A Time for Creative Rebirth
Hello, comrades at arms in the artistic struggle of life.
One thing that strikes me is how much internal resistance I get when I start doing new projects. It happens to me often. I struggle with internal resistance when I am taking on a new and innovative project. Self-doubt is like the ten-headed hydra. You cut off one head and another one grows in its place. It happens to all of us.
Everyone gets rejected. Part of being a “real writer” is putting yourself out there and continuing to do so even as it stretches you in new and uncomfortable ways.
When you put yourself out there, you might hear a lot of no.
Yet, the longer I stay a writer, the longer I realize that most people are fighting a battle against themselves. It’s always you against you. It’s kind of like how runners are always competing against their best time. People often give up too soon. I’ve given up too soon.
As artists, our main opponent is often our own inertia. Sometimes it comes from lack of self-confidence, or imposter-syndrome, feeling like a fraud, etc. Other times interaction with a person or institution that is utterly awful can get us down. For me, when people act all arrogant about their art and have big egos it can really turn me off, or when one artists does something cruel, or petty to another, it makes me want to crawl underneath the covers, eat chocolate and hide from humanity.
It’s normal to want to go back into your shell if somebody dislikes what you are doing or naysays, or if someone is yucky out there in Artlandia. (I made up that word!) I think I’ve found a way to combat it. Make more art. Lean into the turns. Collaborate. Conspire. Create. Hit the reset button. Then roll up your sleeves and get to it. Make something new. Design something. Write something. Apply to a contest or a fellowship. Send out something for publication. Post to your blog. Write a poem and post it on social media. Write in your journal, while drinking coffee and staring at the ocean.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve been giving myself a do-over lately on a lot of things.
As writers and artists, often as we strive to build our skills, there is a lot of quiet time dedicated to woodshedding and going underground, and then there is a time to bloom.
For me, I feel like now is that time. It’s scary to start new projects, but these particular projects have come forward and announced themselves and I feel like there is no time better than the present to charge ahead with them.
© Alexandra Kostoulas
Read on for an overview and more on how you can get involved! We’ve got a reading coming up tomorrow, Spring classes starting at the end of April as well as featured student work by Rowena Henry, good news and updates, and more.
I’ll start with the big news: we’re expanding.
After three years of holding successful classes in San Francisco
in the Jack Grapes Method Writing Program, we are expanding to include other teachers and add new classes to the mix. We’re growing from Method Writing SF to the broader and more diverse San Francisco Creative Writing Institute. Jack Grapes’ METHOD WRITING Program will still be a staple course within the Institute. You can always get updated on the classes I teach in the Jack Grapes METHOD WRITING Program at methodwritingsf.com but, now, I also invite you to visit our new website: sfwriting.institute That’s right. It’s a new domain and instead of a .com or .org, it’s a .institute. You can visit our website for a complete list of courses that we offer. We’re starting small, but already looking to add more in the fall so keep an ear to the ground and stay tuned! If you haven’t done so already, please like us on Facebook, follow our institute on twitter and on instagram, and share with your friends and loved ones who may be interested in our courses. We’ll still be tweeting out #bestlines from Jack Grapes’ Method Writing Program classes via our old twitter handle. Feel free
We’re partnering with SAFEhouse for the Performing Arts
and its executive director Joe Landini (formerly of
The Garage). They’ve agreed to be our fiscal sponsor in order for us to receive grants and tax-deductible donations to help us grow. More on that coming soon.
Not related to the SF Creative Writing Institute, I am starting to work as publisher alongside managing editor Ted Andersen on a new hyper-local media project called the Mid-Market News which is dedicated to telling the story of SF’s emerging Mid-Market neighborhood. If you are interested in writing for us or know any full-time students who would like a summer journalism internship, cue them in on this new project. For more info, or to get involved, email email@example.com.
SPRING 2015 SCHEDULE OF CLASSES:
We’ve still got your old favorites, but also adding something new flavors as well.
- Check out Tuesday Nights’ Intermediate/Advanced Editing for people who have taken Method Writing many times.
- Meet our new instructor, Nick Mamatas. He has extensive experience in the writing world and works as an editor at Viz Media. He also teaches at various low-residency MFA programs. Learn more about Nick here or come meet him this Saturday at our reading.
Click on the class you want to sign up.
