Facing the Storm

“I am not afraid of storms, for I am learning how to sail my ship.”
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

We all know fear can be crippling, preventing us from self-discovery and/or following our dreams.

In my upcoming novel, The Pace of Nature, my character Lilly gets in a school yard accident. She is pushed at recess and falls flat on her forehead. She endures a traumatic brain injury, and from that moment on, requires help when it comes to learning. Lilly has spent years studying one-on-one with doctors and tutors, that when the time comes for her to branch off and study on her own, instead of trying, due to her fear of failing, she gives up and cheats, copying down the answers to her homework assignments from her best friend, April.

It’s not until Lilly is sixteen when her parents wake her from her sleep and drag her into the car, traveling 195 miles until they arrive at the wrought-iron gate surrounding Forge Academy. Her parents drop her off at this therapeutic boarding school where a façade of white-washed propriety hides a rotten interior. telling her if she does well, she’ll be allowed back home in one year. 

Lilly is up to her old habits: sneaking into the woods with dorm-mates Nora and Birdie, smoking pot and falling asleep during classes, getting in screaming matches with her nemesis Sandy, and lying to the Dean to keep herself out of trouble.

But after breaking into an office to make a phone call back home, she realizes life has gone on without her. It becomes clear to Lilly that her family doesn’t want her home. This harsh reality makes her aware of the changes she needs to make in order for her family to let her back into their lives. Lilly has no choice but to face her fears and learn how to study independently so she can return home to her family at the end of the year.

Living Free

Henry David Thoreau believed that living simply without the distraction of debt and materialistic things can lead you on the path to pure freedom. And so, on July 4th, 1845, he set out on a two-plus year mission and build a home and cabin in the middle of woods on the shores of Walden pond.

During his time at Walden, he kept a journal reporting on everything he saw and learned from nature. His experience at Walden Pond provided the material for his book, “Walden.” 

The book reflects on simple living in natural surroundings. “Walden” touches on topics such as Thoreau’s personal declaration of independence and social experiment, his voyage of spiritual connection and discovery through nature, and on some level is considered a manual for self-reliance.

Have you read “Walden” or lived in nature away from society before? I have. When I sixteen-years-old, my parents had hired escorts to wake me from my sleep and fly me 3,000 miles from New York to Utah to attend a wilderness program, with the intention that when I finished the program, they would pick me up and bring me straight back to boarding school in CT.

Book I of “The Pace of Nature” Series tells the story of my life at boarding school told through my character, Lilly Difeo. But Book II, “Wilderness,” focuses on Lilly’s struggles as she attempts to emancipate herself after her parents break their promise to let her remain at home after attending a year at boarding school, and so, Lilly finds herself in a wilderness program in Utah, with no fixed end date, the only girl in a group of troubled and delinquent teenage boys.

Lying and Writing?

Lying and Writing?

Isaac Bashevis Singer said, “When I was a little boy, they called me a liar, but now that I am a grown-up they call me a writer.”

 I hear about this often: Children who were called “liars” in their younger years have grown up to be writers. I often dwell on whether or not this is something I can wrap my head around. Does lying make you a good writer? Humor me while I take a minute to unpack some data.

First, we all know that imagination is critical when it comes to child development. It’s how creativity and divergent thinking originates. It’s the door to all possibilities, especially when it comes to writing and/or expressing yourself in any art form. Imagination and creative play are how one grows to learn about the world. While a child is playing, they are controlling and influencing toys: play-doh, crayons, etc. They are expressing themselves verbally – sometimes changing the tone of their voice, and non-verbally by using their hands or body to play. And whether intended or not, children plan while playing. They create pictures and scenarios in their heads; they also form connections with their toys and/or friends and alter their playing by trying out different toys and different roles, all of which helps the creative expansion of a child.

Okay, so we know children are creative, some more than others, but I believe creativity and imagination can go hand in hand with lying. Moving on.

After doing some research, I found there are around five known liars.

