“A writer is one for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.”
Guess I’m a real writer.
“A writer is one for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.”
Guess I’m a real writer.
I’m at a weird point in my writing process, one I haven’t been at in a rather long time: the very beginning. I’m trying to write a brand new book, in a whole new universe, with characters I’ve barely begun to conceive, and I have absolutely no idea what I’m doing. Most of what I’ve written in the past has fit into one of two story universes (my epic fantasy and my superheroes) and even when I started new books, they still fit within those universes and involved at least one character I had worked with before. Outside of the books I’ve written for those two series, I tried starting two other books that were potential works for my Goddard thesis three years ago when I started the program (I made some progress on Drowning Sarah), but I didn’t get very far with either of those. In addition, in the past decade, I’ve started three stories for NaNoWriMo that were brand new and I lost with all of them because I couldn’t get past 20-30k.
This new story feels important. I want to write it, but I think it’s beyond me. For reasons I’ve mentioned previously, I need a fresh start in my writing. I need a new story that doesn’t have any association to my previous writing life or to my previous self or relationships. I need something that I can write that won’t make me feel dragged down by the past. The problem is, every time I’ve come up with a successful new story idea, I had a writing partner to work me through the tough bits. Getting through much of this program without a writing partner was a struggle, but I had all the work we’d done in the past to fall back on and we had a brief attempt at reconciliation, during which, I was able to work out the rest of the major issues with my book. I can’t write on my own. I spent three years and more money than I’d care to think about becoming a better writer, but I still can’t write on my own.
So here I am, with a brand new story–and I need a brand new story–about something that is deeply important to me and in a way I haven’t seen in much literature and I think it needs to be out there, but I don’t know how to write it and I don’t know how to proceed with this story without someone who knows me and my writing to work through it with. I am writing random scenes as they come to me and beginning to ask the big questions about the story, consider potential plot elements, flesh out the characters and the universe, and at every turn, I come up against a massive, insurmountable wall. All the other times I got stuck, I could just look at where the characters ended up or consider what else is going on in the world at the time that could affect it or would be affected. But I haven’t got any of that. It’s like trying to build a brick house on sand.
Sometimes I wonder why I put myself through this. Accountants don’t have this kind of trouble.
Today, I learned that the German word for cotton is Baumwolle, literally “tree-wool.” The Germans have a very no-nonsense approach to creating new vocabulary and this is one of the things I love about the German language. The language is peppered with compound words consisting of 3-4 other words, which seem overwhelming at first, but once you break them down, the words make perfect sense. Not only are the new words made up of words you already know, but the new words describe exactly what they mean. It’s made me wonder if other things in life could be seen that way. It’s like the riddle: “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.” When we look at the big rocks and focus on those, then we don’t get distracted and confused by the mush of everything coming at us all at once. If you look at what’s important and take it one piece at a time, it becomes beautiful in its simplicity. If you take the no-nonsense approach to life, you can see that the world is really quite simple. You just have to know how to look for what matters.
I’ve been thinking a lot about life lately, due to some events in my personal life. I’ve been thinking about how very hard it is, but also about how beautiful it can be. Paul Cardall is my favorite pianist and favorite living composer. My uncle gave him his big break, so he’s had associations with my family for a while, which has made his music especially important to me. He played at both of my grandparents’ funerals in Utah and I’ve been to a number of his concerts. Even listening to his albums for the hundredth time, his music still moves me. His music is all the more powerful because I know the struggles behind it.
Paul Cardall was born with congenital heart disease. He has been fighting for his life from the moment he was born and because of this, he knows how very precious life is and he has made every moment of his difficult life count. Today, I wanted to share with you my favorite piece of his. It’s called Gracie’s Theme. It was written for a sweet little girl who was born with the same condition. Paul got to know her and her parents in the hospital while they were both waiting for transplants. Unfortunately, Gracie didn’t make it, but her legacy lives on. Life is beautiful, even if we only get to enjoy it for a brief moment on this Earth. Cherish it. Make the most of it.
