In Conclusion

I feel the need to wrap up this blog, given that I graduated in May with my MFA in poetry and fulfilled my purpose for being in Wilmington, NC.  I wrote three years ago that I hoped to catalog my progress turning into a writer.  And so, I turn to reflect on my successes and failures in that area.

Successes:

  1. I published four poems from my new manuscript.
  2. I won three poetry contests.
  3. I published a year’s worth of literary news round downs for a prominent literary magazine’s blog.
  4. I completed a poetry manuscript.
  5. I zeroed in on my research interests: namely, historical underpinnings of sexism in mental health fields/our current conception of what it means to be “crazy”.
  6. I served as an editor for a literary magazine I love and learned a great deal more about publishing and editing than I set out to, about which I am so super grateful.
  7. I attended national writing and publishing conferences.
  8. I read my creative work aloud at several venues, both here in the States and abroad.
  9. I received my Master’s in Literature from Bread Loaf at the time time I finished up my MFA from University of North Carolina at Wilmington.
  10. I landed a tenure-track position teaching English at a small college in Alabama.
  11. I received encouraging rejections for short stories I never thought I’d write.
  12. I learned from prominent authors in my field: A Van Jordan, Nikkey Finny, Aimee Nezukumathatil, Sarah Messer, Malena Morling, Michael White, Mark Cox, Anna Lena Phillips Bell, Ruth Forman, Tracy K. Smith…and countless of my fellow emerging writers from the program.
  13. I finally took my own mental health seriously and started taking care of my mind as well as I had been taking care of my body.
  14. I figured out how to submit my work and to more fully engage as a literary citizen in the community of writers that now feels familiar and small.

Failures/what MFAers charmingly call “opportunities”:

  1. I lost my sense of regularity when it came to updating here or on Twitter.  I’m not sure where I stand anymore on the idea of “needing an online platform/presence” if I hope to publish.  I worry I’ve been too open, or not open enough in my posts.
  2. I’m working on building a more sustainable habit while at the same time opening myself up the the unpredictable nature of the muse.
  3. I still get too anxious and paralyzed and self-sabatoging when it comes, oh heck, to all areas of life, but especially to my writing.
  4. Consistency.  Consistency.
  5. Many more rejections than acceptances, but this is to be expected in my field.
  6. For a while, I forgot to believe in my own potential.  I swan dived from being bossy/sure of myself to being utterly insecure and unsure.  I’d like to find a more happy medium in myself.

I feel so grateful to have landed where I did, knowing full well the perilous nature of the job market for creative writing academics.  I am so entirely thankful my hard work paid off.  I wouldn’t be here with the help of my colleagues, family, and professors, so this win is as much theirs as it is mine.

As I prepare to look ahead, I’ll have to figure out how to balance being a good teacher for my students and being a productive writer.  It’s bittersweet to say my career ambitions trumped my romantic ones, and that I choose to move away–and that my now ex-boyfriend decided not to come with me.  I’m reminded of that Roxane Gay essay where she writes about sometimes wishing she’d chosen the man over the career.  That the career takes you to the middle of no where.  That the career can be lonely.

But to that, I’ve answered my own yearnings with a brand new puppy and a second cat.  Fluffy cuddles are almost as good as human ones.  Especially times three.  I’m already meeting new people who give me hope loneliness will not be too overbearing here.

And the middle of no where is actually quite pretty.  The landscape here is more rolling than I expected.  The foothills of the Appalachians.  Kudzu covers the national forest here, making green latticework over the shrubs and trees.  The air feels like a giant dog is panting right above you at all times.  The grass grows crazy fast.  Yards sprawl, neighbors are far apart but so kind.  They bring fresh baked goods and host “welcome to the neighborhood” parties.  The school prepares to offer you an office that overlooks the quad and comes with bookshelves waiting to be filled.  The house you rent is cheaper than your studio apartment in Wilmington, and allows you the luxury of having a guest room, a porch, a parlor, a dining room, a den, and two baths.  The backyard is replete with rose bushes, magnolia trees, fig trees, hydrangea bushes, and gardenia bushes.  The size of the bugs here makes the flying cockroaches in ILM seems cute.  Life is slower.  There are literally three restaurants.  If you don’t count the Hardee’s.  And I don’t.  The road to civilization (i.e., a college town with lots of strip malls and sprawl) is straight forward and scenic.  The airport is an hour and a half away.  There are a surprising number of people from Michigan living nearby.  I’ve already found places to camp and hike and bathe in the river.  Now if only the heat index would chill a little, I could enjoy having a huge front porch.

Overall, I feel optimistic I’m where I’m supposed to be.

Especially after the number of losses 2016 brought, I feel sad to be far from home, from family–but eager to continue to forge new, lasting relationships, while carrying the memory of those who’ve passed deep within my heart.

Thanks to all those who kept up with my ILM adventures!  I probably won’t post much here about life in AL, for a variety of reasons, but drop me a line at cshubert@judson.edu if you wish to catch up.

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Awakening

Oh boy, have I dropped the ball blogging here.  Chalk it up to having given myself zero time between finishing up Bread Loaf Oxford and my penultimate semester of my MFA. Last semester was CRAZY.

