The Inevitable Breach of Walls

As a New Yorker with nary a Republican leaning, a red state is a strange place to be after the election. A place where weeks ago a man driving home from a strip club fell out of his truck, ran himself over, and ran off. The state is infamous for these ridiculous happenings where you suspect before you confirm that yes, this shit happened in Florida.

This is not the Florida I’ve experienced. I spent election night with a group of artists at a Downtown Orlando art gallery. Liberals, huddled on the lonely island they inhabited as such in Florida. Only nine counties out of the sixty-seven in Florida went to Hillary. I arrived in Orlando three months after the Pulse shooting. Support for the LGBTQ community was visible in storefronts, bars, galleries, sporting events, Lyft cars. They went hard for their city. There is a smart, vibrant, creative community here. Besides, any superiority I felt as a New Yorker wavered when on a recent weekend back, I saw a Trump sign taped to a window in Astoria.

7×7 LA published the responses of 17 writers and artists to the 2016 election. Here is the rest of my response.

The Exorcist

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My father is a believer. He believes in the eternity of the soul, the temporariness of bodies. “You are a gardener,” he’d tell me, “and your life is a plot of dirt you’re renting.Your work is to grow the most beautiful garden you can.” That’s it? I’d ask. That’s it, he’d answer. My father believes in reincarnation, in his own visions, in Carlos Castaneda and Don Juan in the Mexican desert. My grandmother believed in Christmas, birthdays, and not knocking on people’s doors because it was rude so that made her a half-in, half-out Jehovah’s Witness. I considered Islam after reading the Autobiography of Malcolm X when I was twelve. My grandfather never mentioned God. My aunt hung rosaries from her bedposts when diabetes and lupus were gaining on her. Despite being as Dominican as plantains and salami, my uncle’s name is Moses Levy. I don’t know if he still wears it, but for many years a Star of David hung from his neck, invisible below the neckline of his shirts. My family didn’t have a unified and fixed spiritual or religious identity. Maybe that’s what made The Exorcist the most terrifying movie to me.

I considered rewatching The Exorcist to better explain what about the movie itself still scares me, but as I wrote this in the back apartment in the Kerouac House on an overcast day with that creepy-ass Spanish moss hanging off the trees and no yelling, car horns, or stereos to drown out the creaks of the house, I said fuck no. Demonic possessions, teleportation mishaps, child murderers burned alive by the PTA always happened in nice little neighborhoods like College Park. As a kid growing up in the late 80s and 90s in New York City scary movie scenarios were a relief. Poltergeists don’t go into the projects. There’s not enough real estate for a crazy caretaker. No killer sharks in the Bronx Zoo. We had drugs and crime, sure, but the ‘burbs had basements and houses with too many windows and doors that no one locked.

Other movies came close to The Exorcist, but The Fly was driven by human desire. Nightmare on Elm Street was creepy but campy. Amityville and Poltergeist made me lose sleep because the source of fear wasn’t a body, form, or face I could identify. A Freddy. A Jeff Goldblum. The people in supernatural horror films were terrorized by things they couldn’t see or explain with the worldview that kept them safe. Fear psychologically isolated people, creating the feeling that no one else could see this monster but them. It is terrifying to be alone with the truth. Even if other people glimpsed it or felt it, they could escape it or deny it, but these families in horror films could not. The Exorcist prompted more existential questions than the movies with boogeymen who attacked indiscriminately.

I asked myself some of those questions, growing up as an only child, raised by my grandparents. Playing monopoly by myself, paying myself rent for landing on Park Place, I wondered, why have I been singled out to suffer? If I have been chosen to endure torment, how will I get free? Is an end to my suffering even possible or am I doomed? These are fundamental, frightening questions we ask ourselves, God, and religion. Granted, maybe not at eleven years old, but my demons and poltergeists, the sources of my torment, seemed to be the circumstances of my life.

There’s a scene in The Exorcist where Father Damien asks, “why this girl?” Father Merrin answers, “the point is to make us despair; to see ourselves as…animal and ugly. To make us reject the possibility that God could love us.” To see the very worst of ourselves is horror. The possibility of hurt so deep, love cannot reach it, there, that is Hell.

