Carolina Emerging Scholars

Today I had the pleasure of presenting at the Carolina Emerging Scholars conference in Lancaster, SC. The theme was Deathless Love and I decided to do a creative reading from my chapbook in progress, which is a retelling of myths, fables, and fairy tales. I was equally excited to find, once I got the program, that there were two other students presenting on fairy tales.

My presentation went really well and my work was warmly received. It’s so good to get that kind of feedback, in addition to the positive responses I’ve been getting from friends and family. What also helps is that I’ve started writing more poems in for the chapbook recently. I was worried that, after fifteen or so, I had used up all of my ideas and had nothing left to say. I’ve been reading and researching again, which is helping fill the well. Today was helpful too. I learned a lot of interesting things about spiritualism, spiritual photography, memorial photography, the Persephone myth, and zombies. I’m so glad I went and I’m also glad that the car didn’t break down on the way there. I was worried.

It’s just so important for me to not worry as much about what I am going to write and instead to read, research, and actually show up at the page. If I try to pre-determine, I often get stuck. That’s not to say I don’t brainstorm lists. I do, but I don’t let them determine what I have to write. Anyhow, productive day and I got home in time to watch Doctor Who!

David Sedaris and Humor

I had the pleasure of seeing David Sedaris on stage again and he inspired me to, this morning, try and write something funny again. I consider myself a funny person but it seems that whenever I want to write something lighthearted, happy, or funny, it always ends up crushing and tragic. This isn’t an aspect of my work that I particularly enjoy and don’t like being referred to or know in my program as “the trauma writer.” Mind you, I do like to write about trauma and I think it is critical to my healing, but I don’t always want to write about it.

I don’t know what changed for me this morning, but I was able to write a funny story. Perhaps it was really listening to Sedaris and the way he blends trauma and the serious with his own form of humor. I realized that my stories don’t have to be either/or and that was key. Anyway, I’ll be unveiling the new nonfiction short at the Graduate English Association party on Friday. I’ll let you know how it goes. It’s about food so maybe I’ll send it to Alimentum. I can’t remember if it would mean my third or fourth rejection from them, but I’ll keep trying. One day…

The Art of Medicine in Metaphors

51W5fiDabHL._SY380_This is a bit of a belated post. Last summer, I was contacted by James Borton to see if I was interested in helping put together a manuscript for a call he had done on illness narratives. By the end of the year, and after countless hours of work, we had a book. An anthology to be exact. The Art of Medicine in Metaphors – A Collection of Poems and Narratives came out in January and it makes my heart feel good to see the stories out and in the public. These are people, myself included, writing about illness, injury, and death. These are family members, patients, and care-givers. That’s part of what makes this collection unique. We have doctors writing poetry alongside patients writing poetry (or narratives).

In putting together the collection, I had to read the manuscript several times (it was with these stories in mind that I created the cover painting). It began with reading the Chicago Manual of Style and figuring out things like how to create a table of contents, how to number the pages, and what is the difference between a prologue and a preface. If you are a writer, I suggest you spend an evening reading it over. It is eye-opening. Even armed with this knowledge though, it was a steep learning curve when the manuscript got accepted by Copernicus Healthcare. There was formatting in the document that I wasn’t even aware of. Each time I looked over a new e-version of the manuscript, I found additional errors. We even had outside proof-readers. I guess, no matter what, there will still be some issues but it is worth the work to make sure you have put out a quality product.

What we ended up with was a quality product. When my sister proofread, The Art of Medicine in Metaphors – A Collection of Poems and Narratives she found it overwhelming. It brought up a lot for her. To me, as a memoirist, that’s the highest honor a work can receive. To have a reader say, I feel so much when I read this that I have to take it in a bite at a time is huge. To know that there is a community that has developed out of this work  makes my heart happy. The comments that have started to come in on Amazon and the reviews on multiple blogs and websites prove attest to the book’s reach. The collection is $14.95 and is available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million, and many other booksellers.

A Day at the Ballet

Nick and I went to see Snow White at the Koger Center on Saturday. On Sunday, I met one of my professors for coffee and she asked me how it was. My response was something like, “It was a ballet.” To be honest, I struggled a bit to understand what I saw.

I watched my first ballet over the winter break. Ovation TV was showing The Nutcracker as performed by three different ballet troupes. I came in about 2/3 of the way through the first and couldn’t follow the story at all. I should add that this was not a story I was told as a child so I don’t have any familiarity with it. This led me, thinking I had missed something key, to sit through a second rendition by another troupe. Nope, still didn’t get it. Where the hell did the mice come from and who are all of these people at the Christmas(?) party? I figured Snow White would be better, especially since it is a story I know well.

