Sentiment

May 2017

I don’t know why I haven’t written.

Maybe losing your grandmother, who was one of your best friend for years, two days before your 30th birthday, your dad dying a month later, finding out your pregnant three months later, after moving six hours away, selling the first horse you ever really liked, getting fired for the first time in your life from a joke of an ad agency (whoops still bitter), and finally moving back a little closer to home, all while trying desperately to get your MBA takes a weird toll on a person.  A weird, weird toll.

I haven’t even wanted to read. I bought South and West by Didion a month ago and it’s just sat in multiple places throughout my house-staring at me. I took it in my car. It’s been beside my bed and on my kitchen table. I look at it and wonder what is in it? But I can’t bring myself to read it.

I just don’t know what to say. I don’t know how to write anymore. I’m terrified of being sentimental. If the truest thing you can do is write what you know, how does one write past grief? Edwidge Danticat is that master.  Her words are so vacant of emotion and in them the truth has never been more emotional.

And then I think I want to blame a terrible undergrad poetry prof I had. I think he published less than I did but he was from the Bronx and his family owned a deli and he was far too good to be in Arkansas, he told us.  It was no matter more established and much more famous poets loved what I had written and my story-telling syntax, telling how innovative it was.  He ripped it to shreds and said it was too sentimental and my sentences were run-ons (duh) and too long and my natural flow of word based rhythms weren’t meant for modern day prose.  So I chopped. And chopped. My poems became short. I learned something from him and that was how to pack a punch in a stanza.  But now, I’m terrified of sentiment. I had never been called sentimental before. That should be a writer’s worst fear: angst, sentiment. I know, I know. Someone forgot to tell Nicholas Sparks.
And then I think it was the denial of the one MFA program to which I applied.  It was an online MFA program and it wasn’t that established and there is no doubt the Iowa Writer’s Workshop would laugh and laugh but it was my one shot to get my MFA so hopefully I could get on track to teach poetry and literature one day, and maybe non-fiction, and not to have to give up my horses or my barrel racing just yet.  Rejection is something I’m okay with, but the denial came quickly. I was able to ask what they suggested I work on for another application. They said my voice was too defined and my audience was too narrow.

Well. My NY Times best seller fiction professor in undergrad told us you must have an audience and you must have a voice and you must write what you know. So I wrote about horses and cattle and ranching and rodeo in a light that mirrored southern gothic—the grotesque, the decaying, the death, the ghosts—the realness in the American West. I called it western gothic.  But I guess O’Connor’s audience was too narrow, also? After all, a good man really isn’t hard to find is he?

But it’s no matter. Here I am somewhat beyond bitter, scared of sentiment, scared of writing all together, scared of reading, overwhelmed, and wondering if I was ever a writer in the first place. And I’m only 30.

Just before dusk I was pulling vines from a tree in my front yard and a small rat snake was wrapped in one. I killed it with my gardening shears (because the only good snake is a dead snake) but as it tried wriggling away I thought about letting it go for a minute, probably less than a minute, because I hate the thought of killing anything, even a snake. The problem is, I think at 30 years old and seven months pregnant I’m too damn sentimental.

-Amber Arnold

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