Sand, Simone de Beauvoir and a Secondhand Sea

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sand-dune-with-grass-on-itSand dunes are in my recent past and my near future! I had a lovely sojourn on Martha’s Vineyard earlier this month, and last week I was invited to the Calumet Artist Residency on the southernmost shore of Lake Michigan for two weeks—from the end of August through Labor Day weekend. It’s in Miller Beach in the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. Nelson Algren bought a cottage there in 1950 with the proceeds from selling the film rights for his novel The Man With a Golden Arm. Supposedly, Simone de Beauvoir created a bit of stir by sunbathing naked in his yard. Continue reading

Sweet Tooth

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birthday DCCome out tonight! Tellin’ Tales Theatre’s Food for Thought, tonight at 8. Prop Thtr, Chicago. Tix here.

In an epic journey that spans continents and decades, I seek the root of my sweet tooth, resolve to put the kibosh on sugar once and for all (except for birthday cake, and, um, maybe a few other things) and practice the art of savoring.

 

A Taxonomy of Couches: Listmaking in Writing and Life

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Photo: Wikipedia

Photo: Wikipedia

I make lists. I’m soothed, in particular, by the kind where you eventually get to cross things out or check them off. But I make other kinds of lists, too. Lists are containers; they are maps, taxonomies, blueprints. As a kid, I listed ways to make money, things I wanted to have when I grew up, things I needed to pack for vacation, boys I liked, books I liked, songs I liked.

I like writing that’s based on lists. I liked the litanies we said in church when I was a kid—Heart of Jesus, Lamb of God, pray for us. Nowadays I often used list-based writing in teaching.

I am waiting for my case to come up
and I am waiting
for a rebirth of wonder
and I am waiting for someone
to really discover America
and wail
and I am waiting
for the discovery
of a new symbolic western frontier
and I am waiting
for the American Eagle
to really spread its wings
and straighten up and fly right… Continue reading

7 Things I’m Looking Forward to This Summer

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photo by Julie Falk

photo by Julie Falk

Summer afternoon, summer afternoon; to me those have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language.  —Henry James

 

Even though the official start to summer is solstice on the 21st and even though I like the idea of kicking things off with a nice pagan ritual and bonfire, the real onset of summer feels like the last day of school. And it’s here! My fourth graders at Morton performed their superhero stories, we said goodbye and now it’s onward ho to long days, leisurely dog walks and summer adventures. Here are a few things I’m excited about this summer:

1. Writing, writing, writing.

I’ve got two essays that are a hair’s breadth from being ready and four that still need a fair amount of elbow grease. Then, at last, I can start querying agents.

One of the essays I’m working on is called “Sweet Tooth.” At this stage it’s essentially a collection of notes on the topic of having a sweet tooth and sweetness in general. As an initial step, I decided to try to catalog my history in sweets, remembering things like— Continue reading

Summer Reading

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photo by Maureen Didde

photo by Maureen Didde

I was thinking this week about all the books I’ve read over the course of writing The Saltwater Twin and Other Mythical Creatures. Some I read primarily for research, others to immerse myself in the genre of personal narrative and memoir. I wouldn’t say all of these are suitable beach reads—some are what my friend Marie would call kind of “intense.” (Marie calls lots of things intense, including certain movies and giving birth.) Nonetheless, here, in no particular order, are some selections from my Saltwater reading list.

The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human, Jonathan Gottschall

From the dust jacket:

Humans live in landscapes of make believe. We spin fantasies. We devour novels, films, and plays. Even sporting events and criminal trials unfold as narratives… Storytelling has evolved, like other behaviors, to ensure our survival.

“The Little Mermaid,” Hans Christian Andersen

Far out in the ocean, where the water is as blue as the prettiest cornflower, and as clear as crystal, it is very, very deep; so deep, indeed, that no cable could fathom it: many church steeples, piled one upon another, would not reach from the ground beneath to the surface of the water above.

If you haven’t read this, you really should. It’s a perfect, creepy and utterly disturbing and magical fairy tale that has been analyzed and dissected in fascinating ways by feminists and other smarty pants scholars.

Lonely: A Memoir, Emily White

The feelings of isolation that accompany loneliness are entirely different from the more sated and creative feelings that accompany solitude, and it’s entirely reasonable to feel lonely and yet still feel as though you need some time to yourself.

A thoughtful investigation into a hard to quantify and describe state.

