Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Waiting for Comps Results

Last week I took my senior comprehensive exams. The Literature and Language department at UNCA believes that seniors need these tests to review everything they've learned. Along with writing a senior thesis and presenting that, seniors also take an exam that lasts around six hours. I just hope I passed.
My husband had been in the hospital for three days leading up to the test. I hadn't been studying very much until the last couple of days. I neglected my other work. Then I got really sick with the flu and a bronchial infection. I didn't realize how sick I was until I got home from the test. My temperature was 100 degrees.
Now I have to wait for the test results which is torture. I REALLY hope I passed!
I also got some exciting news: I was selected to present four of my poems at Virginia Military Institute's Fourth Annual Poetry Symposium. Brian Turner, an Iraq War Veteran poet, is the primary presenter. I read some of his work online and have one of his books waiting for me at the school library too.
I also got a hand-jotted rejection note from a literary magazine I respect and love. It was nice to actually get a note written by one of their editors.
I also am hoping to possibly collaborate on an exciting project with some paintings that I love by a wonderful artist whom I respect.
I hope to keep this blog better updated. Now that comps and my thesis are over I have more time to write. The comps are out of my hands for now; I have to try to let it go because there's nothing I can do for now.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

For My First Writing Teacher "L"

So much has transpired since my last post, but let's not hash out the details of all of that yet. For now I'll just say that my husband nearly died, I gave up on my perfectionism, working on my senior thesis has been hell, and I am taking a year off after I graduate on May 7, 2011.

This post is for my first writing teacher. She's called L, for now.

I'd dropped out of school at 15 and gotten married 5 years later. No one in my family had gone to college. My husband and I roamed over the whole country looking for something. In a car with a tent for 12,000 miles, in a rig with a bunk for 40,000. We wound up in Asheville, NC, thinking we'd found whatever it was we were lacking.

When we moved to Asheville, my husband was on the road for 6 weeks at a time, and I spent winter nights reading every single Lee Smith book. I scribbled a few journal entries and poems. I waited until I had residency and enrolled in communtity college.

I met her on my first day of college, over 5 years ago. She frightened me a little, everything about being a student frightened me.

I was lost in so many ways.

But here was this woman, my teacher, with her elegant designer suits and her delicate high heels. Style, class, and what's this? A tattoo? She told me emphatically that I was a writer.

I believed her because everything she said sounded authoritative to me. I hadn't written or read as avidly as I had when I was a child or a teenager. There were circumstances: being lost.

The semester after my writing teacher told me I was a writer, I took my first creative writing class with her.

She was inspiring, hilarious, outrageous, fabulous, and fragile.

I learned that one wrote with one's whole body and entire being. It was a physical, spiritual, playful, and most of all, a therapeutic act. I learned to quiet the voices in my head which attempted to drown out my ability to write.

She gave me, and so many others, opportunities to get up and read our work in front of an audience. I went from a shaking voice, and the immediate threat of vomiting, to being able to read in front of an audience with some semblance of calm. I learned to appreciate the pause just after reading, a pregnant silence where I felt heard for the first time ever.

Before I graduated I took another writing class with her. This led me to the decision to switch my major from Sociology to Literature/Creative Writing. I remember her advising me to stick with Lit or English and write as much as I could, whenever and wherever I could. I disobediently chose Creative Writing. Did I mention her wisdom?

When I went to walk the stage in May 2008, she was there to give me, and many others, a hug on the way up the stairs.

I have often thought of her wisdom, kindness, and generosity of spirit. She helped mold me into a student and a writer. I became someone willing to risk everything for my passion. After all of these years I have continued down the difficult path of being a writer, an experience I described in an analogy to my newest writing teacher as "A calling, a religion. My desk is my altar and the writers I admire are my gods."

Thank you L, you are counted among them, you are a literary goddess!

Much love to you!

From the bottom of my guts, because you taught me that's where the best writing comes from.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Rejection, Inspiration, & Confession

