A Speakeasy Reading: Hannah Eko

After a brief Thanksgiving hiatus, we’re back in action this week with a Speakeasy reading from back in October with first-year fiction writer Hannah Eko. Enjoy!

More from our Best of the Net nominees later this week!

Posted in Blog, Fiction, MFA, Pittsburgh, Readings Tagged with: , , , ,

Best of the Net Nominee Spotlight: Dorothy Erickson

We at Hot Metal Bridge are proud to have nominated several of our contributors for the annual Best of the Net anthology. We’ve asked our nominees to appear as guest writers on this, the Hot Metal Blog, over the coming weeks. Dorothy Erickson comes to the blog this week, with an essay on writing, art, and community. Her story, “On Exhibit”, appeared in Hot Metal Bridge 17. Read the previous spotlights on nominees here.

Climbing the Rope

My nine year old daughter belongs to a competitive gymnastics team that practices nine hours every week. Once in a while, to break the tedium, they climb the rope. It’s the same rope you might have climbed in gym class, a grip of sweaty sinew hanging from ceiling to floor, and you must wrap your body around it, shimmy yourself up toward the climactic, often unattainable cowbell at the top. Unlike gym class, the girls on the team cheer each other on. And, unlike gym class, the muscles in their tightly packed little bodies roll and undulate under the skin, rope-like. When I watch them, I think two things: how strong they are, and how much I’d like to be able to do what they’re doing.

Realistically, I couldn’t make it a foot off the ground. But there is another rope, a metaphorical one, that lends itself to the act of writing, and we climb it every day, conditioning our writerly muscles, reaching for the proverbial cowbell, whatever form of personal achievement – publication or completion – that assumes.

But here’s the thing I struggle with, beyond the typical strains of any artistic endeavor, the uncertainty and self-loathing, the dearth of uninterrupted time, the money (what money?): I struggle with envy. I struggle waiting for my turn.

This is not something that’s easy to admit. It’s shameful, in a way. And if I’ve learned anything, it’s that there is no greater gift to a writer – aside from the physical and mental space within which to write – than a tribe. A people. A team. The writers I know are insightful, helpful, caring people. And fun – yes! – writers, if you don’t already know, are a fucking riot. I have learned more from my mentors and peers than I ever imagined I could, both about writing and about being a writer. So when good news comes to a writer friend, a story published or a novel completed, I am immeasurably proud and excited.  Often, elated.

Knowing what it’s like out there, how difficult this business of art is.

Knowing the particular hurdles a writer has faced – a death in the family. A divorce. Rejections. Ebbs and flows in the actual writing of the thing.

Knowing how good the writing is, and that the world gets to read it.

When the proverbial cowbell gets rung, it not only means that someone you admire has achieved their goal; it means another triumph for writers everywhere, however big or small that triumph may be. It adds value to the whole system, if you will. It means the whole team wins.

And yet, we all know that feeling from gym class.  The burn of biceps, sting of hands. The rough scrape of rope against our skin – a painful slip. Trying to find a knot somewhere, hoping for a surge, the bell getting further and further out of reach. Failure is a distinct and lonely feeling, and no matter who is cheering you on, that moment when your feet touch the floor again, you are…alone.

In her book Silences, Tillie Olsen wrote “The literary atmosphere that sets writers against one another breeds the feeling that writers are in competition with each other.” She wrote this in 1965, yet the “literary atmosphere” of which she speaks – limited opportunities for grants and funding, as well as for publication, amidst a very large pool of talent – still exists. Aside from personal challenges which make the writing difficult, there are the challenges inherent in the industry, which make it nearly impossible not to feel at least slightly competitive. Olsen cites an example of this “in its extremist sense, [which is] Hemingway’s feeling that the measure of success would be to ‘knock Tolstoy out of the prize ring’.”

In a less extreme sense, there is at least some measure of envy.

After all, we know writers are often that strange mix, painfully private when it comes to the writing, yet once the words are down on paper, wanting to share them with the world. And so impediments to either process are difficult, to say the least.

But I’d like to suggest that the moment of failure is a pivotal moment, more so than any kind of success, because how you handle failure will define who you are as an artist; whether you will continue writing, and then, whether you will continue writing because of external yearnings, or internal ones.

Will you let envy drive you, or that other, deeper, more sanguine urge?

In a letter to a friend, Chekhov wrote “During the five years I have been roaming around editorial offices I managed to succumb to the general view of my literary insignificance, quickly got used to looking at my work condescendingly, and – kept plugging away!”

And Tolstoy (that rabble-rouser) was said to have told Chekhov his plays were “worse than Shakespeare’s”.

But Chekhov persisted, despite criticism from others, from himself, and from his friends. Perhaps he persisted in spite of such criticism.  Something of a masochist, I suspect, which is what I think most writers are.

The truth is, we’d be lost without a rope to climb. Our muscles thrive on its tautness, its great height. It is a symbol of our artistic will.  And so my advice to you is this: keep cheering. Be a champion for writers. Address envy with as much fervor as a gymnast would a rope. Keep climbing.

Art is a struggle, but that’s also what makes it so appealing.

Dorothy Erickson has a BA in Writing & Literature from the New School University, as well as an MFA in Creative Writing from Lesley University. She teaches in the English Department at Anna Maria College. Her fiction has appeared in Arts & Letters.

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A Reading by Brennan Chambre

Here’s this week’s Speakeasy video! First-year non-fiction writer Brennan Chambre reads from his work at a Speakeasy reading back in September.

On Friday, we’ll have another guest contribution from one of our Best of the Net nominees. Stay tuned!

Posted in Blog, MFA, Nonfiction, Readings Tagged with: , , ,