Category Archives: Residency

First Drafts: Chapter One

snoopy writerIs it just me or has January flown by before you had the chance to get comfortable writing 2015? I bid farewell to Tennessee last Friday and returned to Texas after a long absence. To me, two years and eight months seems like forever, but in reality it wasn’t that long at all. I am grateful for the people I met and friendships I formed in Tennessee and will always hold a special place in my heart for the state, but I am happy to finally be home. Well, almost home. I’m not far from Dallas and a trip to Houston is less than 250 miles so that makes me close enough.

Almost Home

In the six weeks since graduation I have not had a moment to breathe. Immediately, I morphed into relocation mode and started considering my options. Then of course there was the actual move. There have been forward steps and backwards steps along the way, but progress by any means is always good. This latest move feels like a first draft. I’m on chapter one and the pages are all crisp and blank. The environment is new, my senses are awakened, there is anticipation mixed with uncertainty, and excitement about the possibility that in any moment something wonderful could happen. As usual, I unconsciously write outside the lines.

We did not get any pictures during this last road trip because we covered 529 miles in about nine hours. I now remember why on previous trips we checked into a hotel after driving for five or six hours. The good news is we arrived without any major mishaps. (That fire hydrant I almost took out with the truck doesn’t count.) The bad news is our furniture was not as lucky. I strongly recommend hiring professional movers to help with every aspect of the relocation process if you plan to travel across several states. The loading process is extremely important and you must make sure all items are firmly secured with tie-downs before traveling even a short distance. It is cheaper to rent a moving truck and do the driving, but I recommend saving enough money to hire a well-known company who specializes in relocation to do the driving instead. You might be broke by the time you arrive to your destination, but you will be less stressed.

Unpacking is moving slowly as we adjust to the new place and find ways to rearrange our possessions in unfamiliar surroundings, but there is joy that comes from seeing our favorite places and familiar conditions (like traffic jams, Barnes & Noble, Whataburger and Shipley’s). My writing room is almost set-up and I am already beginning to feel the familiar longings to put words on paper, create beautiful sentences and develop complex characters. The novel I was working on during thesis is waiting for the story to be finished and I need to feel like a capable, creative writer again instead of someone in transition. I think it is good that I stepped away from it for a bit to give the story a moment to breathe, but too much time away makes everything stale. I have a story to tell that won’t finish itself so my goal is to become more disciplined in order to reach my personal goals. Writers must write. It is what they do. It does not get more simple than that.

What I loved most about attending residencies at Murray State was the bonds formed with other writers within the program. Nothing replaces that kind of support and I cannot stress how important those relationships are. Just knowing the people you interact with understand why you are there (even if you haven’t figured it out yet) makes all the difference in the world. As fellow writers they share your frustrations and recognize the desire to create something remarkable from nothing and have it be appreciated. I find it difficult to explain why I do what I do – why I want to write or my love affair with words. An explanation isn’t necessary for those who speak my language. My only hope is that the rest who do not understand will some day find comfort and enjoyment in reading something I have written and that my words will speak for themselves.

My goals for the next several months are to work, write, read and spend time just enjoying life – once we’re settled, of course. Right now, I am not sure if I will be able to attend AWP 2015. Either way I will keep you posted, but first, I have to finish unpacking.

 

 

 

 

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Man down! Life After Defense

man downThank you all for the likes on my previous post. In case you were wondering, I passed my thesis defense, had a successful reading, and survived the teaching presentation. Am I glad it’s over? You bet, but before we get into the details, since I love road trips, let me first tell you about our “never a dull moment” journey.

We left a day early. That was smart considering we had to organize travel for four pets and two humans. What wasn’t so smart was my brilliant idea to work up until the day before we left. I realized a week before that it all wouldn’t fit into my Taurus and rented an SUV. When we finally got everything packed my living room looked like this:

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I was determined to make good use of the space and organized the luggage perfectly so that it all fit, providing no one needed to get anything out. As long as I had enough room to see out the back we were ready. I made sure the pets were all still breathing and we hit the road.

