Friday, July 13, 2012

It's Friday: You're Good At Things!!

During workshop last residency, one of my workshop leaders handed out an article about this book. Yesterday, while going through my critiques during my revising I found the article and read it again. And laughed.

I shared it with my friend, who right there on the spot went to Amazon on her ipad and bought it.

Then I thought, "I want this book. Why haven't I bought it? And so right there, I went to Amazon and bought it, too.

Then we had such a great time talking about it, I put it on my facebook page, and three more people almost immediately said they bought it. In the span of three hours, the Amazon ranking of this book went from 500,000 to 28,000.

Social media win!!

So what is this book? It's exactly what Andy Selsberg's title says it is: a checklist of things you are good at.

This is the description:

You may be suffering from unrecognized awesomeness!

* You have the uncanny ability to always notice when someone has gotten a new haircut.
* You can make the last half-ounce of toothpaste last for a month.
* You're a genius at getting stores to let you in even though it's closing time.
* You're a wizard at resisting the urge to eat all the cheese right after grating it.
This book is a celebration of all your secret skills and unheralded abilities. It calls attention to the way you're able to give your kids names that will never appear on key chains at gift shops, and cheers your talent for wrapping presents using very little tape. In your own way, you're a master, and the world should know it. Because let's face it: YOU ARE GOOD AT THINGS!

I love this idea. The idea of looking at what we are good at in life. Not the big things. Not like singing Opera or taking gallery-worthy photos or raising great kids. Simple things. Uncelebrated things. Like walking through a bra section of a store non-chalantly while your ten-year-old son says, "What is THAT thing??"

So this is what I think we should do today, my dear blogging friends. We should think about what we are good at. I'll start.
  • I'm good at staying between the lines when I drive.
  • I'm fantastic at getting my kids a Kleenex before the snot reaches their upper lip.
  • I'm good at not swearing.
  • I'm great at whipping up dinner at 7:00 when at 6:50 I had no idea what we were going to eat.
  • I'm good at leaving laundry in the dryer for a week at a time, and then getting the wrinkles out by tossing in a wet towel and drying another 10 minutes when I need something to wear.
  • I'm good at wasting an hour on facebook.
  • I'm good at writing a first line of a story, then erasing it, then writing another, and erasing that one. I can do this for days.
  • I'm good at ignoring voice mail.
  • I'm good at keeping the fridge fairly mold-free.
  • I'm good at listening to music.
  • I'm great at listening to a kid's CD over and over and over, for months on end, without strangling anyone.
  • I'm good at tucking my kids in.
And You? You dear readers are good at:
  • loading your own dishwasher the right way.
  • honking when drivers in front of you are not driving correctly.
  • noticing the weather.
  • being sarcastic.
  • being friendly to cashiers.
  • filling in the quiet spaces with the voices in your head.
  • drinking out of a glass without spilling much on yourself.
  • finding good books, reading them, and passing them on.
  • wearing headphones.
So that is my list. I'd love if you added your own in the comments. What are YOU good at?
And if you are so inclined to continue the social win experiment, buy this book. Or post it on facebook and twitter. Give it to a friend who needs to be told they are good at things. I don't know the author or have any stake in this, but it's fun. :)

Have a happy weekend!! Go be fabulous!

Monday, July 9, 2012

MFA Monday: I'm Back and My Head Didn't Explode!

My fourth residency is over, and I didn't blog a single day. I don't know why every time I go, I think I'll find the time. Time is something there is not a lot of at residency!

I admit my third residency back in January was a bit rough. I can't explain why, and it wasn't that I didn't learn a lot, or have great time with friends. It hardly rained at all - a miracle for Seaside! We even had a bonfire on the beach! But it was hard. Made me rethink writing, and my abilities, and the decision to shell out money for a degree I might not be very good at.

Last semester, though, I buried my head and worked my tail off. Harder than I've ever worked before on writing. Not just longer hours, although that too, but I worked harder to get it right. To learn and absorb more about writing, to implement it, to craft a story well and then hone it. Characters, setting, pacing, dialogue, abstracts, tension, conflict, revision, word choice, ideas... I tried to take it all on. Not all with success, but I can say I've never grown more, faster. Painful, but worth it.

(If I could draw what my brain felt like in May, it would look like this. Only less blue. And I wouldn't have the mischievous smile on my face.)

