Check out our third print edition on ISSUU!

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As we dive head-first into work on our fourth print issue, the time has come to share our third issue with you. In her publisher’s note, Melissa Connolly sums up our feelings about issue number three:

In this, our third printed edition of Windmill, we continue to learn lessons.

Since our staff is an odd amalgamation of MFA students, undergraduate volunteers, and a one-credit publishing studies class, some of those lessons are obvious, and the questions posed along the way are usually voiced in a slightly annoyed tone: Why isn’t Submittable letting me write notes on this piece? Why does the printer keep talking about signatures? Why can’t I add a second line to the title in this InDesign template?

But other lessons are more subtle, and longer lasting: How to find beauty in writing, and how to discuss the merits of different types of work? How to find consensus? How to take disparate pieces and create something whole, something organic, something even—dare I say—beautiful? And perhaps the most important: how to continue to love writing and art and this literary magazine when you’ve spent the last several hours making small windmill-shaped section dividers for the book that should have been at the printer last week?

This is the part of the unseen work, along with the opportunity to comb through the pages of emerging and established writers line by line, word by word, and work with them on perfecting and publishing their art. Along with these short stories and essays, it is also our charge at Windmill to explore the relationship between creativity and art through our narrative features and interviews. In this issue, we learn about poet and teacher Jane Wong’s craft and highlight a selection of her poems. We also hear from vibrant personalities who visited us at Hofstra this year, including renowned choreographer Twyla Tharp, who shared her thoughts on the creative habit, and the illustrative John McPhee, who discussed the painstaking process of writing, and rewriting.

We even spend some time with our founding editor, Kelly McMasters, who normally writes this letter, but stepped away from much of the day-to-day process of putting this book together this year to tend to the publication of another: This Is the Place: Women Writing About Home, an essay collection she edited with Margot Kahn. In this issue’s Faculty Spotlight, we see Kelly through the eyes of her MFA student, Lily Vu, and consider the twin crafts of creative non-fiction and editing.

Much of our fiction has a distinctly dark and dystopian feel to it, led off with the familiar-yet-postapocalyptic world that colors previous Windmill contributor Heather Whited’s “Things Read by Moonlight,” and the darkly real suburbia in Matthew McGevna’s chilling “The First Few Steps.” It’s in the nonfiction that we feel the immediacy of the natural world, the poetry of the every day—our hometown, the nature we surround ourselves with—whether in Jen Fitzgerald’s meditation on loss and solitude in “Shuttle Launch” or through Akiko Busch’s memory essay “Home in Seven Acts.”

And so the art we chose for this collection reflected the frenetic nature of our written selections: homey yet unfamiliar, beautiful but with dark and foreboding shadows. The otherworldly tulips of the cover, Russian Red Really by Bear Kosik, illustrate this sensibility––natural, yet false; something so familiar and every day that seems just a little off, in a way we cannot quite define. Perhaps this, then, the collected works of friends new and old, of writers and artists, is in its entirety a reflection of our times—the shadows that line the unfamiliar road, the acknowledgment of a work- in-progress, the promise of tomorrow, the beauty of the everyday moment. In days both dark and light, perhaps that is all we can hope for. Perhaps that is what art and writing provide.

Lessons learned.

Melissa Connolly Publisher

Check it out on ISSUU!

 

Letting Go and Finding Grace

written by Melissa Connolly

It was hard to write a complete sentence, and not just the past few post-election days.  For months now, the disbelief, the choking anger that pops up reading Facebook or watching a rally or a really good Samantha Bee rant, the righteous rage that colors every internet interaction I have, my mind was running constantly, I was so mad. You know what I mean, fellow writers, don’t you?  You imagine the things you’d say to that bigot, to that misogynist if you were bigger, braver, more clever, you’re furious at someone’s careless post, some Tweet about racist treatment, some Access Hollywood tape. The disbelief, the awful words of some random Facebook friend (how could you ever have accepted that invite after that business breakfast?), you go over and over again, in a type of futile effort to make sense of it all. 

And what are we writers left with? Nothing but some snarky status updates that maybe we post, maybe we don’t, and yet another day sacrificed to the twin gods of rage and social media.

For me, anyway, a part-time, long-form fiction writer with a full-time job, this has been the most unproductive season in ages. That I was working long days helping to produce the presidential debate here at Hofstra started my period of inactivity, true…but when the debate stage was packed in the truck heading south to Virginia and Longwood University, and I could once again have an opinion about politics, thoughts on the candidates and campaigns filled my days and my nights. I could not imagine how I’d write even a sentence in my novel, which was sitting cold on the stowed away laptop, its battery dead.