Tips From Emerson: The Key to Happiness

In the fall of 2010, I attained my bachelor’s degree in English Literature, where I found a love for American, classical, and romantic literature. Specifically, I delved into the writings of Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, and the rest of the lost generation, along with Homer and Sappho, and perhaps most influential, Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Did you know that Emerson was only 14-years-old when he attended Harvard Divinity College in Cambridge Massachusetts, known today as Harvard University?

It’s true! At 14 he enrolled in Harvard College with a full scholarship and won a handful of prizes for his writing. When he was 17, he started to keep a journal and continued it for over half a century.

Emerson (1803-1882) was known to be one of the most thought-provoking American cultural leaders of the mid-19th century. He is my favorite philosophical spearhead known to lead the transcendentalist movement in which he spoke out against materialism, formal religion and slavery. Stating that each individual was put on this earth for a reason. Emerson believed in the integrity of the individual. “Trust thyself,” he urged. “Insist on yourself; never imitate.”

I’ve made so many mistakes throughout my life based on not “trusting myself,” especially in my younger years. Whether it was not following a negative intuition I had about a friend, or not listening to the bad feeling I had about being somewhere I knew I shouldn’t be. Not trusting myself, nor following my instincts had led me into some trouble in the past, which ultimately steered me in the direction of writing the story of my life, The Pace of Nature. Thankfully, learning the hard way more than once has taught me the importance of “trusting thyself,” listening to my inner voice, and more importantly, making my own path, on my terms, which I’ve kind of always done anyway, now I just do so from a much wiser perspective.

Dreaming Stories?

Did you know that the idea for the Twilight series came to Stephanie Meyers in a dream?

Meyers said that she saw two people in her dreams: an average girl and a good-looking, sparkly vampire boy. They appeared in a meadow in the woods and were engaging in a powerful conversation, discussing problems surrounding how they were falling in love with each other while (he) Edward, had a strong attraction to (her) Bella’s blood. And Walla! From Meyer’s dreams to paper, “Twilight” was born. 

I never dreamed up new characters that I’ve turned into a story. But I often find that when in the midst of writing a story – this happened especially when I was writing my novel, The Pace of Nature – I’ve woken up in the middle of my sleep and in a somewhat dreamlike state, have come up with the best ideas for my stories. 

Hemingway said, “don’t empty the well.” “He said, “I had learned already never to empty the well of my writing, but always to stop when there was still something there in the deep part of the well, and let it refill at night from the springs that fed it.”

Not “emptying the well” has always been hard for me to do, mainly because I have limited writing time and I feel a need to get as much writing done as possible during that time allotted. But sometimes the ideas stop flowing and I am forced to break away from the writing chair. I always know though, that critical distance from a story/poem is necessary when it comes to conjuring a fresh perspective on the scene I’m working on. And it turns out, my creativity peaks in the middle of the night. Maybe it’s the silence, or possibly even my subconscious always being on duty, helping me work towards my goals. Who knows?! 

What about you? How many times have your dreams turned into a story? Or are you like me and just wake up in the middle of the night with your thoughts running wild? 

How’s it going out there?

I think it’s safe to say that these past several months have taken a toll on all of us, and/or has disrupted our lives in one way or another. I know for me, things have felt pretty stagnant.

Ben Franklin said, “… write things worth reading, or do things worth the writing.”

Since graduating high school, I have always juggled a couple of jobs at once, especially while paying my way through college, and then after college, I worked a few part-time positions that have granted me at least a few days a week to “write something worth reading…” – my novel, “…or do something worth writing” – traveling. Through all the hard work I put into each year, I have always had something to look forward to, usually a trip where I could rest, regain my strength and creativity.

I did have a handful more of pocket time this year to write, but usually writing and traveling go hand-and-hand for me, and it just wasn’t the case this year. And so, I have to find other ways to stay positive and creative while cooped up in my home-bubble this winter.

Britt DiGiacomo interviews Shane Cashman, author of Joyless Kingdom

Shane Cashman is the author of Joyless Kingdom: Poems, Prose, and Dispatches From the Plague. His writing has been featured in The Atlantic, VICE, Penthouse, Atlas Obscura, Pitchfork, and The LA Review of Books. He teaches at Manhattanville College and SUNY Orange. 

