reading

Revision is Scary. Psycho Scary. Screaming Out Loud Scary.

For months I’ve been mentally preparing myself to revise my novel. It’s sitting there on my flash drive, backed up in my email, and in my Dropbox account. I’ve been trying to prepare myself to sit down, reread it, and finally decide what the hell I need to do to it. When I finished it and had people read it, I was told “the skeleton is there, you just have to flesh it out.” It’s historical fiction and I don’t think I’ve done enough research, and I feel like I don’t know the right details to make it strong. To make it believable. To make it good.

I should mention my mother said it was “alright.” While I’m blessed to have a mother who is honest, oftentimes brutally so (seriously who tells their kid their novel is okay, that’s messed up right?), it still hurt to hear. When I defended it to my thesis committee, I felt that they didn’t think it was literary enough and found it to be more of a genre piece. This was also painful. There is an element of a “love story” in it, and when I was told it was “marketable” it wasn’t in a small-press-get-recongized-for-being-profound way, it was more of a stay-at-home-mothers-would-appreciate-it way. Although Nick Sparks tapped that market, so yeah I wouldn’t mind owning a boat and not being in debt. I think love stories scare professors or something. There is definitely a danger to play with cliches. While I wasn’t expecting my committee to tell me I was the next Aimee Bender, I did feel like I walked away having disappointed TC and my committee and still not understanding what the eff literary even means. Frankly, by the time the process was done I was so over it. I wanted to chuck it and never look at it again. I was told by FH, TC, and my mother that I held back. Held back from what? What am I so scared of?

Now that some time (okay too much time) has passed I think my eyes will be fresh, and I can look at it less critically. I know what needs to be done. The arc is there. For the most part the novel needs to be filled in. It covers a very long period of time and there are gaps in time that don’t necessarily need to be covered but addressed, and there are storylines and details that need developing. I also need to do some major research. I suck and hate research. Research is why I will die when I decide to finally get my PhD. Seriously. I hate research. My future dissertation is going to be my death. I’ll be buried under books about Beckett or Borges or God knows who else unable to breathe shouting, “How am I not myself?”* This is how I envision my death. At least there are books involved.

As of right now, the novel is about 200 pages long, maybe a little less. When I started the project and presented it to TC, I was told I was writing a 500 page novel. I laughed and told TC that I was not. I’m sure when I start rereading it I will finally realize TC was right. I’ll have to finally dig deep and pump out another 300 pages. Although a page a day is less than a year of writing. That’s not so bad.

The past couple years I have been really struggling with my fiction. My non-fiction is not an issue. I feel very comfortable writing about myself. Possibly because I’m a narcissistic, selfish bitch (it’s true readers, and you know it) and because writing about myself and my family is something I’m very comfortable with. For years I’ve been saying my family could be the next Kardashians, only likable in our craziness. Not to mention, watching rich people be crazy is annoying. Watching real people be crazy, that’s entertaining.  My issue is with my fiction. I have hit a road block. I have a short story sitting on my computer that I have no clue what do with. I don’t even know if I’m halfway through with it. I don’t know if it might be  part of a novel. I just don’t know.

There is some strong writing there, I think. I have the horrible habit of reading my writing and wanting to rewrite it immediately after it’s been processed by my brain. I’m so self-conscious. I think it all sucks. Frankly, when go through some of these blog posts I wonder why some of you come back for more. I’m grateful that you do. I don’t tell great stories like Wide Lawns does. Now that girl can write. I feel like I don’t have any ideas. None. Zip. It’s an empty space up there.

For sure my fiction is suffering because I’m not reading enough of it. I’ve been trying to get through some short stories and I’ve finally sat down with the Marquez. I’m also reading a book about running because I’m training for a half marathon (got to get skinny for the wedding). I’m hoping that as life begins to stabilize I’ll be able to get some fiction going. Actually, screw that. I’m not going to hope. I’m going to do. I think feeling ready to revise the novel is a big step for me. Huge. Lately I’ve been dreaming about my characters, worrying that they are lonely in the world I’ve created for them. I swear those suckers are alive sometimes.

