Posts Tagged ‘MFA’

Help me figure out what to write next!

August 4, 2010

Where do I begin? I am lost. I have about 17 unfinished projects on my desktop and no inclination as to where to begin or what to tackle next. This is what I’ve got….

  • A story about a husband who loses his job due to the recession and so he takes another  job as a singing banana telegram. But things go awry and he refuses to take off his costume to the point where it starts to jeopardize his marriage. (fiction)
  • A story about a woman who goes nuts trying to have a baby (this is in editing stage) Fertility (fiction)
  • Boob Girl (personal essay): about breasts and identity
  • Boob Job (personal essay): breasts and how they have shaped a life
  • Joe Boxer (personal essay): this may be finished, may not…about a pair of stray underwear I found in the laundry one day
  • Bits and Pieces of a Marriage (fiction): a collection of one page flash fiction pieces that create a larger work about the end of a marriage but the beginning of a woman
  • Oacoma (fiction): about a woman and her son
  • Greenland (fiction/personal essay/creative non-fiction): travels, tales of bartending on the ice cap
  • B, the story of a 17-year-old who loses her virginity (fiction)
  • Twelve (a story of the meaning of the number 12)
  • Where Refrigerators go to die: about a Brazilian cleaning lady obsessed with labels.
  • How Ed did it: personal essay about growing up with a con man as a father
  • Mary Jane: a story about my father’s love slave
  • Money: personal essay about growing up with a con man as a father
  • The Love Addict (fiction) (could be combined with “B” (see above)
  • Untitled 1 (A road trip about a retired couple who decide to separate or stay together) (fiction)

And on and on….none of these are even remotely finished. HELP! WHat sounds remotely interesting. I need someone to tell me what to do!

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I want my name back

June 25, 2010

I can share. Especially when it comes to my last name. In high school I sat next to a girl named Kristie Shields and though we had nothing in common (She was a hood, I was a punk. She had crackly, over-dyed reddish hair and crooked teeth; I had poofy 80’s hair; I’d just gotten my braces off ), I still thought it was kind of fun that we had identical last names. Same with Brooke Shields. She was a big star when I was a kid and it was a regular omission of mine to admit we were not related. In fact, my cousin played a similar trick on me of the variety that I’d play on others. He said he sat next to Brooke Shields while taking the entrance exam to Princeton as they were the same age, going into college the same year. Y’know, we sat alphabetically? I believed him. And to this day, I still don’t know if it really happened.

Really, reality, sharing last names: I had the privilege to meet David Shields, author of Reality Hunger, at Thursday’s Writers Conference. L picked him up at the train station and he slept the whole way over, and so our hopes seemed dashed that he’d make a decent presentation of himself during his creative non-fiction workshop. Since this conference started, we students huddle expectantly at the door of the classroom, amazingly high on hopes of being dazzled, blown away, awed, stupefied. We want our money’s worth. We want to be changed, altered, refined, refashioned. We want what the Buddhists want—we want to be in the presence of someone’s supernatural insight that might lead us to a Noble Truth. And when you have one bad experience like we did with Apple, [possibly more about this in a second draft] you start doubting the powers that be. You start doubting the possibility that you have enough money to buy something like that. That maybe, your needs are too wide and too vast to put a price tag on, and that you’re probably not going to get thrown that glimpse of nirvana.

But it does come. It appears in one-liners that we scrawl like maniacs into our notebooks, that read badly after the fact, because in the moment, in the context, it makes perfect sense. “Monotony can be insightful” (Stephen Dunn); “What could be sadder than a clown without a context” (Stephen Dunn); “The essay is….untrammeled access to a person’s conscience” (David Shields); “An essay is not always an exercise in ego…The self has to jump the tracks out of the self…and become bigger than the self. Complacent, self-assured people don’t make good essayist” (David Shields); “The job of an essayist is to have doubt” (David Shields); “You strike me as someone who has a compost heap” (Alexis Apfelbaum).

In the lobby of the library, when L brought him in she introduced him as David Shields, and I said, not so clumsily, but I could have done better, Yes, yes, I’ve been coming across your work all month: Tin House, Creative Non-Fiction, blah, blah, blah. And of course, I mentioned his name and mine. My name is also Shields, I said, almost with a wink like, you and me, we have a connection (I didn’t say that last bit, I thought it). But he turned, sleepily, possibly still trying to wake up from his nap from 30th Street Station, and said, “That’s not my name.”