If you ever go to a narrative ballet, you have to read the program otherwise you’ll have no idea what is going on. I was surprised at how many scenes take place in the “Royal Bed Chamber.” (Including a disturbing scene where the King tries repeatedly to get his new Queen into bed but she won’t have it – he eventually succeeds). The ballet opens with the birth of Snow White and the death of her mother. The story then moves forward sixteen years. On the stage, this meant they showed a picture of a castle and then the words Sixteen Years Later. R’ok. I thought I missed something because a late patron opened the side door but no, nothing happened.

There were a lot of scenes like that. Dancing in front of the mirror = the mirror tells the Queen that Snow White will soon be more beautiful than her or twirling around with a box and then opening it = the Queen eats the false heart. I wonder if there is meaning in the movements that is lost on me and that there is more to ballet as a storytelling art that I am just not aware of. There were a lot of children in the audience and I kept hearing them asking their parents what was happening. They also couldn’t tell key figures apart because the costuming was similar.

I just don’t get the large parade of people scenes at, say, the royal wedding. I’ve seen this sort of thing in The Nutcracker too. Here’s a group of five dancers dancing before a group of eight dancers dance before a group of four dancers dance before the main characters actually get married. I just kept thinking of Monty Python “and the people rejoiced.”

A note about the story, the seven dwarfs were seven knights/princes including Prince Charming. They all live in a small cottage in the woods where they later let Snow White live with them. I don’t think she would be marriageable after living in a cottage with these guys, no reputation can withstand that (especially not in a marriage plot!). I also wonder why these men were living together in the forest anyhow? Was it like a royal frat house? Also, why let Snow White live there? Are they keeping her tucked away like a dirty little secret? What really killed me is the scene where the knights/princes go off to “work” for the day. They take their fancy swords into the forest. What kind of job do they have in the forest? And what kind of job in the forest requires a fancy, fencing sword? You need an axe yo. Get down to business choppin’ down trees and shit.

So, I still don’t get ballet. It was beautiful and the dancers were amazing athletes. I just think I’m missing something critical because it felt like when you put on a movie and something key happens when you are in the bathroom or getting a snack that leaves you perplexed and bewildered for the remainder…except I didn’t get up once, not even during intermission. Hopefully this explains my answer of “It was a ballet.” I’m glad I went, I just don’t know what to do with it as an experience.

Beauty and the Beast – The Columbia Marionette Theatre

theatreAs part of my support the local arts resolution, my husband and I went to go see Beauty and the Beast at The Columbia Marionette Theatre. Coming up to the castle, yes it is in a castle, was like stepping into a wonderland. The inside was filled with displays of other puppets (some from classic tales, some not) and an array of small marionettes available for purchase. In the theatre itself, there are four birthday party areas (all of which were full on the day of our trip) though the Oz setup was my favorite.

There is a map clearly marking where adults are to sit but one thing I found a bit disappointing was that this is not enforced. This is a side note but I wonder if this is part of the 24-7 helicopter parent issue but many parents would not let their children sit by themselves so those behind them could see. Perhaps such parents would be offended to be asked to move? I don’t know. As a child, I had been to plenty of events where children sat in one place and the parents in another (within view of course). I could see fine, so it didn’t bother me, but I could hear children that were in back of some of these adults telling their own parents that they couldn’t see.

Back to the show, I was glad to find that it more closely resembled the original French tale but was nicely condensed into an hour long presentation. Gone was the loss of fortune and the move to the French farmhouse but one of Belle’s sisters (both of whom were completely omitted in the Disney version) made an appearance. Fitting with the original, this sister was selfish, which provides a nice contrast to Belle and developing her character much more quickly. There were a lot of special effects I did not expect, smoke and a painting from behind which the Beast speaks to those who enter the castle, along with some truly stunning puppets. The main characters were lovely but I was particularly enchanted (cough) by the laden table that walked.

Yes, there were a lot of children there (this is a marionette theatre after all) but they added to the magic of the show. In one scene an enchanted wardrobe and dressing table make a spinning, dancing entrance. For the children, this was pure magic. It was as though they didn’t even notice the strings. So lovely to see. The show is an audio recording but the puppets themselves didn’t always behave so it really gave it the feel that no two shows are alike, very much akin to theatre.

I hope at some point they get a microphone so the audience can actually hear the introduction and conclusion of the show. A non-cell phone notice would be great too (so many bright lights in the audience from people texting and what-not). All in all, I loved it and will go again. It’s made me excited about puppetry – not something I would ever thought I would say. I would love to get a good look at their workshop.

The show runs until April and tickets are just $5. If you’d like to read a more in-depth review, check out this one from local arts magazine Jasper.

