Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Words and images

I've always loved making collages. It was the kind of visual art I was drawn to most as a kid--something about how difficult it was to make a mistake, how a collage wasn't supposed to look like anything in particular. I felt free and nonjudged in a way I didn't when making other art.

As a high schooler, my best friend and I made collages together often. We would pull out pictures that represented what our lives would be like in some far off imaginary future--we'd always live together, near the beach, and date surfers.

I stopped making collages for a while, I think because the act didn't seem all that purposeful--it wasn't like I was going to sell these things or even show them to anyone else. The other day, on a rare day when I had absolutely nothing definitive that I hadto do, an image in a magazine called to me and I got out my scissors and glue stick. I put this one in my current journal, which I realized was a great idea and one I plan to use again. This way I can page through my collages just like I might my journal writing.

On a similar note, I saw a great presentation recently where Poet Steven Cramer read his poems as a slide show of a photographer's pictures played behind him. The two were randomly paired up and were asked to create a show that featured their works resonating off one another. It was very powerful, and it reminded me of the power of words and images when they're used together. So maybe no one will ever ask me to present my collages to an audience, but the presentation made me realize that media that mix words and images are important, and so is the fact that I'm drawn to this particular one. Best Blogger Tips

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

If only we could all be so easy on ourselves...

I read this quote today, and wondered why I don't think like this instead of getting frustrated that my writing isn't perfect, whatever that means.

"I think I did pretty well, considering I started out with nothing but a bunch of blank paper."

--Steve Martin Best Blogger Tips

Friday, November 30, 2007

Sunday Scribbilings: Walk

God it's been so long since I scribbled! It feels good to be back!

This week's prompt, Walk, made me think of a few different things:

1. When I'm waiting to meet someone, if I'm not reading to pass the time, I watch people as they come towards me. I try to determine, well before the person's face or characteristics come into focus, whether or not it's the person I'm waiting for. I watch the person walk.

I'm most familiar with my husband's walk, and I'm pretty good at spotting him from afar. He sort of slides down the street, no bounce in his step, almost as if he's skateboarding.

When we were first dating, when he'd get to the point where we both could definitely make out each other's faces, he would nod his head a little, like a basketball player might say "hey" to his teammate. Now he usually does something silly. He'll give me the peace sign, or the "rock on" sign.

Being able to spot him from afar, and knowing how he'll first give recognition to the fact that I'm waiting for him is one of the intimacies of marriage that I never thought about or even knew existed before being with someone for so long.

2. One of the things I most enjoy in life is walking my dog. I love watching people smile and coo over her (at least the ones who aren't cowering at the sight of a silly black lab). I love getting to know my neighborhood well by walking down its streets a few times a day. For example, I never would've known that the house across the street from the park has been for sale twice in the last two years, or that it's an 80-something year old woman who puts a garbage can in the street so she can save the spot in front of her house whenever she goes out.

The few times a year when I'm not in the least bit excited to take Chloe out, I know something is wrong. My excitement about this chore is like a barometer for my mood. And as soon as the pressure is so low that I have to drag myself out the door, I know there's a bad mood a 'coming.

Though this knowledge doesn't make getting my butt out the door any easier, it does help me get to the bottom of what's bothering me well before I would otherwise. I guess that's why people say walks are meditative.

For more takes on walks, click here. Best Blogger Tips

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Hard work

I forgot what hard work revision is. I realized that the main problem with the story I'm working on is a very basic one: there's way too much telling, not enough scenes. So now revision really means writing the whole thing over again.Oy . Plus, I feel kind of stupid for having made such a basic mistake in the first place, and a tad annoyed at my
mentor, who didn't point out the problem as clearly/forcefully as I would've liked.

So I'm looking forward to another frustrating evening tonight. But at least tonight we're getting our Christmas tree and Chinese food! Those will make me feel a tad better, I hope. :)
Best Blogger Tips

Monday, November 26, 2007

Revised revision plan

I did not get to revise anything this weekend, as I had planned. I did finish laying out the alumni newsletter I'm working on for my grad assistantship, and that took all my work time/energy. So... now I need to spend this week revising stuff to submit for my MFA residency. This is how I plan to proceed:

Tonight: Make notes on the main characters of the tougher of the two stories I plan to revise. Identify scenes that need to be added/deleted. Use a chapter of Prep (a book I'm currently reading and loving) as a model for how much showing and telling to do.

Tomorrow: Begin rewriting

Wednesday: Continue rewriting

Thursday: See Steven Cramer read (see previous post for more info)

Saturday: Revise 2nd story (which needs less work, in my opinion)

Sunday: Finish up whatever I haven't gotten to in both stories. Best Blogger Tips

Monday, November 19, 2007

Care to join me?

I'll be hitting these literary events in the next few weeks. If anyone would care to join me, let me know!

The Ghost in the Album: An evening with Photographer: Judith Black and Poet: Steven Cramer

Thursday, November 29, 2007 - 7p.m.

Lesley University, University Hall (formerly Porter Exchange),Room 3-094 1815 Mass Ave, Cambridge.

This collaborative presentation includes material from the intersection of the artists' photographs and poetry and offers their unique interpretations regarding family, memory, and time.

The lecture is FREE & open to the public.

**See Black photograph and Cramer poem at


WHEN: Thursday, December 6, 7 pm
WHERE: 5th Floor Reading Room, Barnes & Noble Bookstore,
Kenmore Sq, Boston
Free and open to the public
INFO: or 617-868-3143 (Barbara Beckwith)
Presented jointly by the National Writers Union and Barnes & Noble

Book reviewing in newspapers and magazines has faced pressures
that have often undermined good criticism: an overwhelming number
of books, a need for funding, a complex relationship with publishers,
and the inherent difficulty of being accurate and fair. As the field
moves online, cyber-reviewers will face many of these same pressures.
Can we create new and better traditions--or will the new media repeat
the failings of the past?

Gail Pool has been a columnist, reviewer, and review editor for many
newspapers and magazines, including the Christian Science Monitor,
the Cleveland Plain Dealer, and the Women's Review of Books. Her
essays have appeared in such publications as the New York Times,
Columbia Journalism Review, and the Chronicle of Higher Education.
She is the editor of Other People's Mail: An Anthology of Letter Stories,
and she lives in Cambridge, where for many years she taught Writing
for Publication at the Radcliffe Seminars. Best Blogger Tips

Friday, November 16, 2007

What to submit?

I'm taking the train to New York this weekend for some pre-Thanksgiving
friends and family parties. I want to bring printouts of the two
stories I need to revise for my MFA residency so I can read them over
and take notes. This, of course, begs the question: which stories
should I revise??

I wrote three this semester. One that I definitely plan on revising needs a good deal of work--especially in terms of that oldie but goodie
of "show don't tell." One of the other stories I'm pretty happy
with--it needs some revision, but it's definitely on its way to being
done. I haven't received comments from my mentor on the third story
yet, but I am assuming it will need more work.

So what I'm wondering is: do people submit
stuff to workshop that they know needs a lot of work and will therefore
be ripped apart (in a supportive way--one hopes!)? Or do you submit
stuff that you're pretty happy with to see if others feel it's "done"
too (and maybe, just maybe, to get a bit more praise than you would
otherwise)? Best Blogger Tips

Monday, November 12, 2007

Organizing, in pictures

I had piles and piles of paper, mostly to do with my MFA residencies, writing in general, and the adult ed classes I teach. I decided to get them organized before they took over my entire study.

The first step was buying some very cute accordian folders:

Then I chose one to hold my writing papers, and one to hold my teaching papers. I labeled the folders in the writing file with things like: story ideas (which holds articles I rip out of newspapers because they piqued an idea), stories in revision (which holds marked up copies of my stories; I also have a few other folders to hold stories that have been workshopped and therefore there are too many copies to fit in the accordian), and interesting articles on writing.

The teaching folder is broken down into the different classes I teach or plan to teach (freelance writing, memoir, fiction), with handouts and story examples filed in each.

And lastly, I have a basket that holds things like books I plan to read next and papers that I'll be using in the near future and therefore don't need to be filed:

What kind of filing/organizing system works for you? Best Blogger Tips


I'm enjoying my extra-long weekend and relaxing and getting some organizing done. (I might post pics later of my new system for keeping writing-related papers organized.) But I'm realizing that one thing I'm already really missing is having the structure of the MFA deadlines. This makes me quite frightened at the idea that in 6 months I'll graduate and have no imposed structure. It's also ironic that last month I was dying to be out from under the deadline pressure and now I want it back!

Anyway, here are some ideas for writerly things I want/need to get done in the next month before my next residency.

* Revise two short stories that need to be submitted by early Dec for my residency workshops

* Put in final revisions on Harvard thesis and submit it for final approval(whoo!!)

* Go through stories I've done for MFA program and decide which I will revise for my thesis.

* If Carte Postale is not one of the stories I submit for residency, revise that.

