July knows how to hustle, making her living as a freelance writer in the competitive Bay Area. In this episode, we mine her experience for inspiration and practical tips on how to do the same. Join us as we talk “creative cross-training,” “literary citizenship,” “healing from creative energy,” and the role poetry plays in swaying the cultural conversation. Few people we’ve spoken to dig words the way this lady does. Hold on tight as she closes the episode with her poem, “Trailer Trash.”
In March, Picador published a volume of essays titled “Selfish, Shallow & Self-Absorbed: Sixteen Writers on the Decision Not to Have Kids.” Because my favorite author, Pam Houston, was among those sixteen, I waited for the book with breath bated. Until very recently, I’d been among that selfish, shallow, and self-absorbed crew, after all: childless by choice. Child-free, say those who think the word childless implies a lack of something they don’t believe they needed in the first place. I get these people. But I’m no longer one of them.
I was eight months pregnant when the book dropped, eager to read it from cover to cover, and… I haven’t managed to open it (or almost any book at all, if you don’t count Are You My Mother? or Goodnight Moon) since the day my daughter was born. That was almost three months ago. While I have managed to post a couple of times to my personal blog, The Girl Behind the Red Door, my writing life has otherwise dwindled to quick-and-dirty scribbles in a moleskin beside my bed. Bleary-eyed and distracted, these scribblings are barely legible the next day, but they are what I have now. I cling to them. After all, having a baby didn’t actually make me any less selfish, shallow, or self-absorbed than I was before. It’s just that my daughter’s life-or-death needs–which, thankfully, include playing and intellectual stimulation to build her little mind–require me to put on a more selfless face and show up, even when I would rather have my nose deep in a book, or my hands rattling across a keyboard.
Originally, I’d hoped to keep up the pace here at Postmasters. How hard could it be? pre-motherhood me thought to herself, as she sipped a cup of hot tea (still hot!) and casually flipped the pages of the current New Yorker, debating whether to take a leisurely shower and give herself a pedicure instead. Turns out, very. Especially when both co-hosts decide to have babies just five months apart.
That’s right, here at The Postmasters Podcast, 2015 is the Year of the Baby. Which is why you may have noticed us go to radio silence this month. Our intent is to continue with the podcast, but we’ll be dropping down to quarterly episodes in the immediate future. Our priority will continue to be bringing you, dear listeners and readers, fun, helpful, inspiring interviews with authors of every genre and at every level of personal success. (And don’t be surprised if one of our next interviews concerns strategies for maintaining a fruitful writing life as a parent, because lord, I could use the help!)
We wish you a wonderful summer! You’ll hear from us soon.
Alisa Hagerty Miller recently completed her Master’s in Interdisciplinary Studies from Western New Mexico University with major concentrations in English and Writing. Before enrolling in graduate school, she worked for ten years as a commercial pilot. In January 2015, Alisa represented WNMU’s graduate division in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and presented a research poster, “Interdisciplinary Education in Action,” for New Mexico Legislature’s first annual Graduate Education Day. She is completing a final revision of her first young adult fantasy novel, while actively submitting short stories and essays for publication about the flying life and other subjects. Look for one of her latest CNF pieces in the spring edition of WNMU’s literary journal, Twisted Vine. [28:57].
Along with discussing the impact of Alisa’s flying life on her writing life, her experience at WNMU, and her publishing aspirations, we also talk about post-MFA teaching opportunities. Lacy teaches three college-level writing classes online; Audrey is in the midst of an MA in English Literature at the University of Oslo; and Alisa remained at her school for an extra semester in order to pick up some important literature-based classes, potentially making her a more attractive candidate for teaching jobs. We hope these insights help you, dear listeners!
“I got into flying because I thought it would fuel my writing life… and I also had this fantasy that pilots had all this time off!”
“I found [WNMU] by providence and by luck… I didn’t really see a clear path back into education as I got older. I think it’s a common thing for people in their 30s and 40s: They’re like, I’ve put [grad school] off for this long, am I ever going to do this?”
