Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Erica McKeen: my (small press) writing day

          I’m in upheaval, having recently moved from Ontario to British Columbia. Upheaval means that everything steadying me has been heaved up from below, axed apart from under and around me, casting off any hope for the typical or the scheduled. My new rooms are bare and tightly strung with echo. Here and now, there isn’t enough obligation to keep me grounded (there will be, in a week, when school begins again, again, as it is always beginning again, again, in September).
          Typically, though (I’m blanching at the word, realizing how much I want the typical, the scheduled, and how often I’ve barred myself from it), I wake at 7 am to the puppy shaking her flanks at the end of the bed, meaning she wants down and to go to the bathroom. My partner or I, depending on who feels less exhausted and more generous that morning, dress/es groggily in something lying around that won’t startle the roommates if they see one of us outside: a t-shirt for Nic, a lumpy sweater for me, swung over my PJ top. I take the puppy (let’s say it’s me this time) outside, congratulate her enthusiastically and bleary-eyed when she does her business (she’s still not perfectly house-trained; the internet tells me enthusiasm will tame her bad habits), then take her inside where she eats while Nic and I get more reasonably dressed.
          We walk the puppy anytime between 7:30 and 8:30 am. We talk. It’s a luxury we’ve taken advantage of since the pandemic struck in March and Nic lost his job. Either way, someone must walk the puppy to stop her from nipping ankles and furniture. After this, I eat a quick breakfast—oatmeal—and read some submissions for The /temz/ Review. I go for a run around the neighbourhood, a slow jog that lasts anywhere between forty minutes and an hour and a half, depending on my energy level. Without this kind of regular exercise I become frayed around the edges, a little worn and fuzzy, and there is no hope of writing.
          When I return, I cool down while cruising social media on my phone (checking up on the Poetry London Instagram page) and answering emails. Then I shower and eat an early lunch, around 11 am.
          Next, black tea. This is the most caffeine that I can handle. Make sure the puppy is preoccupied or sleeping.
          Finally, around noon, I write.
          Writing time is flex time, spent working on personal, creative projects (lately, creepy and strange stories, maybe growing into a collection), book reviews, miscellaneous projects like this one, or assignments related to my volunteer work. The volunteer work could be anything from writing and practicing artist introductions for LOMP: reading series and Poetry London to completing some minor editorial work for The /temz/ Review or inviting artists to participate in the reading series. Many times I need to force the volunteer work aside to finish my own writing, because the volunteer work—however rewarding—is endless.
          I continually fix my posture (it’s terrible) while I sit. I bite my nails to stubs. I second guess myself, and then third and fourth guess myself. I dawdle. I finally sink into the work and forget about time.
          Three in the afternoon generally arrives with brain fog and a happy heart if I feel I’ve done some good work. Nic and I reconvene to walk the puppy. We cook dinner, we eat. After food, and after my brain arranges itself into something reminiscent of a thinking substance, I take time to read. This could mean reading and editing my own work (more of a passive task than writing, and therefore more suited for the late afternoon); reading submissions for Augur Magazine and The /temz/ Review, depending on the submission period and the number of stories I’ve already worked through; or (ah! And isn’t this the best of the three?) reading whatever book I have on the go, whether it’s a review copy (this takes longer, making notes on my phone for the upcoming review) or a book “for fun.” “Fun” means my kind of fun, meaning, more likely than not, strange and challenging and disarming. Currently I’m eating away at Lily Wang’s Saturn Peach and Sally Rooney’s Conversations with Friends.
          Sometimes, however, I skip the reading in order to submit my work. This depends on whether or not I have anything at hand to submit.
          Evening comes with TV—this really is “fun” and rarely serious—maybe a beer, maybe a swim in the pool across the street, putting the puppy out for her final pee, and settling at last into bed around 10:30 pm, where I scroll through social media and jot ideas into the notes app of my phone. Fragmented sentences. Sticky words that need to be scraped from my head before I can properly close my eyes.
          This is typical. I’ll call it typical, for now. When school begins everything will have to be rearranged and uncomfortably squeezed. I’ll have to do away with the TV.

Erica McKeen is a writer, organizer, and teacher. She recently received her MA in English literature from Western University. Originally from London, Ontario, she is a Poetry London board member, assistant editor at The /temz/ Review, and co-organizer of LOMP: reading series. Her novel, Tear, was longlisted for The Guernica Prize, and her work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Dalhousie Review, The /temz/ Review, Canthius, and elsewhere. She currently lives on Musqueam land in Vancouver, British Columbia.

Thursday, August 20, 2020

Lisa Mottolo : My (small press) writing day

I wake up at 6:30 am. I’m the Project Manager for Atmosphere Press and I’m a poet.

I start with a small pile of dirt. Some days a great poem grows underneath it like a sly potato that threatens to go extinct out of spite. Other days the dirt pile seems to be the result of a grave dug beside it for every crumbly word I produce.

 I spend more time than a reasonable person should trying to figure out why some writing days are vastly better than others when my life remains fairly consistent.  It makes me think of how you can use the same recipe for banana bread one day and it’s great, and then the next day the middle looks like that scene from Jurassic Park where Laura Dern reaches her hand into a heap of dung to figure out why the triceratops is sick. Now I’m worried that no one else remembers that scene.

I’ve read that poet Ruth Stone, while working in the fields of her home, would feel and hear a poem coming on like a “thunderous train of air.” She would have to rush back to the house to get the poem onto paper before it barreled past her, sometimes just barely catching it by the tail. I like to settle on magical ideas about poetry like this. It serves as an explanation for why sometimes I can’t find the mysterious potato, so I can go about my day.

At least once a day I’ll look at Submittable to see which submissions are now “In Progress,” which benefits me and my productivity in no way, and which I acknowledge is not necessarily representative of what is actually “In Progress.”

I’ll read poems and try to dissect why they worked, why they didn’t work. I’ll read fiction, nonfiction, blogs, Facebook posts, advertisements. I’ll ask what the heck did they do here to draw me in and try to honestly answer the question.

I carry around some writer accessories like coffee, chipped nail polish, and a purse of self-doubt that digs a red line into my shoulder. If it were 7 years ago I’d tack cigarettes onto that list.

Sometimes I have my parrots come sit next to me or on my shoulder while I work because I think how fun that is in theory, but then in practice it is distracting and sometimes painful.

I want to write poetry for people who like the same kind of poetry I do and are growing annoyed looking for it. A continuing activity that is both frustrating and necessary is finding poets that I genuinely enjoy. I sometimes encourage myself to try squeezing enjoyment out of popular poetry because if it’s popular, it must be good, and that’s where I’ll end this paragraph.

About half my day is dedicated to my own work and the other half is dedicated to Atmosphere Press, where I have the fortune of discovering new authors and watching books come together from the very beginning.

My schedule is in no way concrete. It looks like a bit like a Rorschach test. If I had you look at the splatter and asked you what you saw, you’d probably say, “you wake up. You drink three cups of coffee. You look for potatoes in a layer of dirt that seems too thin to hide potatoes. You write at some point. Then you sweep the dirt back into a little pile and go to sleep.” And I would say, “wow, you are good at reading these things.”

Lisa Mottolo studied copyediting at UC San Diego and is the Project Manager for Atmosphere Press. She is from upstate New York and currently lives in Austin, Texas. Her writing is published or is forthcoming in Typishly, North of Oxford, Barren Magazine, Coffin Bell Journal, and New Feathers Anthology.  She loves birds and has 4 adopted parrots at home.