Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Make Stuff Results!: Historical, Tasty, Sacred, Part 2

[Sorry if the appearance of photos and text is screwy...it shows up differently depending on your browser...if anyone has any suggestions...I've not had this problem before].

To see Part 1 of this blog post or if you don't know what this post is referring to, scroll down; you can always go here to read about the assignment.

Here are the three remaining responses to the first assignment given on my blog for In the Eyes of Everyone. (Is anyone else struck by the fact that 4 out of the 5 assignment responses for "sacred" include children? I'm not surprised just...struck.)

Here's Jedda Bradley's response (and you should check out the blog she's co-created called orangepeel, for moms to share about how to put "zest" back in their lives); historical, tasty, sacred:

Here's a photo response from Mariani Didyk (yes, my mom); she chose pictures in her own collection to respond (the "tasty" picture is my little sis, when she was actually little; she's now 34); historical, tasty, sacred:

And, last not but not least, a submission by Susan Bearman, creator of blog Two Kinds of People; historical, tasty, sacred:

Stay tuned for a new assignment to be posted before the turning of the year!

Friday, December 04, 2009

Make Stuff Update!

I have pictures to post!
I have responses!
I have had no time to actually post them!
I will have time this weekend!
And there's another assignment on the way!
I'm going to write one more sentence because it's 1:50 in the morning and a 1:50-in-the-morning post, however short, deserves a sixth sentence with a sixth exclamation point!

Monday, November 30, 2009

Make-Stuff Results!: Historical, Tasty, Sacred, Part 1

Assignment: Three pictures—
Something historical. Something tasty. Something sacred.

I'm posting two of the four responses I have so far in this post, and I'll post the remaining two by the end of the weekend.Some of the responses included pictures taken especially for the assignment, others were from personal collections...

In the Eyes of Everyone will launch online in a more official way in 2010; this is a way for me and my creative compadre to test the waters, start collecting submissions, and get the word out. To read more about this particular assignment and about the project, scroll down a couple entries, or click here.

Here's Jessica Atcheson's response (thanks, Jess, for being the first!). You can see and read more about Jessica on her smarty-pants, righteous-babe blog, Partly It's the Boots...historical, tasty, sacred:

Marie Gauthier, creator of the blog A View from the Potholes...historical, tasty, sacred:

(Note: If you are reading this and are still planning to submit, it's not too late! I will be posting a new assignment next week but send your responses any time for any assignment and I'll get them up!)

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Make Stuff!!!

Those of you who were reading my blog, y’know back several months ago when I was actually keeping it up, may remember that I did a little plug for a project that is in the works with one of my partners in creative crime. (He’s someone I’ve known for going on 12 years, and he has a most awesome blog that you should all read regularly.)

Last May, he traveled north from the wilds of Birmingham, Alabama, to pay me a visit and we got to talking about how the current creative channels that we had affixed in our lives weren’t quite doing it. We wanted to produce unexpected things that fell outside of the we-earned-our-MFAs-in-creative-writing box. We wanted to feel like our lives were a more adequate response to the inspiration that we felt daily as we walked around doing what we do—seeing films, reading books, talking to folks, going to shows (of all kinds), listening to music, traveling, etc.

Maybe these new things we produced would sometimes make us a little uncomfortable. Maybe they wouldn’t require a lot of skill except for the art of psychological letting go—of the result itself, and of the face the result made out in the world. More importantly tho, was this two-word phrase that kept coming up again and again in our conversations and e-mails and follow-up phone calls—an impulse, a command, maybe even a demand from some bigger force.

The simple two-word phrase: MAKE STUFF!

And so was born our future project—In the Eyes of Everyone: A Project for Everyday Visionaries—a title I beg you not to steal but instead tattoo on your brain so when we launch our site in 2010, you will recognize it and go there and become part of what is going to be an exquisite and inspiring project that will surely spawn a movement.

Last week, TJ (aforementioned partner in creative crime) and I decided that we were tired of all the talking and planning and untangling of logistics and thought we better start walking our talk and actually start the project. So we concocted creative assignments for each other, set a deadline, and went to it. Here is the assignment TJ gave me:

Assignment #1a for the future launch of In the Eyes of Everyone:
Take three pictures: 1) something historical, 2) something tasty, 3) something sacred

Before I post the documentation of the assignment, my whole point of this blog post is to say: DO THIS ASSIGNMENT and SEND ME YOUR PICTURES at intheeyesofeveryone@yahoo.com along with permission to post them here and on the future website for In the Eyes of Everyone. DO IT! IT WILL MAKE YOU FEEL GOOD. IT WILL MAKE YOU FEEL AWAKE. IT WILL MAKE YOU WANT TO MAKE MORE STUFF!

