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…).


Reinvigorating Your Writing Practice for the New Year

By Catherine Chambers

I don’t know about you, friend, but 2014 was a trial by fire for my loved ones and me. I’m sorry to say that I went weeks without picking up a book, without writing down a single word. However, in the midst of post-holiday wintertime blues, I find there is nothing more comforting than a story, read or told. The question is: why is it so difficult to keep it up during hard times? For creative types (a generally sensitive bunch), the littlest thing can set us off. I once didn’t read an assignment for a week because there was snow outside and my kitchen was dirty. To be honest, this year, my writing suffered, but I’m determined to change that.

Personally, I think people aim too high when it comes to New Year’s resolutions. My motto: Keep it Simple. Setting realistic goals you can accomplish will feel much better than drinking kale juice every day for a month only to go on a donut binge. If I can overcome cleaning a three-day-old crusted-over crock-pot, you can overcome too! We can do it together in three easy steps.     

Step 1: Practice.

From writing, to yoga, to business analysis, everything we do as humans takes practice. Make writing (even if it’s an especially witty grocery list or a diary entry) a part of your life every day. To take an example from Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones, sitting down to write your magnum opus after a hiatus is like saying, “I can go for a run today because I stretched last week.” I’ve been particularly bad about this one lately. The stress of moving, finances, the holidays, its all added up. 2015 will be about overcoming my outer problems and easing the pain with writing every day. Granted, sometimes sitting down to write will be a pain, but as one of my fellow editors pointed out, sometimes art is hard.

Step 2: Stop Caring About What Everyone Thinks.

Trust yourself when it comes to your work. Not everything you write is a gem, but what matters is getting it out. If you don’t get your work onto the page, how are you supposed to pick through it to see what can get shined up?

Another of my favorite Goldberg-isms is, “You should listen to what people say. Take in what they say… Then make your own decision. It is your [writing] and your voice.” Personally, I struggle a great deal with putting my writing out in the world whether for peers to read, submitting for publication, or even just letting my partner take a glance at it. It’s like sending my child go off to kindergarten only to worry about bullies taking her lunch money.

People have opinions and they love to share them, but it doesn’t mean you have to listen. The same thing goes for your ego. Don’t listen to that jerk, either. The societal anxieties you picked up as a child, the need to please and be perfect, none of that has a place in your writing practice. Writing is not a good profession for prideful people. Rejection letters paper our inbox, we work mundane jobs to pay the bills, but we press on. Always press on.

Step 3: Be Present.

This is important. Take deep breaths. Go out barefoot in the snow just to see what it feels like. Document every little thing that you see and love and feel. Observe your world as it’s happening to you. Pull an Anne Lamott and carry an index card in your back pocket in case of emergency poetry. Say yes to reinvigorating your writing practice one day at a time. If you skip a day or two, don’t beat yourself up, just get back to it and write. Truth is, in creating you will find your solace.