The AWP 2015 Learning Curve

I’m wondering, how many of you were out there in Minneapolis this year? Anyone? What did you think?

I bumped into a peer (it’s not accurate to call this person a friend) from grad school who is now an editor at a pretty solid magazine, who was at the book fair managing the table for his or her press. It was this super-fake encounter. A discussion of art for the sake of art and not making money off a writing (those words were uttered–not by yours truly–but uttered nevertheless) ensued. I can’t say I’m proud of the fact this conversation happened. Though my peer (Good grief that sounds so snobby) seemed sincere about helping a sista out, so if our conversation leads to some baller publication, I’ll let you all know and then write a baller post about the importance of networking.

This year at AWP 2015 in Minneapolis I learned a few things…

1. I am not a fan of the midwest. I’m not saying the people from the midwest aren’t awesome; they are. My favorite comedians are all from the midwest and some of my closest friends are from the midwest. What I’m saying is I couldn’t live in Minneapolis (or Chicago, or Iowa, and definitely not anywhere in Ohio).

2. I HATE the Skyview thingy in Minneapolis. I have a pretty good sense of direction and got lost several times. At one point, on Saturday, I got lost in what I referred to as the SkyWorld and because it was a weekend it was empty and dystopian and because my mother embedded the fear of getting raped in me so very deeply, I practically ran out into the street at one point to avoid some dude in the SkyWorld. Needless to say, I’m not into it.

3. TC is warming up to me. This time TC was friendly and dare I say warm. This thrills me.

4. Chapbooks are totally having a moment. It seemed like no matter where I was: the airport in my hometown, airport in Minneapolis, the bathroom at the conference every one and their damn mother is getting a chapbook published. I’m not sure if this is a thing that mostly poets are doing (and I’m obviously not a poet), but I’m seriously wondering if I need to get on the chapbook train. Thoughts?

5. I am out of the loop. When people say names of important writers or editors, I’m like “who?” I am not sure if it’s because I’m working full-time in a job that doesn’t allow me time to read, or if it’s because I’m not working at the college level, or if I just never got into a rhythm of working to be informed. If anyone has any tips on getting with the program, it would be greatly appreciated. I do think some of that knowledge comes from submitting and learning the magazines where one submits. That is something I am definitely working on. I really want to work not only on getting more publications, but I also want to work my way into this community of writers so that next year in L.A. I know what panels to sit on to meet the “celebrities.”

What did you guys learn at AWP? Did you leave totally inspired? This was the first year I didn’t leave inspired. Instead I left with my competitive streak in tact. It’s on, people. It’s on like f**king Donkey Kong.

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On a Moderately Personal Note or (Shut the F*** up and Write)

Disclaimer: I don’t think my husband knows about this blog, and while he helped me come up with the title (I seriously suck at titles;it’s a curse), I don’t think he’ll ever read this. Babe, if you read this, please tell me.

Okay, I have the best husband. No, seriously. I know this sounds like bragging, but he really is awesome. First off, on a non-One Mean MFA career note, the man is an incredible father. He loves our kid a lot. I can see it in his face, in the way he holds our little one, and in how he wishes our kid will learn to walk quickly so he can chase the Mini-One Mean in the yard. It’s amazing.

As far as my career is concerned, he is even better. I knew he would be a great dad; it’s one of the reasons I fell for the guy. He loves unconditionally. When he loves, he gives all of himself. It’s something I wish I did. I don’t love like that. I’m guarded. I don’t trust. I worry and am not confident that I can be loved unconditionally. I love him unconditionally now, but it has taken me years to learn to love in the way he does. Even when I f*** up (which is often), he forgives and does something incredible. He reminds me why I love writing. I love writing because I love people, and he is the people that I love.

Okay, I know you’re thinking, “Shut the hell up, One Mean. No one wants to read a stupid lovey-dovely bullsh** story–and right before Valentine’s day. You stupid whore. Shut. Up.” Well, I won’t shut up. I love him.

I.

Love.

Mr. One Mean MFA.

