Category Archives: literature

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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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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Rounding Down Literary News For Ploughshares

For those who read here and missed my usual Saturday update on living life as a student of writing in Wilmington, NC, I have a good excuse.  This weekend I’ve been hustling away trying to write my December debut posts for the Ploughshares’ blog, for whom I’ll be manning up their Round Down series twice a month.  Because the holidays are among us, I needed to get my posts in early, and between that and a last minute excursion down to Myrtle Beach to hit th outlet stores and see 50 state-themed Christmas trees inside an aquarium, I’ve been pretty occupied.

I’ll cross-post my Round Down posts here, so be on the look out for that tomorrow and December 30.

Stay tuned! And thanks for reading.

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Literary Self-Help? Can It Exist?

nymagcoverI’ve been thinking a lot lately, as someone who studied the “canon” in college and attended one of the most prestigious (positive connotation)/hoity toity (negative) universities in the world, about my love for so-called self-help literature that has crossed over into best-seller territory, and even, some say (some more derisively than others) into “chick-lit” territory.  Over the last five years, I’ve fallen in love with titles like Eat, Pray, LoveTiny Beautiful Things and Wild, all three by women who fearlessly share their bottom hitting and weary introspection that allowed them to make themselves a ladder.  I’ve also developed an obsession with Taylor Swift (I may or may not have been blasting 1989 on my way back from yoga today).  I’m not sure why I feel that’s relevant, but it is.  I’ve also been devouring psychology books, including Unquiet Mind by Kay Jamieson, several self-help books by Harville Hendrix, Amalie Chance, and Steven Carter and Julia Skotol as I’ve been seriously trying to answer for myself questions about how I fare in my relationships.

In my current MFA circles, this is generally met with scorn, especially by my male peers, a scorn that bristles my neck hairs and sends me into fits of defensiveness.  I’m not sure what it is that so irritates my colleagues: that these writers are commercially successful with “the masses” as opposed to an elite, referent loving crowd; that these writers are commercially successful when my peers are not; that these writers are successful women writers; or that they dare to bare their deepest faults and most earnest wishes for wholeness in an wholly un-ironic way in writing when irony seems more hip(ster) these days.

I came across a self-help column in New York Magazine through a friend from high school posting it on her facebook (side note: this alone is reason enough for me never to quit facebook: I have pruned my friend list to people A. I actually keep in touch with in the non-virtual world or B. who continue to post fascinating articles that don’t get lost the way they do in my twitter feed, since my twitter feed is swept up by professional organizations who post 2-5 times a day).  This article reminded me of why I have fallen so hard for such titles when my own inner literary snob side cringes in embarrassment (driven no doubt by said colleagues above, some who include professors).  The answer, written by “Polly” for the “Dear Polly” column, hit me like a stack of ill-placed books.  I felt seen.  I felt my deepest, most obsessive questions about myself and my past failed relationships answered, not definitively, but answered in a way that gave me much needed perspective.  The blend of kind-hearted exasperation and teasing alongside serious reflection on matters of the heart in the response made me feel wrapped in a blanket just out of the dryer.  Like a small fluffy kitten curled itself deep into the darkest, dankest place in my own heart.  I felt a little bit of good-natured shame at recognizing myself in the plea that prompted the response.  I don’t know why it’s often easier said than done for smart, over-achieving women to find successful relationships–but it is.  I myself have been torn in knots over someone who fits the general description of this article to a damn T several times–and I couldn’t ever figure out why!

I’m coming to a place in my life where I don’t mind owning my hurt, because it means owning also what I’ve learned over the years by making such mistakes–and what I’ve learned has opened me up to appreciating someone more fit for me. And aren’t those kind of changes what drives most character studies in great literature?  Isn’t there a sort of quest involved in improving yourself?

Some of the titles I mentioned above get flack for not being more interested in the social plight of non-white women, especially when their healing process takes them to other countries/wildernesses  to benefit from expensive tourism.  And I get that.  But in today’s post-Freud world, how can we start to educate and improve the world around us if we can’t first start with ourselves?

I may just be posing this to make myself feel better about my current trend in book selections.  But I wonder what other readers think?  Can “self-help” lit be literary?  What about “chick-lit”?  Are these categories useful or out-dated?


As a personal update, Daisy went a week flea free, until my new boyfriend found some on her this morning before we hit up the farmer’s market.  After all that work last Friday, which was supposed to last a month.  I’m devastated.  I am the kind of person who hates feeling like she did EVERYTHING SHE WAS SUPPOSED TO DO, and the result was still a failure–and in this case, a waste of a lot of money I don’t really have at this current state of being on my third Master’s degree.  I’m pretty sure I used every flea product on the shelf at home depot/the pet store in one way or another in the past three months.  I wonder if I am just to accept fleas as a reality until winter, when hopefully they might all die of frost.

In professional news, next week is Writer’s Week here at UNCW.  I’m looking forward to my get out of grad class free pass in order to check out some writerly conference style events and readings.  As an added bonus, my students don’t have anything to turn in this week, and I get a break from grading, too–though some are coming in for grade-panic conferences, now that the semester (whut) is nearing to a close.

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