June 2, 2021
The Five WoundsÂ by Kirstin Valdez Quade — I met Kirstin Valdez Quade a few years ago at the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference. As I recall, I found myself sitting with her and some other women at breakfast, among them Renee Simms, who was in my workshop that year. I was the only white person in the group, and I can’t remember now if I sat down with them, or if the others gathered around Renee, who might have invited me to sit with her. (The logistics and politics of the dining hall at Bread Loaf remain a point of anxiety and confusion for me.) There had been some kind of incident involving concerns about inclusion and diversity, very likely the one recounted in this essay. That was the subject of my companions’ conversation that morning, and I felt privileged to be a part of it, to be included and taken seriously even though the concerns being expressed were not, apparently, things that affected me.
Recently, Kirstin appeared online in conversation with two other writers in an event billed as Literature in a Wounded World: Faith & Fiction in the 21st Century. Most of us have tuned in to a plethora of these online readings, conversations, and master classes this year, and while this response to the pandemic has made it possible to enjoy programs we wouldn’t be able to travel to easily in person, most of us are Zoomed out. But I couldn’t pass this up. Faith and how it is expressed in fiction is the dominant concern in my own work right now.
I endeavored to readÂ The Five Wounds ahead of the online event. It is a splendid novel, exactly the kind of novel I want to write. At more than 400 pages, it represents a significant time investment for me, since I tend to read slowly. And it’s in present tense, a technique I am reluctant to wade into for more than a short story. The first few chapters contained a lot of Spanish words and conveyed a sense of the fantastical, making it necessary to remind myself that the story is set in the 21st Century New Mexico, not in the mists of time. The scene that occupies pages 368 and 369 is one I will photocopy and read again and again.
Milk Blood Heat by Dantiel W. Moniz is a collection of stories that I was drawn to when it was announced as a selection of Roxane Gay’s Audacious Book Club. Even though I am a paid subscriber to The Audacity, I didn’t finish the book in time to (by my own judgment and decision) participate in the discussion. But I went back to it. “The Loss of Heaven” in particular taught me a lot about depicting the appearance and skin tones of people of color.
At the beginning of 2021 I undertook a year-long course sponsored by Creative Nonfiction to develop writing a memoir. The first component, an introduction to the basics of narrative nonfiction, was disappointing, and I wound up neither participating effectively nor getting much benefit from it. The second bit, however, has engaged me. Maybe it’s the instructor (Jonathan Callard) whose interest in spiritual matters and whose elegant structure motivates and sustains me. He requires three pieces of 2500 words each, the last of which is due next week. I decided to put serious energy into an essay about my memories of a retreat my mother undertook in 1958 at Prouille, the Dominican motherhouse in Elkins Park, Pennsylvania that closed about a dozen years ago. You can read an early draft of this piece here.Â
That’s what I’m doing here. Again, I have Roxane Gay to thank. In the announcement I linked to before, she asserted that “Newsletters are over.” But then she went on to say:Â
Iâ€™ve been thinking about blogs lately because I miss them. I am very attached to things that fade into obsolescence. For years, I wrote an obscure little blog few people read and that was mostly fine because I could share my thoughts with myself and three or four other people. Though I didnâ€™t realize it at the time, I was also growing as a writer, thinking more about how to tell a story, how to get readers to care about the story. But I was also an avid blog reader. Every day I looked forward to opening my Google Reader (RIP) and reading about the lives of complete strangers who seemed so compelling. A mother in Utah, a designer in the Bay Area, a foster parent in NYC, a baker in St. Louis, a budding filmmaker in Los Angeles. It didnâ€™t matter how different the bloggers were. What mattered is how they made me want to understand the world from their perspective.
Roxane Gay uses Substack as her platform, and she means to make money from her work. Other writers use Medium, a platform that baffles me as much as Twitter does. I had an account there, but never posted anything to it. I came to understand that I already had everything I needed to do what I want to do, that is, share my thoughts with interested readers. I’ve had my own domain and my blog for more than twenty years, since before “blog” was the general term for what we early adopters called “online journals” and called ourselves “journallers” instead of “journalists.”
I’ve been through many periods of absence and presence here. I have no idea what kind of following I have left, nor how to build it. My daughter, the amazing Lynn DeAngelis April, has managed to create a popular, entertaining, and income-producing blog, Fresh April Flours. Maybe I’ll ask her for advice.
Thank you for reading, no matter how you got here. I am relearning how to do this, how to write quickly but effectively (I’ve been at this post for three hours). I want to establish a schedule, to keep on keepin’ on about how I move through this world.