I can’t believe it’s been another week already. Time gets weird when you don’t have a regular schedule to keep track of. Interestingly enough, I just finished reading Orphans of the Sky by Robert A. Heinlein and the society within which the story takes place as lost the concept of measured time because they have been trapped inside a ship for generations with no view of the outside world and therefore nothing to show the passage of time. It hadn’t occurred to me, but Heinlein pointed out that on Earth, we measure time based on physical events and changes in nature such as the rotation of the earth and the movement of the stars and planets, therefore, trapped in a world that has no view of anything like these, time would cease to have the meaning it has to us. There wouldn’t really be the same need in such a situation, especially in such a small society, of perhaps thousands, that has no contact with the outside world. They grow plants, but in a controlled climate, there would be no need for seasons. They have sleep times and wake times, but without the sun, they wouldn’t need to be on a 24-hour schedule. Their greetings were always “Good eating.” As there was no more concept of days and all the parts of the days, such related greetings would mean nothing and in that contained environment, food was scarce and therefore the concept their society revolved around. I could write a whole annotation about it, but since I’m not required to and I’m being lazy now that I’m out of school, I won’t. But it has gotten me thinking about what other ways the environment of the world in which your book is set might affect the characters and their culture. Heinlein has a fascinating religion within the society that twists concepts of science–that no longer have meaning to the people because of their lack of contact with the outside world–into analogies rather than fact and I started wondering what other ways this idea might work in contained societies (large or small) that have branched off from the norm.
In any case, I recommend the book if you want some good ideas for world-building and some food for thought about how beliefs and superstitions develop within a society.
Happy Friday the 13th!
I love Friday the 13th. Thirteen has always been my favorite number and I love going against the superstition, so I have always loved Friday the 13th since the time I learned about it (which was probably from an episode of Shining Time Station; yes, I’m that old). I want to say something commemorative or something about the day and how I’m celebrating, but it’s been a fairly chill day and I have nothing more to say on the topic.
You’ve heard a lot from me lately with the big stuff going on, so I’m popping in with a quick post just to keep up the habit and to let you all know what I’m up to, but I don’t have a lot to say.
Now that I’m graduated and have to be responsible for keeping up with my writing on my own, I have three basic angles I’m using to approach my writing:
I would like to do a web series. One of the faculty at Goddard told me it’s probably my best option to break into screenwriting, so now that I have a chunk of free time, I’m going to be working on that. Right now, it’s all in the brainstorming stage, so I have no idea what it’s going to be. But it’s a thing.
I’ve been told a good way to break into the fiction world is write short stories and get them published in magazines, so I’m planning to work on that. It is my brain to try to write some short stories, I just have no idea what to write them on. I’ve basically written one short story ever. So I’m thinking about how to approach this very different form of writing (which I think would feed the whole web series idea pretty well, since both are very short forms of fiction, which I have no experience writing).
And lastly, I want to write a new novel. I’ve been trying to figure out what to work on. I have a bunch of books in my Supers series, which I’m sure I’ve mentioned before, but I feel like I need to take a break from that one. I need something fresher. So I have been mulling over old ideas I haven’t done much with and some potential new ideas and this morning, I’ve been thinking about revisiting the ghost story I was working on in my first semester. It feels like a novella, so it wouldn’t take a huge amount of time to put it together and finish it. I just need to figure out what the actual story is.
So that’s my writing life.
Happy Friday the 13th!
This is my last night on campus.
I am sitting alone in the room I have stayed in 5 of the 6 times I’ve come to campus. The other time was a room in the same building, but downstairs. My roommate, Em, shared the room with me 4 of those times, but I have had it to myself since Em’s graduation. It is a lovely room with sparse furniture in a fairly old style that has been worn down by countless residents, both from the full residency days and from this era of low-residency degrees.
Bittersweet is a word that has come up in my thoughts a lot. Most of my time here this time has been more sweet than bitter. I have been wrapped up in the excitement of seeing everyone again, attending workshops, and preparing for the experience of Graduation. This hasn’t left much time for the sadness of leaving this place. But now, as I sit alone in my room for the last time, after having said most of my goodbyes, I feel the edge of loss.
