Monday, April 7, 2014

Fragmented -- My Writing Process Blog Tour

This is my contribution to the My Writing Process Blog Tour

What am I working on now? 

I have to follow Robin MacArthur's lead and report that I am working on growing a baby, raising a two-year-old, making a living in Vermont through teaching and odd jobs, as well as a collection of essays roughly titled The Alchemy of Shadow: Essays on loss and longing. I also work periodically on short stories which I hope will come together in a collection I currently call Motherland. 

How does my work differ from others in the genre? 

The essays I write are lyrical and meditative. Often when I read them out loud listeners think I am reading poetry. I have battled against my love or laziness towards abstraction, in attempts to create clear, concrete, and vivid prose. Sometimes it works and other times it doesn't. My writing has always rooted itself in landscape and the way the land around us speaks to us, shapes us, keeps us and takes us. In much of the essay work I've done in recent years I find myself focused on memory, time, and the fractured nature of things. Fragmented. Everything I write begins as fragmented. Most of what I write has to do with longing.

Why do you write what you do?

There have been central conflicts in my life. Mostly these are internal but they also have to do with certain people that I've battled with on a sort of psychic terrain. People I love. Virginia Woolf wrote that after she finished "To The Lighthouse" she was no longer "obsessed" with her deceased mother. She no longer heard her voice or felt her presence. She wrote her mother's ghost out of her. I have experienced this. I don't know that I would have ever begun writing if it weren't for the way my father and I fought when I was young. Writing was an outlet them. A secret. The conflict is a type of force in one's life, not so much the subject matter of the writing. I also might have been a painter if I hadn't needed to keep my art a secret.

Like most writers I am deeply fascinated with the human condition. I like to ask my students to define the human condition. They have all sorts of intelligent things to say about it, better answers than I could come up with most of the time. Then I draw a stick figure on the board and put an X through it. This is the human condition. That we will end and we don't know when or how. Everything we do, I think, revolves around this reality though we pretend otherwise.

My obsession with memory arises from my belief that we live mostly in and of and through memory. All day long we are living at the cusp of memory. We float between our to do list and the lustful stream of memory and imagination (perhaps they are the same thing). Often I look at my son and think, remember this, Emily. Even as a child I ordered myself to remember things, such as what it was like to be a child, which of course I promptly forgot.

What is your writing process?

I try to write something (even a sentence) every day. Blogging helps me feel like I'm writing even when I don't have the time to work on my projects. It can also spark ideas; a lot of essays have grown out of blog posts. My ideal writing process is to get up in the morning and write for 3 hours and then get on with the day. But that doesn't happen right now. I put a lot of time into the two classes I teach and I'm pretty much a full-time mom with a bit of weekly childcare and a good husband who will spend all weekend with our son if I need the work time. But I need time with my family in order to feel happy and sane.

I think I have chosen to focus on essays because they are (for me) written in bits and pieces. I am working on perfecting the idea of the fragmented essay, whatever that is. I do like to have some submersion time with an essay but I mostly work on them during nap time which is anywhere between 45 minutes to 2 hours, for a few hours on the weekends when I'm not overloaded with classwork, or if I'm really desperate (often) while my son is watching terrible, terrible TV on youtube.

Something I've learned about myself, however, is that I prefer to work on essays or stories in bits and pieces for a while before I sit with the work as a whole. Looking at it in its entirety feels overwhelming. Honing the language and the story to its bare essentials before looking helps me.

When I'm writing stories I go through many, many drafts that are often vastly different. I sometimes think I prefer to start over than to do the hard nitty gritty of a revision--a fault that has left me with about a dozen unfinished stories and only a few that I consider finished.

I'm passing this tour along to Sarah Seltzer, Brian Bieber, Laurie Easter, Lauren Baldwin, and Michelle Webster-Hines if they haven't already joined in!! Answer the four questions on your blog.


woodbird said...

love it, emily! first off--you're incubating another babe! congrats. warm. wonderful. and fragmented, lyrical, meditative fave. can't wait to read your book when the time is ripe. thank goodness motherhood is teaching us the fine art of patience...will make our work so much richer in the end. xx

Emily Arnason Casey said...

Thanks for reading, Robin. Yes, I'm excited for another babe! Due in September. Motherhood is definitely teaching me patience.

Jodi Paloni said...

Reading this post reminds me of how much I love your work. Let's swap out a story real soon. Miss you. Thanks for sharing a bit here to help ease that missing.

Laurie Easter said...

Thanks for tagging me, Em! How's your baby garden growing? Been thinking of you. Love reading about your writing process, almost as much as I love reading your writing!

SarahMarian said...

This is so beautiful. Your writing kills me with its beauty, its honesty.

I know I owe you an email. It's coming.

Emily Arnason Casey said...

Thanks for all the support ladies! Really, it is so important! And yes, let's swap Jodi! My story writing skills are weak and need your critical eye! XO

Jodi Paloni said...

So glad I read this. You inspire me to remember what we came here for.