On Finding Inspiration: Holy Boredom

I’m bored the kids whine as soon as summer begins. Boredom seems bad. And it’s so easy to fill the empty spaces with a million easy-to-reach options: from food to electronics to conversation. “If you have time to lean, you have time to clean!” say the Ghosts of Restaurant Managers Past. Empty time seems wrong somehow.

But let me suggest, after putting it to the test myself, that the real key to finding inspiration no matter where you are is a healthy dose of Holy Boredom.

I’m writing to you now at the end of my sabbatical. (After 10 years of teaching college I decided that I was giving myself my own sabbatical!) And I’ve discovered that even on sabbatical, once the initial excitement wears off, it’s easy to get bored. My budget wine-cellar-turned-apartment has no television. Internet is spotty and unavailable altogether once I leave my apartment. But it took me about a week to discover this because, of course being someplace new makes you want to walk, explore, snap pictures. Which is why inspiration, real inspiration, did not arrive for me until week 2, when I’d explored all the crannies, eaten at all the restaurants, took all the pictures, and finally found boredom.

Holy Boredom—that place of nothing-ness where everything already lives.

beach crop

My guru is always (gently) reminding me that I need to meditate. I try. I have an app. I schedule it in my normally busy schedule, in between A and B. But the real point of mediation, as I understand it, is to quiet the mind, to silence the honking horns of urgency.

Holy boredom is to creativity what meditation is to the mind. Intentional stillness. Wide open space with no agenda. We think we’re so busy because the outside world is always pushing down on us (insert job, obligations, etc.) But also we do it to ourselves. We keep our mind busy, spinning, distracted. it’s not until you reach a place of actual boredom that inspiration, that deep inspiration, can shyly arrive.

So it’s not the table with the view by the sea that creates the inspiration—it’s the wide spaces of nothingness you create around the table. Staring out a window with no agenda. A long silent walk (with no phone). Room for boredom without the usual distractions: music, television, conversation.. It’s from that deep stillness your most original ideas can finally bubble to the surface.

As a disciplined person, one who normally uses all time available with military precision, scheduling in boredom seems, well, silly. But the good news is that this can happen here, now: you don’t have to travel anywhere to create pockets of holy boredom—they already exist, we just fill them so fast we don’t even see them: whoosh! Gone. So this summer, if scheduling “writing time” seems too intimidating or exhausting, why not just make room for a bit of daily boredom in those spots that you usually fill with blur and noise and see what bubbles up instead?

To Your Success!

PS: Maybe find a Boredom Buddy to keep you accountable?

PSS: Tell me how it goes!

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Rain Taxi Summer 2019: “Nancy Stohlman–Freaks of Flash Fiction: Clowns, Flash, and Lounge Metal” interviewed by Zack Kopp

Zack Kopp and I had a fantastic time chatting and getting weird in the latest print version of Rain Taxi, now out! Rain Taxi is such an amazing publication, and Zack is a fantastic interviewer! 

Rain Taxi Volume 24, Number 2, Summer 2019 (#94)

To purchase issue #94 using Paypal, click here.

Check out the full issue here

summer-2019-94-cover

INTERVIEWS

NANCY STOHLMAN: Clowns, Flash, and Lounge Metal | interviewed by Zack Kopp
ED PAVLIĆ: If the Dead Could Speak | interviewed by Ken Walker
MICHAEL JOYCE: The Telling Falls in the Full of Time | interviewed by Erin Lewenauer

FEATURES

Widely Unavailable: Northrop Frye Unbuttoned | by Richard Kostelanetz
Remembering Tony Hoagland | by Mike Schneider
Black Market Reads: Ross Gay | by Lissa Jones
The New Life | a comic by Gary Sullivan

PLUS:

