Category Archives: writing

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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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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The Privileged Writer

This past week has been rough–I’ve been knocked down by a bad cold that has left me with a painful deep cough and more congestion and sinus pressure and fatigue than I’ve experienced in quite a long time.  I ended up taking off class twice this week, and I’m so far behind on grading that students are in a panic emailing me because they’re afraid they didn’t upload their journals correctly (side bar: I normally grade everything as I receive them for my online class, but now I’m a week behind).

In good news, however, I’ve been cared for very well by my boyfriend, who’s been busting his butt at work but somehow always has the energy to call to see if I need something, fix me soup before he’s even had a bite to eat all day, and who braves hugging me and kissing my forehead even though I sound, as my friend said pointedly this week, like death warmed over.  I also managed to get up to Season 4 in Friends and to sleep about 12 hours a day.

I’ve recovered a bit–feeling about 85%– and had some great news: I’ll soon have another part time position on campus doing something I really love: helping undergraduates with their Spanish.  Not a bad wrap to an otherwise exhausting week!

I’ve been thinking a lot about my path to being a writer and the recent article posted in Salon about the unspoken privilege behind many successful writers.  The article hit close to home: I wouldn’t be here pursuing my MFA without the monetary support I’ve received from my parents, who financed my undergraduate so I wouldn’t have any loans and who set up an educational trust for me that they decided they didn’t need to dip into when I was in college and left for me in case I wanted to pursue a graduate degree–or, as it turns out, two Master’s degrees at once (which I’m in the process of doing).  In addition, I received part-time work and scholarships from the universities I attend.  All of this has allowed me time to pursue my writing, though I have to admit–I’m even struggling with money on top of that, which makes me cringe to think about how my peers are faring who don’t have the same support I am grateful to have, and makes me feel ashamed of the times I’ve squawked about my bank account at the end of the month.  At the end of each month, I count my pennies and wager whether or not I can afford to pay for both my cat and I to eat well (side bar: she currently eats better than I do on a prescription diet).  Life keeps getting more and more expensive and I keep making less and less money–though more perhaps than the average bear in my shoes.

All this to say, I realize I’m in a position of privilege.  My dad would say to that, stop feeling guilty and go produce something worthy of that opportunity you’ve been given.  To that end, I’m making good on my resolutions and have applied to a poetry contest and submitted an independent tutorial topic to Bread Loaf so I can graduate this summer with all my credits (side bar: it’s on how 21st century minority women poets have revitalized the sonnet) and am continuing to try to be a better student, writer, teacher each day.  I’m trying to feel like I’ve earned my privilege–a weird, possibly improbable, unproductive thing to do.  It makes me sad and a little bit angry: being an artist shouldn’t be a privilege but a right to anyone who wants it.  But I’m grateful writers like Ann Bauer are calling us on our privilege in a way that isn’t full of useless guilt and finger pointing, but rather frankly owns her own privilege in a way that maybe, just maybe, makes it okay for all of us to own where we are, so that more open dialogue and perhaps one day change can occur.  In the meantime, I hope I remember this moment and if I ever do manage to achieve any sort of literary success in future that I focus instead on all that got me where I am, rather than focusing on my perceived shortcomings and limitations that–for many, many people, especially those of different socio-economic backgrounds than my own–aren’t really based in their reality.

Sign dollar and the books on scales. 3D image.

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Falling in Love

There’s been a lot of buzz lately about this Modern Love column where Mandy Len Cantron wrote about a study by Arthur Aron (among others) about the questions it takes to fall in love with someone, even a stranger.  This other news article compiled the questions here.  Given I’m fighting off the beginning of a cold and too scratchy to think of something to write about, I’m going to take a stab at these–maybe to fall more in love with myself.  Maybe as a throw back to the livejournal days of doing self-quizzes (anyone? anyone!?).

1. Given the choice of anyone in the world, whom would you want as a dinner guest?

First of all, I like how grammatically proper this questionnaire is already. Whom.  Nice.  Okay.  This is hard.  I hate questions where you have to pick just one song, band, book, or dinner guest.  I feel so much pressure.  (I’m writing all the thoughts I have that I would likely say on a date as a way of stalling and giving myself more thinking time).  I feel like Dorothy Parker would be a blast.