Anyway.

After some small errands and a fierce workout I’ll sit down and finally start digging in. I’m scared to death I’m going to want to throw it in my fireplace. Good thing it’s hot as hell outside.

Why is revision so effing scary?

 

*If you didn’t get this I Heart Huckabee reference hurry up and put that movie in your Netflix queue. Seriously. Do it.

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The Steak Beckons

While I love a good four day work week, my unemployment situation has me all confused. My eating and workout routine is all off, my book a week challenge came to a halt, my sleep schedule is messed up, and on and on. I’m kind of glad America is back on schedule, because maybe I too can get back on schedule.

The dietician and I created a schedule for me. I have officially (it’s on the fridge so it’s official) set aside time for job hunting, writing, watching TV, and working out. I was supposed to be on this schedule last week, but couldn’t get into it.

I’m a TV whore, and love watching The Today Show. I always get caught up in the Money 9-1-1 segments, or the fashion segments, and I love Hoda and Kathie Lee. I swear I’m like an old lady stuck in a twenty something (late twenty-something)’s body.I get back from my 6 am torture spin session and Matt Lauer, Ann Currie, and Meredith suck me in. Then after two hours of having done nothing but made my breakfast, I find myself unable to get focused. I also love watching reruns of Frasier, Seinfeld, Everybody Loves Raymond, and Friends. There isn’t an episode I haven’t seen at least a dozen times, and yet I sit there laughing.

I’m a loser.

I don’t know if I can give up the Today Show, but I will try to turn off the TV tomorrow morning and actually utilize my schedule. Who knows, maybe I’ll actually get some writing done. I’ve been working on a few short stories, and an essay, but my novel needs major revision and my memoir needs work too/needs to written. In grad school, I had a writer friend who called short stories “fun fiction” because he’d work on the little projects in between the big projects in order to get  through the sometimes hard ass drudgery that is novel writing. Since I’m not working and have plenty of free time I’m going to try and use that mentality.

I think I need to read more short stories though. I’m always in novel mode because I’m always reading longer works of fiction. I have a few collections I’ve been meaning to check out since grad school. I bought them and they are sitting on my bookcase getting dusty. As far as teaching, I love teaching stories, but I love reading novels. What about you? Do you have a preference? I should devote a post to this.

Well, now that my brain seems to be cleared of the cob webs, it seems like forever since I’ve been in contact with you readers, I’ll get to work on some other stuff.

Other stuff includes:

a) the thawed steak on my kitchen (it’s kind of early for dinner, but that’s never stopped me before).

b) the essay I’ve been meaning to write for about a month. It only has to be about 1000 words. Honestly, get it done lazy bones.

c) I have GOT to outline my memoir. I’ve been having issues with the organization of the memoir. I don’t know if I should read more memoirs or just get writing. I can’t decide on the structure, the tone, really none of it. Also, should devote a post to this.

d) I need to reread what I have of my novel, so I can decide what I want to do with it. After letting it marinate in my file cabinet and on my flashdrive for about a year, I think it’s finally time to finish it and send it off. It would be super awesome to get that thing out into the world by the time the wedding comes along.

Sometimes, after I write these random journal/diary-like entries, I wonder what you readers think of them. So please, tell me. Do you hate them? Want me to focus more? What do you want?

I can’t promise I’ll give up these random here’s-what’s-going-on-in-my-brain posts, but if you hate them, I can limit them for sure. Or warn you at the beginning of the post.

Okay, the steak beckons.

Hydration is Key

So last week was my first week with the dietician and the new eating plan. It isn’t really different from how I was eating. It only encourages way more vegetables and a lot less fat. Very logical.

The one thing that has been an adjustment is the amount of water I’ve been asked to consume. My dietician has asked me to drink 9 cups of water. This is equivalent to about three medium-sized water bottles. It may not seem a lot for all you hydrated people out there, but it is a lot for me. I hate drinking water. I never think to do it, and because I have a peanut-sized bladder I oftentimes chose not to drink it.

