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Archive for the ‘Housekeeping’ Category

Re-entry

It’s taken me the better part of a week to get re-acclimated to life at home. It’s so good to be with my family again, but there was the laundry and the putting-away-of-stuff and the ordering of more books and the reading of more books and the writing of novel notes that needed to be done.

Part of re-entry too has been helping get things done that were put on hold while I was gone and it’s all come together nicely. I finished two books this week – Alexie’s “Absolute True Diary of a Part-Time Indian” and Leavitt’s “Kathura and Lord Death.” I haven’t blogged them on GoodReads yet (in fact, I’m sorely behind on entries there) but it’s safe to say I loved both books and learned much about writing for the YA audience.

The novel notes are coming along and I’ve worked out some glitches from the first draft and created some interesting changes for the new draft. It will be interesting to see what makes it on the page finally. I haven’t decided on my essay topics yet, but I suspect one will be on how magical environments/themes are introduced in novels and the other on the significance of community in fantasy novels.

I’m trying not to panic about how little I’ve actually written this week and trying to focus on what I have accomplished in the way of novel development. Time is coming, though, to stick to my chair and write. We’re easing into a routine at home which is helping and I’m looking forward to really digging in this weekend.

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The day started early with a lecture by Ellen Howard on Sacred Silence. A self-styled luddite, Howard eschews the use of technology whenever possible – she uses a typewriter (albeit with 1 page memory) and a copy machine. That’s it. No email, no internet, no cel phone.

She inhabits this space in order to give herself the best chance to write without distraction, and I’m thinking I will do similar, writing long-hand during the week and typing it up on the weekends. I’m not sure how long my hands will last, but I’m the first one to admit that when I’m stuck, it sure is easier to check my email (all three accounts), the forums (obsessively), and the news. If I’m really stressed there’s always Lolcats to view, YouTube flicks to watch, and blogs to skim. The idea of just sitting and dreaming and writing seems…unnerving.

I know I need to be more quiet, but I’m often unsettled by my thoughts as they bounce around telling me what I haven’t done and what I should be doing and what I’ve failed to do. I’ve been encouraged on several fronts to take up meditation, but I often fall asleep as a result. But learning how to wait and be patient – I can see the value of this.

Today was also the last workshop and I snapped pix of my workshopmates and tried to soak in their wisdom. After a quick lunch, I tried to catch up on …yep… my email, blogs, etc. skipping the Career Development Discussion and waiting for Graduation.

Watching the graduating class receive their diplomas and be recognized for their work was very inspiring. They’re a very cohesive group of writers, bonded at the hip and all bound to do great things in children’s literature. It’s amazing to think that in 2+ years that will be me.

The graduating class very graciously gave my class journals – spiffy ones made of old hardbound kids books. Most of my classmates got classic titles – Dr. Seuss and Dick and Jane. Me, I got “Tom Swift and His Space Solartron” (c) 1958, which looks like a cross between the Hardy Boys and Spaceman Spiff. It’s the perfect journal for me considering I started this whole writing thing with writing science fiction back in junior high. And it’s a terrific way to recycle old hardcover books! Interleaved with the blank pages are several pages from the actual book.

Opening line: “Calling Tom Swift! Power failure in the wind tunnel!”

Talk about immediacy, use of dialogue, and conflict revelation all in one!

Ending line: “Dare you to make a roast beef dinner with our skipper’s solartron!”

Apparently exclamation points are important too.

After the reception, most of my cohort headed to the main restaurant for NECI. We figured that if what we had been eating in the dorm was ‘first year’ food, then we deserved to know what ‘graduate food’ tasted like. I had a nice virgin strawberry daiquiri with a plate of mussels and a salad. Delish. Our group was too big to seat all at one table, so we were broken up over three tables. The discussions were lively but bittersweet with the knowledge that we wouldn’t be seeing each other for six months. But we were all very excited to get home and work on our first packets.

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Being assigned to Martine Leavitt and knowing that I would be able to work on my novel rejuvenated and inspired me in so many ways, not the least of which was finishing a long overdue project for Galatea Resurrects.

Eileen had sent me a copy of Bob Marcacci’s chapbook “Beijing Background” last year and it always found itself sinking to the bottom of my to-do pile. Determined to release as much energy as possible before delving into my first packet for Martine, I took the chap with me to read on the plane and somewhere in the middle of the residency, I wrote the review of Marcacci’s chap.

I figure it was a good warm-up for those critical essays I need to write.

