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Quick Q&A with “…Inappropriate” author Daniel Nester

dnester

Daniel Nester

I met Daniel Nester last February at an AWP panel we shared on the subject of Web 2.0 for the literary crowd. He’s not only a master of literary Internet integration but a funny guy and great writer. To launch this new monthly feature, Quick Q&A, I open with the author of the very recently launched nonfiction book, How to Be Inappropriate. 

 

[Note to fans, inappropriati, and would-be nuisances: When you buy a copy of HTBI and send this PDF coupon, along with the book, to Daniel Nester’s home, he will not only sign your book and return it to you, but include an official How to Be Inappropriate whoopee cushion in the bargain. That’s right: inflate one of these puppies and let the faux farts fly! While supplies last.  Address: Daniel Nester/HTBI, 170 Adams Street, Delmar, NY 12054]  

QUICK Q&A with Daniel Nester

Writer’s Rainbow:  You reference a good deal of pop culture in your essays. Advice previously given to writers has typically discouraged the mentioning the artifacts of popular culture in their works. Does this “rule” no longer apply? What would you say to writers who want to explore pop culture themes in their own work?

Daniel Nester: Who gives this crappy advice? I have climbed this mountain already. Back in graduate poetry school, my workshop members—not by teachers, mind you, but a good-sized cohort of students—considered allusions or mentions of popular culture as somehow beneath the endeavor of writing a poem. What a lot of us did back then—this is 15 years ago—was to write cross-genre-type pieces that would get us off the poetry hook, what I call the bugaboo of addressing the ages.  I remember one night that I was workshopping a piece that mentions—just mentions—the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds album.  And there were people who said the mention “took them out” of the poem, that a poem is meant to be forever, but the Beach Boys is somehow fleeting. Set aside that Pet Sounds is one of the landmark works of art of the 20th Century; this was the mindset.
 
Then the late Williams Matthews, filling in for Galway Kinnell that evening, took a stab at the issue. “What did posterity do for us lately?” It just filled me with joy.  Ever since that night, I didn’t worry about whether a piece of writing was going to be immortal because it mentions power ballads.  So that’s my advice is: Go ahead and talk about your world, continue your “search for local objects” as William Carlos Williams calls it.  And don’t worry about whether your work is above or beneath or highbrow or lowbrow.  That’s for other, far more fastidious and precise people to decide.
 
WR: Of course, there are other rules, about “polite living,” that you also—perhaps wantonly?—violate as the author of How to Be Inappropriate (such as, “Do not discuss body parts in mixed company”). It would be easy for the casual reader to assume that all you really want to do with this book is shock them, with otherwise socially unacceptable content, through the use of humor. Could you explain some of the other impulses that led you to write this book? 

DN: It’s not a primary intention to shock, although I can see that happening and that’s fine. It gets people’s attention.  What I wanted to do with this book, at least in part, is to write honestly about moments that I always talk about: embarrassing moments, human moments, too-much-information moments.  It’s those moments when I feel the most alive, frankly.  They’re pastoral in the sense that everyone has moments when they feel prone or naked or ambiguous.  The essay I wrote on mooning, I think, is a good example of this.  Butts are funny, sure, and showing one’s butt to another person is a ritualized practice that spans millennia. There’s more than meets the eye when we talk about naked assplay. It’s a subject that should be interrogated as seriously as movements of symphonies.
 
WR: You’re an assistant professor of English specializing in creative nonfiction at The College of St. Rose in Albany, NY. Do you teach specific themes in your classes that advocate the kind of risk-taking that regularly inhabits your own writing?
 
DN: Yes and no. Of course, I don’t think it’s necessarily taking risks to write about what most embarrasses you, or makes you feel the most tender, or feels the most wrong or heretical. It’s an avenue that needs to be explored, however, and at least presented as an option. Whether one writes about, say, a sexual proclivity in detailed language is not everyone’s cup of tea, for sure; the challenge, it seems to me, is if a writer wants to write about it one some level without going all brass tacks.  That’s usually the case, actually.
 
