Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Wee goals

OK, I've been trying really hard with this no goal thing. But I feel like I need to write down these goals to make myself accountable for them. I won't make a pyscho list like I've done before. Just a few, wee, small, tiny goals.

1- Get my two stories printed and mailed to the Harvard peeps who are reviewing my thesis proposal
2- Send in an NPR essay query
3- Send out a woman's mag query that i've had done for forever but haven't gotten around to sending.

That's all! (Not including the regular MFA goals, but I won't write those here in fear of totally going against my no goals thing) Best Blogger Tips

This American Life

I had the pleasure of going to see a taping of This American Life last night (which is the very best NPR show, if you're not in the know). I love Ira Glass. In a totally intellectual way only (I don't actually know him and all...and he's probably closer to my parents' age than mine.) I wonder, do men get intellectual crushes the way women do? (At least the women I've talked to.) By intellectual crush, I mean, you're crushing on someone just on the basis of his smarts. You know little else about him, and probably don't even know what he looks like.

OK, enough of that tangent. What I wanted to say when I started this post was how amazing the writing of TAL is. They really bring the characters (people they interview) to life. I need to study it more to be able to tell you how it's done. I'll do that soon. In the meantime, check out the web site for the new TV show of TAL! I saw clips of it last night and it's amazing. Really artsy and very in line with the integrity of the radio show. Best Blogger Tips

Monday, February 26, 2007

Short short story

Here's a very first draft of a short story based on the prompt of a woman dumping out her purse. Comments/suggestions welcome!

It had been one of those mornings. Sarah woke up late, thanks to a middle-of-the-night power outage that messed with her alarm. Then she and Ben got into a snippy fight over who was hogging the bathroom, and he stomped off to work without saying goodbye. Now, standing at the bus stop, she is frantically searching for her pass. Her coat pockets are empty. The pocket in the lining of her purse: empty. The bus pulls up with a loud creak and sends a spray of dirty snow Sarah's way.

"I just need a sec to find my pass," she says to the driver. She smiles at him, but he just stares at her.

"What, you think you're special or something? No pass, no ride."

Sarah thinks all sorts of nasty thoughts about the guy, whose shirt is busting at the buttons and whose hair doesn't look combed.

"Listen, buddy," she says. "I have a pass. I just need to find it. Give me a sec."

"Oh sure. Go right ahead. Look away. Me and all these passengers will just wait til you find it. Then we'll all be on our merry way."

Sarah knows she should just get off the bus, that she should wait for the next one, assuming that that driver wouldn't be such an ass. But now she's pissed. And, as Ben knows, she never backs down when she's pissed.

"Fine," she says, barely opening her mouth to throw the word at him.

She puts her purse--a big leather thing with way too much stuff in it--on the floor next to the driver, and sqauts down next to it. She takes out the bigger items and puts them on the wet, dirty floor. A book. Her planner. Her wallet and a pack of tissues. No pass. Then she takes out the many papers lining the bottom of the bag--receipts, business cards, stamps. Still no pass.

Her heart is beating loudly in her ear, but she can hear the sounds of the passengers getting restless. A few are asking, “What’s going on? Why are we just stopped here?” She looks up and gives a smile in their general direction.

The busdriver is staring at her. "It's in here somewhere," she says in a fake cheery voice. "Just give me one second!" And with that, she dumps her purse over. Out pours a roll of lifesavers, two lipsticks, a handful of change, some sample-sized lotions, her cell phone. No pass.

The driver is laughing now. A deep belly laugh that sounds to Sarah like a laugh the devil would have. "Still so sure it's in there lady? Like I said, no pass, no ride."

“Oh yeah?” she says. “I’ll just pay cash. What’s a ride cost? A dollar fifty? Here!” She is kneeling on the ground now, water soaking through her beige pants. She opens her wallet and takes out six quarters—-the quarters she had planned to use to buy Twizzlers out of the vending machine. Those bright red sugar swizzles are the one snack that can always get her out of her foul mood. Raising herself up into a high kneel, she blindly shoves the quarters in the bus’s slot.