This place has been magical. It has changed me more than I ever imagined and probably more than I know. I came here to learn how to write and to get that piece of paper to frame on my wall. Much of the reason I wanted a master’s degree was for the sake of the accomplishment and for the potential higher pay that comes with higher education. I could have gotten it in anything and when I decided that I wanted a master’s, I wasn’t particular about what I studied. Knowledge is knowledge.
Six years and 8 months ago, I sat in the Centrum of Southern Utah University waiting to receive my Bachelor of Interdisciplinary Studies. As I sat and waited, I watched as dozens of students crossed the stage to receive their master’s hoods. As I sat in that audience, waiting for my own conferral, I realized that that was what I wanted. I wanted to cross a stage and be hooded a Master of Something. After graduation, I dove into working as much as I could to begin my student loan payments and rebuild my savings. I didn’t have a plan and I didn’t have time to jump into a master’s program, so I let the idea percolate and kept an eye out for possible programs, without looking too seriously. My advisor at SUU–the one who had to sign the paperwork to approve my request to complete an Interdisciplinary degree–had said that I should only pursue that route if I had no interest in taking my education beyond a bachelor’s degree or if I had any interest in teaching, because I would not be eligible for either. I taught for three years starting the following Fall. In the summer of 2012–two years after completing that bachelor’s degree–I discovered Goddard. I began the application process, hoping to be accepted for the Spring 2013 semester. Unfortunately, I met my fiancé right around the same time and things got serious as I got closer to the application deadline. I realized I would have to put my education on hold if I were going to continue with this relationship and it seemed worth it at the time. In the end, the relationship delayed my entrance into the master’s program by a year. I have been frustrated by this on occasion. There have been times when I wished it was already over, that I had my degree, that I didn’t have to deal with more annotations, but I could never truly wish that I had been able to enter the program when I might have, because that would mean wishing away all the incredible experiences I had during the time I went and the many wonderful people I met and bonded with.
When I started my first residency, the then program director Paul Selig told us, “People come to Goddard at the right time.” At the time, I hoped he was right. Now I know he was right. Had I come at an earlier time, I would not have taken away the same things I did. I would not have grown as much as I did because–much like the characters I’ve written about–I wasn’t ready to fully accept the change I was capable of until I let go of everything I thought I wanted and opened myself to new possibilities.
I came to Goddard when I was ready to be here. And as sad as it is, I think I am ready to leave. There is always more that could be learned at a place like this, but I have taken in as much as I can at this point and I am ready to move on to the next chapter.
So as of today, I can officially call myself a Master of the Fine Art of creative writing. I still can’t wrap my brain around it. Can one really be considered a master in something after studying it in depth for only 2-3 years? I feel like I still have so much to learn, so many places my skills fall short, but real writers feel that way too. I am a real writer. I have a piece of paper to prove it. But now the real work begins.
I am on campus for the last time. The fact that I’m graduating is finally beginning to sink in. I have my graduate reading tonight and graduation will be tomorrow. I’ve decided what to read; I just need to get it to the right length and practice it a few times. I still need to write my graduation speech. It will be short and sweet, but I don’t know what it will be about. I have a lot of people I want to thank, but I should say something inspirational too. I’ve considered taking something from my Process Paper, but that was quite long and I’m not sure there is anything that I can be used out of context or condensed enough to be appropriate for my 2-3 minute speech that will also include thank-yous. I have some time to think about it, and for something so short, I would prefer not to spend too long preparing it. I’ve been thinking about what I would say in my graduation speech for at least three semesters now, and yet I have no idea where to even begin. I feel like I should maybe do the speech before the thank-yous, but I’m not sure. I will ponder on it and I have had a few thoughts percolating already.
Coming back to campus has been an odd experience. Building up to this, I was afraid I’d spend the whole time crying over the ending of all this because I started welling up every time I thought about it for months before, but it hasn’t been like that. When I got here and got into my room, it felt like I was home again. There are two places in the world that feel like home to me: my parents’ house in Maryland and here. Here I can be myself.