So last week I started drinking nine cups of water. It was a challenge the first day, and I’m one day from being done with week two on this plan, and I’m still struggling. I will say that I did notice a difference in my body and its general performance within three days of drinking all this water.

I felt reborn. I was all, O. M.G., FH I’m a walking metaphor. I’m all reborn.

I’m just kidding readers, I don’t actually talk like that. Hahaha.

My week starts on Saturday (which is great because the weekend and being home is always bad for my eating habits). On Monday of week one, I was a productive machine. I had graded an absurd amount of papers, created an awesome activity (more on this later), did some hardcore wedding planning, and busted ass in the gym. 

I felt–feel amazing.

When asked if I need to coffee to function (literally to breathe and be alive), I almost always respond with a big caffeinated yes!, but last week my one cup of joe in the morning was more than enough to get me going. In fact, it was more for pleasure that it was anything else.

So aside for being super productive at work and with the wedding plans, I read two books in two weeks, and am almost done with my third.

Who

Am

I

?

As far as the eating has been going, I think I did okay this week. Not as good as week one, but definitely hitting my calorie marks and I added an extra day of working out. Seriously, go me.

You’re probably thinking, oh my goodness One Mean MFA, you’ve been kicking ass and taking names.

Well readers, you’re right. I have been. But that’s not all (for 4 easy payments of $19.99–sorry I couldn’t help myself), I started work on the memoir.

I know.

Ridiculous. 

 A lot of the world’s problems could be solved if people would just be hydrated.

I hope week three is even more awesome.

Am I a Bad Teacher?

This week was one of those weeks of teaching that reminds you to keep your priorities straight. Too keep pumping out writing. It reminded me why I need to revise my novel, and why I need more publications. There were a few incidents this week. I’m relieved that I was able to take Wednesday through Friday off because I don’t think I would have been able to handle another one this week without losing my cool and my job.

Incident Number One

I had arrived early and was setting up. One of my students came in and sat down.

“Miss, I’m so lost. Have we turned anything in? Have we done anything in this class?”

I looked up. I absolutely suck at containing my emotions; it is why I will never be a poker champion or spy.

“Uhhh, yeah.”

The students are working on a research paper and have turned in two annotated bibliographies, and a proposal. They also have had two class discussions on-line.

“I’m just so lost.”

“Well, see me after class.”

Once class got going, I had to explain, for the one millionth time, how to upload documents and assignments via Blackboard.

“Miss, I’m just so confused.” This same student said. I think he was trying to get the other students to say the same thing, but they were all quiet. “I’ve been confused since we started.”

We’re ten weeks into the semester.

“Well, oftentimes when students are confused they come to office hours, or email me.”

“Miss, I’m too busy to hunt you down.”

“Well then you’ve clearly indicated where your priorities lie. So…”

“Miss, you need to stop. We need to stop having this conversation because you’re being sassy.”

That’s right folks, he said I was being sassy.

I simply plowed through the lesson and was relieved that FH had Oreos at his house when I got there.

As I type out this minor incident, I guess it wasn’t that big of a deal, I guess, I was just irritated that a student could be so disrespectful. That was of course until the next day.

Incident Number Two

So, currently, in one of my classes, we are reading 1984. The class is a remedial type course where students are retaught or taught how to develop their ideas into papers. They are also required to read a novel to work on their reading skills.

Well, after passing out their reading quiz my students informed me they hadn’t read far enough into the novel to answer the questions on the quiz. Mind you, the reading schedule for the book is on the syllabus that I handed to them day one of classes.

Since, I strive to be a hard-ass I made the students take the quiz anyway. They should have read. I will also be counting the grades–or should I say zeros–for the quiz. I was so disappointed in them. Anyway, while we were grading them (I let the students switch papers and grade them) one of my students proceeded to tell me that I was being unfair in accepting a certain and answer for question 1 and then not accepting her wrong answer for question 5. She was irate and shouting.

“That’s just ridiculous. I mean come on.” She shouted.

When I gave the students a break, she and her friend who had told me to shut up earlier in the class period, did not return.

Good riddance.