BUT: I didn't end my semester feeling great about everything. I produced a lot of less-than-stellar short stories. I made the mistake of working to please my advisor, of secretly harboring hopes that he would send my work back with the MFA equivalent of an A++ and say I'd managed to master it all. This, even as I knew I'd picked him specifically because I didn't want that, because he is tough and demanding, because I wanted to grow more than I wanted my ego massaged. There were a few weeks I felt like giving it all up - that I'd never make it.

But I came out of that hole in time for residency #4, mainly because my friends there ramped up the excitement shortly before we went, and in the end, I'm really just a hopeless optimist.

And this time around, it was amazing again.

I got more out of the classes. I made time to get coffee every morning and sit in the library and write some. I wrote every day. This is the first residency I've ever done that, and I loved it.

(This is the library at Pacific. Isn't it amazing?? I sat by that big window, behind the stained glass, in big comfy chairs with my feet propped up on coffee tables. I wrote 30 - 60 minutes a day here.)

I was sitting in classes three to four hours a day, in workshop an hour and a half, in faculty readings about an hour and a half, and graduate presentations about an hour a day. 

I roomed with some of my favorite writers in the whole world. (Aren't they beautiful? Every time I think about not seeing these people every six months I cry.)

We had a little apartment and stayed up late drinking wine and diagramming sentences and talking about commas and watching My Drunk Kitchen. Only writers could dub this a perfect night.

We did our share of socializing, too. We weren't entirely geekish. We went out to parties in the dorms next door and talked about commas with whole rooms crammed with drinking people. Because, while on the whole there are a lot of near-alcoholic writers, they all STILL care about commas.

We went to wineries...

...where there was a nearly unlimited amount of wine and blackberries.

And other stuff. But who cared about anything except the blackberries? Not me!

We toasted. A lot.

We ate and drank and laughed and talked. A lot.

We listened to Ann Hood read a piece she'd written in honor of her daughter who died, and we all cried. We listened to Craig Lesley read from his memoir Burning Fences and we all laughed so hard we cried.

We left. Our work here was done.

(Wait! Is that a blackberry on the table?? Someone should eat that!)

I went out to eat at a bunch of great places I don't have pictures of. :(

The first day I went to a place called "1500 Subs" and they only had 15 subs. What a rip off!! (Okay - it actually was a good sub sandwich, and I laughed so hard with Katie while eating it, I didn't care how many were on the menu. Also, I got massive blisters walking there in sandals and spent the rest of the night walking the campus barefoot.)

I also ate Tai food (with one of my past advisors), Middle Eastern food (a special going away dinner with my roomies), Pub food (to celebrate/cry over graduation with my graduating friends), and pizza at my favorite joint - Pizza Schmizza - with two of my favorite newer friends.

(Some of my favorite graduates. Don't get me started. I'm crying just thinking that they won't be back.)

(And some of my favorite "sophomores" and Pizza Schmizza fanatics. Stolen from my friend Katie, because her picture was better than mine.)

I had a fantastic workshop group, with the best leaders and best readers, and I walked away feeling like I actually could write - and knowing how to do it better. I wish I'd taken a picture of that group of people. It was my last workshop ever at Pacific, and it was a heck of a way to go out.

There was EPIC karaoke, in which we stayed up WAY WAY WAY too late and sang a lot and had a blast. 

There was, like always, major stress around advisor pairings. There's no guarantee that who you want as an advisor for a semester will be the one you'll get, and while it always feels huge and critical, it's nothing like THE LAST ONE... the advisor you get for thesis seems so important. Well, it IS important. And rumor was that this was the most difficult pairing ever - that a huge amount of students wanted the same few advisors, and we all sweated a little over it.

But in the end, everyone I know got who they wanted, even me.

So those two good-looking and talented men are my workshop leader (Jack) and my thesis semester advisor (Pete) (again). Seriously, I could not have gotten any more fortunate than to work with them.

So after the pairing there was a lit magazine party that went long long long into the night in which everyone celebrated on an outdoor patio lit by candles and scattered with wine and chocolate truffles. It's a rough life.

And after that, everything was downhill until graduation.

Ah, graduation. Where a million tears were shed. Mostly by me.

So many of my friends there in cap and gown, on to bigger things in life. Hard to believe next year that will be me!

And what does one do after graduation, you might ask?


(and get each others' text number to stay in touch!)

And pretend like this is not the last time things will ever be like this.



It appears there was much wine, eating, and partying.

There was. But also, a TON of learning. But I can't put everything in one blog post now, can I? :)

For now, I am home, with five months to gather my writing wits and produce enough quality work to bind into a leather-bound-by-monks thesis. I am loving writing again. I am missing my friends like crazy.

And with a little luck, I'll be back on this blog later to tell you more. :)