August 31, 2016

What I've Been Into - Summer 2016

Hi Friends,

I'll be saying this with a sigh, but O Summer! 

I am already deep into classes with my students, and where it does feel good to be back with young minds talking about things that matter, summer is a particular treasure. We were everyday outside, at parks, at beaches, in lakes and rivers and streams, up to our armpits in our garden flowers. We also spent a lot of time with family and friends, at cabins, birthday parties, splashpads, and swimming lessons. My boy learned to fish. He wanted to fish every day. He would spot the earthworm wiggling into the hole behind the branch and grab it, lift it up, study its perfectly spaced indentations. I watched his body lengthen, and I listened to him tell me stories, and it is a little astonishing to me, that I have been in this world for three and a half years with him, and he is still articulating things with the lift of his eyelashes that I hadn't known existed. I am a proud mama, a happy mama, a mama thankful for a season in which to love him in every stage of light.

I am thankful also for books, of which I read more this summer than I have for a while. I will let my descriptions below stand for themselves, but let me also share that I led a book discussion on The Round House yesterday with a group of students. And Louise Erdrich, the author, happened to be sitting next to me, too. It was strange, how quickly it became simply about books--how we both loved them and believed in their specific power to tell the stories that need to be told. Still, Louise Erdrich was sitting next to me. I won't forget that. Fuel for something future.

I hope you are well, friends, and that you also had summers full of what you chose. Here comes another school year, and another autumn, and another winter, and another set of changes that I can faintly foresee, and yet how freshly they will arrive. There is always something new. Let us embrace it.

  1. The Crucible by Arthur Miller -- I read this play about the Salem Witch Trials (and indirectly about the Red Scare) in a day. So creepy. But also so good. 
  2. The Wild Gardener by Martha Hellander -- After taking my students for the second time to the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden just a few blocks away from where I teach, I stumbled across a plaque dedicated to Butler, the garden's original creator. It mentioned she was a teacher of botany in the early 1900s who often brought her students into the wild for study. My curiosity was piqued. I found this biography, and read it with a notable degree of interest. Butler was an incredible women who contributed greatly to the history of Minnesota.
  3. The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert -- My first true summer book, and what a massive, impressive book it was. About a female botanist in the late 1800s and early 1900s, and also about so many many other things. It's the longest book I've read in a while, and although I felt myself reading quickly over some of the historical details, by and large, I was wonderfully engaged.
  4. The Death of Jim Loney by Jim Welch -- A goal for my North American Literature class is to incorporate more Native American texts. Loney was a possibility. I didn't love it, but I wonder if that's because I can't relate to the extreme disenfranchisement that Jim Loney's character experiences? It was so sad, so dark. But maybe -- yeah -- exactly right. (If you have more suggestions along this line, I'd love to hear them.)
  5. LaRose by Louise Erdrich -- It took me a while to get into this one, but the braided stories eventually hooked me, and I found myself desperately rooting for Maggie.
  6. Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf -- The turn-of-the-century women of Butler and Gilbert's Alma made me want to revisit some of the classics. I didn't love Mrs. Dalloway--it often felt like work reading the pages--but I was reminded why it made such an impact, and some of the passages did strike me as brilliant.
  7. The Awakening by Kate Chopin -- Swept away by this one. I remember reading this when I was in high school or college, thinking about how very old Edna was. And now her character is my age! A good reminder at how interesting it can be to reread books at different times in one's life.
  8. Goodnight, Mr. Wodehouse by Faith Sullivan -- Another turn-of-the-century female character, but this time about a women in small-town Minnesota written by a well-loved Minnesota author. Not my favorite read of the summer, but I enjoyed how Sullivan was able to tell the story of an entire life--and a growing nation--in one book. 
  9. Half Wild by Robin MacArthur -- This one was extra extra fun to read because it was written by a friend from Vermont College of Fine Arts. She is a place person, in all the ways I appreciate my place people, so reading her stories was a delicious dip into the Vermont woods and its folks, a reminder of what I loved about my time there and what I love about people, no matter where they call home. If you're hankering for some solid short stories, friends, check this collection out.
  10. Mindsets by Carol Dweck -- A nonfiction psychological/self-help book I read for school. We talking a lot about the growth mindset this past year, so the information wasn't particularly new, but it was helpful to slow down my mind and really think through how I can make Dweck's research an even greater contributor to how I structure my classroom and the feedback I give to students.
  11. The Gift of Failure by Jessica Lahey -- Another summer reading book for school. There was some great information here, for teachers and especially parents. I believe in this research whole-heartedly. We must allow our children to make mistakes when they are young. How else will they ever learn to work through struggle and find the lessons in the challenges?
  12. The Round House by Louise Erdrich -- As I said above, I lead a discussion of this book with a group of students who read it over the summer. It was a reread for me--one I first devoured while I was home with my infant son--and even the second time through made me grab at my heart when Joe and when Cappy. Uh! Cappy! Erdrich is such a talented story-teller.
TV & Movies:
  1. Narcos, Seasons 1 -- This was recommended to us by a lot of people, and where the history of the Columbian drug wars was interesting, I was kind of give-or-take half way through. I think this was because the voice over drove me crazy. And also, don't start a series talking about magical realism unless you are going to live up to that literary greatness, a la Gabriele Garcia Marquez.
  2. Concussion -- One of those movies--when I still watched full movies regularly--I used to sit back, think about, and enjoy. I was happy to find it now.
  3.  Jason Bourne -- This movie will forever stick with me because of how old it made me feel. I really liked the first JB movies, but this one was so non-stop-action that at one point I had to close my eyes, shake my head, and just laugh. After, my husband turned to me and said, "I feel like I just went to the gym." Oh, Hollywood!
  4. Mad Men, the final season -- The show lost some of its luster for me a while ago, but I'm a sucker for resolutions, no matter how ambiguous.
 Finds & Arrow Signs:
  1. "How it Slips Away" -- An essay of mine up at Two Hawks Quarterly. It's a sad one -- dreams deferred, I suppose -- but it was fun to write. Check it out, if you want!
  2. "I Am Still Here" in Hippocampus -- I wrote a specific post about this essay, but do give it a read if you haven't already. I'm humbled it seems to have resonated with a number of people, especially fellow Minnesotans who remember Jacob Wetterling.
  3. Gotham Writers Workshop --  Although I intended to take a class at The Loft in Minneapolis, the ones I was interested in filled up before I got my butt in gear, so I decided to take a chance on an online course through Gotham out of NYC. It was on the (gulp!) novel, which, yes, was something I began this summer. I'm happy with what I came up with so far, and I suppose this means the class was a success. I liked the online format more than I thought I would, too, so that was a nice surprise.
  4. An intriguing piece from The Guardian about women who walk: "A tribute to female flaneurs: the women who reclaimed our city streets"
  5. This article from The Washington Post was fascinating. Minnesota as a top place to raise a family, yes, but also how "geography is destiny."
  6. Nutella and marshmallows. I blame Bre. 