It was very quite when I first got here, but with lunch and opening session, everything got back to its usual crazy self. I thought I would be sad, but it’s just been exciting to see everyone again and talk about everyone’s projects and catch up and everything else. The thing that has been most weird is that now I am the Graduating Student. I remember my first winder residency exactly three years ago. I was new and wide-eyed and in way out of my depths and we had a handful of students on campus who were G5s and G6s and graduating students. I remember talking to them and wondering how I would ever make it that far. They were experienced and had all the answers. And now that’s me. I don’t have all the answers, but I have quite a lot of them for the Goddard experience. I’ve offered to answer more questions and give feedback on thesis revisions to a number of people and I hope they will take me up on that so I can stay in touch with the Goddard community.
Goddard is a magical place and Paul Selig was right when he said that we all come here at the right time. I have changed in so many ways since this all began. I was already in a place of transition and I was ready for a positive change. The change here wasn’t all positive here, but I am a stronger person and a better writer than I was when I came into this program.
The most asked question I’ve gotten since I announced my graduation is: “What are you going to do now?” I’ve come up with a variety of answers for that, some specific about what I plan to do over the next few weeks and months, others very general about what I hope to do with my MFA. The truth is: I don’t know. I don’t know what I’m going to do now. I don’t know what my future holds and I don’t even know where to start. But I know I can do hard things. I know I can get through an intense program with impossible goals and the emotional hell that was my personal life. I learned skills for critical and creative writing, research, endurance, and organization. All these things can translate into other areas of my life, including countless careers that may or may not have anything to do with writing. Most importantly though, Goddard has taught me this:
I am a writer.
If I can write, I can do anything. And so can you.
Don’t be dismayed by good-byes. A farewell is necessary before you can meet again. And meeting again, after moments or lifetimes, is certain for those who are friends.
* * *
“Stories don’t end,” he says. “They just turn into new beginnings.”
Here’s to the ending of things.
I have been debating what I should write about today because it has been an incredibly long week, which is not over yet, so I don’t want to take the time to come up with something “profound” and try to peddle it to all of you. Being Christmas Eve, I thought it might be appropriate to say something meaningful about Christmas and the holidays and whatnot, but I’ve become quite a cynic in recent years, so I’m not sure anything I have to say about this holiday would be the sort of uplifting read you’d like to read this holiday weekend.
Christmas has always been my favorite holiday. It narrowly beats out Thanksgiving (the day of Awesome Food) and Halloween (the day on which it is socially acceptable to go out in public in a costume without coming up with a damn good excuse and getting a lot of weird looks–yes, I’ve tried it on other days and no, I’m not telling you my excuses). My favorite things about Christmas have changed over the years, but I’ve always loved it, loved the whole season. I love the smells of cinnamon and peppermint and pine, the sounds of Christmas music and the hush of falling snow (I’m still hoping for a white Christmas this year, the weather report promises a good snow storm later today…), the warmth of a fire and new PJs, the taste of pumpkin and wassail and cocoa and eggnog and homemade candies and cookies, and all the lights and the bright red and green and silver and gold. It is a beautiful time of year.
When I was a kid, I was always excited for the presents I would get Christmas morning. I admit I was spoiled. My parents never gave us really big-deal things like video game systems or our own TVs or whatever, but they always liked to go over the top. As I got older and started earning my own money and getting better at making things, I learned the joy of giving gifts. It is still fun to get things, but these days, I mostly want useful stuff, like a job I don’t hate or a book contract or new dishes. The real fun is in figuring out the perfect gift for each person–now that I’m all grown up, I get why my parents get so carried away with gift-giving. I love figuring out that one unexpected gift that would surprise someone and make their day and show them that I notice them and see who they are and what matters to them. We’ve always passed around lists in our family, so we know what things people need or are hoping for and I usually get at least a little something from people’s lists, but I also like to be creative and come up with something outside the box. And, if at all possible, I like to make those gifts. I can cook, sew, knit, crochet, and do a variety of other craft-related things. I enjoy making things. Personally, I would much rather get a gift that someone had put time and thought into making than something they just went out and bought. I have had a few things that were bought that were amazing and wonderful and I always appreciate a gift with any thought at all, but there’s something extra special about gifts that someone has taken the time to make.
