Sweet Connections: Jamie Cattanach

Each week we will be connecting with our contributors showing where they have been, where they are now, and what’s up for the future. 

Name: Jamie Cattanach
Title of Piece published in Sweet: Penelope 
Issue:  8.2

Jamie-8574

Find her:
Twitter 
Instagram 
Facebook 

Jamie resides among the wonderful landscape of Santa Fe, New Mexico. You can find out more about her at www.jamiecattanach.com.

What are some major accomplishments you have had since your Sweet publication?

Hmmm. I’ve published creative work at Nashville Review, DMQ Review, and Hinchas de Poesia; I became a full-time freelance writer and have been featured in popular outlets like SELF, The Establishment, HuffPost, Fodor’s, Yahoo, and others. I picked up and moved across the country to a city where I knew no one and have carved out a real home here. I have continued, though slowly and without much rigor or consistency, to write poetry, which is always a triumph.

Can you tell us about a current/ongoing project that you’re excited about?

The start of 2018 marks the end of my second full year of supporting myself on freelance writing income alone. I’m excited to continue to find ways to grow my business and use my craft to bring valuable information and stories to readers!

Who is your favorite author? 

This question is SO HARD and my answer changes all the time. Can I talk about some of the best books I read in 2018 instead? Faves included:
The Recovering by Leslie Jamison
Gold Fame Citrus by Claire Vaye Watkins
Jenny George’s gorgeous poetry debut, The Dream of Reason
Florida by Lauren Groff
My Absolute Darling by Gabriel Tallent

What is your favorite poem/essay/book? 

Please see above. Though, I will admit that my go-to feel-good read is the novella-length piece on the dubiously enjoyable experience of cruise ships, by David Foster Wallace.

What inspires you to write? 

Being in the world. How small and insignificant our lives are, and yet –how entirely they do matter, how they’re all we have. The honest-to-goodness magic of taking what’s in my brain and putting it into another’s, and vice versa. Bodies. Outer space. Intense physical pleasure.

What is your favorite sweet? 

I actually don’t eat refined sugar as a rule! But I adore Lindt’s 90% dark chocolate bar, even better when topped with a little bit of natural almond butter and sea salt.

Thank you, Jamie, for taking the time to reconnect with us.  We look forward to seeing more of your work in the future!

Sweet Connections: Courtney Kersten

Each week we will be connecting with our contributors showing where they have been, where they are now, and what’s up for the future.

Name: Courtney Kersten
Title of Piece published in Sweet: 3 Short-Shorts
Issue: 7.1

Courtney Kersten

 

Find her:

Courtney resides in Santa Cruz, California, where she is going toward a PhD in Literature at the University of California. You can find out more about her at www.courtneykersten.com.

 

 

 

What are some major accomplishments you have had since your Sweet publication?

I’ve finally read all the books on my shelf that I haven’t gotten a chance to read (though this accomplishment is slowly slipping away as I keep visiting used-book stores and accumulating more to-be-read books). Though I am a native Wisconsinite, I finally went snowshoeing this past winter which felt monumental to me (and so fun!). I’ve also started volunteering with an animal shelter and a native animal rescue center in California, and am taking self-defense classes. I’ve also had the chance to read so many amazing authors, sometimes get published alongside them, and deepen in my practice (and patience) as a writer. In other news, I completed my MFA in Creative Writing at the University of Idaho, started my PhD in Literature at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and then published my memoir, Daughter in Retrograde (University of Wisconsin Press 2018).

Can you tell us about a current/ongoing project that you’re excited about?

These days my writing hours are full of thinking about spirituality, narratives we tell about women and madness, grief, mothers and daughters, and the superstar astrologer of the 1960s & 70s Linda Goodman. All this is to say that my current writing project is a hybrid biography of Goodman combined with critical musings about women, mother/daughter relationships, and grief, among other topics, and my personal journey to find more about Goodman. She is a fascinating and complex figure: simultaneously a best-selling author and a grief-stricken mother who searched for her daughter for years. I’m planning on traveling to Cripple Creek, Colorado, and the Hollywood Cross this summer to conduct site visits and, hopefully, find out more about the her fascinating life.

Who is your favorite author?