A few weeks ago, Husband and I had a huge fight. I hadn’t been writing, reading, and my agreed upon house commitments were falling wayside (don’t worry, our kid was still being well taken care of, and I was all caught up with my television shows). I was in a deep rut. I had abandoned myself. I forgot who I was before marriage and Mini-One Mean.

Since we’ve gotten married (strangely enough), it’s been rough. I think losing my mother didn’t help with that. When you lose a parent, you lose yourself. You’re angry because your mother was young and wonderful and now who the hell can you talk to when you’re having an existential crisis. Whose going to talk you off the ledge when some teenage son of a b**** cuts you to your core, and vodka feels like the only solution? You remember you are mortal and that sh** is real. Anyway, I was in a rut. Things were not great. Since we’ve been together we’ve always been great at communicating, and we’d both shut down. We weren’t interacting with each other. We had good days, but mostly they were blah days.

This past weekend I spoke a conference for the first time in a long time. It felt so good to be an academic for five minutes (I’ll be writing about this sometime soon). I was excited, Missy and I were about to get into some trouble (again, don’t worry Missy and One Mean MFA will have another reunion in Minneapolis at AWP this year!). Husband was upset because he felt like (rightly so) that I wasn’t doing enough to get out of the high school job that I’m still at. While conferences are part of this, it’s not enough. I need to be publishing.

I got upset that he was upset.

“Speaking at conferences is important.”

“And publishing isn’t?”

“It is, but this is part of the academic stuff!”

“One Mean, you’re not writing.”

“When am I supposed to write?!”

This has been a challenge for me (as it is for all writers–I know perspective and all that jazz). Being a teacher at the high school level limits my time to do anything, including parenting. I often leave work many hours after the official school day ends and then it’s mom duties, wife duties, and before I know it, it’s bed time. Of course, I was also squeezing in a ton of TV, not reading, and not exercising.

“Do you know what I’d give for 30 minutes a day to just f***ing write?”

“So do it!”

“When?”

It seemed like the best time would be after dinner when our mini-us was sleeping and we’ve had dinner.

“What about the kitchen? Oh God, it’s like never-ending the crap I have to do!”

“If you were writing, I’d be okay with the kitchen being a mess.” I thought he was bullsh**ing me, but he wasn’t.

Since this horrible fight where I cried and got super upset, he’s helped me with the wifely duties, but and the biggest thing I’ve had to give up was television. I’m really behind on all my shows, but for the first time since grad school I have a routine. I’ve even managed to squeeze reading a book into the week AND have been writing more than ever.

I always wonder how the successful writers do it.

There are a million articles about the habits of successful writers. It seems they all skirt around two issues.

The first being, you have to fucking write.

Shut the f*** up and write.

The second is being single helps. I don’t want to blame motherhood or wifelyness on my lack of writing because those things are not the reason I wasn’t writing. I wasn’t writing because I had found other things to make a priority. I have serious guilt issues and sometimes feel like I need to abandon everything for my husband and child. This is not the case. In fact, my husband fell in love with me because I loved to write. He loves the writer version of me, not the version who is all caught up on Downton Abbey, yet she doesn’t have a writing project she’s working on. It’s so easy to let that version of one’s self go after marriage and children, but I’m not happy teaching high school (more on this “revelation” soon).

I’m blessed to have a husband who actually believes in me. He sincerely believes there is talent in my fingertips waiting to reach the page. Needing to reach the page. He believes in me way more than I do. I often hate what I write. In fact, this feels self-indulgent, and I probably relied to heavily on curse words when I could have inserted more humor. Regardless, he loves me so much he’ll let the clean-freak version he knows me to be go to the wayside if it means I’m being the nerdy writer he met in college plus a few pounds.

I’m lucky.

I know this. I thank God every day, even when I’m in rut.

So my advice to those of you who are in a rut, maybe you’re single and maybe you’re busy as hell. Regardless, you can find 30 minutes, hell maybe you can start with 15 or 10 minutes. I know I started writing over an hour ago. I got lost in the words and the story and here I am, still writing. It happens. The first day I committed to 30 minutes, I struggled; 30 minutes felt like a lot, but today it seems it may not be enough. Cut something out of your life you’ve been prioritizing and writing.

