Feeding my writing

I haven’t done a pastry post in a while. I haven’t really experimented with pastries in a while. I’ve just made the standards, really, Grandma Scott’s sugar cookies and my son’s favorite, chocolate chips.

Truth is, for me baking is meditation, baking and walks with my dog, Maynard. Unfortunately, between the first nasty cold I’ve had in years and the “polar vortex” conditions we’ve been experiencing lately, Maynard and I have been mostly unable to walk outside.

Winter is a fantastic time to bake. I can’t describe the smells in my kitchen because I lost that sense a long time ago. Still, there is something visceral about baking. Perhaps, it’s that it brings me back to all that was good about growing up. That is being in the kitchen with family and friends. The kitchen in our house was Grand Central Station. It was where I did homework, where we gathered for holidays, where we sat with friends and discussed the workings of the world over sweet breads and coffee. Sure, we had a dining room and a table in that dining room, but it was rarely ever used except as a work station for my dollhouse crafting. My mother just preferred the kitchen, preferred everyone be in the thick of wafting scents and sizzling sounds of sustenance being prepared. We preferred it too.

 

A large version of the mini cinnamon sugar pumpkin muffin.

A large version of the mini cinnamon sugar pumpkin muffin.

The kitchen was part enigma, part fascination for me. I couldn’t cook my way out of a paper bag. I burned pizza and rice. My lack of sense of smell was a definitely a handicap when it came to seasoning savory food. It just couldn’t get it the way my mom could. Still, I always loved food, loved just about anything my  mother made–and now my husband makes. In fact, she and my chef husband have ruined me for your everyday restaurants. They pale in comparison to anything that came out of our simple, non-commercial, very homey kitchen. While trying to recreate some of that, for me, has been a challenge, the one thing I could do well was bake. I was always good at baking. Perhaps my pasta sauce needs a little work, but give me flour, sugar, butter, and pure vanilla extract and watch me go.

It started in the kitchen in our old house in Canton. It started there with my mother and her helping me bake chocolate chip cookies. It started with me watching and helping her make cannoli shells. It moved from my mother helping me to my best friend and I exploring our baking prowess on our own. Specifically, I remember the Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook, a classic, and numerous batches of drop biscuits and a few pineapple upside down cakes. Later, in college, my roommate and let our final exam stress out by baking Christmas cookies.

Now, I have my own very small kitchen, smaller than perhaps it should be for as much as it gets used. Still, we make our galley work. Also, if  there is one place I’ve ditched books and gone electronic it would be for recipes. My apologies to cookbook writers everywhere. With my iPhone I have so many options available at my fingertips and an endless number of new things I can try. What is particularly nice is that I can take the ingredients I find in my pantry, look them up, and usually find something that fits.

Last week, I took some canned pumpkin I had left over from Thanksgiving and found a cinnamon sugar pumpkin muffin recipe. You can find the recipe at Sally’s Baking Addiction. I made regular size muffins instead of minis, so I had to cook them a bit longer. They were not overly sweet. That’s fine by me. I hate when I get a muffin and am expecting a muffin, but it turns out sweeter than cake. Anyway, they were a hit with friends and family, and they made for nice morning side to my cup of ginger pear tea.

This week, I made a basic vanilla sheet cake from scratch for my son’s friend who is leaving soon for army basic training. I’d tried the Better

Sheet cake made from scratch.

Sheet cake made from scratch.

Homes and Gardens recipe many times, but the cakes always seemed a bit dry. This time I searched for another simple option. I landed on the best recipe at TheKitchn. The cake came out more moist than I had expected. I think a little tweaking with applesauce might make it just right. I consider myself a butter cream frosting connoisseur, so I can make it in my sleep. I need to beef up the cake decorating supplies and practice a bit with the tips. Still, it has been less than 24 hours and the cake has all but disappeared. And no, Maynard has not gotten hold of any.

In the end, what it does for me, besides making my family happy, is it gives me a little space from writing, directs my creative energy in another way that literally and figuratively feeds my writing and I think it’s important to take that time and do those things or we get burned out. I wasn’t feeling burned out, but it felt good all the same to fill the well in that way. How do you fill the well?

 

A space of her own

My corner

My corner

It’s a small space. It’s a corner of the room, the front room where the foot traffic is most certainly the highest, but there is a window. The window looks out on our street and the little bungalow-style homes that sit on it. In the spring, summer, and most of fall my Japanese maple is thick enough to hide a good part of that. The butterfly bush sends off its purple shoots that lure all kinds of fluttering things. This year I saw, for the first time, a hummingbird moth.

For a while I couldn’t come to my space. It felt cluttered and keeping the rest of the family’s stuff out of that area is a bit of a chore. I’ve dubbed the space my sacred space. I try to instill that notion in my family, but they don’t really get it. Ironically, I heard an interview with Roald Dahl’s daughter on NPR Friday. She spoke of his little writing hut and called it a sacred place. Unlike Roald, though, I can’t be in my own little hut. I don’t think I’d go there. It would feel too secluded. What my corner needed was a sense of peace, even though it is in the middle of everything. I realized in all of this that as much as I read those “the chores can wait until the writing is done” kinds of things, I can’t write until there is a sense of calm around me, calm amid chaos. In essence, I have to get the place spiffed up a bit in order to concentrate. Seclusion, as much I think it would be nice, would probably be less conducive. I go stir crazy very easily. I need a corner, a clean corner, a corner where some attention has been paid to placement of things.