Tuesdays: Intermediate/Advanced Editing
w/ Alexandra Kostoulas
April 28 – June 16, 2015 * 6:30-9:30pm* Tuition: $445
This class is offered by invitation & audition and geared toward people who have taken Method Writing many times and who have found a project they want to take to the next level. We focus on crafting short pieces, rewriting, and the principles of storytelling in order to help the students leave the class with solid finished pieces or excerpts/chapters from a larger work. The focus is on polishing the product. It is recommended that the interested student already have familiarity with the concepts and techniques of Jack Grapes’ Method Writing and have found their voice and a particular project that they want to work on. (Great for if you are nearing the end of a project or if you are currently enrolled in an MFA program and need to produce pages.) Interested parties, drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org. There will be some take-home editing and in-class critique of printed out manuscripts.
Thursdays: Jack Grapes’ METHOD WRITING Program
April 30-June 18, 2015 * 6:30-9:30pm Tuition: $395
In this workshop, we will focus on stripping away the artifice of writing, the baggage that keeps us from the most essential building block of any writing: the Deep Voice. We’ll turn journal entries into poems and stories, and by the end of the class, you’ll produce a “chapbook” of your work, turning process into product. This class focuses on weekly journal writing using the techniques and concepts of Method Writing. Suitable for both poets and prose writers, beginners and advanced, this class will help you find your deep voice and use it to create clear and compelling written work.
We’ll be using Grapes’ textbook, METHOD WRITING: THE FIRST FOUR CONCEPTS. Continuing students can begin Level 2: The Four Voices and beyond or continue through the program if so inclined. These classes have been running for 30+ years and were founded by Jack Grapes. Classes are offered in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York. San Francisco classes run three times per year.
Saturdays: Writing the Literary Page Turner
w/ Nick Mamatas
April 25-June 20, 2015 * 2:00-5:00pm *Tuition: $495
(skipping the week of May 25)
Exciting plots and larger-than-life characters are the cornerstones of popular fiction and the emphasis of this course. Whether you’re writing romance, mystery, science fiction, or suspense, the principles of writing popular fiction – interesting prose, characters with whom we can empathize, and a story that moves – are key.
In this course, we’ll workshop your short stories and novel chapters, explore the history of the genres, perform writing and idea-generating exercises, and discuss the magazines and publishers looking for your sort of fiction. The goal is to give you a solid grounding in the demands of popular fiction from an editorial point of view, and a better understanding of your favorite genres.
Saturday, April 4
1 Grove Street
San Francisco, CA
Come join us for an end-of-class reading at the location of our newest co-conspirator, SAFEhouse for the Performing Arts. Writers are students and alumni of the Jack Grapes Method Writing Program in SF taught by Alexandra Kostoulas. Each reading we strive to involve featured readers from the writing community at large and musicians that inspire us. Alumni of METHOD WRITING are always welcome to show up and read a quick piece on the mic. If you want to read, just let me know.
WE HAVE SPECIAL GUESTS…
For the first time, I’ve invited several writers I admire from the East Bay to read alongside the Method Writers. They are all active in the local reading scene and I want you to meet them. They are each powerhouses in their own way, each with a fierce presence all her own. Here they are in the order in which they responded to my invitation:
Cassandra Dallet + MK Chavez + Alexandra Naughton + Hollie Hardy
Here’s a little bit about each of them:
Cassandra Dallett lives in Oakland CA . She writes poetry and memoir of a counter culture childhood in Vermont and her ongoing adolescence in the San Francisco Bay Area. Cassandra has published in a full length book of poetry called WET RECKLESS recently released by Manic D Press.
MK Chavez is the author of Virgin Eyes (Zeitgeist Press) Visitation, Next Exit #9 (with John Sweet) and Pinnacle(Kendra Steiner Editions.) She also co-curates the reading series Lyrics & Dirges at Pegasus Books at 2349 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley.
Alexandra Naughton is a writer based in Oakland, California. She wrote I Will Always Be Your Whore [love songs for Billy Corgan], which was published by Punk Hostage Press in January, 2014. She hosts a reading series in the Bay Area and also publishes a literary magazine, both called Be About It. She’s also the co-founder of empathlit.
Hollie Hardy can teach you how to survive anything. Her first collection of poetry, How to Take a Bullet, And Other Survival Poems is available now from Punk Hostage Press (2014). She teaches English at Berkeley City College and at SF State University where she received her MFA in Poetry. She co-hosts Saturday Night Special reading series in Oakland and is a core producer for the Beast Crawl Literary Festival in Oakland, co-curator of Litquake’s Flight of Poets.