Not your name? Forgive me for thinking that. But it’s on all your books.

[Insert here story of my name, then go on to discuss fiction and my relationship to it; ramble on about PBQ and “Reality Fiction” and my nearly 20-year belief that the I—the first person is the vehicle for all stories told. Eventually get back to DS and why Shields isn’t his name].

The story is so much more than this awkward moment of me feeling a little irked that someone would take my name and use it– on his books, no less– when clearly he has his own. He’s damn right to suggest that we are hungry for reality when so much of the world and the people in it are phony. Not to say that he… Well, the story isn’t about the vehicle so much as the message. It tells how I go from incensed to exultant in the span of a couple hours.

And it tells that his class presentation, after all, was replete with all the tingly insights and truths I had hoped for. It tells of the moment when I was changed too; when he addressed the audience during his reading, and quoted Kafka’s belief that fiction “should serve as the ax for the frozen sea within us” and then INVALIDATED it by reminding us that there is far too much fiction in the world today and what we desperately seek is REALITY. The story goes on to say how my eyes welled up (that’s what happens when you believe in someone’s argument and have a connection to someone, in spite of their name). And a little moment of Cha-ching pleasantly fell upon me. I got my money’s worth. I had my religious experience. And I decided, then and there, I was switching to non-fiction.

But I’ve run out of time and can’t tell that story right now. I’ll have to log back in to tell it. But Shakespeare was right. “What’s in a name?” I’ll get over David Shields’ appropriation of Shields, but I’ve joined his movement. I’m a fan. Reality Hunger is one of the best books of 2010. I might even be inspired to change my name.

On reading…well

June 11, 2010

I’ve started reading grad stories/submissions for the Writers Conference and praise be ta Jesus, I found two really good, inspiring  short stories in the batch. I’d rather not post names, lest I offend anyone, but i will say that both submissions had a very strong voice, I was able to visualize their characters and the story lines were both simple and direct. There are probably only three, maybe four students whose work inspires me. I find that number shockingly low for a grad program. But then again, that is based on personal taste. I’m sure there are other writers in the program whose work is admired by a group of their peers.

At any rate, I’m relatively pleased with my submission (Fertility) although my biggest fear is that the main character “Elaine” is not clear enough and the story line is not smooth enough. Is there enough build up from the point she becomes annoyed with this woman and her bag to the point where she plans to attack her? Is it believable? Is her personality consistent? Do I ramble too much?

What I really liked about these pieces I read last night was their consistency and creative twist- where their story lines went. I often feel my topics are not creative enough, my vocabulary or the way I put words together is not strong enough, and that I lose my way in a piece. It’s very hard for me to maintain the same voice throughout a piece, especially when i go back and edit and interject new stuff.

But Lauren Grodstein said something very important last semester: If you’re not writing well, you’re not reading the right stuff. And it’s so true. I feel as though I have not found anyone since Annie Dillard that inspires my own voice. The trouble is making time. My list of responsibilities is long: take care of kids, earn my paycheck, manage household, train for triathlon, read grad submissions, write my own stuff, revise, plan trip to Spain, spend time with D, time with family, friends, and so on. Corners have to be cut. For now, it’s reading good stuff- if and when I find it. Until then, I will continue shuffling through graduate work in hopes of finding a gem.

Slush

June 8, 2010

One of the projects that came out of my first year of grad school was participating in the design of the MFA’s print anthology, “Slush,” for which I designed the cover.  I wanted to share the cover artwork with you and give credit to a great artist who donated his work for free. I meant to blog about him back in April, but…

Anyway, Michael Tino is an artist and designer out of San Fransisco and Las Vegas. And below is the artwork he so graciously donated. I strongly suggest googling him or visiting his website.

"settle"

The magazine itself has work by Leslie Rapperlie, Malik Abdul-Jabbaar, Barry Graham of Dogzplot, Alexis Apfelbaum, Jonathan Deane, Matthew Charles, Daniel Wallace and more.

Oacoma

September 20, 2009

Upland Sorrow by StateSealKeeper

You are listening to Weird by Clem Snide, driving through Indianapolis. The sun keeps playing tricks on you and the landscape changes like a slow twirling kaleidoscope, reconfiguring the horizon with sparkly newness the farther west you drive. Indiana sinks behind you, back into itself- into its own drabness, and you’re glad to be rid of all 275 miles. You think about how everything forward comes from nothing. The Chicago beltway; the strip malls of Madison, Wisconsin; Winona, Blue Earth, Luverne.