#1: Something historical

#2: Something tasty

#3: Something sacred

You can also go to TJ’s blog, and read the assignment I gave him, and do that one instead, or DO BOTH!

Join us … do an assignment. Be one of the good ones, and make stuff!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Cups and Ice #5: Easy Reader

O M G.

My new friend T and I have been exchanging YouTube finds from the priceless 70s shows we grew up with--Electric Company, 3-2-1 Contact, Zoom. Here are my two unearthed favorites.

The pants! The dancing! The free love!

Sunday, November 08, 2009

I Love This

A good way to start a Sunday. I'd heard this song before, off of John Prine's duet album called In Spite of Ourselves, but it's so great to see it.

Here's John Prine and Iris Dement singing "In Spite of Ourselves":

Saturday, October 31, 2009

All I Wanted...

This is a really well-written, poignant, bittersweet story published online today in the NY Times "Modern Love" column (will be in the Style section of the Sunday Times).

It's written by Holly Welker, a friend of a friend, who has recently completed a memoir about her experiences as a Mormon missionary.

Read it. It's not long and it goes by fast. And the last image is a killer.

If you love it, forward the link to friends and/or post it on your blog. Writers helping writers!

"All I Wanted Was a Hug"
by Holly Welker, "Modern Love" section in the New York Times

[image above by Christopher Silas Neal]

Friday, September 25, 2009

Writing Contest for Great Literary Magazine

I was the assistant editor for the premiere issue of this magazine, Alligator Juniper, back in the late nineties, and my short story "New River" was published in it—my first national publication. The magazine has won all kinds of awards and grants. And even if you get rejected, you get a super thoughtful personal letter from an editorial staff member... Deadline is soon! Check it out!

Call for Submissions: Alligator Juniper seeks fiction, creative nonfiction and poetry for its annual contest. One week away from the deadline, and submissions are not as plentiful as in past years. Shewrites members, please send your best work!

Postmark deadline: Oct. 1st, 2009

Click here for guidelines.

Alligator Juniper has received the AWP Director's Prize for Undergraduate Literary Magazines, three times in its thirteen year history. The journal is a publication of Prescott College in Prescott Arizona.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

What I Did on My Summer Vacation

So I went on a vacation. A few of them actually: An actual vacation from work (like a paid one), a blog vacation, a vacation from staying on top of every single thing, a not-worrying-too-too-much-about-my-diet vacation, a vacation from the Berkshires so I could go on a vacation in the loveliness of Arizona (and oh how I miss it so).

What follows are pictures from my trip (which include 4 days in Prescott, AZ, and 3 in Phoenix at the beautiful Sanctuary resort/spa...so the really boring ones of random trees and different-colored walls were taken under the influence of relaxation and beauty...thank god for summer spa deals):

Arizona Trip (a.k.a. trip to heaven)

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Cups and Ice #4: Five Ways to Eat a Corn Chip

Okay, so I'd just come home from boxing class (awesome), worn out, starving, and feeling a bit loopy from the exertion of the class. All of the above resulted in me sitting in my kitchen, eating corn chips, and messing around with my web cam. I've taken a few pictures with it but never recorded video. What better time? Nothing to do, nowhere to go-oh (yup, as in The Ramone's song)...

I did the following video in that spirit, just me screwing around in my kitchen, testing out the computer gear, intending to keep it solely private. But when I watched it, it made me laugh so hard that I dared myself to post it here--embarrassment isn't always a bad thing. I realize the following may permanently disqualify me from an honorable position in the cultural-discourse hall of fame. With that in mind, I present you with what was initially just a web-cam test (and you get to see some of what I tend to do to entertain myself when I'm completely alone):

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Thirty Things I Love Tonight

I am copying my friend over at Beitel-Blog because I haven't felt like blogging at all and I read his post and I wanted to follow suit immediately.