Cover art by Zak Sally

NONFICTION REVIEWS

Diderot and the Art of Thinking Freely | Andrew S. Curran | by John Toren
The Banished Immortal: A Life of Li Bai | Ha Jin | by Patrick James Dunagan
Tosh: Growing Up in Wallace Berman’s World | Tosh Berman | by Christopher Luna
Native Enough | Nina O’Leary | by Christina Schmid
Questioning Minds: The Letters of Guy Davenport & Hugh Kenner | Edward M. Burns, ed. | by W. C. Bamberger
The Poem Electric: Technology and the American Lyric | Seth Perlow | by Christopher T. Funkhouser
An Informal History of the Hugos | Jo Walton | by Ryder W. Miller

FICTION REVIEWS

Passing | Nella Larsen | by David Wiley
Instructions For a Funeral | David Means | by Erin Lewenauer
If You See Me, Don’t Say Hi | Neel Patel | by Cindra Halm
A Student of History | Nina Revoyr | by Julia Stein
The Secret History of My Sojourn in Russia | Jaroslav Hašek
and Sentimental Tales | Mikhail Zoshchenko | by M. Kasper
Everything Under | Daisy Johnson | by Micah Winters
Coldwater Canyon | Anne-Marie Kinney | by Eric Aldrich

POETRY REVIEWS

Sight Lines | Arthur Sze | by M. Lock Swingen
Kill Class | Nomi Stone | by Jason Ericson
The Blue Clerk: Ars Poetica in 59 Versos | Dionne Brand | by John Bradley
Mitochondrial Night | Ed Bok Lee | by Jeremy Flick
Fake News Poems | Martin Ott | by Erik Noonan
A Memory of the Future | Elizabeth Spires | by Paula Colangelo
Suspension | Paige Riehl | by Denise Low
Waiting for the Wreck to Burn | Michele Battiste | by Denyse Kirsch

COMICS REVIEWS

R. Crumb’s Dream Diary | Robert Crumb | by Jeff Alford
The Three Escapes of Hannah Arendt: A Tyranny of Truth | Ken Krimstein | by Michael Workman

Check out the full issue here

 

Flash Fiction editor Tommy Dean interviews Nancy Stohlman in CRAFT Literary Magazine

CRAFT’s flash fiction section editor Tommy Dean chats with Nancy Stohlman-Author about MADAM VELVET’S CABARET OF ODDITIES, flash fiction, craft, and more:

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EXCERPT

Tommy Dean: What was your process of crafting this collection together? There’s seems to be a shift from the constant narrator around page twenty-one to twenty-two with the list of circus performers. Was this intentional? What effect were you hoping for?

Nancy Stohlman: Oh yes, very intentional. And even more so in the work I’m doing now—I teach that there are many ways of approaching a collection. One way is to look at it like a “greatest hits” album of work in an order that is rhythmic and pleasing and that is perfectly alright. But I tend to go for the “concept album” approach instead, allowing the juxtapostions of story against story to create another layer of white space and give birth to a second layer of story. It’s my favorite part these days.

Read more:

https://www.craftliterary.com/2019/05/28/interview-nancy-stohlman/

How to Take a Mini Solo Writing Retreat

I’m a big believer in writing retreats. Even if you write every day, it’s important to periodically dive more deeply into your work for a sustained amount of time. But sometimes a week-long retreat isn’t possible or maybe it is possible but it’s too far away and your writing relationship needs an intervention right now.

What then?
Enter the solo writing retreat weekend.

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I’ve been doing mini solo writing retreats out of necessity for many years, and I like to think I have just about perfected the micro condensed, inexpensive yet highly effective solo writers retreat. Don’t get me wrong–while it’s absolutely amazing to give yourself the gift of an official retreat, MUCH can be done in a solo weekend or even daylong retreat if you do it right.

Here is my mini retreat formula and some guidelines:

1. You must get out of your house but you shouldn’t go somewhere too interesting. Some of my most productive mini writing retreats have happened at a friend’s empty condo or the cheapest Travelodge or Motel 6 I can find. The point is to stay in your room and write. Bad weather is a bonus.