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I didn’t start to get nervous about my thesis defense until we were on the way to Kentucky. My recommendation to anyone who happens to take a road trip using their phone as a GPS is to invest in a real GPS. The absence of cellular towers (or inability by my provider to access said towers) resulted in a loss of signal and us getting lost in Martin, Tennessee.

Not only did my phone say there was no signal, it said I wasn’t even registered on the network. Lovely! Once I accepted the fact that we were lost and would have to use our brains to get to our destination I pulled over alongside the road and laughed hysterically.

You know the “this isn’t really happening to me; I think I need to cry; pull it together, you’re stronger than this; I can’t believe I have to defend my thesis tomorrow morning and I’m not prepared” hysterical laugh? Yeah, that one. A thought crossed my mind that the cars passing by might mistake me for an escaped mental patient, so I grabbed the atlas from one of the bags in the back, played the “shove and slam” game about three times with the trunk, and allowed the only person in our household who can read an atlas (my daughter) to guide us back to civilization. Thirty minutes later we were on track and once again the stars were aligned.

The morning of thesis defense I felt relaxed. Not leisurely relaxed, but “there’s no way out of this” relaxed. Since we have pets, I always stay in Mayfied, which is a good thirty minutes away from campus. Somehow I neglected to see the memo that asked us all to arrive fifteen minutes early. I wondered if anyone had ever been late to a thesis defense, wished for a police escort, and prayed I could bend the hands of time (while flooring it), to arrive safely and ticketless to my defense.

I arrived about 5-10 minutes past the “be here early time” and found one of my classmates waiting on the couch. I wasn’t late after all. When my time came I felt ready. For what, I don’t know, but Judgment Day was before me and I was ready for whatever was to come – or so I thought.

For some reason I pictured me at one end of this long table and three committee members at the other far end. It wasn’t like that at all. Before me were three individuals I had either worked with, heard lecture, or knew of by way of the program. This was a safe, trusting, supportive environment – until the drive-by-shooting happened.

It came out of nowhere. An AK-47 had replaced one of my committee members and I didn’t have time to duck. I stared at the carnage that minutes before was a seven-story-novel-in-progress-turned-three-story-thesis and wondered if it was all a bad dream. There were three members, but only one had a weapon. Why?

As the bullets found their targets, obliterating my heart, confidence, and hope I swiftly took notes and tried to clarify what was being said as the committee member continued to fire. I held my head high and maintained composure while doing a quick mental inventory of the remaining skills I thought I had. I wondered what job I would find now that this writing thing wasn’t going to work out.

When the firing stopped I was sent out so they could deliberate. I sat alone in a room and tried to put pressure on my life-threatening wounds to stop the bleeding. The blood was seeping from every pore as I fought for survival. DON’T. YOU. DARE. CRY. I reminded myself that I’ve been through worse – much worse, and survived. I thought what good experience this would be for the cruel rejection letters I can only hope to receive in the future. I prayed no one asked me how it went.

When I re-entered the crime scene the atmosphere was different. I wouldn’t have been surprised if they pulled cone-shaped party hats out from under the table, threw confetti at me, and blew those loud, accordion, snake-like noise makers everyone hates. I waited for a banner to drop from the ceiling and a band to play. You did it!

So here’s the part where my sanity goes into overdrive because it is still processing the previous events. They’re happy. I’m in shock. Not from passing, but from it all. The entire two years: the move from Texas and relocation to Tennessee, homesickness, the fact-versus-fiction employment war, the frustrating change in program requirements, mentors, the just-because-we’re-writers-we-beat-up-on-ourselves days, the drive-by shooting – all of it! To make matters worse, one of the sweetest people I have had the pleasure of meeting, who just so happened to be one of my committee members, presented me with an award.

Me? An award? What did I ever do to deserve an award? Wow? Didn’t you just hear what the other committee member said about my thesis? I looked down at the beautiful plaque, which was from the English Honor Society, noticed my name was spelled correctly in beautiful gold lettering, and started to cry. Damn!

