Friday, October 27, 2006
I just finished teaching an adult ed class on freelance writing, so the idea of other courses to teach was in my head. I'm not sure if adult ed centers would want a class on press release writing, but I'll look into it. I also would love to teach a class on creating a writing community--about the importance of writer's groups, writing friends, and blogging. My dream would be to teach writing at the college level in the near future. I think I could teach medical writing, journalistic writing, and probably creative writing, though I haven't published in that genre (yet!). So, readers, any advice? I know quite a few of you are teachers at the college level...
- Spend 50% of any project's time in a planning phase, which includes first brainstorming, then researching, then creating an outline, which helps shows you where you need more information/research.
- Spend 25% freewriting a first draft where you cannot edit it for grammar, style, etc.
- Spend 25% editing--macro editing (making sure your points make sense and there's no redundant info) and micro editing (for grammar, word usage, etc.)
The reason the formula works is that it supposedly tricks your brain out of feeling nervous and blocked. By spending so much time in planning and no-judgment-allowed freewriting, you get yourself psyched up for the project and convince your subconscious that you can do it. In that way, I think this formula can be applied to all writing projects, be they creative or not.
I feel like there were some more gems to the session, which I'll post later after I've had some time to relax and eat dinner.
Hope everyone is having a good few days!
Wednesday, October 25, 2006
Here's what I'd like to get done in the next 6 days:
- Learn a few new things I can bring back to my office
- See Georgia O'Keafe art, hike, get a massage
- Eat well and exercise
- Read the Hours and take notes on an annotation
- Think about my revision, take notes
- Finalize metaphors lesson for interdisc. project
- Proof rest of ID project and 1st annotation
- Finish 2nd annotation, and revision of story
- Work on short short story about dying
- Work on new story
- Finish draft of dog-couple essay
- Submit, submit, submit
- Read the Situation and the Story, and Autobiography of a Face
- Organize linens
- Put summer clothes away
- Finish knitting projects: baby booties, mom's scarf, hat for Kenny
- Buy paint and other supplies for some home projects. Get in touch with contractors for others.
- Organize papers in the study
- Get organized with Christmas gift shopping
Monday, October 23, 2006
Taking a few days off isn't necessarily a bad thing, but I woke up Monday morning feeling drained, and I think not writing was part of that.
(Another part of that was staying out one hour and one beer too late on Sunday night...)
But the biggest lesson I learned was really a re-teaching of a lesson I already know: It's OK to say no to things. Even things you might want to do.
My weekend was already a busy one when I got invited to brunch and pumpkin picking on Sunday. I love brunch, and I love fall, so it was hard to say no. But mostly it was hard because the friend who invited me (L) also invited a friend of hers who I met at L's wedding. Let's call this friend C. I liked C and her husband, and so did Brian. It turned out that they lived near us, so we exchanged info and we all went out for a drink a few weeks ago. The couple had a habit of constantly interrupting and correcting one another, but otherwise seemed pleasant. Though part of me got a small feeling that I didn't like something about C. But still, I was happy to be given the chance to hang out with her again with L. So happy that I said yes even though I was looking forward to a morning of sleeping and relaxing.
So off to L's house C and I go, and when we get up to L's porch, I'm a few steps behind C. And that's when the first aggravating incident occurs: She lets L's door slam right in my face, without so much as a backwards glance or "I'm sorry". Forgivable? Of course. But not when coupled with this odd aggressive manner she had all day, where she made it seem like we were all in some competition to prove that our life was better than everyone else's. For example, she name-dropped Tiffany's more than once over breakfast when talking about her engagement ring. And she's been married for years. Why would anyone need to know where you bought your wedding ring?
And the worst part? What she brought out in me. First, I became bitchy, not responding warmly to her, and being slightly mocking when she said we had to hurry up because her husband missed her after we'd only been gone a few hours. Then, I got mad at myself for being a bitch and I ended up giving into her pushiness and know-it-allism, kind of deferring to her authority on things I knew she knew no more about than I.
1-Go with your gut. I was pretty sure I didn't like her after our bar date, so I definitely shouldn't have gone out of my way to hang out with her.
2- I can be very forgiving to friends--overlooking the occasional bout of self-absorption, flakiness, moodiness, whininess, self-pity, etc. But the common element in people I want in my life is that being around them brings out the best in me. So if you turn me into a bitch, I will not be your friend.
