RSS Feed

Monthly Archives: April 2015

The Gift of Writing, or, A Wedding Reading by Anonymous

The Gift of Writing, or, A Wedding Reading by Anonymous

One of the many reasons I love being a writer is that I always have the ability to give my loved ones a meaningful gift:  the gift of my creativity. When my friends Chris and Meredith were getting married a few years ago, for example, I wrote a story as part of their wedding present in which Meredith is a mermaid living in the James River, and Chris is a gentle giant.  They fall in love when Meredith saves Chris from drowning.

This past weekend, I got married myself, and I decided I wanted to give my new husband a little wedding gift. But what would he want? What would be super special? Naturally, I decided to write him a story. In this one, I’m a hibernating bear, and Paul is a man who wanders into my cave one cold winter, and his love turns me human.

Eva and Paul

Eva and Paul.  Photo by my amazing brother, Deven Langston

I wrote something else for the wedding, and I’ve been debating whether or not to share it with the world. You see, during our ceremony, three of our friends gave readings. Afterwards, several people came up to me and said, “I loved that last reading so much; it was perfect for you guys… Where did you find it?”

“Well… Um… Where do you think it came from?” I asked, stalling. On the program it was listed as “a myth, by anonymous.” Paul and I had thought it would be tacky if people knew that, in fact, I had written it.

But when I think about it, why is that so wrong? We looked through dozens of wedding readings and none of them said exactly the right thing. So I wrote exactly what Paul and I feel about our relationship. Isn’t that a good thing?

And when I think about it even more, isn’t this a gift I could potentially give to others? Maybe some other couple is out there, looking through all the ceremony readings on the Internet, hoping to find something new, something a little different. Maybe they would like to use what I wrote as part of their ceremony.

Eva walking towards Paul during the ceremony.

Eva walking towards Paul during the ceremony.  Photo courtesy of Lauren Langford.

At first I thought it might be tacky to post the reading on my blog. Would it make our ceremony less special if I put the reading on the Internet to be seen and potentially used by others? But on the other hand, love is meant to be shared. I wrote something beautiful about a lifelong partnership between two people. Paul and I (and some of the guests at our wedding) enjoyed it, and maybe others will, too. There’s no sense in keeping it a secret any longer.

And so, without further ado, here is our final wedding ceremony reading:

A Myth

A man and woman lived in a world that was darkened by danger and lit by joy. When they came together, their danger was less and their joy was more, and for a time they were satisfied.

But they felt a space between them, and they thought this space would close if they could share bodies. And so they felt the blood pumping through each other’s veins and the breath flowing through each other’s lungs, and when one ate the other felt nourished, and when one slept the other felt rested. They experienced each other’s pain and pleasure, and for a time, they were satisfied.

But still, they felt a space between them, and they thought this space would close if they could share minds. And so they studied together and read together, learning how to live in a world that is darkened by danger and lit by joy. They listened to each other and tried to speak thoughts for which there are no words. And for a time, they were satisfied.

But still, they felt a space between them, and they thought this space would close if they could share souls. Alas, the man had stored his soul in a box within a box in a secret place he could no longer find. And the woman had wrapped her soul so well in tissue and twine that she could not manage to untie the knots.

And so, with no way to share souls, they went about life as best they could. They shared meals instead, as well as chores and travel and germs. They shared tears and laughter and danger and joy. They turned towards each other when times were hard. They became like two horses yoked to the same cart, and together they struggled across the earth towards the same destination, somewhere in the hazy distance.

And over time, a strange thing happened. The box opened and the man’s soul emerged. The knots loosened and the woman’s soul was freed. And one day, when they were very old, they looked at each other and realized their souls had merged long ago. It had happened slowly. They hadn’t noticed because his soul had felt like a part of hers, and hers had felt like a part of his. There was no longer a space between them, and for a moment the dangers of the world melted in the pure white light of their endless joy.

The bride and groom.

The bride and groom.  Awesome photo courtesy of Kimberly Clouse

This Isn’t a Blog Post… Not Really

This Isn’t a Blog Post… Not Really

When I first started this blog, I posted nearly every day.  Obviously, that was a little much, so I started cutting back, and finally, about a year or so ago, I fell into a pattern.  Now I post twice a week:  on Mondays and Thursdays.  Don’t know if you’ve noticed that, but I like to think there’s someone out there who, every Monday and Thursday, wakes up with a grin and and says, “oh yay, it’s time for another installment of In the Garden of Eva!”

