Tuesday, September 30, 2008

My Place

So... we have this UNH MFA blog for school that I post to on occasion. Our professor asked us to talk about a favorite place (or maybe just any place) of ours. I like what I wrote there so I'm posting it here so I'll have it in the future. I think it's inspired me to write the prologue of a novel for my next workshop class.

"A Ruined Place"

I have just realized, somewhat sadly, that I don’t have a special place of my own. No special childhood camp grounds or vacation spots, no monumental places from adolescence, and nothing that tugs at my heart from the start of adulthood. And I have had no place that feels like home—although New Hampshire is sort of growing on me at this point—so I can’t write about that. All of the places I’ve lived have been have been decided by someone else (with the exception of Dover)—I was born in Nebraska (had no say in the matter) and then was uprooted from familiarity and shoved into the foyer of hell (aka Texas) as a teenager (definitely had no say in the matter).

So, I fully intended not to post on this subject, but then I started daydreaming about all the places that I will get to once I’m rich and famous (next year sometime, I’m sure): China, England, Japan, Russia, Italy, and Africa to name a few. And I’m sure I could write about any of those places in great detail, but I’d rather talk about a place that often pops up when I daydream.

I’ve always been a daydreamer. I think it started sometime after I learned to read (see my comment in Kristina’s post about children’s books), but I can’t be certain. I might have been born daydreaming—maybe it started as I was kicking my little brown legs, staring up at bright florescent lights of the hospital nursery while I waited for someone—anyone—to claim me as their own. Now, I find myself daydreaming whenever I am bored or overwhelmed and need to escape. It only takes an instant to switch over to this dream state—either a lull in a conversation, a topic that’s completely over my head, or one of my father’s lectures, anything can set off my subconscious into imaging crazy scenarios.

Sometimes I’m so lost that I don’t even realize when I’m daydreaming. My little sister, Jennifer, is one of the few people who knows when I’ve been overtaken by thoughts. She sort of looks at me funny and asks me why I’m smiling (fun, exciting, or scandalous daydreams make me smile). I hardly ever explain my daydreams because they’re so fragmented and jumpy or just too damn personal. Jen doesn’t pester me for details either, which I like. And while these daydreams are somewhat automatic and aren’t really sparked by any one thing, there are others that are guided by an image.

Whenever I see pictures (or watch movies) with castle ruins, I am instantly lost in my head. I imagine what it would be like if I stumbled across the ruins of a castle, fortress or old home buried deep in the woods or positioned high upon a cliff. I feel my pace slowing to a crawl and see my sneakers stopping before a stone path that leads up to the shell of a crumbled fortress where plant life has conquered the stones. I feel this heavy push of adrenaline charging through my chest and a cold shivering wash of goose bumps as they rush over my skin. I see devastation of what must have been a powerful structure and somehow I feel safe, as if this is the one and only place that I can let my own walls down.

I see myself moving slowly up the path, stepping deep into the ruins where the walls shoot upward and stop suddenly as if cut off by the sky. Here, in the center of the ruins, I find a rock hugged by moss and other crawling, creeping plant life, and I sit on it. I press my cold hands between my knees and stare at what has become of this place. I imagine how it must have looked hundreds of years ago when these crumbling walls were in their prime. Soon, if I stare hard enough and if my sister isn’t there to ask me what I’m thinking, the walls rebuild, transforming back to their smooth, young surfaces, and I see the people—not their faces or what they’re wearing, just people.

One day after a particularly vivid daydream like this—one that began when I was driving along Highway 510, the back road to our house down in Texas, and saw this little abandoned shed with a sagging roof and aluminum siding rusted through to make gaping holes—Jen asked me what I was thinking and I told her. I reconfirmed my deep desire to go to England or Scotland or Ireland (wherever castles may be) to see them for myself, to find ruins to investigate. She immediately jumped into the dream with me and we talked about what it would be like to be of the nobility—to be princesses, in a sense, walking around in castles. We spent fifteen minutes of our commute discussing what life would be like “way back then.”