“Now look what you’ve done! You’ve jammed the machine? What are you some kind of idiot?” Sarah tries to take a deep breath. She tries not to let her anger get the best of her. But who the hell was he, this mean, mean bus driver, to be calling her an idiot? Try as she might, she can't help herself.

She pulls herself up to standing, stepping on her book and a few other items from her purse. “Here, just take your stupid quarters and start driving.” She plucks up the quarters that are stuck in the machine’s coin reservoir, and, with a quick overhand flick of her wrist, throws them at the driver. They bounce off his meaty chest. One makes a "tink" noise as it hits the metal of his seatbelt.

“Alright lady. Just get your stuff, and sit down.”
“Thank you,” she says as if nothing out of the normal had happened. She squats to pile her stuff back into her purse. She gets most of it in before the driver pulls away from the curb, but a few things roll out of her grasp. “No big deal,” she says to herself, trying to get her blood pressure down.

She pulls out her shoe-print-covered book and opens to the bookmark. There, holding her place, is her bus pass. Best Blogger Tips

A new week, a new outlook

Thanks for all of you who helped me (on here and off) to get myself into a better mood. The Buddhist instuction to meditate on the fact that nothing is permanent is a helpful one, as is reaching out to friends.

I'm relatively happy with my first draft of my new story, which is also helping my mood. I know I've got a long way to go before I'm ready to submit it, though. I'll start on one of my annotations tonight.

A question for my fellow MFAers: are any of you doing reading for your IS (or have done it in the past)? I'm finding it very hard to balance reading for that project and my regular MFA reading. Wondering if anyone has any solutions on that front.

I'll also post later a draft of my short short story on riding the bus and dumping out your purse, which I mentioned in an earlier post. Best Blogger Tips

Sunday, February 25, 2007


I don't think I like this 3 hour process. Yesterday I did more like 2 hours, and it felt like torture. I don't know why, since I often write for that long anyway. Something about feeling forced into it. I might try it again starting at the beginning with my next story and see how that feels. I think I'm about done with the first draft of this one. It's bad, bad, bad, but it's down. I need to do some reading of other short stories to help me figure out ways out of the crap.

I have an idea for one of my annotations, which I'll get to today or early next week. I really need to figure out what the f I'm doing with those annotations since I haven't been as successful with them as I'd like (both in terms of mentor comments and my own learning). MFAers, I'll probably be bugging you about this via email in the near future... But I'm back invested in my reading, which is a good feeling. I hate when I can't get into stories/novels. It feels so strange.

OK, enough of my random Sunday musings. Best Blogger Tips

Friday, February 23, 2007

Almost made it

OK, I took some breaks, but I did manage to write for the better part of 3 hours. I'm at a point where I really need to edit what I have--move stuff around, decide what I'm going to develop--before I can go on. I guess I'll do that before my eye doctor apointment tomorrow morning, and then I'll spend the afternoon getting in another 3 hours.

In the meantime, to appease myself for not making it the full three hours, I thought I'd do an exercise here. Writer's magazine has a prompt in each issue, and you can enter your writing about the prompt in the magazine's montly contest. This month's prompt went something like this: write about a situation where a woman would have to dump out the contents of her purse. The woman is not being threatened in any way.

I had two thoughts: in one, the woman has to dump her purse becuase something sets off the security buzzer at an airport. In the other, the woman has boarded a bus and is searching through her bag for her bus pass. The driver is not very kind, and won't drive away from the curb until she finds it. So, in her frustration and nervousness at holding up the bus, she dumps everything out of her purse. I'm not sure what happens, but I know the end image is of her lipstick rolling around the floor of the bus.

I think I'll pursue the latter, off line for now. I'm tired, and I have to take Chloe out for her evening pee.

Good night! Best Blogger Tips

A new process

I got comments back from my faculty mentor. I'm not ready to comment on most of them yet (they need to steep for a bit, I think). But one thing she suggested is that I try a new process for writing my next story. For one week, I am to write intensely for 3 hours in a row. I am only to work on the story, and only move forward in the plot--no editing. (Though she did say that after my 3 hours were up I could go back and edit. As if I'll have time/energy left at that point).