So...30 things I heart on this night:

1. Lists like this one.
2. Days off—which I am about to have two of
3. Green & Black's 85% Dark Chocolate
4. TV
5. "I was married" by Tegan and Sara: "I was married in the sun (tell me where, tell me where) against the stone of buildings built before...."
6. Hilarious pictures of me and my sisters from our trip to Ithaca last month
7. My dad
8. Saying "labral tear" which is what my new physical therapist thinks might be what is ailing my hip...labral tear...labral tear...try it (saying it I mean)
9. Coconut Bliss!
10. That I signed up for a boxing class (Sunday, 10:00 am)
11. The sound of the man-made waterfall over by the paper mill
12. Being alone in my apartment!
13. Spreading myself throughout the place from bedroom (strewn shoes in the hallway) to living room (collage supplies and half-made postcard collage on the coffee table) to the kitchen to the laundry room (overflowing dirty laundry in a basket on the washer). ME everywhere!
14. "We Did Not Make Ourselves" by Michael Dickman: "I didn’t make my brain/but I’m helping to finish it//Carefully stacking up everything I made next to everything I ruined in broad/daylight in bright/brainlight"
15. My sisters
16. Striped socks (see above picture)
17. First issue of Wholphin, arrived today, 2.5 hours of short film extravaganza
18. Black pants, black scarf
19. Vito coconut water (with tangerine)
20. Green & Black's 85% dark chocolate (it's worth mentioning twice)
21. That people at work call me "LD," "LauraD," and variations thereof
22. My new green TheraBand that I will use, per my new physical therapist, to work the muscles of my right butt
23. Midnight
24. The dream world I am allowed into when I sleep
25. The hot air balloon in the collage I'm making, and the trio of working men standing on sand pointing up at it
26. A deep breath that's truly deep
27. "our deaths were mineral"
28. In the Eyes of Everyone: A Project for Everyday Visionaries
29. The number "29"
30. Closing my eyes.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Dream It: A Review by Laura Cococcia

First, a word from me, Laura Didyk. As an active member on the new online writer's community She Writes, I've had the opportunity through the blogger's discussion group I started on the site to meet a ton of groovy women active in the blogosphere. One of those women is Laura Cococcia, creator of the The Journal of Cultural Conversation.

Laura agreed to do a guest post for my blog (and I'll be doing one for TJCC very soon).


Dream It. List It. Do It!
by Laura Cococcia

Last year, a dear friend gave me the book Dream It. List It. Do It!: How to Live a Bigger & Bolder Life, from the Life List Experts at 43Things.com.

The book's premise: To encourage readers to write ideas down to help answer the question "what do I want to do with my life?" It seems a timely and apropos cultural question—the more I read, the more I discover how individuals everywhere are digging deep to prioritize personal goals and clarify their life purpose.

Life is short, so why not get going?

Dream It. List It. Do It! helped me launch Laura Reviews and The Journal of Cultural Conversation. And it helped me make a very long list of practical projects I'd love to complete during my lifetime.

But it also inspired a number of ideas that actually have nothing to do with completing a project. These are just things you may have always wanted to do that you haven't yet. Like throw mashed potatoes at the person sitting next to you at a dinner party.

I thought I'd start the conversation by sharing my top 3 straight from the book:

1. Be silly: Dress like a penguin and slide in the snow.
(Hard to do in NYC, but I will find a way.)

2. Be famous: Host a talk show.
(I'd LOVE to do this, but I have no idea what to call it. Any thoughts?)

3. Cook more: Deep fry a pickle.
(I don't know how to cook anything besides toast and chocolate chip cookies, so the pickle might be a stretch, but I'll let you know how it goes.)

If you haven't yet read the book or visited 43Things.com, take a trip over and let us know a few of your life-list goals. Or, you can copy mine. I won't be offended.

Laura Cococcia works in global advertising and is the editor of The Journal of Cultural Conversation. An NYC resident, she is a voracious reader, obsessed traveler, committed foodie, and aspiring author. You can follow Laura and TJCC on Twitter.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Cups and Ice #3: A Thunderstorm

To read a short explantion of my "Cups and Ice" posts, go here.

Just watch, or close your eyes and listen.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

56.5 hours

Since Saturday morning, I have worked 56.5 hours.

I know there are people in the world that work like that. But I am not one of them. Although I guess I am now.

Today after work (because today there was an actual after), I went grocery shopping. Grocery shopping, people! I never knew how enjoyable it can be when the first time in many days you are not in front of a computer.