And that’s why I use the term T.S. Eliot made famous: objective correlative.  If you have a crush on that dude in the other class, or if you have problems with your girlfriend, and you don’t want to write about it, fine.  But if you do, then you have other options than simply describing the situation.  You can describe the scene, the sky, the weight of your stomach.
 
I’ll tell you a story.  One day we were workshopping a student’s memoir piece.  It was a conversation between she and her boyfriend about moving in together to another town, far from college, to be near his work.  This student had a great ear for dialogue; there was back-and-forth, there was some narration, but it was mostly dialogue.  And we all knew it needed something more.
 
So I asked the student, “Where was this discussion happening?” And she paused to think, and then her cheeks turned read, so I knew something was up.  “It happened in the shower,” she said. And I just so appreciated that moment: they were literally and metaphorically naked while this Big Talk was going down! Her revisions were just awesome.  She’s holding her pink razor while she presented her reservations about moving, there’s water, they hand each other towels.  Tiny moments, intimate moments. 
 
WR: Writers are often fearful that someone will find old drafts of their work and discover they’re not as stellar as, say, their breakout novel suggests. However, at your
website, you happily display all the projects you’d once attempted but never brought to a successful conclusion. Why did you do this, and what can other writers learn from it?
 
DN: I do it because some failures have a certain charm, and sometimes the first idea is the best, or at least the first impulse, or the one people react most to.  I wrote my first book, God Save My Queen, as notes to each song by my favorite rock band, Queen, as I listened to them in chronological order.  I thought I was doing research for some straightforward memoir project, but I found the notes themselves were really the project.  I revised them after that, sure.  But it took me years and years to respect the initial impulses of my writing and then help shepherd it to the final stages. 
 
WR: You not only write creative nonfiction, but poetry and journalism. What would you tell writers who are interested in writing outside their chosen forms?
 
DN: Do it!  Creative nonfiction and journalism have been very, very good to me, as far as publication and teaching opportunities go.  Poetry is my first love, sure; I feel like I am more of a fan now than practitioner.  But I would have never gotten to the kind of writing I do now without writing poetry first. I wish I could say that it’s improved my poems, but I haven’t written one in awhile.  But I am thinking about it. I really am.
 

MORE INFO:
Daniel Nester |
http://www.danielnester.com
Coming this fall: How to Be Inappropriate
http://www.howtobeinappropriate.com
Twitter: @DanielNester
Teaching blog:
http://nestersteaching1.blogspot.com/ 

 

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Registration open! “Silencing the Critic” Online Class

WRAIN 500: Silencing the Critic (group strategies for dealing with the inner critic)  Sign up here
Level:
all
Duration: Three sessions of live interaction supplemented by handouts from instructor
Format: Online/Interactive
Dates:September 13 through 27 (Sundays, time windows: TBD)
Description: In this three-week interactive workshop, you’ll use your time to discuss the inner critic: how it manifests in your life and what to do about it. Participants are expected to join in all 3 live private chats, which I will moderate and direct, and will be given “homework” which essentially assists with behavior modification and awareness of negative self-talk issues. During these chats, you will be expected to answer specific questions related to your inner critic and offer brief responses to your “homework” assignments. My aim is to use the very small and focused live group discussion to show participants that they are not alone, that they all have good solutions to share, and that together we, as writers, can help each other through the pitfalls of the creative life.
                This class is appropriate for all creative people at all levels of ability. My specific focus will reflect creativity coaching training I’ve received from the Eric Maisel program. Handouts will cover different aspects of the inner critic. This class is limited to 6 members and will meet with me through a private platform online initially, then again in the live forum. There is an orientation period so that participants can familiarize themselves with both the platform (which is pretty easy to use) and the live forum feature. Participants are encouraged to be honest and open-minded about their problems with the inner critic in this safe, private, and nurturing environment.
               Live chats will occur on Sundays; chat meeting time will be determined after class fills. Homework and handouts discussed at live chat. This workshop will be offered again in January 2010.
Texts/materials: Announced once class is filled
Price/Payment Form:$75; PayPal
Registration Deadline: August 30 Sign up here
Class Min/Max: 3/6
Platform orientation: September 6