So tough to choose! So, I’ll tell you a few. Right now, I’m on a bell hooks kick and have been returning to a few of my favorites about pedagogy (Teaching to Transgress, Teaching Community, among others) and exploring her work about love and women (All About Love, Communion: The Search for Female Love). She’s brilliant. I walk away from each chapter shaken, inspired, and yearning to learn more. She also got her doctorate at UC-Santa Cruz, so I especially feel connected to her work in this way. I’ve also love Jo Ann Beard’s work. She, too, is from the Midwest and I resonate with her work in this way—her descriptions of the land and people are spot-on. Not only do I love her work with scene and place, but her subtle humor and gritty descriptions of love and loss echo my own experiences. Reading her is like talking to an old friend.

What is your favorite poem/essay/book?

It’s always changing. Right now, I am thinking a lot about Margaret Atwood’s poem “The Animals Reject their Names and Return to Their Origins” which challenges our understanding of naming, language, and taxonomy. I am fascinated by animals and am so grateful to be witness to their complex lives and languages. This poem asks us to consider how language itself can be a form of oppression. It encourages me to embrace mystery not only in looking at animals but in life as a whole.

What inspires you to write?

Silence. Long bus rides. Deadlines. Old clips from The Midnight Special. Seeing crows bathe in the rain. Watching the sea lions in the wharf. Hearing stories from strangers. Stories from my friends. Stories from my dad. Filing divorce papers. Heartache. Patience. Rifling through wedding dresses at Goodwill. Finding forgotten grocery store lists on the sidewalk. Looking through the listings for “Haunted Dolls” on Ebay. Reading the “Missed Connections” section on Craigslist. Examining microfilm. Looking inside bathroom cabinets at other people’s dinner parties. Questions. Anger. Mystery. Hope.

What is your favorite sweet?

One of my favorite sweets is made and sold by a lovely place in Menominee, Wisconsin called the Raw Deal. It’s called the “Choco Nilla” raw pie. If you ever find yourself there, this or another one of their fabulous desserts and a cup of coffee—it’s one of my favorite things. Another sweet I love is, I believe, a Scandinavian desert that my grandmother and aunt used to make: a cranberry muffin with butter sauce. It might sound a little strange, but it’s wonderful. You’ll dream about it.

kersten pie

We see that you couldn’t wait, so it must be delicious!!

Thank you, Courtney, for taking the time to reconnect with us. We look forward to seeing more of your work in the future!

 

Sweet Connections: Cathy Barber

Each week we will be connecting with our contributors showing where they have been, where they are now, and what’s up for the future.

Name: Cathy Barber
Title of Piece published in Sweet: The Subject
Issue: 8.2

DSC00428.JPG

 

Find her:
Facebook

Cathy has returned to Ohio after spending twenty years in California. She serves on the board of Literary Cleveland and keeps both local and long-distance poetry critique groups. She does not currently have a website.

 

 

What are some major accomplishments you have had since your Sweet publication?

I have a chapbook of tiny Abecedarian poems, twenty-six words, in alphabetical order available from Dancing Girl Press in Chicago. It’s titled Aardvarks, Bloodhounds, Catfish, Dingoes. It’s a lovely little book, designed by DGP editor Kristy Bowen. Be aware, though, that hers is a one-woman operation and books can take a long time to arrive, so be patient.

Barber Aardvarks

I’ve also had poems published in many journals, including Kestrel, Slant, the Hawaii Review, the Origami Poem Project, and Poetic License’s anthology In Plein Air, poems written at least partially outdoors. My “Three Short Love Poems” was nominated for a Best of the Net award by Atlas and Alice.

Can you tell us about a current/ongoing project that you’re excited about?

I do love form and I have moved on from Abecedarian poems to Golden Shovel poems. This form was invented by Terrance Hayes and there is now an anthology of Golden Shovels based on the poems of Gwendolyn Brooks. I hope to assemble a chapbook of Golden Shovel poems in the first half of the year.

Who is your favorite author?

Oh, that’s impossible! I do love the poetry of the Davids, though; Kirby, Lehman and Trinidad.

What is your favorite poem/essay/book?

It’s hard to beat “Those Winter Sundays” by Robert Hayden.