Time spins like a top lately.  I began 2016 cuddling sleepily on the couch with my boyfriend in my parent’s retirement condo in Florida.  My boyfriend drove 13 hours straight just to ring in the new year with me.  Fools in love.  This will be the second new year I’ve rung in with him by my side.  A year since he first told me he loved me.  Who knows where this year will take us.

2016 started with an abrupt loss.  A friend, colleague, and co-editor of Ecotone passed away very suddenly after a lifelong struggle with muscular dystrophy.  He was (was.  tense.  so hard to keep straight.) one of the most patient, kind-hearted, thoughtful, brilliant persons I’ve had the privilege of knowing.  He was one of the few to write me a letter while I was at Oxford.  I kick myself still that I never remembered to write him back, that I didn’t take more time to talk with him after our many classes together.

The news of his hospitalization spurred me into planning overdrive.  Whenever I feel helpless, I turn to planning like a security blanket.  I get bossy as I try to bully everyone around me into taking care of themselves.  I found strength in the community that formed in the waiting room of New Hanover Regional hospital.  There are those who show up.  And those who don’t, for various reasons.  I am grateful that the experience taught me to value and put more of my energy into those who show up.

I held it together until I left his room for the last time.  Unhooked from the machines, he looked so peaceful.  I realized during life he often had a seriousness to him, a depth of attention that seemed to pinch him forward.  In death, he was so relaxed.  His lips full.  His eyelids as puffy as a newborn baby’s.  He looked young.  So young.  Once in the hallway, once I no longer had anyone to boss around, no more meals to organize, no more texts or calls to make, I disintegrated.  A colleague held me and walked me back to our little MFA group, where several others gathered us up in a group hug.

One thing that astounds me about this place is the sense of community.  It is special here.  Some cattiness, immaturity, and competition do exist.  But in that space in the waiting room, with those who show up, I realized how much love, care, and deep respect binds us together, not just as writers, but as human beings.

The loss got me thinking a lot about the future. I’m currently applying to jobs all over the country, looking for a position that will pay them well and allow me to hone my writing, leadership, teaching, and planning skills.  Ideally a teaching position at a college or a private school, or even work at a non-profit for writing or editing.  I’m scared at the prospect of going anywhere.  I wonder when I will stop moving and start making a home.  I wonder who will deign to continue onward with me, who I have yet to meet.  But then again, I’m reminded that I’ve discovered those who show up for me no matter where I go.  The older I get, the easier these types of people are to recognize.  I’m fortunate to have a few interviews lined up.  Fingers crossed for something.

I also have been thinking a lot about my past year.  2015.  As I reflect on my resolutions (https://ilmwritinglife.wordpress.com/2015/01/17/2015-resolutions/) I’m pretty proud to report that I’ve made many of my goals.  I listed out how many books I read this year, and the number is well over 50!  More than the 30 I’d hoped for!

I’ve somewhat eaten healthier, though I have many lapses.  Oh well.  I recently went on a shopping spree where I bought bigger pants.  I’ve decided that there are too many things that taste better than skinny feels. Added bonus that my bf likes a little junk in the trunk.

I didn’t manage to publish a poem (whomp whomp), but I did get a poem nominated for the AWP Intro Award, as well as two very encouraging rejections from poetry magazines I admire.

I still suck at Twitter and blogging. I’m okay with this.

I pitched my paper on silence for publication, as well as three other academic essays, in academic journals/books. Still waiting for response.

I graduated from Bread Loaf! Summa Cum Laude and Vice President of my graduating class.

I wrote two fiction stories that I actually really liked (and so did Glimmer Train; they encouraged me to resubmit!)

I like to think I’ve been a better friend/family member, but I can always improve on this score.

I still suck at doing yoga daily, though for a six-month stretch I was doing really well.  I do teach it every Friday at 9 still! And I am more regular than I used to be (3-4 times a week).

I’ve made a budget and have (mostly) stuck to it!

I’m really enjoying teaching this semester.  My students are amazing.

I don’t think I wrote 50 new poems.  More like 10-20?  Room to improve as I finish up my thesis.

I have gotten better at editing old work–and at submitting it!  I’ve submitted my work to over 20 different journals so far and applied to over 50 jobs!

I passed my MFA exam with distinction!  I presented at an international conference!  I became nonfiction editor of a magazine I love!  I won two fellowships!  I gave away a ton of old clothes and knickknacks that don’t give me joy (thank you KonMari).  I started medication for anxiety and have made it a priority to relax more.  2016 has already thrown a lot of curves my way.  I had old heartbreaks resurface.  Nothing goes how I plan or imagine it will.  Sometimes it goes better.  Sometimes not.  I’m learning to be more open. Pliable.  Flexible.  Generous, to all, but especially to myself.

January was mean.  I’m hoping for a kinder, slower February.  I decided to start volunteering for a cat shelter.  I want a dog.  I have my thesis reading in a few weeks (OH MY GOD WHAT).  I am taking on more responsibilities at Ecotone.  I’m going back to church (nothing like a death to make you seek out your spirituality.  I wonder what my friend would think of that).  2016, the doors to my heart are wildly flung.  Come at me.