2. You must be alone. No visitors. Non-negotiable.

3.  To really dive deep you need one entire 24-hour period, so I recommend you arrive at your retreat spot the day before if you can so you can wake up ON your retreat. If Saturday is my retreat day, I check into the hotel on Friday after work.

4. Take food with you lest you be tempted to go out exploring. Food should be simple, relatively healthy, easily available, and not overly interesting, food that won’t put you into a junk food/sugar coma (and needing a nap) but will keep you from needing to interrupt your work and go out to eat.

5. Try to avoid alcohol (and other substances), and sugar until you have FINISHED your retreat.

6: Beware of cable television and internet surfing, both of which are distractions on retreat as they are in real life. Consider only checking the internet during designated times (I give myself 10 minutes at the top of each hour).

Here is what a mini weekend retreat schedule looks like for me:

Friday: Take overnight bag and computer with me to work and drive to location right after. Check in. Go to closest grocery store and buy food for the weekend. That night: Spend 1-2 hours rereading my work so it’s fresh in my mind and percolating in my dreams. Go to bed early so I can wake up early and begin.

Saturday: Retreat Day
Morning: Wake up and start writing. Eat and do a good 2-3 hour chunk of writing before noon.
Lunch Break: (no more than 1 hour). Weather permitting take a quick walk to get the blood pumping.
After lunch: another 2-3 hour chunk of writing.
Late afternoon/early evening—At this point if the work has been going well I might take a few hours off. Take another walk or maybe eat a quick dinner out. Maybe take a nap if needed (but set alarm!).
Evening: Another 2-3 hours of writing after dinner.
Night: NOW watch bad cable, eat sugar, drink wine, and decompress. Sometimes if I’m feeling particularly accomplished I’ll go to a late movie.

Sunday: Wake up and get at least one more 2-hour chunk of writing in before checking out.
Go out to celebration lunch on the way home. *Very important to celebrate your successes!

If you’ve been doing the math, that’s somewhere in the range of 9-13 hours of writing in less than 48 hours! That’s A LOT of writing. And as a bonus you will probably also get good, extended sleep, lots of self-reflection time, and maybe a dip in the hotel hot tub. You will leave feeling accomplished and in motion with your writing and you will wonder why you haven’t done it before…and whether you can pull it off every month.

Maybe you can????

To your success!
xoxo

PS: Let me know how this works for you!

PSS: AND if you also want to come on a longer retreat with me and other writers, consider 4 days in the Rocky Mountains in August or a week in Costa Rica in March 2020!
Find out more

So You Wrote a Book? Robert Vaughan

Robert Vaughan’s latest book Funhouse is a wild ride–he starts us off in the kiddy rides and before we know it we’re doing double loops on the Scrambler and full speed on the Centrifuge, the floor dropping away and we’re spinning and stuck to the wall, hair full of static like crazy cotton candy.

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Nancy Stohlman: Describe this book in 6 words:

Robert Vaughan:

Harrowing

Neglected

Frightening

Hilarious

Oddball

FUN

NS: You have authored multiple books including Addicts and Basements and Rift, which you co-authored with Kathy Fish. How is Funhouse different from your other books?

RV: Funhouse is a varied collection and contains four diverse sections. There is the opening flash and micro pieces. Then the two middle collaborative sections, “Hall of Mirrors” which I like to refer to as the “Kids in the Classroom”; and “Tunnel of Love” which is my nod to the numerous musical Divas. It also is my first book to contain my short stories in the fourth and last section of FUNHOUSE (unlike only flash or prose poetry in previous collections).

NS: I loved this tiny story, “Corn Maze”: 

“I got lost in a corn maze this morning. I know you’re not supposed to panic, but this happened in Soho. I met a lot of other people in there. Many of them were in the arts. One girl told me she’d been in there since Labor Day. I think she said this out of shame. She was wearing white shoes.”