Shut the f*** up and write.

Well, S&^!

Randomly, I was looking for a poem I had written and posted here. I had nearly forgotten that I had this blog.

Shame.

On.

Me.

I was totally sucked into my stupid high school teaching job. Meanwhile, this perfect space was waiting. I looked and saw that I hadn’t written anything since January. Nearly a year has passed. 9 months. I could have incubated a baby in that time.

Crazy.

I’m currently teaching a creative writing class at the high school level. This is fun and depressing. Have you ever read teenage poetry? Mostly, it’s awful. Mostly, it’s about breaking free from the tyranny of parents or about having a crush. Today, I spent nearly the entire day working on writing end comments for my students’ poetry.

As this year has passed, I realize (at this very moment) that everything I write is for someone else.

End comments for my creative writing students.

End comments for student essays

End comments for online students

Emails to a crazy PLC lead who is driving me to madness

Emails to administrators

Emails to my contractor who is taking an ice age to finish work on a tiny house

Emails to the parents of my students

More f***ing emails

My time is spent in meetings. An absurd amount of meetings. The amount and content of those meetings would be something Stoppard and Beckett would find too absurd.

Meanwhile, it’s all being ignored. All meaning the important stuff.

How does one even fix this problem? I guess, just like weight loss or quitting smoking, or deciding to become a marathon runner, it must come from within.

As I looked through old posts on this blog, I see that this is a running theme. I don’t have time. I don’t have time. I don’t have time.

Right now, as I type this, I’m in my classroom. School has been out for almost two hours. I’ve been to a meeting and have written my last end comment for the day. I have a mountain of papers to grade and should probably stay another 3 hours to get close to finishing it by Friday.

Instead, I’m going to head home and read and plan my writing for Nanowrimo and finish the laundry.

Sorry for the random stream of consciousness.

One Mean MFA is f***ing back.

So Many Questions

I’ve done a little research on memoir writing. While it’s obvious that a personal writing project is going to be a different experience for everyone, I am a little worried that I have no clue what I’m doing. 

As a writer, I’ve always been comfortable with fiction, and when it comes to nonfiction, I’m really comfortable with the personal essay. I  love writing essays, but I don’t want my memoir to be a collection of essays. In fact, I don’t really know what kind of structure I want for my memoir. Should it be funny? Focus on the sad? What angle should I take? What am I going to focus on? What’s interesting about my life, interesting enough that people will want to read it?

Then I have to ask myself, is it about people reading it? Or am I just being my own historian? What is the purpose of this project? Is it a challenge? Should it just be cathartic? Should I think about an audience? Who is this audience? 

Since I’m not sure what I’m doing, I’m debating spending the next month reading a bunch of memoirs, but I have no clue where to begin. Any suggestions? Any memoirs I should be checking out? 

I’m already getting stressed out by this project. I’m committed to it–the way I was committed to writing my thesis, even more so because it’s important that I get a big writing project done. It’s also one of those projects that pushes me out of my comfort zone. A project that pushes me is something I need right now. Still, I’m scared that I’ll start this project, and it will be an epic fail. 

Want to help?

Please suggest some memoirs for me to check out. I’m not sure what approach I’m going to take so funny, sad, unique, thrilling whatever kind of adjective memoir you can think of, suggest it. 

Cobwebs Away

I know it’s been almost a year, but here I am alive and well. 

After my mother passed away, things got crazy. There have a been many big changes in my life that I’m not quite ready to discuss here, although I am still teaching at the same oppressive school (in case you’re wondering).

 I’ve been in a major writing rut since about May, and after some very jarring words, I’ve decided it’s time to get refocused. Time to prioritize. Time to write. For real. 

This may sound terrible, but I’ve been wanting to write a memoir for about 5 years but didn’t feel comfortable writing it with my mother being alive. I don’t know what will happen when I really start writing it, but I know that I wouldn’t have been able to stomach her reading it. What’s even more depressing is that now I don’t have an excuse to not write it. The excuse was always that she might read it. Even though she died almost a year ago, the not writing it has seemed to keep her alive. Once I really get started, it will be another confirmation that she is dead. 