3- Always make time for writing.
(Pics: Top two from the Life is Good Pumpkin Fest, bottom two from the farm where we got pumpkins. I so want a pet goat!)
Fill in what you’ve “done”:
(X) Smoked a joint
( ) Done cocaine
(X) Been in love
( ) Had a threesome
(X) Been dumped (WAH!)
(X) Shoplifted (But I feel bad now!)
(X) Had feelings for someone who didn’t have them back
( ) Been arrested
(X) Made out with a stranger (Welcome to my high school world)
( ) Gone on a blind date
(X) Had a crush on a teacher
(X) Been to Europe
(X) Been to Canada
(X) Been to Mexico
(X) Seen someone die. (I literally saw my beloved cat Manxy die. It was a sad and touching thing to witness)
( ) Thrown up in a bar. (I threw up outside of a bar. On Newbury St. When I hadn't even been drinking much. I think I was allergic to something. Fun. I also threw up all over my favorite dress after way too much wine at a wedding. I was in the car on the way back--not driving! I ruined the dress and the car had a wonderful odor for a while)
(X) Met a celebrity. (Bob Hope asked me for directions near my house on Long Island)
() Met someone from the Internet in person.
(X) Been moshing at a concert
() Gone backstage at a concert
(X) Lain outside in the grass and watched cloud shapes go by
(X) Made a snow angel
(X) Been lonely
() Fallen asleep at work. (Though I've been tempted!)
(X) Fallen asleep at school
(X) Used a fake ID
(X) Been kicked out of a bar (Though in my defense I didn't do anything to get kicked out. A friend I was with, however, was rolling around on the floor with some guy she just met. Ahh, going to Mexico when you're 18)
(X ) Felt an earthquake (I actually felt a minor earthquake that rumbled through Boston a few years ago. It woke me up, and I screamed, "Why is our bed shaking?" The next morning, I heard why.)
(X) Slept beneath the stars
() Been robbed
(X) Won a contest
() Run a red light
( ) Been suspended from school
() Had braces
(X) Had deja vu
( ) Totaled a car.
( ) Stolen a car
(X) Hated the way you look
(X) Witnessed a crime
( ) Been to a strip club
( ) Been to the opposite side of the world
(X) Swam in the ocean
( ) Felt like dying
(X) Cried yourself to sleep
(X) Sung karaoke
(X) Paid for a meal with only coins (The pizza delivery guy loves me and my quarters...)
() Had a one night stand
(X) Been a cheerleader
(X) Sat on a roof top
(X) Talked on the phone for more than 6 hours straight (In high school, when I wasn't making out with strangers, I was talking on the phone.)
(X) Stayed up all night.
(X) Not taken a shower for three days.
(X ) Had more than 30 pairs of shoes at a time (I. Love. Shoes.)
Friday, October 20, 2006
The very vague yet very appealing Sunday Scribblings prompt is "good."
Life is Good
Brian and I, along with our dog Chloe and a smattering of friends are going to the Life is Good pumpkin festival this weekend on Boston Common. Their goal is to have the most lit jack o’lanterns in one place. I'm sure it will be very fun, very pretty, and very New
I love the name of that company, Life is Good. Their silly mascot makes me smile, which I'm sure is the point. But whether life is good is a difficult question to answer. My life, at this moment, is good. I am in a wonderful marriage, have some wonderful friends, and am truly enjoying the MFA program I'm in. I'm learning a lot, I have a lot of fun things to keep me busy (a bit too busy at times!), and I generally like my job.
But life in general? That's a different story. And I don't think "good" does it justice. Life is often good, but sometimes, it's really, really bad. So I would vote for life is complex. Or life is layered. Or life is rich. (And when it is good, like now for me, we should all be grateful!)
“In fiction, in order to engage our attention and sympathy, the protagonist must want, and want intensely.” --Janet Burroway
My mentor quoted that and asked me: What does
What would happen if... Chloe (her friend in the story, not my dog) isn't as commited to the friendship as
This line of story would work well with one of my mentor's suggestion: Ask yourself, what does
I will also be doing some exercises to "spend time with
Thursday, October 19, 2006
And when I did finally open it, my jaw clenched, I breathed a sigh of relief. She called my work a "pleasure to read"! I was really happy with the story I submitted, so I was extra scared that she wouldn't be. I definitely have a lot of revising work ahead though. She points out (correctly) that my plot is nowhere near as strong as my characters, so I have to work on that minor (haha) thing. It was a little disheartening that, at the end of her comments she wrote:
"My expectations are that it will be a major revision, which means really thinking about what does and doesn't work, going at the piece with a ruthless pen, and trying lots of ideas out. What you end up with as a second draft may feel further off the mark to you, but it's part of the process of breaking a story down and rebuilding it to discover what it's really about."
