Twenty months later and here I am

It has been a wild ride these past twenty months. Raising a baby into a toddler was not at all what I expected. Or let me clarify; I assumed I would have time. At least three hours a day is what I recall telling myself when I was pregnant. Three hours a day to write, blog, submit, and continue to build up my career.

That was not the case. Somehow, I turned from artist/writer to stay-at-home housemaid. With the free time I did have, mainly with Jax sleeping on my chest, I spent answering emails and running my bridal business. I was exhausted.

Spending time with Jax, teaching him new things, and the constant awe I’m in when watching the expression on his face with each discovery he unfolds will always be the highlight of my day. But, the non-stop cooking, cleaning, and laundry is something I don’t have a talent for and so because of that, from months four to eight of my son’s life, I fell into a deep depression, feeling like I lost a big part of my identity.

Jax was eight-months-old when we finally hired afternoon help. From 3:30 – 5:30 pm Tuesdays – Thursdays, I had a little more time to focus on other things I needed, such as running Share Journal, finding and featuring talented artists, and putting their work out into the world. I had some time to start submitting The Pace of Nature again. Yup, I have not given up on getting my novel traditionally published! And, submitting February 23rd, the third short story to Jackie Chronicles. You can read Part I Honey here, and Part II Stefan here.

But I still don’t have the time to give these things 100% of my attention and it takes a toll on me from time to time.

Back in June of 2021, Mike and I showed up at the hospital on Friday, June 4th to start the induction process of delivering our baby. We didn’t know Jax’s gender until he was born, so we referred to him as baby throughout my pregnancy.

Jax needed to be induced three weeks early, due to my placenta “tiring out,” it was unable to produce enough blood and nutrition for Jax, so, he had stopped growing. Needless to say, he needed to be earthbound so we could physically start feeding him.

The induction was a slow process, which included many procedures, along with loads of chemicals pumped into my body, all intended to prompt labor. I started going into slow labor Saturday evening. Thirty-six hours of labor later, I was still determined to have a natural delivery, even though the doctor was losing patience and wanted to roll me into the OR. Luckily, Jax’s heartbeat was strong throughout the entire process, as was mine. I said no way; I’m willing to wait and let nature take its course.

Thanks to the hypnobirthing classes I had taken, I was able to breathe through the stressful moments, remain calm, and await our baby’s arrival.

Monday, June 7th at 2:30 pm, I began pushing with Mike on my left, holding one leg, and my doula on my right holding the other; Mike wiping my forehead with a wet rag, my doula feeding me ice chips and holding a hand-sized fan in front of my face. At 3:48 pm, Jax was here. Moments later, my doula looked at me and said, “don’t you feel empowered. What a weekend, after everything you went through, don’t you feel so strong?” I took a moment and soaked in the question. And at that moment, my answer was no, I did not feel more strongly or inspired by what I had done.

I had made a conscious decision to get pregnant and have this baby. From that choice on, it was not about me or my feelings. It was about protecting this baby. My job is to do what I need to do to help this baby flourish and grow to be a well-rounded, kind, humble, giving, self-aware human being. So far, I had brought him safely into the world. I still have a ton to do, is what I’d told her. She looked taken aback, but that was how I felt.

And so, in these times when I get down about not having time for myself because I’m cleaning, cooking, and doing laundry, I remind myself of that day, of that question my doula had asked me right there on the labor bed. I remind myself of my answer to her. I ask myself if I still feel that way. My answer is yes. I tell myself that one of these days, probably too soon, I will have more time for other things I love. Until then, I will raise Jax the best I can, continue to submit The Pace of Nature, and run Share Journal. If I have time to do anything extra, well, then that’s just cool.

Where’s she at now? Inkblot Q & A: Britt DiGiacomo

Thanks for stopping by! This Q & A was featured in Inkblot back in June 2021 when I was in the hospital giving birth to my son so I missed the release date. Inkblot is Manhattanville’s MFA program’s newsletter with a Meet the Writers Series column, featuring MFA alumni.

I’ve finally gotten a little time to post the Q & A here.

Q: What have you been doing professionally and creatively since you graduated from Manhattanville with a Masters in Fine Art in Writing in 2014?

I’ve been pretty busy since graduating Mville in 2014. I have finished a few different full-form drafts of my novel, The Pace of Nature, a coming-of-age story that tells the tale of Lilly Difeo’s horrific school-yard accident and how it shapes her life. The current draft of The Pace of Nature is currently in submission for traditional publication. 

I’ve also written The Jackie Chronicles, a short story series about a tenacious vigilante with a secret past who wreaks vengeance on criminals who never get caught by the authorities, or those who get off too easy. Part I and Part II have been published in Honey Suckle Magazine, and Red Fez Mag. Part III is currently in submission for publication. 

In January 2020, I launched SHARE, an online literary journal that publishes fiction, non-fiction, essays, poetry and visual artwork, and features a new artist each month. It’s always been a goal of mine to create a space where people can come and express themselves in whatever way, shape and form. 

Share Journal has also been actively working towards uniting with a non-profit organization & social good cause. I want SHARE to stand for something and to be a part of a lasting community, one with an aim to help children and youth who have learning difficulties and/or financial hardships find their voice through the practice of writing. 

It’s my hope in the near future for SHARE to host a workshop called Finding Your Voice Through Writing, where I and other contributors will travel around the tri-state area and beyond, and pass the gift of writing onto those who need to find creative outlets to express themselves. 

Share Journal is also a proud member of the CLMP (Community of Literary Magazines and Presses) where we actively network and make proper connections to further our goal of associating Share Journal to a social good cause. 

Q: In what ways have you been involved with writing, creativity and/or the arts? And in what ways did your time at Mville prepare you for these endeavors?

My time at Mville has been a stepping stool, giving me the extra reach I needed to attain my goals. I had excellent teachers – award-winning authors, Elizabeth Eslami and Alex Gilvary to name a couple, who provided credible reading lists, where we actively studied the craft and style of various authors from around the world. Eslami and Gilvary also held inspirational classroom discussions from the reading lists and from their own experiences as writers, which helped pushed my creative limits when it came to forming fresh, original ideas within my own work.

Both teachers often prepped us on the harsh reality of the publishing world. What writers face through the submission process. How rejection is a huge part of our lives, and boy is that the truth! But I was encouraged to never give up, taught that publishing is subjective, that it’s a numbers game, to keep submitting no matter what because someone will eventually connect with your work and share it with the world. These lessons I learned during my time at Mville have always stuck with me, and because of it, I was able to develop a thick skin when it came to criticism and rejection. And due to the education and knowledge, I’ve attained at Mville – and since leaving, my confidence in my work continues to grow. Most importantly, I stay true to myself as a writer, and true to the integrity of the stories I wish to tell.

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.