The Exorcist raised the possibility that my family was wrong in their religious disorderliness. The pre-Conquest spirituality my dad believed true? Wrong. We lived in a cosmic version of Survivor and whatever god outwitted, outlasted, and outplayed was the right one. The Exorcist made a pretty good case for Catholicism’s version of things. Jehovah, Allah, Krishna. All wrong. We weren’t all worshipping the same being in the end. That’s what people who couldn’t handle the truth told themselves. Like a good child of the public school system, I was sure there was only one right answer and we got it wrong. What if the Devil wasn’t symbolic? What if God was unimaginatively and disappointingly literal? What if all those self-righteous, Bible thumpers I’d argued with for years were right and God is super Catholic. What if the essence of our world is unfair and the right god is a cruel, conservative one? What if choosing incorrectly, not being chosen, or casual devotion was enough to be eternally fucked? It wasn’t any demon or the Devil that scared me in The Exorcist. It was God.

On the Radar – October Edition

NFA Grants for Latino Artists and Ensembles support the work of individual artists and ensembles in all disciplines. Open to Latino artists and ensembles in the United States.The NFA offers three grant categories for artists and ensembles: Project Grant, Master Artist Grant and the San Antonio Artist Project Grant. The San Antonio Artist Grant category is supported by the City of San Antonio Department for Culture and Creative Development and is only open to residents of San Antonio, Texas.” Deadline: October 13

TSR publishes work from established authors and newcomers, but only the best of the best.” Deadline: October 15

“The Sixth Annual StoryQuarterly Fiction Prize. The winner will receive $1000, and the winner, first runner-up and second runner-up will be published in StoryQuarterly 50.” Judge is Alexander Chee (who is warm and thoughtful and omg, have you read Queen of the Night?) Deadline: October 15

“Fellowships are six weeks in length and occur year-round. The Lighthouse Works provides fellows with housing, food, studio space, a $250 travel allowance and a stipend of $1,500 to defray the costs of shipping materials, the purchase of art supplies, and other expenses incurred in making artwork in a remote location; our belief is that no artist should have to spend money to accept the opportunity of a fellowship.” Deadline: October 15

I’m cofacilitating Get the Yes: Crafting Your Best Application for Residencies, Fellowships, Grants and Workshops along with Grace Jahng Lee at Bindercon. Whether you’re applying for a writing residency, fellowship, grant, scholarship, or workshop, the process can be anxiety-provoking. How do you even find out about these opportunities? How do you decide which to apply to? What does an artist statement include? Who will write your recommendation letters if you lack literary networks? What do you include in a writer’s CV if you have no/few publications? How do you select your best writing sample? What are strategies for dealing with multiple rejections? For residencies, additional nail-biting may emerge: How do you take time off from work and family obligations to disappear into the woods to write for weeks? How will you finance your residency if you still have rent/bills to pay while away? BinderCon takes place on October 29-30

Indiana Review. “General submissions & submissions to our Special Folio: Metallic Grit are now open until October 31st.

The London Magazine‘s Short Story Competition. The story that wins first-place will be published in a future issue of The London Magazine.” Deadline: October 31

“Applications will open on October 1 for A Public Space’s 2017 Emerging Writer Fellowships. Under this project, three emerging writers will be selected for six-month fellowships, which will include: mentorship from an established author who has previously contributed to A Public Space; publication in the magazine; contributor’s payment of $1,000; workspace in our Brooklyn offices (optional).” Deadline: November 1

 “Recommended Reading is Accepting Previously Published Stories. This fall, our weekly fiction magazine has two separate categories for submissions: previously published and original stories. For the two weeks in November, we’re asking writers to submit only stories that have been previously published elsewhere to be considered for a second life in Recommended Reading.” Deadline: November 15

“Celebrated novelist Dana Spiotta (Stone Arabia, Eat the Document) returns to the Center to talk about her latest book, the critically acclaimed Innocents and Others. Spiotta will be joined in conversation by the award-winning master of American fiction, George Saunders (Tenth of December). Saunder’s debut novel, Lincoln in the Bardo, will be published in February 2017.”
In Conversation: Dana Spiotta and George Saunders
Tuesday November 15, 2016
07:00 pm

“Every fall Pleiades Press holds a short prose contest (for fiction and nonfiction). We’re interested in reading collections short stories, flash fiction, essays, lyric essays, and any other forms of short prose you can think of. The winning manuscript will be  awarded $2000 and published by Pleiades Press.” Deadline: November 15

Witness seeks original fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and photography that is innovative in its approach, broad-ranging in its concerns, and that dazzles us with its unique perspective.” Deadline: November 15

The Camargo Core Program consists of fellowship residencies of six to eleven weeks.” Deadline: November 24