This year, there isn’t really anything I want. Usually half my list is books, but I’ve bought a lot of books in the past few years for school and the books I already own are still living in boxes that are cluttering my room from when I moved into this house almost two years ago, so even though there are a lot of books I want, I’m trying not to acquire more until I get some bookshelves up and deal with the books I’ve already got. I also need a lot of practical stuff, like a new car and my credit card bill paid off, so I can’t really think about adding more stuff to my house that I don’t need when I really need money for other stuff (and it doesn’t help that I’m addicted to Loot Crate–btw, if you want to join, shoot me a message and I’ll send you a link so we can both get $5 off!–so I’m basically filling my house up with useless crap I don’t need anyway, so not much point in asking for more). On top of that, I’m crazy broke this year. I’m usually a really great gift-giver, but with limited resources, I feel like people are going to be disappointed with my offerings this year. So, I’m not particularly excited about getting anything this year.
Normally, I’d be happy at the prospect of getting stuff, but not particularly focused on it because I would be absorbed in my projects for everyone else. This year, I am in far worse debt than I have ever been in my life. I was dealing with my final semester of grad school, which mean finishing my Thesis (319 pages), then finishing my Process Paper (20 pages, written from scratch 3 times this semester), then finishing all my Graduation Paperwork, then submitting my Final Product (which is basically all those things, plus the other two major papers I wrote during my program–which still needed revising, btw–combined into PDFs and uploaded to the school’s digital archives for final approval and which is required to graduate). All of which, I finished about two weeks ago (I think? I can barely remember yesterday, let alone a week ago or whatever). And then I doubled my hours at work. I sorely needed the hours. I told my boss I was available for more and then started covering other people’s shifts (I was rewarded when I got my paycheck yesterday and realized I would be able to afford my basic expenses for January, even though I won’t have an income that month because I will be across the country waiting to go to a writing conference that I really hope will be worth it). With all this craziness, my budget for Christmas gifts is basically zero and I’ve had a week or two to think about what I might do, and far less time to gather supplies and do projects. Here I am, at 2am on Christmas Eve, and I’m only about half-done with the things I’m planning to do or get or make or whatever else. I have one day–one day of complete insanity as everyone else in my position is running all over creation trying to find those last few things they need–to finish preparing for Christmas. There’s also the issue of decorating the tree that showed up in my living room last night, but my mother got into town a day earlier than expected (by which I mean an hour ago), so I’m leaving it up to her–maybe I should move the ornaments out there, just in case anyone is inclined to decorate… Even eliminating non-essentials from my to-do list, I have far more on my plate than I can handle for this holiday and I feel that even with all this effort, people are going to be disappointed in the results because of what I’ve been able to do in the past. If we could just push this whole thing off for another three months or so, I would be past all my major deadlines so I would have time to do a proper job of things, plus I would have a higher income (not a great one, but better than what I’ve had the past six months, which doesn’t even break even). Too bad life doesn’t work that way.
I know Christmas lore is filled with stories of struggling people who do their best to do good for other people and it magically all turns out. I should note that I have always hated “The Gift of the Magi.” I love O’Henry. He was a brilliant writer and has quite a lot of great and entertaining stories, but that one I never liked. It’s about two people who sacrificed the thing they valued most to give a gift to the person they loved. Then it turns out that the gift they sacrificed to give is now useless because the other had sacrificed that thing they loved. So now they are left with nothing. As an adult, I read the story and in they end they laugh about it or something stupid. The story always made me feel sick with disappointment. It still makes me feel sick. So “uplifting” stories like that are no good to me now.
I know you don’t have to spend a lot of money to make someone happy, but I haven’t had time to offer either. I feel like I’m being selfish this year because I don’t have much to offer. I don’t have much to offer because I was focused on finishing a degree for myself. It has absorbed most of my time and money over the past few years. The timing couldn’t be helped. Finishing the degree now was my priority–and a reasonable one. Unfortunately, I have not had time to catch up from that. I don’t have hope for something magical to save the day, but I’m doing what I can with what I’ve got and I hope things will at least turn out well enough. I will be glad when the holidays are over and my life can fall into a better routine.
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays
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