On NYE 2011, I began making a List of 100 Things to Do in 2012. It took months to create, and by the end of the year I probably only finished about 65% of the items, but it changed my life in unexpected ways (as things that change your life tend to do). Every year since, I've created a new list, and though I never complete all the items, the process of creating it forces me to articulate goals, values, or random whimsies that are in me but might otherwise go unnoticed.
I'm finishing 2016 with the sniffles. Between shots of DayQuil I have mostly been sleeping, but this evening I managed to pull out my List of 100 Things to Do in 2016 and type it up to review. Oh, front garden (#79), you've been sorely neglected this year. Running (#90), you did fall by the wayside, didn't you? I promise I'll devote attention to you both in 2017.
Meanwhile, I spent a lot of beautiful time with Darby and the girls and with many beloved friends; I saw family in NC and traveled to OR; reinvigorated my political activism and stepped up my commitment to social justice; finished my MFA in Creative Writing and began teaching; came back to teaching yoga on a regular schedule and developed a retreat with my favorite person on the planet; published my last two issues of Lunch Ticket and hopefully created something special behind the scenes; went to woodsy and watery places like Big Sur (#39), Pismo, Big Bear, the pool for lessons in swimming (#89), and the spa for a lesson in being still (#62); wrote a lot; submitted my work more than ever; got published some and received some much-appreciated honors; perhaps most importantly, I managed, as much as I possibly could but with plenty of room for improvement, to be kind, loving, generous, fair (#98), and to do more dishes (#67). I suspect those will be on my lists forever.
It was a lopsided year, tipped in favor of academia, literary pursuits, and political activism, and away from pie and music. I try to remind myself that living a balanced life doesn't mean I can't go out on a limb. One of the upsides of November's Great American Tragedy was that I remembered how important community is. Since then, I've been crawling back to friends and to gathering with activists and artists of all kinds in meaningful ways. Though I would have preferred to learn it in a different way, I'm glad I got that lesson before the year ran out.
Today's been a sleepfest, so new years schnew years. But last night Darby and I met with a few dear friends for our 3rd annual end-of-year intention ritual (#58) and sent wishes up to the sky (well, ceiling) to mark the end of another year cycle.
A year is a long time. Not long enough to see everyone I wanted, to do everything I wanted. Long enough, though, to tuck in some surprises. Still, sometimes I think I wouldn't mind a tesseract to skip over the next four. Luckily time doesn't give us the option of skipping, just the option of how we want to spend it. So, 2016, thank you for your gifts, for your lessons. I'm sending particular love to all who are grieving. That's the harshest gift of time.
2017, you look a little daunting from here, but tonight I'm turning over a new page to number down, and so onwards. Love and light to all, and happy new year.
This morning, at 2:44, the northern hemisphere tipped into winter. Later, when we woke, Darby whispered, "Do you hear the rain?" The drops here are so soft, but with no hope for snow, rain is our favorite. They are often just a misting, no louder than a snail's movement. I tried to listen, but my thoughts were too loud for such a gentle sound.
I'd woken early, as I do lately, and had been thinking about my book manuscript and the writer Abigail Thomas, because last weekend I was in Portland, OR for Lidia Yuknavich's writing workshop and had gone straight from PDX to Powell's City of Books, bought Abigail Thomas's newest, along with a bunch of other things (note: always travel to Powell's with a suitcase and room to spare), and then woke at 4 a.m. each day of the workshop to work on the fifth round of my manuscript revisions before Lidia's sessions began. After the weekend workshop ended, on the flight home, I started the new Thomas and remembered that her book Safekeeping had been the one, nearly three years ago, that tipped me into writing the particular manuscript I spent the weekend revising. Reading Safekeeping had helped me figure out a way to write my own material, which became a book, and which is titled, for now, Shiva: a memoir concerto. In the drafts since then, I'd forgotten all about Safekeeping and how it had been my portal. Then, yesterday, while back at home and cleaning out some computer files, I stumbled upon the first draft of my book, the one I'd started right after reading Safekeeping. It was like bumping into a three-years-younger Arielle. I was still in my thirties, I'd barely begun my MFA program. Now I can't hear the rain outside on this winter solstice because I'm in a weird time capsule conversation with my younger self, my current self, Abigail Thomas, and Lidia Yuknavich. You can see why it's loud in here.
