It doesn’t matter how much one writes or publishes: the excitement of an acceptance letter never diminishes. I realized that last week after learning that one of my poems was accepted by an online journal. I’ve been trying to find a home for this poem, entitled “Graveside Wedding,” since I finished its last revision back in August.
It always feels like you’re trying to find a loving home for a piece of yourself. A majority of my writing is in some ways an extension of me. In that case, why would I want to put myself haphazardly in a magazine or journal that just feels “wrong?” By wrong, I just mean a wrong place for that particular poem or story.
And so, I’m leaving a part of myself in Unbroken‘s May/June issue, and I’m happy with that. That acceptance letter came at the perfect time, considering how crappy the past few weeks have been. It’s on to the next one now.
It’s amazing how seemingly mundane things tend to give me the greatest amount of fodder for my writing.
Most recently, it was my trip to the grocery store that flicked the light bulb. Perhaps the fact that it was a 2am trip wasn’t very ordinary, but the act of shopping is one of the most basic human necessities. The store was empty, save for an old couple going slowly down each aisle and a middle-aged couple in front of me at the checkout counter. There was one cashier working, and he was involved in a complicated price check for the middle-aged couple.
The price check quest for the unidentifiable fruit-like object gave me time for reflection. As I stared at my three items on the conveyor belt, I was hit with the sudden need to write a poem. I pulled up the memo app on my phone and started tapping away. By the time the cashier was handing the people in front of me their receipt, I had a finished rough draft.
How did baking soda, chocolate Twizzlers, and a votive candle (don’t ask how these things go together, because I’m not telling) lead me to a poem when I had been tearing my hair out over writing something for a week? In a nutshell, it’s because I slowed down and really noticed them. Each item had a purpose, a reason for pulling me out of the comfort of a warm house into the freezing cold night.
When I thought about the purpose they served, they were more than just objects I was purchasing. They became a story with a deep meaning. They were items that stood for something somber (in my case). At the risk of sounding overly dramatic, they were items that helped shape me in a very weird and obscure way.
Take some time today to really notice something, even if it’s just taking a moment to study a building on your way home from work. Great stories can come from anywhere and anything.
During last semester, I was given an assignment in my Intro to Creative Writing class that involved writing a dramatic monologue. I scratched my head. A dramatic monologue? Isn’t that a theater thing? I admit that poetry is not my strong suit. Other than the angst-ridden poetry that I wrote during my Goth days in high school, I haven’t spent much time with it. Which is hilarious, by the way, because I hated writing short stories in high school, and that seems to be all I do these days. Anyway, this is why these complicated poetry assignments were freaking me out.
Needless to say, even after my prof lectured on the elements of a dramatic monologue and how I should pretend to be someone else, I spent quite a bit of time searching Google for further help. This was a portfolio piece after all, and I wanted to make sure that I only submitted my best work. I started by writing a poem as a homeless teenager. I could write a decent amount about that topic, no? It was a big issue in my hometown.
I let my boyfriend read what I had written so far. “I don’t like it,” he said, honest as always. I asked why. “Because you’re clearly not passionate about this. There’s no feeling behind it.” He had a point. I could definitely do better. More head scratching. What the hell was I going to write about?
And then it hit me. I searched frantically through folders upon folders of pictures saved on my laptop for the ones that I took in Kentucky while on a road trip. There it was: a photo of an old gravestone. You’re probably asking me how the fuck any of this makes sense. I should probably tell you that I love traipsing through old cemeteries and value the amount of history that can be found in them. As I was walking through this particular cemetery in Bardstown, KY, something about this stone smacked me on the back of the head. The stone, which belonged to a stranger named Eliza Lambeth, seemed to be calling to me, and it prompted me to take a picture of it for use in a later piece of my writing. I found that piece in my dramatic monologue.
The writing happened so seamlessly then. I wasn’t stumbling around in the dark looking for my next verse. The words kept pouring out naturally, with only a little effort on my behalf. At that moment, I was Eliza. I showed my boyfriend this new version. “Now this sounds more like something you’d write,” he said. Thanks, Eliza.