Wisdom from Writers: Tucker Leighty-Phillips

I am always thinking about–how do we defamiliarize our world? How do we return a childlike wonder to everything around us? How do we regain an innocence, excitement, and enthusiasm that feels dragged out of us through the cynicism of adulthood?

I recently spoke with author Tucker Leighty-Phillips about his debut story collection, Maybe This Is What I Deserve, children’s games, rural life, poverty, Runescape, and more.You can read the full interview here at Tiny Molecules.

Intuition in storytelling is a strange thing. Sometimes it means making up words that “sound right.” Sometimes it means cutting out entire sections of prose and letting white space do the talking.

Find out more about Tucker Leighty-Phillips on tuckerlp.net. Tucker’s book Maybe This Is What I Deserve (June 2023) is forthcoming from Split/Lip Press.



Let me sing to you now about how books turn me into other things

It’s always a bit staggering — to find oneself and the world arriving yet again at a December 31st. Here we are, on the precipice of hope, and yet, how easy it is to feel the loss of the year past — how we want to hold so much in ourselves at once.

It has become a tradition of mine to celebrate December 31st with a remembrance and appreciation for some books I encountered during the year, books that brought company, wisdom, linguistic splendor, and perspective — for in times of ever uncertainty, books are a stalwart, omnipresent friend. Throughout electric days, blue days, and the always-prowling fog, look — a book is here, waiting to sing to you as you hold each other close.

I want to acknowledge — there are dozens of books that are still stacked on my floor, yelping to be read. There are dozens (thousands?) of books I mightily wish I could have included in this year’s list, but alas I have not met them yet! For me, the prospect of meeting new books, new poetic or narrative friends, gives me great hope for the new year. So, with the fact that it is impossible to include every book that has made an impact on me, here is my annual sampling of a few books I would like to highlight: texts that were exquisitely staining and impactful to me in one way or another —  and have inevitably shattered and rearranged my glass body, my glass path … books that after reading, I will never be quite the same.

In 2022, I’ve been questioning everything lately. So it seems appropriate to question this project as well. Why do we make “end of the year” lists anyway? What is the purpose? Why uplift the books that we do and not others? Who does that serve? How do we make decisions for which books to include in our end of the year lists, and how influenced are we by the lists that others make and share?

I pose these questions to you, to consider and graze on your own.

Here’s how I approach these questions: Sometimes I think of books as bandaids, adhering to my body, healing me wherever I go.

Sometimes I think of books and their content as organic material invisibly floating through the air and collecting on my skin, in my bloodstream. These book particles are vital invigorators, as vital to life as yeast is to a sourdough starter.

In both scenarios, there’s something that sticks to me…for some scientific or spiritual or poetic reason beyond my knowing. It is up to me to pay attention to this adhesive phenomenon; to notice the words that beg to stay, the wisdoms that make a home in me.

Of course, there are some books that just enter into our lives, through trusted recommendation or by a life-changing sweep of the hand at the bookstore or library. There’s a fascinating tango of choice and serendipity that dictates which books we read in a year, the only kind of uncertainty and dare that my soul can bear to look forward to.

Perhaps most of all, my “end of the year” list is a memorial, a reverent bow towards my bethlehem which will forever always be a city made of books and language and the experimental living spirit.

So, on this pensive day of old and new, I give a fizzy thanks to those who write books, make books, bind books, share books, give books, read books, and love books! Happy New Year, and Happy Reading.


(in no particular order:)

Bangkok Wakes to Rain by Pitchaya Sudbanthad *

Manywhere: Stories by Morgan Thomas

The 57 Bus: A True Story of Two Teenagers and the Crime That Changed Their Lives by Dashka Slater *

My Volcano by John Elizabeth Stintzi

If an Egyptian Cannot Speak English by Noor Naga

There Plant Eyes: A Personal and Cultural History of Blindness by M. Leona Godin *

feeld by Jos Charles

Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi *

Call Me Athena: Girl From Detroit by Colby Cedar Smith *

How I Became a Tree by Sumana Roy

The Overstory by Richard Powers *

Moldy Strawberries: Stories by Caio Fernando Abreu, translated by Bruna Dantas Lobato

Orwell’s Roses by Rebecca Solnit *

This Body I Wore by Diana Goetsch *

Autoportrait by Jesse Ball

Lapvona by Ottessa Moshfegh*

Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead by Olga Tokarczuk *

The Five Wounds by Kirstin Valdez Quade *

Everybody: A Book about Freedom by Olivia Laing

The Death of Vivek Oji by Akwaeke Emezi *

Time is a Mother by Ocean Vuong*

Read Dangerously by Azar Nafisi *

Voice of the Fish by Lars Horn

Plans for Sentences by Renee Gladman

* A star next to a book title means that I listened to and enjoyed the audiobook version, and you might enjoy it, too! (Hint: Did you know you can borrow audiobooks from your library system through the Libby app?)