Incident Number Three

When teaching 1984, I think it’s important to give the students some political and historical background on what is happening in Orwell’s world and what he’s responding to. On a side note: my best friend is a history teacher and she always says that English teachers are frustrated history teachers. I feel like this is so true, but I digress.

So after telling the students when Orwell published his novel, I asked them about world events. They said World War II. I was thrilled.

“Can anyone tell me when WWII occurred?”

Crickets.

“Okay, can anyone tell me what happened during World War II?”

“Soldiers died,” a student whispered.

“Of course, it was a war.”

“Okay, can anyone tell me about Hitler?”

“He was bad?”

“Does the word Holocaust ring a bell?”

“Sort of.”

I stood there trying not look stunned.

“Guys, this is considered common knowledge.”

“Well, no one ever taught me that,” a student said with force.

I stared at them and after giving them a brief history lesson that would have probably been appalling to any good history teacher, I let the information sink in.

After visiting DC and spending a good three hours at the Holocaust Museum, I was shocked that my students were so clueless. That they were unable to discuss one of the more horrific moments of human history. I couldn’t understand how they had gotten this far through life, into COLLEGE and not known about World War II. Then, they had the balls to tell me they’d never been taught about the Holocaust. Could it be true? Also, was I expected, required to teach it to them?

They were living proof of the world Orwell created in his novel. I neglected to tell them this.

Apparently after class, some of my students emailed my boss and told her that that I had been insensitive and harsh in expecting them to know about World War II. Was I? They claimed it was insensitive of me to make comments like that since some of them hadn’t been in school in a very long time. Should I not have made the “common knowledge”comment?

So why teach?

This week, I have been asking myself this question repeatedly. I even applied for an unpaid internship at a magazine because lately I’ve been so tired of teaching. Both of my parents are teachers. They both love teaching the students who dislike school and learning. They like the troubled students who talk back, and they are great with them. I, on the other hand, don’t like these students. In fact, the past three semesters I haven’t gotten much pleasure from teaching and I’m starting to question if I’m even cut out for it.

Maybe I’m just not teacher material. Maybe, I do, in fact, suck at teaching?

This week I’ve done some soul searching and well I still don’t have the answer. This week I was told I was sassy, was told to shut-up, and was told I was insensitive and expected too much from my students. Well fuck.

When I expressed this concern with my parents, my mother said, well what else can you do, if you’re not teaching? I don’t know, but there has be something better for me out there.

Right?

Teaching, Writing, and Thesising: Oh My!

In One Mean MFA fashion I’m writing a blog post instead of just banging out the last ten–really 8 pages of my thesis essay. The essay is a discussion of my influences, my process, and why I write. As with everything related to my thesis, I’ve waited until the last minute to complete it. I know what I want to write, but as is the case with any of the writing I do, it’s not the conception, or the characters, or plot, or whatever that troubles me, it’s simply sitting down to do it.

As you know I’ve been teaching high school English since March, and while I’ve been surprising more productive despite being busy, I find myself entering my apartment after a long day of teaching teenagers and being unable to do anything intellectual. I would wake up earlier to get some writing done, but my only qualm with this is that I already wake up at 5:30.  How much earlier can I wake up? 4:30? I mean I would be able to get a good hour in of writing a day, but I’d have to hit the sack around 9ish and that is not going to happen.

Teaching wears me and while I know it’s going to sound terrible, I refuse to bring home any teacher stuff. All my grading and planning I do at school, at my desk, in my classroom. My first year teaching I used to lug around textbooks, papers, homework, and tests. Back and forth, I’d carry it into my house and work on it at the kitchen table; the same place I did homework in high school. Because I’ve been trying to stay focused on my thesis, I’ve decided that it’s more important to devote my kitchen table space to my work. Not my students’ work.

Still, even though I’m not grading or planning at home I can’t seem to get myself to be motivated enough to do anything when I finish teaching. I know I started teaching in the middle of a semester, but I”m looking forward to summer when I can have my days off to continue looking for an instructor or adjunct position in the area and get some writing done that doesn’t have anything to do with my thesis. Teaching high school again has really helped me decide what my priorities are and writing is definitely on top.