* Send Carte Postale out to Atlantic student writing contest

* Make list of other places I would like to submit fiction. I plan to go about doing this by looking in the Best American series for magazine/journal ideas, and then going to one of my favorite bookstores (the Trident on Newbury St.) to check out the magazines and other literary journals to decide which ones seem appropriate for my work. If anyone has other ideas on how to create such a list, please let me know!

* Revise three essays--one on cleaning, one on friendship, one on Forest Hills Cemetery--and send them out.

* Pitch Globe Magazine idea for relationship essay section (on how B and I are best able to make time for each other when we're insanely busy) Best Blogger Tips

Saturday, November 10, 2007


I finally have the time to get a summer's worth of pictures off my digital camera and onto my computer. As promised, here are some shots of my recent knitting projects, along with one or two pics that will make you pine for the days of BBQs.

A fun shawl with arms I made. (Funny story: I wore this to a bar and someone wanted to buy it from me!)

A very funky star-strewn hat and my favorite of the squares I made for a blankets for the homeless project.

An easy lace-knit shawl for my aunt's 60th birthday present

Sum Sum Summertime

Best Blogger Tips

Friday, November 09, 2007

Back to blogging

Well, I really took that bloggin without obligation to heart! I needed the break though. Things have been just a wee bit hectic in this bug's life. But I'm feeling a little bit calmer, having gotten my final submission for the semester off to my MFA advisor, and what I hope to be the penultimate draft of my thesis to my Harvard advisor.

This week has allowed me to get back into a few neglected routines:
* I did morning pages a few times this week
* I've made it to the gym just about every day
* I went to two literary events: one on Monday night at a bar in Cambridge where four readers read, and another last night at the Brookline Booksmith where some of the authors featured in Best American Essays 2008 read, along with the series editor. Both were fun and made me remember how lucky I am to live in such a literary city.

I think I will become more regular with my blogging, and I hope I have a few people left who are still checking in occassionally! Some topics I want to blog about in the near future:

*story ideas (reminder to self: female friendship idea, awkward Thanksgiving idea)
* emotions of going into my thesis semester at Lesley
* general writing progress
*pics of finished knitting projects

Looking forward to rejoining the blogosphere! Best Blogger Tips

Monday, October 29, 2007

Creature of habit?

I'm not someone who loves schedules. Or at least I wasn't. Then this weekend things got very thrown off--I stayed out too late and drank too much on Friday, so I slept late on Saturday. Then I was up again super late on Saturday for a wedding. I slept a little late on Sunday, but managed to get a bunch of work done anyway. Sunday night I stayed up til 11, watching the Red Sox (slightly later than usual for me on a weeknight).

This morning, I felt rested, but super cranky! I was in one of those moods where everything seemed annoying, even my being annoyed. I can think of a few other good reasons why I might've felt this way, but I think my schedule being messed up all weekend had something to do with it.

Back to my normal schedule of writing, knitting (more on the affects of being OCD about anything, even benign things like knitting later), and going to sleep early. Best Blogger Tips

Monday, October 22, 2007

Just say no

I have done a fairly good job of beginning to implement my "policy" of saying no to things I don't have time for/don't want to do. I didn't go meet up with a distant cousin when she unexpectedly came to town, I opted to take a two hour nap instead of shopping with my mom when she was in town (we spent the rest of the weekend together, lest you think I'm an evil daughter), I did not go to my inlaws' for a Wednesday night birthday party, I canceled going to a reading with a friend when I realized my schoolwork was behind, I decided to put off painting the front door/foyer until after my last MFA submission is due.

On the negative side, I did volunteer for a project at work that I'm not sure I really have time for. But it's a writing project, and the type of thing I haven't done in a while, so I don't feel too badly about it.

In general, I feel very good about myself for taking control of my time. I know I have a far way to go--especially in the saying no without guilty area--but I'm getting there. So if I don't blog much or comment on your blog much, note that I'm not ignoring you/being flaking, I'm just "practicing". Best Blogger Tips

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Knitting for the homeless

As some of you know, I am a somewhat obsessive knitter. I'm also concerned about what options the homeless have now that it's getting colder. So what better than a knit-a-thon to support Pine Street Inn of Boston, New England's largest resource for homeless men and women!

I am going to knit as many 9x9 squares as I can, and I and other Boston area knitters will assemble them into blankets, which will then be presented to the tenants of the Pine Street Inn residences.

If you'd like to sponsor my knitting, go to

Thank you in advance for your help.

Happy Knitting!
Christine Best Blogger Tips

Monday, October 15, 2007

How're things in writer land?

It's a question Poet Mom asked on her blog, and one that I thought I'd answer on mine.

I'm at work on a new story, and for some reason first drafts are so much less painful for me than revising (which is what I did for my last MFA submission). I think it's because I've finally got it in my head that first drafts are shitty, that I'm allowed to make mistakes in them, that a lot of the work is done in just allowing yourself to write poorly.

So now I think that first drafts are fun. Second or third drafts though? That's when my Evil Editor sits on my shoulder second guessing every change I make, reminding me that even at the end of this draft the story will be no where near done, asking me why I'm doing this anyway?

Hopefully with time, that Evil Editor will shush down and allow me to revise in peace, knowing that even second drafts are allowed to be shitty, that I'm allowed to make mistakes in them, that a lot of the work is done in just allowing yourself to write poorly.

So that's how things are going in my Writer Land. How about you?? Best Blogger Tips

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Another book suggestion?

You all were so helpful last time, I thought I'd ask again for suggestions for a book I want to have my character read in my short story. This one needs to have a theme of people on the outside looking in, or people watching others in a removed way. Any ideas?? Best Blogger Tips

Friday, October 05, 2007

This weekend

I've got a ton to do this weekend, so I need my trusty online to-do list. Here goes:

Hang flyers for neighborhood watch meeting
Cook healthy dinner

Yoga in morning
Work on revising craft essay/story for MFA submission
Hair cut at 11:30
Spend rest of the day revising and doing house projects (see below)
Saturday night: dinner with friend

House projects in the morning
Relax at Harvard Square October fest for a bit
Work on essay/story

Be thankful that we still celebrate Columbus day, though I question whether the man truly deserves a holiday
House projects and writing
Yoga class in evening if time allows

I would also like to fit in two 30 minute meditation sessions over the weekend.

House projects:
Paint bedroom (only two walls)
Fix hole in bathroom wall and paint over it (requires getting paint matched)
Replace broken doorbell
Hang pictures in the hallway, rearrange those in the kitchen and bathroom
Organize laundry room/back porch
Paint front door and clean foyer
Winterize gardens Best Blogger Tips

Thursday, October 04, 2007


... too thin. I have finally hit the wall. I have taken on just one too many things, and I'm starting to go a tad crazy. My eye will start twitching any day now... But you know what, starting in the new year, I will just say no! I'll be in my thesis semester, and have a good excuse to cut back. I guess I could just start now, but I need some time to get used to the idea of not taking on so much stuff. Though I know I need to, these habits are hard to break! Best Blogger Tips

Monday, October 01, 2007

Revision: opinions please

I'm revising a story for my next MFA submission. (I am WAAAYY far behind, but that's another story.) In the story, the main character joins a book club. They read two books in the course of the story. Now, here's the question: Should they be real books, or should I make them up? What are your thoughts on either? What are the pros and cons of each? Have you read any books that name drop books well? One of the books they read has to be about an affair for thematic reasons. Thanks for your thoughts! Best Blogger Tips

My latest obsession

I have yet to figure out a good way to keep a list of the books I've read and want to read. I tried the old fashioned way--keeping it in a journal--but I always forget to update it when I'm actually near the thing. Internet to the rescue! lets you keep a bookshelf of books--and label them as things you're reading, have read, or want to read. And you can rate them and see what your friends have read/rated. If you join, look me up and friend me! Best Blogger Tips

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Some links

I am a member of the National Writers' Union (which I highly recommend my fellow writers look into--they have really intelligent members who answer questions on various listserves, they run workshops and events, and they have a contract department that will help you read through a contract to make sure your rights are being looked after). Through the NWU, I learned about some neat web sites that I thought I'd share: Has info about writing book proposals An online writing group based in the UK that has some neat exercises on their site A site similar to Sunday Scribblings Best Blogger Tips

Monday, September 24, 2007

Breaking the silence

Hello! It's been a while! I think this is the longest I've gone without blogging, and I have a few things to thank/blame:

1- The silent retreat is still having its affects. I'm finding the need for more silence, less communication.

2- I've been really busy! I started my graduate assistantship, where I'll be editing the Lesley MFA program's alumni newsletter and sending out announcements about publishing opportunities and events to current students and alumni. And I taught my first class as part of my teachingassistantship! It went well: the kids seemed fairly engaged for 8 a.m., the professor was happy with my performance , and I wasn't even that nervous. And of course there's the regular MFA writing/reading, the revising I'm doing for my other masters, and my job. Phew.