The idea of ending up further off the mark makes me want to cry. Stupid process.
But anyway, overall, I am delighted to know that at least I was not deluding myself that this story was on the way to being something.
Wednesday, October 18, 2006
A friend sent this story to me today. I'd heard it before, but I relished reading it again as a reminder of what I should be doing with my time. I ask you to comment: what are your golf balls? And what kinds of sand often get in the golf balls' way?
When things in your lives seem almost too much to handle, when 24 hours in a day are not enough, remember the mayonnaise jar and the 2 cups of coffee.
A professor stood before his philosophy class and had some items in front of him. When the class began, he wordlessly picked up a very large and empty mayonnaise jar and proceeded to fill it with golf balls. He then asked the students if the jar was full. They agreed that it was.
The professor then picked up a box of pebbles and poured them into the jar. He shook the jar lightly. The pebbles rolled into the open areas between the golf balls. He then asked the students again if the jar was full. They agreed it was.
The professor next picked up a box of sand and poured it into the jar. Of course, the sand filled up everything else. He asked once more if the jar was full. The students responded with a unanimous "yes."
The professor then produced two cups of coffee from under the table and poured the entire contents into the jar effectively filling the empty space between the sand. The students laughed.
"Now," said the professor as the laughter subsided, "I want you to recognize that this jar represents your life. The golf balls are the important things--your family, your children, your health, your friends and your favorite passions--and if everything else was lost and only they remained, your life would still be full.
The pebbles are the other things that matter like your job, your house and your car.
The sand is everything else--the small stuff. "If you put the sand into the jar first," he continued, "there is no room for the pebbles or the golf balls. The same goes for l
"Pay attention to the things that are critical to your happiness. Play with your children. Take time to get medical checkups. Take your spouse out to dinner. Play another 18. There will always be time to clean the house and fix the disposal. Take care of the golf balls first--the things that really matter. Set your priorities. The rest is just sand."
One of the students raised her hand and inquired what the coffee represented. The professor smiled. "I'm glad you asked… It just goes to show you that no matter how full your life may seem, there's always room for a couple of cups of coffee with a friend."
Tuesday, October 17, 2006
This week(10/16-10/20): Work on interdisc project, finish reading first annotation book.
This weekend: Write first draft of annotation
Next week and weekend (10/23-10/31): I'll be in New Mexico for work for most of this time. This should make for an interesting (ie stressful) submission period. In the first part of the week, I'd love to finalize my interdisc submission. Not sure if that's realistic though. My goal while I'm away is to finish reading my second annotation book and take notes on the annotation. I'll also be thinking/taking notes on the revision of my short story.
10/31-11/6, I'll work hard on my revision and finalize my annotations and interdisc project. I'll also write my mentor letter.
I think it's time for a primal scream: AHHHHH!
Monday, October 16, 2006
OK, not the most eloquent title, but I wanted some alliteration... BostonErin and Grafton joined me, Brian, and Chloe the dog for a beautiful and fun walk through Forest Hills Cemetary on Saturday. It was an organized dog walk where 30 or so dogs dragged their owners behind a very funny and engaging tour leader who led us to the gravestones that had animals carved into them, and explained their history. It was very interesting, and it was a beautiful day to be walking around. (Pics are actually from the next day as Erin and I both forgot our cameras.)
Best of all, against all odds in frosty New England, we made a new friend! One of the only other people there our age was a woman named Rebecca. We all got to talking and we learned that she is a painter (and more importantly to me, a knitter!) who just moved here from New York. The four of us went to brunch (sans dogs) and we exchanged info to set up a knitting date in the near future. I love meeting new people and making new friends, especially of the artistic variety. Unfortunately I find it happens much too infrequently, and so I think it's importat to celebrate the moments it does.
Sunday, October 15, 2006
Saturday, October 14, 2006
This week's Sunday Scribbling is in two parts.
Part I: What would YOU do if you could freeze time?
