Issue 4 is Coming!

Our fourth bi-annual issue of 1966 will make its debut this month! The Winter 2014 issue will have work by Sandell Morse and Angela Morales, as well as essays about coyote killers, teeth, and breath. We continue to accept submissions of research-driven creative nonfiction. Please consult our submission guidelines. Don’t forget to share our upcoming issue with all of your friends, including those that are avid readers and writers! From the staff here at 1966, we hope you have a wonderful winter holiday and a Happy New Year. This upcoming issue is our gift to you.

1966 and The Best American Essays 2014

We’re excited to say that three essays from the inaugural volume of 1966 have been selected as “notable essays” of 2013 by the editors of The Best American Essays 2014. They are:

“An Aristocratic Murder” by Judith Barrington and “Spook” by Lee Martin, from our first issue.

“On Saliva” by Alicia Catt from our second issue.

Congratulations, Judith, Lee, and Alicia, and thank you for allowing us to publish your work. And thank you to Robert Atwan, John Jeremiah Sullivan, and the other editors at Best American. The Best American Essays series celebrates our genre every year and brings all of us amazing essays we might otherwise have missed. It also encourages a lot of writers and small magazines through the recognition of their work in the “notable essays” list. That encouragement means a lot and we’re grateful. You can purchase The Best American Essays 2014 in October at your local, independent bookstore.

Thoughts on Research from our Authors: Miya Pleines and “These Orbits, Crossing.”

Lost in the Woods with Research

The essay, by its very nature, is a strange, rambly, unpredictable sort of thing. Often times, you start off going in one direction and by the middle of page two, you look up only to find you’ve made two left turns, one right, and now you’re no longer anywhere near the place were you began. It’s similar to taking a walk in the woods, promising yourself, “This time, I won’t stray too far from the path,” only to turn around hours later to find that exact promise has been broken. So, you spend the next few hours searching for a break in the foliage, or even a clearing for you to sit down and rest, all the while cursing yourself for being so daft but also marveling at the new sights all around you. It’s almost as if your feet disregarded common sense in favor of discovering something new. The essay has a tendency to be like that, as well. Often, the story you set out to tell seems to have set out to tell its own story, as well, leaving you with the difficult task of trying to figure out a way to make the both of you happy. Actually, maybe essays are more like getting lost inside a maze where the walls are constantly shifting, providing new discoveries at every turn, and for me at least, the research process is a lot like that as well.

The research for These Orbits, Crossing has been going on for quite some time. It started back when I was an undergrad just beginning to delve into the history of the Japanese internment camps. I traveled to Manzanar when I was twenty-one to stand on the same soil my grandfather stood on almost seventy years earlier, and I tried to figure out what that meant, and to some extent, am still trying to figure out. Since that summer, I have spent countless hours researching Manzanar and the internment. I have followed interesting pieces of information down numerous different trails until, eventually, I have found myself reading articles that have absolutely nothing and absolutely everything to do with the camps. Through my research, I’ve realized that everything is all impossibly connected to the point where we can go from one single man’s story about life spent in an internment camp, all the way to talking about the universe.

It’s possible this all started when I was a little girl sitting at the long row of mismatched tables in my grandparents’ basement, listening to my family exchange stories about their childhood while I sat quietly eating apple pie and listening. I heard about the hydrogen balloons, the model airplanes, the cornfields and the hands held in the air as a reminder, and I never forgot.

One could even say this began the day I went through my grandmother’s bookshelves and found my grandfather’s copy of Model Glider Design with his name scribbled inside the front cover. I snuck it into my purse without asking, and took it home to read. I read about wing design and lift and gravity and I thought about my grandfather, years ago, doing the exact same thing for very different reasons. I studied those pages for links into my grandfather’s past and I took notes and made diagrams and followed my research wherever it led me. The walls of the maze were continually shifting, and I shifted along with them until, eventually, I sat down and began to write.

My point, I suppose, is that the research for this piece has been constantly ongoing. I have been following it and trying to wrangle it for a very long time, and even though this piece is finished, I am still following it looking for more directions, more discoveries, more connections to be made. I have no process other than to follow the research, the ideas, the essays until eventually, I come to a clearing where all of us can rest and converse together.