I’m sorry to disappoint that one person, but there will be no new blog post today.  Although, I suppose, technically this is a blog post.  This is a blog post telling you that there’s no blog post.  Hmm.  I’m confusing myself.  OK, but there really might not be a blog post on Monday.  See, the thing is, I’m getting married on Saturday to this guy:

photo 2

So I’m kind of busy this week.  In fact, right now I’m probably meeting with the caterer or going to my “hair trial” or something like that.  It’s possible there will be a post on Monday, but I suspect I’ll be tired from all the hoop-la.  But don’t worry.  I’ll be back for sure with a brand-new post a week from now.  I like my routine, and I like all of you.  I also like my soon-to-be husband.  He’s a good one.  Cheers everyone!

Snolquamie Falls

Poetry Lunch Break & My Shameful Secret

Poetry Lunch Break & My Shameful Secret

Since posting about “Carp Poem” and my struggles with poetry, I’ve been making it a habit to read one poem a day, and I plan to do so at least until the end of the month.  (April is National Poetry Month).  To make this an easy goal to achieve, I subscribed to The Writer’s Almanac newsletter (thanks to a suggestions from my friend Meg), and this provides me with a daily poem, delivered straight to my inbox.  I usually read the poem during my lunch break, and so far they have all been short and fairly accessible. The Writer’s Almanac poems are a good jumping off point for me into the world of poetry, and I’m enjoying the other interesting historical/literary tidbits included in the newsletter.

Shh!  Don't tell my shameful secret!

Shh! Don’t tell my shameful secret!

It’s really high time I started reading more poetry.  I’m always rolling my eyes at so-called writers who don’t read books, and yet here’s my shameful secret:  for years, I’ve been writing poetry (and publishing some of it!), even though I rarely read poetry myself.  Disgusting!

In fact, here are a few of the poems I’ve published over the past few years:

“Sweet Tummy” for The Burlesque Press Variety Show

“Chicken Skin” for Pif Magazine

“The Collection of Princess Langwidere, or, The First Head” for Composite Magazine (pg 15)

“My Life” for Hoot

“How to Reach Me” for Stone Highway Review, June 2013 (pg 33)

“The End of Summer,”An Ode to Boys,” and “An Ode to Kurt Cobain” for The Burlesque Press Variety Show

Although some of theses poems are rather silly and unsophisticated, I don’t think any of them are terrible.  In fact, I sort of like most of them.  But I’m sure that the more poetry I read, the more my own poems will improve.  Check back with me in a few years, and perhaps I’ll have a whole new slew poems, and I’ll give them a better endorsement than, “I sort of like most of them.”

In closing, I will leave you with one of my favorite poems of all time.  It has been posted on my refrigerator for the past two years, and I have forced most of my friends and family to read it.  Now, I force you:

 

The Space Traveler’s Contented Moments
by Benjamin Grossberg
Think of the way your thumb
held in front of you can cover
the moon. Granted, humans have
big thumbs and a small moon, but
there you are: in a corn field,
celestial bodies disappearing
behind your digits. At some distance
above the earth (if you looked
down) your left foot would blot
North America. And farther up,
the planet become so small
you could stand on it only
as a ballerina, aloft on a toe.
A little farther, and you, human,
would become a space traveler.
So it is, sometimes, this ship
displaces the universe around it:
so far from all, the universe
recedes into a tangle –
a string of your Christmas lights
balled up in a box to stow
for next year. But lit.
And here’s the odd part –
it does that even though
I’m inside it, a speck somewhere
amid brightness and writhing
wire. These moments
are unstable, they puncture,
are frail to corrosion by
elements that would extend
your periodic table into
a lord’s banquet. But, human,
more than once I have wished
to take you up with me, to share
how what startles with immensity
can balance, cat’s eye,
on the palp of one finger

Happy Spring and Happy Poetry!

Happy Spring and Happy Poetry!

Smash Cut by Brad Gooch: Are You Cool Enough to Read This Book?

Smash Cut by Brad Gooch:  Are You Cool Enough to Read This Book?