Registration Open! “Back to School, Back to Writing” Online Class

WRAIN 100: Back to School, Back to Writing (especially for writing parents!) Sign up here
Level:
new to intermediate
Duration: Four Weeks of Generative Writing for writers returning to writing after an absence
Format: Online/NonInteractive
Dates: September 9 through 30 (Wed)
Description: In this four-week online workshop, you’ll use your time generating new work and learning strategies for balancing home and work life with the writing life you want. Participants are expected to submit 2-3 new drafts (a total of 3,000 words) for review over the course of this workshop and will receive weekly prompts to get them started. You will submit these drafts to me, and I will give you feedback on what works, what could be improved, and what questions might linger. My aim is to nurture your writing practice through generative assignments so that it becomes comfortably integrated into your life.
                This class is appropriate for writers who are interested in starting a creative writing practice or who have not written in a long time, but want to get back to it. My specific focus will be on the needs of writing parents who are either caregiving or working full-time (or both). Handouts will cover time management strategies and confidence building. This class is limited to 8 members and will meet with me through a private platform online. There is an orientation period so that participants can familiarize themselves with the platform (which is pretty easy to use). There is no live chat session for this workshop; the focus for now is to simply get started or restarted in the writing life by generating new work and acquiring new tools for having a writing life you love.
               All instructor-t0-student replies to work posted for review over any given week (Wed-Wed) are posted on Wednesdays; students can post their work for review by the instructor any day of the week. This workshop will be offered again in Fall 2010.
Texts/materials: Announced once class is filled
Price/Payment Form: $100; PayPal
Registration Deadline: August 26 Sign up here
Class Min/Max: 4/8
Platform orientation: September 2

Link Love: the blogs that help me as a Creativity Coach

It’s good to show gratitude from time to time, so allow me to share some links to blogs that have really helped me as a Creativity Coach.

  • I’d be remiss if I didn’t suggest my mentor Eric Maisel’s Creativity Central.
  • Elsewise Media seems endless in its wisdom regarding the creative life. 
  • Goodlife Zen: This blog is relevant, positively focused, and quite useful for getting at the root of creativity problems.
  • Seth’s Blog: I love to follow visionaries for their ability to identify potential on both macro- and microcosmic levels. I count Seth up there with the best of them.
  • Time to Write: Jurgen Wolff is a model inspiration: he writes, he teaches, he speaks, he delves into new media, and he manages it all with grace and a great sense of humor.
  • Tiffany Colter of Writing Career Coach always seems to hit on something that’s been hovering inside my own radar.
  • Leo at Zen Habits manages to keep it fresh, with a focus on productivity.

Magic Carpet Ride 3: sail through your magical realist manuscript with the help of a pro!

mcrlogo
Announcing the third annual Magic Carpet Ride, an innovative one-on-one creative writing mentorship.

The purpose of the Magic Carpet Ride mentorship is to assist a promising magical realist writer from anywhere in the world in the completion of a polished manuscript by the end of the session which can then be actively submitted to potential publishers. This competitive opportunity is the first of its kind to provide specialized instruction, direction, and motivation specifically for a writer of literary magical realism.

This mentorship, valued at $2000*, will be awarded annually, and on a competitive basis, to a single applicant who is able to demonstrate:

• a deep commitment to completing their work in progress

• strong writing skills

• a desire to learn and to succeed

• a good understanding of the magical realist nature of their manuscript

Postmark deadline for receipt of all application materials for the 2010 mentorship session is October 31, 2009.

Email deadline for receipt of all application materials for the 2008 mentorship session is midnight [Pacific time], October 31, 2009.

