Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Poetry, wisdom and photos: an interview with Melanie Faith

I had the pleasure of attending Queens University of Charlotte's MFA program with Melanie, and have been a fan of her ever since.  She is the antidote to a bad day.  All photography featured in this post is by Melanie (and it's gorgeous!) 
Listen in to our conversation!

Melanie: the author, the artist

Describe a significant change/transition/turnover that you have experienced or that you are experiencing currently:
   What a wonderful question! I’m having trouble choosing just one, as I feel like I’m smack-dab in the midst of a myriad of transitions all at once. Should I list my recent fun adventures broadening my career and writing life as a freelance editor?  Should I detail my first rejection slip from the Seventeen Magazine fiction contest when I was a senior in high school that kept me from submitting for four years?  Should I note my first years in the classroom or the summers where I taught ESL history to international students in college and right after college?   Should I write about a significant birthday right around the corner on the sixth next month?  Should I write about the absences (husband and children, my own house, an agent) or the presences (wonderful students and family, an active pen, acceptance and “non-acceptance” letters in the mail, inspiration, dogged determination)?
    How challenging it is to decide what to broadcast about change!  The truth is: despite being a writer, a preoccupation where one opens one's mind to share personal business with a largely unknown audience, I am often a private person.  I do not naturally gravitate towards sharing my inner struggles-- I am guilty of being a first-class help-you-solve-your-problems kind of friend, teacher, daughter, sister.  I do not tend to share my fears, questions, annoyances, troubles, nasty moods, or even day-to-day thoughts, even with those closest to me.  Actually, writing about change has been a growth experience for me! :)
With the passage of time, the more I like what fellow poet Walt Whitman said in “Song of Myself:” “Do I contradict myself?/ Very well then I contradict myself,/ (I am large, I contain multitudes.)”  I think I am at the cusp in my writing life, my careers as an educator and editor, and maybe in my personal life as well. 



What have you learned so far from that experience?
    In all of these experiences I’ve learned that it is pointless to compare myself to other people; I’ve also learned that it is probable, on bad days, I still will.  I’ve learned that most people are so caught up in their own problems/needs/struggles that they are not judging others (or even thinking of others) nearly as much as I once assumed—and even when they are gossiping or putting me down, they’re leaving some other poor soul alone, as my grandma used to say.  I’ve learned that in every crowd there will be some jerk who cracks a non-funny joke about a sensitive subject. I’ve learned that truth really is stranger than fiction, because fiction at least has to make sense.  I’ve also found that prayer, quiet contemplation, friends, family, and writing keep me feeling appreciative and balanced and put my disappointments into perspective. I’ve learned that humor and humility can keep it all together. I’ve learned that sometimes it’s okay to be in a bad mood and to give myself a pass to be a grouch for a few hours as long as I think twice before making comments and take some alone time for myself.   I’ve learned that I am my own hardest critic and should treat myself as nicely as I would a friend or family member.  I’ve learned that I have not accomplished nearly all of what I wish to personally, financially, and career wise.  I’ve learned that one of my best skills is motivating others and me.  I’ve learned that nothing good is going to come without numerous set-backs along the way.  I’ve learned that people who care don’t make excuses—they show up and are rarer than rubies.  I’ve learned (thank you, Robert Frost): “In three words I can sum up everything I've learned about life — it goes on.” 

If it is something that occurred in the past, what (if anything) do you wish you would have done differently? 
    Perspective has been the great gift of recent birthdays. I like what Maya Angelou has said: “When you know better, you do better.”  Obviously, I am a complete quotation nut and wisdom collector.  It’s a perhaps comforting fallacy that if only we could travel back in time we’d say something more articulately, show gratitude and squelch complaints more, or avoid certain behaviors that unraveled a friendship or a love relationship. Honestly, though, great personal growth comes from struggles and challenges. I’ve learned more about myself from hurt and frustration (hello, rejection slips and women who snagged the men I was captivated by) than I’ve ever learned from patched-up situations or days of ease. Regret is mostly just self-defeating; most of life is out of our hands—we get to choose our attitudes and how kind we treat ourselves and others.  Also, there are certain people whose absence is actually a great blessing—false friends, men who drop off the radar, the critical chem teacher who once told me that perhaps college wasn’t going to be for me.  I want to leave room to share the delicious parts of life with those who truly want to be there—my sister, my parents, dear friends and relatives, kind and articulate literary colleagues. It’s a cliché but no less truth—forgiveness is for the forgiver, not the person being forgiven.  Also, the grass is not greener on the other side (for the writers awarded honors, for the women who became Mrs. and had children, for the friends who backstabbed or evaporated).  That said, we all sometimes overstep our bounds— doing or say something atrocious or insensitive that we wish we could take back— and disappoint our own better selves. As much as possible, I’ve learned to offer recompense and then to look forward. All things have their seasons. 


What question do you wish I would have asked you?
    What are you most looking forward to in the next stage of your life? [Ooohh, that is such a good question!  I'm going to go sit & ponder that one myself]

More about Melanie: She has been a small town journalist, an ESL classroom teacher for international students, and (currently) a literature and writing tutor at a private college prep high school and a freelance editor.  Her photos were published in Foliate Oak (May 2011), Epiphany Magazine (October 2011) and are forthcoming in Up The Staircase (Fall 2011). Her poetry was a semi-finalist for the 2011 James Applewhite Poetry Prize, and she recently had an essay about editing poetry published in the Jan/Feb 2011 issue of Writers' Journal. Her writing was published in Referential Magazine (July and June 2011), Tapestry (Delta State U., Spring 2011) and Front Range Review (U. of Montana, Spring 2011). She was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Her work won the 2009 Anne E. Sucher Poetry Prize for the Iguana Review.
Her second toes are longer than her big toes, as are her mother’s, and her grandmother’s and her great grandmother’s.  Her mom always said it was a sign of “wisdom” - I concur!! 

Thank you for sharing your perspective on change Melanie, as well as your beautiful photography!

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