Soon, as with all of our discussions, we fell into a silence. I started daydreaming about other places and maybe she thought about rational and smart things—probably something regarding international affairs. And as I drove blindly along the old highway road, somehow managing to avoid massive potholes, dead armadillos, and skunks, Jen turned to me with a sudden thought.

“You know,” she began with a smirk, “if we were to really go back to that time we’d pprrrroooobably be slaves.”

I smiled and glanced away from the road to see her grinning face and laughing eyes. We’d talked about this before, but then we transplanted ourselves into the pages of Pride and Prejudice, twirling and whirling in pretty dresses in some over-stuffed ballroom. That particular time we talked about how fun and romantic it would be—you know, the whole Mr. Darcy thing. Then Ms. Killjoy had to remind me that we’d likely be slaves serving food and dumping pee bowls.

We laughed good and hard at that.

“Yeah,” I nodded, “you’re probably right.”

“Yeah,” She said as she turned her eyes to peer through the bug-laden windshield, “that would suck.”

Soon we were driving in silence again, lost in our respective thoughts. Jen probably thought about terrorism (she was an international studies student at the time) while my mind was still consumed with castle ruins and thoughts of just what type of slave I could be and whether or not I'd be owned by a knight. And, as new thoughts and scenarios filled my mind, I started smiling.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Chekhov Story Done

So... in three weeks I have to read my Chekhov-inspired story out loud to class (eek!). I just finished a rough draft tonight--so I have three weeks to perfect it and make it very Chekhovian. I'm excited! It's a little long--was supposed to be 7-10 pages, but is currently 15. Will try to edit it down.

Wednesday night must be my writing night. Maybe I'm inspired by the Chekhov class, which normally kicks my butt.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The Madness of Workshopping

So... it's been two days since my story was workshopped and I feel like I can talk about it with a rational brain. I turned in what amounts to a rough draft of a story. Now, I was feeling pretty confident about this rough draft--like super confident. I wasn't thinking "hell ya, I'm the shit right now!" but more of: "Okay, this is acceptable. The emotions are there. The story is there. I'm comfortable having other people read this."
Basic plot of "Broken Reflecting Glass": Emily is a woman tortured with the feeling that she is somehow unacceptable and unworthy (of just about anything). The story is about Emily facing a difficult conversation with her mother, about wanting to stand up for herself, wanting to change her situation. The question is: Can she?
I'm not sure if that's an adequate summary of my story or not, but it will work for now.

So, I was required to turn my story in two weeks ago on a Monday. I was planning something completely different for the story, but couldn't write it. So, I wrote this instead (in about six hours maybe), edited it (3-4 times), and had some good friends read it as well. I got back good reviews from the people who read it--people who read my stuff in general--and since I felt confident in it, it was easy to turn it in to let my peers since their fingers into it. I wasn't nervous about the actual workshop until about five minutes before my prof said we would be starting with my story first.

Then... devastation. Or internalized devastation, I suppose. The majority (so about six of eight, but probably all eight thought the same) had similar comments. Basically, I broke the cardinal rule of fiction: show, don't tell. The ironic thing is that as I was re-reading my story a day before workshop, I said to myself: "Hmmm... you may be telling to much here Tanya." And low and behold the comments sounded something like this: "Not enough action", "too much telling", "not enough description", and "maybe cut out the first whole page".

So, I took all of those in and it was fine. I even spoke a little about my story--also fine. Then it was my classmate's turn and I took a peak at the written comments. One pretty much slapped me in the face: "Your story is suffering from underdevelopment" and another comment that talked about it being "rough". All fair comments, still, they hurt. And topped with the fact that I'd broken a simple rule of fiction--all I felt was embarrassment. I went through moments of "why am I here?" (a common thought process these past few weeks, actually), and just sorta sat there and internalized everything.