3- I've taken this to heart:

I especially love the line about blogging not being a competition, and how when you're dead, no one will take notice of the number of posts you've done or the number of comments you've received. Amen to that. Best Blogger Tips

Monday, September 17, 2007

Retreat report, backwards schedule

The retreat was wonderful! I was really worried about being silent for a whole weekend (and silence included not reading, writing, knitting or basically anything other than walking, sitting, eating, and doing bathroom stuff).

But it was easy! And pleasant. It's amazing how much I/we talk and think above and beyond what's necessary. I can't tell you how many times I had the same thought, about the same mundane things like, I'd like to find a low-calorie recipe for chocolate chip cookies...

And eating mindfully is wonderful! Food is so much more satisfying when you're actually paying attention to it instead of concentrating on what you're going to say next, etc.

Now it's back to reality, but hopefully a more mindful one. I even got up 10 minutes early for a brief meditation this morning. And that's saying a lot since I had to leave the house at 6:45.

One part of being back to reality is getting back on track with my MFA work. Here's my newest backwards schedule:

October 8: Submission due. Write letter to Tony, mail packet.

Oct 1-7: Add in new sections/revisions to the electronic version of the story.
Write about the new Lorrie Moore stories in essay form.

September 24-30: Journal/free write about the areas I marked up in previous week.
Read second Lorrie Moore story, take detailed notes.

September 17-24: Read over story I'm revising, mark up hard copy as to major things to change/explore/expand. Close read one Lorrie Moore story, take detailed notes.

This month is going to be a little tight timewise... I think I gave myself too much of a break by not working last week or this weekend. Oh well. Pedal to the metal now! Best Blogger Tips

Friday, September 14, 2007

The sound of silence

I am going away on a meditation retreat this weekend in Western Mass. So this blog will be silent for a few days, as will I--there's no talking at the retreat! I hope I don't go crazy from the sound of silence. Something tells me I won't, and that I might just appreciate it a lot more than the sound of talking. Have a good weekend! Best Blogger Tips

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Package 2: sent

I sent my second MFA submission yesterday, which means that I'm officially half way through my third semester. Gulp! (The feelings that go along with being close-ish to done with my MFA program deserve another post.) I feel pretty good about what I sent, in as far as I ever feel good about sending someone my SFDs (Shitty First Drafts).

I experimented with the omniscient point of view in both a long short story (20ish pages) and a short short story (3 pages). I'm proud of myself for stepping into this unknown and scary territory. After all, the omniscient POV means you (the author) have to make many more decisions than you would if the story were told from one person's point of view. Which characters' heads do we get into in the story as a whole? What about in each particular scene? What would you gain from hearing the thoughts of each character? What would you lose? Is it OK to be in a character's head in one scene, but then not another? (If anyone would like to comment on this issue/these questions, please do!)

I usually try to take some time off between submissions, but unfortunately this week will be devoted to more work, though not for my MFA. I will:

* Revise The Rest of June, a story I'm submitting for my Harvard MLA thesis.
* Revise the prologue for the medical memoir I worked on for my IS last semester.
* I also want to try to take some photos, especially of my garden and knitting projects and post them. Best Blogger Tips

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Back to school

I started my teaching assistantship yesterday, and it did not get off to a very auspicious start... I was so nervous about it on Sunday night that I couldn't sleep. This set me up to sleep right through my alarm and not wake up until 7:30--only half an hour before my class started, the class which takes me about an hour to get to. I got ready in about 5 minutes and quickly got a cab.

The cabbie was very into getting me to Porter Square on time, though he kept saying, "I make no promises!" He zigged and zagged through traffic, driving down back alleys and small side streets. Even with this herculean effort, I arrived 10 minutes late. Sigh... My professor was very nice about it, and the class was very interested. Best of all, the students participated! At 8 am in a freshman comp class!

I forgot how energizing it can be to be in a classroom, watching people learn and learning from others. I need to remember that energy now, when I'm feeling slightly hungover from yesterday's rushing/excitement/working late to make up for the time I was TA'ing/etc. Best Blogger Tips

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Fall: how I love and hate thee

Ever since Brian and I started dating (9 years ago tomorrow!), I've loved the fall. The crispness in the air, apples, dusting off my sweaters--all reminded me of that wonderful period when you're going gaga over someone.

But since last year, the first feeling of coolness sends me into a panic. I feel claustrophic with the idea of being stuck inside all winter, dreading getting out of bed to feel the icy air on my toes, wearing layers upon layers everywhere. These thoughts bum me out so much that then I spiral into dwelling on all the things I'm not in love with about my life. Just don't think about them, you say? Yea, try not thinking about food the next time you're starving. Even if you manage to get your thoughts on something else for a moment, you still feel hungry, and that hunger colors your attitude.

I don't think there's any way around this experience, at least not this year. So instead of fighting it I'm just going to try to make the most of the days when I'm feeling awful, and try to shorten their stay by doing more of the things I love: knitting, yoga, walking/running with Chloe. And as little as possible of the "have to's" like freelance projects and even some of my school work. I'll trade a less-than-awesome September submission for some piece of mind. I'm also planning some fun events like a foliage day cruise. Wish me luck! Best Blogger Tips

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Tune in!

A friend's radio documentary is airing on a program called Outfront on Canada's Radio One tonight at 8:43 p.m. (EST). You can hear it podcast if you go to and click on "Listen to CBC Radio" and then make sure you go to Radio One, and chose London as your location.

I couldn't be more proud of this fabulous writer/documentarian! Check it out!

Here's the introduction from the Outfront web site.
According to Form
by Tracy Isaacs

It is a simple form, and not unusual these days. Tracy Isaacs teaches at a university. It sent its employees a survey to find out how diverse its workforce is. The questionnaire asks her to classify herself racially. For Tracy Isaacs, born under the neither white nor black classification of "coloured" in apartheid South Africa, this opens up a flood of questions about how she thinks of herself. Best Blogger Tips

Monday, September 03, 2007

Weekend follow up

Thanks to the so many of you who posted such heartfelt comments to my last post. I come back home with good news: I was able to live up to my intention! Not once did I wish or try to make B act differently than he was. And the result, of course, was that he seemed to feel more comfortable and therefore act less withdrawn. We didn't get into a single argument the whole time, either. (Not that we fight much in general, but stressful situations often lead to fights between most people, I think.)And another result was that I was better able to be myself and relax since I didn't have to worry about "managing" the situation.

But like any change, this one--coupled with a few other unrelated family changes that we evident this weekend-- did left me with a weird feeling a bit strange. I'm going to do some freewriting in my paper journal and hopefully get to the bottom of some of that. Thanks again! I really think it was putting my intention on paper that helped me stay conscious of fulfilling it. Best Blogger Tips

Friday, August 31, 2007

Sunday Scribblings: The End

I'm spending this end-of-the-summer weekend visiting my parents' new house in New Jersey. I'm hoping this weekend will mark the end of some bad dynamics that have arisen in the past few years.

You see, my mom and husband have a bit of a checkered past. It's a long-ish story, but it boils down to a day a few Christmas's ago that I spent hysterically crying after my mom criticized a ton of stuff about my then fiancé—first to me, and then to him. She and my dad left, and we didn’t speak for a few days (which isn’t that long, but felt it. Time slows down when you know you’re ignoring/avoiding someone).

She has since apologized profusely, but once words are out there, you can’t take them back. So when B displays any of the tendencies she attacked him for (being too aloof, not wanting to spend every waking hour chatting with her, etc.), I get uncomfortable. I spend the whole time wondering if she’s judging him. And for some odd psychological (I’m sure!) reason, I tend to take all this discomfort out on B, wishing that he could act however it is she wants him to act.

So this weekend, I am setting an intention to not play into this dynamic any longer. I will just concern myself with my own feelings, and with making sure I am relaxing and doing what I want to do—not worrying about what someone else may or may not be thinking. And I definitely won’t get mad at B, no matter how he decides to act/spend his time.

Here’s to the (hopefully) end of all that! For more endings, click here. Best Blogger Tips

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Walking in circles

B told me about a very funny interview he heard on NPR today. It's with writer Merrill Markoe, who has a new book out called Walking in Circles Before Lying Down. As you may have guessed, it's about dogs. If you love animals, or just need a laugh, listen to the author discussing her book with Robin Young on Here and Now.

On a totally unrelated note, I thought I'd announce to the blogosphere my new fitness goal: to run or do yoga every day of the week (with maybe one day off). Try to keep me honest--ask me how it's going in a few weeks! Best Blogger Tips

blogger annoyances

I've been trying to get this picture to be my bio pic for days now. I'm hoping that posting it here will make it easier to get it into my bio... Best Blogger Tips

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Grace Paley

"None of it happened, and yet every word of it is true."