What inspires you to write?

I love the intersection of memory/imagination/form, that push back in each direction that forces you to create something new.

What is your favorite sweet?

It’s a tie–bread pudding and tiramisu.

Lovely! You don’t often see bread pudding these days. This one looks amazing.

Thank you, Cathy, for taking the time to reconnect with us. We look forward to seeing more of your work in the future!

Sweet Connections: Wendy Rawlings

Each week we will be connecting with our contributors showing where they have been, where they are now, and what’s up for the future.

Name: Wendy Rawlings
Title of Piece published in Sweet: 36A
Issue: 6.1

Wendy Rawlings

Find her:
Twitter
Facebook

Wendy teaches in the English Department at the University of Alabama. You can find out more about her at the University of Alabama, and wendymairawlings.com.

 

What are some major accomplishments you have had since your Sweet publication?

I won a Pushcart Prize in 2016 for a piece that originally appeared in Creative Nonfiction. My collection of bonkers adult bedtime stories, Time for Bed, will be published by Louisiana State University Press next year.

Can you tell us about a current/ongoing project that you’re excited about?

I’m working on a collection of essays (of which “36A” is a part) called What Goes Wrong. The essays are often tragic-comic and focus on difficult public events that affected me as a private citizen, like 9/11 and Princess Diana’s death.

Who is your favorite author?

I love many writers: Alice Munro, Lorrie Moore, George Saunders. But a favorite of mine is the late James Salter, and especially his novel Light Years.

What is your favorite poem/essay/book?

Auden’s “Musee de Beaux Arts” and Dickinson’s “I Taste a Liquor Never Brewed”
My favorite novel is also Madame Bovary.

What inspires you to write?

The terrible, unimaginable, miraculous things that happen in the world every day and keep happening.

What is your favorite sweet?

I do not generally like sweets at all, but I have a soft spot for licorice and pumpkin pie. Plus, also the large cherry Blow Pops.

Thank you, Wendy, for taking the time to reconnect with us. We look forward to seeing more of your work in the future!

Sweet Connections: Cassandra de Alba

Each week we will be connecting with our contributors showing where they have been, where they are now, and what’s up for the future.

Name: Cassandra de Alba
Title of Piece published in Sweet: End Times Fatigue
Issue: 8.1

blood cemetery
Find her:
Twitter
Instagram

Cassandra is a poet who resides in Massachusetts. You can find out more about her at www.cassandradealba.com.

 

What are some major accomplishments you have had since your Sweet publication?

I’ve had two chapbooks come out! A book of poems about deer from Horse Less Press and a story about the moon on Reality Hands.

Can you tell us about a current/ongoing project that you’re excited about?

Aly Pierce and I have been working on a joint chapbook in which all her poems are about sea monsters and all mine are about ghosts. Her work is amazing and I can’t wait for people to read it.

Who is your favorite author?

Woooahh, that’s a big one. Since for me it’s officially Halloween season as I’m writing this, I’m going to say Shirley Jackson.

What is your favorite poem/essay/book?

My favorite Shirley Jackson book is We Have Always Lived In The Castle.

What inspires you to write?

Reading. Looking at art. Looking at the sky. Knowing I need a new poem for the open mic next week. Whenever I see one of those wavy arms inflatables in an unusual place.

What is your favorite sweet?

My favorite sweet is actually pretty tart –apple pie with granny smiths (4 cups) & cranberries (2 cups) & 2/3 cup of sugar & a little cornstarch mixed into 1/4 cup water.

Thank you, Cassandra, for taking the time to reconnect with us. We look forward to seeing more of your work in the future!

Sweet Connections: Delia Rainey

Each week we will be connecting with our contributors showing where they have been, where they are now, and what’s up for the future.

Name: Delia Rainey
Title of Piece published in Sweet: Bird of My Past, This is the Last Poem
Issue: 7.3

Delia Rainey photo

Find her:
Twitter
Instagram

Delia is cozy for Fall in Chicago, IL. She is a 1st year MFA candidate in nonfiction at Columbia College. You can find out more about her on social media.

 

What are some major accomplishments you have had since your Sweet publication?