You are driving and driving, through Minnesota, then into South Dakota, a few bumps, but mostly flat land, miles of green field. Just like when you and Angel took this same road. Out of the blue, right here,  the landscape changes. You hit this drop off I-90 and the earth falls away like nothing- it’s right around Oacoma—and you’re left, undone, every time, holding onto the steering wheel for dear life, blown away by the unexpected sweep of a view that’s right there in front of you. You can’t miss it. And so you make your way down and pitch toward the bottom of the hill, and there it is. The river you’ve been waiting for. The spot where you recognize just how much you’ve missed.

You get out of the car and you’re standing at the edge. And you’re looking for god on the hills. In the clouds. Not really ready. Hoping something out there will save you. That this is the spot where you’re going to let it go. Because all you’ve got are these weird, bulbous pea green yellow bluffs and hills that make no sense.  Even the air out by Oacoma is different. And you remember being at this same spot, that’s why you’re here, but not with such exactitude, because you weren’t paying attention the last time. You don’t remember the river being here seven years ago and you certainly don’t remember the bridge. You flew by it and never noticed.

Yes, you flew by it and never noticed because you were listening to the radio and that’s when Angel must have said, “Look, Mom, a river,” and so you did, but not really. And you just said, yes, yes, yes, baby. I see. But you didn’t see anything. You were listening to some song a hundred times, thinking about wanting to smoke cigarettes again and if you would get laid in LA once you got there and other meaningless thoughts that drivers driving long distances think when they’re alone.

But you weren’t alone.

Your son had memorized that spot and even when it was gone, he remembered it and told you about it many times, long after it was gone. He would shout it at you, “Mom! Are you listening?” Yes, yes, yes, baby. I’m listening. But you weren’t listening.  You were wrapped up in following your dream to be a poet, you were pinning postcards to your cork board, you were busy chatting online to Paolo from Argentina. You were waiting for Angel to take his nap.

A few days ago you weren’t driving at all. You were sitting. You were standing too. And pacing. You were in the waiting room of Virtua Hospital, waiting to be told if your son would live or die. You were there, but not really there. And you said fuck about a million times into the wide open gray space because you thought you knew the answer. And when the doctors pushed through the double-doors you even thought you knew what they were going to say. They were going to say I’m sorry, Mrs. Monroe, there was nothing we could do. And so you braced yourself, helpless. And you waited. And you asked only one question, of no one in particular, or maybe god: Do I get a second chance? As if confronting god with your mistakes would help you win some points. But there you rested for a while, arms wrapped around yourself, caught between the empty space of questions and answers.

You took Angel out west to celebrate your new life. You were finally free. You left your son’s daddy.  And there was this inner-calling to finally know space and distance and movement. And you didn’t want to stop. The farther you went the safer you became inside. Safe from ugly, bad, miserable, lazy, painful muck. You were safe from nights of hiding under bed covers, only to be forced awake. You were safe from burning up with hate each time he slapped a bill, a plate, a child’s toy on top of the counter and said, “Here, you deal with this.” You were safe from the man you wish you never knew and so was your son and so you kept moving. “We’re like Lewis and Clark,” you said, and you tried to sell him on the adventure. You packed up the car with suitcases and plastic bags of gummy worms and gameboys and music, and you drove. And you sang and got cranky and you made a million pee stops, and sometimes you both slept in the same bed because the hotel only had a King. But you loved the warmth of each others’ skin after twelve hours buckled safely into a seat.

When you finally hit Moab, it was then Angel said, “I want to go home.”

And he was right. You’d gone too far. The landscape was like a soul, pulling you in, once you reached the canyons. The deeper you went, the less you knew of yourself.  And that’s what you wanted. You wanted to not know and you thought the desert would do it. Near Moab, the land gives you this second chance. You see these hills and valleys of empty, orange rocks. You see negative space in the blue sky, and in the horizon you see Windows and Towers and the Devil’s Garden. And you can’t help but feel the tug and lure of something you don’t really understand.