We also have a featured musician:
Lake Lady Charise Sowells a.k.a. Lake Lady began writing songs with a Tascam 4-track and her voice. A singer with a penchant for interesting harmonies, her tone harkens back to an era before her time. Playing shows with her acoustic guitar and singing a capella led to a multitude of collaborations with singer/songwriters, bands, electronic DJs, pop producers and rappers in LA, NY and abroad. Following a national tour as a lead singer in a band, she started her own duo called Lake Lady and the Mountain Man. Since the birth of Lake Lady in 2014, in addition to playing live, she has heard the first single, “Will Your Feelings Change?” from her forthcoming EP in collaboration with Midnite Tiger on multiple radio stations. In the vein of Massive Attack and Portishead, this soulful pop song features sensual vocals, chilled out rhythms and haunting melodic structure.
The female shaman, the mudang, that Seok had consulted had chosen this particular night of the waxing moon as the most auspicious for grave digging. Using the traditional ceremonial rites the mudang had invoked the ancestral spirits of Seok’s clan and had received their approval of the undertaking. So on this dark night while a few distant stars twinkled dimly in the nocturnal sky Seok and the two shabbily dressed men that she had hired in town walked single file on the pebbled path with dim lanterns to light the way. Under the cover of darkness and carrying a shovel, a pick, and some rope they had slipped quietly into the large cemetery here in Pyongyang, successfully avoiding the night watchman.
The night was icy cold and the fierce wind chilled Seok’s body despite the thick, old, gray padded coat she was wearing. The coat had belonged to her late father and many nights she had seen him tiredly putting it on after dinner to go out and milk the goats in the old wooden shed behind their small farmhouse. It still smelled faintly of his pipe tobacco and it seemed fitting she was wearing his coat tonight as she had come to collect the body of her beloved younger brother Young Jin.
Her witch of a sister-in-law had not even bothered to consult a mudang when she decided to bury her husband’s body next to her parents and their son in this Catholic cemetery. Now Seok’s brother was alone because his profligate wife had flitted off to Peking to join her brothers and his children were scattered, some in China with their mother and the rest being raised by his eldest married daughter in Seoul. There was no one here to honor his grave or his memory, a serious breach of Korean traditions.
Seok was convinced that Young Jin’s gravesite was unlucky and that her little brother was wandering and lost on his long and difficult journey to the other side. He could not enter the after life because the three separated aspects of his spirit were unable to reunite. Her memorial shrine at home where she paid her daily respects housed one part of his spirit, the other lay in his grave here in this cemetery, and the last was a restless drifter who could eventually become a malignant ghost and bring bad luck to his descendants. This belief was a festering wound in Seok’s heart so she had planned and schemed for seven years to bring Young Jin’s body back home to the remote mountain village where they were born and their parents and ancestors were buried.
It was well known in Korea that demons and ghosts and spirits preyed on unlucky people in graveyards or dug up and ate the livers of the newly buried dead. So every sound, every owl hoot, the creaking noise made when the wind rubbed two tree branches together made the men jump and glance around fearfully. The cold wind blew the mist from the nearby river over their path. The mist swirled and covered trees and bushes and grave mounds creating momentarily half recognizable figures that frightened the men. “Is that a Gumiho there next to the path?” whispered one of the men pointing with a shaky finger at a nebulous shape with what appeared to be a foxlike nose. This legendary demon was a 9 tail fox, an animalistic shape changer who often assumed the figure of a beautiful woman to lure men to their doom. The wind blew away the mist and they saw a large gravestone. Then later “Look!” said his companion and pointed to what looked like a group of malignant trolls, the Dokkaebi, but that turned out to be bushes planted around a tree. Only Seok was not afraid. She had lost everyone she had loved years ago and she had nothing left to lose.
She remembered, all those years ago, when she first fell in love with her little brother. She was eight years old and her mother had just died in childbirth after finally bearing her husband the son he had wanted for so long. Seok could see her mother’s lifeless body lying on her straw pallet on the floor. What would she do without her omani? Outside their old farmhouse she could hear her aboji, her father, wailing and sobbing. She too was crying inconsolably when the midwife, an old white-haired woman, had thrust the squalling newborn baby into her arms, his still bloody body swaddled hastily in an old underskirt of her mother’s. The midwife, in an attempt to distract and comfort Seok touched one of the baby’s earlobes with a gnarled finger and said “Ai! Your father has a son! And look he has such big fat earlobes. I’ve never seen any so big on a baby before. That’s good luck. He’ll grow up to be a successful man! He’ll be rich!”
Seok tried to stop crying, sniffling as she looked at the baby, really looked at him for the first time-the small red face, the surprising thatch of black hair, the perfect pink lips open wide as he cried, the tiny fists waving in the air, and yes, those outsized earlobes. She felt a sudden welling of love and a fierce protective feeling for this helpless little brother who had just lost his omani. She felt her beloved mother’s gentle presence in the room and the passing of the responsibility of the baby to her. One day her father’s only male heir would grow up and become the head of their family and Seok, Young Jin’s nuna, his older sister, was duty-bound to ensure his survival and well-being.
