And there goes 2018…

I’m attempting to pack my bags (I’m a horrible procrastinator when it comes to packing) as I leave tomorrow for a two-week trip to Japan! I’m nervous excited with the arrow pointing more to the excited portion of the scale. I’m reviewing my hiragana/katakana charts and stuffing as many notebooks as physically possible into my carry-on. I’ll be palling around with local cats (named Mimi and Otsuka for all you Kafka on the Shore lovers) in Hiroshima/Miyajima, Kyoto, and Tokyo. I went to Japan as a wee lass in 2005, but I don’t remember too much except that I loved it. I have a few places I know I want to check out this time (e.g. the Atomic Bomb Dome, Itsukushima Shrine, Fushimi Inari, Yayoi Kusama Museum), but if you have any spots you think I should check out, I’d love to hear from you! Mostly, I just want to soak up as much history and culture to add to the novel I am writing — and if that means hanging on a park bench or sipping green tea in a cafe for half the day, then I’m down for that. Book-wise, I’m bringing Akutagawa’s Rashōmon and Jean Genet’s The Thief’s Journal, plus the Poison issue of Tin House, for all those long hours on the plane and the Shinkansen.

I think this trip is coming at the perfect time—a reset at the top of the New Year.

But today, I take a few moments to look back.

This was a glimpse of 2018:

-My first trip to the AWP conference in Tampa, Florida, and celebrating the publication of this beautiful issue of Hunger Mountain I had the pleasure to help make!

-Finishing my third year of beginning every day with a yoga routine (will you join me in the challenge as I enter my fourth year?)

-The launch of a new series of (almost weekly) posts called Sandbox Notes where I collect and curate words, links, facts, thoughts, descriptions, and objects of interest into creative visual pieces. Learn the story behind my Sandbox Notes here! 

-Tapping into a state of delicious movement with Eiko Otake, and hearing brave hibakusha share their stories of the atomic bombs.

-There were tears: family illnesses, heartbreaks, stress, listening to Visions of Gideon.

-There were fears. Most of them seen on TV.

-There were very good friends—new and old—who made my life a little brighter.

I quit chain-chewing gum. 

-My creative work was accepted three times this year, with two essays forthcoming in 2019 (thank you so much to all of the editors of Queen Mob’s Teahouse, Windmill, and Entropy, and to Glimmer Train for giving my piece “Frozen Locks” an Honorable Mention in the Jan/Feb Short-Story Award for New Writers). I continued writing blog content for the Michigan Quarterly Review, as well as published articles and interviews in Artscope Magazine, Everything is Music, Storyboard, and Perpetual Beta. And my interview with the amazing Rene Denfeld was published in the back of her paperback book!

-Attending the Kenyon Review Writers Workshop and meeting Carl Phillips in real life.

-I started writing a novel!

-Somehow I read 82 books (message me for the full list!) and narrowed it down to 20 “favorite things I read this year.” An eclectic bunch of old and new titles, here they are hand-drawn, in no particular order:

Her Right Foot – Dave Eggers
The Haunting of Hill House – Shirley Jackson
My Favorite Thing is Monsters Vol 1 – Emil Ferris
Vice – Ai
Heart Spring Mountain – Robin Marie MacArthur
Vermilion Sands – J.G. Ballard
Indictus – Natalie Eilbert
Census – Jesse Ball
The Principles of Uncertainty – Maira Kalman
The Bell Jar – Sylvia Plath
Confessions of a Mask – Yukio Mishima
Dialogues in Paradise – Can Xue
Premonitions – Elizabeth Schmuhl
There There – Tommy Orange
The Country Between Us – Carolyn Forché
For Other Ghosts – Donald Quist
Man v. Nature – Diane Cook
Severance – Robert Olen Butler
Kafka on the Shore – Haruki Murakami
Everything Under – Daisy Johnson

Favorite moving pictures I saw this year: a Monty Python Flying Circus marathon, Maniac, Alias Grace, The Crown, The Lobster, and Call Me By Your Name.

2018 sounded like Sufjan Stevens, Poliça, Wilco, Death Cab for Cutie, AURORA, the Westworld soundtrack, The National, Father John Misty, Neil Young, and of course, my forever faves — Emancipator and Fleet Foxes.

Next year will see graduation and beyond, the great job search, and more. But for now, Japan! And being grateful for each day as it comes. Peace to all <3

Happy Solstice.

Another semester has come and gone…and suddenly, I am back in Ann Arbor to celebrate the holiday season with the family, and to take a break (ha!) while also working on my thesis and other writing projects, and I am already days late in celebrating the solstice! I’m surprised at how little snow is here in Michigan (as in NONE!) compared to Vermont. But there are fairy lights in the trees downtown and that helps to keep spirits high.

My latest book haul…thanks to a visit to Bear Pond Books!

I spent most of the weekend reading Everything Under by Daisy Johnson on recommendation from my classmate, Tyler. It’s a book that eats you wholly and takes you underwater, and suddenly, you realize hours have gone by and you’ve grown gills and haven’t needed to come up for air because you are less human and something more magical now. Guess what will feature on my best of the year list—which (stay tuned!) will be posted here on the blog in a few days!