I felt pretty crappy all night and then better in the morning. So... it was okay. Not brutal, like some programs. Everyone was considerate and helpful--encouraging, which is nice. To read what one guy who introduced my story said, click here (he got the title of the story wrong).

Next workshop: Who knows... I need to start working on the story now though.

Monday, September 22, 2008

First Workshop

Had my first story workshopped today--I'm still processing how it went overall.

Currently, I feel embarrassed, actually. Like I made elementary mistakes ALL OVER the place. Definitely room for improvement, for sure, but it's still embarrassing. Blah. Will probably post more when the emotion wears off and my rational brain can speak.

I still don't like John Gardner, see previous post.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

I am a Chimpanzee

So... I'm trying to get caught up on my reading for all of my classes (must use better time management skills in the future) and even now, as I am supposed to be reading, I have stopped to post on my blog. I get distracted easily I suppose.

Side note: found a room in the library that actually has AC--it's a miracle! The temperatures are dropping finally and some trees are changing colors--will post nice pictures soon.

One of the books that we're reading for my workshop class, John Gardner's "The Art of Fiction", managed to put me off within the first few paragraphs. The books subtitle (if that's what it's called) is: Notes on Craft for Young Writers. The part that really through me off was toward the end of the very first page of the book's preface:

"As matter of fact, most of the books one finds in drugstores, supermarkets, and even small-town public libraries are not well written at all;" -- this part didn't bother me... drum roll please... -- "A smart chimp with a good creative-writing teacher and a real love of sitting around banging a typewriter could have written books vastly more interesting and elegant."
He goes on to say who his audience is: "What is said here, whatever use it may be to others, is said for the elite; that is, for serious literary artists."

Well, at this point, I was so throw off by the chimp comment (I really want to have a t-shirt made up in this regard) that I didn't even want to continue reading. I still don't. I just don't get how a person can so easily dismiss the passion of others. Sure, some people publish stories just for the paycheck and maybe they aren't well written--but to essentially call them chimps, banging away at their keyboards? I don't know, that's really insulting to me. I think it's because I feel like I'm split down the middle--half of me is a serious, literary writer (or at least wants to be) and the other half of me is "capable of writing junk fiction", which requires "an authentic junk mind". So essentially, I am half chimp with a dirty, junky mind. Well crap, no wonder I can't get a man. I know he doesn't say "these people are chimps!" but it seems implied to me. I am certain that most writers who have published books (whether they be good or bad) worked very hard on them, and to be just brushed off and placed below chimps banging on keyboards?! It just doesn't sit well with me.

The rest of the book (I've made it through the first two chapters and have one more to go before tomorrow) take on this tone of snobbery and arrogance that I find so nauseating. I'll read it, because between his higher-than-thou ramblings there are a few gems of wisdom, but I'm certain that I won't enjoy it fully.

Definitely not a book for those with aspirations of mass market paperbacks on dime store shelves--like the fun part of me. So the image on this post is exactly what I feel Gardner should do at this point. Still... lots of chapters left to read, we'll see if I change my mind.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Writer's Hat

So, I'm posting to avoid Chekhov. Surprised? Not me.

I'm slowly starting to feel comfortable about my classes, save Chekhov, but that will come with time and detailed reading. Workshop today went well and I felt like I could voice my opinions, somewhat clearly. I sorta botched the story introduction for my classmate (I feel bad about that), but other than that bobble, it went well. I turned in my story "Broken Reflecting Glass" and it will be workshopped next Monday. A guy, who knows a little of my plight with Chekhov and how stumped I was in regard to writing a story, asked, as I was handing it out, if I was having heart palpitations. I wasn't. Not even a nervous, tickling stomach as I passed copies around the table. Sure, I'm interested in how the guys will interpret my character and if anyone will wonder if I drew from my own life at all, but I wasn't nervous. I'm pretty confident in that little piece of work, which is saying a lot.