For me this is the perfect example of a micro—lots of implication and white space for the reader to fill in the rest of the story. How you decide what becomes a micro and what becomes a poem?

RV: First of all, thanks for liking this tiny piece. I never really know what something I write is, prose or poetry or whatever. I often like to say that categories of writing were made for libraries and bookstores! I know there are all of these defining “rules,” etc. But I do feel like I tend more toward the gray areas, or middle ground, then the “defining areas” of what others tell us are a micro or a poem. It’s probably what drove me to start Bending Genres journal and workshops/ retreats. Who knows?

NS: Your “Hall of Mirrors” section (2) is somehow both sweet and chilling at the same time, like Shel Silverstein crossed with Tim Burton. I could totally see this as a stand alone (freaky) children’s book. Talk about your inspiration for this. Would you ever consider publishing it as a stand-alone?

RV: One of my favorite book collections as a kid was a gift from my grandfather. It was The Gashlycrumb Tinies by Edward Gorey. I was fascinated by the poem lure (it’s all Iambic pentameter), completely entrancing gore and horror. Each kid dies (“A is for Amy who fell down the stairs, B was for Ben who was bitten by bears…”) So, my “Halls of Mirrors” is a nod to Gorey, and grandpa, but also in my own way, I decided to twist it, make it my own. And it’s a great idea to possibly make this into its own chapbook. Any takers?

NS: Loved your choice of “divas”—I approve of all of them! Explain your process: did you pick the line from their song and then break it apart or how did you use it as a starting point?

RV: This section began in 2013 when my friend Joseph Quintela started a project while at Sarah Lawrence, called The Word Poeticizer. He asked 15- 20 of his poet friends to re-assign their own definitions of words. Then you could feed anything into his Word Poeticizer and pop a new version of the lyric or poem out. Then I decided to do the nod to divas, or female singers who have meant everything to me. I chose a line, and it evolved into these prose poems. My last part was asking Eryk Wenziak to do the layout, and he laid each poem on the page so uniquely, many with much white, and symbolic space.

NS: In your “Tunnel of Love” section (3) you literally doubled your alphabet, using pretty much every symbol available on the keyboard. If I were to name this section I would have named it The Scrambler! There is a lot going on in this section and it’s definitely your most avant-garde. Talk about your inspiration here.

RV: Again, because we used the Word Poeticizer, it became quite odd, more abstraction. I wavered with editing these “too much,” and then decided to go back to the originals, which became the “Tunnel of Love.” I felt like I wanted one entire chunk of the book that left people sort of “huh?” And yet, many times, I’m told it is a reader’s favorite part of Funhouse. I also think because it was a collaborative project at the onset, asking Eryk to add his brilliant touches really made it all the more wondrously strange.

NS: You are a writer that really embraces (and promotes) the hybrid form. Gun to your head: Prose or poetry for the rest of your life—what do you choose?

RV: I’d take the bullet! HA. Actually, I have to choose poetry. It’s my go to, again and again. With all of the bullshit going on the world, poetry helps me to balance, to feel more deeply. And my mentors are all poets: Dorianne Laux, Ellen Bass, Marie Howe, Nick Flynn. But then there are all these amazing contemporary writers who effuse hybrid forms: I’m thinking Sabrina Orah Mark, Alina Stefanescu, Kaj Tanaka, Len Kuntz, Maggie Nelson, Meg Tuite, Steven Dunn, and so many more. Deep Gratitude to them all!

NS: You seem inspired by visuals—both the drawings in Hall of Mirrors (amazing artistry by Bob Schofield) and the use of white space in Tunnel of Love are very visual. How important are visuals to your creation process?