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Letting It Be

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about doubt.  I’ve spent much of my life wrestling with my doubts: self doubt and religious doubt taking the cake.  The resultant anxiety from trying to resolve uncertainty has left me exhausted.  And so the other day I had an epiphany.  What if instead of trying to resolve my doubts, analyze and understand them, control them and thwart them, disprove and disarm them, what if instead I just let them be?

There is no guarantee.  Your lover can promise to be faithful and forever, and want to mean it, but can still stray.  Your career path can swerve unexpectedly, either by promotion or impromptu resignation or sudden termination, or even just lack of change or growth, no matter how many degrees and qualifications you may have.  Your best friend can move away or even suddenly die.

I always envied those with faith.  In my family, there’s a saying, on my dja dja (Polish for grandpa) often said before he was cruelly ripped from my family before I was born by a car crash (19 year old late to work at a Wendy’s blew a red light).  Keep the faith.  I’ve never been one to sit comfortably with dogma or organized religion, but I find myself coming back to that concept, especially when struggling with my doubts.

I’ll never forget the time I was struggling to finish my Master’s of Education while teaching 50 hours a week at the third largest comprehensive high school in Philadelphia.  I daily struggled with culture shock, having come from a mostly white suburban neighborhood suddenly thrust into the most urban of landscapes, where my most of my students were not white and had endured horrors the likes of which I couldn’t even imagine.  I was so emotionally burnt out. I wanted to be good for my students, but was woefully, despite my stellar academic background, underprepared for the realities of teaching in such a high needs area.  I took every mistake personally.  Sleep was my only respite, so I routinely went to bed at 9PM, eager to shed the light of day and let everything go dark.  Horrifically, I recall at one point driving to work on the Roosevelt highway and thinking to myself how much I didn’t want to face the day…how it’d be so easy to turn my wheel into oncoming traffic.  The realization that I could have such a thought scared me even as it made me darkly laugh as I confided this to a roommate who was teaching with me and who had the exact same thought.

I had a professor in the Master’s program who was determined to push us to consider critical race theory and apply it to our pedagogy, so that we might be better for our students.  He pushed me to the breaking point publicly, unaware that I was already on edge and mentally berating myself for not being enough.  After he apologized, he told me to keep the faith.  I felt the disparate parts of my universe collide into sweet synchronicity.  I felt hope.  I felt familiar to myself again.

I don’t know why that memory came to mind now, except to say that I’ve been trying really hard to keep my faith.  In myself, and all I’ve learned and how I’ve grown as an educator and as a writer in the last five years, since that day I sobbed publicly at Penn after a hard day’s teaching. In my relationships, even when they disappoint or hurt me.  In my future and all that I couldn’t predict, no matter how hard I try to be prepared for anything.

Maybe doubt isn’t something I have to relinquish or let go of.  Maybe instead it’s simply something I can acknowledge and then put away. Let be.  And turn my attentions instead to what I’m grateful for.

I’m grateful for my parents.  My brother, who right now is working himself to death trying to become a better doctor.  My boyfriend.  My friends.  My cat.  My apartment.  Enough money to feed and clothe myself.  A past that has led me to where I am now.  Yoga.  Books (currently enjoying A Little Life after reading all these rave reviews on social media). Quiet mornings writing out on the back patio before the rest of the world stirs.  A moment watching a golden orb weaver flex ever so slightly on a string, then still.

spider

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Keeping Busy

I was talking last night with some girl friends about how difficult it is sometimes to talk to ourselves as nicely as we talk to each other.  Several of my friends are suffering from writers’ block,  a lapse in confidence, or a sense of personal failing.  And yet oftentimes we don’t talk about this.  We suffer in silence.  Embarrassed, perhaps?  Trying to be brave?  It was such a relief, however, to come clean with each other about our respective doubts and struggles.  So easy to lift one another up.  Until finally, I found myself speaking passionately about how I believed being kind to oneself could be considered a revolutionary, feminist act, since we live in a society still hell bent on tearing women down.

I’ve been journaling each morning.  I’ve been buying my inner artist child gifts.  I had someone tell me to find a picture of myself when I was goofy and adorable and five years old.  To put that picture up in my bathroom mirror.  And each morning, to tell that picture nice things, things I wanted her to know.  In short, I’ve been trying to in some ways reverse the conceptualization of my battered sense of self.

On a separate note, I’ve been reading an advanced reader copy of Kate Bollick’s Spinster.  In it, she recounts, in a way both historical and personal, how marriage has been the central focus of every woman’s life.  That more so than men, the question of who she will marry, or if she will marry, becomes the fulcrum on which her life spins. Bollick then examines the lives of several women writers who chose to live their lives eschewing the importance of that question: Edna St. Vincent Millay, for example.   The book is fascinating as it strives to imagine another way of existing for women.  I’ve been guilty myself of mooning too much in my writing about my romantic relationships.  I have been but a product of the rom com, Disneyfied society in which I was raised.  I can only imagine what space will open up if I shift my focus.