Grace Paley said that about her fiction, and I think it just about sums up how I think of my work, and how I hope readers will think about it.

Paley died of cancer yesterday. (Click here for her obit.)

I took a seminar this summer where we did close readings of a few of her stories, and boy am I glad I did. I learned so much from her writing about what makes a short, short story work: how the story can simply express a moment in time, and show the slightest change in the character at the end. In that way, I think that Paley's fiction is the heart of truth--after all, to paraphrase the Eagles, people change so slowly if they ever change at all. Best Blogger Tips

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Feedback on feedback

What is it about getting feedback from my mentor that throws me into an emotional tail spin? I got my stories and comments back yesterday, and they were really positive. The most positive I have ever gotten (which I think makes sense because this was definitely the best story I've handed in). But still, I can't stop thinking about the comments and trying to make sense of it all...

I got home at 10 last night and saw the envelope in our mail pile. I ripped it open before even saying hello to Brian. I then sat in the living room reading the responses like a zombie while Brian tried to talk to me. When I came up for a breath and he asked, what is that? I told him my mentor response. After I read all the comments, I answered Brian's other question of, what did he think? He liked it, I said. And that was it. Then I went to sleep and lie there thinking and thinking and thinking about the comments.

And I woke up, thinking about them some more. I'm thinking about how to revise the story, how to respond to some of the questions that were brought up regarding my essay. All while I should be focusing on my next story, which I'm now worried will disappoint by not being as good as the first (it's definitely a harder birthing process for this one...). And I'm wondering if my new mentor isn't pushing me hard enough (way to turn good news into bad, huh?).

Anyway, how do you react when you get feedback from teachers, writing groups, friends, etc.? Best Blogger Tips

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Sunday Scribbilings: Dear Diary

I'm using this Sunday Scribblings to help me get into the head of my new character, Celia, a woman who is going through a divorce and moves from NYC to Boston to get away from her husband and his mistress. Here is one of her diary entries:

Dear Diary,
I haven't written those words in years. Maybe since those days of 7th and 8th grade when I was so worried about pimples and boys and fitting in. Just like everybody else, though the worst part of course was how alone in my worries I felt. I realize now that there are probably hundreds of women going through the same thing as me now, and probably thousands before me who have too.

But not really. I'm probably the only who moved to a strange city to make sure I never would drop my hot coffee all over my tighted legs when I saw my husband and his mistress in Starbucks, after he told me he had stopped seeing her. And I'm almost definitely the only one who finds healing in the Boston Aquarium--going each morning as soon as it opens to stare at a new spot in the giant column of water that makes up the middle of the building. It's dark and fairly quiet at that hour, and it's the only place where I lose myself and forget my loneliness and fear and betrayal. The fish swim past--different shapes and sizes and colors--and it's amazing how I can be staring at one fish only to realize that there are three more between me and it, only I couldn't notice them and my current obsession at the same time.

And the fish make me laugh. My face will be right up against the tank and an ugly, ugly blow fish will swim by, centimeters away from my face and I'll startle and laugh at the same time. Those moments are probably the only true laughs I've had in months.

I joined a book club, at the insistence of Jen [narrator's best friend in New York, who introduces her to one of the book club members]. The women are all really nice, and I'm sure I'll like going eventually. But I left my first meeting feeling lonelier than I had when I went in. They all knew each other so well, they'd gone traveling together, watched each other get married and have babies.

I realize now that Bobby's gone, nobody knows me that well. Jen is the closest, but we've definitely grown apart since she had her babies. And plus the last few months it's all I could do not to push her away completely. After all, if your husband can betray you and decide unilaterally that the marriage wasn't worth working on, how can I trust anyone? Jen and I met at the same time I met Bobby, so we don't even have more longevity that I can point to as a reason to trust her.

It's impossible for me not to think and think and think about everything--both was has happened and what will happen. That's why I love the aquarium. When I watch the fish, I just watch the fish. It's like an instant meditation. If only they were open 24 hours a day, I might just move in.

For more diary entries--real and imagined--go to Sunday Scribblings. Best Blogger Tips

Friday, August 17, 2007

Goals for the weekend

Thanks to my fellow bloggers' advice (and some days off from work due to food poisoining--hey, at least I got some down time out of the deal!), I've managed to make some progress on my new story. Continuing that progress plays a major role in this weekend.

Work end:
* Write forward for 2 hours every day on story
* Fill out the last section of my thesis essay
* Finish Nervous Conditions (TI,Repeater did you read this for Tony? I like it.) And start on next book.

Fun end:
* See Paris Je T'aime, which I am shocked that Brian is going for!
* Go to a one year old b-day party and an evening adult party involving lots of alcohol and sitting outside.
* Go see the seals at the aquarium! I gave B a gift certificate for Christmas for a chance to "train" the seals. We're finally going! I'm sure I'll post pics. :) Best Blogger Tips

Thursday, August 16, 2007

city living blues

We've had trouble with our upstairs neighbors since they moved in. They're loud, loud people who LOVE to blast gross techno music. We've finally, FINALLY started making headway with them (after getting into a screaming match in the middle of the street this winter).

And then, our neighbors on one side (our houses are separated by like 10 feet of grass) have decided that it'd be a fabulous idea to start hanging out in their parking lot, which is very close to our backyard, porch, and bedroom, playing--you guessed it--gross techno and house music out of the back of their car. Oh, and their teens also just sit in the parking lot at all hours of the day/night and rap/talk really loudly.

I'm trying to figure who to talk to--they're renters and I have no idea who owns the building. I wish I had faith enough to try to talk to their mom or them directly, but dealing with Tweedle Dum and Dummer upstairs has sucked that faith right out of me.

I swear, it's only since we bought a place that we've ever had serious neighbor problems. Why oh why does this have to be the case, when we can't move (easily)???

My annoyance about this (which I swear is about to bring me to tears) is amplified by the fact that thanks to food poisining, I haven't left the house in two days. Only 1.4 years until B finishes school and we can move...
OK, rant over. Best Blogger Tips

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

No traction

I'm having trouble getting going with my new story, which I don't think is normally my problem. What do others do when they get stuck early on? Advice would be most welcome. Best Blogger Tips

Monday, August 13, 2007

What the world needs now...

I believe this is the second time I've blogged about Cary Tennis' advice column. What can I say, he writes about artists a lot in an eloquent way. Today's question is from a visual artist who is finding it hard to deal with rejections. Cary's response is long, but here are some of my favorite parts, with some personal comments.

"I have experienced literature that opened the skies for me, that made the earth tremble, that proved the existence of a world right alongside ours, so far superior to ours..... Every time I write I think I am required to make the skies open. I think I have to make the earth tremble. I think I have to reveal the existence of a dazzling universe quietly superseding our own, right next to us in another dimension.... So naturally I fail every day."

I went to a meditation class last night, and one of the themes, if you will, was forgiving yourself. Every time your mind wandered from your breath, you were supposed to say to yourself, "I forgive you." It was so amazingly nurturing to say that to myself about 100 times. That's what this part of Cary's column reminded me of.

This part about finding a supportive group of fellow writers also hit home. I feel so blessed to have found and continue finding other like-minded writers:

"You need constant encouragement and reinforcement in order to keep going. It's not even about feeling good so much. It's just about keeping going. I began to think about athletes....A batter gets a hit maybe every four or five at bats. So that's pretty tough. How would an athlete deal with all that rejection? In sports there is rejection and pain. But there is also joy and encouragement. There are coaches. There are teammates.

Those of us who work alone trying to make the heavens open up and the earth tremble, we need regular encouragement. We need coaches to say, Hey, good game. We need hand slaps and high-fives. Without support we will stop sending out our work."

And lastly, I will point to the part in his column where he explains just why it is that people need positive reinforcement just as much as constructive critism:

"Others have been hard on me as well, and I have sort of invited that. I have said, That's OK, give it to me straight, I can take it. Actually, I couldn't take it. But I would say I could. I believed in the interest of telling it like it is that everybody had to be hard on everybody else and on themselves. That would ensure that we were all aesthetically honest and pure.

Well, so now I am thinking, what good does that do if we become so embittered and afraid of rejection that we can't continue our work? I think what we need is more acceptance and more love.

Well said, Cary! (Click here to read the whole article.) Best Blogger Tips

Saturday, August 11, 2007

My Saturday in pictures

Brian and I took a day off, and a day trip to Portland, where we visited an alpaca farm and drank some of the fine local beer. I also bought lots of yarn and finished a knitting project (which I'll post a pic of after it's been blocked).