I'm very happy that I threw away my "workshop hat" as we talked about in class today. My prof asked if any of us had ever seen a change in our writing/voice when sitting down to write "literary" pieces. He looked directly at me (I wonder if he reads this blog) and mentioned that I was posting good things on our MFA blog (which was a nice compliment), and asked if I knew what he was talking about.

Why yes sir, I do!

I mentioned that I had put on that "Literary Hat" when sitting down to write the piece that I had intended for workshop and found that I couldn't write anything. I had to take off the hat--throw it like a piece of trash to the ground--and just write. And when I did this, my story came out quickly, perfectly, and I was content.

I don't ever want to wear that damn hat again.

So, if you ever catch be blogging and I mention avoiding writing, writer's block, or any other nonsense, slap me and tell me to take the god damned hat off and burn it.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Freedom of Mind

I wrote a short story today.

Let me repeat that: I wrote a short story today!

It's currently 12 pages--which is SUPER short for me actually. And the best news: I'm actually really excited about it. Last night I went to a Poker-turned-Dance-Party get together, which was a lot of fun. I didn't dance (no surprise really), but I did get to talking with some of the girls in my program. I told them all about my fears, insecurities, etc., and we just sat around talking about things. It really helped to just hear them giving ideas and sharing their own fears (it always feels good to hear that other people are struggling a little too). But it was actually conversation with this guy, a current (almost finished) fiction student for me to see the light. I asked him in he missed workshoping and being in classes since he's currently working on his thesis and he said no. He talked about the pressure of writing for someone (peers, workshopers) versus writing for himself or for his intended audience. He found himself writing stories with people in his workshops in mind--thinking about what they'd appreciate or enjoy. I realized that I don't want to do that. I realized that I've been stumped with my writing because of this very fact--because I don't want to change my current writing style to appease my classmates. I just want to write what I am close to. So, I ditched my planned story and have spent the past five hours working on something new--a solid draft that will be pretty good by the time I finish it tomorrow.

I am happy. Story is posted here (leave a review so I know what you think!).

Friday, September 12, 2008

New Toy

I bought myself an 80GB iPod yesterday. It's my new favorite toy. I also started the story that I'll be turning in on Monday for workshop on Sept. 22. I'm probably crazy to be writing something so fresh for workshop, but then I have nothing else. I volunteered to go next as a way to push myself to write. After I download the rest of these CDs, I'm off to the library to crank out a few more pages.

Feeling a little better about classes too... but Wednesday was a crap-filled day.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Starting to Understand...

... why I shy away from difficult things.

It's been a long day.

Monday, September 8, 2008

A World Removed

So for the past seven days, I've been dreading and agonizing over one thing: my first workshop. I didn't realize how big a burden these feelings of worry and anxiety were, or how they had settled comfortably between my shoulder blades, until both floated away when I finally sat down in workshop class today. I don't know why, but the moment I was in the classroom I felt comfortable. The fear was magically gone. I felt lighter.

I have come to realize that I am in my head too much, which is not a new epiphany. This (workshop or MFA program, probably both) isn't as big a deal as I've been making it out to be. I think I've made myself sick (ie: my cold) over worrying about whether or not I'm in the right place (MFA program) or if I "deserve" to be here. I've been feeling so alone in my anxiety because no one else is talking about it. And who would? It would require a level of vulnerability and trust--and it takes me a bit to trust people, so I don't come right out and say "Hey, I'm feeling a bit unworthy." Of course anyone who reads this blog will know about my insecurities, and I'm not sure if that's a good thing or a bad thing. Part of me liked the idea of writing somewhat anonymously--it let me be more real. I'm worried that some of that will change now.

