Month: September 2014

People's Climate March

Today is my birthday and I have plans to be out of town. Thus I feel guilty that I will not be attending the People’s Climate March, so I make up for it by asking all of you, our readers, to attend if you are able. Consider it a birthday present to me.
This event of historic proportions may be a turning point in the nation’s discussion of climate change. Perhaps politicians will finally acknowledge that there are many people who genuinely care about this issue and want to work to solve it. As a science teacher, I work hard to show my students that there is no scientific debate about this issue. The globe is warming and this warming is due to human carbon emissions, plain and simple. Why, then, is there still no action? This is the question I pose to them and one I hope you, too, will try to answer. What does it take for us to get this point across and translate it into action?
Perhaps this march will be the beginning.
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It's supposed to be hard: why anything worth doing feels awful while you're doing it

 Image by Christian Ferrari

In the never-ending quest for self-improvement, I started a modest exercise regimen this summer, of running increasing distances three times a week. Readers, I am not a runner. When I run, my entire body seems to protest. I wheeze and my arms flap, my heart pounds and my ribs heave. Particularly in the beginning, every workout felt miserable. The first few times I ran, I found myself stopping after a little while, gasping for breath. “Is it supposed to feel like this?” I kept asking my running partner. Patiently, he told me, it is, it’s supposed to feel like this. Somehow I thought I could magically get fit without actually trying hard. Just a few light jogs around the block, I thought. It will feel invigorating, and before you know it, I’ll be running marathons. Not so, readers. I learned a lesson this summer that is deceptively simple: when you’re improving yourself, or when you’re getting better at anything, it’s supposed to be hard.
I think this lesson could be eye-opening for a lot of us, and it can apply to our creative work as well. We write and write and write, and just don’t seem to get any better. It just seems so darn difficult to make every part of a story great. We always seem to be falling just short. The words just keep on disappointing us once they are fixed on the page. And because it’s hard, because it can feel downright miserable, so many of us give up. We stop, thinking that we just aren’t meant to be writers. We just don’t have the talent, the aptitude, for it.

But the secret is, it’s supposed to be hard. It’s supposed to feel tremendously difficult, shoving those words around until they’re in just the right order. It’s supposed to feel like we’re straining the muscles in our brains as we search for the right image or metaphor. And most definitely, it’s supposed to feel emotionally hard. It should feel like we’re tapping into the parts of ourselves that make us uncomfortable. We should feel dismay at how honest we’re being. We should feel shame that we’ve ever been quite so selfish. We should feel afraid of what people will think. We should feel our hearts pounding.

It’s such a simple lesson, yet somehow I’d forgotten it this summer. I’d forgotten that great artists and writers make it look easy, but that’s only because of the hours and agonies they’ve put in. With my running, I somehow thought I’d be gliding along the riverbank the way all those dedicated runners seemed to do. As I improved, things did get easier; suddenly I realized I was finding a rhythm, sinking into the work of running. But that’s when I knew I had to run longer, push myself harder. It was time to keep making things difficult for myself.

So much of our lives are based on ease, convenience, and instant gratification these days, that I think we forget this lesson. My students get frustrated so easily if a story is hard to understand. They think reading is supposed to be easy. But plenty of stories that are worth reading are not meant to be read with ease. They’re meant to be labored over. With reading, writing, and running, we have to remember how essential difficulty and strife and struggle are to the process of growth.

Balancing the Writing Life with "Real" Life

It’s that time of year again – back to school. I have been nervous, barely sleeping, anticipating the new year and the terror of standing in front of a room full of teenagers who I don’t know and who don’t know me. I have to learn names and personalities and set boundaries, all while trying to make my class fun and interesting. Plus there is that learning piece. With all this buzzing around in my head, it is easy to forget about that other part of my life, the part that helps keep me sane. Here are some ways I keep my writing life fresh while balancing it with the rest of my life:
1. Set deadlines – there is nothing so good for helping me write as having a concrete deadline. I like to find competitions or themed calls a month or two in advance so I have a goal to work towards and some pressure to finish or polish a piece.
2. Find a writing group – having even a monthly group to report to keeps the idea of writing at the forefront of my mind. Knowing that others are counting on me to read their work and submit something new and worthwhile is a great way to keep things from sitting on the back burner too long.
3. Read for pleasure – this is one I struggle with when things get busy. It’s one of the reasons I love taking the subway to work. It is my quiet reading time and I make sure to keep it sacred. I don’t lesson plan or grade papers unless I am really desperate, preferring to use the time to disappear into another world.
4. Go to local readings – there is nothing so inspiring as hearing a newly published author read from his or her work and getting to talk with them afterwards about the writing life. Moving in literary circles keeps my literary juices flowing.
5. Set aside a time for writing – I find that if I don’t set aside specific time for writing, it doesn’t happen. I start checking email, lesson planning, surfing the web. Pretty soon it is time to cook dinner or get to that stack of lab reports I need to grade. Even if it is just once a week on a Sunday morning, it helps to have blocked out time and not allow yourself to do anything else. Sometimes I sit there and write 10 words in a whole hour, but at least my mental activity is focused on my writing project.
Do you have other ways of keeping writing alive even during busy times of the year? If so, comment below and share them with us.

Issue 3 Launched!

The new fall issue of Two Cities Review is here! Visit our Current Issue page and check it out right this minute, and be sure to spread the word. We’re proud of this stellar collection of fiction, non-fiction, and poetry. Here’s a bit from our letter from the editors to whet your appetite:
Letter from the Editors
We are becoming a magazine. From the initial whirlwind of Kickstarter and launching the first issue to the grind and doubt of publishing Issue 2, we felt like we were going through the process of giving life to something totally new. Would we succeed? Would we get enough great submissions to fill out issue after issue? Would anyone want to read the magazine? With Issue 3 now under our belts and Issue 4 well in the making, we are confident that our fledgling project is finally taking wing.
Fall is the season of change. It’s these times of transition that the cities of New England and the East Coast truly shine; the mugginess and sweat of August fades, the school year begins, and the trees trumpet their colors. It makes us stop and think; it makes us nostalgic for falls, for Halloweens and pumpkins and school years of the past. The process of change, as you’ll see in this issue’s crop of outstanding poems and stories, is always a fraught one, filled with both hope and fear.
We city-dwellers are uniquely adapted for the pressures and stresses of change. Nearly every year, New Yorkers pack their things into garbage bags to do the apartment shuffle; in Boston, we’re on the move as well, as the year’s fresh crop of college students arrive on curbs with parents and pillows tucked under their arms, hopeful to make this city their own. Every year, we Boston regulars get older, but the students stay the same age, adding a little element of the Twilight Zone to each September.
We have been blessed with a flood of submissions, from spy thrillers to poignant memoirs, from cats to shooting stars. The stories, poems, and essays of our third issue tackle the realities of urban living and urban decay. Homeless inhabitants of traffic islands and frustrated apartment neighbors are rubbing shoulders; New Yorkers travel by rattling subway to visit the 9/11 memorial. The other theme you’ll notice bumping up against all this is that of childhood. In many of the poems of issue 3, children wonder and puzzle, love and question and grow. Childhood in particular is the constant experience of change, and we think you’ll see yourself somewhere in this kaleidoscope of the season.
We hope you enjoy reading Issue 3 as much as we enjoyed putting it together. As always, please comment online and let us know what made you laugh, what made you cry and what made you keep turning the pages.
Happy reading!
Blair Hurley & Olivia Tandon

Read Issue 3 here