*Check out my blog post for Carve Magazine about the Disabilities Panel at AWP 2015!*

Recently I became a book tour host.  Here’s how it works:  I tell the fine people at TLC Book Tours what types of books I like, and they send me free ones. I read the books and review them on my blog. It’s a win-win situation:  I get books; the authors get publicity. And, unlike a paying book review situation I did a few years ago (which shall remain nameless), I’m not required to give positive reviews. I can say whatever I want. Which means you know you can trust the following review of my latest TLC book…

Smash Cut by Brad Gooch is many things. At first I thought it a slightly pretentious, name-dropping memoir. Or perhaps a nostalgia-soaked literary ode to artsy-gay New York in the ’70s and ’80s. But as I got deeper into the book, I realized it’s something more. It’s a love story.

When I started reading Smash Cut, I didn’t know who Howard Brookner was, but a quick look on Wikipedia reveals that his life, especially the latter half of it, reads like a tear-jerker movie. He was a young director who gained fame for his documentary on William Burroughs (from whom he picked up a pesky heroin habit). His first feature film, The Bloodhounds of Broadway (starring Madonna, Matt Dillion, Jennifer Grey, and Rutger Haur), turned out to be his last. He was secretly battling with AIDS during the filming and died shortly before the movie was released, at the age of thirty-five.

Director Howard Bookner with William S. Burroughs, 1983. Photo credit.

In Smash Cut, the story of Howard comes packaged in the story of Brad, Howard’s long-time lover and best friend. In fact, Smash Cut is really Brad’s story, and perhaps that’s its downfall for me. The scenes without Howard — when Brad goes to Europe to pursue male modeling, for example — feel superfluous and indulgent, despite the fact that they are rather fascinating. It isn’t until Howard gets sick and the story turns its focus to him that I felt the true power of the book and the heart-breaking emotion behind Howard and Brad’s relationship.

The thing is, I’m a person who wants a story. I want a building of tension and a climax, and although that is certainly what happens in the second half of the book, memoirs can’t always have the arc of fictional stories. The first half of Smash Cut is more descriptive: of the clubs the men went to, of the eccentric/witty people they knew, as well as episodic: that time they went home to meet Brad’s parents, those nights when they hung out with Andy Warhol. There is a trajectory of sorts to be found in Brad and Howard’s relationship, but for a long time they are on-again, off-again and the story feels rather random…much like life, I suppose.

Let me be clear:  there are people who will love this book. If you were a gay man or an artist/model/literary type in New York in the 70’s and 80’s, you’ll love Smash Cut. If you wish you had been an artist/model/literary type in New York in the 70’s and 80’s, you’ll love Smash Cut. If you’ve fantasized about hanging out with people like William Burroughs, Andy Warhol, Madonna, or Sean Penn, you’ll love Smash Cut.

Brad Gooch

Brad Gooch

 

And there were times that I loved this book, too.  It’s sophisticated and elegantly written, and besides, who doesn’t want to read juicy tidbits about Sean Penn?  But sometimes I felt that instead of welcoming me into this fascinating world, Gooch’s references and his endless parade of “who’s who in New York” friends made me feel like I wasn’t quite cool or smart enough to join his private party. At one point Gooch describes being in love with Howard, “in a cool fashion that didn’t exclude others” (66), but this memoir, especially at the beginning, alienated me at times with its name-dropping, its tangents, its references to things I didn’t quite grasp. (Describing someone as having a Mark Spitz mustache, for example, doesn’t help when I don’ t know who Mark Spitz is.)

On the other hand, there are also parts of Smash Cut that speak universal truths and hit emotional chords. Strip away all the celebrities and witty dinner parties, and what you have left is the story of two people trying to figure out love and death.  As morbid as it sounds, I was most engaged when Howard got sick. Brad had no choice but to grow up; to care for his dying partner and face his own mortality as well. This is something everyone can relate to, and it’s what ultimately makes this book an ode — not to artsy-gay New York in the ’70s and ’80s — but to the love and friendship between Howard Brookner and Brad Gooch.

Brought to you by TLC Book Tours!

Brought to you by TLC Book Tours!

AWP Pickup Lines, or, How Important is Platform?

AWP Pickup Lines, or, How Important is Platform?

