Meet the Author: Susannah Clark

by Intern on July 3, 2015

Dsq8ULG1V1Emz2Whd0Rd2qtJuZSWJlKut4yI13kYZ34Susannah Clark received her MFA in Creative Nonfiction from Emerson College in Boston, where she also taught creative writing and freshman composition. Her work has appeared in publications such as Inside Higher Ed, Extract(s), Rock & Sling and others. She recently won Flyway journal’s Notes on a Field contest in nonfiction, for her personal essay about working as a barista during the Boston Marathon Bombings. She lives in Stillwater, Oklahoma.

Susannah’s piece is a bittersweet reflection on adolescence and the confounding experiences that shape our teenage selves. An encounter with the 2002 horror film, Signs, serves as both a love letter to youth compounded by the treacherousness of becoming an adult.

Q. The story seems to be a coming-of-age piece but also a loving requiem for youth and its fleeting nature. Youth is an incredibly unique experience because we all must endure it, and we seem to detest being young in the moment. But when we look back, we miss our years of freedom and mistake-making with impunity. Why do you think youth is so painful at the time, but we look back on it fondly? Or do you still see youth as a painful period in your life?
A. I think there’s a distinction between being nostalgic for something and looking back on it fondly. While growing older has put much of my adolescent struggles in perspective, I don’t think of my emotional reactions, however melodramatic, as invalid. I’m less nostalgic for the events themselves, and more so for the capacity to feel anything so strongly at all.

Q. Is there beauty in growing up slowly? 
A. There is, but it might be superficial. How you cope with the harsh realities of adulthood carries more significance than how long it took you to realize them.

Q. After watching Signs for the second time, did you remember the whole experience in a different light? Or did your memory of that night remain unchanged? 
A. I would say the act of writing the essay influenced my perception of that evening more so than just watching the film again. The substance of memory didn’t change, it just became more meaningful. As the essay indicates, I did watch Signs one lonely night in my twenties, but in order to write piece I had to re-watch certain scenes over and over as I reconstructed my teenage viewing and my most recent viewing. You’d be surprised at how much vividness can accumulate when you pause to conjure a single moment, either in the distant or recent past.

Q. How did your own biases and opinions change the tone of the story, in terms of how you described the characters and events? 
A. I’m certain that this story would be remembered completely differently from the perspective of anyone else who attended the movie with me ten years ago–it likely wouldn’t seem like a night worth writing about at all. It’s impossible for me to determine how much of my memory is photographed and how much of it is painted. I wrote the only version I had.

Q. When you say, “the past feels cheap,” do you mean it feels less important, less romantic, or less beautiful in some way? Why does our perception of the past, and our own lives, become so distorted over time? 
A. By “cheap” I meant that it was too easy to channel, that we use much less energy to remember than we used to. The importance, romance, and beauty we assign to memories doesn’t necessarily disappear or decrease. We just get bored with it. If we had less exposure to those photos and songs and films–if we had to dig them out of box in the basement rather than swiping right or clicking on a link–we might appreciate the memories more.

Q. Why did you choose to stop watching the movie? Did you find it too painful a reminder of that night, or did it change your perception of your youth in a way you never wanted it to? Do you wish you hadn’t dredged up this memory?
A. I stopped watching the film because the film stopped streaming–the illegal downloading service I used cut it off and asked me to pay for a subscription. Obviously I could have searched for another site and finished the last ten minutes elsewhere, but the irony was too tempting. Whether or not it was a sign from an outside force, I decided to take it as one. I don’t regret re-evaluating this memory because it led to a few revelations, some of which I thought were worth writing about.

Q. Is there anything else you want to add about this piece? 
A. I still have not seen the end of Signs, and do not intend to.