Today, I went to a broadcast of the Bolshoi Ballet’s performance of the Nutcracker with my grandmother. Gah—the dancers were so talented! The show itself was full of nostalgia, timelessness, and charm. Tell me what your favorite pieces from the Tchaikovsky score are! Mine are “The Presents of Drosselmeyer” and the “Pas de Deux: Intrada.”

For the rest of the week, I have artsy presents to craft together, interviews to work on, ice skates to break in, and a travel itinerary to plan, as I have exciting news to tell you in the next few days. But right now, I have sweet cinnamon tea and the promise of stories told underneath an ornamented pine. Happy hibernation!

Sandbox Notes: Know Your Foxes (and Imperfections)

 

Want to dig deeper into the sandbox? Explore more at these links:

-The spirit-like existence of misaki.

-The imperfection of Schubert’s Sonata in D Major is just one of many favorite passages in Haruki Murakami’s Kafka on the Shore.

-When it’s chilly in the north, just pretend you’re on a sunny French beach listening to Françoise Hardy!

-Tim Kirkman’s moving documentary, Dear Jesse, is a must-see.

-Need a mood boost? This Twitter page should do it for you. Photos of the cutest foxes are uploaded every hour.

About Sandbox Notes. Collections by Cameron Finch.

Fiction Writing Prompt: Take a Walk

In lieu of this week’s Sandbox Notes, here is a writing prompt that my thesis advisor, Rita Banerjee, gave to me, and I’d love to pass it forward.

***

If you are feeling stuck in your fiction, take a walk and embody your main character(s).

Time: At least 20 minutes.

Where: You can walk anywhere you like! It can be around your neighborhood, a downtown area, a nearby park. Make sure to walk the same route for every character. The environment is your control variable in this experiment.

What: As you walk, take notice of how you transform into your character. Note how you (as your character) walk. Which gestures give you comfort? What do you smell, taste, touch, see, hear as you travel through the world? What stops you or keeps you walking? What pops into your brain? What are you preoccupied with or worried about? Do you talk to yourself? Do you make eye contact with the people around you, or do you stare at the ground?

Once you’ve completed your walks, write a 1-2 page scene, in which all your character does is go for a walk. Try to incorporate as many of the details from your own walk as possible.

***

Pro tip: Last week, I tried this exercise with my novel’s three main characters, and at times, I felt like I was forcing behaviors or thoughts onto them. In those moments, I tried to break out of character and become myself again. It’s funny I had to remember what it was like to be a living, thinking human. I made myself aware of what thoughts naturally come up in a mind. I should write to my grandmother. I said this thing to so-and-so, and are they still thinking about it as I am? Should I have soup or more oatmeal for dinner? Once I was able to identify what I, Cammie, was thinking about, I was then able to categorize “types” of thoughts and decide which of my characters were more likely to have a similar thought.  

Take what you need from this exercise! Let me know how it goes for you, and if you choose to adapt it in any way. Walk on!

 

The Serious and the Silly of December

A glimpse into the last month of the year:

  • Making progress on my thesis/novel—though considering a bit of a plot restructuring!
  • Read Bianca Stone’s The Möbius Strip Club of Grief and Theresa Hak Kyung Cha’s Dictee both in one sitting. Stone’s book is doing all the subversive maneuvers I strive for in my own poetry. Even better, she will be teaching a class on “Meaning, Sense, & Narrative in Poetry” at VCFA in the spring! And don’t even get me started with Dictee. Holy wow—I didn’t know a book could look, sound, or read like that.
  • Began an epic watching of Monty Python’s Flying Circus from start to finish. I had seen random sketches here and there, but I’ve never seen the whole series straight through, and I just felt like a phony, calling myself a fan without seeing the entirety of the show! I watch about 15 minutes each day with my breakfast, so I’m not too far through yet! I’m currently in Season 2—just finished “Scott of the Antarctic,” which was pure plasmatic gold.
  • In the spirit of the holiday season, my friend Aaron Wyanski and I have co-authored a list of literary holiday carols. Enjoy the whimsy and feel free to add your own in the comments below!

Jingle Bell Jar
Baby It’s Sharon Olds Outside
Graham Greenesleeves
The Picture of Dorian Sleigh
Robert Frosty the Snowman
Lewis Carroll of the Bells
Little Saint Nicholas Nickleby
Up on the Bleak Housetop
Have Yourself a Merry Little Women Christmas
It’s the Most Wonderful Wrinkle in Time of the Year
Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree in 80 Days
Alice in Winter Wonderland
Twelfth Silent Night
Deck the Wolf Halls
Ding Dong Merrily On High Fidelity
Santa Claus is Coming to Our Town
(There’s No Place Like) Maycomb for the Holidays
Go Tell It On The Mountain
The Holly Golightly and the Ivy
Joyce Carol Oates to the World
Love in the Christmastime of Cholera
Ruefle the Red Nosed Reindeer
Hark! The Herald Angels in America Sing
We Wish You a Mary Shelley Christmas
O Little Town of Macbethlehem

Isn’t it nuts that it’s already December? At least the world outside looks like an Emancipator album cover and there are pine-scented candles and the sounds of Vince Guaraldi’s jazz brush beat and lots of spiced tea!