Happy tears – mostly! I haven’t received an award in a very long time. It felt good – even though I still don’t know what I did to deserve it.  When I escaped the room the first person I called was my daughter. She must have been waiting by the phone. More than anything I wanted human connection – a reassuring voice to sift through the rubble and sort out the truth from what I was feeling. She was supportive, but the wounds were deep, so I called the next best voice of reason in the world – my therapist. Every writer needs a therapist on speed dial!

Later that night was my reading. My therapist helped me stop the bleeding, but the wounds were raw and I didn’t feel confident to read anything I wrote. I hated my thesis. Sometimes I still do. Nevertheless I had to read something, so an hour before my reading I decided to switch stories. It was a risky move. I had fifteen minutes to read, hadn’t had ample time to practice, and the story contained a sensitive subject matter – abortion.

When it was my time to read, my amazing mentor I’ve had the pleasure of working with for two semesters gave a heart-felt introduction. I just love her, but you already know that. Reading something you’ve written on the way out of a program is a big deal. You’re reading in front of the new people and people who are almost where you are. Your writing is supposed to show growth, it is supposed to be practically publishable. I don’t know what happened exactly when I read, but I lost count of the wonderful people who congratulated me that night, stopped to talk to me about the story they heard, or said they really liked it. I was covered in emotional bandages and totally blown away. Wow! What an amazing night.

My teaching presentation was two days later. When I awoke that morning I decided to purchase three dozen doughnuts for the poor unfortunate souls who would have to sit through my teaching presentation. Okay that is a little dramatic. Yes, I bribed them. I wanted to bring coffee too, but the other voice of reason (my daughter) said it was a bit much. I arrived early to the presentation, set up my computer, and was ready to go. Not really. The presentation I was supposed to memorize didn’t go over the way I wanted.

For starters, I’m teaching a lesson on fiction and my class is made up of mostly poets and a handful of non-fiction writers. I’m teaching story structure and can already hear crickets. Quick, let me find some way to relate this to them so they won’t be bored. One girl looks confused. Another is yawning. Sigh. Did everyone get a doughnut?

Problem two – I was told I would have forty-five minutes to prepare the entire presentation and even sent drafts of it. It turns out I actually had more time than that, but I didn’t know this until after it was over. During the presentation I felt rushed and could tell they weren’t really following me. Not to mention – they weren’t eating the doughnuts! By the time it was over I was frustrated, but mostly relieved. I already knew teaching wasn’t going to be my thing. I was disappointed, but at least I’d survived.

We left Kentucky the next morning and headed for a small town in southern Illinois so that I could make the defense-recommended edits to my thesis. Not to mention, we desperately needed some time away from Tennessee. I knew if I returned to work before completing the edits on my thesis I would never finish them. I’m glad I gave us that time. We both desperately needed it.

Photo by Taylor Winters

Photo by Taylor Winters

I also found out that graduation, though in December, isn’t what I thought it would be either. Apparently they hold a special robing ceremony for graduates in our program, but only in May. It sounds really special, but I’m not sure I’ll be able to make that. All signs right now are pointing to Texas, so I applied for December graduation. I may go just to hear my name with the millions of other names or may just let them send it to me in the mail. Something tells me I’ll probably go. When I left Kentucky this last time, I had the feeling it would be a while before I would see it like that again. I’m going to miss it.

In a few weeks I will send my final thesis off for a last stamp of approval and pay for binding. When I said I didn’t like it earlier, I meant that it is a thesis, but not the story I feel I have finished telling. My next goal is to put it back into a novel, and when it is ready, try to get it published. I realize that takes time. Writing is not a hobby, but something I truly enjoy doing. Job hunting is especially difficult now, because I would love to find something that will allow me time to write – that and the fact I don’t know what I want to do besides write.

The profession I am in now does not leave room for anything else, so work consumes me. I want something different, but I’m not so unrealistic to realize that sometimes we must compromise. Besides, time is running out. My overachiever self is quick to remind me that I will be returning to Texas in 144 days and without the completed novel I wanted. I can’t help that. Rules are rules, but I will have my degree, and that is definitely something to be proud of. 