Supporting the (Local) Arts

I finished my one-act play a couple of weeks ago and it go me thinking about what is going on theatrewise in my local community. When I was in Colorado, I went to a show every couple of months. Out here in Columbia, I haven’t been to any shows. It’s kind of sad really. Part of what has held me back has been the cost of tickets. I realized though, that there are lots of affordable options (matinees, non-premium seats, student rates etc). As a writer and artist, I really need to be supporting my local community. Besides, if you want to get good at something you have to immerse yourself in it. If it is playwriting, one of my latest passions, read plays and go to plays. I’ve been reading The Playwright’s Guidebook: An Insightful Primer on the Art of Dramatic Writing and I find it helpful too but it is no substitute for getting your butt in the seat at a theatre.

Last night, as part of my support for local arts resolution, I went to a Jasper Magazine Salon (check out their FaceBook page for details). They had some folks out from Trustus Theatre who will be performing in the upcoming The Motherfucker with the Hat. It was a great evening and I learned a lot about theater, particularly acting and directing. Who knew there are acting theories? I didn’t. I found it fascinating and realize that in addition to reading plays, I also need to do some reading about acting theory if I want to become a better playwright (this is in addition to poet, memoirist, and educator).

Hearing about the dedication of the cast to their craft and performances really had an impact on me. I already had tickets to Trustus’ Five Lesbians Eating a Quiche ($15 tickets) but now I also plan on going to Motherfucker (that abbreviation makes me smile). I’ve got tickets to the Koger Center’s balletSnow White ($15 tickets!) and I am going to Columbia Marionette Theatre’s Beauty and the Beast tomorrow ($5 tickets!). There’s just so much going on around me that I haven’t even noticed. By nature, I am a workaholic and I think being a writer and painter adds to my isolationist tendencies. It was nice to get out of the house last night and do something that got me out into the community and taught me something new. I didn’t have the balls to ask about script submission (yes, my play is looking for a home) but baby steps. I also tend to operate out of lack, or perceived lack. I’m a grad student and the sole support of my household. I don’t have money but there are places I could save so I can support the local arts more. Priorities people – I need to reevaluate mine.

Next week, the Jasper Salon is on the dark side of Snow White. Come on out. I’ll be there!

Semester Wrap-up and Playwriting

In a meeting with one of my mentors, I found myself listing all of these great things that had happened over the semester but then still somehow sounding like it wasn’t great. I tend to underemphasize the good and overemphasize the bad. My therapist and I are working on shifting this. It is hard to sit with my accomplishments (as she says). Why? I was raised thinking that to talk about ones own accomplishments was to brag and bragging was unattractive. No one wanted to be around a selfish braggart.

Part of working on this is to recognize the good. This semester I successfully taught my first English 101 section. I fell in love with teaching, something I didn’t expect. I saw my students grow in their writing and that makes my heart happy. I presented a nonfiction work as part of a panel on motherhood (I have decided not to have children yet) at the Southern Women Writers Conference in Mt. Berry, Georgia in October. At the conference, I won a place in a poetry workshop with Barbara Hamby. She was amazing and truly generous with her time. I also got to hear Dorothy Allison (swoon) speak and was first in line to get my book signed. It was wonderful to be able to tell her how her book, Two or Three Things I Know for Sure opened up my memoir for me. Before that I was blocked and lacking direction. She shook my hand, signed my book, and even talked a little shop with me.

Earlier this month, I got to give a poetry reading at an event benefiting Sexual Trauma Services of the Midlands. I had people come up to me afterwards and ask where they can read my work (thus the drive to produce a chapbook). The anthology I am co-editing, The Art of Medicine in Metaphors, is being published and I just finished the final edits this evening. The first class I tutored at Kirkland Correctional Institution just graduated, which was one of the most beautiful events I have ever attended. This is in addition to finishing two workshop classes complete with portfolios. Life is good, yet busy. Unbelievably busy at times. So much so that there is a terrible rumor going around the program that I don’t sleep.

In telling another of my mentors about the prison tutoring I did and the related poetry I’ve written, she suggested playwriting. So, here I am in the midst of memoir, working on a chapbook, and planning a class, and now thinking about writing a play. She recommended starting with John Guare’s “Six Degrees of Separation.” I also grabbed a copy of Playwriting: Brief and Brilliant by Julie Jensen. It was a really short read, about 80 pages and large print. As a short primer, it does its job. My main concerns were a quick grasp of the general conventions and formatting. I got that in an easy to read format. I do wish she had included a sample manuscript so I could see more, especially of the second page which lists characters, setting, and has a synopsis.