The Book of Deadly Animals, Gordon Grice

In which I learned this word: anthropophagy—the eating of humans and in which the author discusses humans’ peculiar belief that we have a special place at the top of the food chain. (We really don’t.) We are, however, far more proficient at killing human beings than any other animal on the planet. Continue reading

Some Advice on Writing and Life

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photo by Victoria Ristenbatt

photo by Victoria Ristenbatt

So right about now, this book I’m writing is feeling a little bit like that mean kid who holds something like your notebook or your hat just out of reach while you jump at it over and over, thinking this time you’re going to grab hold and not let go. I’m feeling kind of blue about the fact that I’m not done. (Side note: If you are feeling kind of blue, listening to Kind of Blue may actually help, especially “Blue in Green.”) My self-imposed deadline of the end of March has come and gone, but I’m still not done. Every essay I plan to include has at least been started, but I’m still not done. Since beginning this journey, I’ve written fifty posts for this blog, I’ve published excerpts from my manuscript in Creative Nonfiction and The Chattahoochee Review and have one forthcoming in Hayden’s Ferry Review, I’ve read selections from it at several story nights in Chicago and I have one more slightly thrilling book-related announcement I’m not at liberty to make yet. I’ve learned a lot, I’m a better writer than I was when I started—

But. I’m. Still. Not. Done.

A few weeks ago, I stumbled across a writing conference in Poets and Writers that sounded kind of dreamy. It takes place at the Algonquin Hotel (among other spots) in Manhattan, surrounded by the ghosts of writers past; they only accept a handful of writers—and they hook you up with literary agents cherry picked to be a good fit for your particular manuscript. And though it costs beaucoup dollars, which I don’t currently have on hand, I applied anyway in case they had financial aid or scholarships or something like that. Continue reading

A Handful of Residencies

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Regular readers may remember I resolved to finish The Saltwater Twin and Other Mythical Creatures by the end of March and also that that was going to be a tall order. Well, I’ve made significant headway, but I’m not there yet. In the meantime, I thought I’d share some of my students’ work. I’m currently teaching five residencies with Chicago public school students who are creating theatrical performances from scratch.

On Saturdays I’m directing the CPS All City Theater Program which brings together teens from across Chicago. For this performance, we’re investigating maps. I was inspired by the fact that the students in the program come from neighborhoods all over the city as well as this quote I came across in my initial research for the residency: Continue reading

#mywritingprocess

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aqua typewriter vintageHello, friends. I’ve been invited to do another blog Q&A, the #mywritingprocess blog tour. The last one was fun, and I really like the idea behind this one, which is to delve into each writer’s process.

I was tagged by Shauna Hambrick Jones, a writer whom I met at the Creative Nonfiction writing conference I attended last May in Pittsburgh. Shauna and I were assigned to the same workshop, after which we went for drinks and talked about grad school, business cards and other items of interest. Check out Shauna’s contribution to the blog tour at mentalshenanigans.com, in which she discusses kaleidoscopes, red wine, her memoir-in-progress, learning to blog and—on a serious note—how Freedom Industries’ recent spill of toxic chemicals into the West Virginia water supply have impacted her family and her work.

Thanks, Shauna! And away we go…

Continue reading

The Names of Things

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photo by janetandphil

photo by janetandphil

I like good strong words that mean something.
                                    — Jo March in Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women
 

I love knowing the names of things. I appreciate knowing, for example, that the birds that shriek and wheel over Chicago supermarket parking lots are ring-billed gulls and the chittering birds in the enormous dry shrub outside the elementary school where I teach are house sparrows—which in a group can be called a host or a quarrel. (I wish I knew the proper name of the shrub.)

All words are names, really. They name objects and actions and interactions and qualities and spaces and creatures and time. They create worlds. As a young reader, I fell in love with diction. It delighted me that Nancy Drew ate luncheon and drove a roadster and the Little House books abounded in johnnycakes, deer licks and calico. For some reason, I remained enamored with the term “fortnight” long after I read Little Women. Continue reading

Confessions of a Messy Writer

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photo by Jennifer Pack

photo by Jennifer Pack

When I was growing up, our next-door neighbor had a plaque in her car that said Bless this Mess. The Mitchell’s house wasn’t messy (because they had a housekeeper)—but Mrs. Mitchell’s car overflowed with cigarette butts, soda cans, gym bags and papers. I thought it was kind of badass to be so messy. No place in our house was as messy as that car—with the exception of my bedroom, which was typically a jumble of books, stuffed animals, clothes and maybe an art project or two in progress. The chaos didn’t bother me. It actually felt kind of comforting and safe. I stubbornly resisted my mother’s exhortations to straighten things until she threw up her hands and just ordered me to at least keep my door closed.

I think it’s interesting that my mess didn’t bother me as a kid. Because now it certainly does. It’s not so bad when things are a touch untidy. Lived in, I think, would be the euphemism. But it’s a slippery slope from an unmade bed, a sweater draped over the back of a chair and an unwashed plate in the sink to a bedroom strewn with clothes and a leaning tower of dishes in the kitchen. An article on the website apartment therapy titled “What Does Your Home Say About You?” claims that a healthy home says, “Welcome. I am taken care of, can I take care of you?” If my home could talk, it might be slightly less solicitous, somewhat more disgruntled and maybe a little under the weather. I’m not confident it would have all good things to say about me. We don’t always get along. Continue reading

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