But this morning is the winter solstice, and with the mention of rain my thoughts shifted. Darkness, literal or figurative, reveals things not otherwise visible. The moon, the stars, the shadow-self. It is a dark time in American history. A childhood friend, whose family fled from Moscow in the 1980s, has been writing on social media lately about her sense of loss coming out of the election and the electors' vote this week, her loss of trust and faith in America, in Americans, in our democracy. It doesn't take a Russian-born to say it, to know that's how many of us are feeling. And it's small comfort that the majority of voters share our values when the loser is the winner of the presidential office, and the winner has no platform to unite us.
America has taken a strange turn: we are steering toward icebergs. Allied international leaders growl sternly: danger, stay. The ACLU has taken to full-page letters forewarning prosecution. Already, in this new American darkness, we are seeing parts of ourselves that we weren't able to see in the light of an Obama administration. We don't want darkness, and we mean it wholeheartedly. But like the solstices of winter and summer, dark and light cycle in and out. And in the dark, we see stars.
In the Harry Potter books, when Voldemort gains strength and the Death Eaters emerge from their hiding holes emboldened to flaunt their racist, xenophobic bigotry, Harry and his friends unite as a secret Dumbledore's army. Dumbledore has left the scene and knows nothing about the D.A. Without their wise leader, Harry reluctantly teaches his comrades how to fight against wrong. He has no experience teaching, they have no experience fighting. They are children, after all, but they lead the defense against the dark forces of evil. Now, as the eloquent, wise, educated Obama family and administration leave their post, many of us feel poorly prepared for the fights that we face. But as Harry and his friends find themselves fighting against wrongs they might previously have turned away from, you and I are now faced with our core values, passions, strengths, and, hopefully, we will re-discover the power of a group when it is willing to come together.
At the end of Lidia's workshop, one of the editors at Connotation Press asked some of us to record on video a minute or two about some uplifting or optimistic aspect of this current political climate. I wanted to participate, but in the end I made some excuse and walked away. Any positivity seemed pollyanna. I didn't feel that I had any new perspective to share. The next day is when I stumbled on the old computer files, and this morning is when I woke in dialogue with my younger self. We live moving forward in time, our past with us but invisible like stars in daylight, filed away in drawers we rarely open. What I might have said for the video is that maybe it was time for dark to remind us of our deepest, oldest mores, the ones beyond our daily living, that guide our every rule. Maybe it was time to start fighting for them, not just for the greater revolution, but for our own personal evolution.
Here we are, the longest night of the year. Hello, darkness, my old friend. I've come to talk with you again. Let's get quiet for a minute, still. We are made of stars and dinosaur bones, heartbreak, and the strange ever-temporariness of time. This is an era of darkness: there is no fighting that fact. While here, we must strain our eyes to see what wasn't apparent before. Turn them inward. Turn them outward. We must point the telescope beyond the horizons we thought we knew, build fires of passion, burn whatever we must to warm this chill, give socks and soup to the hungry and homeless, send letters and money to those on the front lines, listen to stories at the campfires, invite strangers in, and hold on tightly, tightly, tightly to the ones we love.
I'd be remiss if I didn't tell you about three things:
First, the Yoga & Creativity Retreat is next month! We moved to a larger estate -- a gorgeous spot in Ojai, CA, perfect for a weekend of yoga, campfires, introspection, and delicious meals -- which opened up a few spots. Darby and I have been creating this retreat for a long time, but it's taken on new levels of importance since the national election outcome. We cannot think of a better time to join together for reflection, community, and creative inspiration. We'd love for you to join us January 20-22 in Ojai to practice yoga and create new visions for 2017. Other than location, the original plans are all the same: four yoga sessions; several creativity workshops; a wine tasting on Friday night; time for writing, optional massages, or hikes on Saturday; and a campfire circle on Saturday night. The poet Mary Oliver asks, Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life? In Ojai we will ask, What is it we each plan to do with our one wild and precious 2017? Every year is a new gift, and 2017 will surely hold its own surprising beauty.
