Tag Archives: Carolyn Smart

Shinjini’s Hazaar Songs

jigsaw

Like some names that linger on your tongue, her name became my albatross. Always synonymous with mine, I knew it as intimately as I knew her.

My own. My beloved. My sister.

So, I tugged and pulled. Broke it into pieces. Put it back together like a puzzle I knew by heart.

And so, she became mine. And, mine alone.

My poem, “Shinjini’s Hazaar Songs,” modeled after my sister’s name (Shinjini) is now in Toasted Cheese Literary Journal’s December issue. It was also workshopped in Carolyn Smart’s class in March earlier this year. You can read it here.

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Havana Calling

havana

Freshly painted pink car in Havana – © iStockphotos.com/Christian Bernfeld – Source: http://www.timeout.com/travel/features/392/20-great-things-to-do-in-havana

This post comes a little belatedly, not because I didn’t know what to write, but because I was/am busy finishing up before I depart to feed my soul for two whole weeks.

That’s two weeks without working on my thesis, or thinking about deadlines, or marking papers, or answering questions to concerned parents who unknowingly turn up the stress factor by affectionate nagging.

That’s two weeks of engaging with an unknown place and people and experiences through creative writing and photography.

Godammnit, I can’t wait!

But le sigh. I have to finish a mountain of work before I get on that plane.

So on the eve of 23rd April, I completed four years of being a blogger. Ta-da!

What did I do that day? Nothing substantial. Meaning, no celebration as such. But possibly worked on a thesis chapter, as I have been doing every day now.

So here’s the lowdown. I don’t know if anyone has noticed, but I haven’t been publishing much lately. Not because I haven’t been sending my stuff out, or writing anything at all (Oh, but I have! So. MUCH.), but because I have been aiming higher.

By higher I mean I have been sending my work to journals where I truly want my work to be seen (won’t take names. Don’t make me! Not yet…). The result has been that I have also been getting a lot of rejection letters. Not form ones. Actual letters with feedback where most of them say:

We appreciate the chance to read it. Unfortunately, your piece was not selected for publication. We sincerely hope you will submit again in the future. 

ps. Thanks for the chance to read this. You do a great job of capturing voice in this piece. It made the shortlist for this round.

It made it to the shortlist! Atleast on three different occasions. Which means I am getting something right. In this essay on academics/writers and fashion, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie says as much. She calls it “progress of sorts”. That’s where I am right now.

I have also been fashion blogging. It’s a one year project (not just for now. It just is.). It has been evolving and frustrating and fun and all kinds of mixed feelings. From a post every week, I have dissolved it to every alternate week just because it is too much work. Mad respect to fashion bloggers all around. Also, just like my little sister, if anyone else is wondering WHAT THE EFF IS THE POINT? You will find out in a year, when the project’s done.

And for those of you not in the know, my second MA thesis has a creative writing component. Which is really parts of my work-in-progress novel. And, for which, I was allowed to take Carolyn Smart‘s fiction and poetry workshop classes over the past eight months.

In fact, Smart is so awesome that she even edited a short story for a competition. I didn’t make it in, which sort of broke my heart, but it just makes me want to work harder on the story. It will find a home elsewhere, I am sure.

So, there you have it. This is what it has come to after four years of blogging online.

Not a writer yet, but getting there.

Meanwhile, HAVANA CALLING!

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The Chapbook that never was

Final product.

Final product.

Chapbooks are not easy to make.

And, my final project for Carolyn Smart’s poetry workshop class was just that. A chapbook.

I knew what I wanted. My barenaked face, sans makeup (except mascara), as the cover.

The title would be “For Sale” borrowed from the first line of the first poem.

And, my name.

And, it would be fancy, a 4X6 in hardcover, bound in red cloth.

Hah. Impossible. For a 12 page chapbook, it was très impossible.

Credit: Chloe Sobel Photography.

Credit: Chloe Sobel Photography.

For the photo, I hunted down the fantastic Chloe Sobel from my creative writing class last term. Her expertise lay in feminist retellings of fairytales. And, portraiture.

After scheduling and rescheduling, we managed to meet outside in the windy cold (there was snow on the ground, and her reflector almost flew away, twice), get my clothes partially off for the barenaked feel, and clicked a few for my cover.

Next, the layout.