RV: Of course, I am a very visual person. And Bob did great renderings for the Hall Of Mirrors. Almost like he was in my head it is so terrific! I’d love to think I am a sensory person (all senses firing). I like to write from visual prompts, and I am also inspired by how words look on a page. How the author thinks about this (or in more cases, not). So, visuals are very important to me. And then, also, what is going on BELOW/ BENEATH/ UNDER.

NS: What is your favorite story in this book?

RV: ______________?

NS: This is your second book with Unknown Press. Talk about your publishing process.

RV: My fortune started with Gloria Mindock and Cervena Barva Press, she published “Microtones” in 2012.  Joseph Quintela published “Diptychs, Triptychs, Lipsticks & Dipshits” (Deadly Chaps). My first full collection, “Addicts & Basements” was published by Civil Coping Mechanisms. Michael Seidlinger cold- called me after hearing me read and host a reading at the Boston AWP in 2013. (can you say HOLY FUCK?!!) In 2015, Bud Smith (Unknown Press) suggested Kathy Fish and I to do a collaborative book. I thought: she’s never going to do this! Turns out, Kathy was in a tough writing spot. We work-shopped that entire year (Fish, Smith, Michael Maxwell and me) online in the Night Owl Café. This made RIFT a possibility, which became a book! Bud and I also chatted about FUNHOUSE along the way. It came out almost one year later (December, 2017). Every single publisher I have worked with has been beyond my wildest dreams. So professional, beyond qualified, and brilliant.

NS: Advice to writers?

RV: Write as often as possible. PAY ATTENTION! Believe in yourself. Be curious. Meet other writers and greet your family. Make love often. Take suggestions with an open mind. Travel whenever possible. Cook with others. Read, read, read…

NS: Anything else you want to add?

RV: Have I mentioned how much I adore and revere you? Truly, I do. I’m so grateful to anyone who gives back to our writing community, and you always do in such a huge way.

NS: BLUSHING!! Thank YOU so much, Robert. I am honored to call you a friend. xoxoxo

Links to books or other promo links:

www.robert-vaughan.com

www.bendinggenres.com

Robert Vaughan teaches workshops in hybrid writing, poetry, fiction at locations like The Clearing, Synergia Ranch, Mabel Dodge Luhan House. He leads roundtables in Milwaukee, WI. He was a finalist for the Gertrude Stein Award for Fiction (2013, 2014). His flash fiction, ‘A Box’ was selected for Best Small Fictions 2016 and his flash, “Six Glimpses of the Uncouth” was chosen for Best Small Fictions 2019 (Queen’s Ferry Press).  He is the Editor-in-Chief at Bending Genres, LLC.

Vaughan is the author of five books: Microtones(Cervena Barva Press); Diptychs+ Triptychs + Lipsticks + Dipshits(Deadly Chaps); Addicts & Basements(CCM), RIFT, co-authored with Kathy Fish (Unknown Press) and FUNHOUSE(Unknown Press). His blog: www.robert-vaughan.com.

The Green-Eyed Ides of March: On Artistic Jealousy

Shakespeare was the first to call it the “green-eyed monster.” And since we are here, in a month of green, with green holidays and the Ides of (backstabbing) March, let’s talk honestly for a second about artistic jealousy..

I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that, despite our very best efforts, artistic jealousy affects us all at one time or another. Recently, on a low day, I was feeling a twinge of the green and decided to put it out there on social media: “What do you do to not ride the green spiral down?” So many responses from funny to inspiring to serious, but the bottom line: most people could relate.

hulk-angry
If you have never been jealous of a colleague’s work or success, then you are a bigger person than me. Mind you, I try very hard to not go there, and I genuinely like my colleagues and I want them all to succeed. Nineteen out of twenty days I subscribe to the “we all win when we all win” mentality, and I deeply believe it’s the only way to have a rewarding artistic life.

But… no matter who you are, there is probably somebody out there who is kicking more butt than you, and it seems to be happening effortlessly (even though we rationally know that’s probably not true).