(Click on the collage to enlarge the photos) Best Blogger Tips

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

2 new backwards schedules

I've got a lot to get done this month, for both my MFA and MA programs. Luckily my teaching assistantship/grad assistantship don't start for another month, so I can focus my energies, as following:

Next MFA submission due: Sept. 10 (consists of 1 new story, 7 pages of 15 page essay)
Sept 1-9: Revise both as needed
August 24-31: Spread time equally between essay and new story, getting a draft of each done
August 17-24: Concentrate on expanding essay, continue to write at least 1 hour on most days
August 10-17: Free write on story every day (1-3 hours)

Next MA submission due: Sept. 15 (consists of expanded 25 page essay, 2 revised short stories)
Sept. 7-14: Revise Rest of June
Sept. 1-7: Continue writing essay
August 24-31: Write new parts of essay
August 17-24: Revise Trying
August 10-17: Finish braindumping on new short stories I am adding to essay, and revise/expand other sections of essay

And what's up with no one commenting on my blog this week? Is no one visiting? Am I a pariah??? Best Blogger Tips

New story

I sent out my first MFA package on Monday--god, what a good feeling it was to put that in the mail. This is my first mentor who is requiring mailed packets as opposed to emailed, and while it does add another layer to the process (printing and getting to the P.O.), I also got a more tangible sigh of relief when I dropped that sucker in the box, and can imagine it moving across the state.

But, as the saying goes, there's no rest for the weary, so I'm thinking about my next new story already. This one will be about a woman who's at the tail end of a divorce. She moves from Manhattan to Boston to escape memories and the possibility of running into her ex. She's been fairly exiled the first 2 months she's been there--it's cold and she's depressed so she doesn't try to go out and meet people.

The story will start on a spring day when she's finally going to the book club run by a friend of a friend of hers from Manhattan. The friend had been trying to get her to go since she moved--she thought the main character and the book club woman would hit it off. I'm not 100% sure where the story goes from here--I think what will happen is that these two women will become friends, and after the main character reveals a lot about her marriage and the reason for its failure (the main one being that her husband cheated), she then learns that this new friends of her had been "the other woman" in the not so recent past. The main character has to digest this info, and somehow get over the feeling of being betrayed all over again.

Any thoughts, directions, questions are most welcome! Best Blogger Tips

Sunday, August 05, 2007


I promised I'd post links to the Boston Globe articles I wrote this week. Unfortunately only one ran as scheduled. I'm assuming the next will run next week, and I'll post it then. But here's a news brief about some possible changes near my house in Jamaica Plain: Best Blogger Tips

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Sunday Scribbilings: Decisions

I think a lot about the topic of decision making. I don't have much trouble making decisions, but I do ponder about their consequences a lot. What if I hadn't gone to BU? What if I didn't take a semester off and got a job interning at the Globe, where I met my husband? (I would like to believe that we would've met anyway, that we were somehow destined to be together, but I don't think I can truly buy the idea of destiny.)

What if I hadn't decided, somewhat on a whim, to apply to Lesley's MFA program? What if I hadn't gone to the Ann Lammott reading on a snowy night in a church downtown, where I met the friend who ended up introducing me to the neighborhood in which I now live? What if...

When I was younger, I used to think that any changes to the major decisions in my life would lead me down a path to becoming a totally different person. Now, I think that despite the fact that every decision impacts the course of one's life, I'd be the same person with similar worries and goals no matter which road I chose. Best Blogger Tips

Friday, August 03, 2007

On a happier note...

In my insane post of yesterday, I forgot to post the good things I'm doing this weekend: Tonight is a BBQ with a friend and her baby while her hubby's out of town, tomorrow is a walk with BostonErin and our doggies, and a movie at night with B. Sunday is another BBQ with friends. Best Blogger Tips

Thursday, August 02, 2007

No time!

I've had this song stuck in my head all week because, you guessed it, I have no time! (I love the part late in the song when they keep repeating "No time! No time!" with urgency in their voices.)

The odd thing is that I have much more time than I will in the fall, when I start TAing and my graduate assistantship. But I had meetings regarding both of those things--and my Harvard Extension School thesis--this week, so all sorts of thoughts, ideas, and worries about them are floating around in my head. Thank god for this sleep/meditation CD or I would've spent a third night as an insomniac last night.

So, what do I do when I feel stressed? Make a list, of course! Here goes:

Things not to worry about right now:
1. TAship (expiration date 8/15, when I should email professor some thoughts on which classes I want to lead)
2. Grad assistantship (expiration date 9/1, when I should email supervisors and touch base)

Things to do this weekend
1. Add baking scenes into my main story for my upcoming MFA submission
2. Revise the short short story that I will be submitting too
3. Expand the outline to my MFA essay
4. Brain dump about the stories I am adding to my final MLA thesis essay

Things that will get done sometime, and it's fine that they're not done right now (really, it is):

1. Fix up my garden (front)
2. Add elevated beds for my back veggie garden
3. Paint the floor/ceiling of my back porch
4. Put together a wedding album (yes, I've been married for 3 years and I haven't done this yet...)
5. Get down the many essays that are floating around in my head, especially one on dealing with a loved one's sickness and an essay on covering neighborhood meetings now, in my own neighborhood vs when I was younger and a reporter for a town newspaper in a ritzy area that I could never dream to live in (and with snobby people worried about the stupidest things...)

On that note....
I have two articles that will be in this week's Sunday Globe. I'll post links on Sunday. Best Blogger Tips

Thursday, July 26, 2007

A weekend away

I've been bumming about the fact that B and I aren't getting to go on our traditional, week-long do nothing vacation this August. We're both too busy, and my vacation time is in the negative. However, we are planning a few weekend trips, and tomorrow starts one of them. We'll be heading to a friend's cabin in the Adirondacks. There's a ton of people going, so it won't be a relaxing in solitude kind of trip, but it will be relaxing none the less. The cabin is on a lake in the mountains. Need I say more? The weather isn't looking too promising, but be it indoors or out, I plan to do a whole lotta nothing this weekend. Reading, knitting, drinking, swimming (not after drinking!), making s'mores. That's my to do list.

What are your favorite weekend get aways? Best Blogger Tips

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Some writerly news

1- I am just about done with my new short story. I just have to insert some specifics about baking after I take my French Pastries class on Monday night. I'm really happy with it, though it's definitely a first draft, in all it's not-quite-there-yet glory. But I think I've found a voice that works for me, which is quite exciting.

2- I got a graduate assistantship. It's paid, and I will be working for the director of my MFA program to get their alumni newsletter up to snuff. It will be good experience working on a university's somewhat creative-writing based publication, and I will probably meet a bunch of great people who know a lot more about the writing world (and a lot more people in it) than I do.

3- I will also be serving as a teaching assistant to a creative writing class at Lesley. This is unpaid, and will serve as my Interdisciplinary Study class. I am thrilled to have the opportunity. The downside? The class that best fit into my work schedule meets at 8 am in Cambridge, Mondays and Wednesdays. This means I'll have to leave my house before 7. You know what time I normally get up on Mondays and Wednesdays? Around 8, and that's with a ton of prodding from my alarm clock and Bug. I am going to be one sleepy bug. I'll probably also be insanely stressed trying to balance all this. But I am also very happy and proud of myself, and I know the stress will be worth it. Best Blogger Tips

Monday, July 23, 2007

A strange "problem"

So this is my problem: I'm not devoting as much time to my writing as I am prepared to (and as I have in previous semesters), but it's still getting done. And I don't think it's any worse for the fact that I'm not writing for two hours straight a day. But that doesn't mean I don't feel guilty about it. I am reading a lot, but still... Any thoughts? Best Blogger Tips

Friday, July 20, 2007

Lesson #3: How to revise

As you may remember, I started out the month posting some lessons I
learned from my MFA residency. I stopped at #2 not because I only
learned two things, but because I forgot to blog about the rest. Here
we go again...

A.J.Verdelle led a two-session seminar on revision. The most useful thing I got out of the seminar was that revision should be methodical. It's funny because I am methodical when revising my writing for my day job, but not when revising my fiction. By methodical I mean that you should pick 15 or so areas that you want to work on in revision, and go through your manuscript 15 times, working on one area at a time. What should you focus on? Here are some suggestions:
1. Verbs. A.J. said that everyone should chose this as one of their 15 areas for every story. She suggested reading through your story, circling your verbs as you go. Then go back and look at just the verbs: you should be able to tell what's going on just by reading them. Edit out any "to be" verbs, "ing" verbs, and verbs in the distant past (ie "She was dancing", "she had been dancing." Change those to "she danced" for more immediacy.)
2. Redundancy: Look for places where you tell the reader or imply to the reader something he/she already knows. Cut those out.
3. Ask yourself: Does enough happen?
4. Ask yourself: Are the actions of the story clear enough? Are the places, people, things clear enough?
5. Watch for vague words such as it, one, someday, anyplace, something. Replace them with specifics.
6. Read your story aloud and edit for flow. (I would argue that everyone should do this for every story)

What are others that should be added to this list?