The Sherwood Anderson Fiction Prize awards $1,000 and publication in Mid-American Review. Judge is Charles Yu. Deadline: November 30

The 31st Annual Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival is holding a fiction contest that will award $1,500, domestic airfare (up to $500) and French Quarter accommodations to attend the Festival in New Orleans, VIP All-Access Festival pass for the next Festival ($500 value), a public reading at a literary panel at the next Festival and publication in Louisiana Literature. Judge is Dorothy Allison. Deadline: November 30

Fish Publishing is holding a short story contest. The top ten stories will be published in the 2017 Fish Anthology. First prize is  €3,000 plus a 5 day Short Story Workshop at the West Cork Literary Festival. Deadline: November 30

2016 Arcadia Press Chapbook Prize. “A prize of $1,000 and twenty-five author copies is given annually for a chapbook of poetry, fiction, and nonfiction.” Deadline: November 30

The Hudson Review publishes fiction, poetry, essays, book reviews; criticism of literature, art, theatre, dance, film, and music; and articles on contemporary cultural developments.” Deadline: November 30

Zyzzva. Deadline: November 30

“Published quarterly by The University of Georgia since 1947, The Georgia Review features an eclectic blend of essays, fiction, poetry, visual art, and book reviews.” Reading period re-opened August 16

American Short Fiction has published, and continues to seek, short fiction by some of the finest writers working in contemporary literature, whether they are established or new or lesser-known authors. In addition to its triannual print magazine, American Short Fiction also publishes stories (under 2000 words) online.” Year-round submissions
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Q&A in Latinidad – Fall 2016

I did a Q&A with editor Marcela Landres for her e-zine Latinidad about applying for residencies. Check it out and sign up for her zine.

“Do you avoid applying to residencies because the process is intimidating? Have you applied and don’t understand why you were rejected? Are you mystified as to how to find a good residency in the first place? Why, you wonder, should you bother attending residencies when you can just write at home? If any of the above applies to you, you need to buy and watch Glendaliz Camacho’s Applying For Writing Residencies Webinar. Watching the webinar is like having a cool, savvy friend give you step-by-step guidance, including: the best time of the year to apply; how to write your artist statement; and specific links to websites where you can research residencies. Worth every penny, this webinar will save you time and money in the long run.

To learn more, read the Q&A below with Glendaliz Camacho, creator of the Applying For Writing Residencies Webinar; to purchase the webinar, visit https://becomenzando.com/2016/04/09/applying-for-writing-residencies-webinar/.”

The Mandela Effect

Question.
Why does Biggie say “blow up the world trade” about the 9/11 attacks?
WHEN HE DIED IN 97?!

This is what you’re thinking about?

FAM, THAT DOESNT MAKE YOU THINK?!

There was a bombing in ’93.
Google is your friend, yo.

Ohhhhhhh ok.
I thought it was a Mandela Effect.

What in the hell is that?

2016-08-22

Get ready.
Do you remember the Berenstain Bears?

Vaguely.

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Remember? I used to have a bunch of their books.

You did?

My nigga.

Go on.

Do you remember their name being spelled “Berenstein” or “Berenstain?”

Berenstein.

Wrong.
They’re actually Berenstain, but a massive amount of people remember it being spelled with an “e.” So much so that it’s become part of a theory proving multiple alternate universes exist that overlap.

I’m done with you. Goodbye.

I’m not making this up.

I’m sure you’re not. Also sure it was Berenstein.

Yet, you can’t find proof it was with an “e” anywhere!

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Photoshopped.

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The “a” is everywhere.
The Mandela Effect comes from the belief that Mandela died in jail when he actually didn’t.
You remember that “mirror, mirror on the wall” from Snow White?

Sure.

THINK AGAIN.

“Slave in the magic mirror”? It was “mirror, mirror on the wall.”
Someone fucked with it.

She says “magic mirror,” woman. Decolonize that light-skinned mind of yours.
Do you remember Hannibal Lecter saying, “Hello Clarice”?

Of course. When they first meet.

THINK AGAIN.

Stop this madness!
I’m going to bed.

EVERYTHING YOU KNOW IS A LIE!
Do you spell Febreeze with one “e” in the middle or two?

I’m done with you.
You need to unplug. Go outside. Stay off screens. Look at the real world.

Answer me!

Two “e’s” like breeze.

2016-08-22

X-Files Theme intensifies

So this is proof of an alternate universe?
A mystery of the universe revealed in an air freshener, movies, and a children’s book?
Where did you even hear about this?
And why Mandela?
Who maintained the belief that he died in jail when a Google search would disprove it?