Her father, a kind quiet man, was a poor tenant farmer with a small plot of land in a remote mountainous area. They lived in a one room weather beaten old farmhouse and her father labored long hours every day for the local landholder. Seok took the baby to bed with her every night to keep him warm and to comfort him. She fed him by dipping a small cloth into a cup of warm goat’s milk, watching him suck it greedily. She took over her mother’s household duties-the cooking, and the cleaning, and hand washing all of their clothes in the nearby stream. They raised a few goats and had small yearly crops of sweet potatoes, beans, and some greens. When Seok went out to care for the goats or work on their plot of land she would strap Young Jin to her back and later when he was little he would play in the fields laughing when he tripped over the furrows while she worked. All day he would follow her calling “Nuna! Nuna! She and their aboji, who adored his young son, pampered Young Jin and gave him the best tidbits at mealtimes so he would grow up strong.
Seok scrimped and saved and even went to work as a farmhand alongside with her father when she was fifteen so they could pay the school fees for Young Jin. Both she and her father were illiterate but Koreans have a traditional respect for knowledge and they wanted to provide Young Jin the opportunity to go to school. Perhaps he could become a scholar? It was one of the few ways men from their class could rise to a higher social level and gain respect. Young Jin excelled at school, as she knew he would, especially with numbers. By the time he was a teenager he was the official family barterer with their neighbors-he had a knack for buying and selling and not only intuitively understood what his customers wanted but could charm them with his friendly chatter.
When Young Jin was seventeen years old he stunned his aboji when he announced that he did not want to be a scholar or farmer but wanted to become a traveling peddler. This break with tradition was unheard of and considered highly disrespectful to his familial traditions and the sacrifices his father and sister had made for him. But after his aboji recovered from his shock even he had to admit that Seok was a better farmer than Young Jin. His handsome, bright son with the laughing eyes and winning ways deserved a better life than that of a downtrodden poverty-stricken tenant farmer who was so dependent on unreliable weather conditions and the foibles of his landlord. Becoming a successful scholar would take more years of study which they could ill afford. Besides he had never denied his dearly loved son anything and it was hard to do so now. However Young Jin had ambitions but no money.
To provide her brother with funds, Seok sadly and regretfully decided to sacrifice her only claim to beauty-her thick, glossy, waist-long black hair that had never been cut. She knew Koreans believed hair was part of the body and they received their body from their parents and ancestors so to cut it was almost sacrilegious. And because women’s bodies were covered from neck to feet by their traditional billowing hanboks rich, thick hair was one of the few ways their beauty, health and fecundity could be judged. Plus It was her one vanity. She had grown up to become a tall, rawboned, strongly muscular young woman with a broad tanned face and her work worn hands were roughened by years of farm work. She was well aware that she didn’t have the pale moon skin, the large lustrous eyes, and the delicate beauty that was so highly prized then. But every night she brushed her long beautiful hair before she went to bed and every morning she woke and brushed and braided it. As an unmarried woman she was not allowed to wear it up so she was accustomed to the weight of the thick heavy braid hanging down her back.
On the next market day she secretly went to the local hair buyer and sold her beautiful hair. She cried when she saw how ugly she looked with the shockingly short chin length haircut but she was bitterly aware that she wasn’t the first poor woman who had been forced to sell her only asset. Thankfully her sacrifice had not been in vain and she had received enough money for her brother to buy supplies to sell and even a little left over for lodgings. The day Young Jin left home Seok and their aboji stood in front of their farmhouse with tears running down their faces as they watched his departure. Her heart was broken-she knew he would never return and she was right. After several years peddling he had made enough money to open a small business in Pyongyang. He bought hair from poor Korean women and manufactured wigs, hairpieces, and hair extensions that were much in demand. His business grew and grew and he eventually exported hair products as far as China.The midwife was right everything he touched turned to gold. He married a woman from a merchant family and they had 9 children. A dutiful son, he never forgot his nuna and his aboji and sent money home regularly so they could buy farm land and live a more comfortable life.