This past year I had a poem published in DIAGRAM, I released an audio-poetry-ambient-music cassette called ‘The Blue and Red Gummy Worm,’ and Ghost City Press so graciously put out my mini chapbook ‘Private Again’ as part of their 2018 mini chap summer series.

Can you tell us about a current/ongoing project that you’re excited about?

I’m working on longer personal and lyrical essays right now. A mess and mesh including immediate diary writing, Midwest invisibility, and the mundane of the city as a form of escapism.

Who is your favorite author?

I only get to choose one? All summer long, I read Bhanu Kapil, Kate Zambreno, Claudia Rankine, Dodie Bellamy, and Eileen Myles.

What is your favorite poem/essay/book?

‘The Glass Essay’ by Anne Carson

What inspires you to write?

Disposable and fleeting memories, tiny moments. Also, my family.

What is your favorite sweet?

My favorite sweet is ice cream. Specifically the combination of green tea ice cream and mango ice cream. I used to work at this ice cream shop in Columbia, Missouri called Sparky’s. It’s a really special place, if you’re ever in the center of the country. Drink a Fresca on the side for good measure.

Sparkys

Thank you, Delia, for taking the time to reconnect with us. We look forward to seeing more of your work in the future!

Sweet Connections: Amy Bilodeau

Each week we will be connecting with our contributors showing where they have been, where they are now, and what’s up for the future. 

Name: Amy Bilodeau
Title of Piece published in Sweet: Fruit Fish
Issue:  8.3

Amy Bilodeau.jpg
Find her:

Amy resides in Indianapolis, Indiana, but you can find some of her poems in DMQ Review, RHINO, and Two Hawks Quarterly. 

 

 

What are some major accomplishments you have had since your Sweet publication?

My full-length manuscript was a finalist for the Four Way Books Levis Prize in Poetry. My poem “betty” was a runner-up for the RHINO Editor’s Prize. My work has also been nominated for inclusion in Best Small Fictions.

Can you tell us about a current/ongoing project that you’re excited about? 

I’m working on a new manuscript of poems that seem to be loosely connected by the color blue. Not an original theme, but it feels authentic for me at this moment. I’m excited to see where that goes.

Who is your favorite author?

Joyce, Beckett, Woolf, and Cisneros have all had a big impact on me. What I’m reading right now (and recommend!): Ana Bozicevic, Quenton Baker, and Franny Choi.

What is your favorite poem/essay/book?

Too difficult. My longest-loved poem is probably Poe’s “The Raven.” Still love that one.

What inspires you to write? 

Hmm. Music, humor/absurdity, and my own domestic landscapes and tensions all play a role. And solitude, a chance to process experience.

What is your favorite sweet? 

My daughter makes amazing chocolate truffles.

Thank you, Amy, for taking the time to reconnect with us.  We look forward to seeing more of your work in the future!

2nd Annual Poetry Contest

Sweet Lit’s annual poetry contest opens June 1st!

2019 Poetry Contest

We encourage and welcome submissions from diverse voices and under-represented
populations, including, but not limited to, people of color, members of the LGBTQ+
community, those with disabilities, and the elderly.

CLMP’s community of independent literary publishers believes that ethical
contests serve our shared goal: to connect writers and readers by publishing
exceptional writing. We believe that intent to act ethically, clarity of guidelines, and
transparency of process form the foundation of an ethical contest. To that end, we
agree to:

1) conduct our contests as ethically as possible and to address any unethical
behavior on the part of our readers, judges, or editors;

2) to provide clear and specific contest guidelines—defining conflict of interest for
all parties involved; and

3) to make the mechanics of our selection process available to the public. This
Code recognizes that different contest models produce different results, but that
each model can be run ethically. We have adopted this Code to reinforce our
integrity and dedication as a publishing community and to ensure that our contests
contribute to a vibrant literary heritage.

Interview with Marin Sardy

Marin1graycrop

Marin Sardy’s essay, “There Is the Urge to Find Meaning,” was published in Sweet’s 8.3 issue, and since then has developed into a riveting new memoir titled The Edge of Everyday: Sketches of Schizophrenia. Sardy’s new memoir confronts her lifelong connection with mental illness, the effect mental illness had on her family, and how she learned to understand these relationships. In this interview, Marin discusses these themes along with the writing process before and after grief, femininity, and mental health today.