I'm trying to think of something profound, but I can't. So I think if I could freeze time, I would allow myself to sleep in an hour or two later. I would relish in the protection of my down comforter against the crisp, fall air. I would breath in the smell of my husband sleeping next to me. I would not worry about the ever-brighter sun making its way through my eyelids. I would rest comfortable knowing that I had as much time as I needed to do my writing, clean the house, see friends, walk the dog, and ride my bike through the falling leaves.
Part II: And also, if you could draw a super power out of the grab bag, what would it be?Well, after writing that, stopping time sounds good to me! I would also like the ability to find the perfect balance between not caring about what other people think, and also not hurting anybody with my actions or words.
Wednesday, October 11, 2006
It got me thinking about the fact that only certain people in my life even know about my blog. I'm just branching out and telling non-MFA/writers group people about it now. (Hi Sarah!)
So, I was hoping you would share with me who you share your blog with. Who in your "real" life have you told about it? Do they read it regularly?
Tuesday, October 10, 2006
TITLE NEEDED (no that isn't the title. Suggestions welcome)
I’m dying. I guess you could say everyone is. The mortality rate of this disease called living is 100%. It’s just that I’m dying sooner than most. And the worst part is that no one will believe me.
This whole thing started this morning. I woke up and knew I was going to die.
“You're so melodramatic,” I can hear my brother say. In fact, he said just that when I passed him this morning, sitting in front of the television with a napkin tucked into the collar of his button down shirt, eating his egg sandwich.
“Where you going? You’re not supposed to leave for work for another 12 minutes,” he said.
When I told him about my appointment, he uttered his favorite line about me.
“I’m not sure I understand,” Dr. K said when I told him. I was sitting on the doctor’s table, naked save for the see-through cotton gown tied across my front. My white, hairy legs dangled down. “What are your symptoms?”
“I woke up feeling weird.”
“Weird, how?” he interrupted.
I thought for a moment. I looked at the doctor standing before me. His white coat, his dark hair and mustache, and knew he wouldn’t understand. I tried anyway, considering that I was there and naked already. “My mind was foggier than usual. I lay in bed a long time, which is unusual for me. My head hurt a little bit, and when I concentrated on the faint pain, I knew, without a doubt, that I would die soon. That feeling hasn’t gone away since.”
“Well, yes, but more than that the feeling…”
“That you’re going to die.”
“Yes!” Maybe I was wrong about this Dr. K.
“Have you been under much stress lately?” he asked.
I waved the question away. This problem wasn’t in my head, or maybe it was in my physical head, but not my psychological head.
“We can run some tests, Seymour, but I think you just need some rest.”
“I’ll get plenty of rest when I’m dead,” I said.
Dr. K sighed and gave me a referral for blood work.
I left the doctor’s office with more holes in my arm than a shower head. They never can find my veins. I wonder if that’s a sign I should’ve paid attention to long ago.
Walking home, I passed my office. For the first time ever I didn’t want to go in. I didn’t want to pass my coworkers and say hello, tell them where I had been. I usually get in by 7, mostly to avoid those awkward conversations about weather and weekend plans. Why people who are joined by nothing more than providence and pay stubs should be friends, I just don’t understand.
I wonder if Howard has come looking for me. I skipped a mandatory all staff meeting yesterday. I knew what he was going to say, and I didn’t want to have to argue with him in front of everyone. I’m much better at articulating my points one on one than I am in front of a crowd, where I feel their eyes on my reddening skin, my moist palms. Maybe he thinks I’ve quit. How pleased that would make him! Then he could hire someone half my age who likes those wretched computer machines.
I don’t care what the numbers show, people like books. They, like me, get pleasure from the smoothness of the pages, the smell of the dust from hundreds of borrowers’ houses that gets imbedded in the pages, the sight of the black marks on the yellowing pages that, extraordinarily, create meaning.
I mend the books that fall into a careless reader’s hands, or fall from them, or get into the mouths of a dog or child. People don’t know I exist in the bowels of the library, working in the basement to tape and glue and restring those most precious possessions. And it’s true, I have had fewer books to process than in the past. But that doesn’t mean we should hoard them in the depository and make people wait days to get to them. And that certainly doesn’t mean I should take a class on the new computer system where students can get to old journal articles and book chapters without holding the piece of history in their hands.