I had met Shane Cashman when I was finishing my final year, earning my MFA at Manhattanville college in 2014. Our paths crossed while taking an advanced seminar class where we explored the foundational work in critical education and progressive academia theories, and were given the opportunity to practice essential teacher/creative writing procedures that would prepare us to teach college-level writing courses. Shane went on and became an adjunct professor of Narrative Studies at Manhattanville College. He also teaches Poetry and English at SUNY Orange. 

I have always been a fan of Shane’s work and have kept track of his writing career. When Joyless Kingdom came out it provided me with an opportunity to learn more about Shane, his writing process and his approach to the publishing world.

This interview took place late fall on a Monday evening on November 30th from our laptops, where Shane and I sat in our respective homes and enjoyed each other’s company on a FaceTime call. Shane had just finished teaching a creative writing zoom class with his students from Manhattanville college and had graciously carved out time to discuss poetry, writing, publishing, and his latest book, Joyless Kingdom.

Britt DiGiacomo

What is your earliest memory with writing/poetry and when did you know that you wanted to be a writer?

Walk Beside Me a Moment

Two things happened yesterday on 4/8 and the first was, I finished reading A Good Neighborhood by Therese Anne Fowler, a disturbing tale about class and race, one where widow, Valerie Alston-Holt, PhD professor and ecologist is raising her musically talented biracial son, Xavier in the quiet suburb of Oak Knoll, North Carolina, where all is good until Brad, Julia and their two daughters, Juniper and Lily move in next door – your typical “cookie cutter” family. But appearances are deceiving, and as the story progresses, the lives of these two families will break in ways the reader never saw coming.

A Good Neighborhood is at times infuriating; the plot revealing qualities of a greed-ridden, narcissist, who spins the truth to get his way, not caring how it affects the people involved if it means attaining the thing he wants.

The story is nothing short of heartbreak, uncovering cruel realities with themes such as unfavorable assessments, racial biases and social cultural ideas about gender and how it challenges the existing norms. It’s maddening how parts of the story feels so true and authentic to what exists in the world today. The conclusion is tragic, a warning from the narrator in the very first chapter, a promise kept.

A Good Neighborhood is at times difficult to read, however in the end, justice is served, leaving the reader with a bit of hope left in their hearts.

Let me tell you a secret

Regret. Ugh. Not only a word but a terrible feeling. One that creeps up in the back of your mind from time to time. Or in my case, things I think about often. Questions I ask myself, like what I’d do differently knowing what I know now. But, would I go back and change things for the better if I could? Going back in time to change one small thing could result in changing much larger things, ultimately changing the person I am right here, right now. Would I want to risk altering the person I am in this moment? Would you?    

 I have two major regrets in my life. My first biggest regret is something I may reveal in the third and final novel to my series, The Pace of Nature. My second biggest regret has to do with me never be able to exercise in a form of running again. And boy, do I long to throw my running shoes on and sprint across the gravel through the windy streets of my townhouse complex. Running used to be my liberation. It meant so much more than not having to pay for a gym membership. It meant, being able to throw my sneakers on after a stressful, frustrating day, and jet right out my front door, knowing that twenty minutes later, I’d re-enter my house in a happier, more fun-spirited mood.

Road to Nowhere? Sharp movements and a shaking fist!

Nowadays the term “starving artist” seems like it’s no longer applicable to an artist’s way of life – at least not mine. Take Hemingway and the lost generation for example. Back in those days, writers spent all their time working on their latest masterpiece, sacrificing materialistic objects such as tickets to plays, and/or dining out at restaurants, and instead lived on a minimum expense, eating canned food and bread if it meant that they could dedicate every waking minute to their art and craft. 

Unfortunately, I, along with other writers I know, have to juggle more than one job in order to carve out little time to write each day. This particular year in general happens to be a rather busy one for me. And it seems like every time I’m finally able to sit down and get back to work on my projects, right as I’m deep in thought with the words flowing, bells from my alarm start chiming and it’s time to shower and get to my other job, my paying job.

Having to force myself to stop writing is highly frustrating and I find myself feeling discouraged and resentful that there’s never enough time in a day.