WordSpring ’16 Preview #4
In this latest installment of our on-going series of interviews with presenters from this year’s WordSpring Creative Writing Conference, Jodi Scheer Hernandez interviews Tempra Board.
“They Don’t Need to Know THAT, Do They?
I was finally able to connect with one of my new favorite writers, Tempra Board, this week after missing a previous deadline due to a minor, well maybe not so minor, crisis in my own life. Tempra was so incredibly kind to respond to me by email, even though she is currently traveling for business, the business of writing that is. Tempra is a professional grant writer, based in Chico, CA, who uses her talent for writing to help organizations achieve their goals by obtaining grants to fund their endeavors.
In addition to her grant writing, Tempra also publishes essays on daily life and social issues at Time to Write. Her site has become one of my newest go tos for a quick read that will make me do that giggle that sounds like spinning helicopter blades, the laugh my husband teases me about. He would know, he has been working on helicopters for almost 20 years now. In the interview below, Tempra answers the questions I posed and crafts responses that deliver a sense of who she is as a writer and how she got there.
Jodi Hernandez (JH): I have been reading the essays on your blog, Time to Write, and I often find myself laughing out loud. I relate especially with “My Body: Judgement -or-Are Women Supposed to be Fat.” The part where you describe how you cannot fit into high fashion boots was right on target for me, and then, of course, there was the water glass trick. Being “middle aged” myself, I had to try it. When did you realize you had a talent for writing essays like this?
Tempra Board (TB): Writing was one of the few things I was told as a child that I might be good at, so it was the one area in which I had some confidence. I wrote my first story in grade school about a cat named “Token” (I have no idea why). It was praised. As I got older, I found that writing seemed to come easy for me, especially in college. I should note that I wrote all of my college essays on a “Brother” electronic word processor that allowed you to type one line at time digitally, which would then get printed when you hit the “enter” key. That allowed for little re-writing (I was too lazy to re-type things), necessitating that the essays be “good enough” the first time. This meant no painful re-writes (which I acknowledge are required for good writing, but have never been my favorite part of the process).
JH: Is is difficult to write about serious social issues with an undertone of humour, or does it just come naturally to you?
TB: Writing about my life from a vulnerable, humorous, and hopefully relatable perspective seems to come naturally to me. I think I’ve always been a decent storyteller, and I’m honest to a fault. Plus I’m a worry wort/complainer (“kvetching” in the Yiddish dialect of my ancestors). I make sense of my world and my place in it by sharing it with others, sometimes to the point of TMI. My editing process, to the extent that it exists, is typically dominated by the question: “they don’t need to know THAT, do they?”
JH: Was it your awareness of social issues and your need to write about them in a way that people will read and engage with these ideas that led to your career as a grant writer?
TB: I actually kind of “fell” into grant writing. After graduating with a B.A. in English, not really being interested in teaching, and not ready for graduate school, I was somewhat unemployable. I attempted to find work as a receptionist or office assistant, but kept coming up short. A friend of a friend knew someone who needed an assistant in his home-based office. He was a grant writer (which I’d never heard of) who worked for social service and healthcare organizations. After he asked me to translate some quantitative data into a narrative format, I stopped doing administrative work and starting writing grant proposals. I realized it was an outlet for my writing skills and after a year, I went to graduate school in Colorado to study rhetoric, with the aim of making grant writing my career. After I got my M.A., I started writing grant proposals for environmental and social justice organizations, about whose work l am passionate. It was then that I realized how fortunate I was to be able to make a living and make the world a bit better at the same time.
JH: I also read “A Picture of Hope and Promise,” in which you discuss purchasing supplies intended to inspire your writing, and I saw myself, as I think many writers would. Was it a personal struggle with publishing that made you ask the question “Why is being published the end-all? Why does that even have to be the point?”
TB: When I wrote my first blog post, “A Picture of Hope and Promise,” I had never even tried to get anything published. I had written some nature essays that I also performed with a group of women writers when I lived in Colorado, and we self-published a chapbook of our work, but that was it. I knew, without even looking into it, that the competition for publishing great writing was just ridiculous. Because I have a strong fear of failure and hate being criticized, I decided I wouldn’t even go there.
