the next writer in the series: august 1, 2015

I have been looking into schedules. Even when we read physics, we inquire of each least particle, What then shall I do this morning? How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing. A schedule defends from chaos and whim. It is a net for catching days. It is a scaffolding on which a worker can stand and labor with both hands at sections of time.

On the first of each month, a guest writer shares how he or she spends the day.

photo credit: Katie Auchenbach

photo credit: Katie Auchenbach

August 1, 2015: Joy Castro

Pam Houston recommended Island of Bones, and I couldn’t put it down. Its twenty essays are smart and compelling. And I don’t mean one or two of them; I mean all of them. Joy’s writing is detailed, honest, and lyrical.

9780803271425From the title essay, strong and telling close-ups of the author.

Today I write from a small place, a complicated island with a history that’s almost been lost. I write from a place of clear lip balm and jeans, of a PhD but no love for academia, of no talent in the kitchen (and thus no Like Water for Chocolate imitations, no homages to my grandmother’s perfect garlic roast pork). I write from a keen and pissed-off class awareness and the streaming juice of very few mangoes.

Joy concludes this first essay by opening the narrative not just to the sea around her but to the rising sea. We can feel the tension and movement.

For me, all the myths have come undone. I don’t fit. I don’t fit, and that’s okay, and that’s where I write from: that jagged, smashed place of edges and fragments and grief, of feeling lost, of perilous freedom. I extract small fragile bones from the sand, dust them off with my brush, and build strange, urgent new structures, knowing too well how small my island is, how vast and rising the sea.

In “The Athens of the Midwest,” she examines what she wants–from the outside and the inside.

Tenure, it strikes me sometimes, is a strange thing to want. Lifetime employment-lifetime anything.

And now the possibility of reading and writing for the rest of my life shimmers just ahead like a mirage, the possibility of actually spending my days as someone who paces in her black loafers up and down a classroom where Ezra Pound once taught.

From “An Angle of Vision,” words that I’ve stuck above my desk.

To be a writer is to claim a voice, a hard thing for anyone schooled to silence… you claim the mic, telling the story you have come here to tell.

In “Grip,” how to really see your old self.

What I’m saying is that it takes time to see. You have to acquire a different perspective to see your old self anew, to see the patterns that have been lying there all along.

And in “Vesper Adeste,” she pulls back the curtain, which is what I’m trying to learn how to do.

Happily ever after conceals a world. Conceals the chair I smashed against his wall, gashing the wood, shattering the legs. It couldn’t be repaired. Married people keep on having a story, you know. It’s not all tea and toast.

From the final essay, “‘Quien es ese Jimmy Choo?’: A Latina Mother Comes of Age.” 

Three years ago, at the age of thirty-nine, I looked up. My only son had left for college, and I had earned tenure and was chairing my department at a small college. My nest was suddenly empty, and my days, though busy and full, were less frantic than they’d been while I was climbing the academic ladder. Suddenly I could exhale, and I raised my head and looked around.

There is no way back. We can only dream our way forward.

Joy was born in Miami and educated in Texas. Like me, she’s the oldest of her siblings. Her first book was published in 2005–The Truth Book: A Memoir. In 2012 and 2013 FOUR of her books were published–the New Orleans literary thrillers Hell or High Water (July 2012) and Nearer Home (July 2013), the essay collection Island of Bones (Sept 2012), and her edited collection, Family Trouble:  Memoirists on the Hazards and Rewards of Revealing Family (Oct 2013), which includes essays from memoirists such as Sue William Silverman and Dinty W. Moore. After a break of two years, her short fiction collection How Winter Began will be published this October. Joy teaches creative writing, literature, and Latino studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, where she will serve as the director of the Institute for Ethnic Studies this fall. She lives in Lincoln with her husband.

Come back on AUGUST 1st to read how JOY CASTRO spends her days.

4 thoughts on “the next writer in the series: august 1, 2015

  1. Unfamiliar with Joy. Her writing, based on your excerpts, is powerful. Look forward to your post. This is amazing: “For me, all the myths have come undone. I don’t fit. I don’t fit, and that’s okay, and that’s where I write from: that jagged, smashed place of edges and fragments and grief, of feeling lost, of perilous freedom.”

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