Life Lessons: Don’t Disqualify Yourself

By Cameron Price

In March I will be graduating from Goddard's BFA in Creative Writing Program. It feels spectacular to thumb through the 88 page manuscript of poetry and critical writing that I labored over and revised more times than I can count. In fact I printed it out just so I could hold it in my hands (I'll reuse and then recycle the paper, don't worry.) I'm very proud of the work that I've done at Goddard and grateful for the invaluable lessons and friendships I've gained.

At this point, many people know I'm pretty much DONE with my undergraduate degree. It’s an amazing feeling, don't get me wrong. I like being congratulated as much as the next guy. However there's that question. You know which one. It's the question that keeps (or did keep) you up at night as a young 20-something on the verge of beginning a new life chapter: "So what's next?" And, of course, this question may keep you up at night regardless of your age. We seem to hear it everywhere when we're about to finish a milestone. What's next, what's next, what's next....

It's an enchanting notion right? Life’s endless possibilities. The sky is the limit. Actually, as we all know, it's much messier than that. In the past when faced with the inevitable unknown, my emotions more closely resemble a tight and vicious knot of nerves and ecstatic excitement than a clichéd white-winged eagle soaring easily up to the lofty heights of aspiration. It's a terrifying question. And often it just feels easier to make something up. We are kind of making it up as we go along anyway.....right? Instead of worrying incessantly about the unknowable future, I've sought ways to approach the end of my degree differently. There must be a better way to look at all of this, I've thought to myself many times.

By far the advice that keeps coming back to comfort me are the words of Chicana author and activist Stephanie Elizondo Griest. She was Goddard's visiting writer last Fall. Griest is a colorful speaker who has lived an even more colorful life. Her stories of beautiful, terrifying, and transformational experiences from living everywhere from Russia, to China, to Cuba enthralled us all. However, one idea stood out to me: Don't be the one to disqualify yourself from an opportunity. Let that be someone else's job. Don't you be the one who tells you you don't have what it takes.

She figured, someone had to win that fellowship, write that book, get that job, receive that grant, tell that story. So why not her? Why not me? Why not you? The trick was not to NOT get rejected. The trick is not to be the one to tell yourself not to bother, that you wouldn't get it anyway. Stephanie Elizondo Griest’s advice: Give it your best shot and don’t get in your own way.

This means a great deal to me as a poet. My poetry easily gets rejected more often than it gets accepted. But I know now that if I had let just one of those rejection letters shut me down and hold me back, I may not have gotten my work accepted at the places I have. A good example of this is when I made an experimental video piece based on a poem I wrote. I wanted to try something different in an unfamiliar medium so I had fun with it and made something I was proud of. A little thought came to me that I should submit it somewhere. It was as simple as Googling "video art submissions" to find an avenue to potentially share my work. One of the first opportunities that came up was for the 6th Cairo Video Festival in Egypt. I browsed their website, marveling at the quality of the work I was seeing. A little thought came again that I should submit my little film to them. I scoffed. Um, helloooo, I shot this 2:45 second video on my iPhone 4. No way. But I did it anyway because there was no submission fee....

I totally forgot about the submission until months later when I received an email from Egypt telling me that my video piece had been selected to be screened in their upcoming festival! I was in shock. How did my iPhone movie make it into this international video festival!? The only thing I did know was that it wouldn't have been accepted at all if I had never submitted it. Though I had my doubts, I didn't disqualify myself from the opportunity. Well, maybe more accurately, I followed my gut before I could talk myself out of it and lo and behold, something great came of it. On November 17, 2014, my film played on loop in a gallery somewhere in Cairo. I've never been to Cairo—I may never go to Cairo, but my iPhone video did!

I am remembering this now as I am about to graduate. I am trying to imprint it in my mind, make it my mantra: I will not be the one to disqualify myself. That's someone else's job. I just have to go for it. And I share that with you now, dear supporters of Duende. May it light your path as it has illumined mine. Remember that you are your best advocate! Don't be the first one to tell you that you, your writing, your craft, your dreams, are not good enough, not attainable, not realistic, not "reasonable." Let that be someone else's job. Your job is just to kick ass and go for it (and of course, to submit your brilliant creative work to Duende Issue 3 starting March 1st…).

 

Duende Selects 2014 Pushcart Nominees

Wendy Call
BFA Faculty and Literary Journal Advisor

In a year of blood and anguish in Ayotzinapa, Damascus, Ferguson, Gaza, Marysville, and so many other places, what is the point of another tiny, upstart literary journal? I have asked myself that question more than once during the twenty months I’ve worked with Goddard BFA students to create a new, student-edited journal.

Our BFA students have a clear answer: raising voices. The voices of Duende weave a narrative of our world today, in all its heart-breaking splendor. Here are just a few examples from our debut issue:

“She wonders and worries often about our civilization and whether or not we will survive acid rain, the holes in the ozone, the melting polar ice caps and what has happened to all those poor, poor bees. Don’t worry about her….”
    ~ Bianca Spriggs, “Mixed Media in the Age of Anthropocene” (poem)

“Can a sign be plaintive? I think it can. It was the way she tipped the letters for please that did it, each plastic piece perfectly aligned, leaning slightly to the right.”
    ~ Robin Koman, “The Secret Letters” (short story)
 
“This skin is the cry of black wolves,
burned tires and broken beer bottles,
the sea of Moses stripped down the middle,
mocha-skinned mothers lugging bodies”
    ~ Nadia Alexis, “Black Soliloquy” (poem)

“[E]ach loss brings up previous losses, each bout of grief awakens dormant sadness. And I hold my breath; brace myself to absorb the impact because the grief of my children will always be mine.”
    ~ Goddard BFA alumna Seema Reza, “Places Temporarily Submerged” (hybrid prose)

Through the work of these writers, and the thirty-one other writers and visual artists who generously contributed to Duende this fall, our journal lives its mission: “Duende aspires to represent the true beauty and diversity of the U.S. literary ecosystem. A majority of the writers and artists in our journal come from groups that are underrepresented. That is to say, most of the work we publish will be from writers and artists who are queer, of color, differently abled, immigrant, working class, youth, elder, and /or otherwise from communities that are too often overlooked by literary gatekeepers.”

Duende’s student editors are proud to nominate six works of poetry and prose from our debut issue for Pushcart Prizes:

Nadia Alexis’s poem “Black Soliloquy” ~ for its awe-inspiring rawness
Ellen Hagan’s poem “Grits” ~ for our editors’ collective “hell, yes!”
Robin Koman’s short story “The Secret Letters” ~ for its elegant pacing and satisfying resolution
Seema Reza’s hybrid prose piece for “Places Temporarily Submerged” ~ for its strong, evocative metaphors
Bianca Spriggs’s poem “Mixed Media in the Age of Anthropocene” ~ for its emotion and resonant sensory detail
Anastacia Tolbert’s short story “Alice” ~ for a killer opening and stylish friction that stays strong right to the end

Congratulations to these six writers!

We are thankful to all our contributing writers and visual artists for manifesting the spirit of Duende. As we read the more than seven hundred submissions we’ve received for Spring 2015, we’re grateful for the opportunity to connect with socially engaged literature and art from across the country and around the world.