Creative Writing

Things We Carry: Natalee Cruz

Things We Carry is a series of short interviews with current students, faculty, and alumni of the Creative Writing Program. These conversations are interested in the tactile elements of writing: what do we hold essential? What tools do we need in order to create? The things we find essential to our writing process reflect our beliefs about craft and process. 

This week, Natalee Cruz, a third year student studying poetry and fiction in The New School’s Creative Writing MFA Program, shares her thoughts on process, music and her mantra.

Where and when are you writing these days? 

I like to get my writing done in the morning. On one side of me, I have some sort of hot caffeinated beverage (coffee with oat milk, coffee with golden milk, or a pot of green tea) and on the other, I have my cat purring with her paw on my warm laptop.

Do you have any tools or tokens that are essential to your writing?

Liquid sustenance is essential to my writing process. Drinking tea or coffee keeps me alert and I enjoy the occasional jitters. I know eating is important, but not while I’m writing. I’ve found that when I’m fully engrossed in my work, I am literally consumed by it, so much that I only start to feel the need to eat once I’ve reached the end of my release of ideas — or if it’s 1pm.

And in the evening, I’m pouring myself a glass of wine. I try to be deliberate about my wine choice, depending on the writing prompt at hand. To me, writing is like cheese and music, it’s dull without proper accompaniment.

Music is crucial to my writing process. I don’t mind writing prose while listening to music with lyrics, I find that it helps color the general feeling of a piece. But when I’m working on poetry, I tend to stick to the nimble beauty of Laurie Spiegel, Brian Eno, or Hiroshi Yoshimura. 

Pen and paper, laptop and wifi, or a combination? 

Combination, and my notes app when I’m out and about.

Do you have any habits or rituals that help you get grounded before you start writing? 

Movement and physical activity is a major part of my writing and living practice. I either run, practice yoga, do pilates, ride my bike, or dance as a way of working through the issues that arise while writing. That being said, there are times when my sleep is deep and restorative enough that I wake up with ideas. On those glorious mornings, my ritual is boiling water for tea or coffee and getting straight to work. 

You have been given a backpack and are being sent to a desert island for thirty days of uninterrupted writing time. What do you put in the backpack? 

I never finished watching the original L Word, but there’s this scene in Season 1 where Marina Ferrer says that if she had to live her last day on earth, she would do so on an island “reading Borges and drinking rum,” and I think she was on to something. But I’d also bring wasabi peas.

I’d pack a notepad and a few pens because it would be frustrating to bring a computer and watch it die. I’d bring the books I’ve collected on the street including Isabelle Alende’s House of Spirits as well as my anthology of Frank O’Hara’s work, Rae Armantrout’s Finalists, and Eileen Myles’ Pathetic Literature. (I’m hoping this is a big backpack!)

I’d bring a small radio and hope for some sign of life, extraterrestrial signs welcome. I imagine I would get pretty bored all by myself, so I’d probably bring some snorkeling gear and swim around the island and make some sea friends. And if there’s still room in the hypothetical backpack, I’d bring running shoes.

Are there any words or quotes that you find essential to your writing practice?

My mantra while I’m writing is “be honest,” even if it makes me uncomfortable. Being honest with myself and future readers could look like a lot of things. It could look like admitting to myself that I’m not quite ready to write just yet and that I need to take a step back and do some research or read a novel or move my body for a bit. Honesty on the page is the only way to keep the reader engaged and so I strive to write in such a way that the reader has an opinion on my words – good or bad. Ultimately, I keep my mantra close so that I create distance between my personal beliefs and the truth of a piece. 

Natalee Cruz is a poet and fiction dual MFA at the New School. She has been published in The Spectacle, The Ilanot Review, The Thing Itself, Sazerac Smokey Ink, and Electric Literature. Her chapbook, I Have Seen the Bluest Blue, is available through Ugly Duckling Presse. 

Things We Carry is an interview series produced by Stuart Pennebaker.

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