This process is scaring the bejeezus out of me. What the hell am I going to say for 3 hours in a row? What if I freeze up at the half way mark? Then what? I'm also concerned how I'm going to find three hours during the week, but I guess we'll cross that bridge on Monday.

Like a good doobie, I'm going to give it a try, starting tonight. I'm going to a yoga class from 5-6:30, and then I'll go home and eat, and write from 8-11 or so. I'll report back in on this later. Wish me luck... Best Blogger Tips

Patti Smith

The Patti Smith ICA event was a little out there. I didn't know much about Ms. Smith beforehand, but she, in fact, is a little out there. In any case, boy can she sing. Hearing her sing in person definitely made it worth going. The best part, though, came during the Q&A.

There's always one person in every group who just can't figure out the social niceties of a particular situation. This person asked a question about artists' roles in saving the world. Patti answered the question very competently (bottom line: people everywhere need to work to save the world. That's a human responsibility, not just one of artists.) The person then asked a follow up question, or rather, made a follow up statement, going on and on about Bush, the other evils of the world, etc. After about 15 seconds of this blathering, Patti grabbed her guitar and started strumming into the microphone. All of us clapped, as the questioner had no choice but to shut up. I am now wishing that, at all times, I could carry a guitar and a microphone and strum away to drown out whatever is annoying me. Best Blogger Tips

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

More random thoughts

1- I managed to wake up early today (6:30) and get in some fiction
writing and my morning pages. Hopefully this pattern will last...

2- I tried to take TI's advice and make an "unschedule" but old habits die hard--I started by plugging in the things I had to do, the very un-point of the un-schedule. I'll try again today. I find part of me rebelling against the idea of having a schedule committed
to paper. What happens if I just don't feel like doing what I've
scheduled when I've scheduled it? Is it a failure of some sorts not to
go through with it?

3- MFAers, do you find it hard to get into the reading you've been assigned? I don't know if it's the reading I'm choosing/being
given or if it's just because I know I have to read it, but I haven't
been totally engrossed in any of the reading I've done so far.

4- I'm in a bad, bad mood for no apparent reason.

In fact, I should be in a good mood because my Harvard thesis proposal
was finally accepted. Which means that I now need to get two short
stories approved and then I'll need to expand the proposal. Maybe
that's why I'm in a bad mood?

6- B and I are going to the new ICA
museum tonight to hear Patti Smith talk. I know I should be excited
about this, but see #4. I'm sure it will be fun in any case.

Sigh... Best Blogger Tips

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Random thoughts

B and I are back from North Carolina, which was a great trip despite a
lot of trouble getting there (read: we were stuck on the tarmac for
three hours while the plane gotde -iced, then we missed our connection
and were told that the chance of getting out of D.C. were small, since
everyone and their mother was stuck there. So we drove whatshould've
been 4 hours but ended up being 6 hours to N.C.) We really liked the
Chapel Hill area and will think about moving there once school is done
for both of us. I will be so, so, so, so thrilled to never again spend
weeks looking at the sludgey mix of ice and salt and sand.

On a completely different note (which is why this is titled "random
thoughts"), I need to reinvigorate my excitement with my
writing/reading for my MFA. I haven't gotten comments back from my
mentor yet (insert the drumming of finger nails here). Not sure if that
has anything to do with the fact that I'm finding it hard to focus, but
I thought I'd mention it.

I have been fairly religious about my morning pages. But now I think I might need to amp it up a bit and do those and some writing on my story every morning. That means I'll have to get up earlier, which you all know I don't like to do. Butsomething's gotta give. I'm just not feeling as excited about/into my work as I did last
semester. Maybe it's just that the mid-winter blahs are extending into my work. Which brings us back to the desire to move. Maybe this post isn't quite as random as I thought... Best Blogger Tips

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Sunshine ahead!

Brian and I are headed to North Carolina for the long weekend, both because I generally need some sunlight this time of year and we ain't getting much up here and because we have this crazy idea in our heads that we might like the Raleigh/Durham area enough to move there some day. Some day when the weather and the cost of living up here finally gets to us. Some day when I'm really ready to give me dream of not having to work for a company full time a go (which would be easier if we weren't mortgaged up to our you-know-whats).