 

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Meet the Author: Mercedes Zapata

by Intern on June 22, 2015

jcxGHXNHzv4wphL81PvZQ3H0oBAOeUrGvSX5Mo-_VJ0Bay Area native and elementary school teacher Mercedes Zapata received a BA in Psychology from Stanford University and an MA in Urban Education from Loyola Marymount University. Mercedes directed and performed with the Stanford Spoken Word Collective and received the Louis Sudler Prize in the Arts for her creative nonfiction. Beginning next fall, Mercedes will be pursuing a PhD in School Psychology at the University of California, Berkeley. Adopted in infancy by a biological cousin, Mercedes recently met her biological father, a homeless man living in the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco.

Mercedes’s piece, “Crazy Story of how I met my Father,” is an unapologetic narrative that takes place at the intersection between expectations and reality. Her work explores the dichotomy between what we want and what we have, seamlessly illustrating the chasm between the life we make for ourselves and the life that has been given to us.

Q. The story is incredibly vibrant, but also hints at the disappointment both that characters feel with themselves for two very different reasons. Cosmic Charlie feels like he should’ve been someone better, someone who was capable of being a great father. Do you think he understood that you saw his disappointment (in himself)? How did your unspoken understanding of one another affect the story? 
A. First, regarding disappointment: I did not feel disappointed in myself per se, but rather I was ashamed to be myself in front of him. I felt proud to present myself to him as someone successful and powerful, but this feeling was weaker than my apprehension that my power would stamp out his ego altogether. Without maintaining some of his ego, I doubt that he would have invested so much energy in showing me the highly-curated version of Cosmic Charlie that you find in the story. I deferred to his ego and presented myself as sweet and simple, rather than sharing with him who I had become. He did not seem interested in learning about me at all. Charlie wanted to impress me, and he treated me like a little girl. There was forced confidence and composure to his gestures and tone of voice. If I had permitted myself to come across as a stronger and more seasoned person, he might have shut-down and rejected my curiosity in him in order to protect himself. I think it was brave for him to be so vulnerable with me and to expose himself to what could have been my insensitivity to his pain. It felt like he trusted me not to destroy the story of himself that he lives by every day. As for whether he understood that I saw his disappointment, I don’t think he let himself see how pathetic the situation was. This would have also deflated his ego. He saw in me only what he chose to see, or at least he pretended in such a way that I was convinced.

Second, regarding how this may have affected the story: if not for the barriers of our self-consciousness and his secrecy, the story may have been written in a less metaphorical and stream-of-consciousness style. The story was mostly about Charlie’s biographical abstraction and his home turf, the streets of the Haight-Ashbury. His style of communicating is passed down to me as the writer of the story. Rather than being straightforward when that was possible, I expressed moments as he does, with more color and movement.

Q. You and your father likely had very different expectations going into this experience. How do you think the discrepancy between our expectations and what we end up with in reality affects our experiences as we live them, and finally, as we remember them? Does memory allow us to accept that idea that our expectations were not met, or does it leave us disillusioned with reality? 
A. Charlie did not see the experience coming. I had Facebook messaged him weeks earlier, and he responded “Forget it!” when I asked to meet with him for thirty minutes. So when I decided to go find him anyway, I expected him to be either angry or dismissive. I expected him either to yell at me or turn and walk away. Instead, he made the first move by saying hello. He knew who I was because my birthmother had shown him various photographs. My biological cousin adopted me and occassionally sends her photographs and updates. So, he knew what I looked like and recognized me immediately. Perhaps due to these expectations, I was relieved by his adorable enthusiasm and forgiving of his elusiveness. My second expectation was that, if he granted me a few minutes of his time, he would unceremoniously answer a few direct questions before turning me away. Instead, he was resistant to answering any question at all, so I had to spend more time with him, extracting key details very slowly from his database. Indeed, I learned precious little from him that afternoon.

Given the discrepancy between my expectations and what happened, I find it unsurprising that I described Charlie as friendly, energetic, and open-hearted. I do believe that my expectations created this impression both at the time and in my memory. He might not have been these things in reality–just friendlier, more energetic, and more open-hearted than I expected.