Last week 12,000 writers and editors convened in Minneapolis for the annual AWP Conference (The Association of Writers and Writing Programs)… Perhaps you were one of them? Maybe you were there for the panel discussions and poetry readings. Maybe you came to buy or sell books at the book fair (or collect the free candy). But certainly you were also there, like everyone else, to network.

Sure, success in the literary world isn’t all about who you know, but who you know can help. I got my agent, for example, through a good word from my mentor, and I got my mentor through a suggestion from my friend Jeni Wallace. I didn’t meet Jeni at AWP, but you might have. She’s gone every year for over a decade.

But making contacts at AWP is no easy feat. You know the scene: thousands of sleep-deprived writers milling around under the fluorescent lights of the convention center, trying awkwardly to make conversation, despite the fact that most of them would rather be at home on the couch, curled up with a good book.

Eva and Jeni Wallace at the AWP 2015 book fair.

 

This was my third official AWP, and I told myself that this year was going to be all about making contacts. I have good reason to be collecting friends and followers. I’m now the Features Editor for Compose Journal and will soon need people to write articles for me. I’ll also (hopefully) have a book coming out some time in the next two years. And yet, I found it nearly impossible to tell people either of these things, much less hand out my silly business cards which have a picture of my face on them. I didn’t want to come off as a shameless self-promoter, like those aggressive types who thrust at you glossy postcards advertising their latest self-published memoir and then proceed to talk your ear off about it. So, I did what I normally do: I worked at the Burlesque Press table (my friend Jeni Wallace is the director) and promoted Jeni’s literary endeavors instead of my own.

But this AWP, a funny thing happened. On the first night of the conference, I composed a tweet using the hashtag “#AWP15,” I noticed that there was another trending hashtag: “#AWPPickupLines.” I laughed and told my fiancé.

“Tweet, “I’m an editor…wanna submit to me?”” he suggested.

“That’s pretty good,” I told him. So I did.

By the next morning, my tweet had been favorited and retweeted over thirty times, and I had eight new followers. I was pretty excited. I had managed to network without stepping foot inside the convention center. And I started to wonder, did I even need to go to AWP? I could sit at home in my pajamas and use Twitter to make just as many — probably a lot more — contacts than I ever could in person.

My friend (and former professor) Bill Lavender, founder of Lavender Ink, at one of the offsite reading events I attended.

On Thursday I went to a panel in which a cranky author complained about how the publishing world is now linked so heavily with social media. (And it’s true — last year I nearly got an agent through Twitter.) “My agent made me get a facebook page and an author website,” he complained. But I don’t share his negativity. If I can use social media to find readers and make contacts from the comfort of my own home… that seems pretty sweet to me.

In fact, I started tweeting more “#AWPPickupLines,” hoping to get more followers, although none of my lines were quite as good as the first one, nor garnered as immediate of a response.  (“Wanna sit on MY panel?” and “I’ve got two drink tickets in my pocket…”)

Then I started to wonder — are my Twitter followers really going to contribute to the success of my career? Writers are always being told to build platform, but according to my dear friend Jeni (who knows about these sorts of things), less than one percent of all your facebook fans and followers will actually buy your book when you have one. And according to Stephanie Bane at Creative Nonfiction, platforms are overrated:  “If you reach all one thousand fans of your author page no fewer than three times with an announcement of your book release, and include a link to Amazon, you could reasonably expect ten of them to buy your book.” And, she points out, only six percent of your fans are likely to see each of your posts, so that ten book estimate is extremely optimistic.

You know who might buy your book, though? Friends and acquaintances. And I’m not talking facebook friends or Twitter followers. I’m talking people you have met and interacted with in person. Think of how easy it is for people to click “follow” or “favorite.”   It’s just as easy for them to disregard what I have to say.

I think social media is important, and I’m thrilled to have more followers, but making the in-person contacts is important, too. In the end, you have to do both. Sure, I only made two or three real connections at AWP this year —  I’m talking people with whom I might actually get in contact or stay in touch.  That’s not much, but I suspect one face-to-face friend is worth twenty of the facebook variety.

My business card.  I gave out exactly three at the conference.

My business card. I gave out exactly three at the conference.

