage as what I am, or where I’m from.

But I’d love to tell you who I am, and ultimately, I think that’s what diversity actually comes down to. Not a blip on the map, and not my skin-tone.

 

Three Poems at 55 by Kelly King Walden

KELLY KING WALDEN blogs at kellylogos.net, which is also her Twitter handle (without the net:) She has raised children (4, one from Ethiopia) and mentors teens and college students. She created an ACT Prep business, which she runs, and writes on the side for various online magazines and a local magazine. She has only published one poem, at Plough Quarterly. She has a Master’s in English and has taught school and college in the past.

 

Padded Van
We were so packed into the van.
Every trip, just so many accouterments
needed, no matter where we were going.
My mother would bring a pillow and a full
size blanket because she was always cold
and wanted to be covered from head to toe.
Then there was a sweater or a big padded coat.
And her big computer with its fat padded case and
a big quilted bag to carry all the books and magazines
she thought she might read. And then there was the mini
back pillow for lumbar support. And she’d fill a little soft-sided
cooler with water and apples and nuts. And she insisted on an
extra blanket for anyone else who might get cold because it always
happened. We would complain about how crowded we all were, how
claustrophobic we felt with all this suffocating softness surrounding our
every move on every side. And on this trip, we were camping so my dad
had his pillow beside his seat, too, and I was sleeping on my pillow and my
sister had a big jacket hung up over her window because of the burning sun
darkening her already dark skin. And there wasn’t enough room in the back for
all the camping gear and food and bedding and suitcases so we had a couple of
rolled up sleeping bags on the floor between us in the back. And bulging out from
between the two middle seats were foam bed toppers and an extra, super-fat down comforter in case it got really cold one night AND two coats were stuck by our heads.
So when we had the wreck,
And went flying through the air and rolling over and over down the bank with the
blankets and coats and pillows and bags and comforters tumbling around us
like bedding in the heavy-duty dryer at the laundromat, it was a wild ride
and we were a little banged up, but we merely walked away
looking like pants and shirts that needed a little ironing.

 

When You Walked In
I was getting ready to leave
when you walked in the door.
I need to be somewhere soon,
but your unexpected arrival
halted my plans.
I rethink my agenda.
I can’t leave when I have the
unexpected gift of your presence
suddenly. I manufacture reasons
for hanging out in the same room
with you. Let’s see, what’s on my
list to do today? Oh, yes, clean
the kitchen windows, haha. I can
do a couple of them right now,
and just casually throw out some
conversation starters while I’m
hanging out. You are so focused
on what you are focused on. I try
to be focused on something else too.
But converse a little, too, at the
same time, you know, just casually.
About something maybe interesting.
Or just something.
Like tell you what I did this morning.
But that was nothing. Nothing
that you would find interesting.
But there was that one thing
I can mention. I can show you that one
thing.
But you’re so busy, so focused.
I don’t want to annoy you.
Can I at least
have a bridge sometimes? It can be
retractable. Or throw me a rope, maybe.
I just want to be one of the
islands in your archipelago.
I just want to be able
to cross over
sometimes
and see your eyes.

 

If Emily Had Children
The bustle in the house
the day the kids come home
Is the brightest tidying up,
the lightest of urgent work
in a stolid empty nest.
Irrational love precipitates
irrational effort
as tedious tasks stir energy.
I’m expecting life again –
the heart opens up
and the light comes in
illuminating soon filled rooms.
The stillness in the house
the day the kids leave
is a snaky place.
Trails of their presence creep
like vines through the house.
Mired in memories at every turn,
my heavy feet move from room to room.
The quicksand of sadness sucks me down.
The overgrowth of activity has left a fertility of memory
. . . A futility of memory.
If I strip their bed I strip their scent.
A grayness pervades the air and my soul
as I sweep up my Heart and put my Love away.

 

How to Make a Million Bucks

I discovered my passion for writing by accident. I didn’t have a passion for writing right away, but I had the confidence to be the best. Writing was a huge part of my life during high school. In high school I won a poetry contest celebrating Oklahoma’s centennial celebration, which culminated in earning a college scholarship for creative writing. With my scholarship secured, I decided to pursue a church music degree at a Christian university instead of a writing degree.

If you’re wondering, I’m not a worship leader now. As an undergrad, I left the Christian school, and I went to the University of Central Oklahoma where eventually I dropped out. I partied too much, and I didn’t attend class. I started at UCO with a 3.5 and I left with a 0.08. I was determined to fail. What I needed now was a career change.

My career of choice was a maintenance man at my local church denomination. I spent my days fixing light bulbs, changing toilets, and fetching tools for my boss like an obedient dog. Eventually, this direction bored and it offered no purpose to my life. Cleaning toilets, helping old women move light stands, and stealing snacks from department break rooms didn’t suffice anymore. At the time I needed change, and I needed it fast. This epiphany hit me one summer day. 

This summer day was hot—one hundred degrees with one hundred percent humidity. Cleaning windows forty feet above the ground, for the umpteenth day in a row, is enough to make any man rethink his decisions. I said to myself, “I hate this. I don’t want to do it anymore.” Then, I concocted a plan to attend school again. Hot, hard labor made this man want that cushioned desk job. This epiphany wasn’t the only factor in deciding to be a writer; listening to sports radio was inspirational too.