Good bye for now, and next time I post, I might just be doing so with a slight tan! Best Blogger Tips

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

A very nice rejection

I submitted an essay to Jane Magazine recently, and I just got a very nice rejection from the editor.

"Thank you for sending it along. It is well written, but unfortunately we're not going to be able to use it. We actually already have two essays in the bank that deal with similar subject matter. But please feel free to send further submissions."

Sigh... But I will surely send her another essay soon. As soon as I get one written that fits that magazine.

Anyone have other suggestions for where to send an essay on friendships breaking up? Best Blogger Tips

Monday, February 12, 2007

Lamenting= food of souls?

If this is true, then my soul runneth over.

(A quote from my trusty word of the day email defining satiety)

Isidore of Seville, in interpreting the Psalms in the seventh century, seconded the idea that tears produce satiety. "Lamenting," he wrote, "is the food of souls."
-- Tom Lutz, Crying: The Natural and Cultural History of Tears Best Blogger Tips

Writing Recap

I feel like I have a lot to say, writing wise, and yet I don't really know where to begin. Some positives from this weekend/last week:

1- I did morning pages almost every day.
2- I got down the beginning of my new short story, and I am relatively happy with it.
3- I started revising a very old short story for my other degree. It was neat to go back to something I wrote a few years ago and see both how much I've learned since, and how descent the story was (if a bit naive. Ah, to be 20 again!)
4- I made a ton of progress on revising the memoir chapter I'm working on for my IS project at Lesley. (For those of you who don't know, I'm working with a doctor to write his memoir about having a heart transplant.) I think there's something about doing the project for school that is allowing me to feel OK about pushing him to answer some of the tough emotional questions that he's been avoiding.
5- I wrote, in my head, an essay I'd like to send out eventually. This is how my process often works. I "write" while I'm walking my dog or trying to fall asleep. When I go to the page, I certainly don't remember everything I've thought of, but my brain is primed and ready to go on the topic.

There's also lots of stuff I didn't get done that I wanted to, particularly concerning some house projects. But I won't list those here because that seems very much against the spirit of my "no goals" work (see below). Best Blogger Tips

Friday, February 09, 2007

First submission: done!

I just sent out my first submission of the semester, and I'm only feeling comci-comca
about it. Something about the story isn't connecting with me the way it
should. I think I need to get to know my character better, and I
definitely need to know more about her relationship with her husband.
But I got to the point where the story felt too muddled for me to do anything
with, so I'm glad it's out of my hands, even if I'm not exactly
thrilled with it.

My new mentor is very cerebral, and she definitely comes at writing with her brain first (as opposed to her heart). From talking with her about process quite a bit during residency, I think that idea infiltrated my process. But I don't think
it worked for me. So for this next submission I'm going to spend a week
or so free writing furiously about the story, and then work that into a
coherent draft of some sort in the next weeks.

I *think* my annotations were clearer this time around. We'll see though. I have a tough time with those for some reason.

OK, deep breath. And now it's time to work on my IS submission and the stories I'm handing in for my thesis (for that other degree I'm stupidly working on concurrently. Sigh...) Best Blogger Tips

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Word of the day

I get a word of the day email, and today's word just about sums up my life's problems:

idee fixe \ee-day-FEEKS\, noun:

An idea that dominates the mind; a fixed idea; an obsession.

The reality of obsession -- its incessant return to the same few themes, scenarios and questions; its meticulous examination and re-examination of banal minutiae for hidden meanings that simply aren't there; the cancerous way an idee fixe usurps other, more interesting thoughts -- is that it is confining, not rebellious, and not fascinating but maddeningly dull.
-- Laura Miller, "The Streetwalkers of San Francisco", New York Times, August 20, 2000

:) Best Blogger Tips

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Latest crisis: solved

Thanks everyone for your comments yesterday. They helped a ton. I've decided to follow the advice of letting go of publishing as a goal for now. I'm just going to immerse myself in writing and reading. Yes, I'll still send stuff out, but I will not worry so much about feeling like I need to publish to be a writer. I also need to WAY stay in the present moment here and not worry so much about what will happen if I don't publish now or in the future, etc. etc.

