Behind the Words: Krysta Voskowsky

Posted by on Jan 24, 2013 in Uncategorized | 0 comments

Krysta Voskowsky contributed her essay “When She Closes Her Eyes” to Spry’s “Beanstalks” section, which provided a space for writers to explore their reactions in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombing. Krysta’s piece is one that is sure to stay with the reader: it is raw, it is brave, and it is vivid. Krysta is earning her MFA from Emerson College, and she blogs on her personal site and also for NoshOn.It. She is currently at work on her memoir.

 

Julia: “When She Closes Her Eyes” was written following the Boston Marathon bombings and is constructed in such a unique way that with each reread something new is discovered. So much emotional ground is covered in this piece—9/11, the “I wish” portion at the start of the work, the vivid account of your horrifying dream. Can you tell me what the revision process was like and how you chose what to keep in?

Krysta:

    • I wrote this piece the day after the bombings in an emotional twenty minutes of workshop free-writing. Our professor, Joan Wickersham, usually opened classes with a creative prompt, but I think she took one look at all of our somber faces and knew we needed to put pen to paper in an attempt to process things, to meditate on the emotions we couldn’t verbalize yet. What blossomed from this exercise was a collection of unique individual accounts that left us all feeling a little relieved, and a little more connected to one another.
    • Personally, the broad generalizations about terrorism made by the media–the hashtags, the repeated bloody video footage, the immediate speculation–made me feel that the newscasters and reporters had bulldozed us. Yes, we would need to grieve and unite as a city, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that the media had dominated the conversation, leaving no room for personal grief, no room for the voices of so many individuals who experienced the same awful event, but who witnessed it from very different perspectives.
    • Crafting this piece was my chance to map out the way my mind functioned in the hours after the bombings; it’s a vignette that shows where fear, shock, sadness, worry, and anger can take us. The Boston Marathon Bombings were a trigger event: memories and emotions flooded forward in response to the violence, as I’m sure happened with many people. “When She Closes Her Eyes” is a reflection of the way my life, my relationships, my dreams, and my memories all factored into the way I coped with that day’s events.
    • This was one of those rare pieces that involved very minimal revision. I edited for word choice, and deleted one or two lines for clarity, but it came out so emotionally raw from the beginning. I wanted to keep it that way.
    • I was definitely concerned about how my mother would feel when she read it, but I’d hoped she’d understand that this was my way of coping with the distance between us. I was trying to forgive her, not condemn her, but unfortunately she didn’t see it that way. It wasn’t until I presented my mother, and Spry‘s editors, with my phone records from that day that she stopped fighting to have the piece pulled from the magazine.

 

The title is contained within a powerful line—“I suppose when she closes her eyes, my mother sees explosions all the time. Or maybe, to her, I’ve already died.” How did you decide on a title for your piece?

    • The title “When She Closes Her Eyes” originated in the section about my mother, because it conveys the way I struggle to connect with her. I struggle to understand her—her choices, her absence. I speculate in this line that there is more to my mother’s psyche than I will ever be able to unravel, and I resign to accept the sadness of it. It’s about coping, for both of us. The title embodies the concept that so much happens when we close our eyes, yet it is a completely private experience until we choose to share it.
    • Later, during revisions, the title seemed to work on different levels for the whole piece as well. “She” could refer to the woman in my office, my mother, myself asleep, or the little girl dying beneath the Christmas tree.

 

It seems you are involved in writing through a number of avenues—through working on your MFA in nonfiction, blogging, writing a memoir, and working on a daily newsletter. How do you prioritize which writing project you will tackle?

    • Up until the end of December, completing my MFA thesis (which was also my memoir) was my first priority. I’ll be honest, two and a half years of intense writing on personal family issues was exhausting albeit worthwhile. Now that I’ve finished my degree and a first draft of my memoir, I’ve decided to take a little time to focus on other writing. Right now, I’m still doing a lot of food writing for NoshOn.It, and blogging on a daily basis at the software company I work for. I’d really like to pick up momentum on my personal blog, and maybe in a few months, when the emotional dust has settled, I’ll get back to memoir writing.
    • I must admit, I’m not very good at prioritizing, but I try pretty hard to stay on track. Pieces with deadlines come first, then I write for fun or catharsis. Usually in the middle of the night, or early Sunday morning with a hot mug of coffee in my hand.

 

What books or authors have you found to be influential?

    • I love reading Mary Karr’s work. I’ve read her three memoirs several times and each time I learn something new about emotional insight, sentence structure, perspective, dialogue, prose, sense of place, etc. I also loved The Chronology of Water by Lidia Yuknavitch for its unapologetic poetic style. Other favorites include: Wild by Cheryl Strayed, The Glen Rock Book of the Dead by Marion Winik, The Boys of My Youth by Jo Ann Beard, and Julie Klausner’s I Don’t Care About Your Band. I love writers that challenge me to be honest and break the rules.

 

What are you reading right now?

    • I can never read just one book at a time. Here’s what’s on my nightstand & in my purse right now:
    • Fasting Girls: The History of Anorexia Nervosa by Joan Jacobs Brumberg
    • Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman
    • Falling Through the Earth by Danielle Trussoni

 

Do you have any craft books that are particularly helpful to you?

  • Telling True Stories: A Nonfiction Writers Guide from the Neiman Foundation at Harvard University
  • Writing Past Dark: Envy, Fear, Distraction, and Other Dilemmas in the Writer’s Life by Bonnie Friedman
  • Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

 

If you had one piece of advice to offer someone just starting to write, what would it be?

    • Sit down and write, same place, same time, every day. Distracted? Write about why you are distracted, what you’re thinking about, what you’d rather be doing. Eventually you’ll get going and something beautiful will come out.

 

What is your general writing process? Do you have any fun writing quirks or traditions you’d like to share?

    • My writing process usually involves wrestling with procrastination for a few days/hours/months then drinking an entire pot of coffee in a sitting while writing pours out of me until dawn. If I’m crying in front of my computer, it’s probably going to go over well in workshop. I love a good creative writing prompt. It’s better than chocolate cake. And I’ve always had an obsession with blank notebooks, yet I rarely fill them up. There’s nothing like writing in a fresh, clean notebook with a nice pen.

 

What’s next for you?

    • I’m excited to keep cooking, eating, and food-writing for NoshOn.It, and to do more creative work outside of my memoir project. I hope to work up the courage to submit queries to publishing agents in the coming year.

 

Julia Blake lives outside of Washington, D.C. and is a contributing faculty member in a Master’s Mental Health Counseling program. In addition to a PhD in Counseling, she recently earned her MFA in Fiction at Spalding University. She has a story forthcoming in Soundings Review and has served as a student editor of The Louisville Review.

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