April 5, 2015 § 2 Comments
First, it’s good to be back blogging after a two-month reprieve. I needed the break, am grateful I took it, and learned that sometimes it’s okay to hibernate.
Second, happy Easter to you and happy end of Lent to me. This is my fourth consecutive year of giving up sweets for six-plus weeks. I’m certainly a bit surly in the days leading up to the end, impatient to get to the jelly beans, my Dad’s lemon meringue pie, and Cadbury mini eggs. And while I can readily admit that I overindulged today, I’m finally relaxed and content loaded down heavy with plenty of glorious sugary goop. I’ll go back to salad tomorrow (and will gleefully chase it down with a chocolate bunny).
Third, AWP, the largest literary conference of its kind, arrives in my hometown on Wednesday. It’s my first. For months I’ve been fretting over it, and for weeks I’ve been planning my schedule and navigating which off-site events to attend. I still have difficulty calling myself a writer and am already intimidated by all the talent I have yet to meet this weekend. But now that I’ve had this blog for three years, taken multiple writing classes, tried to get published, done a few readings, and had business cards printed up that say I’m a writer, well, I guess I can lay claim to the title. My goal is to survive the mayhem, learn a thing or three, and connect with a lot of great people who love the written word as much as I do.
Happy Sunday, happy Easter, happy AWP, and thanks for sticking with me through the hiatus.
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Mom says red branches are a certain sign of spring:
October 21, 2014 § 3 Comments
Hamline University is a small private college in St. Paul where I earned my undergraduate degree and spent my formative years trying to shake my shyness and become something more than the sweet, smart, quiet girl I was in high school.
The shyness eventually fell away but I didn’t quite figure out the “something more” in those early years. I rarely knew where I was headed, and I didn’t feel comfortable with the choices I was making. I considered pre-med but suffered through organic chemistry. Eventually I hid behind an English major, but wasn’t quite sure how I arrived at that decision. I loved and did well in English, but never thought I was particularly good at critical thinking or creative writing, although I knew I had a strange and clever imagination that held stories waiting to be told.
In school and for many years afterward, I never called myself a writer and never thought I was particularly good at the craft other than the basics like grammar and structure and fact documentation. I was sure my career would never evolve beyond business or technical writing.
And so far it hasn’t. I earn my living writing speeches or presentations or articles or white papers or process documents about complicated financial products or hotel customer service or truck hydraulic systems. I like it. I’m good at it. But the desire to write without barriers, for those who appreciate a good story, hasn’t abated.
Approximately 10 years after graduation, I stumbled upon The Loft, nestled on the edge of downtown Minneapolis and one of the best writing centers in the country, and I’ve continued taking classes there for nearly 15 years. Earlier today I finished a fantastic and challenging class on flash fiction, a genre that fits my weird imagination, condensing all my wild thoughts down into small, mysterious, funny, sad, succinct narratives. For days I fretted over the last story I wrote for class, but my instructor’s and classmates’ responses and comments allowed me to linger in that “maybe I am a writer” space for a few fleeting hours.
Hours that found me back at Hamline where all those dreams of one day calling myself a writer but never believing it began. I returned to my old college library this afternoon, a place where I’d spent many a day and night fretting about chemistry formulas and philosophies while trying to craft papers on symbolism in Toni Morrison’s fiction.
Every so often I’d find myself peeking out the third-floor window, gazing across campus to my old dorm and watching the current students passing underneath, wishing I had the chance to start over again with the knowledge and confidence I possess now but lacked 25 years ago.
But then again, why go there? What is life (and, for that matter, what is a story) without struggle and indecision and despair and doubt, especially in those early years? I guess that’s what the journey is all about. If everything was crystal clear that early in life, we’d stop searching and growing and coming back to where it all started, looking to see how far we’ve come.
So I’ll continue to go back to The Loft and Hamline and other places that remind me of where I’ve come from but that continue to give me hope that I’m headed in the right direction. And with each visit, I’ll try not to look back with anything other than gratitude, for there’s much to celebrate since those tentative, thrilling, confusing, exhilarating college days. And why would I want to miss out on the present and future my experiences at these places continue to grant me?
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One can’t go back to campus, of course, without bringing one’s camera. A few pictures from my afternoon at the place where I began adulthood.
September 27, 2014 § 2 Comments
I went to the river this afternoon with pen and pad in hand and camera within reach. The only rules: 1) write one-sentence short stories, and 2) take photos from only one spot. Not allowed? Standing, moving in closer for a better view, or sliding down to a different part of the bench. Allowed? Turning sideways and looking up and down.
The writing went well and I conjured up several flash fiction pieces ripe for revision.
But the bench photography? Meh. A worthy experiment, but maybe not the right location, time of day, or mindset. Of nearly 80 photos, these are the few I liked:
September 8, 2014 § 8 Comments
I recently retired (or temporarily laid off) my weekly “Nightstand” post that outlined what books, articles, blog posts, and short stories I planned to read for the week ahead. It resonated with a few followers, but the majority seemed uninterested.
“Reads and Recs” is a renovation of “Nightstand,” with the focus instead on pieces I’ve read and liked in the last week and a short review of each. Let me know what you think in the comments. What do you like and what would you change? Do you prefer the simpler “Nightstand”? Or should I stick with my usual blog fare (photographs and the occasional essay) and leave the literary criticism to other bloggers?