2. Would you like to be famous? In what way?

Mergh.  Yes and no.  I would like to have readers.  But I’d rather not have the kind of fame that comes with not being able to go to the corner store in sweatpants and unwashed hair without shame/having my photo end up in a tabloid.

3. Before making a telephone call, do you ever rehearse what you are going to say? Why?

Sometimes, if it’s a work related call and I’m anxious about how I’m going to come off in a professional situation.  Rarely when it comes to personal calls though.  Anyone who has received a voicemail from me can attest to the awkwardness of this fact.  Ramble ramble.

4. What would constitute a “perfect” day for you?

I hate the word perfect.  I’ve spent my life trying to get okay with not being perfect/a perfectionist.  A nice day would enjoy getting up early (I know) and enjoying a cup of tea on my own while writing, then having a late breakfast somehow involving bacon with my boyfriend and going on a run or walk with him while the sun shines on a body of water.  Then lunch with my favorite gal pals who magically all manage to be in the same place for this day, and a quick call home.  Followed by an afternoon reading a wonderful book with my cat curled up on my lap with yoga before or after.  Concluding with a romantic evening with my boyfriend where neither of us has anything to do for work and I get to wear something on the fancy side–even if its just for him cooking for me in my kitchen.  Bonus: minus the teleportation of my friends from different states, I get to have a perfect day on a pretty regular basis.  That’s because I’m trying to live my life more purposefully by making room for all the things/people i love.

5. When did you last sing to yourself? To someone else?

Earlier this afternoon while cleaning.  To my cat sometime this week, I’m sure.  Or sarcastically and loudly in the car to my boyfriend as something loud and pop-like played and he winced good-naturedly.

6. If you were able to live to the age of 90 and retain either the mind or body of a 30-year-old for the last 60 years of your life, which would you want?

Oh jeez.  Probably the body–if only because, barring any disease, I think I’m going to dig my mind at that age.  Plus I can see from my relatives how tough it is to have your body deteriorate.

7. Do you have a secret hunch about how you will die?

I’m deathly afraid of being underwater, so drowning?  Fingers crossed for old age, though.

8. Name three things you and your partner appear to have in common.

This is where the quiz doesn’t make sense to do by yourself.  But I’m going to answer for me and my current boyfriend: we both love to cook; we’re both writers; we’re both earnest and thoughtful.

9. For what in your life do you feel most grateful?

So much.  Mainly being able to pursue my writing dream, which wouldn’t be possible without my parents’ help along the way, and the twists and turns and adventures I had to get here.

10. If you could change anything about the way you were raised, what would it be?

I would strip the household of negativity and add more compassionate listening.

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I’m just going to do the first 10, but it’s an interesting set of questions to check out!

j and me

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2015 Resolutions

This will be short and sweet since it’s so belated, but I meant to do this at the beginning of the month: writing out some personal and professional goals for the new year.

This year, I’d like to:

1. Read more.  To that end I will try to read 30 books this year.  I figure that’s more realistic than 52, since I’m in grad school and freelancing and reading a lot of articles and single poems and criticism for classes that don’t necessary = a book.  I’m currently finishing Langston Hughes’ autobiography and Junot Diaz’s This Is How You Lose Her, which is a wild, wonderful book about relationships that I feel stubbornly wouldn’t have gotten as much critical acclaim had it been written by a woman, and to that end, I want to strive to write about relationships in the searing, blunt way Diaz does to defy the “chick lit” category.

2. Eat healthier.  To that end, I will try to avoid processed food and eat more naturally.  That means good bye snacking and take-out/pizza, hello veggies. So far, so good, actually, thanks to my amazing chef boyfriend.

3. Publish at least one poem in a literary journal I admire.

4. Maintain my Twitter on a daily basis.  I suck at this currently.

5. Graduate from Bread Loaf’s School of English in Oxford this summer.  Already in motion.

6. Pitch my paper on silence and contemporary women’s poetry for publication in an academic journal.  I will be presenting it at my second conference this summer in Cornwall, England, and will have plenty of opportunity to pitch to publishers there.

