Monday, February 29, 2016

Between the Lines: Mark Nepo's Miracle

by Zinta Aistars
for WMUK 102.1 FM
Southwest Michigan's NPR affiliate

Between the Lines is my weekly radio show about books and writers with a Michigan connection. It airs every Tuesday at 7:50 a.m., 11:55 a.m., and 4:20 p.m. (or listen anytime online), on WMUK 102.1 FM, Southwest Michigan's NPR affiliate. I am the host of Between the Lines.

This week's guests: Mark Nepo 

Mark Nepo (Photo by Michelle Gossman)

Almost thirty years ago, philosopher and poet Mark Nepo nearly lost his life in a battle with cancer. It changed him forever. In his new book Inside the Miracle: Enduring Suffering, Approaching Wholeness, Nepo shares the lessons he learned through his ordeal.

“This experience unraveled the way I see the world,” Nepo says. “It scoured my lens of perception, landing me in a deeper sense of living. That struggle brought me close to death. Today, I remain committed to surfacing the lessons of transformation, as they continue to shape the lens that life has given me. The transformative events may differ for each of us, but every soul will face a life-changing threshold that will keep shaping who we are for the rest of our life.”

Inside the Miracle is a collection of poems and prose, including essays. Some are from Nepo’s earlier works but many are new. Nepo sometimes refers to the collection as a “survival kit” for readers living through some form of suffering, physical or emotional, and in need of healing.
“What I’ve endured is the journey that everyone endures in different circumstances and with different names,” Nepo says. “Sooner or later, we’re asked to be honest with our fears and hopes. After all this way, I know that I am weak and strong, stubborn and determined, afraid and brave, giving and demanding, resilient and stalled, confused and clear—sometimes all at once. I know now that going on without denying any aspect of the human drama is what strength is all about. Joy is the transformation of our suffering, not the escape of all we have to face.”
Nepo says another aspect of suffering is ...

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Between the Lines: Andy Mozina's Contrary Motion

by Zinta Aistars
for WMUK 102.1 FM
Southwest Michigan's NPR affiliate

Between the Lines is my weekly radio show about books and writers with a Michigan connection. It airs every Tuesday at 7:50 a.m., 11:55 a.m., and 4:20 p.m. (or listen anytime online), on WMUK 102.1 FM, Southwest Michigan's NPR affiliate. I am the host of Between the Lines.

This week's guests: Andy Mozina

Andy Mozina (Photo by Chris Magson)

In contrary motion, things move in opposite directions. On a musical instrument, contrary motion refers to a melody in which one series of notes rises in pitch while opposing notes descend. In his debut novel Contrary Motion (Penguin Random House, March 2016), Kalamazoo College English professor Andy Mozina moves his 38-year-old character, harpist Matthew Grzbc, in opposite directions in almost every aspect of his life.

Living in Chicago, Grzbc hopes to land a chair position in a symphony orchestra, but his everyday life has him playing on demand to dying patients at a hospice and to the sounds of people chewing at hotel brunches.
Just-divorced, Grzbc dates a woman with whom he suffers erectile dysfunction, even while he can’t stop lusting for his ex-wife who's about to become engaged to another man. He’s a devoted and attentive father to his six-year-old daughter but the girl teeters on the verge of a breakdown after witnessing her father in flagrante delicto with her mother while Mom’s boyfriend is out of the house. Adding even more drama, Grzbc’s father suffers a fatal heart attack while listening to a relaxing meditation CD, leaving his son questioning his sanity and feeling his own mortality.
Mozina says he had reasons why he needed a character so laden with anxiety: “Anxious responses are often distorted non-realistic responses to a more or less reasonable problem. Fiction needs some heightening, so the character’s reactions were a little more extreme.”
When a longed-for audition to become a harpist for the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra opens new career possibilities, Grzbc is again pulled in opposing directions as his anxiety reaches new levels. To audition or not to audition? And, if he's offered the job, should he move away from his girlfriend, his ex-wife, his daughter, and his life in Chicago?
Grzbc's saving grace, the glue to keep his life from flying apart from all that contrary motion, is ...

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

The Light and the Dark

by Zinta Aistars
Published in BeLight
Kalamazoo College
February 2016

Most so-called “overnight successes” are a matter of years or longer, such as the writing career of Morowa Yejidé ’92 (Moe-roe-wah Yay-gee-day).  After a decade of short story publications, her novel Time of the Locust (Atria Books/Simon & Schuster, 2014) quickly gained critical and popular acclaim. The novel was a 2012 finalist for the national PEN/Bellwether Prize In 2015 it was long listed for the PEN/Bingham award for debut fiction and was a 2015 NAACP Image Award Nominee for Outstanding Literary Work. She is currently a PEN/Faulkner Writers in Schools author, visiting with classes who have been assigned Time of the Locust.
Yejidé, who is married and raising three sons, wrote the book in the spare time she didn’t have, taking advantage of occasional bouts of insomnia, hours between work in academia, and even time in the bathtub when the door was locked to all distraction for three-hour baths of plotting storyline time. Submitting the manuscript to agents and publishers more than one hundred times, she filed away the rejections and kept sending it off, undaunted.
That kind of persistence, that kind of devotion to her art, that kind of determination is part of the hard lessons learned during Yejidé’s years at Kalamazoo College, although not necessarily in the classroom.
“I’ll be honest,” Yejidé says. “My Kalamazoo College experience was of very high highs and low lows. My first two years were about figuring out who I was and how I fit in. Then I went on study abroad to Japan, and my mom died a month after I returned. My last years at K passed in a haze.”

Morowa Yejidé (left) with classmates during her K days.

Yejidé was an international area studies major with a minor in Asian affairs. It was the study abroad experience, she says, that attracted the Washington D.C.-native to K. She spent her junior year in Tokyo, living with a host family, not knowing that in her absence her mother had been diagnosed with stage four breast cancer.
“She made everyone promise not to tell me,” Yejidé says. “She didn’t want me to rush back or have a cloud over me. I found out when I got home—and a month later she was gone. That really went into my writing, how people can say things without saying things. It was a part of the Japanese culture, too. I’ve been fascinated with how people communicate ever since.”
While Yejidé struggled through her final years at K, missing her mother, she found an understanding friend in her college roommate. Around the same time Yejidé lost her mother, her roommate lost hers as well, even more abruptly.
“Her mom was killed coming out of a pharmacy one day, struck during a police car chase,” she says. “We had these long existential discussions—is it better to know ahead or not?—and decided both scenarios were equally terrible. But it brought comfort to have someone there who understood. It all became a part of the light and the dark that K was for me. We keep in touch to this day.”

Another lesson Yejidé took to heart was ...