** While there are select titles that I would have liked to include here from the publisher I work for, I have decided to not include any Atmosphere Press books in this particular end-of-the-year roundup.

Oh, to live another year with books

It’s always a bit staggering — to find oneself and the world arriving yet again at a December 31st. Here we are, on the precipice of hope, and yet, how easy it is to feel the loss of the year past — how we want to hold so much in ourselves at once.

It has become a tradition of mine to celebrate December 31st with a remembrance and appreciation for some books I encountered during the year, books that brought company, wisdom, linguistic splendor, and perspective — for in times of uncertainty, books are a stalwart, omnipresent friend. Throughout electric days, blue days, and the always-prowling fog, look — a book is here, waiting to sing to you as you hold each other close.

It would be impossible to include them all, but here is a sampling of a few books I would like to highlight: texts that were exquisitely staining and impactful to me in one way or another —  and have inevitably shattered and rearranged my glass body, my glass path … books that after reading, I will never be quite the same.

2021 was a year in which I also became reacquainted with the audiobook — a wonderful format to slow down, marvel at the sound of language on a tongue, and invite voices and oral storytelling into our private ear rooms. The book via the voice vessel becomes a secret companion on so many walks. Another reminder that a life with books is a life of abundance.  A star next to a book title means that I listened to and enjoyed the audiobook version, and you might enjoy it, too! (Hint: Did you know you can borrow audiobooks from your library system through the Libby app?)

So, on this pensive day of old and new, I give a fizzy thanks to those who write books, make books, bind books, share books, give books, read books, and love books! Happy New Year, and Happy Reading.

(in no particular order:)

I Will Die in a Foreign Land by Kalani Pickhart

Pew by Catherine Lacey

Ace: What Asexuality Reveals about Desire, Society, and the Meaning of Sex by Angela Chen

Another Country by James Baldwin *

Cleanness by Garth Greenwell *

Funny Weather: Art in an Emergency by Olivia Laing

Heavy: An American Memoir by Kiese Laymon *

Poet Warrior by Joy Harjo

The Pastor by Hanne Ørstavik, translated by Martin Aitken

The Thirty Names of Night by Zeyn Joukhadar

Figuring by Maria Popova *

Sleep, Death’s Brother by Jesse Ball

Bestiary by K-Ming Chang

The Twilight Zone by Nona Fernández, translated by Natasha Wimmer

A Ghost in the Throat by Doireann Ní Ghríofa

How High We Go in the Dark by Sequoia Nagamatsu

Two Big Differences by Ian Ross Singleton

Keen by Erin Stalcup

How I Became a Nun by César Aira, translated by Chris Andrews

Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer *

Water I Won’t Touch by Kayleb Rae Candrilli

Woolgathering by Patti Smith

The Night Watchman by Louise Erdrich *

How to Quit: Lessons from a Former Chain Chewer

  1. Decide to quit.
  2. Tell others you want to quit.
  3. Do not go out of your way to buy packs of gum.
  4. If others have generously bought you packs of gum, tell them kindly that you no longer are eating gum anymore and have them hide the packs from you.
  5. Remind them that you know where their last hiding place was, so don’t put it in the top kitchen cabinet on the right, next to the laundry room. Because you WILL FIND IT.
  6. Begin to eat real food instead of chemicals with equal parts unpronounceable and unswallowable qualities. You know, those ingredients the Internet can neither confirm nor deny are harmful for your body.
  7. When your cravings for gum gain strength, try biting your tongue. Or drink more water. Or brush your teeth to prevent a dirty mouth.
  8. It probably means you are hungry. Try to listen to your body when it talks to you.
  9. Save up to $40 a month because Orbit is no longer chewing you out of house and home. Watch as the supply and demand you have struggled to keep up with in the past crumples like the wadded up wrappers you used to pyramid on your desk.
  10. Spend a few minutes every day considering why you quit. Convince yourself you feel better now that you aren’t chewing a piece of gum for five seconds before spitting it out, only to unwrap a new piece and stick it on your tongue. But really two, because you always liked having two pieces in your mouth at once.
  11. Wake up one night from a dream involving the double dutch melody, Bubble Gum, Bubble Gum, and an empty crystal dish. Wonder why you are covered in cold sweats like a turkey carcass thawing.
  12. Remember you are one in a community of many former chain chewers, whose metronome jaws nod along with yours in perfect synchronicity. Yes. We. Know. How. You. Feel. You. Dirty. Dirty. Chewer. You!
  13. But do they know how you feel? How tired your jaws are of chewing on air?
  14. Whatever you do, do NOT answer the riddle. How snarky. How mocking. How many pieces do you wish? You’d run out of numbers. Do not let yourself get distracted. Better yet, Bubble Gum: do not even ask me the question.