Second, my little piece about stepmothering and pie (with recipe), "How to Make an Apple Pie," has finally been published by From Sac, a print journal in Sacramento. If you're up there, keep your eyes peeled on the news stands. You can also purchase a copy here. It's over 200 pages of stories and photographs, and only $12. I hope you'll support the independent press.
Lastly, during my MFA work, I was honored to be selected to serve as Editor-in-chief of Lunch Ticket, a well-known and well-loved literary and art journal. The new issue, Winter/Spring 2016, was published last week, and then I passed the baton to the new editor. Do check out that issue - I am proud of the whole staff that pulled it together and love every piece that we published. Here, also, is my final Word From the Editor.
Wishing you love and light throughout the holiday season,
The new Winter/Spring 2017 issue of Lunch Ticket came out a few days ago, and the next day I stepped down from my post as editor-in-chief and passed the baton to my successor. Still, after months of working on pulling together this issue, I'm not ready to walk away. There're so many fantastic interviews, poems, essays, translations, short stories... Start here with my Word from the Editor and then pop over to the magazine:
I began drafting this essay at the end of the presidential election season, in light of what many of us thought would be a landmark historical moment: the United States’ election of our first woman president. On November 8, as we are all too aware, despite winning the popular vote by (as of this writing) over two million, the Electoral College results tallied in favor of her opponent. Spurred by a campaign rhetoric that relied on a cornerstone of violence, fear, and hatred, the president-elect continues to provoke considerable domestic and international criticism. Shocked by what this outcome revealed—that nearly half of voters responded positively to his rhetoric—, many say that it appears we have two Americas, red and blue. Like warring tribes, we’ve now turned away from each other and returned to our camps, separated by a modern Mason-Dixon line in the divided states of America. We curl up with our own news sources, revel in our own truths. The fissure is too deep, we say, and so draw a line that relieves us of reconciling our differences, scrutinizing root causes, or compromising our values.
Fissure is just one analogy to describe the state of the (dis)union. We could, instead, look at our picture of this country and say that part of our view was obscured. As political theorist Andrew Robinson writes, “Any particular way of seeing illuminates some aspects of an object and obscures others.” With our sights set on equality, community, and eco-conservatism, we now realize that we missed a large segment of the picture. Feminist scholar Julie Jung calls this synecdochic understanding: using part of something to represent the whole. As it turns out, many of us—including every major newspaper and pollster—were looking at the U.S. through this device. The election results lifted the shroud. Now we’re squirming in discomfort about two new sources of awareness: that which was underneath the shroud and the shroud itself. As long as there’s a shroud, the former cannot be helped. But we should question why we didn’t investigate our blind spots, why we overlooked the shroud.
Often writers think of revision as a task grudgingly—or happily—undertaken to perfect our work. We reread our words seeking moments of disconnect for the bits that don’t seem to belong, and we assess their worthiness to the story. We want our work to make sense, so we seek a narrative arc. If something doesn’t propel the narrative or make consistent sense for a character, it falls to the cutting room floor. Smooth out the wrinkles, wash out the stains, turn in the essay, get an A.
But what if we revised revision? What if instead of smoothing out the wrinkles, we held them to a magnifying glass? In this approach, so-called flaws would not to be brushed away but, rather, probed. As writers, artists, and activists, can we approach our work so that revising—that process of looking closely at our work for moments of disconnect—is not a process of glossing over but of examining more closely? Instead of manipulating truth in service of a smooth narrative, we should examine our motives for creating a smooth narrative to begin with. In this light, revision becomes not an act of making something flawless but, rather, making it more whole. As Annie Dillard writes in Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, “Go up into the gaps. If you can find them; they shift and vanish too. Stalk the gaps. . . This is how you spend this afternoon, and tomorrow morning, and tomorrow afternoon.”