JH: You also questioned what would happen if you failed to be inspired by your purchase in that piece; did the purchase work? Were you able to write something new? Have you discovered other ways to inspire your writing that other writers might also find useful?
TB: Since then I have sent some pieces in, and received mostly rejections, and a couple of small bites. One of my favorite writers, Poe Ballantine, describes the years of rejection letters basically needing their own storage room at his house. And I’m no Poe Ballantine. But I certainly don’t recommend this line of thinking to anyone. If we all sat around comparing ourselves to the famous (and not so famous) masters, in any field we were engaged in or attempting to break into, there’s a real danger that we’d just give up.
But for me, at the moment, I basically write for myself as a therapeutic way of processing my life and its difficulties…and to make my friends laugh. My greatest reward is getting a text message from a friend complaining that she did a spit take all over her computer screen over a line I wrote. Pure awesome.
JH: What tips would you give about grant writing and how to get started? Do you think this is a growing career possibility for writers?
TB: Here I would refer you to an essay I wrote for LeHab a few years ago. I definitely think grant writing is a viable and growing career path for writers. It will be a need for nonprofits, governments, and even for profit businesses as long as there are foundations, agencies, and financial institutions willing to make grants and loans. Grants are one of the major ways that nonprofits get their programs funded. And you can make a living at it; the pay scale is usually dependent on the budget size of the organization.
JH: I know you are in a writers group with your co -presenter, Kiara Koenig, and that the two of you recently performed your work at the 1078 Gallery in Chico, CA as part of Slow Theatre‘s “Along These Lines” reading series. Was this experience part of developing your workshop “Time to Leave the Attic: How Collaboration Fuels Creativity”? Did you use any of the techniques you will present at WordSpring to prepare for that collaboration?
TB: Yes, in the workshop we will discuss the process Kiara and I engaged in to write the “call and response” hiking poems, as well as our process for performing those pieces. Workshop participants will also get to practice some collaborative writing on the spot. There are many forms collaboration can take, and that’s the exciting thing about it: You have no idea where it’s going to go, and the product is often much better than what either writer might have done alone.
JH: The title of your workshop is intriguing; how did you come up with it, and what can an aspiring or seasoned writer expect to gain from attending?
TB: The title for the workshop was itself a collaboration. It started out as my attempt at humor, when Kiara asked what we should call the workshop. I was thinking, because writing for most of us gets a whole lot better with input at least and collaboration at best, my original title was something like: “Because You Aren’t Emily Dickinson.” Dickinson was the first writer I learned of in college who rarely engaged with society or even left her room. She was a recluse…and a genius. For the rest of us, that’s not going to cut it. Our other writing group member, Carrie, came up with the actual title, riffing on my idea, with a feminist nod to the mad woman locked in the attic.
I would like to thank Tempra for her quick yet thoughtful responses. I absolutely love how she ended this interview. Her explanation reminds me of Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s, “The Yellow Wallpaper,” which I studied in Kiara Koenig’s Women’s Voices class at Yuba College a few years back. The woman in the story describes being locked in an attic as part of the “rest cure,” which was often prescribed for women during the era. There is some question as to whether the narrator really is in an attic at all, or just lost in the attic of the mind. In either case, her isolation contributes to her downward spiral. When we have friends helping us dust off and dig through the boxes, the sorting out of things and making sense of them is much easier; the key to survival, to making something from the mess, is often collaboration. Tempra and Kiara are sure to discover the hidden treasures in your own writing attic and help you buff them to a high shine through collaboration.
If you would like to experience the “Time to Leave the Attic: How Collaboration Fuels Creativity workshop, please consider attending the Wordspring writing conference April 23, 2016 at Butte College in Oroville, CA. For more spit takes and writing advice, be sure to check out Tempra’s blog, as well as leHab’s interviews with the rest of the WordSpring ’16 line up.