Thoughts on Research from Our Authors: Donna Steiner

We asked some of the authors that we have published to reflect on research in their nonfiction work. Donna Steiner wrote the essay “Studying the Trees” published in our second issue. What follows are some of her thoughts on the research that she conducted for her essay.

Some of the things I researched for “Studying the Trees” include the facts and figures about “visible light;” the names of our local birds; and a few words I already knew the meanings of.  I do the latter in the interest of precision.  I have a deep desire to be as accurate and specific as possible, and that often means a relatively pleasurable hunt for the right words and the right sounds.

In the case of the birds listed on page 74, for example, I think the names matter for several reasons.  One, the words are wonderful in themselves.  Martins, loons, curlews, grackles, vireos – how could I resist the sonic qualities alone?  But also, precision enhances imagery.  I don’t need to show every bird, because the names themselves each evoke a distinct image.  The reader can therefore visualize a scarlet tanager or a mourning dove or a cedar waxwing. Precision becomes a kind of shorthand.  And I believe that shorthand can be lushly evocative in terms of what the reader hears and sees and, hopefully, in terms of what they feel.

Thoughts on Research from Our Authors: Alicia Catt

We asked some of the authors that we have published to reflect on research in their nonfiction work. Alicia Catt wrote the essay “On Saliva” published in our second issue. What follows are some of her thoughts on the research that she conducted for her essay.

My essay “On Saliva” actually began as an assignment for my CNF workshop: write about something you know about that not many other people do. For some reason, saliva was the thing that came to mind–I remembered the time I spit on “J” for money (which I can safely say is an experience most people are not familiar with!). After that, it was pretty much just a matter of following a single bodily fluid down the rabbit hole, so to speak. I’m actually still pretty fascinated by the things I found–I never imagined there would be so much to say about something as mundane as spit.

I had only recently retired from my escort job when I wrote the essay, and I was in a bit of a writing rut: all I wanted to write about was the sex industry, but I didn’t yet have enough distance to really do it justice. Incorporating all this research, I think, allowed me to sort of write around it–I got to write the scene with “J” and the scene with the threesome, but instead of really having to analyze and reflect on those moments, I could just zoom out again and talk about pheromones or venom or whatever, and trust that the reader would make their own connections. Maybe in a way the research even humanizes my admittedly bizarre experiences, makes them easier to relate to. Or at least, that’s my hope.

Thoughts on Research from Our Authors: John Vanderslice

We asked some of the authors that we have published to reflect on research in their nonfiction work. John Vanderslice wrote the essay “Thirteen More Miles” published in our second issue. What follows are some of his thoughts on the research that he conducted for his essay.

Researching the subject of marathon running was something I had been doing unofficially for several years prior to writing my essay “Thirteen More Miles.” I’ve always paid special attention to articles that recount famous marathon contests of years past or the struggles of current marathoners or the latest updates from a major race, especially the once every four years Olympic qualifying competition. In my case, however, the reading I had already done about marathon running wasn’t enough.   I started drafting the essay in a nonfiction writing class I was teaching one semester, when all the students were trying to develop collage essays. In class, I wrote down what I already knew, but I followed up with a significant amount of research, finding out many more details about the races and runners I wanted to profile.

Sad to say, I am personally familiar with a couple of the tragedies I document in the essay.  In 2008, on the day that Adam Nickel died at the finish line of the Little Rock marathon, I was also running in Little Rock, only I covered the half-marathon course rather than the marathon one.  I finished my half-marathon about an hour before Adam finished his marathon. When I started writing about people who died running marathons, I knew I had to include Adam’s story.  I also knew I had to include the story of Molly Trauernicht, who died running the half-marathon course at the St. Jude’s Memphis marathon in 2009.  I was present on that day too.  Except this time I was running the marathon and she the half-marathon. Even though I had a certain level of personal history with the case of Adam Nickel’s death and Molly Trauernicht’s, I still researched those tragedies while I was writing the essay.

