Tag Archives: Alyssa Sorresso

For my mother, upon your death, a spark of dust


We are sitting here together in the peacefulness of your bedroom. A place you redesigned to include a beautiful bathroom, with a wide tub against a window, a warming towel rack – your dream respite. You did such a stunning job. I’ve always loved sitting in your bedroom, reading or talking to you. I am glad we are here now, together as you start your path to a different phase of life – that of death.

Mom, I hope that in your passing, I will be less afraid of death, as it, many times, colors my actions and anxieties. But this death, yours in this room, I want it to be a whispered song. I want you to listen  to the wind chimes outside of your window, the wind blowing through the trees in our backyard, and breathe in the solemnity of home you have created here.

For me, seeing you in our home brings me great comfort, knowing that you are safe and in the care of people who love you. Even though you have suffered through this terrible disease, we have helped determine how you will die. You will die in your own home, in your own bedroom, with your family and loved ones nearby. You will die without pain because of the medicines we give you. You will die having been able to say I love you to the ones you hold so dear, and hear them say it to you. We have been given a gift of that time – to say goodbye, to fill out hearts with each other.

I will miss you so desperately. I know my heart will break thinking about you not here. Even now, it grieves knowing the future.

I was talking to Dad a few days ago; he has been saying that cancer is the malady of all disease. I said that cancer reminded me of the Nothing. Do you remember that, from The NeverEnding Story? That is one of my favorite books. The Nothing eats away at everything around it. You put in a hand, and you lose it. A toe and it’s gone. The Nothing in the story is death. Everyone runs from it. Many are driven insane if they come too close. But the Nothing will be come for all of us, no matter what we do; disappearing our friends, our loved ones, our world. You have put in your uterus, your brain, your lungs, and your bones. The Nothing has touched each part to take it away from you, so that you may disappear entirely.

I have always loved stories, Mom. You helped me develop that. You let me read by the light of the bathroom when I was little. You gave me free reign of any book in the house or library. One of my most cherished memories of you is waking up and walking into your bedroom in the morning. I would find you propped up on several pillows, reading a book and drinking coffee. You particularly loved mysteries, and later, rather smutty vampire novels. You loved fantasy and science fiction, to be lost in another world.

About a month ago, you told me a story about how you had only gotten glasses when you were 8 years old. Until then, you were barely able to see. When you put on your glasses, you said you looked at grass with amazement. You were really able to see its lush green-ness for the first time, and marveled at how the blades were separated like little soldiers.

It flabbergasted me – to think that for the beginning part of your life, you had lived in a blinded state. This surprised me more because I knew how much you read as a child. I imagined you straining your eyes against weak lamplight to read your favorite books. It must have been such a comfort – to see another world so clearly when you could not see your own.

I don’t gravitate to the same genres you do. You know I love personal narrative and memoir – I love to read the stories of real people, and I love to write about my life and the people I experience. When I first started to write, and call myself a writer, I talked to you about it. I was hesitant because I wasn’t sure you’d understand. But you did, of course, because you are a lover of words like me. I told you I wanted to write a book, and you were so excited. I was surprised, but more by my own lack of foresight than anything. Of course you would love it if I wrote a book. My first real piece was published in a literary magazine – about you – and you kept it in your bedside table drawer. I knew you were moved and proud of my work.

I love these kinds of stories, Mom, because they help people come alive. I love that they help us with legacy, giving us the backbone of family gatherings; they help us remember each other and the bonds we share. They hold a way for us to look at our past reflectively. They help us carry on.

The NeverEnding Story is just that, Mom — it is a symbol of cyclical life. The Nothing is death, yes, but it is also a carrier of stories. Stories do not disappear into the Nothing – they are contained within it, and are recreated as something new yet familiar. Once the Nothing has swallowed all of Fantastica, Bastian is left with a single spark of dust. That is what you will become, Mom: a single spark of dust that is filled with possibilities. You’ll be fueled by our storytellings, our continued lives on this earth, our marriages to other loved ones, our births of new children, our dedication to the lives of those in pain or need. You will live on through those actions and words, helping shape our lives until we, too, are called into the Nothing, to be reborn into something more.