I welcome all constructive criticism. As a writer, rejection is my constant companion. I revel in it.
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What I read last week, why I read it, why I liked it (and a quote to entice you). Click on the link or accompanying photo for each to access the piece:
- What I read: “The Art of Independent Publishing” Jonathan Lee interviews Fiona McCrae (Guernica, April 15, 2014)
- Why I read it: Small, independent presses outshine large publishing houses in my eyes most days. Plus Graywolf, the press featured, resides in my city and published one of my favorite books of the year, The Empathy Exams.
- Why I liked it: The interview with McCrae offers an inside glance into the independent world of book publishing. It gives hope to exceptional writers who never plan to publish to the masses (at least at first) but instead savor the chance to be nurtured by a respected and exceptional publisher that is looking to unearth something original.
“A person who lived their whole life without reading a Graywolf book wouldn’t keel over and die. But they’d be impoverished in some way, I think. Our books enrich the people who read them. All good books do. I really believe that. And I think a culture has a responsibility to nurture its talent.”
- What I read: “Crime Fiction” by Nicholas Schmidle (The New Yorker, August 4, 2014)
- Why I read it: This caught my attention right around the time the Michael Brown shooting in Ferguson, Missouri, occurred. It’s about one case in Chicago where the guilt of the African American man sentenced for the murder of a young basketball star is in doubt, likely because Chicago police and the detectives who worked on the case used unethical tactics to solicit confessions.
- Why I liked it: Schmidle skillfully unravels the case against Tyrone Hood, who has been in prison for 21 years for a murder he claims he didn’t commit. It calls into question the tactics used to prosecute and jail Hood. While the facts are murky, Schmidle highlights the systemic problems within the Chicago Police Department and the tactics some officers are notorious for using to solve “heaters” or cases that draw significant media attention
[Upon Schmidle meeting with Kenneth Boudreau, one of the homicide detectives on the case whose interrogation practices have been suspect for years] “When I went to turn on my audio recorder, Boudreau flashed a dimpled grin and said, ‘Nobody tapes me.’”
- What I read: The Tenants of Moonbloom by Edward Lewis Wallant (1963)
- Why I read it: A re-read — one of my favorite books. But I’ve yet to meet one person who has read it or even heard of it.
- Why I liked it: It’s a fantastic study of hope in the midst of pain and desolation. Norman Moonbloom is an agent who collects rent from tenants in four run-down New York City apartment buildings. He has avoided pain most of his life by exerting the least amount of effort in order to maintain a comfortable, yet dull, existence. As he collects the rent every week, Moonbloom catches a glimpse into the tenants’ struggles. He tries to deflect their complaints (e.g., leaky faucets, vermin, bulging walls, burnt out hallway lights), but he begins to reflect on his aversion to pain and conflict and contemplates what change might mean for him, possibly bringing with it extreme pain, but maybe joy as well. In an effort to make the transition, he begins to repair the apartments and the tenants’ lives, expecting a breakdown or breakthrough by the end, welcoming either. Wallant eases the reader into Moonbloom’s metamorphosis from nice but reticent agent who fears inevitable pain to an agent of change who seeks it out. It’s a reminder that life is agony, but unless we open ourselves up to the pain, we’ll never experience the joy that comes from loving and helping others and pushing our limits.
“His solitude now was the result of his metabolism, that constant breathing in of joy and exhalation of sadness. He had come to take shallower breaths, and the two had become mercifully mixed into melancholy contentment. He wondered how pain would breach that low-level strength. ‘I’m a small man of definite limitations,’ he declared to himself, and relaxed in the admission.”
- What I read: “Why Walking Helps Us Think” by Ferris Jabr (The New Yorker, September 3, 2014)
- Why I read it: I walk a lot, not just for exercise, but to clear my head and jumpstart my creativity, especially when writer’s block sets in or I need to solve a problem.
- Why I liked it: The article reiterated what I already knew or suspected about the benefits of walking to spur the imagination. Jabr outlined why it has been a treasured exercise and tool for writers through the ages, including Thoreau, Woolf, and Wordsworth, and that’s kind of cool, right? To be on the same wavelength as those writing gods.
“Because we don’t have to devote much conscious effort to the act of walking, our attention is free to wander—to overlay the world before us with a parade of images from the mind’s theatre.”
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I also took my daily photo of today’s harvest moon, obscured:
August 31, 2014 § Leave a comment
Halfway through the holiday weekend. Lazy morning followed by an afternoon spent writing, walking, and looking through old photo albums sent from my cousin Sally, who inherited them from my great-uncle Merlin. Love these two photos in particular of my Mom and Sally on a pony and my grandparents and some friends in their youth.
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Weekend party number three kicked off tonight with my friends’ super fun wedding reception at a pizza joint. It was splendid. But then again, Juli and Paul are fabulous, so a great time was par for the course.
I love these two — everyone does. Look how cute they are. I adore them beyond words.
May they live long, healthy, bright, and shiny lives. I can’t imagine them doing anything less.
August 21, 2014 § Leave a comment
I’m my worst critic. On days when I’m a little too harsh, all it takes to turn things around is someone to believe in me.
Thank you to my pal, Susan, for the pep talk, reading my blog regularly, your friendship, and cheering me on as I try to untangle my head full of bees and work toward becoming the writer I’ve never quite believed I could be.
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My picture of the day — neon sign, post-rainfall, Lilydale, Minnesota: