Ferociously Observant

It’s not who you are that holds you back, it’s who you think you’re not. -Anon.

“So…what exactly were you doing in Boston?” 28 June 2008

Filed under: Career,Ponderings,Travel — ferociouskater @ 9:07 pm

It’s equally as difficult to capture the soul of a low-residency MFA program in a short explanation as it is to draw a concrete picture of the concept “dream.” But I’ll try.

The short of it is that for the past nine days, I’ve been sitting in class. Some of these “classes” are very traditional in the sense that an instructor with a prepared lecture speaks on a topic illustrated by assigned readings. In these seminars, we have learned about the body (i.e. scene and sentence) and the soul (i.e. character and conflict) of our writing. Other “classes” are actually workshops – small groups of students who have read each other’s writing and have commented on what works in the piece and what doesn’t. At night, we have been attending entertaining and poignant readings by both published authors and students.

The long of it is that this experience has been completely different than anything I’ve ever done. My classmates and professors have ranged in age from their early twenties to their seventies, work their day jobs in everything from art to oncology, and hail from all over the the world. This diversity lends itself to learning about writing and writers in more ways than I ever imagined.  I’ve been in and out of creative writing courses and workshops since high school, but in their nature they have been one tentative toe in the water. This past week I was immersed – all the way to the bottom, in the deep end of the pool.

Writing is breathing while we’re here. Even in the cafeteria after seminar, even in the bar at night, even in our dorm rooms at unreasonable hours after the bar – we are writers and we are talking about our craft. And we are similar to each other in this aspect, which is something that a lot of us don’t get in the “real world.” We are building up our writing stores for the six months we are cast off on our own.

For “low-residency” means autodidactic. We are given a map and some peripheral direction but beyond that are on our own. The lessons we have learned here we must take back to our own writing desks, to our couches, to our offices, to hold us over until January. It’s scary to be cast off back into the real world, but I don’t think that I can retreat back into the writing vacuum I inhabited a week ago. I’ve learned too much.

So put simply, I’ve been taking classes and gathering reading and writing assignments that I will complete, in four different submission packets, throughout the semester. But really I have been submersed in writing, learning how to breathe in this sometimes alien environment, and how to occasionally come up for air in order to be able to go back down for longer periods. I know I will eventually be ready to graduate, once I’ve experienced this grueling week three more times, but for now, two years seems far too short for this life-altering experience.


Update 27 June 2008

Filed under: Uncategorized — ferociouskater @ 1:34 pm

A couple people have a been a teeny bit confused about my plans for this fall, so I shall clarify. One of the requirements for the Lesley MFA creative writing program is that we participate in an Interdisciplinary Studies project every semester. This can be an independent study or a subject that pertains to your writing, it can be learning a new art form (music, dance, art) and writing about how that strengthens our writing, it can be a series of journals, or it can be something more concrete, like an internship. Since I really want to break into the publishing and editing world, which is a very tight little circle, I decided I wanted to start out my Master’s career by applying to internships in these fields.

So…after a few weeks of emailing back and forth and finally an interview this past Tuesday, I clinched an internship at the Harvard Review literary magazine. I will be doing general office-y kind of things in addition to reading fiction submissions, which I know will be fun and enlightening. Plus, to quote my mother, “This will look good on my resume,” even though it’s unpaid. In this way I hope to get to know others in the publishing world and squeeze my way in. Of course, as you know, this means I have to move out there for a couple of months. I’m pretty confident I will be renting a room from a delightful lady in Newton, MA during this time, and will probably be working the holiday rush at a B+N as well. Who knows what else might come along as well!

There’s my “Christmas Letter” update. Except I didn’t write it in third person. That’s so cheesy.


Fresh Roasted Insanity 25 June 2008

Filed under: Uncategorized — ferociouskater @ 2:52 am

I have something horrible to tell everyone. You may want to brace yourselves. If you’re standing, please sit. Sitting, please lay. If you’re already lying down, hold on to something. Are you holding on to something? No, I don’t care if it’s your stuffed rabbit, and no I won’t tell anyone.

I suffer from an incurable brain disease. It’s very rare. It only occurs when I am faced with an inordinate amount of choices, pressed to make a decision quickly, and forced to present my decision in a formulaic, precise manner. I call it Starbucks Blackout.

The first time I encountered this strange ailment I was on break at work and had only a few moments to choke down a pre-packaged cardboard sandwich and cold drink. I quickly ordered what I thought was a venti skinny iced chai. What flowed through my friendly green straw, however, was something entirely different. Instead of a comforting, spicy flavor I tasted over-caffeinated, vanilla coffee.

I turned back to the counter and asked the girl what I’d ordered.

“A latte,” she said, gesturing to my cup, as if simply looking at it was proof enough that this, indeed, was what I had ordered.

“I told you I wanted a latte?” I asked.