Full details:
http://www.angelfire.com/wa2/margin/MRCentral/mentorship.html

Seattle creative writers: WITS has job openings

Writers in the Schools (WITS) is looking for creative writers who are passionate about teaching the power and pleasure of writing to young people and who are excited to collaborate with public school teachers. Employment is contract and part-time. Writers-in-residence typically teach one day a week from September through June for a total of 84 direct teaching hours. A yearlong commitment is required. For more info: www.lectures.org

Writing with a beginner’s mind, or: What you know could hurt you

Despite my recent disappointment with Write To Done (in which Leo’s list of big-time writers and their processes completely lacked any mother writers), I still faithfully read Leo’s other blog, ZenHabits (where I originally uncovered the aforementioned list) and continue to find many useful things to cull from it.

A recent guest post at WTD from Mary Jaksch of Goodlife Zen, “How to Live Life to the Max with Beginner’s Mind,” targets anyone who finds their day-to-day life dull and uninspired. I found every aspect and tip Jaksch recommended for employing the Beginner’s Mind in daily life extremely relevant to the writing life.

I especially found resonance with aspect #3: “Use Don’t Know Mind” (and its corresponding tips, “A don’t know mind leaves room for intuition” and “Let go of knowing—that’s real wisdom.”).

Sometimes, as an editor, I spot this in competent writing from recent grad school grads. After all, they just earned an MFA; isn’t it obvious that they know something? Of course, they should know more coming out of school than they knew going in. Don’t get me wrong; their sentences and lines are technically strong and are usually (though not always) revised with precision. Even so, the narratives inside their writing, whether fictions, true stories or poems, don’t often move past the tricks they just learned in school.

Knowledge isn’t the cornerstone of great writing. It’s the uncharted journey toward knowing, when captured on the page, that gives great writing its elan. This is where the real writing life resides—inside the Venn diagram of things we don’t know but need to discover.

Readers find it pleasurable, sure, to read others’ accounts and interpretations of what they already understand about the world, if only to certify what they know. We speak of writers in this way as “preaching to the choir,” but let’s face it, the choir doesn’t mind singing along. Why should writers move beyond that expectation?

Really great writing comes as a risk to the writer. It’s the risk they take in admitting they don’t know something, then laying out the navigation for the voyage into understanding. It means calling into account all the things a writer thought they once knew, and questioning them, even correcting them or changing position. This is what makes writing compelling versus sentimental or nostalgic; this is what turns a writer into a human being on the page rather than a bullhorn (or, less subtly, but just as effectively, a bird call).

Writers, at certain points along their career time lines, can occasionally enjoy the spoils of achievement: comfort with success, pride in acquired knowledge, and confidence that they’ve earned their keep. Some call this “sitting in the catbird seat,” some call it “resting on laurels.” Writers should enjoy that feeling for a moment—it’s hard earned, after all—but only for a moment. Then it’s back to morning pages, or the salt mines, or the opening of veins or the dream journals or whatever it is that gets the words on the page.

Consider all the “know it alls” in your life. Aren’t they also the least willing to learn something new? Think about it. In their minds, why should they? They know everything they need to know. They have documents to prove it, right?

Not true for writers. If we spend our time rehashing what we already know (this is where the old writer’s proverb, “Write what you know,” gets us in trouble), we miss the point of our metier entirely.

The hard road to achieving our writing dreams resides not in all of our degrees and publication credits and requests for appearances and notoriety, but in pushing through all the hard knocks that come from getting words on the page (usually managed while handling the hard knocks of real life). It’s around these dark corners, when we allow ourselves to go there, that our success awaits us.

If you’re feeling comfortable in your writing life but haven’t quite hit the pinnacle that you envision as your ultimate career goal, then perhaps tuning back into the Beginner’s Mind is where you should begin, again. Forget what you know; it’s remembering what you don’t know that will pave the way.