So, for the past few days, since classes started, I've felt myself shrinking--the weight on my back growing heavier and heavier. It sometimes felt like there were a million little Tanyas running around inside me screaming. Parts of this solitary confinement began to chip away as I talked with some of my peers and saw that they too may be feeling certain apprehensions about this whole process (or did when they started). I don't know why I've been operating under the assumption that people enter these programs knowing everything there is to know about writing, but I have and it's made things worse for me. Plus... everyone seems to be wearing their confident shoes. Confident in their writing and reading. My shoes are full of holes and have worn soles. Everyone seems so put together and knows so much more about literary fiction while I'm constantly jotting down authors and stories that I "should" have read a long time ago; feeling inept at communicating why something is good or bad. People either know what they're talking about, are good at B.S.ing, or are just as nervous as I am to stand so vulnerably before them. They just hide it better than me.

I don't know... I guess I need to process this more. All I know is that I feel a bit more secure after workshop today. I guess it's just me giving in to the idea that I am a beginning writer, although I've been writing stories since I was nine. I am a beginner--so I suppose it's okay that I don't know everything yet. I'm here to learn everything I can about writing. I just wish it wasn't so overwhelming at times.

Oh... and I volunteered to have a story ready to workshop in two weeks. It's due next Monday. I guess this will motivate me to start (and hopefully keep) writing. I have no stories to fall back on so I'll have to write something new--or use my application story, I suppose. I'm going to try to write something new though.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Tales from the Book Aisles ... and ... my biggest problem: Avoidance

So... work is great. I really enjoy working at Barnes and Noble, so it is likely that I'll stick with this job for a while. Today was fast paced, which is a huge change from the past few days. Tropical Storm Hanna is blowing our way, so that means rain, which drives people to shop here I suppose. It was busy.

I had a customer who was irate because I couldn't find his magazine in the computer system. He demanded to see a manager. He says in a grumpy and irritated voice: "Seems stupid to me that you have the magazine in your store but it's not in the computer. Get a manager. Find out what's wrong." Ummm... for real? I wanted to tell him to chill out, but I just called the manager as he asked. Then I figured out the computer system and managed to ring up his purchase. I told the guy to have a nice day. He just grunted. Then later, when things were hectic and people needed help left and right, this woman asked me to help her find a book about psychic attacks and how to protect yourself against them. She was a new medium and said that "psychic forces are constantly trying to attack new mediums." We had nothing in the store relating to this, but I did thumb through A Complete Idiot's Guide to Psychic Awareness for her. She was desperate for something about protection and seemed put out that we didn't have anything. Honestly though... isn't that something you buy online anyway? She was kind enough to point out that I was holding a book on meditation and not mediation (you know, communicating with the spirit world and all that jazz) at one point. I'll never judge a person because of what they read, but that was definitely an interesting one. Part of me wonders what the cashier next to me thought when a mature gentleman plopped down a copy of Playboy at her register. Kinky.

Changing topics... I have a problem.

I've been avoiding.

I wonder if there's an AA meeting for avoiders of life, of writing, of issues. Blah. I haven't written anything creatively in about two weeks. Why is it that when I feel overwhelmed with something, the first thing to suffer is the one thing I love the most. I'm avoiding writing this story that's been swimming around in my head. Why? I don't know. Fear has a lot to do with it.

I need a good kick in the ass.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

D.C. History vs. Jim Henson Muppets... which one would you prefer?

So, I suppose while visiting D.C., our nation's capitol, full of history, political agendas, bill passing and vetoing, look-which-republican-is-gay scandals, 27-year nuclear war protests, and high-tech espionage (I'm sure someone in the White House heard when I pointed to Hoover's picture on the wall and said: "Isn't this the one who wore dresses?" I think it was Hoover... I'm fuzzy now.), one should probably gaze up into Abe's stone eyes and think of little else than how much they might owe the man for freeing slaves (well, not all of us--but those with a drop of African blood, yes) or solemnly pass stone statues erected in tribute to those who fought in Korea in the 50s with gratitude. Any patriotic American would do such things and should walk away from the district feeling like a proud American, and I did. I'm proud to be an American (please sing the rest of the song here). I am also a proud American who walked around the sweltering D.C. heat humming: Manamana do do dododo. Confused (all ye non-Muppet followers), click here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KC9FtLQJoGM. [Picture: The Rose Garden (named not for the roses, but for a first lady) the windows you see look into the Oval Office.)]