The proof is how can mass amounts of people share the same false memory?
People who don’t even know each other.

This is ridiculous.

Don’t resist.
Our universes can overlap.

My brain is overlapping.

Tin foil hat intensifies.

On the Radar – September Edition

I have abandoned my usual sense of time this month. These are deadlines in October, but also a list of who is starting to read again in the fall. Here goes:

radar

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One Story is seeking literary fiction. Because of our format, we can only accept stories between 3,000 and 8,000 words.” Submission period begins: September 1

“Published quarterly, the Gettysburg Review considers unsolicited submissions of poetry, fiction, and essays, from September 1 through May 31 (postmark dates).” Submission period begins: September 1

New England Review is looking for “fiction, poetry, nonfiction, drama, translation, creative writing for the web site (NER Digital), cover art, and art for our website.” Submission period begins: September 1

“Since 1977 Willow Springs has published the finest in contemporary fiction, nonfiction, and poetry, as well as interviews with notable authors including Marilynne Robinson, Stuart Dybek, Aimee Bender, Robert Wrigley, Joyce Carol Oates, Yusef Komunyakaa, and Kim Addonizio, to name a few.” Submission period begins: September 1

Wallace Stegner Fellowship. “Unique among writing programs, Stanford offers ten two-year fellowships each year, five in fiction and five in poetry. All the fellows in each genre convene weekly in a 3-hour workshop with faculty. Fellows are regarded as working artists, intent upon practicing and perfecting their craft. The only requirements are workshop attendance and writing. The program offers no degree.” Application period opens: September 1

The Travel and Study Grant Program awards grants to emerging artists who create new work, rotating the eligible disciplines in alternating years. Funds support periods of travel for the purpose of study, exploration, and growth…The eligible disciplines for 2017 are music; theater; and visual arts. Applicants must be “generative” artists (e.g. composers or sound artists in music; playwrights, performance artists and directors of ensemble based theatre companies; and visual artists of all genres).” Guidelines for the 2017 Travel and Study Grant Program will be posted September 7

Fiction. “Staying under 5,000 words is encouraged, but we will read fiction manuscripts of any length.” Submission period begins: September 15

Kenyon Review. “We publish the best work we can find—this is the case for both KR and KROnline. The two are aesthetically distinct spaces.” Submission period begins: September 15

“The city’s largest free literary festival, the Brooklyn Book Festival is one of the country’s premier international book festivals, drawing tens of thousands each year to the global creative capital of Brooklyn, NYC. The 7-day festival launches with a week of city-wide Bookend Events, a Children’s Day celebrating childhood literature and finally Festival Day — a day-long literary extravaganza with more than 100 panel discussions and reading on 12-stages and a vibrant outdoor Literary Marketplace.” September 18 (with loads of events that whole week off-site)

26th Annual Jeffrey E. Smith Editors’ Prize awards $5,000 Fiction, $5,000 Nonfiction and $5,000 Poetry. “Winners receive publication, invitation to a reception and reading in their honor and a cash prize.” Deadline: October 1

Twentieth Annual Zoetrope: All-Story Fiction Contest. “The three prizewinners and seven honorable mentions will be considered for representation by William Morris Endeavor; ICM; the Wylie Agency; Regal Literary; Dunow, Carlson & Lerner Literary Agency; Markson Thoma Literary Agency; Inkwell Management; Sterling Lord Literistic; Aitken Alexander Associates; Barer Literary; the Gernert Company; and the Georges Borchardt Literary Agency.” Deadline: October 1

The Comadres and Compadres Writers Conference, provides Latino writers with access to published Latino authors as well as agents and editors who have a proven track record of publishing Latino books…The 5th Annual Comadres and Compadres Writers Conference, taking place at The New School in New York, will be a SPECIAL EDITION. This year the conference will offer writing master classes, only.” October 1

The Aura Estrada Short Story Contest. “The winning author will receive $1,500 and have his or her work published by Boston Review.” Deadline October 3

“Since its founding in 1992, Writers Omi at Ledig House has hosted hundreds of authors and translators, representing more than fifty countries. We welcome published writers and translators of every type of literature. International, cultural and creative exchange is a foundation of our mission, and a wide distribution of national background is an important part of our selection process. Guests may select a residency of one week to two months; about ten at a time gather to live and work in a rural setting overlooking the Catskill Mountains. Ledig House provides all meals, and each night a local chef prepares dinner. Daytime is reserved for writing and quiet activities, while evenings are more communal. A program of weekly visits bring guests from the New York publishing community.” Application deadline: October 20