Constantly checking Facebook and Twitter, watching Seth Meyers on YouTube, my obsession and disbelief took up all my time. The rage became both its own means and its own end. And I, I had none of the quiet necessary for creative thought. Even during my long walks at night, a habit built in part to encourage mild fitness and in part to free my mind up for imaginings, I was too busy listening to NPR podcasts to find that quiet space.

This space is best described in Jane Hirschfeld’s essay, “Poetry and the Mind of Concentration” (brought to me again by www.brainpickings.org) “By concentration, I mean a particular state of awareness: penetrating, unified, and focused, yet also permeable and open. This quality of consciousness, though not easily put into words, is instantly recognizable. Aldous Huxley described it as the moment the doors of perception open; James Joyce called it epiphany. The experience of concentration may be quietly physical — a simple, unexpected sense of deep accord between yourself and everything. It may come as the harvest of long looking and leave us, as it did Wordsworth, a mind thought “too deep for tears.” Within action, it is felt as a grace state: time slows and extends, and a person’s every movement and decision seem to partake of perfection.”

It’s been a long time since I felt that mind “too deep for tears.” Too long since I opened that laptop. 

So I’ve done the last thing I could to get my sacred soul space, my very own grace state, back. I said farewell to Facebook, sayonara to Twitter, for now, to cool the rage and find my voice again. It’s a little like an addict going cold turkey. I was accustomed to both the fight with trolls and the camaraderie among fellow travelers that posting on social media engendered, the quick hit of endorphin from likes and comments, the virtual pat on the head.

But the refresh button and the retweet has been a black hole. 

Some might say that dropping out is giving up, I’m not engaged in the fight since I’m not listening, not commenting and making points. I’d prefer to think I’ve got the long game in mind. Perhaps you’re familiar with the study by psychologists David Comer Kidd and Emanuele Castano, at the New School for Social Research in New York, who have proved that reading literary fiction enhances the ability to detect and understand other people’s emotions…in other words, reading good fiction builds empathy.  Go figure! And that’s what we do.  We build worlds and narratives that give our readers a place to go, other lives to live, outcomes to imagine.  Novelists, storytellers – we provide readers with the space to inhabit the other, whomever the other might be. So now, more than ever, it’s important to go back to the real work, to try and create something that lasts, that gives our readers, wherever they are, a home in the air, on the page, in the soul.

And each of us, especially now, needs to find and hone and keep our voice strong. And maybe snarky Facebook posts just aren’t the way to do it.

The Strange Miracle of Reading

written by Melissa Connolly

Last week, my colleague Keaton’s blog dealt with the unread books that line his shelf, the sheer mass of what he calls “Mount Everest.”

The same week I read Keaton’s draft, the great blog brainpickings.org published “Neil Gaiman on Why We Read and What Books Do for the Human Experience.” This piece took the topic – what books mean to us – and reviewed what everyone from Virginia Woolf to Kafka, from Rebecca Solnit to Galileo had to say on the subject of the magic and mystery of the book.  From Solnit’s essay “Flight”: “Before writers are writers they are readers, living in books, through books, in the lives of others that are also the heads of others, in that act that is so intimate and yet so alone.”

And Herman Hesse, who writes with great beauty in his 1930 essay “The Magic of the Book,” “…there are a few who remain constantly bewitched by the strange miracle of letters and words (which once, to be sure, were an enchantment and magic formula to everyone). From these few come the readers. They discover as children the few poems and stories … and instead of turning their backs on these things after acquiring the ability to read they press forward into the realm of books and discover step by step how vast, how various and blessed this world is!”

I thought about my own bookshelves, and how I read.  I thought about the hope that sits in the unopened book. How opening a book is in some ways the ultimate act of faith.

I was talking a few weeks ago with a friend, a professor of English, who is no doubt one of the finest close readers I know. He can take apart a sentence with intelligence, humor and dexterity, find meaning in each word choice. He can map out the invisible connections to entire worlds of philosophy and culture by looking at the manner in which a sentence has been constructed, the random interjection, the adjective, the simile. He finds the buried analogy, layers of poetic meaning in almost every phrase. And it is, for me, at least, a miracle to watch him pull it all apart, word by lovely word, one discovery leading to another. He finds entire worlds in each sentence.

I wonder, sometimes, how he ever gets through an entire book, this elegant and endless close read. I admire it so much. But I don’t read that way.  I cannot.