But when Young Jin was forty-one years old tragedy struck-his oldest son, the smartest of his nine children, his golden child who held all his hopes and his dreams in the palms of his hands was killed in a tragic diving accident. He’d been a brilliant scholar and had been accepted by Tokyo University to study medicine. Young JIn was devastated. Within a year Seok’s handsome, vibrant, hardworking brother was dead. He literally drank himself to death. No modern medicine, no herbal remedies, no priests, no shamans could save his life when he had willed himself to die. Sometimes, deep in her heart, Seok wondered if she and her father had pampered Young Jin too much when he was young, had smoothed too many bumps in his life’s road because they loved him so much. Though he had started life as a poor farm boy everything had come easily to him, maybe too easily, and perhaps that’s why he had lacked the inner strength, the fortitude, the resilience to overcome his grief when his son died.
Seok and the men finally reached Young Jin’s gravesite. The light from the lantern showed her that the traditional earthen mound that covered his grave had been neglected-there were weeds and dead leaves and overgrown grass and her heart grieved. The men set to work shoveling away the grass covered dirt on the grave. Luckily it had rained the previous day and the ground was still soft and damp and smelled richly of fertile earth. Within a couple of hours the men had exposed the wooden coffin. Using their ropes they hauled it up out of the grave and laid it on the ground. Seok brushed the dirt gently off the top of the coffin. Outwardly calm, she was suddenly afraid. How badly had his body decayed? How would he look? Would she have the courage to be able to do this one last thing for him?
In the meantime, the men were becoming extremely spooked and more nervous and anxious. They kept glancing around fearfully though it was hard to see beyond the light of their lanterns. They pried off the lid of the coffin with the pick. Seok raised her lantern and looked upon her brother’s face for the first time in seven years. She was surprised and relieved to see that Young Jin’s body looked remarkably well preserved. Perhaps it was due to all the rice wine he had drunk or the multitude of medications and herbal remedies that were given to him in a hopeless attempt to save his life in the last few months before the end. But the blankness of his pinched, gray face testified that his spirit had fled his body a long time ago. His body was still clothed in the white hemp suii, the traditional Korean clothing for the dead.
One of the men gingerly picked up her brother’s arm. The flesh on his whole arm slid off silently leaving the shocked man holding the bone. The man shrieked as he dropped it. The other man cried out in horror and then they both suddenly bolted, plunging down the hillside as fast as they could in the dark. Seok could hear their pounding feet and the sound of them crashing into bushes and tripping over gravestones. Luckily the wind was blowing so hard and so loudly that she doubted the watchman on the other side of the cemetery heard them.
Finally the sound of the fleeing men faded and there was only the whistling of the wind on this dark misty night. Seok was alone with her brother. She told him softly “Your nuna is here. I’ll take you home so you can finally rest.” She unwrapped the bundle she had carried all evening. She unfolded a large piece of white hemp cloth on the ground and slowly, piece by piece she carefully placed her brothers bones on the cloth in a neat pile. Like his arm, the flesh slid easily off his other bones too. She carefully wrapped the pile of bones into as neat a package as she could manage and stowed it all into a large sturdy burlap sack.
Then Seok sat on the cold ground on her knees and bowed her head and cried silently for a long time. When she had finally finished weeping and had wiped her eyes, she told her brother of the arrangements she had made back home. A mudang had selected a lucky spot for his gravesite near their parent’s and a grave had already been dug and was ready for him. She had hand sewn Young Jin a new Hanji suii, a set of white hemp burial clothes and a shroud to wrap his body for his final journey. And, after they got home, on a propitious day already chosen, he would have the Jangnye, the traditional three day/three night memorial service and the mudang would conduct the shamanistic rituals to unite the three parts of her brother’s spirit and lead him to the afterlife where he would join their ancestors for his eternal rest.
Afterwards she bowed her head and prayed that they would have a safe passage home. She doubted anyone would bother her, a poor old peasant woman from the mountains. She picked up the burlap sack and threw it over her shoulder. Luckily, years of hard farm work had toughened her body and she was used to carrying heavy loads. Seok started walking slowly down the hillside, holding the lantern in one hand, and her head bent as she carried her heavy burden. But the heartache she had borne so long was gone and she felt an overwhelming thankfulness that she had fulfilled her filial duty and that she was finally bringing Young Jin home.
Written while taking the Jack Grapes METHOD WRITING Program. March 2, 2015.
|Alexandra Kostoulas and Liz Peters
at the Bowery Poetry Club Green Room
in New York Taken: Winter, 2015
Alexandra Kostoulas to feature at Why There are Words Reading Series on Thursday, April 9 on a houseboat in Sausalito! http://whytherearewords.com. Why There Are Words presents “Sure,” an evening of readings free of doubt about their quality from these unwavering authors. Join us, and be convinced. April 9, 2015, Studio 333 in Sausalito. Doors open at 7pm; readings begin at 7:15. $10.