Another tip I found helpful was, before you revise ask yourself these three questions and answer them specifically. Then revise with the answers in mind:

1. Why did I write this story?
2. What story did I write?
3. Do I want to go with the story I wrote, or the story I had planned to
write? (As we all know, those are often very different things!) Best Blogger Tips

Friday, July 13, 2007

Sunday Scribbilings: Hair

I read the Sunday Scribbling prompt earlier today, and have been trying to think of a good hair-related tale from my past. This is what I came up with:

I studied abroad in London in the spring of my Junior year. That semester was one of the best times in my life--a whole new continent to explore, a houseful of (mostly) wonderful women, some of whom I'm still good friends with, classes that gave little homework, and no other responsibilities to distract me from my job of having fun and soaking up a new country. I had even left behind my husband (then my boyfriend of 6 months), who, while not a responsibility exactly, did take up a lot of time and energy. (Love ya, bug!)

Since Bug was an ocean away, and since we had decided to stay monogamously together despite that fact, I decided that I would stop shaving my legs, and wouldn't start again until Bug came to visit. It was cold in London in January, when I arrived, and it showed no promise of warming up before March, when Bug's trip was planned. So skirts were out anyway.

My legs itched a bit for the first weeks, not used to so much hair brushing against their skin. But after that, I loved my hairy legs. At the time, I couldn't have told you why, or even why I was trying this fashion experiment of sorts. But looking back I know that it was a small sign of the wonderful freedoms that go along with moving to a place where very few people know your name, let alone your personal hygiene habits.

I shaved a few days before Bug's visit (a small price to pay to see the man you love! And that's not to say he would ever force me to shave anything. But, for better or worse I do buy into the Western culture's view of leg hair just not being sexy on a woman). That night in bed in my nightshirt, it felt nice to let my smooth legs rub up against one another, with no stubble to get snagged on the pills of my tattered sheets. But what was nicer was knowing that, in ways big and small, this was the time to reinvent myself, to try on as many different hats (or hairstyles as it were) as I possibly could. Best Blogger Tips

What's next, a Knit-subishi?

This is one of my rare non-writing related posts. How can I not give a shout out to a woman who made a car. Out of yarn.
(Pardon the punny headline. I couldn't resist.) Best Blogger Tips

The joy of NOT publishing

I'm full of links lately. This one is to another blog by a British reporter who talks about her experiences with what I would call alternative publishing, ie printing stories out and making nice covers to give them as gifts to people. I should do more of this. She also opines that publishing with a big company is not be better than self publishing. I don't agree with her on that one--what writer doesn't want to have a novel on the bookshelves of real stores? But I do agree with her overall message--that writing should be done for self satisfaction, not necessarily to get published.

What do you think?? Best Blogger Tips

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Billy Collins reading

Click here to see Billy Collins read three poems. He's a bit nervous and awkward at first, which is sort of nice to see in someone as revered as he. But by poem two, I was mesmerized by his voice and the cadence of his words. I think I'm going to include a copy of the poem Lanyard in my mother's birthday card later this month. Best Blogger Tips

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Research and happy accidents

I'm writing a story about a woman who goes to Paris to learn to make pastries. This desire has something to do with grieving her dead husband, though I'm not sure what. I have been a tad worried about writing about the class, since the closest I get to pastry making is throwing some ingredients in the bread machine.

Then, in an unrelated (or so I thought) quest, I went to the Boston Center for Adult Education's web site. I teach a class there, and as partial payment, I get to take a free class. I wanted to take dancing, but sadly none of those classes fit into my schedule. I searched for classes that meet on Monday nights, and lo and behold, there's a pastry making class! And not just any pastry--French pastry dough. Now that's what I call delicious research. Best Blogger Tips

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Some thoughts on endings

For my MFA, I have to write a 15 page paper devoted to one aspect of the craft of writing fiction. This isn't a research or scholarly paper, but rather a paper that delves into (hopefully) how a writer reads to improve her understanding of writing. I've chosen endings because I find them very tough to write.

Here are my current thoughts, which I plan to include in my essay. Any comments/ideas are more than welcome.

An ending must satisfy both the action plot and the emotional plot of the story. We must know what happens in the most basic sense (does he get the girl? do they make it home alive?) and also what happens emotionally to the character that changes him/her in whatever small or large way.

Studying a good ending is really like studying the whole story because the ending must be set up in so many different ways, starting with the title. Everything in the story, every character, every action, every symbol must lead to or point to the ending. Best Blogger Tips

Friday, July 06, 2007

Sunday Scribbilings: Slippery

Here's a very stream of consciousness take on this week's Sunday Scribblings' prompt, Slippery.

Slippery when wet, slippery=liar, slippery road, slippery slope, slippery soap, bubbles, sex, shower floors, flip-flops in the rain, ice, winter (which I've managed to pretend never existed and will never exist again), bare tires, frogs, eels, fish, any animal you're trying to catch, happiness. Best Blogger Tips

Backward schedule

Another semester, another schedule. Here we go:

July 6- 10
Find books that deal with the topic of ending a short story/work of fiction (Any ideas, bloggers?) Think about scenes/character of new story
Read Alice Munro's new book (View from Castle Island)

Week of July 10- July 16
Start writing 2 hours a day of story
Read next book, The Gifts of the Body

Week of July 16-23
Continue writing 2 hours a day of story
Read some stories from Lorrie Moore's Self Help

Week of July 23- 30
Come up with outline for essay on short story endings
Write/revise new story

Week of July 30 -Aug 6
Finalize prologue and outline for essay
Finalize short story Best Blogger Tips

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Reality vs. residency

I'm taking a break from my "lessons" series to wonder aloud (or in type, I guess) whether I'm the only one who feels slightly paralyzed after residency. I learn so much each time I go, and I'm so excited to get to my work, but then reality sets in. First drafts are hard! And messy! I think during my week o' learning, I expect some lesson to come and cure the first draft craziness. It also is frustrating to know that you know more than you're able to get down on the page during a first draft that has to go to your mentor (especially when you are slightly enamored with your new mentor and you don't want to make an ass out of yourself in front of him). I guess the moral of this post is that no matter how many epiphanies I have, the process doesn't get easier. Sigh.... Best Blogger Tips

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Lesson # 2: sentiment vs. sentimentality

My former mentor, Hester Kaplan, taught a wonderful lecture on how writers can get their readers to feel the characters' emotions without being sentimental about it. What's the difference between sentiment and sentimentality? Namely that sentimentality makes you feel something through the use of the narrator's voice not through the characters/events of the story, and sentiment means you feel something legitimately through experiencing the characters/events of the story. Sentiment creates a thought or view that arises out of good descriptions and characters, whereas sentimentality manipulates the reader's emotions through highly charged imagery that ellicits unearned feelings.

How do you avoid sentimentality but ellicit sentiment?
1- Use specific images and situations, not general/abstract ones.
2- Don't rely on adjectives
3- Don't rely on cliches or hackneyed subject matter
4- Don't tell the reader what to feel, let him/her experience feelings along with the character.
5- Use events/images that surprise your reader.

An exercise: Write about falling in love in a way that is not sentimental. I will tackle this in a future post. Best Blogger Tips

Monday, July 02, 2007

Lesson 1: First person narration

This is the first of a series of posts on what I learned in my MFA week at Lesley. These posts are mostly to help me synthesize what I learned, but I hope they prove helpful to other writers out there, too!

A new faculty member, Marcie Hershman, taught a great seminar on first-person narration. The main things I learned are:

* With first person-stories, there are two stories going on: there's the story of the person telling the story (Why is he/she choosing to tell this story? Why is it meaningful to him/her?) and the story of the people/events being described. The story of the narrator must be underneath the plot story. Otherwise, the story should be told in third person.

* In that way, there should be many layers to a first-person story

* The writer should remember that the "I" narrator is selective over what information he/she gives the reader, and he/she has control over that information.

*The "I" narrator immediately conjures a personality and character. Best Blogger Tips

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Sunday Scribbilings: What's your sign?

My birthday was two days ago, which means that I'm a Cancer. According to, cancers are:

Emotional and loving
Intuitive and imaginative
Shrewd and cautious
Protective and sympathetic
Changeable and moody
Overemotional and touchy
Clinging and unable to let go

I don't follow my horoscope. I can't believe that what someone predicts in a newspaper can somehow apply to me and the millions of other people who are born in the same month as I. That said, the Cancer description pretty much sums me up. The only trait on the list I'd question is shrewd and cautious. But overemotional and touchy? You got me there, horoscope. Best Blogger Tips

I'm back!

This third MFA residency was the best yet. I learned more than I thought possible in a week's time, reconnected with my buddies, and got reinvigorated about writing. The moral? A whole lotta good can come from one little week when it's jam packed with writing, reading, and friends talking about writing and reading.