I’ve been busy with the start of the semester, but I can honestly say I feel as happy as I did when I first moved here.  I feel purposeful.  I’m enjoying the editorial work on the school’s literary journal.  My students are eager and brave and genuinely interested in improving their writing skills (and they follow instructions!  a thing to celebrate indeed).  To my surprise, I put a bunch of poems in a single word document, expecting to find half a draft, and instead, I found 68 pages of poems.  Poems that need editing and rewriting and perhaps cutting.  But a full length draft nonetheless.  I’m slowly trying to get back in shape and find more balance by running less, and biking, swimming, strengthening and stretching more.  I’m finally sleeping better and have more energy.

I’ve also begun applying for jobs for next year–a terrifying, mundane, time consuming process.  My dream would be to land a lecturer or professor position teaching writing at either a community college or a small liberal arts college.  With my background teaching online and a variety of learners, from ESL to urban to international, I’m hopeful that I will find a good fit, though I recognize the process will take a long time–almost a full year (which is why I’m starting to look now).

I’ve fallen behind on submitting my work.  I can’t remember the last time I did that.  And so, that is a goal for this fall.

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No Place Like Home

oxfordIn the month (!) since writing here last, a lot has happened.  I graduated (at last!) with my Master’s in Literature from Middlebury College’s Bread Loaf School of English summer program.  It’s a journey that’s been four years in the making.  My experiences at Bread Loaf’s three campuses, in Vermont, in Santa Fe, and in Oxford, England, have been life changing.

It was during my first summer that I met and worked with Tracy K. Smith, who encouraged and helped me to apply for an MFA in poetry.  Bread Loaf was the first place I read my poems aloud to a group of peers.  It was the first place I was able to feel a community of likeminded educators who bonded together in love of pedagogy and poetry.  It was where I gained confidence in my ability as a speaker, a scholar, and a writer.  It was where I won my first poetry contest.

A lot of people don’t know that I applied for PhDs twice–and was rejected twice–before I decided to give myself over to the MA and MFA route instead.  Bread Loaf lead me to UNCW, and both lead me to realize that it was actually a good thing I was rejected from my so-called “dream.”  It helped me create a new path for myself–one that’s been less straight forward, but still unforgettable and important.  I’ve met some extraordinary mentors, friends, and colleagues along the way.

I’m, however, exhausted.  I’ve essentially been attending two Master’s programs at once.  I’ve learned a lot this past year about over-extending myself.

This therefore is the year I say no.  No to odd jobs.  No to social engagements that make me stare at the clock.  No to extra responsibilities.  No to extra classes.  No to trying to plan everything ad nauseum.  And yes to my writing.  Yes to reading.  Yes to thesis.  Yes to Ecotone, where I participating as the non-fiction editor and honing my skills in publishing and editing and behind the scenes.  Yes to my mental health.  Yes to whatever comes.

I’ve never been more grateful to be where I am.  I am home.  I have an apartment that is clean and (mostly) quiet.  My cat has mellowed out a ton.  I know who my friends here are.  I know where to buy discount organic groceries and how to find the cheapest, best yoga classes.  I am a stop away from some of the most beautiful waterfronts this country has. I have everything I could possibly need.  And I have a third year free from any distractions other than my thesis and my teaching and my work on the literary magazine.

During orientation, we were asked to share our greatest gift.  I didn’t say it at the time, but having a third year to do my MFA thesis right is the best gift I could imagine right now.  A gift of time.

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English Rain

rain

Yesterday it rained all day.  I was glad I packed my rain boots and rain jacket.  I woke up and was going to go on my walk, and decided just to do yoga in my room instead.  The sound of the constant tap tapping and the cool damp air made a nap impossible to resist.  I ended up day dreaming about the cabin Jason and I stayed at in Hot Springs, NC, just outside of Asheville back in October.  That cabin in Hot Springs was very likely the spot I fell in love with him.  We spent many an afternoon on the covered porch there reading in companionable quiet listening to the rain weave its way around the roof-like leaves.  I don’t think there’s a more lulling, comforting sound–at least when you’re properly covered and able to view it from a window, or covered porch, or poncho.

The week went by very quickly.  I had a paper due Tuesday, so Monday and Tuesday passed by in a tea inspired drive to produce 12 pages and re-read the novels at hand.  Tuesday we also had a reception for scholarship recipients (yours truly among them).  I found out the scholarship I received was named for a beloved Bread Loaf faculty member who during the academic year was a chair at Johns Hopkins who tragically drowned trying to save a child in a swimming hole in Ripton, VT (a swimming hole I’ve visited).  I’m very grateful to the generosity I’ve received at the behest of so many wonderful, pioneering educators who believed in helping those who wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford to study do so.

Wednesday I passed in a stupor of essay crisis hangover (Season 2 of Call the Midwife and candy and dining out).  Thursday I hurried through a Toni Morrison novel in time for class.  Yesterday I outlined everything I need to accomplish in the next few weeks while also taking care of some housekeeping planning for the fall.  I also took a break and went and saw Inside Out, an adorable, clever Pixar film with a wonderful message to children that it’s okay and sometimes will save your life to be sad, to feel your emotions authentically, and to reveal in the ways sadness can connect you to your family and friends through compassion and empathy.  I may or may not have teared up with Bing Bong sacrificed himself.