*Why did I write this, and why am I sharing this with you? Chewing gum has been a sort of crutch for me in the past, in times of stress, or when I was very sick and found tiny ways to avoid eating real food and real calories. Currently, in my three-week module class at VCFA, we are talking all about vulnerability; asking questions about why vulnerability is scary, but necessary; what’s the difference between personal & professional vulnerability (and how that line is often blurred in writing); how do you know when to share vulnerable details and when not to, etc. I suppose we are all vulnerable as human beings to becoming addicted to such-and-such thing. Science backs it up that it takes about 66 days to form a habit, whether “good” or “bad,” if you choose to assign such labels. I’m proud of my work to quit chewing gum, and though it may or may not sound difficult to you, it definitely was not easy for me, and it’s so freeing to say that. To be honest. To work hard to overcome an act that was controlling me. Whatever your “gum” is, I believe you can free yourself of it, too.

Very Vernal

I’m currently nursing a sunburned shoulder as the gods of Vermont blessed us with a summer day this week, and I was not prepared for how pale I had become over the winter months. But it is definitely spring here, which makes me happy!

Therefore, this post will be a bit of a news and miscellany update from a very vernal Cammieland:

In Writing News: My unpublished story, “Frozen Locks,” received an Honorable Mention in the Glimmer Train Short Story contest for New Writers! While it didn’t make it far enough to get published, the acknowledgment still excites me enough to want to dance on a few tables.

In Music News: My days have been sounding like “Laura” by Bat for Lashes, “Time for Space” by Emancipator, “Summertime” by Angelique Kidjo, “Le Temps de L’Amour” by Francoise Hardy, and “Mystery of Love” by Sufjan Stevens. I know, I know, a bit of an odd cocktail of sunshine and rain, apricot juice and red wine, but it’s all about balance, right?

In School News: We have just over two weeks left of the semester, which is just crazy. The second years will graduate and go on to do great things, and my cohort will take their place as the suddenly seniors. After classes end, I’ve been asked to act in my friend’s staged reading of his thesis, which is such an honor. We’ve rehearsed his play for weeks now, and I’m so excited to bring my role as the character, Ashley, and the story alive in front of an audience.

In Summer News: Here’s a list of things I am looking forward to in the summer/artsy projects I want to tackle:

  • Writing as much of my thesis as humanly possible before the end of the summer
  • Attending the Kenyon Review Fiction Writer’s Workshop in June.
  • Spending Memorial Day exploring New York City with my love.
  • Speaking with the brilliant teens at Fuente Collective about my beloved Hunger Mountain and submitting to literary journals.
  • Choreograph a new tap dancing routine and perform it impromptu in a downtown city street (any music suggestions?)
  • Construct a massive collage: of what images I do not know yet.
  • I’d love to teach a writing workshop to adults or teens, based around returning to the five senses and igniting the wonder within us in order to generate seeds for future writing projects; maybe at Story Studio in Chicago? Yoko Ono will be our spirit guide.
  • Research multimedia/multi-genre anthologies. This seems like a thing that should exist, and if it doesn’t already, I want to breathe life into one.

That’s all for now. The list will undoubtedly become longer and longer. For now, I am off to bask in the sun (with shoulders covered) and write to the “Mystery of Love.”