Over the years I’ve been jealous of many things. When I was overworked I was jealous of those with open, breezy writing schedules. When I was broke and raising two small children, I was jealous of those without financial worries or those who had the financial means to support their writing. When my creative well was dry and parched I was jealous of those whose muse never seemed to grow tired. When I couldn’t get published by a dream journal I would be jealous of those who did. When I was struggling to sell a manuscript or get a publisher/agent, I was jealous of all the new books birthing.

And…on and on.

If you look at the world through this lens, it truly doesn’t end. Of course you might have noticed that the common denominator in all these examples is ME! When I was feeling low, then I was jealous. And for me, that’s the key discovery here: Jealousy is triggered by a feeling of lack inside of ME–it really has nothing to do with them. Because if we were having a gold star day, then our colleague’s success, muse, money or time wouldn’t affect us at all.

To deny these feelings only stuffs them down deeper and then you end up with hemorrhoids and cancer. So while I don’t have a magic answer, here are three things that help me:

1. Speak it. Acknowledge it. Don’t pretend you aren’t feeling it. Tell someone. Or tell everyone on social media. Jealousy grows when it’s allowed to fester, so don’t let it fester. (Did you notice that “jealousy” contains the word “lousy”?)

2. Do something nice for yourself. You probably wouldn’t be feeling this way if you were having a gold-star day, so you probably need a little extra something. There was a time in my life when I would go eat a banana split every time I got a rejection. It just made the rejections go down easier and I love hot fudge. So…do something nice for yourself.

3. Try to remember Georgia O’ Keefe’s best advice ever: “I have already settled it for myself, so flattery and criticism go down the same drain and I am quite free.”

Meaning: Take all the good days and good reviews and all the bad days and bad reviews and flush them both down the same toilet and get back to work.

In solidarity!

“Tiny House” in New Flash Fiction Review

Read Original Here

Tiny House

by Nancy Stohlman

After the rapture I decided to buy a tiny house. The realtor met me in the driveway.

That’s not a tiny house, I said. That’s a Barbie house.

You say Barbie house, I say tiny house the realtor said. Wait until you see the inside.

The realtor opened the flimsy door. The walls were made of pink vinyl with drawings of bookshelves and framed family photos and a two-dimensional television. That’s for easy collapsing the realtor said. The whole house can fold up into this suitcase—he held up a pink suitcase—which most people find extremely convenient.

The fridge door can open the realtor said, opening and closing the door several times. And your oven comes with a roast chicken already cooked.

It looks delicious I lied.

Yes, it does he agreed. The house comes with wine glasses but no actual wine, of course.

Of course.

Into the bedroom there was a walk-in closet with tiny hangers and a vinyl bed that folded down from the wall. A cat sat unmoving on the bed.

I’m allergic to cats I said.

Oh, you won’t be allergic to this one he said.

As we stood there one of the vinyl walls started to buckle and he pushed it back into place.

The best part about this house are the amenities he says, taking me outside to the carport and a pink Cadillac. The car comes with the house.

Wow, that is a perk, I say.

Yes it is. You may be asked to sell some Mary Kay skin care products, but I think you’ll find that the moisturizer is great.

Yes, I’m sure it is.

Hold on he says, checking his phone. I need to take this.

While he steps to the corner where the two vinyl walls meet, I look in the closet. A nurse’s uniform, a tennis outfit. A pink ball gown.

Good news he says, I’ve been authorized to throw in the Barbie ice cream maker—it makes real ice cream and other frozen treats.

Hmmm.

And the Barbie helicopter and landing pad.

Well I have to be honest—it wasn’t quite what I had in mind, I said. I was thinking of a tiny house made of wood or something. You know, like a tiny real house. Like they have on tv.

Oh you won’t see a house like this on tv, he agrees. And actually, you won’t find another house like this in the entire state—most of them have been recalled.

Okay, let me think about it.

Don’t take too long he says. A deal like this won’t last forever.

tiny house