melding art & literature between the digital & material worlds

Ask the Void: 001

I’m excited to share with you the first installment of Ask The Void! This column is a platform to get a second opinion on the things that keep you up at night. I’m not by any consideration a therapist, or life coach, or spiritual leader. I am however fundamentally invested in meaningful encouragement & believe in parallel timelines.


I hope this first crop of questions give you a taste of the insights entering the void & the advice that bellows out! Without further ado let’s jump right in!

Last year, I made up my mind to, rather than write a full prose memoir about my life, I want to write my memoir in various personal essays. Last year, I wrote an essay about my inability to fall in love. It got published. I also just finished an essay about my ugly toe-nails and how they sort of diminish my self-esteem, especially a couple of years back. Also, another essay in the offing about how, from the age of 15, I always think I'll die at the age of 35. I'm 25 right now. I just want to know if I'm doing something right. I want to work on these personal essays, with each one taking on different parts of my life and my views on things. But I need a sort of validation that I am unto something, at least, for my own gratification, even if it doesn't get published.I hope to be a foremost writer of personal essays and realities.

Secondly, there are times when I want to write things, not personal essays now, but general writings, and I can't seem to place my hands on something to write about. Is this natural? Or is something wrong with me? -- Lagos_Tout

Beloved Lagos_Tout,

Let’s begin with these considerations on mortality. I hear this in every molecule of my marrow. Without knowing your particular precarities in this life, living with an endpoint can both hold close & smother the ways we are able to see ourselves. I didn’t imagine living past 22 & for the first few years after, everything felt borrowed & not mine. I suggest holding the ultimate-ness of death as final as it seems & remain grateful for every present before then. I say this especially if you are considering memoir.

Whatever you feel of death, the memoir is fundamentally about life. If this is the way you want to enter language & your personal craft, I urge you to fine tune how you hear life (both yours & the greater conceit).

Now to your publishing/notoriety goals: so what? Outside of feeling incongruent (even if it doesn’t get published … foremost writer), these are not specific or personally controllable aspects of your writing. Why are you writing memoir? Why this form? Wanting to be the “foremost” anything sets you up for failure because it centers your own tastes as the world’s tastes. Or worse, you allow the world to control your taste.

Your second point signals to me there is so much more reading & writing you need to do for yourself! Which is honestly the best place to be as a writer. What is compelling you to write? Write about that. What are you being drawn to? What voices? There is nothing ever wrong with a writer wanting to write, genre is for the spectator only.

I've been having a lot of trouble lately with feeling like my "career" feels like it's taking too long to get to the next stage. I'm currently trying to sell my first books (plural) and I feel kind of stuck in this place where I'm not able to move forward until something happens with these projects. This is, I know, absolutely normal (things take time, and there aren't terribly many opportunities out there, especially I think for queer/non-binary people) but as someone who has a lot of ideas and a lot of projects I want to put into the world (I know at least 4 or 5 more books I want to do next), I am getting so so tired of waiting around. Any advice? -- MxNeedsApproval

To MxNeedApproval

Before considering how your career is, how do you feel about your books? How do you feel about all this labor you have already generously formed for yourself? The publishing world is arbitrary & mercurial but is always going to have your work. If you have these books why not just write them, their materiality is more urgent than the publishing world keeping up. You manifesting your work needs to detach from external acknowledgment in some respects because it sounds like you have so much in you. Waiting on publishing is the quickest way to stop up your writing indefinitely because any reprieve from waiting creates a dependency on the publishing cycle.  

With regards to opportunities, the assumption there aren’t many opportunities for queer/non-binary people tells me you aren’t reading queer & non-binary people. If you begin with where they are being published. See what books they blurb. There is a large & surprisingly monied ecosystem for queer literature. While waiting for your books to get picked up do a deep dive into the literary landscape & see other entrances for your work. Consider collaboration. What could a visual artist bring your work? There is a wealth happening for queer & non-binary writers & engaging with those communities (through workshops, retreats & reading) are excellent means to get your work to the people!

I think writers are being dishonest with me when they say their institutional supports and social media presences, which are usually made possible by their pre-existing social powers, have little to do with their abilities to get what they want or find genuinely supportive communities. I'm getting ready to give myself a chance, but I don't know if my lack of visibility and social 'value' will distort my talents and abilities in people's eyes, keeping them from openly, fully recognizing what I do. Do you think these are un)reasonable fears? -- BeReal

Oh BeReal!

Without sounding like a clown, it’s both true & not true. It’s not a matter of being honest or not, it’s a matter of perception (self & objective). There isn’t enough consistency in the contemporary literary world for any-one-poet’s journey to be replicable or even traceable without a variety of factors. The visible landscape is also wildly subjective & deciding what audience you want will always be the most sure-fire way to reach them. That still isn’t to say the most visible poets with “social value” are all trying to attain that visibility.

That value you name you also allocate. So value yourself first. Decide your work is singular & special. Decide there isn’t anyone doing what you are doing. Decide who you are making work for & how to get it to them. If you are measuring your potential appeal among a community you already feel outside of, you will never feel part of them.

I have to trust your awareness of your own visibility but your social value could never be yours to determine. Your talent should matter to you first & last. Assuming your audience can’t openly & fully recognize you will ABSOLUTELY prevent them from ever doing so. Write as if you already have the platform you desire.

As an early-thirties poet with no college education, I find myself both mystified and intrigued by the academic side of the craft. My question is: Is it ever too late to dive into dreams of an MFA? Where does one even begin, and are there any shortcuts for nontraditional students? -- FailureToLaunch

Dear Failure to Launch,

Sounds like MFA considerations isn’t the starting point but your perception of self as a failure. While you have acknowledged some arbitrary milestones of academic achievement that you may have “missed” you have the wherewithal to declare yourself a poet with a craft. That you want more from your own work puts you eons ahead of many writers including those already in MFA programs.

So what is it you want from an MFA? What specifically can that space (& it comes in a variety of options which I’ll get to) offer your work? I ask these questions as someone without one. I ask these questions as a friend & fan of many poets who have traversed & avoided the MFA system.

There are no shortcuts for a craft. An MFA would only be a shortcut to an unforgiving world that decides your degree's worth by the hour. What capacity do you have to focus on your craft? If it’s copious, there are a wealth of workshops, retreats & conferences (online & live) that offer monumental connections & resources to hone your gift in a community.

If the MFA is what you want to specifically develop your work & voice, research MFA programs that don’t require BAs. Consider getting your BA in creative writing locally in the meantime to keep your gift sharp & enter the literary world while honing your craft. The only failure you hold is limiting the way your personal trajectory can look.