Sandbox Notes: Troglodytes is in the Name

 

Want to dig deeper into the sandbox? Explore more at these links:

-“Beefcake Paperdoll” is the name of the incredible painting by Xavier Schipani. You can find it on the cover of Thomas Page McBee’s memoir, Man Alive.

It’s a pig meowing! It’s a giraffe barking! It’s….Nixon bleating! (From Monty Python’s Flying Circus, Series 1, Episode 12, “The Naked Ant”)

-It doesn’t have “whale” in the name, but Tilly and the Wall is a very cool band that features a tap dancer as the percussionist.

Perhaps one day, I will be eaten by birds. 

 

About Sandbox Notes. Collections by Cameron Finch.

Thankful.

Certain circumstances in my life this year have made me especially thankful for this life of mine. So…here is a gratitude list. It is surely incomplete and in no particular order:

  • My family and their undying support
  • Fuzzy animals (shoutout to Saki Finch)
  • Books
  • Every author I have ever met in person or met virtually through email interviews
  • Friends who have seen me in my best and worst states
  • Oatmeal – you have singlehandedly kept me alive this year with your nourishment
  • Vermont College of Fine Arts for giving me a safe space to discover myself, to find an encouraging and inspiring community of artists, and to challenge what creative writing can look like
  • Books
  • Art
  • My brain and heart for staying strong, even when I’m feeling down
  • The smell of my mother
  • Phones, for transporting faraway voices directly into my ear, wherever I may be
  • Smuttynose Brewing Company’s Old Brown Dog for reminding me it’s okay to let loose once in a while
  • Striped shirts
  • Fresh air
  • Tarsem’s The Fall
  • Everyone who reads my writing and this blog
  • Working on Hunger Mountain, which has made me realize that I want to work with authors on their writing and help promote amazing art for the rest of my life
  • Hibakusha Stories and the incredible work they are doing for our world
  • Music (particularly every song on this playlist)
  • Hugs
  • The ability to laugh

I lift my mug of tea to you. <3

 

Sandbox Notes: An Aerial Glimpse of Clunky Boots

 

*Bonus points for anyone who writes a short short story using the details from this plot map! Leave it in the comments below! I’d love to see it!

Want to dig deeper into the sandbox? Explore more at these links:

-Whose tradition (and history) are we celebrating (or ignoring) when we celebrate Thanksgiving? (Tommy Orange’s article via LA Times)

-I will never be able to think of a BB gun or a powder-blue suit the same, now that I’ve heard Alex Marzano-Lesnevich read from their award-winning book, The Fact of a Body.

-Why read today’s news when you can read Yesterday’s Print?

-In my class with James Scott, we’re thinking a lot about the inverted checkmark and how to structure a story.

-Some people call November 5th Bonfire Night, some call it Guy Fawkes’ Day, some people (like me) call it “Save John Watson” day (any Sherlock fans, here?)…here’s a refresher on The Gunpowder Plot.

 

About Sandbox Notes. Collections by Cameron Finch.

Sandbox Notes: Unobscured Pluming Complex

Want to dig deeper into the sandbox? Explore more at these links:

-If you hope to live for a long time, think twice about watching this video. According to Monty Python, the creator of this joke—the world’s funniest joke—died laughing at it.

-Need an icebreaker when you go to parties? Here’s one: Oedipus with Vegetables.

-The world would be a better place if we all just put our legs up the wall already.

-I’m a fangirl of words that don’t exist in the English language. Here’s a new one for me: Setsunai (切ない).

-All I’m listening to these days: “Spine” by Plume. Beautiful to listen to with eyes closed and in the rain. Full of yummy notes that will make you melancholic and nostalgic all at once.

About Sandbox Notes. Collections by Cameron Finch.

New Piece “Sad Animal Facts in the Style of Ikkyū” on Queen Mob’s Teahouse

I am overjoyed that my piece, “Sad Animal Facts in the Style of Ikkyū” was recently published online as part of Queen Mob’s Teahouse‘s collection of “Misfit” documents. According to Queen Mob’s, a Misfit Document is “a text that doesn’t easily fit into any genre or category. It’s not quite a poem or short story or novel excerpt or essay. Or if it is one of those things, it doesn’t quite qualify as “literary” or sci-fi or mystery or memoir or whatever.”

I had recently created a series of hybrid, Frankenstein-stitched pieces—unexpected mashups from different sources—including this sequence which mixes Brooke Barker’s “Sad Animal Facts” with the poetic style of 15th-century Japanese Zen monk and poet Ikkyū (for this, I used Stephen Berg’s 1989 English translation of Crow with No Mouth). This sequence is original in the sense that no one has ever thought to pair these puzzle pieces together, but leans into the idea that all art is borrowed and all art is a commemoration of the art that came before.
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(Puffins are called the clowns of the sea)

dignity

the lace-ruffled puffins want it too

A huge thanks to Reb Livingston at Queen Mob’s Teahouse for publishing it and being wonderful to work with!