In developing my essay I tried to be honest to this seemingly dualistic nature of distance running: It can be about the most satisfying—and healthy—thing you’ll ever do, or it can kill you.   When I started drafting the essay a few years ago, those high profile deaths were very much on my mind as well as the mind of the running community at large.   I felt that I couldn’t not mention them.  Also, including the prospect of potential injury or death from running added some very useful tension to my own story of training for and running my first ever marathon.   Given that I had to struggle through a (pretty stupid) injury myself during that training, it just seemed to make a thematic fit.  Of course, since I wrote the essay in retrospective fashion the reader knows I didn’t die at the race, but perhaps there was other peril in store for me!  As you now know, however, the day turned out very nicely.

Hunter S. Thompson

I wanted to be Hunter S. Thompson when I was growing up. Not LIKE Hunter Thompson, I wanted to BE him. Maybe with fewer drug dependencies, felonious charges, and people terrified to be in my presence. My obsession with Thompson began the same place it does for many HST devotees, with Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas a Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream. I was a lowly high school freshman when I first stumbled upon Fear and Loathing. My previous literary endeavors had never ventured past the autobiographies of rock stars and the few school assigned books that didn’t have summaries online and required actual attention. There was something different about Thompson’s book that struck me and bound me to it. I was taken by the sheer bravado of the book, astounded that any man could complete the drug addled feats described, munching sheet after sheet of blotter acid, bingeing on ether, paralyzing himself with adrenochrome then live to tell the tale. I was astounded that any man would tell the tale. (Although, Thompson was always cagey on the full truth of the matter.) The book felt like something I shouldn’t be reading, something that flew in the face of the society and culture I knew. I was in love.

With many works, you don’t fully understand the scope of them on your first time through. This was true for me with Fear and Loathing especially at an age where I had next to no life experience outside of my homogenous Midwestern suburb. It is easy to get trapped within the debauchery and intensity of Thompson’s stories. They are outlandish and unimaginable yet experienced by Thompson as another day and always, even if barely, survivable. This is a trap many readers get caught in with Thompson; the sheer shock value overshadows the truth of the story. It took me a while to fully understand this myself. There is a weird sanity inside Thompson’s insanity. He existed as everything that is right and wrong with the nation wrapped into one overpowering persona. He reached the extremes of excess and brutality, acting in animalistic ways to follow his own desires yet, at the same time, possesses a keen eye for the reality of the world around him. In Fear and Loathing he writes “But our trip was different. It was a classic affirmation of everything right and true and decent in the national character. It was a gross, physical salute to the fantastic possibilities of life in this country-but only for those with true grit. And we were chock full of that.” This is Thompson’s description of a drug fueled weekend terrorizing Las Vegas. He shows that there is always something more, a terrible and brutal truth.

Thompson could see the former beauty of a heroin addict and the seedy underbelly of Easter brunch with your grandmother. He understood the human soul, not as a romantic poet does, finding the beautiful power of living things, he understood the depravity and overwhelming desires that lie within each person struggling for release and fulfillment. There is a rawness and power to his writing that displays honesty about the grit of society. This is what is most terrifying about his work, you are unable to stop his unyielding intensity creeping through you and pulling out your animalistic desires and depravities as you feel yourself inching closer to the edge.  But as Thompson said, “The edge…there is no honest way to explain it, because the ones who know where it is are the ones who have gone over.” He flirts with the edges of human existence and invites you to join whether vicariously through him, or curling your toes over your own edge. The Crazy never dies.

“I hate to advocate drugs, violence, and insanity, but they’ve always worked for me” -HST

 – Jim Stryker

Some Thoughts on Medieval Statuary, Gay Talese, and Iconoclasts.