When writing this memoir, and dealing with strong themes such as mental health, personal identity, and family dynamics, what was the writing process like? How did you decide which memories to write about and which to leave out?

For one thing, in order to frame and balance the intense personal stories I tell in the book, a lot of my process involved research on schizophrenia—science, medicine, history, philosophy—which was incredibly helpful in anchoring my experiences, since it’s such a difficult and misunderstood topic. Previously, most of my knowledge of schizophrenia came from direct observation and interaction with my mother and brother, so the research gave me a framework in which to think about how the illness has affected us all. And I felt it was important to speak responsibly about schizophrenia—to not accidentally promote stereotypes or misinformation, for instance. And I needed to think deeply about the illness in order to understand how to do that.

Deciding which memories to include was in some ways very intuitive for me, but it also had to do with finding the right pairings between personal material and other topics. For one, I went with what felt necessary in the moment. But also, I developed a process in which I would start with usually two topics, one personal and one external—my brother’s death and deep sea ecology, for instance, in “Nix.” Then the pairing became an organizing principle, guiding me in determining what was relevant. I just followed my own musings to make these choices. After my brother died, I kept having visions of the bottom of the ocean—it felt urgent and seemed to symbolize something to me about his life and death. I suppose that’s how my mind works. I often experience ideas as kind of dream-like images before I actually find the words for them. So I started studying the ocean floor, watching nature videos and reading science articles and taking notes. Eventually one day I understood that this could help me talk about how I coped with my brother’s suicide.

I’ve tried a number of times to write about aspects of my life that didn’t feel pressing at the moment of writing, but I always find they end up feeling flat. I once met a poet, an older woman (whose name I’m sorry to say I no longer remember; it was a long time ago) who said, “Never try to write about something that you’ve already worked through and sorted out in your mind. It will be dead on the page. It has to be alive inside you at the time of writing.” So I’ve actively resisted the kind of narrative shaping that requires getting into things that haven’t grown from what was alive inside me at the moment of writing (aside from what’s necessary to keep readers from getting totally lost, of course).

And I think that has allowed for delving deeper into the moments that still do resonate with me deeply. I’d rather follow the ripple effects of events in my life, doggedly, to see where they lead. When I write I’m always pursuing a question. For much of my book, it was: Why did my brother die? And to answer that in any way that felt remotely adequate, I needed to go all the way back to my great-grandmother and the multigenerational lineage of mental illness in my family. This is the part of the process that stimulates me intellectually the most—finding the connections between my life and other topics that interest me and weaving them together in ways that are revealing and surprising. And I find that this feels truer to the way my life has unfolded: Schizophrenia has always been this sad thing happening, but often it’s been in the background while I focus on other things. I wanted my book to capture that multifaceted quality and not focus too tightly on a single topic.

One aspect of mental health that you discuss in the book is mental health resources- in Vagabond you discuss the disappointment you felt because of the mental health system and then in That Fragile Space you write about two public programs developed to help the mentally ill, which were not implemented yet while Tom was alive. Do you think the country is moving in the right direction when it comes to mental health? What problems do you think still need to be addressed?

I do think this country is moving in the right direction, but there remain enormous barriers that prevent people with schizophrenia from receiving adequate treatment and care. The place where I see the most positive change is in the cultural realm. There’s an exciting pushback happening against stigmatization of mental illness, which has gained traction in the last decade or so. I see organizations popping up on college campuses, educating students about mental health and suicide prevention and encouraging people to not be ashamed to have a mental health diagnosis. This is wonderful—I think about what might have been different if my brother could have felt, when he was in college and his symptoms were just beginning to emerge, that he could talk freely and openly about what he was going through. But I’ve also noticed that this increased awareness rarely extends to schizophrenia. One organization, for instance, didn’t have the words “psychosis” or “schizophrenia” anywhere on their website, although nearly a dozen other conditions and symptoms were discussed in very empowering ways. I was like, Oh I guess it’s still not okay to say schizophrenia out loud. So I’d really like to get to where we can stop sweeping it under the rug like that.