I can feel my heart beating fast at the thought of that stupid man making decisions about me, about my books. “They’re arcane,” he had said before. I don’t know if it’s the books or people like me he was talking about. I sit down on the bench in front of my office. I can feel the building lurking in the background. I picture Howard’s round, bald head peaking out a window. My breathing gets shallow.
Like I said, I am dying.
Here's what I'd like to get done this week/weekend:
- Finish draft of the short, short story I wrote about here
- Get down a super sloppy draft/brainstorm of an essay on the havoc Chloe wreaked on my and Bug's relationship when we first got her. (Fun times!)
- Get self organized for class I'm teaching Monday on freelance writing (at the Boston Center for Adult Ed)
- I also have like 10 freelance pieces to get through. I love the fact that my editors want to get ahead so we don't have to work around Christmas, but sending me 10 pieces to do this weekend gave me a heart attack.
- Sprinkle wildflower seeds and mulch the garden for winter
- Finish knitting my hat and scarf
- Unpack winter clothes from basement
- Organize basement and decide what to give away to goodwill
- Take pictures at the park of the beautiful trees
- Bake pumpkin chocolate cookies (and eat them)
Friday night we saw Tobias Wolf and Donald Antrim. They read from a short story and memoir (respectively). While the readings were good, the Q&A really made the night. The people asked such great questions (not your typical: what's your process like? Where do you get your ideas?). I don't think that has anything to do with New Yorkers being smahhter than us Bostonians. Last I checked we have just a few geniuses in our midst. I think it was because people paid $25 to go to the reading, whereas the readings I go to hear are usually free. A paid event probably draws a crowd more dedicated to writing. But in any case, I learned a lot about how writers think about the responsibility that goes along with writing memoirs and essays, and how stories can leave readers with moral questions and still feel complete.
The next day we saw Gary Kasparov, the 20-year chess champion, talk about chess and Russian politics. Highly educational and interesting. It even made me want to take up chess in my (haha) free time.
But by far the best part of the weekend? The fiction editor of the New Yorker introduced the Friday reading. I forget his name and it doesn't really matter. What matters is the fact that he is a real, live person. I had thought of NYer editors as gods of some sort, and it made me laugh to realize he's just a cute, goofy 40-something year old who wears a sports jacket with jeans and gets nervous when speaking to a crowd.
Thursday, October 05, 2006
Have a good weekend everyone!
Wednesday, October 04, 2006
In reading this chapter of the book, I thought: I have no poisonous playmates! I thought of you all, my lovely blog friends (both those of you I know in-person and solely in the Ethernet). I thought of my Bug, who is just as supportive as I could hope for. I thought of my parents, who are proud of what I'm doing (though I doubt they think I could live off of it, but hey, they're half-way there). I thought of the co-worker friends who ask me about my work and actually listen as I blather on.
And then I thought about it further and realized that I probably do have Poisonous Playmates, but I don't share my work or dreams with them. I don't tell them about this blog. I don't tell them about my writing. And the weird thing is that even though they know I'm in an MFA program, they don't ask! As my work becomes more and more a part of my life, these people are going to be more and more left out. I guess it's like an organic weeding system of sorts...
But cheers to you, my Fabulous Friends!
Tuesday, October 03, 2006
For a work conference I'm going to in 3 weeks, we have pre-work. It's due today. It's now 9 p.m. and I'm still struggling with the statistics homework. I don't understand statistics, which is why I signed up for the class. As a medical writer and editor I need to understand them. But how can they expect me to read a few pages of math definitions and then be able to apply them to a pretend study?
The funny thing is that I could just make something up and send it in. We're not getting graded on this stuff. But you can take the straight A student out of high school, but you can't take straight A student out of the girl. That doesn't even make sense. I'm fried!
Monday, October 02, 2006
If you had five other lives to live, who would you be?
A bug's other life, take 1: I'd be a 6 foot tall, blond, French bassist. I'd play in smoky bars with blue lighting. I'd wear a tank top with no bra, and man, would I jam. My fingers would move so fast on those strings, finding their way without waiting for the map of my brain to lead the way. I'd be so good that I'd be able to pay the rent on my studio from my tips and the meager pay the bars gave my band. I'd spend my days sitting on my window sill, staring out at the people walking on the quiet rue below, listening to their conversations like I was god. I'd hear all about people's fears and loves, and that knowledge would make its way into my fingers, letting me belt out their heartache every night.