Sexism in the Literary World. “In the literary world, as in broader society, gender inequality remains an ongoing problem, and the poor representation of women writers a contentious topic. Organizations such as VIDA highlight the imbalances in visibility between women and men in scores of online and print publications. Arguably, sexism and misogyny are central to this issue. This event brings together novelists Bonnie Nadzam and Porochista Khakpour, social change advocate and journalist Kavita Das, and Amy King of VIDA, to discuss sexism and harassment in the publishing industry and writing programs, and what can, and should, be done to improve the representation of women writers. The Center’s director Noreen Tomassi will moderate, and contribute her insight.”
October 25

Why I Leave “Pushcart Prize nominee” in my Bio

When a small journal nominated one of my stories in 2013, it was the first nod of anything besides publication. It felt good. It was a story I liked, one I still love, one a lot of people since have told me they loved. It’s the story I’ve tinkered on the least post-publication. One I felt I executed with every ounce of skill and heart I had, harmoniously, and to the max. The editor that nominated it treated it like a teacher would a student they really believed in.

One time, I was looking back on some childhood school photos with someone and they pointed out my penchant for colored socks. Like visible-under-the-hem, bright-ass socks. And it was a moment when you realize that something you did and thought little about or did and loved was incredibly dorky.

It’s like that in writing-as-career too. And I mean career in the blandest sense possible. You get your first piece accepted in some little journal and you’re ecstatic. Until something makes you aware of the hierarchy of journals. Then that little journal doesn’t seem worth mentioning anymore, even though it sure made you feel like a real fucking writer two seconds ago. The harder it is to get picked, the better it must be, right? If other people can have this too, it must be crap.

Somewhere between other writers’ snark (usually white, usually over-educated, and fond of hierarchies) making me aware that thousands of writers get nominated for Pushcarts, I came to the conclusion leaving it on my bio was incredibly dorky. Less than a month ago, I was at a writing conference/workshop where it was a joke in someone’s opening remarks. If you google Pushcart Prize, there are dozens of blog posts pointing out how much of a dork you are for believing your small accolade. I should’ve been embarrassed at leaving such a clear trail of newb-ness.

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A fruit vendor’s push cart, Cartagena, Colombia by Joe Ross

One day, the Pushcart nominee thing came up in conversation with a respected and lauded poet and teacher friend who keeps it on his bio along with “bigger” awards. “Everyone and their moms gets one of those,” was what I said. And in that way he has of putting your your shit in perspective with an economy of words (fucking poets!) he said, “My moms didn’t.”

What that did to me was two things. One, it snapped me out of a touch of the comemierdas I contracted from these writers. So because these writers who I deemed more knowledgeable about writing-as-career deemed it meh, I had to deem it meh too? Automatically? Without measuring for myself, against myself?

And Two, who was this “everyone” because he was right. Our moms were not getting Pushcart nominations. They were busy getting visa nominations (or not), work nominations, nominating what bills they could pay, and nominating what was for dinner. To put a finer point on it, as another teacher would later put it, “Herman Melville was not thinking about you when he was writing Moby Dick.” Perhaps thousands of American white writers have been nominated, but how many that look like me and come from where I come from? Your small potatoes can be someone’s whole meal.

That conversation, no longer than a minute or two, was a call to stop measuring myself against rulers not made for me. There’s no such thing as everyone or universal experience. And hey if your moms was getting Pushcart nominations and the like, that’s great, my daughter will be able to say that kind of thing, but I was wrong to hold you up as “everyone” when I knew different.

Now, this is not to say, we shouldn’t aim for larger, higher, more. This is also not to say that as you get more that some things won’t drop off to make room for other things, but dammit you be the one to decide what betterment means to you. You be the one to decide what is important on your bio and reflects your trajectory the best at that moment. I just submitted a piece to a prize and left it in. It’s followed by other things that say something about how I’ve been becoming a writer since that nomination, but it’s in there. And look, tomorrow, six months from now, years from now I could totally decide to drop it, but today it still has significance for me.

I loved those socks. My grandma bought them for me with retirement checks. She matched them to my scrunchies. And even though all my socks are black, white, and gray (like my soul!), I look back at the cheerful ankles of my youth with kindness and affection.

You like the socks? Wear the fucking socks.