I am not complaining about working a lot. I've actually been enjoying it because 1) I know it's temporary, 2) there's that whole team feeling that comes from working long hours with just a few other people, trying to get a magazine out the door, and 3) there's something to be said for working toward excellence for the sake of excellence...

Since last Saturday, however, I have thought every day about my blog. And here's just a sample of what I thought of writing about, if I'd actually written:

  • Hip pain

  • So You Think You Can Dance (again)

  • bobby pins: their history, my obsession with them, all the different places I come across them in my life (my purse, my car, my drive way, the kitchen, found stuck to the bottom of my foot on the way to the shower, and, yes, in my hair, under some twisted hank of bed-head mess)

  • that whole thing with exercise: how your mind can convince you, absolutely, that it would, in fact, be an unhealthy, self-abusive act to exert yourself in any way (only to do it anyway and feel afterward as if you've just had a massage).

  • And on this first night in many nights that I have not had to bring my work laptop home with me, I shall now sign off and engage in the most enjoyable act of sitting and breathing (and, well, watching So You Think You Can Dance).

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Been Taking a Break from a lot of Things

Like from not eating dairy. Best ice cream cone ever. Being across the street from the Grass Roots Festival we could also hear the distant sound of zydeco, accordions, banjos, and lots of "woo hooos!"

I have been putting off posting—I haven't gone this long since the beginning of this summer (which is kind of a mis-statement since it's not actually summer yet, apparently, since it hasn't been hotter than 85 and it's late July. This anti-humiditarian is a-ok with that, tho.).

Since I've last posted about my early morning visit to the trainer, I

  • Had a second early morning visit with the trainer (he's the second trainer on the page)

  • Watched a most amazing duet on So You Think You Can Dance that I keep watching over and over (first video you come across when you scroll)

  • Went to Ithaca, NY, and back to see family, eat whatever I wanted (see photo above), laugh a ton, dance on hay, sit by a fire (like I said, not summer), and celebrate my sister and her best friend's birthdays

  • Watched a pretty incredible tap performance last night at Jacob's Pillow (or "the pillow" as its familiarly known in dance circles), Jason Samuels Smith and A.C.G.I. (Anybody Can Get It)

  • Noticed (just this morning, like right this second) how my speedy typing (a writer at work nicknamed me "the little machine") reminds me of last night, the speedy tapping...my fingers on the keyboard. Typing fast is no tap dancing but if you start going into the idea...it gets interesting (i.e., JSS's cousin was part of the performance last night--he does a spoken-word/rap thing and afterward he talked about the connection between that and the tapping).

So within each of those things above is a blog post. Which is why I've been procrastinating starting up again. Which thing do I write about, and how do I do it in the limited bog-writing time (the big question for everything, right?). And I love that I just wrote "bog-writing" because that's how it's felt lately. Very boggy.

I thought before I head to workin' on a weekend, I should just break the more-than-weeklong hiatus and say something, anything. So there you have it. (If you have a vote about my next post, feel free to say so).

[Also, note that you can now subscribe to my blog post, and you'll get an e-mail when I post; at the rate I'm going, you won't be getting daily nudges or anything]!

Thursday, July 16, 2009


She who goes to the physical trainer first thing in the morning should be rewarded with great sums of cash.

[I know, I know, it's good for me, I agreed, it's my fault, I get it. Still. Cash. I'll take 50s.]

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Cups and Ice #2: GBF

[Above taken from a notebook I've been keeping on a creative project I'm collaborating on with a friend, a project that you will most definitely get to see, explore, and feel called to participate in when it's launched next year. I would say "drum roll, please....." but it's not quite at the drum roll stage. It's more at the faint-slightly-annoying-tapping-coming-from-over-the-mountain-range-that-will-take-about-14-months-to-get-here? stage. When you hear that slightly annoying tapping, that's us! Me and Creative Partner in the laboratory, preparing to astound you.]

Sunday, July 12, 2009

A Blog on Frogs!

[Just a note that over there in the left column you can now subscribe to my blog and get an e-mail when I post.]

Today I went to Frogs: A Chorus of Colors, a live frog exhibit at the Berkshire Museum. Went with KD and had a blast (especially inserting appropriate voices and comments on behalf of the frogs—they were great sports!). I forgot how cool frogs are. How could I forget? I loved the dart frogs, the really poisonous ones with bright colors who look like race cars!