Photo by Taylor Winters

Photo by Taylor Winters

Judgment Day

Texas - Tennessee-KentuckyTwo years, three mentors, one hundred drafts, one million frustrations, one thousand, three hundred, ninety-one miles, and a bucket of tears later it is finally time to defend my thesis.

I promised to take you along with me on this journey and apologize for leaving you at Tennessee Texan back in February without an update. Since we last spoke thesis took over and everything else, including my “Something Good Happened Today” box was displaced – well, not everything. Work, a blessing and a curse, continued to provide endless complications to make this journey almost impossible, but I made it.

What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Perhaps, but I would rather not live life in a constant trial by fire. Writing takes time and dedication. If you want it – it must come first or the dreams you dream will simply be thoughts in your head instead of potential realities.

Am I ready for this? Yes. Am I as prepared as I would like to be? No. The perfectionist in me desires to pull off a stellar reading and instructor-worthy teaching presentation. I will do my absolute best. Something tells me once I arrive on campus (my second home) everything will be as it should. There is a calm that comes from being surrounded by supportive, loving people who share your dreams. I’m really going to miss that place. It has been my home away from home and the people there are simply amazing.

I will walk away from this with seven linked stories of fiction I hope one day will become my first novel. Our particular program allows only three pieces of work (unless special permissions have been granted to write a novel). The thesis process was like slaughtering one of your children. I watched as seven became three, then a different three, and finally two and a last minute partial rewrite to accommodate page limits. I was sure page limits would be the death of me.

My mentor is like a breath of fresh air. If you saw her you would know exactly what I mean. You know how some people, upon first glance, just radiate creativity from head to toe? She not only guided me along this process regarding my writing, but provided me with much needed counseling when work threatened to steal my dream and my body wanted to shut down in protest. There really is a the light at the end of the tunnel so never give up. 

My time here in Tennessee will come to a close at the end of December. As you know, I miss home. Five months can go by quickly so the moment I return from this residency I am going to dust off my resume and go hard on the job hunt. What do I want to do? Let me get back to you on that. Once again I am ready for a new journey, but this time I don’t think it involves more schooling – at least I hope not. I would love to see more of the world. My spirit loves adventure and the idea of something new is intoxicating, but eventually the newness wears off and reality creeps in. When it does, you either love where you are, make some kind of transition if you don’t, or search for a new path. Wherever your journey leads I encourage you to go beyond your comfort zone. You will never know what you are truly capable of until you test your own boundaries.

When we last spoke I had started exercising. I did that for a while and then not so much. I guess you could say I was focused on the wrong thing – the scale. It is one thing to lose weight, but being healthy requires a lifestyle change. When the numbers don’t go in the right direction as quickly as we would like it is easy to become discouraged. Thanks to nutritionist, J.J. Smith and her 10-Day Green Smoothie Cleanse I have begun that change and my body thanks me. After residency I do plan to return to exercise, but the cleanse gave me a jumpstart in the right direction.

In eight hours I leave for my final residency in Kentucky where I will stand before a committee and defend my thesis. What an amazing journey. Thank you for being with me every step of the way. I leave you with how I am feeling right now – Happy.

Until next time.

Tennessee Texan

DSCN0151Hello again! Long time no see. I know it’s been ages since I’ve updated you on my progress along the road to my MFA. I apologize for the lengthy absence. I have truly been busy. Since my last update I got through another Tennessee Christmas without seeing my family in Texas and went back to Kentucky to attend my thesis residency in January. Right now I am in the middle of my thesis and to say I’m stressed is a huge understatement.

It has been one year, nine months and ten days since I have seen my friends and family back home in Texas. Sometimes I miss them and sometimes I just miss Texas. I’ve added Texas memorabilia around my apartment to remind me of home, but nothing takes the place of actually being there.