Given this approach to revision, what cultural material have we rushed to brush away before truly exploring? In our attempts to move toward equality and understanding, it’s now apparent that we’ve not fully attended to the underlying bigotry, misogyny, and xenophobic ills that this election season oozed to the surface. We have a country half-peopled by those who either resonate with or can overlook narratives of distrust and resentment for “the other.” Although it feels for many that we’ve now taken six decades’ worth of steps back, perhaps the reason we need to do so is because our progressive vision glossed over too many foundational cracks. While we were moving forward, half the country planned a revolt. If we’re committed to walking our talk of inclusion, then we need to hunker down in this new climate to revise our understanding of the United States and build something more tenable.
It was with these thoughts that I have been turning the pages of our tenth issue, which is my last as editor. It appears to me that what we’ve put together here is a multi-layered, multi-genre conversation about gaps in cultural narratives, moments of disconnect or desire for connection, and an attempt to, as Dillard wrote, stalk the gaps. If anything, the eighty-two pieces in this Winter/Spring 2017 issue, from interviews to art to new and translated work in fiction, poetry, and nonfiction, point to the value and necessity of open discourse, of reading the white space between words along with the words themselves.
In her interview for our Lunch Special, Maggie Nelson says “every draft is slathered with self-deceptions,” which we must examine in order to get to honesty. In a separate interview, artist Harry Dodge responds to Nelson’s The Argonauts by reminding us that “any piece of art, whether nonfiction or otherwise, is a construction” and asks “whether language is able to do the work of describing fluidity, or anything really.” In his interview, poet Fred Moten talks about how writing should not suppress what he calls the monstrous, the strange, the radically disruptive fundamental aspects of life. And Susan Southard says of Nagasaki, a braided nonfiction narrative about the U.S. bombing in WWII, “I felt it was so important to bring [the survivors], still hidden from view in our country, into visibility.”
This theme of visibility is stitched throughout the issue. We could say the stitches are like sutures, repairing cultural wounds, but the stitches are also like hand-sewn needlepoint, each threaded with its own palette, in its own frame, its own unique picture. Gabo Prize winner Jim Pascual Agustin’s poem Danica Mae is about the recent mass killings in The Philippines. Diana Woods Memorial Prize winner Sarah Pape’s CNF piece Eternal Father & The Other Army brings to light a nuanced experience of depression. Call to Arms, Marine Lieutenant Lisbeth Prifogle’s featured essay, is about the need for publishing “stories that could alleviate the fear, isolation, depression, and anxiety of joining the old world after a deployment.” Grace Lynne’s featured art collection, The Exploration Series, seeks to show “Black culture in a new light, and open people up to a side of my culture that they haven’t seen.”
I could, without reservation, list every single one of the eighty-two pieces in this issue. It is a beautiful, heartbreaking, mind-expanding collection, and an honor to publish this one as my last. After three issues as editor, this is a bittersweet goodbye as I now step away from the journal. My studies in the Antioch MFA program and, recently, as a Post-MFA in Pedagogy student are nearly complete, and Lunch Ticket has and always will be student-run. My work leading the editorial and production staff, reading our submissions, developing relationships with our writers and artists, and connecting with literary and art lovers who come to our pages has been humbling, inspiring, and invaluable for my personal growth as a writer and as a woman in this world. Thank you for being here, for sharing your stories, for reading ours.
And take good care,
Editor-in-chief, Lunch Ticket
After 3 years on the journal and 3 issues as editor-in-chief, yesterday was my last on Lunch Ticket, the literary and art journal published by Antioch University Los Angeles's MFA program. Yesterday I sat with the staff of the journal one last time. They gave me a poem, a bracelet, and a few other things, and Diana, the managing editor, gave me a mala from her guru. Later that evening I took myself out to dinner and tried to put the last 3 years into words. I failed. It was too big, too incredible, too complicated of an experience. It might take a while, but meanwhile I'm filled with love. You should read the new issue: lunchticket.com.
"If the only prayer you ever say is thank you, that would suffice." - Meister Eckhart