The last one here is called a "waxy faced monkey frog" (coolest name ever).

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Powering Down

Last night, I did something revolutionary. With the help of a long-distance friend, I shut my computer down at 10:30 p.m. I know, I know, it's a little extreme. Let me explain:

On any given weekday night, after 8 hours at work in front of a computer, I come home, eat, get online and don't get off until approximately 12:40 a.m. (I'm not mindlessly surfing. I'm getting things done, really important necessary things that absolutely can't wait.) If it's a Friday or Saturday, chances are I power down even later than that.

Here's what I manage to get done once the laptop is put to sleep:

  • Floss and brush teeth, wash face, worry about the-barely-noticeable-to-anyone-else-but-totally-noticeable-to-me discoloration of my teeth.

  • Remember, in an overwhelming wave of anxiety all the other things I was supposed to do before bed (put clothes in the dryer, wash dishes, put together snacks for next day, do prescribed stretches and exercises, call my friend who lives in Chatham who I haven't talked to in weeks, relax, read, etc).

  • Actually do all these things at 1 o'clock in the morning (except relax and read), all the while berating myself for it (i.e., "I can't believe I did it AGAIN!"

  • Get under the covers carrying a small knot in my stomach for how tired I know I'm going to be the next day and how much better I'd probably feel—physically and otherwise—if I could manage to be more balanced in my approach to life.

Here's what I managed to get done last night from 10:30 p.m. to 1:00 a.m.:

  • Floss and brush teeth, wash face, worry about the-barely-noticeable-to-anyone-else-but-totally-noticeable-to-me discoloration of my teeth.

  • Realize in an in an overwhelming wave of relief all the things I was now going to be able to do before bed (wash dishes, trim and file my nails, do prescribed stretches and exercises, text my friend who helped me shut down the laptop to say thank you, read a little).

  • Get under the covers with a sense that everything was right in the world, or at least my world, and tell myself: remember this, remember how this feels.

I woke up at 8:30 a.m. refreshed, clear, and unencumbered by thoughts of how I wish I'd done it differently the night before. It may not sound like a big deal. But I've been wanting to do that for probably close to three years. This is the habit I've had, one I have not known how to break, until my friend said, "Text me at 10:30 p.m. and tell me you're off."

I'm now at my computer—which I feel happy to see by the way—cup of decaf next to the keyboard. Will finish up some online tasks and then head out the door for a hip-hop class. Good start to the weekend I'd say.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Cups and Ice #1: The Beckoning of Lovely

Cups and ice—the things you bring to the party when you don't have time to make a main dish. So I'm introducing this new series of short posts that will allow me to share things that make me feel like...well, yes, like dancing. Or writing. Or making something that will make other people want to dance or write or make things that will make other people want...you get the idea.

I will say this about the creator of the following film-to-be trailer. Amy Krouse Rosenthal should be more well-known. Her name should be shouted from the shoulders of a tall man. She should be honored in a ceremony next to a fountain, no in the fountain in a city's center. She's a quiet and mysterious heroine of mine ever since I read her innovative memoir, An Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life (Denise H, best birthday present ever! Or was it Christmas? I can't remember...). This is her latest project, The Beckoning of Lovely. (I feel like she crawled inside my mind...but as a very hospitable guest.)

Tuesday, July 07, 2009


This post won't be long as I seem to have a developed a rapid-onset case of tendinitis in my right hand/wrist/arm, with some pangs in my left hand.

Turning on a light switch, opening the toothpaste, digging in my purse for a pen.


My inner hypochondriac is on the loose. I've been typing for 15 years. And now?

Probably I need to rest. A thing I don't do enough. More down time (I've been saying this for like, what, 5 years?). Meditation probably wouldn't be a bad idea either.

So here I go to try and get some rest.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

How Studying Creative Writing Changed Everything: Part 3

The image above is the culmination...no, that's not quite right...the proof of the fact that I indeed did spend a few years in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, earning my MFA degree in creative writing. And the fact that it's crooked seems appropriate. It was a rough process. Rough and wonderful and one of the best things I've ever done.