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What is it about Texas that makes me long to return? Honestly, I don’t know. Maybe it is familiarity. Maybe it is simply me being tired of the cold weather and limited choices here in Jackson, but I’m sure once I’m back home I will be wishing to be someplace else (after a little while) because I just have one of those restless spirits. The good thing is I truly feel like I have stepped foot into Dorothy’s shoes. Oz was beautiful, but there truly is no place like home. Tennessee is nice (for the most part), but there is for me, no place other than Texas that I want to live permanently. I wasn’t so sure about that before I left. Leaving was good. Now I know.

Today is the first day the weather has warmed up in quite some time and it is greatly appreciated. I’m sitting outside now on the patio with 5/6 of my household trying to work on thesis materials for my second packet which is due in sixteen days. Yes, I’m counting days because lately there is never enough time. While I’ve been here I’ve experienced many things, a double (almost triple homicide) too close for comfort, numerous tornado scares, racism, a sweet little place that makes the best ham sandwiches I’ve ever tasted, snow, frozen car doors that won’t open – then won’t close, true southern accents, and apartment leasing.

Have you ever received a blessing that brought complications along with it? I guess you might say then it’s not a blessing, but I think it is. It’s just complicated. I’m now working full time – right in the middle of my thesis. The major difference about this position and the positions I’ve held for the past several years, while in school, is there is no downtime and no allowances for being a student. Considering the fact that I moved out here to be closer to MSU one would think I’d drop anything that interfered. It’s not that simple, but I’m doing the best I can and reminding myself to be thankful for each and every blessing. I’ve learned that even hardships can bring about amazing outcomes.

I was planning to attend the AWP Conference in Seattle this year and had booked everything but plane tickets. Then my pet sitter canceled on me so I had to cancel AWP. At first I was really upset about it. Not only did I want to attend my first AWP Conference, I really wanted to see Seattle. If I weren’t working I would have loved nothing better than a road trip, because then I could have seen other parts of the world I might not ever have a chance to see. I do believe everything happens for a reason – even reasons I may not understand. Had I attended,  the packet I’m so desperately trying to complete now would have definitely been late and I would have been even more stressed. There’s always next year’s AWP in Minneapolis. What can be better than checking out Prince’s digs?

Thesis residency in January went better than expected. I chose my first mentor as my thesis advisor and it turns out she only had one other person. We were able to cover all of our material during the residency – something we would not have been able to do had we had a larger class. It was pleasing to have her read the material I’m working on now and see that I have truly grown as a writer. If you asked me what I’ve learned or what changed, I can’t point to any one specific thing. There are so many little things that make up the big picture of progress. I can definitely say if you are on the fence about whether or not to pursue an MFA to go for it. It really is worth it. There is no formula for writing (at lease I don’t think so).  Sure there are things you learn to make it better and methods that help you get to where you want to be in the story, but if you have no creativity inside, no drive to write something really good, and no willpower to keep going even during the tough times then school won’t help. As writers we all have something special inside that churns out stuff that makes us unique. If I had not pursued my MFA I probably wouldn’t have recognized my strengths as a writer or learned  how to nurture them to become a better writer.

It amazes me how you go along in life with one idea about where a journey may lead and end up with so many other amazing gifts when it is almost time for it to come to an end. Since I’ve been here we’ve started a “Something Good Happened Today” box. It was actually an idea I got from someone back home. She was posting on Facebook things she was grateful for, but on a daily basis, and I realized how much easier it was to complain than to recognize the good things (even if they are sometimes small) that happen to us. My daughter and I take a tiny scrap of paper, jot down the event and the date it happened, and put it in a box. At the end of the year we put the little scraps of paper in a plastic bag and read through them. If I were really disciplined I would do it on a weekly basis instead of every time something good happened, but baby steps.

To help me deal with thesis stress I’ve started an exercise program – one that was long overdue. I wanted to lose weight to fit into an outfit I wanted to wear for the banquet after thesis defense, but I also wanted healthier eating habits and a change in my lifestyle. I have a definite goal, but once again baby steps. I’m focusing on three miles a day right now, and getting up in the mornings when I’d much rather stay in bed for an extra fifteen minutes is brutal. So is exercising in the evenings when I get off and remembering to cut down on portions, but I’m optimistic. Exercise is a great way to burn off stress, especially after a day at work.