7. Write two fiction stories.  I’m terrified about this, as I haven’t written fiction since high school, and some of, embarassingly, was fan fiction.  I’m enrolled in a fiction workshop, so this will not be a problem–though writing two GOOD stories might be a stretch.

8. Be a better friend/family member–calling more, writing more, setting up dates.

9. Do yoga 6 days a week.  So far this has been hard given my crazy schedule, but I really do feel better when I do it, especially since the majority of my day is spent at a desk.  I somehow manage to stick to a running schedule just fine; I resolve to get better at a yoga schedule, too, even if it means working out twice a day.

10. BUDGET BETTER.  Seriously.  Money is the worst and I spent it way too frivolously.  No more, especially since I have a UK summer lined up.

11. Be a more attentive and creative teacher.  I’m already having so much more fun teaching this semester than in semester’s past now that I’m using blackboard in more nuanced ways having taking my training courses last semester.

12. Continue to be open to my wonderful, loving relationship with my boyfriend, whatever comes. He’s already taught me more about how to be a partner in the last six months than I’ve learned in my entire preceding 27 years.

13. Write at least 50 new poems this year.

14. Develop a weekly editing routine for old work.

15. Get quicker/less self-conscious at writing blog content.  I seriously tinker with them, especially the pshares ones, for way too long.

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A lot of these resolutions add up to spending more quiet time at home cooking and conserving cash and reading/writing– I can’t wait.  I’m seriously excited about that prospect, especially since I feel so at home with myself lately.  Our program director started off my first year of my MFA telling us to not be afraid to stay home on weekend nights while everyone else is out partying to do your work–at the time, I was like, uh, no, but now I get it.  To that end, I’m so glad this is a three year program rather than a two year, as I feel like I’m finally producing the kind of work I want to with my MFA.

I don’t think I’ve started a year as contended as I am now–the lack of my usual anxiety is so freeing.  2015 feels like my year–though 2014 was the year of six weeks in Santa Fe, winning the Haiduke poetry prize, landing a paid gig blogging for Ploughshares, running a half-marathon, landing my first yoga teaching gig, learning how to teach online, presenting at my first academic conference, surviving heartbreak and finding new love.  I’m excited for what else may come my way!

flower

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Round Down at Ploughshares

As promised, though a bit belated, here is a link to my latest Round Down at Ploughshares’ blog, where I analyze and otherwise break down the latest in literary news.  So far I’ve covered a clarion call for white writers’ to tackle racism in literature given the aftermath of Ferguson, the somewhat murky process for selecting the “best” literature according to the National Book Awards and the Pulitzer Prize, and, most recently, the media’s complicated response to the brutal Charlie Hebdo killings last week.

I’ve really been enjoying compiling my thoughts on what’s happening in the literary world, especially as it intersects with society and culture–though I’ve been so anxious about commenting on front page issues that I spend way too much time tinkering after I have the piece written.  Hopefully as time goes on and I continue to develop my Round Down voice I will get swifter without sacrificing quality.  It’s been a blast to see my name associated with a really wonderful publication and to get a chance to put in action my belief that literature matters.

Check me out every other Tuesday on @Pshares!  Now that I’m back from a whirlwind holiday vacation to Michigan and the Caribbean, I plan to resume blogging more personally here as well every Saturday.

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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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On Patience (Flea, Be-gone, Flee!)

Another short post.  My life this week has been taken over by flea eradication.  I’d tried everything to rid my rescue kitten and my house of the legacy obsessed, over-achieving egg layers.  Nothing worked, and when I spoke to the vet, she told me it must be because the house is infested.  I therefore spent the better part of the end of the week researching and then shopping for DIY flea bombs for my apartment, then spraying and then washing and drying every piece of fabric I own until the wee hours of the morning.  So far: success!  Though my sleep has suffered as a result.

One thing I’ve been thinking a lot about lately is what I need to do to prepare for my thesis writing next year.  For those who don’t know, the end of an MFA culminates with the writing of a book-length manuscript, for me, in this case, of poems.