The Importance of Being Alone: Artist Dates & A Super Art Fight

Posted on
The Importance of Being Alone:  Artist Dates & A Super Art Fight

I’m getting married soon, but I was single for most of my twenties. I didn’t necessarily like being alone, but I got used to it. The first time I went to a movie by myself (Sophia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette, when I was 25), I felt awkward standing in line alone, but I soon realized it wasn’t that bad… even sort of nice.  Eating dinner alone at restaurants and drinking alone at bars aren’t quite as fun, but I’ve done both more than once.

As far as doing things alone goes, I have this strong memory from when I was 29 and single and living in DC. It was a Saturday evening. My roommate was gone (she spent most weekends in Maryland with her boyfriend), and all my friends were busy people with whom I had to make plans weeks in advance. So I was alone in the quiet house.

I was looking online at events for the next weekend when I realized there was something called “Super Art Fight” going on at one of my favorite venues on H Street… and it was starting in forty-five minutes.

It was too late to call around and find someone to go with me, and I wasn’t sure that any of my friends would actually want to go. Besides, I always felt guilty when I invited people to something that ended up being lame, and I had no idea what this “Super Art Fight” would be like. So, without giving it too much thought, I put on a pair of boots, grabbed my ipod, and headed out the door.

I also went to see the cherry blossoms alone.

That year, I also went to see the cherry blossoms alone.

 

It was a cool night, but not too cold. Feeling invigorated, I hoofed it the two miles to H Street, listening to my favorite songs on my ipod. I felt oddly exhilarated and free. I could stay out as late as I wanted. I could leave whenever I wanted. I didn’t have to feel guilty if the event sucked. I wouldn’t have to answer to anyone by myself. I smiled and took flying leaps over cracks in the sidewalk. I was strong and independent and a little bit wild! It was the happiest I’d felt in a while.

The happy feeling continued as I walked into the club, bought my ticket, and ordered myself a beer. Then I stood waiting for the event to start. With no one to talk to, I was hyper aware of myself and my surroundings. I watched the couples, the groups of friends; I noticed their body language and clothing and tried to guess at their relationships to each other. I wondered if people assumed I was waiting for someone, or if they realized I was alone. Maybe someone would come talk to me. I took a swig of beer.

No one came to talk to me, and after a while I realized that, in all likelihood, the other people at the club hadn’t noticed me at all because they were busy having conversations. The exhilaration from my walk was gone. I felt awkward and alone.

Then the show started. Two artists competed, each drawing on giant paper canvases while a punk band played video game song covers. It was (nerdy) fun, but I wished I had someone to talk to. Instead, I had to make comments to myself (in my head) about the action on stage. When intermission came, I checked my watch. Ten o’clock. My feet hurt from standing. I didn’t want to spend the twenty-minute intermission standing alone, feeling awkward. So I walked home. Despite how it sounds, I was glad I went.

 

I think this sums up what it’s like to do things on your own, at least for many of us. It can feel liberating and empowering. But it can also feel awkward and lonely, especially if you’re at a place where everyone else is being social. But I think it’s an important thing to do, especially for writers and artists. Because being alone makes you more aware — of both your surroundings and yourself.

In her book, The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron suggests we get into the habit of taking ourselves on weekly excursions she calls “artist dates.” This could be a trip to a museum or a park or a bookstore (or to see a Super Art Fight). It’s simply spending quality time with your inner artist — and no one else. When you go on an artist date, she says, “you are receiving — opening yourself to insight, inspiration, guidance.”

Sounds like a good idea. And yet, I didn’t want to do it.  I’ve done the alone thing, I thought, when I first read about artist dates. Now that I have Paul, I don’t have to do things by myself any more. But I think I should, at least sometimes.

Think about it — you go on dates to get to know someone better, right? Well, even though going places alone isn’t always fun, it will help me get to know myself (and my “inner artist”) better. Even though it might bring up insecure feelings of loneliness, experiencing these emotions might be important.  Arist dates will help me to really notice the world, what I think of it, and where I fit into it. And like Cameron said, artist dates are a way of opening myself up to insight.  I won’t be able to hear my muse if I’m having a conversation with someone else.

