Stories, Art, Food, Teaching, Travel, and the other Loves of my Life

Stories, Art, Food, Teaching, Travel, and the other Loves of my Life
"Tell me, what is it you plan to do / With your one wild and precious life?" Mary Oliver, "The Summer Day"

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Wednesday Writing

Spent yesterday afternoon in a coffee shop with two of my "students," who have published way more than I have, and who are older than my parents.

It was such an awesome time. They were kind enough to read the excerpt of my novel that I'm sending the agent, and they know next to nothing about me, so it was great to hear about what was going through their minds as they were reading.

I have a lot to think about, writing wise. Figuring out the "occasion for the story" is never my strong point, 99 times out of 100, it was because I had a deadline. Now, I don't. And even if I did, that's a shitty occasion. I really have to think about it. Writing is a lot like problem solving, and in my own work, I have a hard time seeing the problems. Once I do, it's usually pretty easy for me to find the solution, and fix it, even if the only feedback I get is abstract (oh, Workshop, did you think I'd forget so soon?!), and along the lines of "putting pressure on the moment," "pushing this further," "peeling this back." Somehow, that jargon makes sense to me, and I can run with it.

But, I've never written a novel before. It's so hard to manage. I'm starting to agree more and more with James' definition of when a short story becomes a novel: when it becomes a "baggy monster."

In other news, my favorite/ brightest/ most eager HS student (not that I have favorites) is starting an independent study with me. We're reading the entire collection of Updike's edition of The Best American Short Stories of the Century and we're hoping to finish by 2011. Wheeeee!!!!


Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Dream Hair:

I always get the urge to change my hair in the fall. I'm not usually a fan of dyed/ highlighted/ permed hair, but for this, I just might change my tune. It's not much darker than my natural color, so maybe I could avoid the frizz/ roots/ fake look... or just lose my mind entirely and actually dye my hair.

PS: Could you tell this is Drew Barrymore?!

Monday, October 25, 2010

Monday: Wish I Were Here

At a party. Outside, in the sunshine, wearing a flippy skirt and laughing up at the sky. Preferably in a location that requires a passport for me to get there.

News, in a nutshell:
-Travel plans firming up: Looks like I'll be in Israel for Valentine's day
-I officially have no weekends until March. Whee.
-Nearly finished piecing the top of my first quilt. Pics to follow.


Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Fever

Sometimes, I tell you. Gah.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Deborah Eisenberg...

...said, "I can't teach you how to write a story. You already know."


Monday, October 18, 2010

Writing: On Community

Positively buzzing after tonight's reading.

Yiyun Li, writer extraordinaire, who I was lucky enough to study under, who taught me a couple hard lessons about fiction, read tonight at the independent bookstore down the street.

The Vagrants


Yiyun Li grew up in Beijing and came to the United States in 1996. Her stories and essays have been published in The New Yorker, Best American Short Stories, O Henry Prize Stories, and elsewhere. She has received fellowships and awards from Lannan Foundation and Whiting Foundation. Her debut collection, A Thousand Years of Good Prayers, won the Frank O'Connor International Short Story Award, PEN/Hemingway Award, Guardian First Book Award, and California Book Award for first fiction; it was also shortlisted for Kiriyama Prize and Orange Prize for New Writers. Her novel, The Vagrants, won the gold medal of California Book Award for fiction. She was selected by Granta as one of the 21 Best Young American Novelists under 35, and was named by The New Yorker as one of the top 20 writers under 40. MacArthur Foundation named her a 2010 fellow. She is a contributing editor to the Brooklyn-based literary magazine, A Public Space. She lives in Oakland, California with her husband and their two sons, and teaches at University of California, Davis.

I gathered up all my serious students and told them she would change their lives. We sat and listened to her read from her new book. We sucked in our breath when she paused and got goosebumps. We heard her read a story we had all read before and walked away with a completely different impression than we had before. I nearly cried. I hugged her and she signed my book and misspelled my name and I asked about her kids and she told me about the call she got from J's kindergarden teacher and I told her about the time G said she had a sperm donor not a dad and we laughed and I missed school and workshop so, so much.