The west façade of the Cathedral at Exeter, in Devon, England, like countless other Gothic façades, is honeycombed with niches containing statues of saints, heroes, angels, and princes, and these are interlaced with stone vines, flowers, animals, grotesques, and gargoyles. Thirteenth century frogs, mice, baboons, oxen, and dogs perch around doorways. Bishops lift their hands in blessing. Winged demons smirk. Martyrs stand in frozen glory, the instruments of their martyrdom held in their hands like trophies. The statues’ impassive eyes stare out over the Cathedral Green, which serves as a park and meeting place for the city. Couples lounge together on the grass, groups of tourists eat picnic lunches; toddlers run around chasing the seagulls. Almost all of these—human and seabird—are oblivious to the more than one hundred thousand bodies buried inches beneath them. The Green used to be the town cemetery; for centuries it was illegal to bury one’s dead anywhere else. And so the community of stone keeps watch over the community of bone. Together they have dwelt here for seven centuries and if anyone can lay claim to owning this place, it is them, mute witnesses to a long history that to me, as an American, seems overwhelming.

Exeter Cathedral

Although all of the figures are literally blind, some of the statues see less than others. These have been decapitated or have had their faces smashed in. They stand resolutely in their niches, bearing their devastating scars proudly, the souvenirs of a second martyrdom at the hand of protestant iconoclasts: Henry VIII’s reformers, or, later, Cromwell’s Puritan supporters.

When we, inhabitants of the 21st century, use the word “iconoclast,” we tend to mean someone—often an artist or writer or activist—who attacks accepted ideas, beliefs, or traditions. But the original meaning of that word comes from the literal breaking of icons—the destruction of images used in religious decoration and observance.

In the case of the Exeter statues, while both groups of iconoclasts may also have had political motivations for their actions, their stated motivations were religious ones. Protestant iconoclasts saw the images as graven images, false idols of Catholicism, the remnants of a dark, misguided religion. Henry’s men, and later the Roundheads, went about the country smashing medieval sacred art, stabling their horses in churches like Westminster Abbey, and using centuries old stained glass for target practice. In the space of a few years, they’d destroyed hundreds of thousands of works of art. The iconoclasts were not only destructive, but also lazy: only the statues within reach of the ground have been vandalized. Anything higher than that was spared.

Centuries later, as I stand at the foot of Exeter Cathedral’s western wall, I am still filled with rage at the obscene vandalism, the complete ignorance that prompted it. I fucking hate iconoclasts (the original definition).

I’ve been here the past week as part of an American choir that is filling in for the cathedral’s resident choirs. As I sit in the Cathedral day after day singing, I am constantly aware of the work that went into its creation. Its interior walls are covered with the same kind of decoration that graces the west façade, and they have been similarly vandalized. I think of the hundreds of gifted medieval masons, sculptors, and craftsmen who dedicated their lives to serving God and decorating God’s temple. I think of all those gifted, worn, callused hands lifting stone, cutting it, carving it, shaping it, polishing it, painting it. I think of all the love and care and energy and time those men gave—as well as their intellect and creativity. The decorations at Exeter—and other Gothic places—are whimsical as well as beautiful. The Cathedral’s builder’s flea-ridden dog pops up in unexpected places—at the base of arches, in doorways. Demons roast a hapless sinner on a spit.

I think of the love and labor of the artist, and then I think of anger and ignorance of the iconoclast who did not understand the art. The iconoclast who, having reduced his worldview to the narrow strictures of a fundamentalist faith, could only comprehend those statues as idols. Ignorant of history and suspicious of art, he couldn’t fathom any other purpose to those statues. But of course, the statues on the west wall were never meant to be worshipped, but to serve as nonverbal religious instruction and as inspiration to the faithful. They were meant to be beautiful.

While I’ve been in Exeter, I’ve been reading Gay Talese’s Thy Neighbor’s Wife, his study of sexual liberation in the United States. In addition to the more famous—or infamous—descriptions of sexual activity and his immersion in it, there is also an extended history of American literary censorship. The impulse behind American censorship seems to me to be the same as the one behind those hammer-wielding Protestants of hundreds of years ago. Self-appointed morality committees and anti-pornography crusaders defined as obscene any frank or detailed depiction of sexuality, including marriage manuals, birth control pamphlets, and classical literature. As a result of their advocacy, works of art as intricate and genial as the Exeter statuary were banned alongside cheap pornography: Ovid. Boccaccio, Miller’s Tropic of Cancer, Joyce’s Ulysses, Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover, etc. Countless independent editors, publishers, and distributors were jailed for selling them. Like their Puritan forbearers, the censors in their dogmatic ignorance could not conceive of a purpose in those books other than prurience. And, like their forbearers, their fear of one sin, idolatry (in the case of the Puritans) or libidinousness (in the case of the censors), led them to commit a greater sin: the wanton destruction of culture.