I’ve meet with all the poetry professors the past two months one by one and showed them my work thus far to get their insight into what I need to be working on right now in my second year of a three year program.  Their response was, cheeringly, pretty unanimous: to read as much as I can to try to get a sense for who and what kind of collection I want to emulate, and not to try to coerce my work into a theme just yet, to try to write more personally and less conceptually.  Apparently, and this will not come as a surprise to any who knows me, I tend to be a little too eloquent/wordy, or, in the delightful way a professor put it, “very facile.”  None of these things are always a good thing.  Basically, in my poetry, I sometimes overwrite, try too hard to force the making of the poem, rather than just stepping back and letting it breathe/come into being on its own without all my effort sweating all over it.

I’ve always been an overachiever (I once stayed up late to write two different versions of an essay and then got to school early to ask the teacher which one was the best for the assignment…and I’ve often blundered in my past romantic relationships by trying to mold them into something too soon rather than just letting things take their course), but in my life, I’m trying to work on better balance, on being more zen, and that includes in my writing practice.

But to that will take more patience and better practice.  And courage.  To let things settle and the right line to emerge on its own, rather than forcing it into existence.  To be more personal and revealing.  To risk being trite in case of being more honest and natural.

“Do you have the patience to wait

Till your mud settles and the water is clear?
Can you remain unmoving

Till the right action arises by itself?”

P.S. This philosophy does not in any way relate to how one should declare war on fleas. Patience is in no way a virtue in this case.

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On Cats and Mountain Escapes

This week’s post will be a little quicker, less processed as I have a lot to do today before jetting off for fall break to the mountains tomorrow.  I’m heading off to Hot Springs, NC (voted best small mountain town by Blue Ridge Outdoors magazine in 2012!) in order to bask in cool mountain air and autumn colors.  I always have the urge to “get away” into nature.  To lose myself in a thicket of trees.  To feel the certainty of having to put one foot in front of the other.  To leave behind traffic noises and the sound of small talk.  To feel infinitesimal under a big sky and looming peaks but also rooted in time and place.  That I’m renting a secluded cabin near Max Patch feels right.  I’ve been overwhelmed, emotionally exhausted, and in need of a change of scene for a while now.

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Daisy curled up on the couch the first day I got her.

I’ve also been really stressed about the health of my little kitty, Daisy.  She’s almost six months old now, which in kitty years means she’s technically an adolescent.  This is also evidenced by her overall newfound brattery (shredding bed spreads/curtains, sitting on my face while I sleep, stepping her own poop and then pouncing every where in the newly cleaned apartment, knocking over and shattering pottery/lamps/mugs, chewing…all the things, flinging out the hair guard I have in my tub and playing soccer with it, and knowing just when I’m about to have a break-through in my relationship with my writing muse and taking that particular moment to jump up and down on my keyboard).  I love her, though, more than I thought I would.  She consistently makes me laugh and remember the benefit of furry kisses and cuddles every morning and night.  It’s also so nice to have something that scampers eagerly to the door when I arrive home after a particularly frustrating teaching gig or writing workshop or social outing.

Unfortunately, she’s had diarrhea for two months–ever since I first brought her home–and it’s getting worse.  The other week I found her straining and her watery stool had blood in it.  I panicked and called the vet and ran her over to the hospital, where they did a full work up of tests–and everything came back negative.  Which, on the one hand, is great (no cancer! no AIDS!), but on the other hand, means I am hundreds of dollars poorer and still no closer to understanding what is wrong with her or how to make her feel better.

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Daisy playing with the mouse attached to the pretty dark walnut/rattan scratching pad I bought her that she has no interest in clawing (not so for the wicker ottoman I have).

I’ve been switching up her food every ten-fourteen days to try to see if it’s a food allergy, but so far, none have seemed to really make a huge difference.  For a few days, it seemed as though a grain-free, wet turkey can food was working, but then, inexplicably, she went right back to having watery stool. (Side note: it is insane to me how many of my hours are now consumed with thoughts of poop.  I sardonically mentioned to a friend that this must be what it is like to be a new parent).  Frustratingly, I’d stocked up on a bunch of the turkey wet food before she turned back to the diarrhea, and now I can’t take the bulk set back to the store (it’s opened) and the vet wants her on this prescription hydrolyzed protein diet (which from what I can tell from the last two days, is just making things even more watery, stinky, and worse).  To make matters even worse, this was the most expensive shit (literally) yet, and it smells just like you would imagine food that comes from a lab might and kind of permeates the house.

