At the AWP Conference in Minneapolis last year, I had the honor of participating in a panel of writers addressing the subject, “Confronting Our Fears: Turning Adversity into Art.” The latest edition of Assay: A Journal of Nonfiction Studies offers a special conference issue, and it includes our panel discussion alongside three other panels: two from the 2015 Nonfiction Now Conference in Flagstaff, and one from the 2015 ASLE (Association for the Study of Literature and the Environment) Conference in Moscow, Idaho.
This Sunday, like all Sundays, in another mass I will not be attending, there is a space of prayer between the creed and the offering of bread and wine. Catholics call this the Prayers of the Faithful. A man has had surgery. Someone’s baby died. A priest has gone away for a family visit in another country–Italy, Romania, Argentina. The war continues. There are homeless. Repairing a leak in the church will cost $700. Often there is a petition for “those who have lost their faith” to return. Lord hear our prayer. Lord have mercy.
If the success of Orange Is the New Black offers any indication, it seems fair (and gross) to say that prison has become “pop”—for a Twitter moment, anyway. Even the cover of the Economist June 20-24 proclaims, “Jailhouse Nation: 2.3 million reasons to fix America’s prison problem.” Progressive-glam MSNBC has been boosting its ratings with weekends of Lockup since 2005.
Everybody (white? middle class?) seems suddenly if temporarily agreed upon the disgrace and “inefficiency” of prison conditions. We all exchange nods over restaurant pasta and craft beers about how we need to “change the system.”
For almost four years now, as I’ve completed a second book, 1966 has weighed heavily on my mind. Maybe you were born that year, or one of your siblings was. Maybe you got married then, or your parents did. Perhaps you graduated, or got drafted. Maybe you lost someone—to distance, disease, or drinking; to random violence or Vietnam.
In May that year, The Beach Boys released Pet Sounds, an album that received some critical acclaim despite mostly popular failure. Love and Mercy, a stunning biopic about Brian Wilson released last weekend (starring John Cusack and Paul Dano), devotes an amazing amount of detail to the creation of songs for that album. It wasn’t an easy process.
Thanks to Donna Hilbert author of the new poetry collection The Congress of Luminous Bodies (Aortic Books) for tagging me in THE NEXT BIG THING
What is the title or working title of your book?
Tripwires and Trigger Fingers.
Where did the idea come from for the book?
For my first book, Teacher at Point Blank, I explored about how we can work and live under bizarre, unhealthy conditions that encourage a certain amount of denial. As I was waiting for the book to be published, I had to keep revising the last chapter because it began with a litany of rampage shootings at schools, and for about five years I had to keep adding names and dates to the list. It was a hideous feeling. It’s still true that every time a drastic event happens, we tend to treat it like something from Mars. But there I was, facing that list in my book. I wanted to examine that phenomenon of denial on a larger American scale, connecting different public performances of “mass violence” we have buried or forgotten about–starting with UT Austin in 1966.
What have you made from scratch lately–whether it’s something to eat, wear, use at home, or give away? We may live in a world that often feels prefabbed, but there are plenty of opportunities for us to contribute pieces of ourselves to make things better or more interesting. Tune in to the Writer Ninja Podcast, available on iTunes and on this site. Then post your ideas in the comments section below!
Also listen to Jo’s interview with four smart writer-editor-artist people–John Brantingham, Ann Brantingham, Elder Zamora, and Scott Creley–who came together to organize The San Gabriel Valley Literary Festival from the ground up.