I love and miss you, with all my heart, with all my sparks of dust.


Creative Nonfiction Magazine Writer’s Conference 2015: Take aways on pitching, publishing and platforms

I just returned from the Creative Nonfiction Magazine 2015 writer’s conference in Pittsburgh which, while fabulous, made me painfully aware that I haven’t contributed anything to my blog in months. Ironically, today is it’s 4 year anniversary (sad blog. so sad).

I have a couple feels about this blog and blogs as platforms: it’s cool, I like blogging but, man, do I not have time for it. I have a full-time job (when I started writing, I did not), and on the side of that full-time job, I hustle to do liv lit performances and writing to submit to lit journals etc. It’s a busy life. Plus whenever I wrote a blog post that was a story, I found myself in the quandary of wanting to expand it further to submit. So, I wouldn’t post it because there are rules about originality when you submit. Hence a lack of posts.

I suppose this problem might call for a change in tone with this blog, a change of focus…I’m not quite sure. And granted, I didn’t leave the conference thinking that having a blog was a must for being a successful writer, but it obviously has its merits, especially since mine is already out there.

While I figure that out, I’ll share some take aways from the conference, which was seriously informative, fun and you should go to it if you’re all up into creative nonfiction. This is a mix of advice for both book and editorial publishing.

On pitches

  • Have your argument upfront, a fresh outlook
  • Have room for curation; editors like to be involved in deciding the angle
  • Writing that illuminates the margins; looking for people who have been told “no” (more diverse voices please!)
  • Have your cred and platforms included as assets for marketing the piece
  • If you have questions in your pitch, give the answers. Don’t leave editors hanging. They want the full arc of your article

On bad pitches

  • Don’t pitch me a “surveillance is bad” piece
  • Starting with “As a millennial…”
  • Pitches that are still happening: “I was beaten this week”
  • Essays that are therapy, and that don’t let you as an editor be honest with the writer because the issue is still too close
  • A pitch with judgment that isn’t contemporary or with an agenda
  • Cancer or divorce memoirs that don’t have a fresh perspective

On getting published

  • A good book proposal can take 6-8 months to write, and can be up to 50-60 pages long (depending on research)
  • BE SHAMELESS AND AGGRESSIVE (but not a dick)
  • Use your invisibility as a weapon for self-promotion and experimentation
  • Push for book contracts to be at least 18 months; finishing a book in a year is hard
  • You need an agent for a book; you don’t need an agent for your magazine article
  • Video is breaking, especially for online publication
  • Editors love finding writers who haven’t written for big outlets before (yay!)
  • Big outlets ask for exclusive pitches while other outlets frequently re-publish from, say, literary journals
  • Be careful about non-paying exposure becoming overexposure, as in, you give up all your best material just for the cred

On platforms

  • A platform is what an author brings to the table in terms of credibility and expertise; also what they will bring to the marketing table
  • Social media presence is important, and there are a plethora of tools that can support that (no, you don’t have to be on Twitter)
  • Don’t forget that your writing is the bedrock of the platform; if your writing isn’t strong, your street cred don’t matter
  • What’s your accessibility? How many readers, curators, editors, professors have the opportunity to read and hear you (hence a blog being important)
  • If you are scared of Twitter (and who isn’t), and yet feel pressured to have it, become a resource. Use it to promote other people you read and admire, have conversations about the craft. Just remember that Twitter rewards consistent engagement (this doesn’t mean being a trolling self-promoter either)
  • Think about your audience when your joining/on social media: is your writing style more attractive to those on FB or Twitter, Instagram or Tumblr, Youtube or Vimeo (and on and on and shoot me)
  • Remember that the more sophisticated social media platforms become, the less we are able to use them for free

What I will do (promise) is follow up with a post on who some fabulous people I met, including one who interviewed me for a writing podcast. Overall, it was a very inspiring experience, evidenced by me actually writing a post. CNF magic.

“Talk Like a Neighbor” in Ohio Edit

I forgot to share that the lovely folks at Ohio Edit published my short piece, “Talk Like a Neighbor“. Check it out along with all the other beautiful writings on their site, including my good friend and humorist poet, Josh Lefkowitz.