The leasing industry has a lot of potential for a creative person with tons of energy. With that being said, I don’t recommend it while in the middle of thesis. Time off is unrealistic, writing time must be crammed into a lunch hour (if nothing else is more pressing) or after work, and sleep is the enemy. The great part is that you get to meet some really amazing (and some not so amazing) residents and you get to work with some really fun people. I love trying to meet the needs of our residents and take pleasure when things work out. On the down side I had two evictions this month, but knowing I did everything I could to try and help them, before it got to that point, allows me to not be too upset. I’d be even happier if some of the proposals I’ve submitted to improve our property got approved, but then again baby steps.

My goal when all this is over is to leave here with a completed (or close to finished) novel of fiction. I’m working with linked stories and really enjoying the characters that have introduced themselves to me. Defense is in July and if all goes well, graduation is in December. Who knows what journey will be next after that. Right now, I’m just focusing on one thing at a time. I put them on the refrigerator in case I get sidetracked or overwhelmed.

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Until next time.

 

BALLOONS

I do not own the rights to this image.

Copyright: Megan McMillan

Every morning at work part of my responsibilities includes putting out new balloons to welcome new prospects to the property. For the most part I get to choose what colors to inflate. Just so long as what I choose is inside the package of balloons within the office. I tend to like bold, bright colors (which are not usually inside the package within the office), but I have made good use of the colors that are available and managed to put together some interesting, yet presentable combinations.

“It is all in the twist of the wrist,” the balloon expert at another property said when I asked how hers looked so pretty. Actually, it is a bit more than that. The sizes have to be right, the pattern has to be right and the string has to be the right length. A thin balloon and a bit too much helium leads to a loud gunshot erupting from within the office. I can tell that my senses have either dulled or I’ve grown accustomed to the environment because now I rarely scream when one pops. I just dig in the bag for another one of the the same color and start the process again.

Once they are inflated, I wrap them with string. Then I do the same with the next sets, layering and joining until I have something that remotely resembles a pattern. Most times the image in my head doesn’t fit the finished product, but I acknowledge the fact that I’m not a balloon expert and make a mental note to ask a clown for some lessons. Then I maneuver the large, flying mass out to the road where the welcome sign is and do my best to tether it so that the string is least visible.

On a good day I accomplish this fete and am able to walk back to the office, task complete, with my head held high. Then there are days when, during the process of tethering, the balloons refuse to cooperate and instead find a way to escape from my grasp. When this happens I take my walk of shame back to the office and pray for rain. On sunny days I console myself with the idea that the neighborhood children were going to steal them anyway.

My thoughts are on balloons now because so much has happened since my last post. In fact, that is the reason for the long delay between posts. What has changed? For starters, I’m working full-time, and it is no longer temporary. The two classes I’m taking this semester are coming to an end, but the past few months have been filled with numerous reading assignments, editing assignments, writing assignments and discussion board posts. While this is the normal graduate school course load most students probably don’t combine it with full-time work, and if they do, there is usually another breadwinner in the family. Don’t get me wrong – it is doable, and I’m certainly counting my blessings, because I couldn’t have fallen into a better opportunity, but sometimes I feel like one of those balloons tethered to the welcome sign. Some days I too want to escape.

The life of a writer is not easy, but it is definitely one worth embracing. Every writer has a different path and each uses different tools to produce their craft. I wouldn’t be surprised if many of them felt like balloons sometimes too – especially when the rejections start coming in. I haven’t submitted anything lately, although I did start a new piece the other day. My time at MSU has taught me to soak up every experience – with that in mind I’m currently working on a story relating to apartment life. I’ll keep you posted on the progress.

Thesis semester is just around the corner and I haven’t even booked my hotel room yet for Murray. I’m excited, scared, overwhelmed, eager, and apprehensive all at once. More than anything I’d kill for some away time. I’m definitely going to have to follow suit and lock myself away in a cabin like my poet friend Whittney. She will be defending this coming semester and I’m so proud of her. If you recall, we started the program together and were supposed to finish together, but I took this past semester off. I’m glad I did. Out-of-state tuition is a killer and I really needed the time to find my writing voice.

