Tag Archives: 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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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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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.

*

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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Gratitude and Self-esteem

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how we talk to ourselves.  I don’t mean in a crazy voice in my head kind of way, but in the way our background narration of our lives carries us through the day without most of us tuning in too closely.

I woke up this morning thinking about the time I did community service learning with Alternative Spring Break in Detroit (side bar: my favorite part of the experience was the ways in which we were sternly lectured NOT to embody a “white savior” complex but instead to consider the service “learning” on OUR parts–learning about the grace and dignity of the grassroots movements already in place in the city most have written off).

One of the days we, a bunch of college-aged females, were directed to run a self-actualization workshop in a middle school for young girls who had had some trouble fighting and generally being mean to one another. We decided to have them write positive attributes about one another so that each girl would go back with a list of things the others admired about her.

A talk with one girl who felt stuck turned to me asking her what she liked about herself.

She was horrified.  “I can’t talk about what I like about myself because then others might think I’m full of myself.”

Even to this day, I recognize that feeling even as it makes me sad and I want to condemn it. I wonder too at the gendered implications.  Is it still hard for women to proclaim what they like about themselves?  I think about the parody of that in Mean Girls, where Cady, having not been raised in the United States, awkwardly offers up that she has bad breath in the morning when she is unable to think of something to hate about herself in the mirror with the rest of the plastics.  It’s certainly been something I’ve been aware of lately: how little I tend to applaud, admire, or thank myself, how easy it feels to in fact do the opposite in my self-talk somehow without even paying much attention to what I’m doing.

Last week was Thanksgiving, so it seems appropriate this morning that I try to start with myself to start changing that negative self-talk, to be confident without being conceited.

Here’s a list of things I’m grateful to myself for:

1. My resilience.  I’ve lived in three states and two countries.  I’ve taught ESL, Spanish, and Creative Writing in tough schools with little guidance.  I conquered countless rejections and career changes and am in the process of earning three Master’s Degrees.

2. My sense of humor.  There’s nothing like having a little pun.

3. My body.  it’s changed a lot over the last ten years, but I feel strong.  I eat what I like.  I work out.  I lift weights in Body Pump twice a week and have run so many Half-Marathons and 10ks I’ve lost count.  I’m curvy and need high waisted pants, but damn it, I look good even if I got junk in my trunk.

4. My face.  I like my smile.  My (sigh) ever-browning blonde, sometimes straight, sometimes wavy hair.  My hazel eyes, sometimes gold, sometimes green, sometimes brown.  My small pores and acne prone T zone and chin.  My thick eyebrows that I’ve never bothered to pluck after I made myself cry the first time I tried in middle school.

5. My tiny, skinny ankles.  Boys used to call me chicken legs in middle school because of how disproportionately skinny they are.  They make me clumsy and make it impossible to find slip on shoes that won’t slip off, but they also make me look great in boots and belie a ton of strength to run many miles.

6. My compassion. I don’t have many friends.  I find it exhausting to be surrounded by crowds.  I don’t always feel many people get me or have the patience for my neuroses.  But to those I do count in my circle, I have a lot to offer in terms of my empathy and my grace and my willingness to drop whatever to talk, cook, or drive you to the ER.

7. My temper.  It’s taught me a lot about restraint.

8. My creative brain.  It lights up in the presence of a good poem or novel. I am the perennial teacher’s pet–except when I’m trying to teach the class for them. I love to write and cook and knit and paint.

9. My drive. What I seek to accomplish gets done.  My planner is a sight to behold.  I am organized to a fault.  I plan out each day by the hour.  I don’t always get things done as quickly as I plan, but I do get the job done.

10. My love of adventure has brought me countless exciting experiences, from learning to snow shoe and then alpine tour (i.e., ski UP) the Pyrenees, to zip-lining in a rainforest, to hiking solo in the dark and camping out above the tree-line, to scaling rock face up to the Kitchen Mesa, to swimming with Dolphins in Hawaii, to snubbing a wreck in the Caribbean, to white water rafting down the Rio Chama, to surfing the Atlantic, to flying across the world to hike down the Taroko Gorge to bathe in natural mineral hot springs alongside a rushing river.  The only thing that I will probably never do is learn to scuba dive because for some reason the thought of relying solely on a tank for air freaks me out (that and prohibitive costs also likely rules out ever climbing Everest).