This weekend I opted out of the graduate conference Bread Loaf is putting on (very expertly from what I can tell) in favor of trying to loosen the fist of anxiety that is gripping my heart over the thought of producing two 20 paged papers in the next two weeks.  Focus focus focus.  Tomorrow I have a blog to produce for Ploughshares, and Monday I’m meeting with my professors to firm up plans for my final projects.

To all those who have sent me letters: thank you!  To those who haven’t but want to: note that you need an air mail sticker from the post office and that even with that expediting sticker, the letter will take 5-7 days to arrive, and my last day here is August 8!  After that, Mom and Dad and Jason arrive for an adventure in the north of England.

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Half-Way Through Bread Loaf Oxford Already

As I sit at my large desk with the windows thrown wide open to the sun, a peel of bell chimes echoes down through the quad.  I love the sound of the bells in Oxford–even if they can seem sort of endless on the weekends.  I enjoy taking my morning walk through Christ Church meadow and timing my progress by the tinny plink reverberating down the spires and into the grasses.  The walk usually takes me about 40-45 minutes start to finish.  I like to rise early here–something that’s easily done because the sun rises at 5:00AM.  I usually make myself a cup of lemon ginger tea sweetened with honey and sip it while I journal at my desk. I then dash off to the meadow to walk past the cows (yes, cows) down to Isis, which is what the river Thames is called in Oxford, then up the river Cherwell.  The path is gravelly and makes a pleasant crunching sound under my sneakers (“trainers” here).  The air is always cool at this time of morning (usually around 7/7:30), which I appreciate in the summertime.  The path and streets leading up to it are also mercifully clear of the usual throng of tourist groups that gawk and walk five abreast and stop suddenly, making it impossible to go three blocks in less than 20 minutes.  I could never live here or anywhere that has so many people on the streets.  It frustrates me to no end, which is why my morning walks are my favorite part of my day.  I get back just in time for breakfast (invariably including some delicious flakey French style pastry, British style bacon, and yogurt), and then follow up with some yoga in my room before getting ready for my day of reading, writing, and/or binge watching Call the Midwife as a mental break.

I spent the first part of the week in the Bodelian library researching women sonneteers.  I was stunned to note that there are in fact way more women publishing in the eighteenth century than I realized.  Stupid anthologies.  They include one or two token women poets from the periods before the 20th century, adding to the myth that women didn’t write anything of consequence until recently, when in fact, that is just not true.  The issue is simply that no one though to preserve their writings–or talk much about them in secondary classrooms.  I fell in love with Charlotte Smith’s sonnet sequences in particular, though there were many other such women writing in her time.  I was sobered to note that there were only three books of criticism dedicated to the subject of women’s sonnets in the Bodelian.  And all of them written by women scholars.

I also speed read a number of novels for my American Novel course, as well as reread some Walter Benjamin essays that I plan to use for my papers.  We had another high table dinner Tuesday, as well as some lectures I ended up not attending because of some migraines.

Wednesday, I met with the senior class president (I guess I’m supposedly some sort of Vice President?) to plan out graduation and senior activities, putting my planning skills to good use.

Thursday, we took a school wide field trip to Bath, about two hours southwest of Oxford.  Since I’ve visited Bath as a tourist once before, I opted out of touring the Roman Baths and the church and instead decided to, as they say, “take the waters” and bathe in heated mineral water in a newly refurbished spa called Thermae, which is just around the corner from the Roman Baths.  They had aromatherapy steam rooms (my favorite was the Lotus Flower one; the menthol eucalyptus one smelled like a sick ward) as well as couches to lounge on and herbal tea.  I ended up buying ridiculously expensive aromatherapy shower and bath oil that a therapist there swore would knock me out at night and help me relax.  Feeling slightly like a sucker, I tried it out, and wouldn’t you know, I have been sleeping better, though it could be because I switched back to showering at night before bed, which in itself is relaxing.  After soaking in the pools, I treated myself to a three course pre-theatre menu next to the Royal Theater, where we all had tickets to see She Stoops to Conquer, a surprisingly funny (if dated and sexist) play about mistaken identities and courtship in Restoration England.  I had the most amazing meal I’ve had in Britain to date, and all for only 19 pounds: mackerel on mixed greens, a vegetarian mix over mashed eggplant, and a chocolate brownie and praline for dessert.  I dined alone, which I actually really enjoyed after the relentlessly social meals I’ve had all week.

Friday I mapped out my final paper topics with my professor in an independent tutorial and took a long walk in the University Parks, which has many beautiful flowers in bloom and lovely shady trees dotting the path alongside a tiny little lake where adorable little ducks dive for weeds.  Last night I went out to dinner with some friends and we laughed and talked.  Today I need to buckle down after I post this and get going on my final papers so I can actually graduate!

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An Update

ccI haven’t written here since March, and for good reason.  My health sort of blew up in early April, right around the time I was heading to the Associated Writers and Publishers Conference in Minneapolis, MN, which also happened to be the time my busy semester was coming to a head.  I’ve struggled in that time with anxiety, insomnia, migraines, nausea, muscle pains, and weird nightmares, to the point where my doctor sent me to a neurologist to rule out a tumor [side bar: not sure it was the smartest practice for her to use the T word with someone struggling with anxiety, but I digress].

