7 Things I’m Looking Forward to This Summer

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 7 Things I’m Looking Forward to This Summer

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Some Advice on Writing and Life

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 Some Advice on Writing and Life

A Handful of Residencies

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 A Handful of Residencies

#mywritingprocess

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 #mywritingprocess

The Names of Things

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 The Names of Things

Confessions of a Messy Writer

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 Confessions of a Messy Writer

On Bad Pen Pals, Loneliness and How We Keep in Touch

Friendship_love_and_truth

I’m working on a chapter called “Bad Pen Pal.” It’s going to be chapter 13 in The Saltwater Twin—or maybe chapter 12. The impetus for some chapters is a story, for others an idea. The flicker for this one was friendship. I wanted to write something about how we learn to make friends and how intense friendships can be when you’re young. I wanted to write about the heartbreak of losing a friend and the less intense but still potentially ache-inducing drift that sometimes comes with time and distance. I wanted to describe the way some lost friendships still weigh on me at times, keep me wondering where and how and why we foundered.

The title comes from the first time I lost touch with a friend. I was eight. Actually, my friendship with Bonnie never truly got off the ground. We spent one day together, while our fathers attended a conference. Bonnie lived in a different state, but she suggested we stay friends. We could be pen pals. I liked the sound of that. It sounded exotic to have a pen pal. I liked how letters were little packages. I liked that my name and address printed on the front meant that it would come to my house, of all the houses in the United States, all the houses in the world; it would come to me. I liked the marvelous way envelopes were sealed with spit, their folded triangles, the magical canceled stamp. But the content of Bonnie’s letters left me unmoved—maybe because we just didn’t know each other that well. We hadn’t any history. I recently discovered I have one still in my possession, a Christmas card that reads, Continue reading On Bad Pen Pals, Loneliness and How We Keep in Touch

Brain Science and Kerouac’s Scroll: Can a Writer Multitask?

photo of Kerouac's scroll by Thomas Hawk
photo of Kerouac’s scroll by Thomas Hawk

I used to read one book at a time. These days I seem to have several going at once: a novel, perhaps, for bedtime and dog walks, another for my book club, something for research on the chapter I’m writing and a biography I started in the airport over Christmas but haven’t gotten back to.

My writing is taking a similar tack. I’m careening toward this self-imposed deadline of completing The Saltwater Twin by the end of March, and feeling quite a lot of anxiety about making it. In the past, I’d work on one chapter at a time, revising again and again until it felt finished, a process which typically took several weeks. However, as this deadline hurtles into view, the notion of x-ing off March 31st on my calendar and having one or two or three chapters not even sketched out feels daunting. Nauseating, even. Continue reading Brain Science and Kerouac’s Scroll: Can a Writer Multitask?

New Year’s News

The_Two_Jungle_Books_1895_Akela,_the_Lone_Wolf
Now this is the Law of the Jungle—
as old and as true as the sky;
And the Wolf that shall keep it may prosper,
but the Wolf that shall break it must die.
                                    Rudyard Kipling
 

 

Another excerpt from my forthcoming book, The Saltwater Twin and Other Mythical Creatures appears this month! It’s called “Law of the Jungle” and it’s featured in the current issue of The Chattahoochee Review, “The Animal.” I described the process of writing that chapter in March of 2012 (see “wild truth” and “finding the trail”). The issue’s not available online, but the curious can get their paws on a copy here.

The cover art is kind of spooky, no?
The cover art is kind of spooky, no?

Continue reading New Year’s News

Twinkly Lights

photo by giveawayboy
photo by giveawayboy

One of my favorite things about this time of year is the twinkly lights. I love the light imagery abundant in the midwinter holidays—the strands woven through bushes and strung along eaves, the Hanukah and Advent and Saint Lucy candles, the Yule logs. For those of us who sometimes feel keenly the dark and the cold, the shadow parts of ourselves, those holiday lights are a tonic and reminder to stoke our own fires. Continue reading Twinkly Lights