I'll soon post some of the lessons I learned, including some thoughts on revision, different ways to make writing "astonishing," and how to end a short story. Stay tuned! Best Blogger Tips

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Recent reads

In the last month I've gotten to read through a bunch of books in the ever-expanding pile of "to reads". Each was excellent, so I want to recommend them to my lovely readers:

Charity Girl by Michael Lowenthal: this is a historical novel, taking place in Boston during WWII. I learned a ton about an aspect of this time period that I had never even known about: women who were found to have STDs were often put in prison or girls home to keep them from infecting soldiers (even though the soldiers are the people who gave the infection to them in the first place...). The story follows one such "charity girls", which refers to the "loose" women who were giving sex away for free, as opposed to the prostitutes.

Which Brings Me to You by Steve Almond and Julianna Baggott This book is told almost completely through letters exchanged by two people who meet and almost have a one night stand. The letters serve as confessions about their past lovers, and they are all eloquent and thoughtful.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime by Mark Haddon I've been meaning to read this book for a while now, and I'm so glad I did. It's told in the first person by an autistic boy, and it completely drew me into his quirky, quirky world.

Read anything good lately? Best Blogger Tips

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Paris pictures

I don't have much time to blog these days, so I thought I'd upload two of my favorite pictures from my recent trip to Paris with my mom. One is of the two of us at the Musee D'Orsay, and one is of Baby Bo at the Eiffel Tower. Who's Baby Bo, you ask? He's a stuffed monkey that screeches when you squeeze his belly. Brian and I take him on trips (and lend him to friends to take with them) so we can get pictures of him sightseeing.
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Thursday, June 14, 2007

Some thoughts on teaching

I want to apply for a TA-ship at Lesley for the fall. The application is due in a week, and I cannot get motivated to do the two-page essay. Mostly because I have no idea what to write. The questions are: What particular interests do you have in relationship to an assistantship on campus? What particular skills do you bring to the position? What do you envision as an ideal mentoring relationship?

Maybe I'll just brainstorm on here about the questions, and hopefully come up with something. If you have any ideas for what colleges are looking for in this type of essay, how to begin creatively, etc., let me know!

*I want my assistantship to be a teaching assistantship, not a research assistantship.

*I have taught various forms of writing (creative, freelance, journalistic) to adults at various Adult Education centers around Boston for the past 5 years. I've also begun working with teens in high school classrooms, helping them with their writing.

*I love student interaction, and really feel that teachers learn as much from their students as vice versa. I also enjoy having discussions with students about their work because they usually bring such passion to it. And of course it's rewarding when you can see their work improving over the course of a semester.

*Skills I bring: Excellent writing, editing, and oral communication skills. The ability to give feedback in a constructive and polite manner. Highly organized and responsible.

* I'm not sure I know enough about mentor relationships in this capacity to comment on what my ideal relationship would be. I guess I would like to spend time in the classroom observing the teacher teaching, as well as to teach myself. I would also like to be involved in the grading of papers, and would need some mentoring in the beginning about what constitutes an A paper, etc. Best Blogger Tips

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Come one, come all!

Each night of Lesley's MFA residency, the teachers give readings, which are free and open to the public. Here's the lineup for this year:

Friday, June 22 | 7:30 pm
Leah Hager Cohen, fiction
Don Share, poetry

Saturday, June 23 | 7:00 pm
David Elliott, writing for young people
Marcie Hershman, fiction

Sunday, June 24 | 7:00 pm
Kyoko Mori, nonfiction
Katherine Russell Rich, nonfiction

Tuesday, June 26 | 7:00 pm
Rafael Campo, poetry
Lesléa Newman, fiction

Wednesday, June 27 | 7:30 pm
Major Jackson, poetry
Lloyd Schwartz, poetry

Hope to see some of you there! Best Blogger Tips

Monday, June 11, 2007

MFA residency countdown: 2 weeks to go

I got week one's goals done: I submitted my submissions (how's that for redundancy?) and I prepped for the freelance writing class I'm teaching tonight.

But no time to wallow in feeling good about those accomplishments! On to week two's goals:

This week I have three goals:
1- work on the stories I'm submitting for my Harvard thesis
2- finalize the chapters I'm handing in to an agent on a non-fiction book I'm ghostwriting.
3- get my application in for a TA-ship

In smaller steps, this is how those break down:

* Everyday write something on each story. I need to focus first on some freewriting about the characters before I can move into the page-by-page editing. So, I plan to journal/blog about each story, each day. I think I'll start with writing letters from my characters to other people in the stories. That seems like a fun, non-threatening way to get into it. I'll have to do this before/after work.

* During break times at work, try to get in edits to the non-fiction book

* Also during breaks, work on the essay for the TA-ship

Ugh, this is going to be a crazy week! Best Blogger Tips

Friday, June 08, 2007

phew--submission sent!

I got my stories to my MFA program a moment ago. Only a few days late. And, really, the organizer said she would start posting them
the week of June 4th. This is still that week. So, am I really late? Best Blogger Tips

Thursday, June 07, 2007


I don't know how this happened, but I turned delinquent. I should've handed my MFA submissions in alredy, but alas, I haven't. And now, instead of working like crazy on them, I'm blogging! Ahhhh! Best Blogger Tips

Wednesday, June 06, 2007


At the NEWS reading, one of the other readers read a great piece titled (something along the lines of), Things I've Been Called to My Face and Behind My Back. An inspiring piece that made me think of the many labels I've carried at various times in my life. Here are some, in no particular order:

vegetarian * mamma * bug * writer * editor * bitch * difficult * lovely * cute * smart * hardworking * slug * angel * favorite daughter * CJ * ceej * Chrissy * Chris * strong * a cryer * woman * girl * honey * babe * short * shortie * thin * student * teacher * creative *crafty * nag * pig * selfish * gardner * anxious * hypochondriac * fun * uptight Best Blogger Tips

Sunday, June 03, 2007

3 weeks til residency

I realized I have quite a bit to get done in the next three weeks. I consider these weeks between when I hand in my last manuscript for the semester and the residency my weeks off, but of course they fill up with other work fast. So, here's what I need to devote myself to for the next few weeks.

This week
(Beginning) Finalize my submission for residency
(End) Redo my Freelance writing course syllabus (which I'm teaching next Mon and the Mon after.

Week 2
Revise one of the stories I'm working on for my Harvard thesis. Work on finalizing draft of Dr. memoir.

Week 3
Revise the other story. Finalize Dr. memoir draft and get to agent.

Of course, I also have a bunch of pre-residency reading, but I can hopefully get a lot of that done during my commute, and the rest of the work done in the evenings. Luckily I have some fun weekend plans planned to keep me relaxed (hopefully!) Best Blogger Tips

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Sunday Scribblings: Country vs. city

I spent most of today sleeping, when I should have been revising the stories I need to hand in in preparation for my MFA residency at the end of the month. I don't know if it's allergies or what, but I've had a huge headache since I woke up. (Hence all the sleeping). Anyway, I decided that in this break between naps, I'd multitask--doing both the Sunday Scribbling and some character development work. Here's one of my character's, Janine's, take on city vs. country. For other scribblings on the topic, click here.

I've lived in the country and the city, and everywhere in between. From Paris to Manhattan to upstate New York, I've called lots of places home. I don't think my soul was meant to stay put. And I don't think I have a favorite type of setting, either. Sometimes I need the craziness of the city, sometimes the calmness of the country.

But what I do need is a better sense of what I'm doing with my life. For the past 15 years or so, I've let random people and events push me from one place/job/life to another. A boyfriend wants to move to Paris? I went. A friend has an extra room in Barcelona? I was there in two weeks time.

I've liked these adventures, and I've learned a lot about the world. But for some reason I haven't learned enough about my own needs. (That reason has a lot to do with the fact that I learned to suppress them as a child, after my mom died and I didn't want to make my dad's life hard.) But now, my father has died too, and I'm an orphan at 38. I have no parents, no husband, no kids, and only a few friends scattered across the globe.

The only errand I have left involving my father's estate is transporting his bee collection to Delaware (from his house in upstate NY). After that's done, I can go back to Manhattan and... I don't know what. How does one go about figuring out what they want? Or, more pressingly, how does one figure out how to figure out what one wants? Best Blogger Tips

Thursday, May 31, 2007

2 Readings, 2 days

Before I left for vacation, I basically just sorted everything into two mental piles: things that needed to be done before I left, and things for later. Then I got back and realized that "later" was here.

So, in that spirit of completely ignoring things coming in the future, I managed to sign myself up for my first and second public reading back to back. On Tuesday, I read a chunk of a short story to a thesis forum at Harvard, and then last night I read another chunk of that same story at a New and Emerging Writers series (see pics here).

I've always hated the idea of reading aloud. I talk fast in general, and even faster when I'm nervous, so I've done very poorly on presentations in the past. I took a speaking class in college, which helped a bit, but not enough to stick with me in the years since graduating.