August 11, 2016

"I Am Still Here" in Hippocampus Magazine

Taking a break from my plant-focused summer to point you all to a recent publication of mine in Hippocampus Magazine. It's a very short essay, called "I Am Still Here," which focuses on my immediate reaction twenty-some years ago to the abduction of a neighborhood boy. As one would assume, the events surrounding his kidnapping haunted me as a young girl, and still do. For me, writing is generally a matter of trying to figure something out. This boy's case has now gone unresolved for decades. I doubt I will ever stop writing into the center of that night, not at least until some closure is reached.

So: there's that. Not flowers or bouncing summer grasses. But one of my earliest memories of understanding the necessity of story, and how upturned and unstable things can feel without one.

Also, as a result of this essay, a young woman from a college in Massachusetts read it, and asked for a short interview for one of her classes about publishing. I'm including my responses here because I find these kinds of insights from other writers interesting, and because the happy truth is, friends, though I have not been here on LOCW much, I have been writing more consistently this last cycle of seasons than I have in years. And that means, yes, I can take questions like these and answer them and not feel like a fraud (at least most days).    :)

  1. How much of your time do you spend writing?  This would have been much more difficult to answer before I had a child. Now that I do, while teaching a full course load, I have to schedule in time to write. I give myself permission to write for three straight hours one morning every week (for which I wake up extra early). I tend to set these hours aside for new writing. I fit in revision in the creaks and cracks of my days. This set-up would have seemed paltry and pathetic at an earlier part of my life, but now it is the only way I get creative work done, and because of that, I cherish those hours, and I get right down to business. 
  2. When you were submitting to literary journals/magazines, did you have anyone edit your work before you submitted it? I've received feedback on early drafts from teachers and mentors, but I've never worked specifically with one editor before I've mailed work off. In the past year, though, a colleague and I have established a monthly swap where we each send each other new work and give the other one feedback. This has proved invaluable; she always has excellent recommendations of where I can strengthen and pare. 
  3. How do you deal with rejection? I try not to think about it too much. When a rejection comes in, I sigh and doubt, but I've learned there really is no better next move than pressing delete on the notice and diving back into something creative. I'm never going to entertain or intrigue or move everyone. The important thing is that I continue to enjoy the process of writing. If I'm doing that, my work will find an audience eventually.
  4. How do you measure success as a writer? To me, the fact that I'm still writing new work and publishing it while working full-time and parenting a small child is success. The sane thing would be to quit and take up cooking. But, no. Writing is an integral part of my identity. Those three hours a week refresh me, and keep my sights set on what is possible.

How about you, dear friends? What have you been working on this summer? When can I read about it?