I can’t say I completely know my style or can give you authors I think I might share similarities with (the normal questions everyone asks when they find out you want to be a writer), but I can know when I’m not being true to myself and that is a great start. I’m so much farther along than I was when I started the program. I can even say I might have a smidgeon more of confidence. It has all worked out better than I could have ever expected.

I’m a balloon. Maybe today I’ve escaped and am soaring, enjoying my freedom in the skies. Tomorrow, who knows, I might be tethered to float above the welcome sign, providing a path for those unsettled.

I’m free. I’m floating. I’m good.

Time Flies

Flying-Calendar-PagesI can’t believe it is already September. I can’t believe a lot of things, but the idea that there are four more months left in this year completely blows my mind. Where did all the time go? Why, on school of course, and a few chunks (a month or so) went on work. Sometimes this journey I’m on makes me feel like I’m on the inside of a Gusher. You know those supposedly fruit-filled (Lord only knows what’s really on the inside) gummy snacks we ate as kids? The inside is probably squishy with multiple flavors that get sticky when exposed and the gummy outside is like a little pouch that holds it all together.

For a few months now I’ve been trying to squish my aspirations to become a writer (a big portion of which includes being an MFA student) and desire to become a productive member of society (having a “real” job) together into the gummy pouch otherwise known as life.  Sometimes I found it easier to just work on one flavor for a while so I devoted July to work, because (1) I was needed and (2) I was suffering from “I don’t think I really know what I’m doing” syndrome which meant I didn’t get a lot of writing done. Since I was exhausted most of the time from the one flavor I only tormented myself about not writing during the times I was supposed to be sleeping, and then before I knew it life was back to normal. A new semester started and I was once again in employment limbo. For all intensive purposes I still have a job – sort of. Let’s just say it falls into one of those “it’s complicated” categories people use to describe their relationships and move on.

When I don’t analyze it I’m grateful for the time and wisely throw myself into school, focusing on completing assignments. This semester I have eight books to read for my literature class, not including the ones I have yet to buy for the upcoming (unidentified as of yet) research project which will be due, a novel to read for my book review and numerous submissions from budding authors like myself (although they seem to have made more progress) who would like to be published in our literary magazine. When I’m not reading I’m supposed to be writing – that is fine tuning the stories I’ve been working on for my upcoming thesis. So, it is not like I don’t have enough to keep me busy. Still sometimes I can’t help but feel a bit disconnected. The goal is to merge the flavors to create the “flavor explosion” they are always talking about.

I’ve been saying for a while now that I need a vacation. I’m living proof that it is possible to sometimes need a vacation from your vacation. Lately it seems as if I’m operating within constraints when I really just need to breathe – maybe then I will feel more like writing. It’s there I know it. These past few days there have been moments when I know I need to sit down with pen and paper or get to the computer, but there has always been something else that needed to be done as well. I would like to escape from those constraints or at least keep them in check.

There have been times lately when I have said yes to people who have invited me to do things when I really wanted to say no. I wish there were a better way to deal with the outside world when it comes to writing. How do you say I’m sorry I can’t or I’d really like to, but not now without them thinking you’re robbing yourself of life or something or worse – being selfish? The life of a writer is generally solitary. If they are around people all the time how are they supposed to get any writing done? I have the hardest time getting this point across and realize why many lock themselves away.

A road trip about now would be a nice diversion – even a tiny one, but I will have to wait until the new year. When that comes I’m sure I will be traveled-out. In January it’s back to KY for my thesis residency, then towards the end of February we’re off to Seattle for AWP. It will be my first AWP conference and my first time in Seattle. More than anything I would love to do a road trip on that one because there are so many amazing sights to see, but time will most likely not permit, not to mention my pet sitter (my mom) will have a cow if I am gone longer than expected so that trip will most likely be a flight. After that in July, I return to MSU to finish up my program and hopefully successfully defend my thesis.  Needless to say these trips will most likely be a killer on the pocket book so the only road trip I’m getting between now and then will be back and forth to the grocery store – if I’m lucky.

