Attacus Atlas & Other Inventions: Writing Time

Aloha. I started writing poetry when I was nine years old. I remember writing in bursts. I had a wonderful teacher that year, and she was encouraging us to write beyond what the class assignments required us to do for the poetry unit. I first learned about haiku and sonnets and I was hooked! I wrote anywhere and anytime, and on any surface — from napkins to spiral notebooks.

By the time I was in high school I was writing poetry almost every day, a lot of sad poems about the Fall and the impermanent seasons. Sigh. Yawn. I wrote primarily in journals, ones that i decorated with doodles or word collage.

Things tapered off when I entered college. I started writing journalism pieces and I wasn’t writing as many poems. My junior year of college I made the mistake of taking a creative writing class. The teacher was young and newly-famous and had good strategies and writing advice. Unfortunately my peers in that class were mean-spirited and immature. Their treatment of my short stories and their dismissive comments over the course of a semester took their toll. I didn’t write poetry or fiction for three years, instead concentrating on newspaper journalism and getting work after graduation.

After I got married and got my first MA (where I wrote a bad novel for my creative writing thesis), my husband and I moved to Hawai’i. I got work as a newspaper reporter and I had several mornings each week and most weekends to work on my own writing. It was a productive time, and I wrote longhand — in journals and notebooks, and produced a lot of bad poetry and the start of the book that would later become my thesis at Columbia U. where I earned an MFA in the 1990s.

Post graduate school for the second time, I went back to journalism. On the weekends, I wrote poetry in my notebooks and I slowly worked on a story I started years before. Then the kids came along, and my writing habits changed entirely. First, I gave up on journalism, it was hard to be a courts and police reporter with kids in tow. But my poetry flourished. I started writing at the crack of day, rising before the sun – and keeping my fingers crossed that the babies would stay asleep until I could finish the first draft. I divided my writing time between my spiral notebooks, and my laptop.

In 2004, I was accepted into my first writers conference and I wrote the first draft of what would later become The Atlas of Reds and Blues. It was a 5,000-word short story, titled “When the Dolls Leave the Dollhouse,” and I wrote it when the kids were at school or asleep. I expanded the family story – and then set it aside in 2009 to write during NaNoWriMo what would be my second novel, Shadow Gardens, an ethnic retelling of Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway and Michael Cunningham’s The Hours.

Unfortunately, my husband was racially targeted by his former employer in Georgia. Nine years ago, the state police raided his offices and our house at gunpoint. Among the many items seized from our house was my laptop. I lost most of my work. The first year after the raid, I wasn’t writing much. I was busy corralling the family. When I tried to write in June 2011, I found that I couldn’t. A good friend recommended I watch the film Julie & Julia; and she encouraged me to post my photography online and caption the work. After a year of doing this, my poetry returned. And three years after that, I was able to sit down and restart and re-imagine what would become The Atlas of Reds and Blues. I have continued with my #artaday project and maintain it to this day. Although a state judge in Georgia dismissed all of the baseless charges against my husband in the fall of 2016, most of the items confiscated from our house in 2010 have yet to be returned.

In the meantime, I’ve continued writing poetry and prose. Finishing Line Press published two chapbooks of poetry in 2017, Gas & Food, No Lodging and Anastasia Maps. In early 2018, Counterpoint Press accepted my novel. Nowadays, I write poems anywhere, anytime. And I write my prose in the mornings, sitting at my desk. Mahalo.

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Devi Laskar

Poet, photographer, soccer mom, VONA & TheOpEdProject alum, Columbia MFA, former reporter, debut novelist!