Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Residency #4: Here I Come

Less than 19 hours until I leave for my fourth residency.

Fourth. How did that happen?? How have I already completed three entire semesters?

I thought I would get better at this. The first time - ya know - I didn't know anything. And I'd broken my foot and gotten the flu and hosted Christmas for 14 people. So of course I was running like a crazy person (only metaphorically running, not running, literally, because of the foot thing).

I feel like an old geezer, walking around with a cane and my wobbly old voice saying, "I remember when I was just a young whipper snapper getting ready for my first residency, having no idea what to expect and scared and excited and wondering what I'd gotten myself into." (This is much better if you actually hear this in your head with an old, high, wobbly voice.)

And now. Now.

I am STILL frantically trying to figure out what clothes to bring on the day before the flight leaves. I still have nothing in my closet but black. Black! Like I'm some emo artist with goth eye liner. How did this happen?  Oh yeah.. black is slimming. That's why...

I am STILL thinking I can spend ten hours and completely overhaul  my house, finish laundry, pack suitcase and backpack, fill the fridge with food for those left behind, write a list of the kids' schedules and the dog's eating habits, vacuum out the car...

have I forgotten anything?


Oh yeah. Homework. I still haven't finished critiquing my worksheets for this residency, which is scandalous because I always finish those WAY early and then have time to go over and over them. And this time I'm hoping somehow I can get them done and printed before I even leave, but that's not looking likely.

And I didn't finish my newest short story. Or the book I was reading.

It will all work out. At least that's what my husband says. I suppose it will. Funny how, two years later, I am still struggling with the same pre-residency issues: letting go. If I end up learning anything in grad school it's this: I cannot do it all.

I'll try to keep this blog somewhat updated with my goings-on there. No promises, of course, but I'll try.

What I'm looking forward to:

  • FRIENDS!!! These are people I only see twice a year, and they are like family to me. I cannot wait to see them, hang out with them, room with them, get coffee in the morning and wine at night with them. There will probably be screaming in the airport. I'm not embarrassed about that.
  • Laughing.  I've never laughed so much in my life as I laugh at residency. Hoping that trend continues.
  • Craft Talks: Cramming my head with an insane amount of knowledge that it will take years to synthesize and incorporate it all. And all the laughing that happens in them, too.
  • Vineyards: There is a night at the winery again. Wine, food, author readings... does a night get any better than that??
  • Karaoke: Okay, if a night could get better than the winery, the karaoke night is it. There are plans under way that may or may not include me singing. It also may or may not be Bohemian Rhapsody. It may or may not be epic. I'm thinking yes.
  • Ten days of not cooking and cleaning. Shallow, I know, but that alone makes it like a vacation.

So blogging buddies, I'm off. See ya on the flip side!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Even Going Backwards Is Sometimes Going Forwards

Patti Nielson posted a great blog post this week about writing - and how her brain feels like it's going to burst trying to incorporate everything she's learning, and learning so much at one time she wonders how she can implement it all. I know the feeling.

Honestly, sometimes I think writing was easier when I didn't know anything. It feels like the more I learn, the harder it is to sit and write because my head is full of all this stuff I need to remember to do, and I can never remember to do it all. At least not at the same time. Or in the same story.

I focus on getting rid of backstory, and my tension goes downhill.

I get tension higher, and my characters fall flat.

I grab hold of my characters, and suddenly there's no real plot.

My advisor last semester is a great swimmer and has coached swim teams before. When I wrote him that I was frustrated that I kept forgetting stuff - that as I mastered one skill I seemed to be dropping all the other skills I'd learned - he wrote this, and I thought it was brilliant enough to pass along to you:

It’s a lot like when I coached swimming.  You’d have these pretty decent swimmers, who’ve been practicing for years, and you’d have to tweak their stroke.  So, suddenly they’re concentrating on the pull of their right arm.  And they’d just fall apart.  Forget to kick, forget they have a arm, hell, forget to breathe.  Then they’d get the right arm thing and the rest would start to come back. 


That is where I am so often... concentrating on getting one aspect down, and forgetting the other things I either am still learning or even those I've previously mastered. So suddenly I look like I have no idea at all how to write a story. 

But the more I learn and practice, the more I can incorporate this new learning into something that comes more naturally, and eventually the old skills kick back in.

I've come to have more peace about this process. Maybe because I'm now practicing on short stories, which allows me room to goof up more without completely wrecking an entire book.