I write here not only to celebrate inspiration and acceptance, but to express my writing journey on all fronts, including the inevitable rejections. I was recently denied a scholarship that I applied for, but was happy to find out later that I received grants and loans for my senior year. I also didn't get the editorial internship I wanted, but this may be a blessing in disguise. I need to earn more money than the pittance paid by the internship. Nevertheless these rejections have dampened by spirits a little bit.
Mounting financial problems have made me question the pursuit of my master's degree. There are many programs I want to apply to which have full funding and a stipend, but I wonder how we could even manage to move if I could get into one of these programs. Many of them have upwards of 600 applicants, and they allow for only 6-10 slots! I will be happy enough to finish my bachelor's degree at this point! I am still working as if I am planning to get my master's. I will take the GRE in hopes that I can apply in the fall, but even if I can't then, I will eventually, and the scores are generally good for 5 years.
I have been obsessed with my undergraduate research project. I am simultaneously reading Anne Sexton's biography, letters, and complete works. I also have 10 or so books waiting for me at the library. I have already written 8 pages of poems in a fever of inspiration. These are all very closely mirroring her confessional style in content. I have imitated her techniques such as heavy use of simile, assonance, anaphora, and other types of repetition and rhyme. I have also used her shorter line length and written one very lengthy piece which is 1,000 words. These early poems will hopefully merge into a more personalized
21st century version of confessionalism.
Meanwhile I and others have questioned my total immersion into Sexton's life and works. Given my own demons, is it wise to delve so far into such a tormented soul's psyche? The waters are deep and murky. For now, I close my eyes and take that plunge.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Rainy Day Writing Plans

It is another rainy day here in Western North Carolina. The semester is over and summer is here. Time to prepare for my senior year, which among other things, is now going to include a creative undergraduate research project. R, my writing "guru," has agreed to assist me with my project and has shared my enthusiasm for it. I am going to attempt to get into the national conference for undergraduate research, and hope to graduate with the distinction of an undergraduate research scholar.
Okay, that stuff probably sounds incredibly dull to 101%of people reading this, now here's the exciting part: the research project will focus on Anne Sexton and the evolution of confessional poetry. I am studying her collected works, reading her biography, and her correspondence. I also have a slew of books and articles to sift through. My research process generally consists of collecting the material and poring over it for several weeks before selecting my sources. The paper will be roughly 8 single spaced pages and it will explore the roots of confessional poetry, Sexton's poetry, and what constitutes confessional poetry in the 21st century.
The project will also include a collection of original poems, written by me, which are influenced by my study of Sexton's work. I already have one and one half poems written in this vein. The second one is likely going to start off quite long like many of her pieces. It may need to be edited down though. I am hoping to begin working with my writer's group in the next couple of weeks to get feedback on these poems. We'll also be studying for fall exams.
I certainly have enough life challenges going on right now to make for some expressive autobiographical work. However, I am trying to put a 21st century spin on the tradition, not parrot it. This is going to be an interesting exercise I think, and a worthwhile pursuit. The project abstract is due in early November and the symposium is next spring, so I'll have a jump start on my research for sure!

Friday, May 7, 2010

Editorial Internship and Life

Friday I was interviewed for an editorial internship. I think that they wanted to offer me the internship, but it has to count toward my college credit hours. I am not sure if or how I can do this, but I have a few irons in the fire trying to get that aspect squared away. I really want this! It would be such a fantastic opportunity. I would be helping the assistant editor and other members of the team with editing and writing, and I'd be able to sit in on some meetings as well. If I do get the internship they may even want me to write a blog about it for their website!
While there has been some activity pushing me forward with my career path my personal life has been a bit turbulent. My husband has been in the hospital for the past four days. This is the second time he has been hospitalized during final's week, and the fourth time he has been hospitalized in the past three years due to a chronic illness. When he is in there it is hard for me to focus on anything else, but I managed to get through finals and an interview. Then I spent my days entertaining him. I'll admit, I worked on my letter to the publishing house which I have to submit to the parent company of the place where I am trying to get the internship. I also brainstormed a new idea for a poem: strange places we've slept (like the hospital). I obsessively tried to get their intermittent wireless to work so I could see if my professor had e-mailed me back about using the internship for credit hours. I am a workaholic. I am obsessive. Most of all I am determined.
I am happy to say the care he's received this go round was better than the care he's previously received here in town. I think that led to a quicker recovery, and a more "pleasant" stay in the hospital, relatively speaking. We may still be headed down to South Carolina for further tests and treatment though.
I am excited to be done with finals, and at the prospect of bringing my husband home today. I want to focus on home for a few days. It has been a sorely neglected part of my life while the semester was underway. I have to clean, care for my husband, sort through my books, and straighten out my life in preparation for a busy summer.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Manila Envelopes As Opportunities

I have been in a fever of submissions. I have been distracted by my 2008 edition of "Poet's Market" for the past three days. I have been scouring "The American Poetry Review" and the internet. So far I have one set of online submissions in, and two manila envelopes ready to mail out tomorrow.
It is so exciting to find all of these literary publications which are vital, bursting with creativity, and determined, against all odds, to keep print poetry alive! I want to be a part of that. I have sent off all of my strongest pieces for consideration, well, technically I have to put some in the mail yet. So now maybe I can focus on my end of semester responsibilities?
I find the whole process to be so much fun. Selecting the strongest work, putting it in an order which reveals my range, writing the cover letters and bios, and then the envelopes. I have always had a bizarre passion for office supplies. But these envelopes? They seem like opportunities. Even when rejections (inevitably) creep back in my SASE, it means someone out there has read my poetry and considered it. Sometimes an intern, or maybe even the editor of a publication. Perhaps they will even give feedback? The whole process thrills me! I can't wait for finals to be over so I can begin to work on some new poetry!