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Daisy getting bigger, curled around a pumpkin.

I had a friend warn me not to adopt a kitten who is already sick, and now I realize why–you end up chasing down their illness and throwing lots of money at the problem without any real expectation that you’ll get to the bottom of it.  My only consolation is that for the most part, she is still perfectly friendly and playful and eats and drinks just fine.  The vet has pronounced her otherwise healthy and seems stumped (I grumpily wonder if it’s time to find a new vet after my fifth visit in two months with no answers).  However, I fell in love with her the moment the shelter put her in my lap and told me her name was Daisy (my favorite flowers) and that she was born around April 21 (my birthday).  She was soft and orange, just like my cat from my childhood, and was so inquisitive and purred so much even though she was sick that I just had to have her in the moment, without a thought for the consequences.  (Note: it is also not advisable to go “look” at kittens when you are still in the throws of sorrow after a break-up.  You will inevitably come home with at least one).  I was in a raw place emotionally and pathetically told myself, sick kitties need homes and love too.  Maybe more so than the healthy ones!

I’m glad I got her, but I do wish I could once and for all figure out what to do to make her feel better!

In other news, I did some minor research on writers and pets.  Edith Wharton called her tiny dog a “heartbeat at her feet.”  Ernest Hemingway had many cats and privileged their emotional honesty above human’s, stating, “A cat has absolute emotional honesty: human beings, for one reason or another, may hide their feelings, but a cat does not.” William S. Burroughs also had an orange tabby cat he called Ginger.

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William S. Burroughs and Ginger.

Mark Twain/Samuel Clemens said of cats, “Some people scorn a cat and think it not an essential; but the Clemens tribe are not of these” –and neither am I.  This picture of him with a shoulder kitty killed me dead with adorableness.

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Mark Twain and kitten.

I therefore like to think that puts me in good company.

Most writers I know have a furry friend who sits by their feet (or on their lap…or, let’s be honest, on their keys/paper…in Daisy’s case she sometimes tries to eat the paper I’m writing on) and provides comfort and distraction when necessary.

My fellow writer friends: do you have a pet and any funny stories about how they help/hinder your process?

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On Surfing and the Law of Attraction

kurebeach_495_01This morning I participated in UNCW’s “surf clinic,” which is a scary way of saying I went with a group of gals to learn how to surf at the cove in Kure Beach about 30 minutes from where I live.  It was…hard.  Surfing is hard, people!  I fell off a few times even while just lying down on the board flat.  The waves come from from any direction depending on the wind and other current factors I once learned in Intro to Oceanography but have since forgotten because it involved numbers.

At first, it was a pretty, calm, 75 degree day and there weren’t many waves to be had (later I heard it was snowing today in Chicago, where my brother lives, and I couldn’t help but rub it in that I was at the beach).  Then, out of no where, the waves rose up and swung our board out from under us before any of us could manage to stand.  At one point I got caught in the area where the breakers were and just kept getting my legs cut out from under me and then dragged down the beach by my whipping, frenzied, free board (you are attached to it at the ankle).  Over and over.

It was pretty comical–and exhausting.  After being dunked for the fifth time, choking on salt water, and tired from paddling, I asked the instructor how much time was left–sure as I was that we’d been out there at least an hour.  Her response?  “An hour or so left!”  Apparently it’d only been twenty.

All in all, by the end I managed to ride in two waves, one on accident propelled me forward as I clutched my board for dear life and ended up riding in some weird chattaranga position.  The other time was on purpose and I managed to get up on my knees for a blissful, balanced two seconds before the board tipped and I went flying face first into the surf.

All during my attempts to stand, however, I realized how much of my energy was consumed with negativity and doubt.  This is not going to happen, I remember thinking.  I’m not going to be able to stand up.  Oh God, what if I get hurt?  What if there are sharks?  What if they can smell my lady blood?  What about Man-O’Wars? What if I careen right into the instructor and break her nose? (The safety talk given by the instructor did nothing to allay my fears and instead served to remind me of all that could possibly go wrong).