But these times I managed to do well! People said I didn't speed read, and had decent inflection. The best part was that I didn't hate being up there. I was nervous, but not sweating-through-my-shirt nervous, like I've been in the past. I do need to work on staying up there for more than 7 minutes though. Both times I cut my reading way short because it seemed I had been up there forever when in reality it was less than 10 minutes...

A shout out to Fat Charlatan, who lovingly accompanied me to the first reading as my moral supporter (and read beautifully at the 2nd). And to Poetmom and BostonErin who organized the NEWS reading as a way to get new writers' voices out in the community. Best Blogger Tips

Monday, May 28, 2007


I'm back from what turned was a wonderful trip to Paris. My mom was a truly wonderful travel companion, and we had fun painting the town rouge. The most amazing side effect of the vacation is how incredibly relaxed I feel! I mean, relaxed in a way I haven't felt in years.

I spent the long weekend--gasp--doing whatever the hell I felt like! Brian and I soaked up some sun at a free concert on the Esplanade and row boating on the pond near our house. I gardened, with a sense of desire instead of obligation. Even today's tasks of unpacking my suitcase and hanging out with my in-laws weren't super arduous (though I did need a nap after the latter).

And what I realized as I went out for coffee and pastries this morning (one last day of guilt-free vacation eating), was that I want this feeling to last. No, I need it to. So no matter how much I feel I *need* to take on X, Y, or Z project, I cannot simply do so at the expense of my stress level. No longer will I try to cram as much as I possibly can into every day in the hopes of getting a return on the time- investment some day in the future. I will only do as much as I can while allowing myself to stay calm and present and relaxed.

Along those lines, I'm going to try as hard as I can to give myself one full day off a week--no email, no work work, no school work, nothing. I'm not sure that this is feasible, but I think it's worth a try! Best Blogger Tips

Wednesday, May 16, 2007


I'm off to Paris tomorrow! "See" you all in 10 days or so. Best Blogger Tips

Knitting pics

I'm very bad about remembering to take pictures of the things I knit before I give them away as gifts. When I do remember, I'm equally bad about actually getting the photos off the camera and online. So, here are some things I made for people for Christmas: some baby gloves, a bookworm bookmark, and an Ipod cover. Just wanted to share. Next week, I'll get a pic of the pocketbook I knit for myself and am quite proud of. Best Blogger Tips

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Good articles

Some good articles about writing/publishing that I recently came across:

This one talks about the fact that publishing a hit book is still a mystery and why. I love the line about it being a bad idea to leave business decisions up to people who go into their line of work (publishing) out of love, not money.

I think Poetmom will especially appreciate this one. It's about the importance of blogging for musical artists (and much of the info is relevant to writers). The lede profile is of a blogger who wrote a song a week for a year (much like PM's poem a day for a month project). Best Blogger Tips

Friday, May 11, 2007

Sunday Scribblings: Second Chances

This week's Sunday Scribblings had me stumped. I can think of minor things I'd like to do over, but nothing major. So I started to think about the topic in terms of my characters. My goal in just about every story I write is to give my characters something they wish they could do over, but to have them learn enough from the experience caused by the tragedy/mistake so as to make them somewhat glad they went through it.

And I guess maybe that's how I look at my own life, and why I can't think of too many regrets. I try to take something away from the crappy times my mistakes cause so that even if I don't enjoy them, I'm glad to have gone through them in some way.

PS--I'm taking myself off line this weekend in an attempt to relax, so I'll come visit others' scribblings next week. Best Blogger Tips

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Reading list

I am about two inches away from being school-work free! What a glorious feeling! As I alluded to in an earlier post, one of the best things about this time between semesters for me is regaining the ability to read for pleasure.

What is it that makes reading for a deadline/class so different? Even if I like what I'm reading for class, I find it harder to just submerge myself in it. I'm guessing it has to do with feeling the need, with school reading, to stay apart from the story enough to stay alert to why it's working, what the author's intent is, etc. Whereas with pleasure reading I can jump right into the deep end of the characters' lives and setting.

That said, here's what I plan to read in the next month, deep-end style:
* Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky. (I'm 100 pages in and really enjoying it.)
* On Beauty by Zadie Smith
* What is the What by Dave Eggers
* Which Brings Me to You by Steve Almond and Juliana Baggot
* Maybe a Sue Grafton mystery thrown in there. There's nothing like breezing through a good mystery.

For my reading for the semester, I plan to make some suggestions to my mentor this time. In the past I've let them do all the suggesting because I want to be exposed to different things. But this time, I'd like to read at least two of the following:

* Later, At the Bar: A novel in stories by Rebecca Barry
* The newest Alice Munroe
* Possibly Winesburg, Ohio. I'm into the idea of reading a few collections of very linked short stories. Not that that's what I'm working on, but I like the idea.

What are you reading??? Best Blogger Tips

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Submission: Sent!

Though I literally waited til the 11th hour, I got the last submission of the semester done in time (I sent it out at 11pm last night!). It's very rough. The ending is insanely rushed. But it's out there.

For next semester, I'd like to work on really perfecting my annotation writing. It's something I seem to fluctuate on, with my biggest problem being that something that seems obvious and clear to me is not to an outside reader.

I have a few more to work on my last IS submission (which, to be honest, I haven't even started!). It's just editing two 2nd drafts of chapters, though, so I'm not too stressed. I can't be--because I have to squeeze it in to a very hectic week work-wise and personal life-wise.

I'm SO looking forward to this weekend. For the first time in like a hundred years, I will have NO work to do. In fact, I plan not to turn on my computer. Brian will be away, so I will have plenty of time to myself to regroup. Ahhhh... Best Blogger Tips

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Reasons I want to cry

I'm feeling insanely overly emotional today (Poor Brian!). So I thought I'd make a list of reasons I want to cry. Maybe it will help:

1. I went to a baby shower. I hate baby showers. As much as I truly want to be able to celebrate my wonderful friends who decide to have babies, I leave showers feeling like shit. Probably because I have yet to be at one where someone (most often a stranger) doesn't ask, "So when are you going to have a baby?" Now I know this is logical talk for the occasion. But can't anyone see why this might be a tad personal? This time, oddly enough, the question was directed at my husband by another man. And he was pushy! He asked if we had kids, and B said no. Then he said, "Well, you will eventually right?" B said, "Um, probably." Luckily for him he could leave it at that and transition to another conversation. I, on the other hand, am still reeling: do I want to have kids? When? Why? What if I hate him/her/parenting?

2. I've had a cold for a week now. It's a low grade cold, but it's made me exhausted.

3. I am so far behind on my shitty, shitty story it's not even funny. And while I truly admire my mentor and her advice, I think this is her fault. Giving a compliment every now and then wouldn't be a bad thing! And, in fact, it might make the thought of you reading my next story not so scary as to make me not want to write it.

4. Work sucked this week SO badly. For reasons I can't go into on a blog. But let's just say that the tissues atop my desk? I went through a few boxes this week.

5. I have to spend my Saturday night writing a crappy story I don't want to write.

In typical Bug fashion, I can't post such a negative post without some balance. So, some things I'm happy about:

1. I decided to buy a Mac for my new laptop (the PC I'm typing on is slowly dying.) This is a big relief because I hate buying computers, but I'm psyched on the idea of a Mac for all the reasons given in their very cute TV ads.

2. I made my pregnant friend a beautiful hat for her baby.

3. I was able to verbalize the fact I was feeling shitty before I acted out on it. (Yes, I realize that "accomplishment" is something you might praise a 3 year old for)

4. My garden is coming up.

5. As of next week, I CAN READ A BOOK OF MY CHOOSING!!!! You have no idea how excited I am to do this.

6. In two weeks, I'll be in Paris.

7. A small part of me knows I am very proud of the work I've gotten done this semester (though really, some outside praise would be nice!). Best Blogger Tips

Friday, May 04, 2007

Sunday Scribblings: The ocean

The ocean played a big part of my life when I was growing up. Where I lived on Long Island (New York), you could get to a few different beaches in half an hour. And there was ample parking at these beaches, and lots of room for people to spread out. I remember going as a kid a lot, but my more distinct memories are of being there as a teenager.

My first serious boyfriend and I used to go to the beach together all the time, usually at night with a group of our friends. Innocent kiddies that we were (at that point, at least...) we would play minature golf and take walks in the sand. I have beautiful pictures of all of us on the beach watching the sun come up the day after prom. Another time, during the day, he let me put my hand on his chest while we sunbathed so he had a reverse shadow of my hand on him all summer. (And then I broke his heart and we all moved on with our lives...)

Now, the ocean is still technically close to me. Boston, after all, is a city on the water. But getting to a nice beach is not so easy. It usually entails driving for an hour, spending an insane amount of time trying to find parking, and then walking a mile carrying all your beach crap. No wonder I don't go as much as I used to.

I'm hoping with this post someone will alert me to a close, convenient beach that I just don't know about. Anyone??

For more scribblings on the ocean, click here. Best Blogger Tips