— Miya Pleines

Thoughts on Research from our Authors: Natalie Vestin and “The Sea of Crises”

As writers ourselves, we’re always interested in our authors’ process. Here Natalie Vestin shares the inspiration and research behind her essay “The Sea of Crises,” which appears in our current issue: 

My essay “Sea of Crises” was inspired by one of my dad’s stories about Mare Crisium, a valley on the moon. I’d known about the moon’s Sea of Tranquility, but I didn’t know there were other geographic features with names on the lunar surface. Part of my research for this essay included Giovanni Riccioli’s Almagestum Novum (his 1651 atlas of space) and astronomer Thomas Gwyn Elger’s 1895 treatise The Moon. The rest of the research happened accidentally. I had the moon and the Sea of Crises in the back of my mind, and I was reading Vera Rubin’s Bright Galaxies, Dark Matters and books about science and religious faith. I was also walking a lot at night during the winter. January in Minnesota is nightmarish except for the bright, bright stars and planets; the sky becomes a sort of solace you can look toward when the rest of the outdoors is trying to kill you.

 While I was learning more about lunar cartography, I became fascinated with Riccioli, the Jesuit priest who drew maps of the moon and named its features. He’s a cipher; not much is written about him, save for a few accounts of his odd scientific experiments and his unfortunate testimony against Galileo. I was drawn to him, because I was thinking about why people love – really love – the moon, and here’s this astronomer priest trying to walk a fine line between using science to say what he thinks about God and attracting the attention of Inquisitors. What do you write when you’re too terrified to write anything? I guess you write about the moon.

I wrote this essay in a series of poems first – poems imagining this priest, poems about the broken moon, poems about how astronomy grew out of thinking about the physical nature of God. The facts that came out of the research were important, but I also wanted to capture what first fascinated me about the Sea of Crises – that moment when I learned about it and wanted to make it me, wanted to map the moon to myself and think that all bodies can have seas of crises. That’s what’s lovely about research: what you look at and write about has the ability to speak for you and map you when you lack other ways of expression.

–Natalie Vestin

What We Can Learn About Memoir from a Dog

An interesting memoir can come from anywhere and anyone. To back this up I direct you to my current favorite example of memoir: “Memoirs of an Owned Dog” a song by the duo now known as the Milk Carton Kids. The song is sung from perspective of a dog and delivers the funny and endearing tale of man’s best friend in a highlight reel of memoir tropes.The ordinary dog of the song proves there is room within the structure of memoir for humor, creativity, and profundity. I love a good memoir, and I love this song, the following lyrical analysis explains why.

 

The first lines:

“the food was as I like it… cold, wet & in that wonderful tin can shape
I had it marked in a paw print on the dog door the day that I finally planned my escape”

Like any good memoir the scene is set with solid concrete specific detail, and the beginnings of some conflict or action are alluded to.

Next:

“the milkman, he tried
you can bet I wanted to survive but the truck it just came far too fast
So I write on these scraps, my remembrances past, so you don’t blame yourself that I’ve died”

The inciting action is recounted and the impetus for committing of the memoir to paper is revealed.

After the chorus:

“I had dreams of walking the world on my own
four on the floor, every night all alone
I was ready to work for the scruff on my neck
yearning to find something of my own to protect”

The idealism of youth is established with great dramatic irony as the audience is already aware of the impending doom.

Later:

“my bark, then, was surely bigger than my bite
chewing the cud could’ve been my biggest dog fight
and you know how they say we only hear certain things that you say
well, it never mattered much to me but for the will of the way”

Insecurities and shortcomings are revealed through pensive musings on the activities of the everyday.

Then the chorus again:

“they put horses out to pasture
and the birds come home to roost
ain’t nothin’ for a puppy but the backyard on the loose
now I know my job was to lie idly beside
the way the sun retreats for the moon”

Universal themes introduced earlier in the chorus are repeated now to relate to the author’s personal story with poignant tugging at the heart strings.

Next:

“now I loosen this collar for a dog bone bow tie
to go up and meet the big dog in the sky
i’ll tell him when I get there I was spoiled in your place with the hopes that my spirit is honored by your grace”

Loose ends begin to resolve as the fate of the story is accepted. Special time is given to be thankful for the truly important things, and keep the mood hopeful.

Then:

“so after you read this memoir one day
or after you hear my lonesome song play
don’t you trouble your mind, this old hound’s doin’ fine
you know, goodbyes are just words like a clock is to time”

Wrapping the story up is typically sad, and requires words of assurance for the audience. Also included are a few final words of profound wisdom – something to grow on and ponder.