That said, the inadequacies and failings of the mental health care system, particularly as relates to people with not only schizophrenia but any severe and persistent mental illness, are still dramatic—and frankly horrifying. Many people, like my brother, end up in solitary confinement in correctional facilities, where they only deteriorate further. And this occurs in no small part because there are simply not enough psychiatric beds, not enough funds, not enough housing facilities, etc. to allow people with schizophrenia to get enough consistent care to actually make a difference in the long-term course of their lives. Our insurance system is largely to blame for this, with hospitals unable to allow patients to stay long enough to truly get stabilized because insurance companies won’t cover it. The current insurance system also undervalues non-medication treatments, which can be life-changing for people with schizophrenia. The lack of political will to provide public funding is also a big part of it, especially for the uninsured. And there’s no excuse for that. The fact that this kind of help is often made unavailable for financial reasons goes far beyond stigmatization; it’s flat-out discrimination.

And lastly, I’d like to see a shift toward thinking about mental illness as a family issue. Our culture has long framed schizophrenia in individual terms, the classic image being a patient on a psych ward, known only to the doctors, receiving no visitors, having no connections to the outside world. But this is simply not the reality anymore—if it ever was. People with schizophrenia are loved. They have people who care about them and want to help them, and their illness harms lives beyond their own. Mental health providers do understand that family support is integral to recovery for people with schizophrenia, but resources to educate and empower family members to care for them, and to care for themselves in the face of the enormous stresses involved, are still paltry.

 

Marin Book Photo

You talk about your personal struggle with femininity and the female body in the essay Break My Body. How has your relationship with your body and female identity changed since your adolescence? Did writing this memoir change that relationship, or teach you anything about your identity as a woman?

I think my relationship to my femaleness can be described as a long, slow evolution away from understanding myself in terms of anyone else’s notions of what it means to be female. On some level I feel that, at my core, my relationship to my female identity is exactly the same as it was in adolescence. I see myself just as myself, first and foremost, and always have. But back then I didn’t know what to do with that. I was never very invested in being what others wanted, but for a long time, I didn’t know I had a choice. I didn’t know I could choose not to perform femininity as I was taught it should be performed—and I wasn’t taught a very hardcore version of femininity, but it was something imposed on me externally nonetheless. I wrote Break My Body in part as a way of rebelling against the idea that I need to have any sort of relationship at all with “femininity.” I don’t even understand what the word means. All it is to me is other people talking. The term is so loaded with the weight of oppression, so built around the male gaze, I can’t even picture what it can or should mean in a context that does not place men at its center. It feels too external to the realities of being female. Which is why I prefer to say “femaleness,” which to me gets at the inner experience of being female. And I have always felt myself to be definitely female, but not really in any way that I can easily point to in anyone else.

The writing of BMB occurred when I was finally becoming able to articulate these feelings, and it was a great relief and a great discovery to get it down on the page. It was first published as an essay, in Guernica, and when it went live I was honestly worried that other women wouldn’t relate to it. I just thought, maybe other women are so much more comfortable in their femaleness than I am. Maybe they’re going to be mad at me for talking about my ambivalence. But the response was the opposite—women posting on social media saying they felt it deeply, they saw themselves in the essay, etc. So that was incredibly validating and rewarding. I think we as a society are still figuring out that women can be as many different things, in as many different ways, as men can. I feel like I’ve been understanding that more deeply in tandem with a lot of other women.

You express throughout the book how your family members viewed and were affected by mental illness (either directly or indirectly) specifically in the chapter titled Conversations with Family. How has mental illness impacted your family’s relationship specifically between you and your father? Through your losses do you think your family is closer, or has it caused tension?

My younger sister, my brother, and I were definitely brought closer together by our mother’s schizophrenia. Living with her, we had to look out for each other and to collectively look out for her as well. And this created between us a loyalty and trust that felt unshakeable, which is part of why it was so devastating for me when Tom became ill.