After some preliminary tests, so far it seems there’s no real reason to worry–that what I really need to do is better figure out how to relax so that I can sleep better.  It’s amazing how much of our health depends upon sleep–and how hard it actually is for me to relax, despite trying so hard [Second side bar: I recently had the epiphany that it’s perhaps that I’m trying too hard that is in fact what is preventing it from being natural.  What is relaxing about your mind screaming, “RELAX?  Why can’t you just relax?”  Nothing, actually.  Nothing.  I recently had a horrible experience with a massage therapist who actually took that approach.  She seemed frustrated that she wasn’t strong enough to dislodge some of the knots in my back, and therefore kept exasperatedly asking me to “let go,” to which I got angry and anxious and couldn’t help but retort, “I’M TRYING.”].

To that end, I’ve decided, after prompting from my doctor, to abstain from drinking alcohol (for the most part–I cheated on my birthday and at my brother’s graduation), to restart taking my daily vitamins, to restart a twice daily yoga and meditation practice, to create a bedtime ritual devoid of screens, to try to eat more veggies as the basis of my plate, and exercise every day, supplementing the hard pounding of running with lighter activities like biking and swimming or even just long walks.  It’s amazing how tight my muscles are because of nearly fifteen years of running.  I sometimes catch myself with taut muscles even just sitting at my chair, and once I catch myself, I can coax myself into softening.

Part of the issue is that I just had an overly busy semester: four classes, full load of teaching, belligerent male students, a second job tutoring undegrads in Spanish, lots of travel, helping my brother move, a persistently sick cat, freelance deadlines, applying for the non fiction editor position for our literary magazine.  I am just burnt out.

Throughout all this, my lovely boyfriend has been super supportive, more so than anyone I’ve ever met, and I remain ever grateful that he walked into my life last August.  He is so good to me, so kind, thoughtful, and funny.  I love laughing with him and feel so at home in his company.  At his and my mother’s coaxing, I took the six weeks I had in between my spring semester at UNCW and my summer semester at Bread Loaf’s Oxford campus (where I am now) forgoing new opportunities in exchange for relaxation.  I leisurely read some (not as many as I probably should have, but enough of that) of my books for Bread Loaf at the pool, at the beach, in my apartment on some of the more steamy, humid days.  I worked out twice a day, doing lighter activities, deeper stretches.  I did more with less, and it felt wonderful.

I guess though I’m glad I had the busy spring semester I had, if only because I needed that second job to save up for England, and because I have now arranged to give myself the gift of a third and final year of my MFA [Side bar: I have no idea how anyone does their MFA in TWO years], when I only have to concentrate on my teaching, my thesis, and participating in the editorial work for Ecotone (I got the non fiction editor position, to my surprise and delight).  I will be able to continue to do more with less.

I’m also grateful to be back in Oxford for my final summer with Bread Loaf.  It’s so beautiful here.  I studied abroad in 2008 at Oxford, at Worcester College (for those who aren’t aware, Oxford University is comprised of many colleges that function together much like a federal state under the umbrella term “Oxford”).  It’s just as magical as I remember, if much more congested with obnoxiously large and fundamentally slow tourist groups that make getting from point A to point B a painfully drawn out labor of patience.  I am relieved also to have experience with this city.  I’m amazed at how much is flooding back into my memory as I walk the streets and remember short cuts and favorite haunts.  I’m particularly grateful also to have already done many of the touristy things here so that I can use my time outside of class to focus on my reading and writing.  For example, today a group is heading to Blenheim Palace, the grand family home of Winston Churchill, and I’m staying behind to write here and catch up on work (and to save money for excursions that I haven’t actually tried before).  I also happily feel as confident as I’ve ever felt as a student, thanks to all that has brought me here–a good thing given that I have a ten page paper due next week, and two 18-23 page papers due in three weeks.

I had a hard time getting here, though, which undid a lot of the nice relaxation I managed to gift myself with before leaving Wilmington.  I decided to fly out of Raleigh, to save money, and to book a non-direct flight via JFK to Heathrow.  My flight out of RDU ended up being hours delayed due to weather, which whittled my three hour layover down to minutes.  Having never been to JFK’s airport before, I didn’t realize that I would have to switch terminals and that that was the reason for having a three hour layover in the first place.  I nonetheless sprinted, at 11PM, through terminal 7, dragging my impossibly heavy carry-on behind me (I was instructed it was important to bring all the books I needed for the term on my person in case my luggage was lost and because there was not a bookstore in Oxford guaranteed to have the editions I needed for my primary texts).  My legs were shot by the time I reached Terminal 8 huffing and puffing, only to have an airline employee scoff at me and tell me to just go straight to ticketing to be rebooked, because there was no way I was going to make the flight, since I would have to re-go through security after taking a train ride from one terminal to the next.  I also nearly got on the train to the city proper instead of the terminal, because they are right next to each other (of course) with no signage I could see.  I leapt off at the last second, sweating, after bellowing to the passengers, “WHERE IS THIS TRAIN GOING” in a panic.