But you promised Angel you’d turn around, and so you did. And you said goodbye to the promise of California and red rocks and getting laid and being reborn and all that crap. And you kind of  found yourself too. But you didn’t realize it then. And besides, you did it in an ordinary, unremarkable way, the way most mothers do—in their daily sacrifices to their child, in the mundane, in the hours spent making lunches, cleaning clothes, tying shoes. This going West thing that you thought would change you– didn’t. And so you and Angel went back to New Jersey and back to the man you wish you never knew.

But a few days ago you weren’t making any sacrifices like you did back then—or at least you didn’t think you were. You were pacing and worn and praying while an officer told you that your son had been in a car accident. His seventeen-year-old lungs had been crushed by the dashboard, doing the best they could, expanding and contracting surreptitiously under the cracked ribs of his strong, youthful chest. You had your flash: you yelled at him that morning to take out the trash. But it was more than that. He wouldn’t get off the computer. You were angry about that too. At times, you had to dig deep into his character to find something you loved, and you hated yourself for that. You wanted to remember the parts of him that you loved when he was little. The little guy who craved the open road or playing with legos or smiling up at you while you wiped jelly off his face. Just hours before you had had it with him, actually.  Fucking teenagers, you said.  And regretfully, you told him so. You didn’t normally do that. But you were fed up. And sometimes, it happens. You forget the boy when you start to see the man. You told him, I’m sick of this shit. What about me? Are you going to be twenty and still expect me to clean up after you? Look at your room? It’s disgusting. Clean it, for Christ’s sake. And he kind of laughed at you under his breath. His usual. You saw him do it, and by this point, you knew to pick your battles. You should have picked your battle. But, instead, you turned to him and said the only thing a mother can say to a son she thinks will have a lifetime to forgive her: it’s your fault I’m still here, you said.

And that was your mistake.

You saw his mannish posture wilt. His face lost its playfulness. You fumbled under his gaze the same way you did with his father. You hated that feeling. It made you feel less of a person. It made you doubt yourself.  So, you tried to dissipate the wave of emotions that would have ensued, the only way you knew how.

You sent him to the store for bread.

But, when the doctors came in, pushing their way through the double-doors, you were  staring the truth right between the eyes and you thought  you were right. But hoping against all hope that you were wrong because you’ve never loved anything more than that boy. You thought they’d say, I’m sorry, Mrs. Monroe, there was nothing we could do. Becasue it would have been a punishment. And by all accounts, you should have been punished.  The world works that way. In the movies at least. The kid runs out the door after a fight with his mom and gets killed, and she lives with the guilt the rest of her life.

Isn’t that the way of life?

But you were wrong. He would make it.  And as the doctors lead you to his bedside,  you wrap the boy in your arms.   You think, foolishly, that everything will be OK. But  he’s no longer a boy. It’s a man, not a boy who will force a lifetime of amending upon you.

So, you’re standing at this river in Oacoma, South Dakota. The Lakota name for the “space between.” Just you and your thoughts and you remember the day you took your son out here.  You’re looking over a bluff with a seventy-foot drop. The source, the sink. Yes, yes, yes, you see it now—the railroad bridge, throwing shadows over the big Missouri, pulling at you, gratuitously, to see it for the first time. Like the only route off a battlefield that’s burning to the ground. It speaks and says, here’s your ticket forward. And it’s at that moment you ask a question. This time you ask it of God. Am I forgiven? But there’s a quiet in the west Easterners do not know. There’s an expanse of land so wide, questions go unanswered. Besides, you know the answer. You know that the only god out there who’s listening is the one who can’t save you from yourself.

Just nod your head for “yes!”

July 14, 2009

But then when he had got settled at the hotel, and they had started their little pattern of cafe life at the Eckmühl-Noiseux, there had been nothing to write about- he could not establish a connection in his mind between the absurd trivialities which filled the day and the serious business of putting words to paper. – The Sheltering Sky

I am at a point of stunted growth, or shall I say, blankness. I have no mind right now for words and meanings and conceptual thinking. And it will take grad school to bring it all back to me. I was talking to A last night, who I’ve known since PBQ, circa 2002. She’s just finishing up the MA program, while I am heading into the MFA. She was telling me, “your soul will just explode with creativity and energy for life once you begin your classes.” I am so hoping this is true. Lately, to which I’m sure this blog attests, I have been uninspired. The only thing on my mind is love and making love and sex and D and keeping my kids busy and happy and grateful this summer. And though all that is GREAT, I really can’t wait to begin caring for my mental state. I can only handle “suburban housewife” trance for a few years at a time before going nuts.