Why I Write (Today’s Version)

Why I write has been a difficult question for me to parse out properly. Maybe it never changes. Maybe it always is and will be “because I must.” But I don’t think that’s true, and that description doesn’t satisfy me anyway. If I’ve learned anything over the past months at VCFA, it’s that self-reflection is an important part of realizing one’s goals, and for me, writing those reflections down makes me accountable for my goals and intentions. Writing these thoughts down means that I can’t hide from my emotional truths. The page is safe, like the air. Non-judgmental. A clean slate. A silently listening ear.  And yet, these writings also serve as documents of past versions of myself, this ever-changing self, so I can look back tomorrow, in a month, a year, a decade, and understand the time and space I was operating in. Who I wanted to be, what I was concerned about, why I did what I did, why I continue to do what I am impassioned to do, all of it is there on the page. We are changing always, shifting and rearranging the furniture of our bodies to accommodate to the personal and global situations around us. And so, I don’t think it is silly to ask why I write. On any given day, the intricacies and the molecules that make up that question will inevitably be unique.

So, on this day of March 15, 2018, this is why I write.

At this point in my life, I write because if I didn’t, my head would explode. It is how I empty out my thoughts, like the garbage disposal in a sink. It is how I connect wholly with someone outside of myself, as well as with other parts within me. In the real world, we never truly can understand another human. Never fully know what they are feeling or hiding or thinking on the inside. But when a character is inside me, sleeping in my little brain cave each night, I am always practicing empathy. I think writing makes me a better person in the world. It keeps my brain healthy, even when I’m producing and processing dark topics, because it is healthy to acknowledge the dark and light, and writing is the only way I know how to filter through all that grayness. I also write to play with language. I write to form words on paper and in the air, the ear, the tongue. I want to stretch words like taffy, turn them technicolor, blast sunlight through their thinnest middles, hear them crackle, and stick to tacky teeth.

Someone asked me recently how I write characters who seemingly are so different than myself. The writer whom I am today has to first find the emotional core of the story I want to write. I have to locate that emotion within myself, within my heart, and only then can I pluck out my heart and hold it in the palm of my hand, and begin the search. The search for a vessel to stick my heart inside. It doesn’t matter if the heartless character is male or female; a mother or child; a shade darker or lighter than me; a botanist or a locksmith or a sonic statue sculptor; blind or deaf. All I need to know is that when I stick my heart inside their chest, I will be able to navigate their lives through my own intuition, through my own personal experience with that emotion.

A few months ago, I might have thought that the lucky people were the ones whose answer to “why they write” never changed, whose answers always stayed the same. They knew themselves. They knew their path. They knew why they got up in the morning and what they were going to accomplish. But now, I’m not sure that is true. Perhaps the truly lucky ones are the ones who continue to be curious, to reflect but not dwell. The ones who are willing to adapt their passions to fit new lifestyles. The ones who aren’t satisfied with one answer. The ones who thrive to know more, to understand more, to ask…what else could be true?

Perhaps my answer won’t change tomorrow, or the next day, or the next. But this is definitely a question I will return to again and again. One thing I do know…I will always write my answers down.

Remnants of Past Identification

We carry our past lives with us, through memories, through music, through scars and food and photographs and the objects we can’t quite part with for some inexplicable reason. Some of us even carry our past lives in our wallets.

Our clunky black wallets with too much change and too many balled-up receipts.

Go ahead and open mine up. Never mind the three library cards, the credit cards, the expired gift card to Subway. If you look in the tight plastic-sheathed picture pocket—right there behind my driver’s license—you’ll find a personal identification card, standing tall and proud and vertically aligned.

Expiration Date:  2012 : the year I graduated from high school : recovered from my second ACL knee surgery : kissed my love for the first time : packed up my books and clothes to start down the college road : the year the world was supposed to end but didn’t.

Address: The pale yellow house born in 1925 which I lived in for 19 years of my life. We sold it a year after the card expired and I haven’t driven past it since. It’s no longer mine. This home.

Weight: The weight of a teenager, which I am no more.

Background: Michigan in large, blue, block letters. The Mackinac Bridge (Mighty Mac) streaking across the top. A state engrained in my bones and will be wherever in the world I go.

Signature: Do I still carve my r’s like that? I’ve become lazier these days, no longer taking the care to write Finch. Instead a scrawled, scrunched something or rather like Fil is sufficient enough.

Photograph: First there is the hair, which I have cut and shaved and grown and regrown and shaped and trimmed and now have 1/4 of what appears on this ID. Then, there are the cheeks with apples beneath the surface, the tanned skin of summer, the cheesy “when is this picture going to be taken” smile that only is worn at the Secretary of State. There are the clothes: the red sweater, the leopard scarf. I wore them together again yesterday and I felt as if revisiting an old friend.

