Category: Featured

Field Notes on Writing, Astrology & Escapism

To read and write creatively is to live in a dreamstate, or so many would

have you believe. A sizable demographic perceive R&W as beneficial forms of entertainment but some of these people also believe that these pastimes hug a treacherous line between education and escapism in what can only be described as strangely reminiscent 90s gateway-drug propaganda.
The idea that R&W might impact anyone negatively is pretty laughable. Can you imagine the wave of television ads telling us to just say no to a rich inner life indoors? [1] Neither can I. I suppose the only merit to this idea is that virtually anything can be abused to escape the growing hellscape that is the year 2019. But as far as vices go, there are worse things one could fall into in my opinion.
Truthfully, I fell in love with both of these activities because I didn’t understand how to process trauma or how to vocalize what was happening around me a lot of the time. I felt voiceless throughout my early childhood and telling my story in my own words changed that feeling in a big way. Reading first-person perspectives from people in similar situations helped me navigate my world a little better and also made me realize I wasn’t alone.
While my daily reality felt hard to deal with at times, escape wasn’t the only reason behind throwing myself religiously into the arts. Like dreams, these activities allow us to work through our subconscious and process our emotions as well as our environments. [2]
In my family, it is particularly hard to get a word in edgewise or to process anything communally that could be perceived as negative, emotionally or otherwise. In other words, overall empathy and emotional support are both a bit lacking, although it has gotten much better as we’ve all matured. But it’s the sort of family dynamic that makes you pray for water-sign children in the not-too-distant future. 

Rising Star

In recent years, I’ve found astrology to be a useful tool in psychoanalyzing these relationships and in fictional character development, not that I believe there is any scientific validity or merit to it, rather I find the simple, elemental assignment of various parts of one’s personality to serve as a helpful descriptive device.   
fire suns/moons/mars be like
For instance, my natal chart is mostly comprised of earth elements (Capricorn Sun/Mercury/Saturn/Uranus/Neptune) plus a very prominent fire Moon (Aries) and Mars (Sag), air venus (Aquarius) and rising (Gemini) signs, and pretty much zilch on the water sign front. The way I decipher this information is that I am well grounded and ambitious but am also prone to flashes of anger and impulsivity, am detached and independent in love, and have a very hard time being vulnerable with others.
My mother, who gets along with everyone she meets, is all water, while my Leo-Sun father has heavy fire/air placements, and my younger Aquarius-Sun sister has 5 planets in Capricorn as well as a fire Moon (Sag). [3]
When I realized all of this, everything finally made sense to me, at least with regard to the gapping dissonance between our various and individualistic communication styles. I never really understood as a child/adolescent why my father and sister were so abrasive or how they had the ability to let things roll off of them into the ether. It just wasn’t something I could relate to, and, although I wanted more than anything to be just like them, the lack of freedom to express myself only drove me further into being my own psychologist on the page. 
This is all to say that it’s hard not to view yourself in limited and debilitating ways when you are an earth sign inundated in fire and air. In the end though, it made me much stronger, teaching me how to trust myself, my feelings, thoughts, and observations over that of others, and it led me to a flourishing inner life, even on the darkest days.
When we can’t make sense of our environments or resolve stressful situations, it often falls on us to make it work alone. This is often the case with kin. As they say, you can choose your friends but not your family. So it goes. Part of me wonders though if it isn’t all part of some larger life lesson relating to tolerance, selflessness, acceptance, and appreciation.

Escape the Bear and Fall to the Lion

me tryna steal fams’ positive air/fire energy
Despite the risk of falling too deeply into a world of rich, riveting fantasy, there is also something wholly grounding about telling your story on your own terms and adapting to settings you have no familiarity with or settings that don’t exist at all. In this way, R&W feels very much like dreaming. However, I definitely feel my earthiness when I am alone writing through my thoughts and discomforts, looking for hidden meaning in the mundane.
I think the majority of writers also have a deep-seeded desire to preserve the most vulnerable parts of themselves and to keep them hidden and safe from the rest of the world. To me, writing is and has always been the struggle to turn your pain into art, to construct a place of existence out of sheer nothingness. 



Footnotes

[1] *actively resists the urge to crest said ad on photoshop*

[2] One reason why I love poetry so much is that the subconscious is permitted to reveal itself in a less convoluted way in fragments and images without any need for context.

[3] FYI, your Moon sign is the second most important influence in your chart after the Sun and represents your emotions and inner mood.

Genre-Bending Women

I could write about this all day, but here is a shortlist of female writers that have influenced me through their individual contemporary/hybrid styles:

1. Maggie Nelson

A mixture of poetry, essay, philosophy, and memoir, Bluets blows both form and genre out of the water.

2. Lidia Yuknavitck

The first book I ever read by Yuknacitch was her memoir, The Chronology of Water, which remains one of my favorite books to date. Her use of language is so precise, so powerful, so poetic, yet perfectly bare-boned and vulnerable. Her latest novel, The Book of Joan, is a modern reimagining of Joan of Arc that takes place on space station. Again, the language is incredible and completely unexpected for dystopian, sci-fi.