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This day was the day I have most looked forward to and the one I was most nervous about – the first real day of lectures and workshop. I’ve described the residency to others as a two-week conference and it has a lot of those markers with the exception that we’re all focused in the same direction and the ones already in the program have this sense of community that one does not usually see at conferences. My cohort is getting there, thankfully not falling into cliques (a natural possiblity given the size of our group). We watch out for each other, try to get to know each other and I think the cohesion is coming together. I do feel a bit on the fringe simply for being off-campus and for being in the dual-program. It’s a subtle thing, a choice on my part, parcel of the way I tend to be in large groups. At night, whenever there’s a social, I manage to mingle for about 10 minutes before bolting home. I’m becoming comfortable with being alone as well as with small knots of people at lecture. I had a dread going into this day that I have my crash soon and I wasn’t looking forward to it – in fact, I hoped that I would skip it altogether. Skipping this, though, would likely mean I wasn’t fully engaged emotionally and that was something I knew would hamper the experience too. Balancing it all was challenging.

One bonus of the day was getting my Amazon package finally containing a copy of Alexie’s new YA book and a Voyager deck. It’s such a cute deck, smaller than the previous version which makes it easier to shuffle. I found myself in conversations about Tarot in general with a couple of folks which was a bit of a mindbender. The deck really does lend itself well to writing with it’s vibrant collages perfect for the Jungian mind looking for associations.

Over the course of the day, I attended four lectures (three faculty and one graduate) all really excellent. I’ll blog about these in a separate post, I think (::Addendum – in thinking about possible copyright issues, I’ve made these posts private and I’ll be giving general topics/lecturers available only in the future::). The workshop was pretty standard format, with the exception that the participants are all really good with their comments, both positive and challenging. I did find myself on opposite ends at times, and perhaps too reticent, but I think that eventually as we get to know each other, we’ll be able to have better conversations. My pieces are up for critique tomorrow and if it hadn’t been for the kind words of a couple of faculty about my application pieces, I likely would be more hesitant about the critiques to come.

After so many years of doing my best to make writing classes bend to what I need to learn and ending up doing genres I was only tangentially interested in (oh, say like poetry when I wanted to do memoir, flash fiction when I wanted to do Fantasy, short story/novels when I wanted to children’s picture books), it was a  bit of a culture shock to be in a room where I was trying to learn what I actually wanted to learn…and realizing that I had little in my pocket to offer in the way of new work. That’s what made Kathi Appelt’s and Julie Larios’ words so meaningful – I’d set out to write for children, they write for children, they teach children’s writing, and they /like/ my work. Amazing. A place where I don’t have to overly explain or apologize or hear “oh that’s interesting, but I won’t be able to help you with that.”

After years of disappointment and making do, to finally have what I want is really quite novel and disorienting.

My anticipated breakdown came after the last lecture – Louise Hawes offered an excercise in emotional depth that sent me over the edge. I knew the work was good for me, but I also know that my crying was upsetting to others and that’s always embarrassing. Thankfully, MaryAnn from the picture book cohort came over and comforted me, even giving me a few tips and excercises to work through the painful thoughts. Quite a few of my cohort checked in on me the rest of the evening, allowing me to be normal again, which was really sweet and supportive too. I went to bed exhausted after the faculty readings and after trying to reach my family at the company picnic they were enjoying. I have a bad feeling that I’ve fried my cel phone. (I put my water bottle in my purse with my cel. I don’t think the bottle leaked, but I think the moisture on the surface may have gotten on the cel phone and fried it. I can dial out, but can’t get the person on the other end to hear me). Unfortunately, I think my neoprene allergy and the heat has caught up with me and I have welts on my neck from my CPAP straps. Not quite sure what to do about that yet.

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Orientation was scheduled for 9am this day and I actually got up on my own at about 6:30am (which is amazing considering that would be 3:30 home time *gah*). The day was proving to be a hot one again and after my shower, I put up my hair Mrs. Olsen-style (okay, how many remember the old coffee ads with Mrs. Olsen and her braids?). The braid-bun I had tried the previous day stayed up mostly, but I was constantly fussing with hairpins. I hoped the new do would be less fussy.

The day’s orientations (program, library, and computer lab) were all pretty standard which was difficult from a ‘stay awake’ POV. I could tell the trip was starting to catch up with me. The library tour in the afternoon was the most challenging and found me asking the most obscure questions about the databases we would have access to (are there RSS feeds for these databases? Do the PDFs come over with bookmarks and the ability to highlight text?). Work questions really and I later let DH know we could now spy…errr…review other digital libraries and see how our DL interfaces stood in comparison.

The most exciting part of the day was meeting faculty – I had lunch with Marion Dane Bauer, Martine Leavitt and Ellen Howard. Delightful people and all very capable. Marion has been with the program from the start and she very much embodies all the goals and aspirations of the program – part passion for children, part discipline for craft and overall enthusiastic for creativity. I’m not sure that I asked the right ‘interview’ questions. Mostly I wanted to know about each of them, get a feel for their energies and creative focii. I’m pretty sure I’d do well under any of their mentorship.