The other day as I reached into my wallet for my license, this other self peered through the plastic at me. My boyfriend caught a glimpse of it and asked, “Why do you still carry that thing around?”

Because it’s me. Or it was me. Or it’s all somehow still inside me, swimming around in the fleshy, messy pool of living and forgetting. And I guess I’d rather not partake in the forgetting.


(This post was inspired by an assignment where we were told to bring in one object about which we have more than one feeling preferably (complicated, or conflicted); something that we have not been able to part with. Guess what I brought in?)

On Time Management

People often ask me how I get so much done. How do I possibly go to school and work as an editor and do freelance writing gigs and volunteer and read for fun and exercise and do those frazzling adult errands that must get done and socialize with friends? I’ve even been asked how much sleep I get each night, and when I answer 8 hours, people always look shocked.

I’ve always been a fan of hustling (not the illegal variety – I’m talking about working hard). Many of my artist mentors are also wizards at the art of the hustle, and I find myself looking at them the same way that others look at me. I think, “How in the world does [insert my dream writer or professor] have kids and a good marriage and a full-time job and write and eat and stay fit and thrive as a social being and…?”

I’ve thought and thought about it, and the answer always seems very counterintuitive. It seems that to get “more done,” one needs to be “more busy.” Think about it. The most wasted of days are the ones where  you have long languorous periods of time in a day with “nothing” to do and suddenly the moon is up and the time is 9 pm and you think, “Wow, where did the day go?”

An important note: I am a person who feels satisfied by crossing off items on my to-do list. That mark of achievement gives me great pleasure. It is important to know what it is that gives you pleasure. What are your goals for the long term and how are you going to get there?

Time management really comes down to knowing yourself: knowing when you feel most energetic, knowing what makes you feel fulfilled, what you find rewarding, and when to say yes or no to something else. It’s about setting aside time for the things that are important to you, and sometimes may involve making sacrifices – choosing one thing you love to do over another at any given moment. It’s about creating a ritual for yourself so you can get into your “zone” faster. Time management is just like a sport or a musical instrument. You have to work that muscle memory, so that you can snap your fingers and get into your “working flow.” It’s the closest thing we can do to stopping time, freezing the world around us.

Paradoxically, learning how to manage your time takes time! It’s a practice. You have to want to do it. You have to be dedicated to learning how your individual body needs to manage time. Don’t look at your neighbor. This is a very internal practice.

I’ve created a few exercises to help people reach their full time management potential:

  • Make a list of a perfect day from sun-up to sun-down. Once you have done that, really analyze it. Do you have “tasks” on your list? Do you have social engagements? Exercise? Do you make time to read? Or sleep?
  • How do you stay organized? How do you keep track of what you do or if people are counting on you to do something? What materials do you use? On a scale of yes, this works for me – I could try something better – or no, this doesn’t work at all, how is your method working for you?
  • What kind of environment do you need to be in to get work done? When are you most productive? Describe the setting (room temperature, what you are wearing, desk/bed/couch, noise level, lighting, alone or with others, time of day, what’s the view)?
  • What do you do before and after you are most productive? These will be non-“work” related activities. Do you eat? Exercise? Talk on the phone? Listen to music? Nap? (Remember, this may not be every time you work, but can also be your ideal activities).
  • What makes you happy? That seems like a silly question. But really, list specific things/actions that you do that make you happy. For example, in my note above, I feel happy when I can go to sleep knowing I have accomplished the PRIORITY items on my to-do list. I also feel happy when I have started the day with yoga (which is why I do it everyday first thing when I wake up) and when I have sufficiently exercised. I feel happy when I have read even a chapter or two of a book (not assigned reading – just pure fun reading).

Have fun with answering these questions, and please do let me know how it goes! I’m curious to see if this helps structure or organize anyone’s daily routine. Once you have your answers, the next step is to begin adding them slowly into your life. If you need to buy a planner, do that and use it. If you need to set a timer every day for a 20 minute nap at 4 pm, do that and don’t press snooze. Ask friends and family if they will help keep you accountable for your actions. Ask them if you can check in with them daily or weekly to let them know you’ve completed a certain task.

I recently read a Paris Review interview with Toni Morrison and was surprised to see that she said something very similar to my list of questions. She wrote: “I tell my students one of the most important things they need to know is when they are their best, creatively. They need to ask themselves, What does the ideal room look like? Is there music? Is there silence? Is there chaos outside or is there serenity outside? What do I need in order to release my imagination?”