3. Roxane Gay

Gay blew up in 2014 with the release of Bad Feminist, a collection of essays that redefine what it means to be a modern feminist. But long before this, her debut came with a collection of 15 stories called Ayiti, “a unique blend of fiction, nonfiction and poetry, all interwoven to represent the Haitian diaspora experience.” Her novel An Untamed State, was released the same year as Bad Feminist. Gay also posts actively on tumblr with thoughts on life, recipes, and more.

4. Claudia Rankine

When Rankine’s lyrical memoir, Don’t Let Me Be Lonely, was released in 2004, she completely changed both poetry and CNF. Similarly, her book Citizen pushed this line of hybridity further when it was nominated for the National Book Award in poetry. Some argued that it was a collection of essays, while others saw it as poetic. Still others see it as both, and I am inclined to agree with them.

5. Anne Carson

If you haven’t read The Glass Essay, you need to get on that right now. Carson manages to meld poetry and the personal essay perfectly in this piece as well as The Autobiography of Red. Her poetry is typically prose heavy to begin with and extremely enjoyable to writers of different genres.

6. Carmen Giménez Smith

Crisp autobiographical poetry and a must-read.

7. Octavia Butler

Badass sci-fi daring to go where no one has gone before. “[Butler] defied formulaic sci-fi while exploiting the freedom of the genre to take her usually female and nonwhite characters to places where mainstream fiction would ten to deny them.”—Commonweal

8. Eula Biss

Please read The Pain Scale if you haven’t. She also has a myriad of essay collections that skillfully tackle hard-hitting topics.

9. Lorrie Moore

“Oh, the precarious position of fiction in our world: that over the last several decades the novel has continually been declared dead, and the short story is in constant resurrection, which means half-dead or post-dead or heaven-bound. But one continues writing anyway—as has been said by many—because one must.”—Lorrie Morre

10. Ruth Ellen Kocher

I had the pleasure of studying under this incredible poet whose hybrid work is constantly changing the game. domina Un/blued is a personal favorite.

11. Vanessa Angelica Villerreal

Beast Meridian is one of the most beautiful collections of poems I’ve read in a long time. It includes family photos, potent imagery, and wounding personal experiences to show the erasure and illegalization of Mexican-American bodies in today’s society.

12. Jennifer Tamayo

You Da One is highly experimental and uses pop culture references to explore the wound of American assimilation.

Why I’m Over Dystopian YA Novels

I’ve been reading dystopian YA for as long as I can remember…well, 2008. I used to find such pleasure in these types of books, but lately, I can barely make it through the first few chapters. The Hunger Games, of course, holds a special place in my heart, but I can’t shake the feeling that this niche has run its course.

A few weeks ago, I started The Selection by Kiera Cass. After all of the hype and best-of lists, I could barely contain my excitement when I opened to the first page…and then I began reading. It felt familiar. Too familiar. The book starts with an impoverished, female protagonist explaining the caste system in her world mid-manual labor. Her mother relies way too much on her, and a handsome, hardworking, family-oriented guy is in the picture. It’s at this point in the book that I decide to stop reading.

The next book I picked up is almost identical. Red Queen begins with a young, female protagonist pickpocketing for survival. Hot-guy-friend tension right out of the gate. World-building exposition.

While The Selection‘s cast system is defined by numbers (District 12 anyone?) and Red Queen by colors, it’s impossible to ignore the similarities. To be fair, I haven’t given either of these books a fair chance or read enough of either to know exactly how different they are – but I don’t really care.

The disappointing thing about this genre is how overtly formulaic it is now. In a sea of Twilight (2005), The Hunger Games‘ (2008) felt like a breath of fresh air. I remember thinking, “The writing isn’t all that great, but damn, I haven’t read anything like this before.” Yes, you can draw comparisons to Lord of the Flies, Battle Royal, and so on, but Suzanne Collins took the Twilight love triangle and smashed it to pieces.

Twilight was a particularly disturbing YA phase. While it isn’t a dystopian novel, it is a bleak look at the future of relationships. The female protagonist, Bella, is helpless, in an arguably-abusive relationship, and her biggest life decision is choosing between two guys.

Katniss, on the other hand, is completely self-sufficient, strategic, selfless, brave, and she doesn’t have the luxury of getting lost in her love triangle.

Pretty kick-ass protagonist, right? Not in 2017. Everything I once loved about The Hunger Games is what I now hate about the genre. There are a million Katniss Everdeens in unfair class systems with two hot guys, a crappy mom, and some kind of competition/game/selection to win.

All of this is a far cry from where dystopia started, which begs the question: at what point are these books making real, thoughtful commentary on society? Or are they merely capitalizing on the genre’s popularity and rendering dystopia meaningless?

Dystopia sort of makes sense for young adults. When you’re young, everything feels like the end of the world.

You may have noticed that in every YA novel the parents are either dead, abusive, absent, or flawed to the point that the protagonist must become self-sufficient, which is meant to reflect children’s disillusionment with their parents and the desire to grow up. And while the use of class as a conduit for teen angst is highly questionable, I can understand why teens connect so deeply with dystopia.

But can we please do something different?