There have been small things that on a regular basis remind me of the permanence of her death. Before she died, she and my dad brought me some food from home that I can’t get where I live, and I had frozen some of it and when I finally decided to eat it, it was irreplaceable because she wouldn’t be able to bring me more. Or going through her clothes with my sisters and realizing she’d never wear them again. Bringing those clothes home and storing them, going through them again and smelling her scent on them. Listening to old voicemails over and over and over again. I have a voicemail from her from years ago, and it’s about 10 seconds long. All it says is, “Hi [insert my name here], it’s Mommy. I love you.” Writing the memoir will only resurface the pain that the voicemail does, or her clothes do. Except, I think that the longer I make excuses not to write it, the easier it becomes to abandon the storyteller in me.

Here’s the thing, the mega-Catholic in me has this weird fear that her spirit will read it. I know that it sounds crazy, but I swear this thought has occurred to me. I’ve even debated fictionalizing it, so no one can get pissed. I would prefer, however, to write the story in my own voice and not in the voice of some fictitious version of myself.

Thankfully, Husband is always around to remind me that I’m not writing for anyone but me. This is a challenge as I’m so insecure and worry deeply about what others think of me. I also worry that my memoir will focus too much on Black Sheep sister and not really be my memoir. I’m not sure how to combat this. 

Writing it and seeing where it goes might not be a bad idea.

Starting a big writing project is always scary. I think that’s why I’ve been putting it off for so long. 

In the meantime, I’ll be warming up here again. 

I hope the cobwebs clear soon.

 

 

AWP 2013: Failing Better

Well it’s over. The glorious, frustrating, and rejuvenating AWP 2013 conference has come to its close. This AWP has probably been my favorite as far as conference enjoyment is concerned. Every panel I sat in on was fantastic. I, once again, am leaving Boston with motivation and energy to go hard or go home in regards to my tenure track professor goal. I am even more sure that I need to get the hell out of teaching high school, because I feel more at home with the AWP crowd, despite my inability to bond with them, than I do anywhere else.

It is so strange because as Missy and I search the conference for the worst and best hair and outfits, I know we both find ourselves not wanting to be anywhere else. We might mock the pretentious and sometimes overly enthusiastic moderators (was anyone else witness to the moderating train wreck at the Amy Bloom-Richard Russo reading?), but let’s be honest, we wouldn’t mind moderating such a great pair of writers. Albeit, I don’t know if we would be as star struck as the moderator seemed to be. At the end of a day of conferencing, it seems necessary to seek other Bostonian neighborhoods in order to escape the AWPers; however, the next day we return for more.

I perused my old posts for 2012 looking for a post on AWP and realized that I hadn’t written about my Chicago experience. While Missy and I had a great time exploring the city, I found the conference to be a very difficult experience. I hadn’t gotten anything published in 2012, I hated (and still do) my job, and it seemed like everyone around me at the conference was doing something awesome. So and so had gotten blah blah blah to write a blurb for their book, this press had just published whoever’s novel, and so and so was on a panel with yada yada seemed to be the only kinds of conversations I heard. While I can truly say, I was not jealous that these strangers had success, I was deeply upset with myself for my lack of effort and very epic failure.

This year however, it didn’t seem as tough to hear the same exact conversations knowing that the editor of one of my pieces was sitting at a table at the book fair. It wasn’t as tough knowing that this year (and it’s early March) I have done more writing than I did all of last year. I have also submitted more work this year that I have ever in writing career. That feels good–okay it feels awesome. It’s nice to know my s*$& is coming together.

I’m not saying things are peachy in my world, but they seem to be looking up. It’s like I’m failing better, so I’ll just put that in my pocket. If I can keep it up, AWP may actually start feeling good and less painful. Last year, I hit bottom and while I’m by no means close to the top, I am at least starting to get glimpses of sun.