At first, I was sure I'd made a huge error in deciding on this particular program, because of its location, because of its location, and because of its location. As it turned out, the train that ran half-a-block from the apartment I shared with fellow student, Angela Jane Fountas, the way it shook our windows every hour or so, the pea-green sky during tornado season, the town and university thick with a history that was hard to stomach—all of these things wound their way into my poetry collection. (The fact that AJ rescued me from a roach-infested apartment across the way, inviting me to live in hers, is a testament to the sort of people that that program attracted...or maybe to Seattle where AJ had recently lived...or to the Greeks who are AJ's people...).

In any case, I could do a little commercial for University of Alabama's MFA program right here (the optional fourth year they offer, the so-cool-you-want-to-eat-it literary magazine the Black Warrior Review, their awesome reading series, the visiting writer's program, and the quality of the other students you are in workshop with), but I won't.

What happened to me at grad school could happen to anyone at any creative writing program;

1) I read novels for homework. And poetry collections. And I wrote papers. And stories. And poems. And essays. (I also got introduced to the work of some writers who changed the way I wrote. Too numerous to mention here in full, but here are a few that come to mind: Janet Kauffman, Alice Notley, Tomaz Salamun, and Larissa Szporluk, to name just a few.)

2) I got to be an editor in chief of a literary magazine (I mean, come on, CHIEF, in my title? It was a dream come true...).

3) I had TIME (this was KEY for me...just the time) to figure out what I liked and why I liked it, and then change my mind.

4) I got to experiment and write badly and even, mid-stream, change genres.

5) I met some people who I have been friends with since and are some of the most important people in my life.

6) I became a teacher!

7) I became a writer.

7a) Graced one semester with a fellowship, I was only required to teach one class, and, being finished with my class credits, I was able to just write. And I wrote daily. I'd never done that before. And I haven't done it since. Not like that. But that laid the foundation, and was the first time I really felt like a writer. First time I wasn't doing it for anyone else, that I wasn't just writing in my journal anymore. I was learning a craft. A craft! I started to enjoy how my mind worked—especially when I was sitting at my desk with my notebook. I started to think: maybe I can do this. For a long time. Maybe forever.

7b) I'm still doing it.

7c) There were some years after grad school that I didn't write at all, and wondered if I ever would. It was when I stopped worrying about being "literary" that I started to write the work that would make me the most proud. But I never would have written that stuff unless I'd had my experience in school to write against.

Self-discovery (the most non-literary word there is) is really what happened. Who I was, my values, my beliefs (about God, love, staying alive or not staying alive), the downfalls in my own character—these all became unseparate from the poetry i was writing. Writing wasn't a thing I was doing. It just was. And is. And ever. And I'm so glad.

Friday, July 03, 2009

How Studying Creative Writing Changed Everything: Part 2

I don't think my first story in my first fiction-writing class was any good—I believe the assignment was to take a mythological theme and write a story based on that...I chose, no surprise, the story of the Phoenix, and wrote about a mysterious sexy guy on a motorcycle named Caley who was adored by the narrator, a young Southern version of yours truly (who liked to listen to Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald). Caley was hit by a car, was seen running his bike off the road numerous times, laying in the road awash with wounds, but then there he'd be the next day, not a scratch on him. It was a sweet story, and awful probably. But I'd done it. I'd written something from beginning to end, in a voice, in character, and even more than that, I started to understand something about my own interiority in relation to language.

I'd found a way to have a conversation with something that wasn't quite here but paradoxically more here than anything else I'd encountered. And I started being an observer—of what and who was around me, what and who was living inside me (there were a lot of people in there), of my past and the narrative patterns it consisted of, and this thing called the imagination.

The act of writing in a more intentional way, studying it as a craft (rather than just writing in my journal), felt like this: When a drawer comes off its runners and you jiggle it around and get mad and swear and, finally, because you're desperate, you slow down, take a few breaths, and feel around, you get a sense. And miraculously the edges of the drawer click into place.

I'm not sure what I am in that metaphor. The drawer? The frustrated person jiggling the drawer around? Either way, when I took that first class—in which reading and writing about books was part of the homework, and writing stories and reading my classmates' stories was the other part—something definitely "clicked into place." And I stopped fighting it. My desire to do it got bigger than my fear, as I've said before.

I took fiction. And memoir. And literature courses. I worked on the first issue of PC's national lit mag (Alligator Juniper, which just weeks ago won the AWP Director's Prize for Undergraduate Literary Magazines for the third time in its 13-year history).