Then, a bunch of my students went out for dinner and we talked about the story and the amazing experience of hearing an author read (when it's a good reader) and our own struggles with our work and how inspiring it is to hold hands with this little writing community, how rare it is to talk over a plate of taquitos and enchilladas, and be able to explain your delight at the way two images speak when situated next to each other correctly, and the way certain words can pull you out of a story and others can push you right back in, and the way sometimes another voice entirely takes over, and it's impossible to go back and edit thoughtfully without thinking you might be just a little bit crazy. We laughed. The youngest of us was 17 and the oldest was 66. We shared our favorite stories, exercises, and classes. We compared battle scars. We collectively wondered why, of all the things we could be doing with our lives, we are so compelled to write.

It was an amazing night. After grad school, I lost such a huge sense of my community: everyone thinks they're a writer, and sometimes they are, but it's so nice to be able to exchange work with people who actually feel the same way about writing that I do: it's not fun, it's not therapeutic, it is simply necessary for my existence.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Best Halloween Costume, Ever...

... just to see you smile!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Monday: Balance

That's my dedication this week.

In my yoga class, every week the class begins with a dedication (this week, it's humility) and then we're all supposed to think about our own dedications as well.

So, mine is balance, for a few reasons:
1) I hurt my shoulder Sunday night in a failed attempt at the Scorpion pose (and E really doesn't know how to spot), and
2) Life is feeling both really amazing and incredibly crappy right now.

For the following reasons:
1) I just signed six new students, which significantly ups our income and gives me more faith in myself as an educator and a business woman,
2) I am polishing the first 50 pages of my manuscript to give to an agent next week, and
3) Because of #1, I no longer am panicking about my career choice and have the luxury of time to really think things over. Also, because I'm no longer panicking, I'm no longer a walking ball of stress snapping at E over things like cupboards left open or happy hours scheduled without my explicit consent and a signed contract.
4) My yoga teacher worked out an arrangement where I get to practice as much as I want for free (normally it's $18 a class, homie don't play that game) and I'm feeling really good and strong and I'm able to do things now that I couldn't do a month ago.

But, some of that is balanced by this:
5) Nephew is having serious behavior problems at school. Sister switched him to a new school and thinks that will solve the problem, meanwhile I am stressing about a situation I have no control over and questioning decisions that are not mine to make.
6) Our weekends are basically non-existent until March because E has class on Saturdays, and because of this, I picked up more weekend students (see item #1).
7) I am feeling too far from home and like I'm not being there for my sister and the kids when I need to be.
8) I am really wrestling with this book and I have spent so much time with it that I can't tell the crap from the gems and I want to get another pair of eyes on it but a pair of eyes is hard to find because I need to find someone who a) knows nothing about my real life and therefore cannot fill in the blanks of my crappy writing with any sense of my autobiography, b) knows a thing or two about how to fix a MS, and c) has the time and energy to seriously look at 50 pages now and 175 in a month or so.


So, yes. This week, balance. The kind that involves feet up a wall and not falling on a shoulder, and the kind that involves putting energy toward things in my sphere of influence, and not wasting energy on things beyond my control or things that should be beyond my control, and are not.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Monday: Wish I Were Here

Hunched over yards and yards of colorful fabric, upstairs. Tea on the windowsill, kitties on the futon. Patsy Cline on low.

But I'm downstairs, working on a cover letter. Grrr.

But, I wanted to share some of my current dilemma:

At the beginning of the summer, I started my first "quilt." I figured it would be like a first novel, a learning experience where the first one is guaranteed to suck, and you either have to just get the first one out of the way and move on, or spend a decade perfecting the first one.

I figured I'd just get this quilt out of the way. So I chose colors with reckless abandon, with no one in particular in mind. I figured it could be a lap quilt, or a baby quilt for my next niece or nephew. I firmly decided to just learn on this quilt, and not be upset if it didn't turn out perfectly.

I also resolved to actually iron the fabric. Quilting, turns out, is really mostly ironing.

So, I spent a few weeks tooling around on the machine. Here's what I got:

Problem is, now I love it. And I'm terrified to touch it.

It's time to start piecing the blocks together, and sewing borders and backing fabric. I have three fabrics I'm going to use, but I'm not sure which should be the inner border, and which should be the outer border.

Close up of my dilemma:

I'm thinking the flowery blue one should be the backing, because it's a tad girly to be next to the orange one. So then the question becomes, should it be an orange inner border (touching the blocks) and a blue outer border? Or vice verse?