After being rebooked on the next flight available–which was to be ten hours later at 9 AM–I meekly asked the ticket agent where I was supposed to spend the night.  “We can’t give you a hotel,” I was told, because my flight over to JFK was American, yet my flight to LHR was British Airways/Iberia.  I’d have to go back to Terminal 7, which I could not do because the trains were no longer running and most employees except the cleaning staff had left, and besides the point, the ticketing agent was deeply doubtful I would get a hotel voucher for a weather-related delay on a “code share” flight (a flight where two or more airlines share in the profits and therefore can shirk responsibility as to who is responsible for putting up delayed passengers).

At this point, I simply burst into hot, soft tears, apologizing to the ticketing agent for crying (side bar: WHY DO WE AS WOMEN FEEL THE NEED TO APOLOGIZE FOR OUR FEELINGS), saying, “I’m just so tired. I don’t know what to do or where to go.”

Somewhat pityingly, the man pointed to a plush arm chair in the business class lounge, telling me it was actually quite comfortable, and that I only needed to wait four hours before I could get in line to get checked-in for my new flight.

Still sobbing quietly, I called my mom and boyfriend, both of whom were still up, and both of whom tried to urge me to find a hotel.  My boyfriend was especially adamant that it might not be safe for me to sleep in the lobby of a terminal, not being through security, in NYC, but he backed off when I started to work myself up into a perfect panic not knowing where I would go or even how to get to a hotel.  I was also just exhausted at this point, not having slept well the night before my trip, and having sprinting while carrying a heavy carry-on bag for what felt like 30 minutes, all with a fist of panic around my heart regarding missing my flight.

My boyfriend then lulled me to sleep (after calling the airlines to give them a piece of his mind for not putting me up in a hotel) with sweet reassurances that I was safe, that he wished he were with me, that he had his arms around me.  I managed to doze in the arm chair next to a Spanish family in the same boat, only to be woken up by an unsympathetic cleaning crew member telling me I had to vacate the business class lounge because he needed to vacuum.  Wanting to retort, “you can’t just vacuum around my snot streaked person, jerk face?  It’s 2 AM for god’s sake,” I nonetheless got up and moved to the middle school esque desk like chairs right by the door that was blowing in cold air from outside and decided I might as well write a blog for Ploughshares that was due that weekend since there was no sleep to be had.

I got through the next day in a blur, only to arrive to my hotel in London very late, where I was overjoyed to discover my room had a large tub.  I took the hottest bath I could manage before drifting off to a deadened sleep after having been awake for nearly 24 hours.

I got to Lincoln College, Oxford (where Bread Loaf hosts their summer session over here) and unpacked, delighted to have my own private little room and bathroom overlooking a grove quad.  I was also delighted about England’s lush green hills and cooler summer weather–a relief after North Carolina’s swampy 100 degree humidity.

I then dashed back to travel mode, having gotten through orientation quickly so I could take a three and a half hour train ride up to Liverpool to participate in a conference on Silence and Meaning Making, at which I’d had my project on  silence and women’s poetry accepted.  The travel there was likewise fraught, as it turned out to the hottest day on record in the UK, and I got lost, only to discover my accommodation was 30 minutes outside the city center and not easily accessible to the conference site, so I arrived quite late.  The ordeal stressed me out so much I decided to come back a day early to Oxford, though I’m glad I presented and had the experience of meeting academics from all over the world who are interested in what I am interested in.  I also am submitting my paper for publication in a book on silence that the conference committee is editing.

Since settling back into Oxford, my favorite moments have been the quiet ones I spend on my own, either at writing at my desk listening to the bells, reading in my little armchair, walking in Christ Church Meadow and looking at the cows (yes, cows), staring up at the spires, sipping tea, wobbling on the cobblestones, waltzing past the tourists into the private, grandiose libraries, or running past the beautiful lush gardens alongside the river at University Parks.  Not to say that there aren’t wonderful people here and social moments–we have BBQs, pub quiz nights, formal hall dinners, lectures, receptions, excursions to London and Stratford to see Shakespeare–but after the semester I’ve had, those quiet moments are the ones I relish the most.

My classes are extremely interesting–the American Novel since 1945 and an independent study on women writers and the sonnet.  My professors are sharply smart and keep stunning me into new ways of thinking about literature and are very encouraging of my interest in creative writing, even going so far as to allow me to do a creative component to my final research papers–something I wasn’t sure I’d be allowed to do at Oxford, but that will set me up nicely for my return to my thesis in the fall.  Furthermore, I was nominated by my graduating peers to the executive committee to help plan Bread Loaf Oxford’s graduation ceremony (a nice vote of confidence in my eloquence, dependability, and organization skills) , so I’ll be doing that here as well.

I miss my family, my Daisy, and my boyfriend something fierce, however, and can’t wait for them to come visit me for the graduation, followed by a week trip up to the Lake District.  After my parents leave, Jason and I will stop off in London for a few days to stay with friends.

All in all, of the 15 resolutions I made in 2015, I have been successful at keeping all but five, and as we’re only halfway through the year, I still have time to work on 1. developing a better editing routine for old work 2. writing more poems 3. submitting work 4. maintaining my twitter and 5. blogging here more regularly (though my Ploughshares gig does mean I’m regular in one venue, even if not here).

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Filed under creative writing, positivity, self-esteem, self-help, vacation, women, writing

Whenever I Feel Lonely and Insecure, As I Have Lately, I Try to…

–breathe evenly and consistently and not hold my breath.