I found mentors in my teachers at the college, and consciously understood for the first time what it meant to be a student. I listened to them and followed their direction without pause, because I was in love with language and story, with the flexibility of paragraphs (which could, I discovered, consist of exactly one sentence if I wanted it to), with Lorrie Moore and Raymund Carver, with short story collections and lit mags. I wanted to make people feel what they made me feel. I wanted to be good. Really really good.

I knew I wasn't done being a student, and to keep being one, I'd have to be graduate-school bound, MFA-bound, more-teachers-more-books-and-new-colleagues bound.

So, ironically (given where my very first short story took place) I headed to the Deep South.

(More tomorrow in Part 3! Promise, that will be the last "part.")

How Studying Creative Writing Changed Everything: Part I

Where I come from, everything's a metaphor, so replace "studying creative writing" with anything that's grabbed you by the hair and playfully yanked, and that you mysteriously found yourself putting your whole self into.

If you haven't encountered this yet, a hint: it's probably the thing in your life that doesn't feel like it could be (or should be) "the thing," because it's too fun, too easy, and doesn't feel like work in the way that you are used to. Make no mistake, it's work. But of a different variety. The kind that moves you forward and takes you places and introduces you to people you'd never otherwise meet.

Just like my married friends have told me about meeting my future husband: meeting him will not feel like what you think it is going to feel like.

As for how and when my hair was yanked, well, the actual yanking probably took place pre-adolescence, but the big old pull came after I tried out Syracuse University for two years, then dropped out to follow the Grateful Dead (which is a whole different post), and ended up—after a handful of shows, a lot of drugs, many hot parking lots, and a stream of cities across America—at Prescott College.

There, after a quarter of creative arts courses (theater movement, photography, and "the way of the spiritual warrior"—no joke, awesome class), I finally signed up for Introduction to Fiction Writing. But I backed out at the last minute. So I signed up again, the next quarter, and again I backed out. That's how terrified I was of my destiny.

When I did finally get the courage up (and constructed a good argument for the teacher who wasn't convinced I'd actually take the class this time), I was 23 years old. Sad a lot. Stoned a lot. And hungry for approval. (I'll say that over the years, three of those things have changed. I'll let you be the judge.)

After writing character sketches and monologues and reading Raymund Carver and Lorrie Moore and Amy Hempel and Joy Williams (a few of the Lish-ites, as in Gordon Lish, as in crazy brilliant teacher man as well as Raymond Carver's infamous editor), and we dug into writing our first draft of an actual short story, I knew that I'd found "that thing," my thing. Or at least one of them.

(More to come, on the morrow, in Part 2. Happy fourth—whatever that means to you!)

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

A Great New Site for Women Writers

So I'm a little behind with things, but totally busy at the same time. I only have five minutes before midnight, so want to post something quick so I don't officially miss a day.

This post is dedicated to the brand new (like just over 24 hours new?) awesome writer's website—for the ladies! She Writes. It launched yesterday and already has 250 members or so! It's got discussion groups on everything from the practical like marketing and promotion, literary groups by genre, and a really awesome discussion group on blogging (started by yours truly!).

So you don't have to be a writer with books to be on there—just someone who loves to write and is looking to learn some things about the writing world so they can move forward with the craft (whether you are a blogger, or a poet, or a fiction writer....). Oh, and you do have to be a woman.

It's a really fantastic group of people...high-level professional writers, as well as new folks. Come glean some wisdom! And share some. And be part of the early stages of what is going to grow to be a truly amazing resource.

When you join, look for my group: Bloggers: Let's Make It Work!

I'll be back with more verve in the next couple of days. I think I may be a tad overcommitted. Or just really inspired. It's hard to say which.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Follow Me (and I Will Follow You)

Just a quick plug for my new "followers" widget on my left side bar. I'll take you to some fun places, and I'd love to have you!

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Summer in the Berkshires, Prairie Home Companion, and Mosquitoes

Today was a glorious day in the Berkshires.

In general, I love everything about summer in the Berkshires except maybe...summer itself. Summer itself = the heat, the humidity, the bugs, the finding the right summer attire, the bugs, and, then, finally, the bugs. But today has been an exception.