I was a bit worried about getting “distracted” by another project but it is amazing what I can get done when I am not watching television or playing World of Warcraft. Today has been a work day and I’ve been hugely productive. I might have to try this unplugging thing more often. I’ve often felt that I didn’t spend enough time reading, maybe now is a time to change those habits. Just in time for the new year. Anyhow, back to Jensen’s book, she has a nice four page list of her favorite plays. I plan on reading as many of them as I can over the break. Well, while I work on my memoir and chapbook. A writer’s work is never done.

Halfway Through

In the next three weeks, I will officially be halfway through my MFA program. This was my first semester teaching and I’ve learned a lot. It was quite a change for me to shift from student to teacher. I realized that I know a lot more than I thought I did.

As far as writing, I haven’t been struggling as much as I did prior to the program. Workshop keeps me writing pretty regularly. It still isn’t a daily habit though. I will admit though, I was suffering from workshop burnout for a while there. Sometimes I feel like I would just like to write something and not have it torn up. That’s kind of harsh phrasing but it does feel that way sometimes. On the other hand, I’ve received a lot of invaluable feedback. I guess I would just like some time to take in what others have said – you could call it a digestion period. That’s what the semester breaks are for I suppose.

I’m glad to say that I have had all of my pieces workshopped for the semester and I can spend the next few weeks digesting feedback and preparing for final portfolios. One thing workshop has taught me is to speak up more when I see something I like and to praise others more in the written feedback I give. It’s so easy to get in the mindset of just pointing out what could be worked on. We often lose the joy of reading/experiencing work when we read for revision. Maybe I should plan to read everything for workshop twice – once just for reaction and once for revision/moving forward. I still have a lot to learn about how to be effective in workshop but I’ve come a long way. Looking forward to what the next year at USC will bring.

Typing Away

It’s been over a month since my last post. So, what have I been doing with myself? A lot of reading for one. I reread Writing as a Way of Healing by Louise DeSalvo. I also read Alice Sebold’s Lucky, Dorothy Allison’s Two or Three Things I Know for Sure and I am in the process of reading DeSalvo’s memoir Vertigo. None of these works are on my comprehensive exam list, but they have been instrumental in helping me start my memoir. I’m in weekly therapy sessions, working through The Courage to Heal, and tutoring a group of students taking a memoir class at Kirkland Correctional Institution.

It’s been a struggle. So many ugly things from my past have come up and now that I am not using compulsive overeating as a way to deal with them, I have to sit with the related feelings. The good news is I am writing. I am using my typewriter again as I find I am less distracted than on the computer. It is also easier to read than my handwriting. Thus far, I have forty pages I have converted into a manuscript on MS Word. I still have a pile of both handwritten and typewritten pages plus pages of old writing I want to sort through and include some of. I also find the typewriter helpful as I can stop mid-thought and come back and add a word or two at any point. I just leave the sheet of paper in my typewriter. This is easier than having to boot my computer and open up the document. Besides, just turning on the computer usually leads me down a rabbit trail of cute animal pictures, feeds, and interesting YouTube videos. Something about the noise of the typewriter helps me focus too.

So that’s where I am at. Still depressed but working and that makes all the difference in the world. Happy writing.

Trauma and the Body

I’ve spent the last few weeks unable to work on my memoir. There have been several false starts but nothing substantial. I’m in therapy so I’ve been discussing the writing process a good bit. I realized that part of my fear is upsetting others (family members etc). I’m afraid of being successful because it means that people close to me will read my work and may get upset. Mind you, I work hard at being nonjudgmental and letting the facts, as I remember them, do the talking. I don’t focus on something someone else did as good/bad or right/wrong. It is simply stated as something that happened. So, instead of writing a work that will help me (and perhaps others) heal from trauma, I self-sabotage. I won’t let myself be successful. I often think of this a writer’s block but it is really me getting in my own way to varying degrees of consciousness.

Today I did a painting using my body as a brush. It was fun but also strange at the same time. As someone who has gone through sexual abuse, it was strange to see my flesh as something that could be used positively, as something that could create beauty. I’m also a big girl and have been made fun of or shamed throughout my life for it. To see my body as something that can create is strange. So much of trauma is invested in the body. It is why I use food to self-medicate (working on that). It is also why my body physically reacts to yelling (my therapist has called my reactions PTSD like). So much of what I went through is trapped in my body but also in the times I can’t remember. I’ve tried to protect myself.

It’s very scary and threatening to try and take away those protections. I’m working with a nutritionist on my eating and I am seeing a therapist and psychiatrist. The memoir I am using to try and take away the mental protections, to try and find out what else happened. The strange thing is that once I painted, I was able to write. The tie is so strong in the body that I needed that freedom of movement and thought to be able to move forward. Perhaps I will start painting regularly.