To me, books are magic, Hesse’s “strange miracle of letters and words.”  When I read a new book, and it takes hold, I become unaware of the individual word, the beautiful phrase.  I become unaware of the physical act of reading, how my eyes must be moving along the page. Instead my mind and the words that float in front of me merge, and we are wrapped together in the world the book has made, speeding, floating along the periphery of the shadows that characters become inside my mind. I do not stop to admire the analogy, the metaphor, the hidden drops of underlying psychology in individual words.  I do not stop to eat or sleep, I forget work. Friends and family. A book can be an addiction, a new bad boyfriend, an obsession, all-consuming with its demands for time and attention.

As I have gotten older, I approach new books with caution, knowing how they can take over my life for the time I move through them.

So now, my bookshelves, like my friend Keaton’s, are lined with the books I haven’t yet gotten to, books that hold the possibility for me of love and life and journeys into the souls of those who inhabit another world. Books that will take me out of the work I need to do each day. So I hesitate before I open the next strange miracle, knowing that what lies inside could take me from my work, my purpose. Friends and family. Sleep.

But I keep all of these books, live among them, the stories I have not yet read, the characters I have not yet met.  There is hope in each one of them. And that is the miracle.

 

Rejected

written by Melissa Connolly

A few weeks ago, in the email newsletter from Submittable, a compelling lead: Kim Liao urges us to try for 100 rejections per year (http://lithub.com/why-you-should-aim-for-100-rejections-a-year/)

That same week, I had gotten two rejections in one day and I was feeling pretty terrible about myself. Two! It doesn’t take much for me.

I had spent a lot of time looking at journals and very carefully submitting pieces to only a few journals at a time, remembering each of the few journals I submitted to. And every day after I’d think, maybe this will be the day I will get an acceptance. I imagined for myself a glorious future as a published writer that began at the moment that X Journal recognized my very special genius.

Of course, I had it backwards.

Kim Liao has covered the idea about coveting the rejection pretty well, so I encourage you to read this piece and embrace this idea – to aim for as many rejections as possible. To go for failure because in failure, you’ll get more practice.

The fact of the matter is, the history of literature is full of tales of famous writers rejected countless times.  Failure is simply the price we pay, the accumulation of practice.

So I’ll just say this: If I’m aiming for publication, then it’s about me, my status, my career.  If I’m aiming for rejection, it’s about the work. I’m not so worried then about what each reader at each journal is thinking, I’m not second guessing myself or thinking about what Joe or Sally wants to read.  Instead, I’m concentrating on the story and meaning. On writing as much as possible and about what I want to say.  And letting the failures stack up, becoming indifferent to rejection, as I practice my craft.

After all, if we worry too much about success, that’s what is taking up space in our head. Nothing sucks up creativity more than thinking too much about sales or awards or failure, about pleasing someone else, letting all those other voices edit you, stop you, be your muse.

If we worry about too much about the reader on the other end, we’re not pursuing a vision, we’re writing what we imagine someone else wants to read.  And that might be good, but it is very rarely great.

Writus Interruptus

written by Melissa Connolly

I had been having a long conversation with my friend and partner-in-crime of this site, Kelly McMasters, about the guilt I felt about going away on the writing retreat I allowed myself.  To be honest, I hadn’t felt guilt until I talked to others about the retreat, to which people said things like, don’t you feel bad, leaving your kids at home? And I thought, they’re teenagers, they’re celebrating that I’m not home.

But still that feeling of inadequacy lingered, that “bad mom” label.

And a day or two after our conversation, Kelly sent me a link to a great story in New York magazine, “Portrait of the Artist as a Young Mom.”  http://nymag.com/thecut/2016/04/portrait-motherhood-creativity-c-v-r.html – definitely worth a read for anyone balancing parenting and writing, or probably any artistic endeavor.  The central truth behind the piece was that the space one needs to create, the silence, the thoughtfulness, that unknowable thing that creatives require – is it introversion? selfishness? solitude? – is almost impossible to reconcile with the neediness, the constant hum that is the parenting of young children. That the emotional and physical lives of small people and the separation required to be a writer are totally incompatible.

And I smugly thought, well, those days are behind me.

I had a day or two more of edits to get through, which I thought I could finish in my room as my children did their own thing over a long holiday weekend.  And a funny thing happened.  The children who ignore me as I read downstairs, or clean, or ask them questions, were suddenly at the closed door every five minutes as I was writing.  “Whatcha doing Mom?” I heard over and over again, an accompanying light insistent knock.

It was like they knew that behind that closed door I was with their one true rival.

And I was reminded of that great first line in Wallace Stevens’ “Notes Towards a Supreme Fiction” – “And for what, except for you, do I feel love?”

In the middle of a writing day, it’s a question that I struggle with.