One day I drove down 36th toward a postal office located on the service road. I was listening to The Sports Animal, waiting for recaps about the previous night’s Thunder game. A commercial came on before the recap. It was narrated by a Methodist preacher, and he told a story about how a woman discovered pie making. She made pies out of necessity to support her family, and she started selling them to the public. Eventually, the business was sold to a large corporation for nearly a hundred million dollars.


The preacher asked her, “How’d you make so much money?”

She replied, “I found something I was good at and did it.”

“That’s it!” I shouted, thinking back to how I received a college scholarship for writing in high school. After that, I decided on to go back to school. I started my journey as a writer and finally obtained my bachelors in English.

I’ve now worked several jobs as a writer or pertaining to writing. I’ve been a photojournalist, writing tutor, editorial intern, freelance writer, freelance editor, script editor, copywriter, copy editor, social media manager and marketing intern—where I discovered a passion for graphic design. Each position has challenged me as a writer and challenged my creativity. Currently, I am a grad assistant for the New Plains Review, which is a literary journal at the University of Central Oklahoma. This is my grandest achievement out of all my attempts at being paid as a writer.

That damn radio commercial has influenced my decisions for the past decade. Don’t ask me how to make a million bucks just yet. So far, I’ve only made a couple hundred. But I guarantee, I’ll let you know when it happens!

Interview with Constance Squires

I have an audio version of this interview, but the sound quality is terrible, so here’s a text version for you all to enjoy.

Constance Squires is the author of the novel Along the Watchtower (Riverhead), which won the 2012 Oklahoma Book Award for Fiction, and a novel and short story collection which are both forthcoming in 2017: Live from Medicine Park (University of Oklahoma Press) and Wounding Radius and Other Stories (Ferry Street). Her short stories have appeared in Guernica, The Atlantic Monthly, Shenandoah, Identity Theory, Bayou, the Dublin Quarterly, This Land, and a number of other magazines.  Her nonfiction has appeared in Salon, the New York Times, the Village Voice, the Philological Review, Largehearted Boy, and has been featured on the NPR program Snap Judgment.  A regular contributor to the RollingStone500 (thers500.com), she also reviews literature and music with work that has appeared or is forthcoming in World Literature Today and The Collapser. She composed the screenplay for Sundance fellow Jeffrey Palmer’s 2015 short film, Grave Misgivings, and co-edited the first and second edition of Speculations: An Anthology for Reading, Writing and Research (Kendall Hunt Publishing).  In 2014, she was the guest editor for This Land’s summer fiction issue, and she participated in the Tulsa, Oklahoma episode of Literary Death Match as a judge. Currently, she is working on a third novel, The Real Remains.

Dr. Squires teaches Writing Short Story, Writing the Novel, Fundamentals of Creative Writing, Rock and Roll Literature, Editing and Marketing and English Composition I and II at UCO. She also directs the Everett Southwest Literary Award, a bi-annual prize that awards $5,000 in alternating creative genres. She received the college of Liberal Arts’ for Outstanding Scholarly/Creative Activity in 2010 and the Faculty Merit Credit Award for Creativity in 2013.

Connie Squires/oklibs.org

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(W)riter (o)f (C)olor: A Perspective

When I was young and inexperienced, all of the characters I made were, by default, white. To put this into perspective, I am of mixed race, black and Filipino, and grew up in a predominantly black and Filipino world. I like to joke that I could count on one hand the number of white people I knew growing up, but thinking back, I’m not sure that’s an exaggeration.

And as much as I love my cultures, and I celebrate who I am and the color of my skin, this wasn’t something that I recognized until college. Even then, it took me until my junior year before I had a main character that wasn’t white.

Twitter: @WritersOfColors

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5 Tips For A Great Spring Break For Writers

couponpal.com

Many of us will soon be starting spring break – a glorious week off from the stresses of school. Some will be jetting off to the beach; others will be picking up extra shifts at work. No matter what your plan is, here are some tips to use this time wisely as a writer.

1. Don’t forget about the BREAK part of spring break.

Whether you’re an English major, or you’ve been tirelessly working on your next great novel, sometimes the best thing you can do is take a break. If you feel stuck, over-worked, or unsure about your writing, check out this link below. It provides a 7-day plan (perfect for your week off) for getting out of a writing funk.

It’s Okay To Take A Break

2. Read some inspiring literature.

If you need a good book to read during your vacation, I recommend The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path To Higher Creativity by Julia Cameron. Labeled as “A Course in Discovering and Recovering Your Creative Self,” this book provides daily writing exercises to help writers tap into their creativity and write more consistently.

amazon.com

3. Write morning pages.

Taken from The Artists Way, morning pages are “three pages of whatever crosses your mind- that’s all there is to it.” “Morning pages will teach you that your mood doesn’t really matter. Some of the best creative work gets done on the days when you feel that everything you’re doing is just plain junk.” This stream-of-conscious exercise helps you learn to write without judgment and clear your mind, which allows your creativity to flow better.

4. Share your work at an open mic.

Now that you have some free time during, consider going to a local open mic to share some of your creative work. We guarantee, that no matter where you are, there are various mics almost every night of the week that welcomes poets. If you’re in the metro Oklahoma area, District House in the Plaza hosts one every Monday, and Sauced in the Paseo hosts one every Wednesday night.

5. Give yourself a pat on the back.

via GIPHY

Writing is HARD. Take some time to reflect on how far you’ve come as a writer and how much you have accomplished this semester. It can be easy to focus on everything you haven’t done yet, but taking time to be proud of your achievements will help you become a more confident writer.

Happy Spring Break everyone! I’m going to take a 7-day nap.

via GIPHY