If Toni says it, it really must be true. Now go boil some tea and have a grand conversation with your most productive self. Interrogate it. Interview it. Squeeze all the citric vitamins that you can from it. And then go off and do great things!

Dispatch from the Unknown

At this point in 2018, without the structure of having class to attend every day, I’m wandering around my head as if I were in a Narnian wardrobe, which is to say in a bamboozled state of wonder and not particularly sure what to do with myself. I’ve been steadily creating writing projects, reading so many books, and watching and rewatching all the seasons of the British Bake Off. And yet, my studentia soul aches to get back into a familiar rhythm. It doesn’t help that the world outside my windows is a snow-icing landscape of white with creeping mists, hazy mountain silhouettes, and gnarly-fingered trees. So there’s that Vermont in Winter otherworldliness factor, too.

Luckily, the wait is short, because this coming Monday, I will dive right back in to my studies— this time with some new and old faces at the front of the classroom. My schedule for this semester is:

  • Modules with Julianna Baggott (Screenplay), Matthew Dickman (Poetry), Jericho Parms (Creative Nonfiction), Trinie Dalton (Fiction), and Sean Prentiss.(Thesis Development)
  • Workshop with Robin MacArthur
  • Publishing with Miciah Gault
  • Professional Development (with various Module instructors)
  • Internship (TBD)

Here’s a pic of the latest book haul (all school books):

More information on classes are sure to follow soon!

Today was a mix of the mundane and the historically significant. In between cleaning my studio and a bit of list-making/email housekeeping, I walked in the local Montpelier Women’s March anniversary event. Donning a hot pink scarf and a “I have more than enough courage” button, I joined the hundreds of others who gathered at the base of the Vermont State House. Even a T-Rex traveled through time and overcame extinction to make an appearance. What I find thrilling about this particular Vermont event is that it was a youth-led, youth-organized march and speak-out for youth of all ages and their allies. I think it is an incredible thing to give young people the stage and respect to be heard by their townspeople, many who are decades older than themselves. When we show up to events like these, we’re not just saying “Impeach Trump” and “We want change,” it’s showing (and therefore speaking volumes) that we believe that what children have to say and feel about this country’s future matters. They are our future. We are all in this together, literally, sharing this world and all of Earth’s resources. I know from my experiences as a preschool teacher that children produce some of the most intelligent and rawest ideas and feelings. Because they don’t always have the speech capacity to vocalize these thoughts efficiently, children are written off as dumb or naive. But I think this is far from the truth. Children hold some of the most fundamental qualities of life to be self-evident. For example, in the photo below, a child in the right bottom corner holds a sign that says: “Be nice and share.” How many adults do you know who struggle with this advice every day? Just some food for thought.

Portrait of Montpelier’s Women’s March with T-Rex


And now to something completely different…

I’ve been listening to a TON of Moby lately (my favorite tracks are the gospelly ones: “Honey“, “Natural Blues“, and “In This World“). Mostly, because I realized that I need very specific music to settle my brain down and tell itself that it’s time to write. Certain music, like Emancipator or Moby, creates a sort of cave for my brain to curl up inside and produce these sprigs of ideas which sprout outward from me like degravitized roots. Caves are the perfect environment because it’s dark in there and echoey and my brain can practice sounds, while also not feeling super calm. There’s always a slight dripping sense of unease in caves, which is what I like in a good story. Also, good writing music: the soundtrack to American Beauty. The last time I saw that movie, I think I almost bit through the pillow I was clutching during the last scene. The soundtrack though is worldly, disturbing and comforting all at once — again, quintessentially cavernous.

So right now, I’m standing in this snowy cave of Vermont looking at 2018 spread out in front of me, all full of possibility and exploration and nail-biting political nervousness, and I’m not sure where the year is going to take me, what it’s going to teach me, and who I’m going to become. But I have my boots, and I trust them to take me one step further and then another.  I’ll make sure to send dispatches back from the unknown.


Portrait of an Artist as a Grateful Grad Student

First of all, it is incredible (and slightly mystifying) that I have completed my first semester of graduate school.