Lastly:

“so sorry I’m not with you
so sorry I can’t be
please know I was the best friend this old mutt could be
if you remember that spot where my favorite tree grows I hung up my leash on a branch, now it’s yours”

The bitter-sweet acknowledgements and epilogue tie everything up in an emotionally satisfying manner.

 

Click the link to see and hear some witty pre-song banter and a Simon Garfunkel-esque performance of the tear jerking “Memoirs of an Owned Dog.” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3_0fnP-Mb38

— Clay Reuter

To See a Fine Substance Strangely

Gertrude Stein “had a laugh like beefsteak.” At least according to one of her friends, Mabel Doge Luhan. “Gertrude was hearty…She loved beef, and I used to like to see her sit down in front of five pounds of rare meat three inches thick…” I’m not sure if Luhan meant for this passage in her memoirs to be so subtly derisive, to align our thoughts of Stein with the bestial, to shame her for being a masculine woman, a lesbian genius. Regardless, recent scholarship has certainly been pointing in this direction and I can’t help but agree. Since she first began writing, critics and even biographers have called an absurd amount of attention to her large size and her sexuality—oftentimes more attention than they were willing to give to her actual writing. And yet, I can’t help but be enthralled by that description. “She had a laugh like beefsteak.” Despite the degrading, bovine associations, there’s something comforting and exciting about imagining a medium-rare laugh that falls on a plate with a joyous, sinewy smack.

For the last month or so, I haven’t been able to get Gertrude out of my head. Not just her laugh but her words, especially those found in two particular works: her book of poetry, Tender Buttons, and her memoir The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas. Stein’s poetry displays a diversity of voices that her alleged beefsteak laugh belies. While some poems certainly pack a meaty punch (see the poem “Peeled Pencil, Choke” which reads simply “Rub her coke.”), others flit effortlessly about domestic spaces looking at mundane objects from bizarre angles. Some have argued that this style is the literary equivalent to Cubism, her subversion of syntax and grammar forcing our attention on startlingly new combinations of words. However, her memoir is arguably the more fascinating work.

Written in six weeks and published in 1933, the Autobiography became her most commercially successful and most well-known work. In it, Stein documents not only her life before and after arriving in Paris in 1903, but also the life of her lover and life-long domestic partner Alice B. Toklas. Instead of writing the book from her own point of view, however, Stein shifts the perspective to Toklas’ making the Autobiography somewhat of a vanguard in creative non-fiction. We see the development of Stein’s famous salon and intimate portraits of the Parisian avant-garde through both the eyes of Toklas and the pen of Stein. The invasion of the knowledge of Stein’s authorship adds a tantalizing layer of complexity to the otherwise plain-spoken style of Toklas’ voice. Every time she enters into the memoir, Stein stands out against the rest of the characters described through Toklas; she is both character and author, a coy yet urbane presence that is constantly winking at the reader.

There seems to me to be an impulse to view the lives authors and artists as distant from the works they create. This is especially true of male artists. They have the privilege of having their fictions and non-fictions neatly sliced in two and considered separately before being spliced back together again. Meanwhile, female artists are written about as if their domestic lives and psychological make-up (which are often portrayed as weak or deviant) were more crucial to our understanding of them than whatever they might have created. Stein is certainly not the first or only female artist to suffer from this form of critical misogyny. It’s hard not to think of Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar without first thinking of her depression, her electroshock therapy, or her head in an oven. This troublesome tendency is a contemporary one as well; consider the recent debacle over Jonathan Franzen’s analysis of Edith Wharton’s work. However, Stein’s Autobiography presents a unique silver lining to such a mindset.

By presenting her memoir so plainly yet so artfully, she exposes the benefits—perhaps even the necessity—of viewing her writing within the context of her life and her voice. Or rather her multiplicity of voices. Assuming we are willing to give just as much critical attention to her writing as to her life, we can see Stein’s work as a consequence of not only her own talent, but of the people and events that impressed themselves upon her from the revolutionary work of Picasso and Matisse, to the devastating tremors of WWI, to the companionship and love of Alice B. Toklas. And this is essentially the benefit of memoir: an invitation by the author to glimpse into her life and consider it seriously. As Stein herself wrote in Tender Buttons, “it is so rudimentary to be analysed and see a fine substance strangely.”

— Joshua Palmer


 

Watch for our spring issue, coming out soon!

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.