After the library tour, we had the official welcome to the program and our first look at the entire student body. What a wonderful group! I could tell very much that it was a bonded group and us 1st semester folk were all a bit overwhelmed by all the support and camaraderie we were witnessing. Sharon Darrow, the faculty chair, gave a wonderful speech congratulating us all on being part of the new Vermont College of Fine Arts, an independent arts center. Later, the Firsts got together with the all the faculty and we introduced ourselves. I wish they’d given us a heads up on creating an elevator speech for ourselves. I found mine morphing with each introduction. I think I hit it pretty well by faculty intros, though, getting out not just my name and location, but also my day job and hopes for projects.

After dinner we had our pix taken (oh! I think I forgot to mention that I took pix of our class the other night. I have to wait until I get home before I post it as I left my cables at home) and listened to Thomas Christopher Green tell the story of how a few folks got the crazy idea to go independent a couple of years ago, didn’t realize how naive they were and took on every challenge that came their way with a Can Do attitude. I understand from later conversations that TUI has had a difficult relationship with the VC program, looking more at numbers and money than on quality of experience and craft. Everyone is hopeful that a full arts program can be long-standing and I think that given the success of the programs thus far, they will achieve and exceed their goals in quick measure.

Addendum:

Sharon Darrow distilled the story-making process into two questions – What is? and What if? – I like the What is, part of the equation since often the ‘hero in his natural state’ is overlooked in a lot of craft books. She also reassured us that the stories we need to write, the skills we need to write it, and the support we need to get through the process will all be there for us – Go for it! Ultimately, as so many others have said, she urged us to Trust the Process.

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I sometimes wonder if trying to keep up my blogs is counter-productive to keeping up with the whole full-time mom/full-time editor/full-time MFA student thing. Already I’m seeing things drop away as I hone in on the perfect schedule – an illusion, really, since I’m not actually doing all three things, just the usual two and sort of the third since school doesn’t start for another two weeks.

Two weeks.

Last week I panicked and wrote a post on my other blog called Two Dozen Days which today seems like an enormous amount of time in comparison to the two weeks I have now.

But with the help of my DH, I’m learning to give credit for what I /have/ accomplished toward school:

1) Read 28 books ranging from PBs to YAs, including multi-POV and faculty books;
2) Troubleshot my financial aid (which I didn’t know was broken until last week);
3) Got a few lists done of what I need to bring and what I yet need to get;
4) Learned more about my avoidance and coping techniques (which are not necessarily the same, although some are more detrimental while others are more helpful/necessary);
5) Positioned my department to be able to stay on deadline while I’m gone;
6) Not given up.

I still haven’t read a book by each of the faculty, but I’ve ordered the last few I need to feel like I’ve at least read for the lectures I’ll want to attend for sure.

I also haven’t finished reading/critiquing all the workshop manuscripts, but thanks to a vet of the program, I have a nifty three-ring notebook to hold all the stories and notes.

I’d like to also write down more coherent notes on this Consensus Time idea I have and on the types of stories I’d like to work on this first semester. I know a couple of my cohort have already started looking into their critical reviews for the first packet, but honestly, I’ve hit that point where I need to just go with what the program offers and hope that I’m as prepared as reasonably possible as a first year.

My student mentor Clete contacted me this weekend and I’m looking forward to meeting him and his family next week. He has graciously invited my family to also come so hopefully DL will be able to talk with Clete’s wife about how to cope with an absent writing spouse while still tending two children.

Finally, ZenHabits recently published a guest post by chessmaster Josh Waitzkin who offers the following as a cure for the multitasking virus (which I seem to have an acute case):

1) Do what you love;
2) Do it in a way you love and connect to;
3) Give people a Choice and they become engaged;
4) Release a fear of failure;
5) Build positive routines;
6) Do one thing at a time;
7) Take breaks.

These are the principles I’ll be applying as I continue to learn how to approach and succeed in grad school this time around.

My apologies in advance if this blog gets stale – it falls low on the priority list, unfortunately, despite all my hopes that it would become this incredible journal everyone will want to read while preserving the memory of my experiences in a (hopefully) publishable form in the future. **chuckle**

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It’s been busy, which doesn’t bode well for surviving and thriving this summer, but I guess it’s just safe to say that if I’m not writing here, that means I’ve been choosing to do my writing projects and reading for school.

A list of books I’ve been reading can be found on my Goodreads blog:

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I’ve also gotten some financial aid information which has allayed most my fears that I wouldn’t get funding for school. I’ve arranged housing and bought my plane ticket, as well as arranged for time off work. All that’s left is my manuscript, which has shifted from two picture books to a section of a YA novel in progress, due by May 23. I love working on deadlines!

Sometimes, oftentimes really, all the parts that make up my life seem to get out of sync. There’s this project and that crisis and this conflict and that resolution. First a great tragedy, then great comfort mixed with writing challenges and travel. I found this the other day and somehow it made me feel much better:

See, the metronomes are all the different parts of my life now, often strumming along at different beats, tugging and pulling me every which way. But they’re all there and they’re all part of me, and when I allow them to share energy, allow the chaos of movement that is change, then I have great hope that soon, things will settle out, synchronize and all will be well again.

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