On Interdisciplinary Studies…
“[IS] gives students the opportunity to design their own degree plans, usually in two or three disciplines… and the goal is to ultimately draw connections between those disciplines.”
“I think my whole life had been interdisciplinary. Flying is just about the most interdisciplinary career I’ve ever encountered.”
Management Information Systems: “A branch of computer science; you don’t have to code, but you learn about really cool technical concepts and organizations using technology.”
“I think that education should be dynamic. That flexibility [at WNMU] was really important to me.” Continue reading →
To kick off the episode, Enzo reads a new WIP poem for us, titled Trace Commodity, inspired in part by the recent controversial events in Ferguson, Missouri and “cities like it.”
On his inspiration for a given poem…
“The piece I just read to you… there’s always endless news cycles about violence happening in different states, and I always consider what’s happening to the folks after what I call the trauma of the violence. When the news are gone, when the protests are gone, when the trials are done, whether or not the person is found guilty or not guilty, people are still dealing with the trauma and the effects of the situation. I focus more on the individual, the aftermath of everything else.” Continue reading →
“I wish I could say that I’m one of those writers who, you know, wakes up every morning and has a set routine… I tend to be a binge writer. I find I’m more at peace with that.”
“[VCFA] has changed my life… I’m so grateful I got over my fear and just did it. I feel a lot more comfortable with my writing now than I ever have. But I feel like I’m a better reader, and I think, coming away from VCFA, that’s what I’m most proud of.”
“I am very nervous to work with [Rigoberto González], if I do get to work with him, but I feel it will probably be the most rewarding semester… He expects a lot from his students, and I feel like I need–and I want–that challenge at this point in my writing… I also have not [yet] been able to study with a Latino writer, which is very important to me.” Continue reading →
“I started when I was twelve. I got a typewriter for my birthday, and I immediately thought, I’m going to write a novel!”
“The work I do for children is very honest and I tackle difficult subjects–I’ve looked at suicide in a play for teenagers–but I also believe in giving them optimism and hope.”
“My aim in writing [‘Micka’] was to get adults to see how two boys of that age can grow up with no compassion… of course, it’s a lot to do with their upbringing.”
On working with a niche publisher [Grimbold Books]:
“I wanted a new, young publishing house… I found from day one, as soon as Zoë said she liked the book and wanted to publish it, it was a wonderful journey. I felt really taken care of as a writer, because they [Sammy Smith and Zoë Harris] are both writers and they understand the creative process.”
On her writing process:
“Well, you can forget consistency and discipline!”
“Writing is one of the very few things that gets better the older you get.”
You don’t want to miss Frances speaking to us as her alter ego Pan Zador!
If the book we are reading does not wake us, as with a fist hammering on our skulls, then why do we read it? Good God, we also would be happy if we had no books and such books that make us happy we could, if need be, write ourselves. What we must have are those books that come on us like ill fortune, like the death of one we love better than ourselves, like suicide. A book must be an ice axe to break the sea frozen inside us. ~ Franz Kafka, someone “quite mad”
“You get a feel for what schools people are applying to… I definitely noticed people supporting each other and boosting each other’s spirits, and that seemed like a good thing.”
On choosing Rutgers’ MFA program…
“I applied to either 11 or 13 programs. [On Facebook,] I saw that people were worried about the cost of application. I’ll suck it up on the application costs if it means I could get some kind of a funding package somewhere.”
On patience as a writer…
“Most people [at the start of the MFA] hadn’t even written ten stories, me included. If you put that in the context of a writing life, it’s really just the beginning.”
Advice to people considering an MFA…
“When MFA faculty are looking at applications, they’re trying to find people, not who have written the most polished story, but they’re looking for people who… if they were they to work with this person, some good would come out of it.”
In this there is no measuring with time, a year doesn’t matter, and ten years are nothing. Being an artist means: not numbering and counting, but ripening like a tree, which doesn’t force its sap, and stands confidently in the storms of spring, not afraid that afterward summer may not come. It does come. But it comes only to those who are patient, who are there as if eternity lay before them, so unconcernedly silent and vast. I learn it every day of my life, learn it with pain I am grateful for: patience is everything! ~ Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet