English As A Second Language

I ran into someone I know but not well, who was sobbing and couldn’t speak, then ran off. Then into someone who I can’t really place who told me about a scary accident in a foreign country, then sang a line of a song, and also dashed off.

Brazilian students
gasp–“how beautiful!”
their first snowfall

Sometimes a day just comes together metaphorically…

I Won’t Fight Death

I was recently at a hospice memorial service for all those who had died in the last year. Very touching, and once again I was reminded of how much I love my home of northern New Mexico. However, one thing got me thinking. People tend to praise the sick and dying for “never giving up.”
Not me. I think giving up is just fine. In fact, it may be vastly underrated. Anyone who has ever been a caretaker knows that “never giving up” or “fighting” death and disease can be very hard on those who are doing the direct care. Sometimes we long for acceptance, even for the inevitable. It isn’t considered socially alright to say so, so this remains mute.
Why fight death? It seems normal and healthy enough for the living to try and avoid it—wearing a seatbelt, not going into the scary bar, quitting smoking. But to fight it? Cuchulainn the Irish hero got drunk and fought the sea, trying to keep the waves from oncoming with his sword. Who won? You know the answer. He did not.
The writer Peggy Pond Church said that she had never been at war with life and was therefor not at war with death. She was a Quaker, a pacifist. I was very influenced by her thinking, a forerunner to the Death with Dignity movement. Henry David Thoreau’s aunt asked him, when he was dying of TB, if he’d “made peace with his Maker.” “I didn’t know we had quarreled,” retorted the Transcendentalist.
So why wage war on death?
On a lighter note,, here is a list of some things I have given up on:

hoping people will change
hoping I will change
my hair
hoping politics will reflect my values
finishing every book I start
attempting to be all caught up
complete honesty
at least three novels I have written

Here are things I have not given up on but can suffer from:

new kitchen cabinets
the vagaries of relationships
the skunks under my house
the current revision of my current novel
a city permit

And I hope to never give up on:

getting my own way

Even if that way is simply to not wage war.

Tony Hoagland on Parts and Whole in Poetry and my poem “Mahler”

I didn’t know this existed until Eddie Lewis–who worked on it with Mary Fitt–recently told me. It’s poignant in the face of Tony’s recent death, as the poem he discusses is about transience. He also looks at a beautiful poem by Franz Wright–giving me more access to this poet than I usually have.
Please enjoy: https://youtu.be/mtD2q5UL_cw

Interview with Austin Eichelberger

1. How long have you lived in New Mexico? Does it affect you creatively, as a writer, in terms of identity? Or?

2. I like the term “emerging” in that it implies the new, the fresh. But you have also published a lot, could be considered established as a writer and editor. So, what are you emerging into? What are your goals/visions for yourself these days?

3. What is your favorite thing about writing? Least favorite?

1. I’ve been in New Mexico since January 2013, and I moved from the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. I think the move made a huge impact on my writing for many reasons, but I actually started writing about New Mexico before moving out here, and since moving out here I switched my focus from short stories, primarily flash fiction, to writing a novel. This place inspires me in a different way than Virginia, so I have seen my writing change in certain ways I didn’t expect when I moved. I also engage with the outdoors very differently in New Mexico, which is sometimes how I work out story ideas or get myself energized before writing. Aside from writing specifically, Santa Fe especially tends to be more accepting of LGBT people than much of the South, so my overall identity has shifted a bit because I feel more comfortable and open out here. I also write more consistently out here than I did in Virginia, and perhaps that’s part of why.

2. First, thanks so much! I really like to be engaged with the literary community both through my writing and through editing, which I genuinely enjoy. I see myself as emerging because I may have published in a lot of journals, but not many of them are very well-known, and I’ve yet to publish a book. I’ve published far more than a book through literary journals, but it doesn’t carry the same clout. So my goals are to publish a book (then more), and to elevate the level of literary magazine that I send my work to. I’m nervous about making goals like “getting a story into such-and-such magazine” because story taste is so subjective, and I’d rather cast a wide net and see where my work is welcomed than try to force it into any venue or change my approach to storytelling to fit what a specific journal wants. That’s not to say I don’t work with editors—I actually love that work as a writer also—and that I don’t have a list of 10 absolute dream magazines to be published in, but I try to shape my goals around finding the best places for my work and let those dream publications help shape my goals rather than dictate them.

3. My favorite thing about writing is obviously writing something in a way that feels just right, but it’s also the glorious struggle before that and perhaps more so, the idea-world of writing. I love the way I get to play with ideas as a writer, and that in writing I get to combine the world of ideas and the concrete world. My least favorite part is spending hours working very hard on a specific piece and reading it the next day only to feel like very little (or sometimes nothing!) got done. It stresses me to just think about it!

Here is the opening of Eichelberger’s piece in New Mexico’s Emerging Writers
An Anthology Compiled and Edited by Z Publishing House

The Colors When He Thinks of Her

Austin Eichelberger

Jonathan never told anyone, but when his mom fell ill, he started picturing her framed by a colorful mass of the hummingbirds she loved so much, her face bright as the metal hibiscus flowers that lit up the windows of her home, large red and pink blossoms from which the tiny birds could drink. She told Jonathan on the phone from the hospital that she had collapsed in the grocery store while reaching for creamed corn and that her blood work had been inconclusive—she told him this three weeks to the day after his move to France to make use of his international business degree, just hours after he’d secured a job and spent the last euros to his name on a celebratory beer.

Disability in Autumn by Miriam Sagan

The pain meds are wearing off and it’s time to go to bed. Problem is, it’s only 4:30 pm and dinner is half cooked. And it’s a nice dinner, too, fancy rice, warm spinach and my winter kale, shrimp. Rich won’t be home for another hour or so.
I can take different approaches. First off, I’m glad it isn’t 2 pm, like it is some days. I can take a bath in epsom salts, and more or different meds. In fact, that is the most likely scenario. I want to fake it a bit longer.
Here’s the thing—I basically get two units out of three per day. It’s really not that bad. I had a productive writing morning, I had lunch with a friend, and a fun fabric adventure later. New Mexico went mostly blue, and the leaves are still yellow. We’re in that autumn inhalation that pretends there is no winter.
I’m the same.
I know it is kind of high school-y to wonder how others see me. But I just ordered a book on that subject, partially because I feel a disconnect. I think I seem cheerful. However, a friend recently died and I ended up sobbing in my car this morning. Embarrassingly it’s Boy George’s “Karma Chameleon” that set me off because my first, now dead, husband loved it. In fact, he played it over and spring cleaning one March day long ago. That night my godson was born, and I was there to see it.
Marvelously, I’m not deteriorating except for age. What I have or am doesn’t seem to be degenerative (not that anyone really knows what it is). Best guess—post swine flu, lung loss, and surgery. I’ve been noticing recently how my sternum moves out of whack, my ribs float and pop. “Unsurprisingly,” says my trusted PT.
I’m neither a heroic person nor am I blasé. I enjoy complaining, but I don’t mind sucking it up. I don’t compare myself to others or to myself. After all, I’ve been this way for forty-five years.
Being an introvert works to my advantage—I don’t WANT to be sociable all day. And my extrovert bits keep me going—I get curious or interested or motivated and find myself on a plane off to an adventure in Japan or Nebraska.
Compensating all the while.