A friend of mine gave me some loving advice that I should be more personable online and maybe tell a little story, especially in relation to how I came to start working on @ThePencilhouse. Not without a little kicking & screaming, but here goes.
I got my MFA in 06 (still paying for that badboy), got married that summer. Life and the reality of work eroded my sense of discipline over the years, and I eventually turned my focus away from writing for a long while. Happens to lots of folks, they say.
In the spring of 2015 I started working on a few stories, did some critiquing for a few people, and started submitting again. I managed to land a story involving Notre Dame in the now-defunct Potluck Mag. It was so cool and I was so happy to be writing again.
On July 30, 2015 (7 years on Friday!) I was out for an early run and a motorist texting & driving ran a red light and hit me as I entered the crosswalk. I’d looked both ways twice before doing so; according to witnesses, he was traveling between 45-50 mph. I’ll spare you details, but I shoulda grown wings that morning. It was a huge, life-changing moment, and it’s been a weird road. My wife (hi, Jill!) is an absolute saint for not only taking care of me in ways nobody should ever have to take care of their spouse, but also for surviving it with such grace. It was a bad situation we’re lucky to be on the other side of.
Writing tapered off after that. It took a long time for my brain to re-settle itself. I went back to school & got a grad cert in NPO management because I was working in that field @ the time. After graduating, I landed an analytics job, a grave mistake.
The net result of the accident, after 7 years of anecdotal data, is that my attention span is fucked. Staring at a screen as a job all day don’t help that one bit. My memory, particularly short-term, is 100% PURE DOGSHIT. No worries, still have the glowing personality.
So I floundered through analytics work—a thing I’ve been doing for a long time now—and the pandemic hit. Was this ever going to be anything OTHER than a covid story? Apologies if you feel as if I’ve led you on.
Like everyone else on Planet Earth, I gravitated to writing. Started a rewrite of my MFA thesis, a novel, and IT DID NOT WORK. I was just totally unable to make the machine go. Engine wasn’t turning over and nothing worked. Sucked real bad. I took a few months, worked on some house projects, and looked for the next job while feeling like I’d lost a limb. The creative voice was just fuckin GONE. Realizing that was a bit of a shock.
Stuff got pretty dark for me around this time & for the next year. I was working a job I truly hated, wasting days, eating feelings, not practicing self-honesty, etc. etc. I am 100% certain I was an awful dude to be around. I’m sorry about that.
We’re almost to the pleasant ending, I promise.
Somewhere along the way, while getting down on myself thinking about my busted brain, a thing I often do—especially around this time of year, I started making notes here & there. Aphorisms, broad statements. Any ink to paper felt like SOMETHING, which was nice. I picked up a couple poetry books, poked around lit mags. Started writing feedback for people for a couple months, then found myself taking it a little more seriously. Wrote a few poems here & there. I can’t overstate how grateful I am to be writing at all.
Had a few real good friends provide some great feedback that served to push me forward and affirm the approaches and directions I was looking to gowith my writing. I had to start over, pretty much from scratch. I’ve had loads of good publishing luck over the last couple years, and I definitely have a lot of privilege on my side that’s made a fair amount of that possible (including access to therapy!). I’m so lucky to be in a position where I feel like I HAVE to write and am able to do that.
So, yeah, weird road. I’ve had to totally reconfigure the writing process for myself, which is a bizarre and very cool experience, especially with a CW degree in my somewhat distant past. Sure is something to be a developing writer while having an advanced degree in it. The main thing I want to express, I suppose, is that writing feedback for others has been the foundation for almost all my progress over the last couple years. It’s been absolutely instrumental. “Give feedback” is almost always my first piece of advice when someone asks how to improve.
I started out really writing feedback on a discord server (shoutout Gerardo & Skanda & all the mentors there), and followed my own personal momentum into the journal I run, @ZeroReadersMag, which basically exists as a way for me to do TONS of critiquing.
Beginning late last year, I started working on Pencilhouse as a concept. I’ve had so much help from our board so far in terms of listening to my bullshit, pitching in on the organizational details, and helping to shape the org’s way forward.
For the sake of transparency, I am trying to make Pencilhouse a full-time thing. But I also want to express the ambition of eventually being able to HIRE PEOPLE TO WRITE FEEDBACK. No telling when that’ll be possible, but that’s the pie in the sky goal.
Again, I want to express gratitude to Jill & the rest of the PH board (hi, Elishia & Ashley!), my friends & family, all of the folks who’ve stepped up to volunteer, and especially the folks who trust us with their work each and every time they submit in our monthly open calls.
I’d be forever grateful if you could Pencilhouse here at our Patreon; we also accept one-time donations at pencilhouse.org/support. If you happen to be a billionaire, I’d like to make dinner for you sometime.