But when I feel like I'm losing it - losing any thing that made me a decent writer to begin with - I go back and look at the stories I wrote before - a year ago, three years ago - heck, even six months ago. And am I better? Heck yeah. I almost cringe at my old writing.

So even though I'm stumbling sometimes through this learning process, I have to remind myself that I am still going forward, and when one aspect of my writing starts to slip, it's probably because I'm learning something else. And when I get that one new thing, the other things will come back, and I'll be that much better.

At least, I'm holding out hope it will all come together again.

On the other hand, I also hope I don't stop learning. :)

Tuesday, June 5, 2012


I love that word. It's so... jubilant. It's hard to even say it without smiling.

With Queen Elizabeth's Diamond Jubilee celebration going on in England, the word has been floating around much more than normal these days. In its simplest form, Jubilee just means a joyful anniversary.

The first time I ever heard the word, though, was on a Michael Card song many, many years ago. And to this day, that Jubilee is the one that sticks in my head. Lately, especially, the true meaning of it is swimming in my head.

I'm no historian or theological expert, but this is what I understand about Jubilee:

When God created the world, he ordained that six days would be for work, and the seventh would be for rest.

When the nation of Israel was formed, God ordained that six years would be for work - sowing and harvesting - and on the seventh, the people and the land would rest. No farming, no working in the fields. He was asking His people to have faith in Him, to trust that He would provide for them. During that time, debts were forgiven. It was a time for everyone to start fresh.

Taking this pattern of sevens, the 49th year would be a sabbath year, but the 50th year would be a Jubilee. Not only would there be still no sowing and harvesting and debts would be forgiven, slaves would be set free, and the land ownership would go back to God.

Radical, eh? I imagine for those who had much, it was hard to let go, and for those who had little, it was a year of great celebration - and maybe a bit of fear. Starting over, even if in a good way, is sometimes hard. Trusting God to provide is not something that comes easily.

Yesterday I finished a book titled The Harbinger. I have mixed feelings about the book itself - the way it's written and the implications of it - but it is definitely thought provoking. In it, the idea is put forth that America is suffering judgement for not following God, and has, in essence, had a "forced" jubilee - the fall of Lehman Brothers and the collapse of the economy.

I think one reason the idea of a Biblical Jubilee has been playing in my head is because taking a "Sabbath," or time off, is something I fight against. It's something Americans in general fight against. This country was built on "work harder." Many businesses operate 7 days a week, 24 hours a day. Many people work far more than 40 hours a week.

My graduate program, unlike traditional colleges, runs year round. There is no long summer or winter break. But there are a few weeks between the end of one semester and the beginning of the next, and traditionally in that time I've taken time to let go of reading and writing and just focus on the family and holidays and the things I neglect when I'm buried in school work.

But this spring I've increased my work, and my expectations of myself. Rather than taking time off, I've put more pressure on myself to complete more work. To restructure my novel and rewrite the first half of it, to revise all of the short stories from last semester, to write a new short story, and to get a good jump start on my reading for next semester so I'll have more time to write in the summer. My mind is working on the next story even when I'm not at the computer - on weekends, at the pool, in church, out to dinner with the family.

Write more; sleep less. My motto of last semester continues.

And I'm worn out.

My creativity is dry. My brain is like the Sahara.

You know what fascinates me? As hard as it is to leave the ground fallow for an entire year, it's good for the ground, and in the long run, good for the farmer. It's not just the farmer that needs the time off - it's the ground itself. It needs time for the minerals to be replaced, so it can in turn feed its crops better.

Are our brains like that, too?

I resist this idea with everything in me. The idea of stopping for a time, letting ideas rest - and not just some ideas, but the whole of trying to create - is abhorrent to me. Like I'm being lazy, or not working up to my potential. Or that while I'm "resting," some harder working writer is going to pass me.

I sympathize with the Israelites, who stopped doing their Jubilee and pressed on in an effort to build a stronger, richer nation. I'm sure there was a great part of them - like me - that justified that hard work as something noble and honorable.

In the end, though, it's really a reliance on myself and not trusting that God will provide. That the accumulation of pages and books is not the ultimate goal of my life.

I'd like to say I've conquered this struggle, and I'm officially off writing for the next week, and I'm happy and jubilant. But I'm not. I will probably close this blogging window and open my Word document and keep pushing on. Or maybe I'll walk the dog first, and listen to music instead of plotting. Little steps, right?