There's this article in Yoga Journal this month about letting go of things you're stuck on and asking the Universe (God, whatever you want to call it) for help. I find it hard to buy into those kinds of things (the idea of the Universe caring about my problems seems a little, well, odd), but maybe I'll give it a try. Best Blogger Tips

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

No goals, another update

This no-goal is hard. Very hard! I have fairly well mastered it in terms of knitting. I'm not even too bummed at the prospect of taking out the first few rows of the birch shawl that I've knit because, well, I can't remember exactly how many I already knit. (I will be better about writing this down next time!)

But no goals in writing is harder. I really want things to get published. I can't help it. It would make me feel so much more legitimate, in my own eyes and when I speak to people about what I do. That said, it's also really hard to have publishing goals at this point in my writing. My fiction writing is no where near ready to be sent out. Some of my essays are, but as we all know, sending these out is a very frustrating process. (As for that editor I mentioned who seemed interested in my work, now--Poof!--she's disappeared and won't email me back.)

So not having a goal would be a great thing, since it seems like getting published is a bit out of my control anyway. Yes, I can work hard to improve my writing, and I can send out stuff relentlessly, but there's no guarantee that it'll work!

Do you have any suggestions as to how to not put pressure on yourself but still try to get published? Best Blogger Tips

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Sunday Scribbilings: Goodbye

I haven't participated in a Sunday Scribbling in a while now, but here goes...

My French class this weekend was wonderful--challenging, but not at all scary. A difficult combo to create as a teacher, I'm sure. We learned many different ways to say common phrases, including "goodbye" and "to come".

"To come" has a remarkable number of French translations. There is one word for return as in to come back to, another for return as in to go back to where one started, another meaning to go back inside... and on and on. It made me realize how much of speaking and understanding any language is in the context in which the words are used. English might have fewer words for "return," but I doubt any native English speaker would have to think twice about what I meant if I said, "My dog returned to me with the ball in her mouth."

The variations on goodbye taught me a different lesson, one that I also learned in my first MFA residency: how the tone of the words you choose to give your characters helps define them. For example, someone who says "Later" is probably a differnet kind of person and/or has a different relationship with the listener than someone who says "Until next time". Best Blogger Tips

Friday, February 02, 2007

Aurevoir essay!

I just sent a query on a new essay out to Jane Magazine. Thanks to January and Don for reading and giving me some great feedback. Fingers crossed! Oh, and I'll follow up with that other MIA editor on Monday.

This weekend, I'll be taking an intensive 2-day French class to prep for a trip to France I'm taking with my mom this spring (that right there will be fodder for about a million essays, I'm sure...). So I won't be blogging much.

A bien tot! Best Blogger Tips

Alice Munro

A million thanks to Alana, for posting a link to a wonderful story about Alice Munro and the importance of the short story in general on her blog. Hope you all enjoy it as much as I did. Best Blogger Tips

Thursday, February 01, 2007


I'm chugging away on my newest story. It's gone from
a very shitty first draft without an ending to a slightly less shitty
second draft without an ending.

Now, as for my annotations...
I'm well behind on those. Done the reading, have some semblance of
ideas, but am having a hard time articulating them. Just like last

(On a funny note, I typed chugging into Google
images assuming it'd bring up pictures of trains. Instead, I got lots
of frat boys chugging beer. God I'm old.) Best Blogger Tips

Dear Cary

I like a lot. I particularly like the advice columnist, who
handles questions of a deeper nature than your typical Dear Abby.
Today's happens to focus on MFA programs and writing, so I thought I'd
link to it.

My favorite lines:

...writing is not about face. It is about soul. It is a tool for becoming who you are.

...take care of your writing as you would take care of an animal or a child. Do not send it out into the world to do an adult's job. Just take care of it and, in its own way, it will take care of you.

The letter also reminded me how lucky I am to be in an MFA program I love, one where there is little to no competitiveness amongst students and one where we support each other. Go Lesley. Best Blogger Tips