Though I certainly could have more easily come up with 20 things I don’t like about myself, and though I certainly have faults and lots to learn in layers with all of the above, I want to encourage everyone, especially gals, no matter how young or old, to take a minute to write out ten things you’re grateful to yourself for, and to challenge you to be full of gratitude for yourself without feeling bad or apologetic about it.

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Is Poetry For Everyone? Is Sentimental Writing Stupid?

This article on whether or not poetry, creative writing, and MFAs are part of a capitalist, cultural, exclusive elite really stuck me this week.  I encourage anyone who considers themselves an artist to read and weigh in.  Is it true?  Has art in this country become so commodified that we ascribe cultural currency to those who would be artists in such a way that grants social legitimacy to them when we would not do the same for, say, an assembly line worker, who may in fact be making more money than a graduate teaching assistant?

The article gets really depressing for someone halfway through her MFA, but the ending had the kind of redemptive quality to it that I admire in terms of explaining to myself and others why poetry can be powerful.

If we want to bring those critics and those masses to our poems, if we want poetry to matter to those outside our classrooms and conference halls—and there may be some poets who don’t; bully for them—then those others, their lives and their language, have to matter to us first. The only way they will is if we disrupt the culture of privilege that insulates us. And we need to disrupt it, not for our egoistic desire for a larger audience, but for the sake of our art. The only job of the poet is to destabilize and expand language. This is how poetry changes the world—not by grand ambition or the lauding of critics. It takes the plodding, unending effort of many to alter line by line, phrase by phrase, word by word the way we describe ourselves and everything around us. This is how we change perception. This is how we change the mind. We can’t do it while isolated by our privilege. There are too few of us. Our language is too limited. We need more words. We need more than ourselves and each other. We need every brokeshoulder to the wheel.

I have been kind of annoyed lately regarding the stuffiness of workshop.  Sometimes it really does seem as though poetry is written for other poets, rather than for the masses.  There’s been a recent trend lately too for more esoteric, allusive poetry, which I find myself more and more impatient with the older I get.

I got slammed last week for being sentimental in my writing.  I wanted to argue, but of course, workshop is not a place to argue.  What’s wrong with a little smaultz from time to time, especially if the audience and writer is aware of it?  What’s wrong with “ordinary language” so long as it is precise and clear and conveys a feeling, puts a picture in one’s head?

Enough of the rat race already.  I want a poetry that’s for the masses.  I want to write poems for everyone.  Ones I can bring home to my family and have them understand (unlike the research projects I’ve shared with them in the past).

And that doesn’t make me any less educated or smart.  I resent the implication that it might.  Especially as a woman.

Again, I’m not sure why I think Taylor Swift fits into this–but she does.  This other article I read a while back perfectly summed up for me why people who go out of their way to criticize her art belong in the same camp as those who would say that poetry should be for a cultural elite only.

Swift countered critics by saying,”For a female to write about her feelings, and then be portrayed as some clingy, insane, desperate girlfriend in need of making you marry her and have kids with her, I think that’s taking something that potentially should be celebrated – a woman writing about her feelings in a confessional way – that’s taking it and turning it and twisting it into something that is frankly a little sexist.’

Snaps, girlfriend.

And to round it out, I’ll end with a quote from an essay put on Viriginia Quarterly, excerpted from a wonderful book, The Empathy Exams by Leslie Jamison, a writer I deeply admire.

“I think dismissing female pain as overly familiar or somehow out-of-date—twice-told, thrice-told, 1001-nights-told—masks deeper accusations: that suffering women are playing victim, going weak, or choosing self-indulgence over bravery. I think dismissing wounds offers a convenient excuse: no need to struggle with the listening or telling anymore. Plug it up. Like somehow our task is to inhabit the jaded aftermath of terminal self-awareness once the story of all pain has already been told.