Talese himself faced criticism for Thy Neighbor’s Wife, especially for his participatory journalism. Although he was married, Talese included in his research a stay in a free love community, intercourse with other women and erotic massage, among other immersion experiences. Many believed he’d only used the book as an excuse to engage in extramarital sex. Talese said in an interview for a 2009 profile in New York, “If you want to write about orgies, you’re not going to be in the press box with your little press badge keeping your distance. You have to have a kind of affair with your sources. You have to hang out! I wanted to write about sexuality and the changing definition of morality. Maybe if I had put that in a subhead on the cover I might have gotten a better hearing.” Instead, Talese received the worst reviews of his career and, he felt, the scorn of fellow writers. We are, now, perhaps, more comfortable with creative nonfiction’s techniques of immersive writing and the use of detailed scene. I wonder if the book would have been as controversial in 2013 as it was in 1980. I wonder how many of us would be comfortable in immersing ourselves in such experiences? Whatever the answer, it is certain that Talese was breaking rules and taking risks—personal, artistic, and moral. An iconoclast, if you will.

While it was never banned, Thy Neighbor’s Wife enters the tradition of books like Ulysses, Lady Chatterley’s Lover, and Tropic of Cancer, whose authors saw sex and sexuality as topics worthy of exploration through literature. Talese was surely aware that without the efforts of the writers, independent publishers, and anti-censorship crusaders he writes about—the true iconoclasts, many of whom suffered for the cause of artistic freedom—his own book would also have been banned.

In writing about the new sexual landscape, Talese changed—or if you prefer, shattered—readers’ cherished beliefs about ‘normal’ sexuality, an iconoclasm that expanded our understanding of contemporary American culture and our own desires.

As I continue to read They Neighbor’s Wife, I’m put in mind of an amazing essay we will publish in the next issue of 1966, Alicia Catt’s “On Saliva.” Like Talese’s book, it is a sharply observed, wide-ranging look at the body and what we do with it. I can’t wait for you to read it.

–Kelly Grey Carlisle

On the Occasion of the Conclusion of the NBA Playoffs, A Note on Sportsball:

by Michael Garatoni, Assistant Editor

Sportsball—(n) a generic term for any form of sport involving a ball, and especially those with “ball” in their name. (source: urbandictionary.com)

Perhaps you have met this person—the brand of hipster/intellectual/artist/writer who ironically uses the term “sportsball” in reference to any and all of the major professional sports that figure prominently in many of the pop cultures of the world. It’s a pejorative term. Though in speaking of “sportsball” our hipster/intellectual/artist/writer confesses his inability to understand or speak authoritatively on those activities occurring on the field or in the arena, he’s also alluding to the fact that he has no shame about it; conversely, he implies also that perhaps it is you, the die-hard fan, who should renounce or reconsider your allegiances.

He’s letting you know that he hardly either knows or cares enough about sports to distinguish between basketball, football, baseball, soccer etc., and that’s okay because why should anyone care about sports? Why should anyone care about the successes and failures of sports teams that just happen to be based in the city or state in which one just happens to reside? Why should anyone develop a special attachment to an athlete he has never even met? Why should anyone share your weakness for those absurd regional sporting rivalries that support commercialism, cause disunity, and oftentimes become the cause of senseless violence?

In ironically distancing himself from the sporting aspect of popular culture (and perhaps pop culture in general) our hipster/intellectual/artist/writer probably raises a few good points. Sometimes fandom goes to far. Additionally, he may be reacting (understandably) to an opposite and equally extreme ideology that classifies any non-sports-fan as an odd duck.