I begged my fantastic sister to help out with her artsy skills, and although she tried, due to time crunch (on my part), it was just not what I had pictured in my head.

So, I visited the printing services on campus with my ideas. They shot it down. We don’t do the kind of binding you want, they said. It just cannot be done.

I went to Staples next, but with similar results.

And just when I thought all was lost, and I would probably have to print those pages out myself, and staple them together in a shoddy manner (sewing and glue guns were out of question. Mostly, due to lack of a single artistic bone in my body.), I thought why not. Let me see if there are any binding services in Kingston.

The nearest to my location was DigiGraphics, and so I called them. The kind Elizabeth Clark there suggested, very gently, that perhaps I should reconsider the binding. Saddle binding could work you know, she said. It wouldn’t be fancy, but we could work with it.

So, I let them.

Final cover, courtesy of DigiGraphics, Kingston.

Final cover, courtesy of DigiGraphics, Kingston.

And voila. I had my chapbook.

It was slightly different from what I had initially imagined. But it was a real thing.

And, it was all mine.

The chapbook contains seven of my poems (four of which have been workshopped in the poetry class and some of which have been published online) and only exists as a single copy. It was, as I mentioned, made only for the purpose of my final creative writing project. At the moment, I do not have any plans of having any more copies published.

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Writing from a Stream of Unconsciousness

Am I a writer?

Why do I write?

Am I just enamored with the idea of being a writer, or is this more than just a self-righteous obsession?

These were questions that had begun to plague me lately.

You see, most stuff that I have/had written stem from some personal experience or the other. Some of it also comes from having overheard stories. But everything had been a reproduction of some sort, and even though I am proud of some of it, they seem to be missing some essential ingredient. Maybe, some inherent truth of life.

Honestly, I wasn’t sure. I was just stumbling in the dark.

So, I started reading/watching interviews of writers online. Why do writers write? Why do great writers write? And, what makes them write the way they write? I began to study the art of writing in earnest.

Most of them (like Sarah Selecky, who came to give a talk at the English department at Queen’s,) spoke about writing as a journey with unknown destinations. Some mentioned a plan with a possibility for uncertainty.

But one thing was clear.

To be a great writer, I had to trust my characters. I had to let them take me somewhere. And, I had to be open to whatever/wherever this “somewhere” was.

I began to doubt myself. I had never actually experienced this. My characters didn’t talk back to me. They did what I told them. Or, they were just reproductions of me and – what I began to realize later – derivations, at best.

If I couldn’t tap into this great unconscious where magic happens, then I could just pack up and quit.

But like the serendipity of all magic and miracles, I had a breakthrough. One of my characters spoke to me, and a story emerged.

I was working on my final assignment for Carolyn Smart’s fiction workshop. It was supposed to be a flash fiction piece under 500 words. We could play around with it, but it had to sit within the word limit.

I didn’t know what I wanted to write on, or where I wanted to go with it.

For inspiration, I turned to one of Sharanya Manivannan’s published shorts. Since I have been an ardent fan and a writer-in-progress groupie of Manivannan’s work for a few years now, I was already familiar with her stories. A particular story stuck out in my memory and I pulled it up. Her “Stream of Unconsciousness” in Fictionaut. The first two lines of the piece stared at me:

In his dream, he was choking on an ice cube. He didn’t know what would happen first — if it would melt or he would die. 

And, from those two lines, my first two lines emerged:

In his dream, he has a vagina. He doesn’t know what came first – the vagina, or his desire to have one. 

These lines would have never come to me a year ago.

Smart’s fiction workshop/class at Queen’s had helped a lot to open me up. I had begun to write without fear. I even put forward my full blown queer bildungsroman short story for workshop in class. A story that starts with a sex scene. Yes, me. Me who couldn’t even write about sex without being self-conscious.

And, there they were now. Undeniable. Waiting for something to happen.

Then, I heard it. The voice. A person, talking. In my head. Leading me somewhere.

And then, a narrative emerged.

A narrative that had absolutely nothing to do with my own lived experience.

So, this is what it feels like, I said to myself once I was done. This is why people write.

And, this is why I want to write.

Check out this article, “The Case for Writing a Story before Knowing How it Ends,” by Andre Dubus III (author of Dirty Love and The House of Sand and Fog), to get an idea about unconscious writing.

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