The wounded woman gets called a stereotype, and sometimes she is. But sometimes she’s just true. I think the possibility of fetishizing pain is no reason to stop representing it. Pain that gets performed is still pain. Pain turned trite is still pain. I think the charges of cliché and performance offer our closed hearts too many alibis, and I want our hearts to be open. I just wrote that. I want our hearts to be open. I mean it. “

The way she dares to be sentimental at the end strikes this writer, anyway, as a profound act of bravery in today’s academic, allusion lovin’, irony driven readership.

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Yoga Rant

Dear Smug, Toned Teen at the Y last night,

Thank you so much for your concern and for stopping in the middle of your warm up flow to come over to me, bend over, squat down, put your face in mine while I try to gaze at my navel and not at the front of my mat at you, and whisper corrections for my arm placement in my downward facing dog.  Just a few thoughts, however, you may want to consider in future before taking yourself out of your own breath and body to concern yourself with what your neighbor is doing.  I’ve complied them here for your convenience. Three things you may want to ask yourself before pausing your practice and pulling such a move in the future:

1. Is the person behind perhaps performing some sort of modification for their large acromiom process and tight sub-scapula muscles that limit their shoulder mobility and thus cause the person to be getting the same benefits I am enjoying in my downward facing dog, but just not necessarily to look like me or like the norm that instructor is pitching to? If yes, pipe down and perk your hips back up to the ceiling.  If no, continue.

2. Is the person behind me perhaps an RYT 200 level certified yoga instructor herself who may or may not know more about her own body and modifying for it than I do?  If so, take a deep breath, stay in position, gaze at your own navel and reclaim your ujjayi pranayama. If not, proceed.

3. Am I actually the instructor in the room or is it someone else’s job to concern themselves with anyone other than herself? If not, take a big deep inhale, pause, reflect on your need to assert yourself in places you may not belong, then let it all go in one big whoosh out your mouth.  If yes, proceed.

4. Am I remembering the core tenants of a safe, non-harming, non-judgmental yoga practice that keeps in mind the ultimate guru is one’s own body, one’s own needs, and that yoga is done from within, not from comparing oneself to how other people look?  If yes, persist with the gentle care and compassion you were taught with to assist the person in need.  If no, meditate on that for a mo’.

This PSA brought to you safely after being rewritten twice after a cat malfunction.  Yes, cat malfunction: my flea infested, worm infested, giardia infested, yeast infected, herpes infected adopted kitten leapt on the keyboard during the first draft and some how managed to delete the whole post.  (A separate rant about how much money I have hemorrhaged for this poor sick sweet post deleting baby will likely follow next week).

I like to think this one is more succinct for having had to have been rewritten.  Perhaps I will invite her to pull such a move on me in future writing projects.

Or perhaps you will see a PSA letter dedicated to Daisy next week.

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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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Filed under famous writers, literature, north carolina, pets, poetry, positivity, psychology, reading, self-help, teaching

Mountain Retreat

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Stairs to the cabin.

This will be a photo essay of the amazing time I had in Hot Springs last weekend with the kindest, most understanding, generous and easy going get-away partner a gal could have.  (He was a heck of a photographer, too.  Also, wonderful at getting stains out of wood that a certain someone created when she left her wet towel atop an antique dresser and at calming down a kitty in a 7 hour car ride.)

Path outside the cabin. The colors were like dipped paint brushes, electric in the light.

Path outside the cabin. The colors were like dipped paint brushes, electric in the light.

A perfectly secluded writer retreat.

A perfectly secluded writer retreat.

I've always wanted to hike the AT!

I’ve always wanted to hike the AT!

A walk in the woods is refreshing for both mind and body.

A walk in the woods is refreshing for both mind and body.

Atop Max Patch.

Atop Max Patch.

Odd trail companions came out of nowhere.

Odd trail companions came out of nowhere.

My favorite are the splashes of red.  Also, weather cold enough for a jacket at last!

My favorite are the splashes of red. Also, weather cold enough for a jacket at last!

Such a great view after a brisk hike.

Such a great view after a brisk hike.

Can you tell it was hard to come back?

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Me reading Kasischke for class and failing to stay candid.

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Filed under cats, mountain retreats, north carolina, poetry, positivity, vacation

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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Filed under cats, famous writers, north carolina, pets, positivity, writing