Yes... I went to D.C. with two goals: 1) see my sisterand 2) see the Smithsonian Institute exhibit honoring Jim Henson's Muppets. (I'll let you decide which order those goals should actually be in.) We tackled one goal right away and went to see the Muppet exhibit and it was truly remarkable. I've been to plenty of museums before and not once have I ever stopped at each little display and read every single word like I did here. There's something about the creativity behind the Muppets, about seeing Jim Henson's scratch paper, handwriting, and sketches, that was truly awe inspiring. I left that place wanting to go back through again and again and again. I left that place wanting to create magic. I can't gush enough about it. Everything else (well, with the exception of seeing the "real" West Wing and the closed, locked door of the Situation Room, and the Press Corps room) pales in comparison. I couldn't take pictures of the Muppets. I know, sadness. I did try to be a rebel and snapped one picture (see right). My sister said the security guard followed us all around the exhibit after that--I was too engrossed in everything Henson so I didn't notice. Oh well.

The rest of D.C. was great. We saw the Lincoln Memorial, the World War II Memorial, the Korean War Memorial, the Washington Monument, the White House, the West Wing, Chinatown, and lots of other little things around town. We rode the Metro everywhere, which was a lot of fun. And then I picked up some disease (cold, I hope) and was out of commission all of Monday, which we had planned to visit the University of Maryland to get a picture of a statue of Jim Henson and Kermit--alas. Oh well, there's always November.

I will leave you with this quote:

"As children, we all live in a world of imagination, of fantasy, and for some of us that world of make-believe continues into adulthood." ~Jim Henson (1936-1990)

I really want this print--so if you can find it let me know.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

In the Classroom Again

So... I had my first class tonight, English Grammar, which is basically going to prepare me for teaching grammar and becoming a master at it, I'm sure. There are about 30 people in the class, which is a good amount I suppose. I got there a minute or so late (he was going through the class roster, maybe he jumped the gun). I had to walk about six blocks (maybe more) to get there and what greeted me as I walked through the classroom door? A wave of 80-degree, stifling heat. A note to all New Hampshire people: A/C (or fans) are required in the summer! I'm making it a point to sit near open windows. This place is gonna kill me until I get used to the weather.

Anyway, back to grammar... I wasn't really sure how I was going to like the professor. I couldn't understand the first 15 minutes of his lecture because of outside and neighboring noises and the fact that he sorta droned on and on in a monotone voice. Things picked up as we did more class-participation exercises, but still, I wasn't sure. He seems to be fun, as long as he doesn't pick on me. At this point my grammar abilities are remedial (ie: functional) at best. I know what's right (most of the time) but now why it's right.

Random thoughts from the first day of class:
  • Parking isn't that bad... as long as I can bypass downtown traffic and leave work/home about 30 minutes before class. We'll see how the weather changes things.

  • The classroom was too hot. (Repetitive, I know.)

  • Four college text books = $120.

  • I hate not being able to pick out my own textbooks. I went downtown to pick them up after class, and the guy behind the counter just handed me a stack of books. Two of my used copies were "heavily" used with writing and highlighting all over them. Other peoples' notes and doodles completely distract me. I like pristine book pages. I don't want to be influenced by others. Highly annoyed, but will manage.

  • All college campuses (read: undergrads) look the same no matter where you are in the country. I swear I thought I was in Texas for the amount of tanned, bleach blond girls I saw running around (yes actually running).

  • I decided to read grammar over watching Greek on ABC family--I deserve MAJOR kudos people. That show is too cute and I really want to watch it.

That's about all for now. Will post about my D.C. trip tomorrow probably.


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