–do/teach yoga

–run

–go to the gym

–reread Harry Potter

–look at cat memes on the internet

–cuddle/play with Daisy

–sit in the sun

–call a friend

–get ahead on homework/work projects

–binge watch Parenthood or Parks and Recreation

–cook natural foods/avoid snacking even though all I ever want always especially when sad is Cheetoes.

–read a frivolous magazine

–journal

–practice gratitude

–call family

–list out what i like about myself

–plan a getaway

–sign up for a race

–clean my apartment

–snap out of the past

–forgive myself for not quite yet knowing how to let the little things go

–remember that i like being with just me

–take a bubble bath

–light some candles

–buy something new and pretty and comfortable that fits me

–daydream about solitary hikes in the mountains/beach naps

–give/receive hugs

–remember that it’s okay to be sad/anxious sometimes, that it will pass.

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Filed under advice, self-help, writing

Back again

Well, I all but abandoned this blog lately, but for good reason: I got a second job!  I’m now a TA in the Spanish Department, as well as in the Creative Writing Department, working 9 hours in the Spanish Conversation Center, helping undergraduates figure out how to twist their tongue around answers to basic questions, like, Where are you from?  And, is your roommate annoying?  Describe to me your least favorite chore from childhood.  We also make lots of small talk.  If I had a penny for every student I asked what his/her major was… Brings me back, y’all.  To awkward house and dorm parties with peers I didn’t know.

It’s very divertido and exhausting to speak Spanish 9 hours a week, but gratifying as I remember that I actually started out my professional career as a Spanish teacher, then an English teacher abroad in Andorra to Spanish-speaking students.  I feel I’m getting less rusty, and it’s always enjoyable when, in any language, someone younger than you looks at you wide-eyed and asks you to describe the magical time you had, after graduating, in the workforce in places as glamorous as Philly and Andorra (I usually have to point it out on a map), and when they, in despair and in English, ask how you EVER learned Spanish because it’s SO HARD OMG IMPERFECT (answer: I personally think every university should adopt the RC from U of Michigan’s campus model by having morning grammar lectures in Spanish, lunch table conversation centers, and afternoon literature discussion circles in Spanish–8 credits in total PASS/FAIL to take the pressure off getting “everything right”–which is impossible when learning a foreign language at first, since you are basically a toddler developmentally in the language).

The extra money in my bank account does not hurt at all as I try to save save save for effectively being unemployed come June/July and simultaneously living in Oxford, England, where I’ll be taking an independent research tutorial on lady sonnetiers and a course on American Fiction since 1945. I’ll also graduate with my Master’s in English Literature from Middblebury College’s Bread Loaf School of English.  It’s really hard to believe I’ll be graduating, since that means it was four years ago that I was in Andorra teaching and trying to figure out how to break in the English literature teaching market back home in the States and thus elected to spend my first summer doing Bread Loaf in Vermont with other English teachers of the U.S. looking to up their resume/content know how.

It was at my first summer at BL that I took a poetry workshop with newly minted Pulitzer Prize winner Tracy K. Smith, who mentored me and gently suggested I consider applying for an MFA in poetry once I told her what I wanted to do (teach writing, have more time for my own writing, read great works of literature), and, well, the rest led me to where I am now.

On top of double TA’ing at UNCW, I’m still blogging regularly at Ploughshares writing their literary round down every other Tuesday.  Thanks to those who read and shared–I get a bonus if my views go up, so thank you. I’m also still teaching yoga at Pineapple Studios downtown and enjoying developing “regulars” each week.  I’ve been there officially a year, which is an amazing anniversary to me.  A while back I imagined my dream life, and it included author, yoga teacher, and outdoor enthusiast, so it’s pretty great that I’ve had the opportunities I’ve had lately to explore my passions and bring them to others.

Things with Daisycat are great.  She’s currently snuggled in my lap.  Sometimes (read: all the time) she wakes me up in the middle of the night, so I haven’t been sleeping all that well, but could you resist this face?

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I didn’t think so.

Additionally, in the service of making more money for the summer/Europe, I may also be subbing for a local academy here in Wilmington, to keep my teaching fresh.  If any people in the MFA program are wondering why you never see me perhaps this post will explain.  I’ve also been suffering from insane allergy attacks lately which on top the not sleeping well have made me feel somewhat of a zombie.  But a happy zombie who finally likes what she’s producing in her workshops.  And who falls asleep at 10:00PM on Saturdays.

My boyfriend continues to be a lovely stud who cooks AND cleans, even when he’s been at work longer than I have, and when I ask if I can help, he shoos me out of the kitchen and tells me to take a nap/have a glass of wine/take a bath, etc.  He’s a gem and a keeper and I’m so glad we had the various twists and turns that brought us together.  His humor keeps me laughing and his goodness keeps me growing.  His pretty sky blue eyes don’t hurt neither.

Anyway, that’s it for now: I will try to be better at putting something up here.  Perhaps not Saturdays anymore that I agreed to support Arsenal Football Club (read the above paragraph), but maybe I’ll start Wednesday posts, since I don’t have much but an evening class that day.

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Filed under blog, cats, creative writing, literature