As I write this, I’m reminded of this sound healing/ manifest desire meditation workshop I went to last weekend at the yoga studio I teach at.  The workshop was split into two parts: one, on sound healing with Tibetan singing bowls (which I loved!  Who knew vibrations could make you feel so good?), and two, on a journal exercise based on the book turned documentary The Secret (screening on Netflix right now!), where philosophers and psychologists weigh in on the phenomenon of the law of attraction: the idea that the universe is powered by thought and that we can manifest our desires if we channel our thoughts more positively.  I.e., when you are worried about debt, you tend to think, please no more debt.  You obsess about it.  Your body basically becomes this whole thought: your shoulders tense, your stomach hurts every time the mail comes, you don’t sleep as well.  And all the universe hears is debt, debt, debt. And what do you get?  More debt.

Instead, what the book/movie recommend is that you frame your thoughts positively.  What do you want?  More money? Think about that.  Think about what you would do with more money.  Imagine checks arriving.  And soon, you find yourself in a position to bring yourself to more solvency. A job opportunity arrives.  You win that poetry contest you sent off for weeks ago and had forgotten about.  Grandma puts a check in the mail.  And your body is more relaxed.  More rested.  More able to seek out cash opportunities.  But the trick is psychological.  You really got to get your brain to believe it, or your mind’ll sneak in with more negativity, and you’ll be right back where you were before: stuck in a sneaky hate spiral.

It sounds a bit like hocus-pocus (and the low quality of the documentary, especially the super creepy cheesy house of horrors music they use at the beginning, doesn’t help). But I found myself wondering as I sat here reflecting on surfing what would have happened in the water as I paddled with the wave roaring up behind me if, each time, regardless of the wind, regardless of my inexperience and silly fears about wildlife, regardless of the feeling of the board tipping, I’d started to imagine myself already standing?

There’s a really funnsm8y, silly, stoner-humor part of Forgetting Sarah Marshall (one of the hands down funniest break up movies ever) where Paul Rudd as the surf instructor keeps telling Jason Segel to “do less!” and I wonder if he really meant, just think less and do it.  I do tend to over think even the smallest of actions, something I’m trying to work on.

To end, I’ll bring this positive framing of thoughts idea to bear on my experience getting back in the physical, rather than online classroom this week.  I’m volunteering as a “writer in action” (gotta love that title) with UNCW, serving as a guest middle school teacher for two hours every Thursday.  This week we did a neat lesson on extended metaphor and I got to teach 7th graders what a tenor and a vehicle is (and remind myself what the difference is.  Teacher tip I came up with on the spot: tenor is your topic.  Vehicle is the comparison that helps you move through your description in refreshing ways). And I observed the teacher as he helped team teach the lesson with me taking the lead–he was so good at handling discipline in positive, rather than negative terms, of focusing on what he wanted to see, not what he didn’t want to see.  I remember learning this as a nervous, anxious, hopeless first year teacher with Teach For America and how skeptical I felt about it back then, but it’s true: in the hands of a master, it IS like magic, like hocus-pocus.  I watched, in awe/remembering when I’d utilized the method in the past, as the teacher walked around, saying, “I appreciate how this side of the room is doing what they are supposed to be doing, pencils out, answering the bell work prompt quietly….[pause as other side of the room scrambled to task, a sudden hush and whir of pencils scratching taking over the talk] and now I appreciate how everyone is doing what they are supposed to be doing! I’m just so full of appreciation right now.”

And so, readers, I invite you to try it, even if it feels silly, and sound off if you have any examples of this law of attraction thing manifesting in your life (or of it failing miserably!).

For my part, I’m going to try to imagine myself standing.  Writing that book.  Healing those heart wounds.  Teaching well.  Entering complicated professional situations where I have to see people who’ve hurt me before hurt me in new ways not with more hurt, but instead with poise.  Confidence.  Feeling all the love that this world holds for me and finding who are the people who show up for me.  And I’m suddenly just so full of appreciation right now.

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Filed under Forgetting Sarah Marshall, law of attraction, north carolina, poetry, positivity, surfing, teaching, writing