Making money is great; I’m not going to lie, but I can’t honestly say that when I wake up to go teach those high school kids that I’m truly content and satisfied. I found so much more happiness teaching college students how to write papers and got paid peanuts to do it. I got to see them grow as writers and thinkers. At the high school,I mostly witness new cheating techniques and different levels of complaints about how I chose the most horrible literature for them to read. I will say, on a positive note, that they are really enjoying the novel I’ve chosen for them; this is a refreshing change from all the complaining.

While I know everything will work itself out–I’ll get that essay done, finish those last-minute touches, and manage to be super teacher–right now I wish I had a little more motivation to finish the measly 2500 words I have left to write.

I will add, in an effort to be positive, I have been enjoying thinking about my process and what I learned about myself as I wrote my very first novel. It’s also quite awesome that I get to write about myself for 10 pages. Can’t complain about that.

Now that I’m feeling more focused and ready to work, I think I’ll get to it. Who knows I might get it all done tonight.

Revisions: CHECK!

Well, I’m now one step closer to graduation in August.

This afternoon I finally finished revising my thesis. While I know I’m not completely finished (there are some minor additions and subtractions that I need to do) I’m really close to being done.

When I got to my last ten pages I broke down in tears. I couldn’t breathe, but I was smiling. It’s crazy to be able to see the light at the end of an oh-so-dark tunnel.

I’m super excited to be inching close to a goal that I’ve had for so many years. I’m also stoked because once I’m completely done I can start working on some new projects that have been marinating in my brain. I have a ton of short stories I’d like to write, and I’m cooking up a nonfiction piece that I’m eager to get into.

Even though it’s very exciting I still have a twenty page essay that I need to write and I have to get all the formatting on point. I know I’m really close to getting it done and don’t want to forget about my end goal.

In the meantime, I’ll be working on this essay and working with the graduate college on my formatting. I’ll be defending some time in June and then holy crap I’ll really be One Mean MFA!

God-willing I’ll find a job that doesn’t require parents calling me to tell me I’m too mean. More on the high school teaching later.

For now I think I’ll celebrate with a much-needed workout!

Later tonight, I actually get to have my boyfriend back because the past two weeks we’ve both been so busy that we have barely seen each other. It’s been a lot of phone calls that go something like this…

HIM: Am I coming over for dinner tonight?

ME: Sorry, I’m not quite done with this project.

HIM: No worries.

or

ME: Sorry I was going to make dinner for us but this is taking longer than expected.

HIM: No worries.

or

HIM: I’m not going to be coming over.

ME: Why?

HIM: I don’t want to be a distraction.

ME: Oh, fine….

This has been life for the past two weeks. I’m glad I’ll be able to start cooking for someone other than myself.

REVISIONS CHECK!

Holiday Readings

Tonight at the library of my university, the MFA program will be holding a holiday reading. Last year around this time, the honors society and literary magazine hosted the reading and it was lovely. I’m obsessed with readings. I love going to them, and I love love love reading at them.

I’m currently enrolled in a course that focuses on Emerson and Thoreau and we are always talking about how they did readings around Concord. I have to say, I would totally have loved this. Reading your writing to a crowd is awesome. It allows you to perform your piece how you know it should be heard, and it helps you find places where improvements may be necessary. Also, you’re reaching people instantly.

I love it. I have a small theatre background and I look at every reading like a performance. While some of my peers do not feel the same way I find it important to know when to pause for laughs and when to raise your voice, and read softly. I love reading a piece that gets laughs where you want it. There is also the networking opportunities as with most departments professors tend to support their students.

It’s also very possible that I love the attention.

The thing is, I don’t just love reading at readings, I love hearing writers read their work the way they intend for the reader to hear it. Their work becomes alive and there is this supportive energy in the air. I love it. I love it. I love it.  Not to mention the holiday theme gets me fired up for the upcoming break. I love the holidays, and this readings is the perfect segue.

Okay, enough. I have to practice one or two more times and I’d like to squeeze a nap in.

Have a great weekend all. I’ll keep you posted on everything (the reading, the job hunt, the thesis, moving, and Frankenmommy).