People flock into our hamlet-y towns (I say "our" like I am of this place, when in fact I sometimes walk right by my Subaru because of its new Mass plates...Honestly, I miss my old plates: New York, CDT 8981, oh where art thou?, but I am making the best of it) and aside from the annoyance of increased traffic and more people, it gives one some perspective, that goes a little like this: "oh, I live in the Berkshires. People come from all over just to be here and bask in its beauty, its pastoral magic, all the green lushness...it's a place where people literally summer." I mean to live in a place where "summer" is a verb is pretty...weird. And cool.

Saturday night, I went to Tanglewood with my friend KD, who treated me to an awesome seat at Prairie Home Companion...loads of FUN! At one point during the show the following people were on stage at the same time: Garrison Keillor, Martin Sheen, Steve Martin (go here to watch a YouTube video of Steve Martin playing banjo while a guy from the Steep Canyon Rangers—you can't see much but the audio is good), Heather Masse, and Arlo Guthrie...I mean, C'mon, that's pretty amazing. Both KD and I were lamenting the fact that neither of us brought a camera. But we clapped and sang. I felt like a true blue American by the end (and even a little wholesome...which is just...rare).

The woman sitting to our left asked us where we were from. And we said, "here". And she just shook her head, and said, "Wow. Lucky."

Lucky enough to be scratching my first ankle mosquito bite. Oy. My body's not a fan. Mosquito bites on my body are events. My skin is generally itchy and rashy anyway (that sounds scarier than it actually looks), so a bite adds a significant rise in the landscape. (Dr. Magic Pettus and I were hoping going gluten-free was going to help with the rash epidemic but so far, nada. It's only been three weeks so keep your fingers crossed).

But I certainly can't complain (even though I just did)... I've got it good.

Happy summer, everyone!

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Getting off the Couch: Part 2

The thought of not doing something that a huge part of me (that doesn't even feel like "me" necessarily because the desire isn't manufactured or dreamed up but just there) became more awful than the thought of doing the "something" and doing it badly.

Ryan Kasprzak on So You Think You Can Dance was interviewed right before he got cut (his brother, Evan, made it and is now in the top 14). [You can go here to watch highlights of their auditions from this season...really fun!]. Ryan does Broadway tap. He said that he heard over and over from teachers, producers, choreographers that he was too short, too chubby, too bald, too whatever to be successful in the kind of dance he wanted to do. "That shit kept me on the couch for four years," he said. He's done all kinds of things since he got off the couch. And he just auditioned for the next season of SYTYCD and will be going to Vegas for another shot.

At the end of graduate school, during my thesis defense, which marked a four-year MFA endeavor as well as a major shift from writing fiction to writing mostly poetry, one of my professors told me and the committee and those friends who'd gathered for the event that she almost fell asleep reading my thesis (a collection of poems).

Once you start, you have to deal with that who-are-you-kidding-anyway voice—and not always just from inside yourself. Then you have to actually keep doing the thing you got off the couch to do. You have to do things badly and deal with that. You have to hear criticism and experience rejection.

It's good for the bones is what I say—because you discover (or I did anyway) why you are actually doing something (i.e., Not so a certain professor will like your work). You find the you you are doing it for. You find that there is no Ultimate Final Approval. There are moments of glory—when you get published, do the performance, etc. But like artist Mike Mills says (see video on "outloud" blog June 19):
You just work your hardest and you do whatever the best is that you can, and you don’t like it...you don’t think you did very well so you do another job to prove that you're better than the last job you did and then the same thing happens and you do another one and then all of a sudden you're 41...and then you think I’ll do better on the next one and I’ll totally prove to everyone that I’m okay and you keep going and going...
It's more a lifestyle than a means to an end I guess is what I'm saying.

And the only way to get confidence—creative confidence—is to make things and keep making them—muscles, books, blog postings, photographs, dances, WHATEVER. And stick with the people who will cheer you on while you do it—but do it even if you can't find those people.

The best things I've heard from people after I've read my work in public are 1) they were moved and 2) it made them want to write and make things. That's not why I do it of course—any of it. I do it because when I'm not doing it, I sink deeper and deeper into my couch, wonder why I'm here, forget what the point is... Participating in the way that I do is the point. It's what gets me up every morning, makes me eat, post to my blog, go to work, see films, write poetry, go listen to live music (and exhaust myself in large rowdy throngs of other participants), be an extra in a video of your favorite band (see opening picture above)!

My friend KO was clearly inspired in a new way by Every Little Step. We had coffee Friday night and I saw it in her eyes. Something is changing and it's a beautiful thing to see.