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Sacrificing for Art: A Fine Balance

"This most of all: ask yourself in the most silent hour of your night: must I write? Dig into yourself for a deep answer. And if this answer rings out in assent, if you meet this solemn question with a strong, simple "I must," then build your life in accordance with this necessity; your whole life, even into its humblest and most indifferent hour, must become a sign and witness to this impulse." ~Ranier Maria Rilke~ Letters to a Young Poet

My poetry teacher quoted from this passage during our final poetry writing workshop yesterday. It really struck a chord in me. He said that he knows plenty of poets who have miserable personal lives due to focusing solely on their craft, and also those who lead rich multifaceted lives built around writing. Sometimes I wonder which camp I belong to. On some levels I think I need to find more balance. I am willing to sacrifice almost anything to continue my education, largely to learn all I can about the craft of writing.
Would I really live in a cardboard box, as I told my husband earlier in the week, to pursue my art? I would never want to give up my marriage for my art. That is one thing that is too sacred for me to compromise. He is so supportive that it has never hampered our relationship that I'm aware of. He is my ideal reader, and my best editor. It is amazing how much he has learned about poetry and what his feedback has done for my work. He is like a Muse to me. So in that area of my life, I have a solid foundation for my art, not to mention my sanity, in a supportive partner. He goes above and beyond support into helping hone my art. He lets me read draft after draft aloud to him, which is an important part of my process. He tells me when something is unclear, sentimental, or far fetched. He brings me food when I have been in a creative whirlwind and haven't stopped to fix anything. He puts up with dust gathering on the bookshelves because I have been too immersed to stop and do my share of the cleaning. Sometimes he even knocks the dust off of the shelves himself. He is a wonderfully intelligent, caring, and patient man.
However, my social life is another story. My social life has taken a hit. This deficit isn't helped by my social awkwardness, but I rarely pry myself away from my work to go out or socialize. I keep up with people on FaceBook, the occasional meal, or a phone call. But how often do I go out and do things? Not very often. Part of this stems from my drive to create, and to do my schoolwork well so that I can pursue competitive MFA programs. Part of it has its source in my lack of funds. Going to school full time limits my availability to work, so I only work part time.
My financial life has also taken a hit. But I refuse to "take a year off" i.e. drop out of college. I have one year left, and I will finish and go on to graduate school. Come hell or high water. Some people don't recognize my focus or determination, or seem to realize that I have been working towards this goal for almost 5 years. I was the first person in my family (on my mother's side) and the first person in my immediate family to get a college degree when I got my AA (which is only useful if you continue on and get your BA). It is remarkable when you consider that up until that point I had a ninth grade education and a tumultuous past. Some people fail to respect the hard work I have done, and what it means to me to finish what I started and pursue an even higher level of education.
I suppose that therein lies the alienation from some people which daily grows the longer I view myself as an artist, a poet. I am willing to sacrifice. I don't need support, or the support that I do need I receive from my fabulous husband. Even if he had a complete turn around and was no longer supportive I would simply carry on with my work. It is work. So many people act as if education and art are the slack and easy ways to avoid working. Being an artist is not easy, writing poetry is hard. IT is work. It IS work. It is WORK.
I love my work. It isn't much different from building a house, besides its lack of physical exertion.
This leads me to my third area of imbalance. My physical health is not so great. I lead a very sedentary life. I need to go on long walks in nature, or even on a treadmill. Some exercise, fresh air, and eating well could help me lose weight, think better, and have better health all around. In some ways this would serve my craft because I would have less stress and more solitude to rest my brain.
In the dark of night, when I ask myself if I have to write in order to survive, my answer is "Yes, I must." There have been stretches of time when I did not write, and I didn't truly feel alive. Yes, I have built the structure of my life to suit this need. I have a drive to push myself rigorously through the educational system as a part of my process. There are some things I need to work on: going out and doing stuff, working more, taking better care of my health which, sadly, hasn't been enough of a priority, dusting my bookshelves, and taking the time to tend to mundane tasks as well.
I don't want to lead a miserable personal life for the sake of art. In fact, that could lead to some pretty bad poetry. I want to strike a balance, and I think I know what I am willing to sacrifice and what I am not willing to sacrifice; the areas where I need to care for myself and others, and the pieces of solitude necessary for my craft. I am going to pursue a balance of these things over the summer. A mix of everyday work (for $), play, self care, and then the real work that I do; the process which drives the blood through my veins: writing.