However these attitudes tend to enforce false stereotypes that ultimately constrain creativity in sports fans and non-sports fans alike. To be an artist, a great writer, does not require that one turn away from all aspects of popular culture. In truth the artist/writer only handicaps himself by refusing to become conversant in the language of sports and popular culture.

Among those of us working on the publication of 1966, some of us care a great deal about sports. Others of us do not. But we all believe strongly that viewing and participating in sports as well as other elements of pop culture represents legitimate avenues for the exploration of those human truths that constitute the subjects of great creative nonfiction. In short, fandom is not at all incompatible with our mission.

At 1966 we welcome research-driven sports writing as well as non-sports writing, authors with a affinity for sports as well as authors without that passion. And we look forward to publishing our first sports-related nonfiction piece in our upcoming issue.

On that note we would like to send a shout out to the team that is nearest and dearest to our home city, San Antonio.

Win or lose, GO SPURS GO!

For more information (from a great writer and sports fan) follow these links:

http://lostcoindev.com/pipermail/class-list_lostcoindev.com/attachments/20090310/b9fe4368/attachment.pdf

Madeleine Mysko on “Eudowood”

All of the essays published in 1966 contain an element of research, whether through intentional first-person experience, historical research, or the reading of secondary sources. Sometimes the author’s use of research is subtle; sometimes it is the very heart of the piece.

We’ve asked our writers to talk about their research for their essays in our debut issue. First up, Madeleine Mysko on her piece, “Eudowood.”

In my old file cabinet, I keep the “Eudowood” folder—handwritten notes and photocopied pages, evidence that I did the research, mostly at the public library and the Baltimore County Historical Society. It’s an undisciplined folder, and yet I like holding it in my hands. For me—poet, writer of fiction—that folder is like a bundle of keepsakes, reminders that I really did follow those bifurcating paths in search of the history. I realize now that the research actually became the ground over which I moved as I wrote. Yes, I was still firmly in the realm of nonfiction, but at the same time, so was the mystery of Eudowood.

The Inaugural Issue

The first issue of 1966 will be released in a couple of weeks. We’re calling it Winter 2013, but perhaps more truthfully it should be called “Winter-on-the-cusp-of-Spring 2013.” We believe it will be worth the wait.

The new issue features work by Lee Martin, Kate Flaherty, Judith Barrington, Benjamin Vogt, Richard Terrill, Richard Klin, Angela Glover, and Madeleine Mysko about topics as varied as hummingbirds, New Jersey, and haunted pasts.

Submissions

We’re so new that we’ve yet to develop our submission guidelines. This means fewer rules for you, and perhaps that isn’t such a bad thing.

So here’s what you need to know for now…

All submissions should be creative nonfiction that has a research component. This might be travel writing or science writing or writing about a phenomenon (think McPhee’s Oranges or Roach’s Spook). Or, it might be a personal essay that includes both personal rumination and information gathered through research (think, perhaps, of Dinty Moore’s “Son of Mr. Green Jeans” or Anthony Farrington’s “Kissing”).  It might be immersion memoir or immersion journalism or literary journalism or…we’re pretty flexible. Surprise us.

There is no page limit or word count. That being said, we’re not interested in publishing books.We’d love to publish a mix of flash pieces and longer, sustained ones.

We accept simultaneous submissions, but not multiple submissions. Please only send one piece and refrain from sending again until you’ve heard about the first piece.

All submissions should be unpublished work.

We’ll start reading submissions August 1st. You can send them to 1966journal@gmail.com or

1966 Journal
c/o Kelly Grey Carlisle
Trinity University English Dept.
One Trinity Place
San Antonio TX 78212

We’ll do our best to get you a decision in 4-8 weeks.
Although 1966 is an online journal,  it will be edited as stringently as a print journal. The magazine will be designed and published through ISSUU, so the online reading experience will resemble a print magazine as closely as possible.

You will retain the rights to your work.

We can’t pay you, except in oranges…and you’d probably need to stop by our offices to collect. This is a way of saying that we’d like to pay you, but we’re not there yet. Any work you submit to us would be a gift from you to this journal and its/your readers–and we appreciate it. Thank you.