So this past Saturday, I went on my first official artist date to the Macy’s Flower Show.  And I made a list of other date ideas (besides taking solitary walks, which I don’t think counts for me since I do that all the time already.)  I don’t know if I’ll go on an artist date every week, but I’m definitely going to try to take myself out more and get to know myself better!

The Macy's Flower Show in downtown Minneapolis.

The Macy’s Flower Show in downtown Minneapolis.

 

Where I’ll Be at AWP

Posted on
Where I’ll Be at AWP

The AWP Conference (Association of Writers and Writing Programs) is this week, and in case you’re new to this blog, AWP and I have a strange synchronicity.

Back when I decided to give up full-time teaching to focus on writing, I moved to Cape Cod, Massachusetts to be a “writer in residence” at my friend Nikki’s house. (OK, so I bitched to her about how I never had any time to write, and she offered me her guest room, rent-free, for what ended up being six months — the squeaky wheel gets the freakin’ oil, ya’ll.) Anyway, that happened to be the year (2013) that the AWP Conference was being held in Boston, a convenient hour’s drive away. So I went.

The Burlesque Press crew at Boston AWP 2013.  (Eva, Daniel, Jeni, Merridith.)

The Burlesque Press crew at Boston AWP 2013. (Eva, Daniel, Jeni, Merridith.)

While living on the Cape, I met the man who eventually became my fiancé. He ended up getting a job in Seattle, so I moved there with him. Guess where AWP 2014 was held. Yep, Seattle. How convenient. So I went.

Then Paul’s job told him he needed to move to Minneapolis, which is where we’ve been living since September. And guess where the AWP Conference is this year. Yep. Almost too freaky to say it, but I will: Minneapolis. How convenient. Obviously, I’m going.

And maybe you are, too?!

At the AWP Conference 2013

At the AWP Conference 2013

If you’ve been to AWP before, you know it’s gigantic and overwhelming and has a tendency to make you feel small, stupid, and uncool. The days are spent wandering around under headache-inducing fluorescent lights, listening to panels and trying to avoid eye contact with the people selling stuff at the book fair. The nights are spent at various readings and parties, where introverted writers gulp wine and make awkward small talk.

It’s a much better experience when you know people, even if they are vague acquaintances. So… come find me! Even if you don’t know me well, or at all, I’ll be flattered that someone wants to talk to me. I’m very friendly and non-threatening, and I might even ask if you’d like to write a feature for Compose Journal (because I’m now the Features Editor). Anyway, I’d rather make awkward small talk with somone than stand alone, awkwardly talking to no one.

Come find me!

Jeni Wallace and Eva, AWP 2014 in Seattle.

Jeni Wallace and Eva, AWP 2014 in Seattle.

Here’s Where I’ll Be at AWP:

-At the Burlesque Press table at the Book Fair (#515). I will be working and/or hanging out a fair amount here. I’m good friends with the director of Burlesque Press, Jeni Wallace, and her husband, Daniel, and trust me, these are some good people to know in the literary world. If I’m not at the table, you should totally talk to them. They will be selling their first book, Siren Song by Tawni Waters, and hyping the third annual Hands On Literary Festival and Masquerade Ball, which will be held this coming December in New Orleans.

-Wandering around the Book Fair, amassing candy and other freebies. Hey, that’s what it’s there for, right?.

-Attending a few panels, especially those about YA and Middle Grade fiction.  I may also go to the following panel:  A Thread Through the Labyrinth: Learning and Teaching Plot, at AWP, but even if I don’t, I strongly suggest you do, as I guarantee it will be helpful and not just a bunch of senseless babble.  Here’s the description:  Lynne Barrett, Joy Castro, Lauren Grodstein, and Daniel Wallace will discuss how writers well-trained in other aspects of writing fiction are often confused and daunted by plot, lost in its maze of possibilities. We’ll share our experiences learning how stronger plot invention enhances character, structure, and meaning in novels and short stories, and will suggest approaches to teaching how to perceive, discuss, and evaluate plotting. We’ll offer charts, maps, and other techniques for devising and envisioning a plot’s twists and turns.

-Walking to and from the Convention Center (I live downtown, about a mile away.)  Depending on the weather, I’ll walk outside, or try to navigate through the Skyway.

-At the following fun offsite event.  It’s a free (and open to the public) reading and reception this Friday night:

Facebook Post-2