“Well…yeah.” I could tell I had shaken her own faith with my confusion. “Isn’t that what I gave you?”

“Yes,” I said slowly, squinting, cocking my head as if studying her face closer would bring me nearer to sorting out this mess. “But I wanted a chai.”

“I can make you a chai,” she said, reaching for a cup, “That’s really no problem.”

“No,” I shook my head. “You don’t have to. I just…I really ordered a latte?”

“S’what you said.”

I turned away from her then, my self-trust shattered. If I could order a latte when I really intended to order a chai, what else was my feeble mind capable of? Would I next walk out of a salon with my head shaved when I had just wanted a trim? Be bogged down with plastic bags at the market when I clearly preferred paper?

The next few days revealed that thankfully, my dementia was confined to overpriced, extremely addictive refreshments. And I have learned to cope by instructing all the baristas at my local Starbucks to look me square in the eye, purse their lips sternly, and ask, “Are you absolutely sure you want a mocha/latte/venti skinny chai extra hot extra pump no foam?” And I will nod and I will say, relieved that I had dodged another flare-up, “Yes I’m sure.” Or I will fidget, look around to make sure no one was watching, and shake my head in shame.

It’s a very disheartening disease. Painful. But I am soldiering on. As far as I know, there is no cure, though I’m sure some undergrad from MIT hopped up on caffeine who spends far too much time listening to the whoosh of steaming milk is doing some case studies. One can only hope.

If you are with me during one of these harrowing attacks, don’t panic. Pat me on the back, offer to buy me the drink I actually wanted, and wait to laugh at me until I’m out of earshot. Oh, and please send cards, condolences and checks to 1069 Woodbine Road, Saginaw, MI 48609.


Little Stubby Wings Just Poking Through My Skin 21 June 2008

Filed under: Uncategorized — ferociouskater @ 10:33 pm

Thus far this MFA residency, the name of the game has been bravery.

Thursday, I found my way from Logan International Airport to school all by my lonesome, on public transportation, learning why “luggage” is called “luggage.”

Friday, I walked my shoes off, finished 100 pages of the book I’m reading, and found a potential place to rent.

This morning, I voluntarily read my own work out loud in front of the author of my favorite novel.

This afternoon, I meant to say I wanted to read Lolita for my semester project and instead the words “Moby Dick” came out of my mouth.

This evening, I am going dancing (to funk and groove music, I believe, whatever that is) with a girl I met yesterday and her friends, on whom I’ve never laid eyes on.

Tomorrow, I may fly.


A Plea from Behind the Registers 19 June 2008

Filed under: Uncategorized — ferociouskater @ 12:54 am

I want to preface my plea by reminding everyone that I have the best job in the world. I get to talk to people about books, recommend my favorite titles, and learn more about new writers and the publishing industry. I get paid for all this. There are very few moments that I am unhappy about my job. My plea to you, the customer, is in relation to these very few moments.

Please, oh loyal retail customer…

Don’t interrupt me when I’m telling you about our membership program. Part of my job is telling you about this program that really does save a lot of people a lot of money, and although it shouldn’t bother me, it actually hurts my feelings a little when you interrupt. I understand you might not shop at our store enough for it to be worth it to you. I understand that there are a lot more things (gas, being one) that you need to spend money on instead. But please, please, please – be polite about it. A simple “No, thank you” will suffice and we can all go on with our lives.

Because I really, really love my job, and I want you all to love being there as much as I do!

Thank You.


Goodbyes 14 June 2008

Filed under: Uncategorized — ferociouskater @ 11:25 pm

I am exceedingly bad at goodbyes. I’m even worse at them when I know that they’re coming for a while. I think of everything as a “last” this or a “last” that, and fail to enjoy myself. I also fail to be able to see past the leaving. I fail to be able to envision visiting, keeping in touch over the phone or email. I fail to be able to envision having a place to go and see. I fail to envision that I will be able to find new friends to help fill the void.

I knew when marrying Tom that we would be moving a lot, and that friends would come and go. But the empty space that will be left by the people we have seen almost every single day for the last two years will be an especially deep pain, and living in Saginaw will not be the same without them.

Brian, Kela and Sebastian, you will be missed more than we can ever express.


Not rain, nor snow, nor sleet…

Filed under: Uncategorized — ferociouskater @ 5:12 am

I love it when I walk into a party and the host exclaims, “You made it!”

Like I had to chop through a dense rainforest with a machete, ford a perilous river with only one oxen, and swing vines over crocodiles, all while managing not to break the bottle of Sutter Home I so thoughtfully chose for such an occasion.

Really, I just got on the highway and drove a few exits. But why ruin their excitement? I think next time I’m going to make up the most outlandish story I can think up so that the host thinks I really went out of my way to come and eat from their relish tray and nod at all their recent home remodeling projects.