I have so much to be thankful for, but here are a few highlights of the semester:

  • Working with Julianna Baggott, Mary Ruefle, Trinie Dalton, Ruben Quesada, Jessica Hendry Nelson, Sean Prentiss, Porochista Khakpour, and Miciah Gault. It still sometimes floors me to read off that list of people who have taken such care of my future as a successful writer. Each professor possesses unique passions in different genres and fields, of course, but they all are some of the most enthusiastic academic teachers I have ever met. They want to see me and all of us in the program succeed. They believe in my work! They believe in me! They have so much love for language and storytelling, and I feel superbly lucky that they want to pass as much knowledge as they can to me. It makes me realize how teaching and learning is such a wonderful gift. Almost as wonderful as sharing a story with one another.
  • The friends I have made in such a short while have been an invaluable part to my success here at school. People always think that writers are isolated, unsocial beings, but if anything, we need people more. People are our readers, our characters, our customers, our audience, our gods. We bow down to serve people, to entertain them, and to provide opportunities for thoughtfulness. I can always count on my friends to make my belly hurt from laughing. I trust them with my undeveloped stories, my fears, my doubts, my longings. Most of all, they remind me to keep a childlike wonder about the world.
  • Workshop…workshop…workshop. Without these hours of serious dedication and attention from my professors and cohort, my stories would be stuck in mud, bathing in illogical stews, or would still be a locked trapdoor whose key floats within the belly of a dragon and I have to kill the dragon to find the key. (This analogy may still apply, because all stories have a trapdoor and its the author’s job to find that key and unlock it, because behind that door is another door, and so on.)
  • I have loved working on the Hunger Mountain literary journal as the managing editor, and am so glad that there is still half a year left in my position. P.S. Must find a way to make this a full-time career! I’m realizing that one of my passions in the literary world is championing other writers’ work and working with them to find success.
  • My internship at the letterpress May Day Studio has come to an end, but I hope to put my newfound skills to good use some day in the future. Here is an interview I did with Kelly McMahon, the owner of the studio. For now, I have a limited supply of cards I made for my final project. Would anyone be interested in purchasing these one-of-a-kind goodies? If so, write to me at cameroncfinch@gmail.com and we can chat about placing an order!

The poem is “Invitation”: my favorite piece in Shel Silverstein’s Where the Sidewalk Ends. The greeting cards are original “untranslatable word” prints and are influenced by Ella Frances Sanders’ book, Lost in Translation.


Now is the time to come up with a plan for the month-long break. I don’t really consider it a break – as I am a person who feels most fulfilled when constantly hustling. The question isn’t how to “relax”—for me, this break is all about finding ways to refill thy brain with creative input so I can produce fresh and quintessentially weird content in the next semester.

It was Julia Cameron who talks about “filling your creative well” on a regular basis; that you need to replenish your creativity by absorbing other creative things or going out in nature. She calls these moments of artistic absorption:  “Artist Dates.”

While I am an avid reader and often make more time to read than I do to write (is this something I should feel guilty about?), I do sometimes forget that I need to recharge my brain batteries and consume art rather than constantly work on my own. I’ve been so busy with getting together my final portfolio (which included an extended second draft of my novella—extended, because I think it wants to be a novel…maybe) over the last week or so, but perhaps haven’t been properly recharging.

This list here, inspired by Cameron’s Artist Dates, is one I shall bookmark whenever I need some guidance on where to fill my well.

I did recently watch Tarsem’s The Fall, which is my all-time favorite movie, for the sixth or seventh time. But this time, I watched it with the director’s commentary. I had always been a bit daunted to watch a movie with two hours of straight commentary as I thought it would draw away from the film itself. But when you’ve seen a film as much as I have seen The Fall—where you know all the scene changes and the exact timing of lines and you can anticipate where the camera will lead you next—it was so easy to release myself from the world of the film and float slightly above it, godlike, with the director. I think even on my hundredth viewing, I will still find something new. I will still be in utter awe of its splendor and brilliance. Oh my, has this film changed me, my brain chemistry, my heart, in a way that I wish I could put into words and send in a letter to the director. Maybe someday I will.

Note: Give all the love and tell people when you see them have that thing that grabs you and keeps you and excites you and leaves you awestruck and slightly breathless. It makes all the difference in this world to let them know. Don’t wait. Tell them how they’ve moved you. 

As much as my nerd heart wants to stay in school through this month, I’m excited to have time to revise stories, to binge on good books and movies and tea, to see my cat and the people back home that I love, and to continue to fill this cavernous, bottomless well of mine. I want to consume all the art.