I haven’t submitted anything recently, because I haven’t focused on anything lately besides the stuff for my thesis. I know I need to – I will, just not today. If anyone knows of any great spots in TN (parks, campsites, retreats, etc.) that I could possibly make into a great writing spot please let me know. It has been a little over a year and I’m still “new” here when it comes to exploring.

Balancing Act

I’ve been meaning to blog sooner but I have been so busy lately trying to balance work and school. It is not easy. I’ve been asking my fellow MFA friends how they do it. It is doable they tell me, just extremely difficult.

The thing about writing when you are just starting out is you have to have some kind of job that pays the bills while you pursue your dream. I don’t know many people who expect to become rich by writing or who enter the field expecting to make a lot of money. Like me, they simply write because they love it. With that being said, there has to be a way to find a better balance between the two.

An amazing opportunity opened up for me to enter a new career field and learn a new skill and I accepted the challenge. As it turns out I have a knack for it so there is a possibility that this temporary part-time position that became temporary full-time could become a permanent full-time position, which would be great – I think.

Living out here in this barren employment wasteland I’d be a fool not to take it if offered, but what about my writing? How do I find time to do homework? Work on my book? Hear myself think long enough to be creative? How do I find a balance between the two? What’s the secret to having a job you truly enjoy and staying on the path which leads from aspiring writer to accomplished author?

The thing is, the job isn’t stressful – not really. It’s actually quite fun. It involves meeting new people on an almost daily basis and is in an air conditioned office – a big step up from “cashierdom.” For the most part the clients are nice, the office staff is extremely pleasant and my boss is a jewel.  It is a wonderful opportunity. So how do I make it all work? There was an article in either Poets & Writers or Writers Digest about this particular issue, but I didn’t have time to read it when I saw it. Now I’ll have to dig through my back issues and see if I can find it.

The whole reason I moved to Tennessee was to be closer to campus. An hour and forty minute drive from Jackson is a major improvement from the three-day drive from Houston I did during my first residency. I have a year of the program left and am getting closer to seeing my hard work turn into something positive. My thesis semester officially begins in January so I am trying to get everything ready for it now. Meanwhile, fall semester begins in two weeks. I will be taking my last literature class and working on our campus literary magazine.  Just thinking about it stirs a mix of excitement and apprehension, but I’m hoping it all turns out well. Here are the books we will cover in the literature course.

American Literature 1870-1920

I’ve been in Tennessee almost fourteen months, but it seems like much longer. I’ve met some really amazing people and even a few new friends. I still miss home though. The other day a fellow Texan was on his way to Tennessee and asked me if there was anything I wanted him to bring me from Texas.  The first thing that came to mind was Fry’s since we don’t have one here, but my daughter reminded me that I’ve been going on and on about Whataburger. She said the first thing I’ll probably do when we get back home is stop off at the nearest Whataburger – while we’re still in the moving van.  She’s right about that, so I guess I should have said bring me a Whataburger!

I’m not going to make any traveling plans, even though I would love to get home this year for the holidays since I couldn’t last year. It might be pushing it if I drive back to Texas in December when I’ll only have to be back in Kentucky in January. There is also work to consider which may be a more stable situation by then – who knows. AWP is going to be held in Seattle in March and I’d really like to attend that. I hope to be finished with the story collection (or whatever we’re calling it now)  that I’m working on by then, but that’s optimism speaking not set plans.

More than anything I’d still love a solitary or really small writer’s retreat. No workshops, no lectures, just amazing scenery, peace and quiet to allow the creative voices that live in my head to start communicating again, maybe some jabber here and there from a few fellow writers because they always make everything better, and a little wine because – do I even need to explain this one?

As always I will continue to take each day one adventure at a time. It truly has been a remarkable journey and I’m grateful for every opportunity – even the ones that didn’t go so well because it provides good learning experience and great starting points for stories I might someday write. I know this is only one chapter and there are many more to come.

Until next time.