But overall, in my family, schizophrenia has caused far more tension and distancing than closeness. And I think this is, unfortunately, typical. Witnessing a loved one descend into psychosis is an extremely traumatic experience, and with schizophrenia, it’s rarely an experience that just passes. It stays with you, it keeps happening, a lifelong thing. And people often just do not know how to cope with this and so yes, it can drive them apart. The denial that occurs on every level is part of this, and one thing I wanted to make clear in Conversations was how pervasive denial can be. And also, how mundane it is—even when you accept that a loved one has schizophrenia, there are so many ways to be in denial about their circumstances or about the implications. And of course, when you don’t know what to do and can’t figure out any way to make a difference, denial can protect you from your own suffering. So everyone ends up with their own private take on what’s happening, and everyone also has different ideas about how to help and what will work. And then there’s just the extraordinary stress and pressure involved in watching someone suffer. And all of that contributes to tensions, which is very true of my father and me. I do suspect he and I would have an easier relationship, in a life without schizophrenia. But the illness has been profoundly shaping both of our lives for 35 years, ever since my mother became ill, so I don’t know that it’s even possible to guess what kind of relationship we’d have without its influence.

You mention not being able to write for a long time after Tom died. How did you overcome this grief? Was there a spark that allowed you to start writing again? How was the writing process different after experiencing this loss than it was before?

I don’t really know how I started to be able to write again, but it was a slow and sporadic change. At first I just worked in occasional, short bursts. And I didn’t write about mental illness for a few years. During that time, I wrote about Tom’s death but not his life, and I wrote about other things that didn’t at first seem connected to mental illness, but which I later realized were very connected to it. Most of that stuff found its way into the book eventually.

I don’t think I overcame the grief so much as I eventually journeyed all the way through it. And writing the chapters about Tom in the book were part of that journeying. In the final two years of working on the book, I felt completely and deeply haunted by my brother. I had an image of him as a ghost in my house—not my actual house but a house like you might see in a dream, the house of myself, maybe—and I had a sense that I needed to find a way to exorcise his ghost. But I knew I couldn’t do that—couldn’t tell him to go, demand that he go—unless I also offered him something in return. The Vagabond chapters became that offering, because I felt I owed it to him to tell the world what happened to him. And once I had done that, once I had done him justice on the page and made sure everyone could understand exactly how much he didn’t deserve his fate, I felt like I could be okay with letting go. And perhaps more importantly, I could not move on from the loss of him until I could be assured that he wouldn’t be forgotten, and that his suffering wouldn’t be for nothing.

Almost 20% of the country struggles with mental illness to some degree. What did writing this memoir teach you about either your relationship to mental health, or mental health on a broader scale? What advice would you give to families who care for someone fighting a mental illness?

Wow, so much. In the book I talk about my effort to understand what it feels like to have schizophrenia—wanting to connect more deeply to my mom and brother’s experiences of psychosis, delving into how psychosis reshapes experience and alters time. And one thing I learned, maybe the biggest, had to do with my own ideas about schizophrenia’s supposed incomprehensibility. The more I have studied and read and written about it, the more I think that’s just a story people tell. There is a tendency to set schizophrenia apart, to treat it as some kind of other order of phenomenon. It is a mythical illness. And while it is clearly unique in many ways, I think we’ve largely let its mythos overtake its reality. It’s not even a rare condition. So what I’m coming away with lately is that I think it’s time to start letting schizophrenia, and psychosis, be ordinary. Not to diminish its intensity and difficulty, but to think of it along the same lines as, say, cancer or diabetes. They’re just things that happen to people sometimes, just part of being human.

For families with loved ones struggling with any kind of mental illness, I would recommend putting in the necessary work to understand as much as they possibly can about it, as well as putting in the work to really listen to their loved ones. People start at such a deficit of not only basic knowledge but of how to conceptualize the mind and brain, and getting a handle on that is important. Beyond that, what families can and should do varies dramatically depending on the illness. Often, finding healthy ways to keep struggling loved ones connected to the support of friends and family is also key. It can be difficult to maintain healthy boundaries when mental illness is involved. There are no easy answers. But I think education and connection can go a long way toward finding what works best for each situation.

Your time as a gymnast and your love for the sport play a large role in your memoir, so hypothetically if you could put together your five woman dream team for gymnastics (dead or alive, competing or retired) who would be on your team?