Q. Looking back on the encounter, were you happy with your decision to seek out your biological father? Did you always know that you wanted to meet him or was this decision made only after you were older?
A. I am very happy with my decision to seek out my biological father. I am less happy with the accidental fact that I haven’t returned to meet with him.

Especially when I was a child, I didn’t always know that I wanted to meet him. I evaded thinking about him throughout my early life. My memory of my thoughts surrounding my birth parents are rather foggy. However, about a year after my adoptive father died when I was in college, I let myself realize that I wanted to seek out my birthfather one day. I hadn’t wanted to search for him while my adoptive father was alive because I didn’t want to hurt or complicate his feelings for me. Even though it was on my agenda, I was in no hurry. This is likely because I was afraid of what I might find.

Five years later, I google-searched his full name one evening. It is funny to think about how unintentionally I discovered I was ready. Without hesitation, I messaged him on Facebook. I think I was just older and had learned enough about who I am that I knew I wouldn’t mistake any qualities of him for latent pieces of myself.

Q. We loved the detail of the “cheap McDonald’s coffee” instead of a “bourgeois” latte. What do you think this decision, seemingly simple, but encumbered with meaning for the characters, said about the differences between you and your father beyond the surface level? Do you think those differences could ever be reconciled? 
A. I believe that deep differences between people can be reconciled, but I do not see any special potential for this reconciliation occurring between me and my father.

Q. What inspired you to write and tell this story? Was it because you wanted to digest the experience and, perhaps, examine it through a concrete lens? And do you feel that writing is a way to reconcile our expectations with reality, a way to accept the volatility of life? 
A. I wrote this piece as an email account to twenty or so of my dearest friends. Following the meeting with Cosmic Charlie, I took the bus to The Revolution Cafe in the Mission District of San Francisco, where I was living at the time. I ordered a beer and sat in a sunny corner. The story was finished in a few hours, then I sent it to my friends. I was very nervous before I pressed send. I thought I would be imposing something that might feel strange or too personal. I had never sent an intimate story like that to my friends. Their warm responses crept in over the next few days. I thought that the experience itself and the purging of the experience before my close friends would satisfy me. However, after almost a week, I felt that the reach of my confession was too near. I wanted to confess it bigger. So, I spent another afternoon making edits to the story, then I fished around for creative nonfiction publications and submitted the story. I had a good feeling about Under the Gum Tree because of its summons “Tell Stories Without Shame.” I felt shame before sharing the story with my friends, and I found it even more terrifying to share the story with strangers. Now that the story is published, I accept the experience and it seems–so far–that I no longer feel ashamed to talk about the nuances of my entire adoption story. Thank you, Under the Gum Tree.

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Meet the Artist: Gale Hart

June 1, 2015

A childhood fascination with creating objects out of nuts, bolts, scrap metal, and wood evolved into an intensely energetic creative drive. From monumental canvases to metal sculpture, Sacramento-based artist Gale Hart’s repertoire of visual images grabs, engages, and speaks volumes about universal humanity. A Narration characterized by humor, angst, and sarcasm presents itself through a […]

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Meet the Author: Sara Dobie Bauer

May 19, 2015

Sara Dobie Bauer is a writer and prison volunteer in Pheonix, Arizona, with an honor’s degree in creative writing from Ohio University. She is a book nerd and sex-pert at SheKnows.com, and her short fiction has appeared in The Molotov Cocktail, Stoneslide Corrective, Blank Fiction, and Solarcide. Her short story, “Don’t Ball the Boss,” was […]

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May ’15 Contributor News

May 9, 2015

We like to stay in touch with our contributors and celebrate recent accomplishments, like awards, book deals, and solo art shows. Here’s the latest news from several of our previous contributors.   Past contributor, Samuel Autman, has been chosen as the first place winner in the SLS-Disquiet 2015 Literary Contest in the nonfiction category for his essay, “Invisible […]

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