I love this. As anyone who reads the chapter “A World of Absolute Order” will know, I can’t simply go with who I think would get the highest scores, because that would be boring. But even the brightest stars of the ’70s and ’80s (like Olga Korbut and Nadia Comenici) can’t hold a candle to what’s being done in the 21st century, so I won’t include them. I’ll pick gymnasts who could handle great difficulty and who did so with beauty and flair—who in some way have made the sport their own.

For vaulting prowess, I’m going with Yelena Produnova (’00 Olympics), inventor and best-ever practitioner of the infamous “vault of death”—the dangerous and nearly impossible Produnova. Even twenty years later, few have ever landed it in competition. For bars expertise, I’ll choose the Chinese miracle He Kexin (’08 and ’12). Her routines were breathtakingly fluid and always surprising. For beam, it’s got to be Nastia Liukin (’08), the American daughter of two former Soviet champions. She was stunning—elegant, impeccable, and completely original. For floor, as much as I would love to choose Svetlana Boginskaya (’88, ’92, and ’96), the Goddess herself, her routines were just too easy compared to what’s being done now. So I’ll give this one to Aly Raisman (’12 and ’16), whose tumbling was top-level but who also performed with personality, grace, and a good dose of flash. And as team captain, I appoint Oksana Chusovitina, for sheer longevity. Once a Soviet great, she has competed in seven Olympics (’92, ’96, ’00, ’04, ’08, ’12, and ’16), most recently for her home country of Uzbekistan, at the age of 43, against gymnasts younger than her son.

Sweet Connections: David Macey

Each week we will be connecting with our contributors showing where they have been, where they are now, and what’s up for the future. 

Name: David Macey
Title of Piece published in Sweet: Drinking the OED
Issue:  7.2

Macey - Sweet

Find him:
Twitter  

David resides in Chicago, which he highly recommends.  Our founding editor, Ira Sukrungruang would probably concur. We asked if he had a website, but he responded with, “No. The internet is a fad, I’m pretty sure.” Chicago seems to breed humor, too. We like it.

 

 

What are some major accomplishments you have had since your Sweet publication?

Well, I finished my PhD program by writing a dissertation on the history of fake news (and its thematic place in literature) in early modern England. [Dusts off hands in self-satisfied fashion.]   I also co-authored two children with my wife—that was good, too. In addition to poetry, essays, and the odd Latin translation, I’ve started to publish fiction. You can read one of my short shorts, “The Far-Off Thunderheads,” at AGNI Online here.

Can you tell us about a current/ongoing project that you’re excited about?

I’m working on a couple of weird short stories that I’m still jazzed about. I recently published some linked poems about my daughter’s ongoing struggle with learning to speak—you can read them in a lovely issue of Ecotone and also for free at Project MUSE. It’s a poetry sequence I’m starting to expand into a book-length work, or so I think, which is both exhilarating and scary.

Who is your favorite author? 

For the last few years I’ve been reading a lot of Steven Millhauser, so he’s certainly a favorite. I think Jorge Luis Borges is up there for me too. I read a lot of Shakespeare for my job, and you know what?—that guy’s got the goods.

What is your favorite poem/essay/book?

Favorites are for dullards and zealots (jk, jk), but I will say that Wallace Stevens’ poem “Of Mere Being” is a stunner. The short story I read most recently that walloped me was Andrea Lee’s “La Ragazza.”

What inspires you to write? 

Fame and fortune? And I guess less glibly: I enjoy the high of beginning something and I enjoy the satisfaction of something being completed. All that hard writing work in the middle is dreadful though.

What is your favorite sweet? 

At the moment, I’d like a slice of tres leches cake—a dessert which, fortunately for my figure, I have no idea how to make myself. (I do a pretty mean key lime pie, however.)

tresleches2

(credit: Ben Fink/Getty Images)

There are no doubt a lot of panaderias slinging tres leches in Chicago, but my favorite thus far is the housemade tres leches at an Andersonville taco joint called Diamante Azul. Half the time they’re out of that cake, which makes it all the sweeter.

Diamante Azul

While it didn’t make the top list from CBS Chicago, we can believe it’s pretty good.

Thank you, David, for taking the time to reconnect with us.  We look forward to seeing more of your work in the future!