That’s what I have now. I have my corner. I spent an entire day painting the one wall. It’s the same color it was before. I needed to patch holes, to make the wall whole again so I could hang but two simple pieces up there, a piece that features various metal round plates each with a Fleur-de-lis on it and an angel. The Fleur-de-lis is a reminder of my time at Spalding University. I really got the art by chance. I wanted something round to keep with the Feng Shui placement of things and the Fleur-de-lis happened to be the only reasonably priced piece of round out. I took it as a sign. I don’t come by design or decluttering naturally, so having the road map that Feng Shui gives me has been more than helpful. In fact, my house does feel more open and conducive to creativity. The angel is one my mom gave me. She gives me angels. Somewhere along the line she thought I collected them or liked them enough to collect them. I don’t recall that, but I love the angels she’s found and having angels watching over everything isn’t all that bad an idea. To the left is the window with my little tree outside of it. I taped the rejection letter from Calyx Books to the window frame as a reminder to follow my novel through. It was a good rejection, with a nice note about my writing and a reminder that it was one of 25 final manuscripts to be evaluated fully for their contest in 2011. Even if it didn’t win, it was seriously considered and I keep little notes like this in view as incentive to keep at it.

So, here I am in my corner. It does feel nice. I’m working again, making progress on my novel. That progress was tripped up about this time last year, maybe by my cluttered space, maybe by other things. I hit a wall and never felt I could get past it. I am miraculously squeezing through a crack. Re-making my space is a huge part of that, I think. I don’t need a big space or a secluded space, just a space that I feel like I can work in, a space where I can sit and work through the tough spots in my  novel and then get up and get a cup of coffee or throw a load of laundry in. That’s this space.

Now that the space is done, I need to set a regular writing time. That was another nugget I got from that Dahl interview on NPR. He had discipline. He was at his space for two hours at a time, twice a day. He gave himself permission to write or not write in that two hours, but he always sat for that two hours. That is my goal.

I need to establish that kind of work time and make my family aware of that. That’s the hardest part, getting everyone to understand. That’s where the hut would be helpful, but there are no huts here, just a corner, just a corner. Time to sit in my corner.

A sense of place

So often I read calls for submissions that say something about looking for work that has a sense of place. Sometimes, when I see this I stop and wonder about place. For most of my adult life I have felt rootless. I have lived in places, but the constant seems to be the need or want to live someplace else. It kind of is an affliction in my family. I can’t blame anyone for it. We are still trying to find our place here after three generations or two or a mix there of. My family is from Sicily. I have family there, but I haven’t seen most of them in almost 20 years. I grew up in various places in metro Detroit, mostly Canton, but when I go back I don’t really know anyone there anymore. My immediate family is scattered, across continents and across oceans. It seems like we are always searching for something, a kind of home, a kind of place.

This weekend I went on a pilgrimage of sorts. It wasn’t a long pilgrimage. We just made a short trip south to St. Marys, Ohio, where my husband, Jay, was born and lived for a part of his childhood. In our nine years of marriage we have never made the trip. We passed St. Marys multiple times and every time Jay would say, “There’s St. Marys.”  Not only is St. Marys where Jay was born, but his parents grew up there. He has roots there. He has family there.

We traveled to St. Marys for a wedding, Jay’s cousin Sherri’s wedding. It was a beautiful wedding. What made it beautiful more than the flowers or the church or the food was the intense family rooted in place vibe, a vibe I really haven’t felt a part of in a long time–if ever. I met Sherri’s longtime friend, briefly, and I listened as she laughed with another cousin about stories of when they were young. People were there because they love Sherri and her family and still know them and still live near them. In essence it was a small community in all the small community kind of ways I’m sure, but I realized that more than them being rooted in place, place is rooted in them. Perhaps this is sentimentalizing everything a bit, but I envy these scenarios sometimes. I envy the real sense of belonging people have when they are rooted somewhere. I envy Jay’s parents that they can go back home to St. Marys and see people they know and care about, people who still live in their hometown or have a strong connection to it. I envy Jay in that his cousins really are not that far away. They are my family now. I do know that, but I am not from a place like St. Marys. Still, I have searched for that sense of place often. I spent years at a small community newspaper trying to make place and roots kind of happen, but none of that can be made intentionally. It just happens over generations, over time. Perhaps, that’s why I am always stopped by that term “a sense of place.” I am an observer of it more than a participant. Hopefully, my children will have more of it than I have.

This morning, we woke and had breakfast lakeside at Grand Lake, the lake where Jay’s mom grew up. After, we drove around the lake and saw the house that Jay’s mom grew up in and then the house Jay lived in as a little boy and the house that Jay’s dad lived in as a boy. I heard how Jay would steal away from home to go to the pool when his mom wasn’t looking. I heard all kinds of stories and appreciated being immersed, for even a brief time, in this sense of place.

Regardless of all of it I feel that place isn’t just about place. It is about the people that are rooted in that place and deeply connected with it. It is Grand Lake and two towns where everyone knows each other. It is the rocky shore and the old little cottages that haven’t been dozed for bigger lake homes. It is the history of the lake itself. It  It is the winding neighborhood streets that lead to town. It is the fact that Jay’s parents can return to that place year after year and find friends and family welcoming them back. Now that I know that, I will work with that. I will understand that a little better when I see those calls and when I set my characters in place and set place in them.

Unfortunately, I was so captivated by place in this sense, I didn’t take the time to photograph the lake or anything. Oh well.

Writerly things I did on Sunday

I missed my what is becoming a regular Sunday post. I spent all day in Ann Arbor at the Kerrytown Bookfest. When I returned home my son asked me to take him out to practice

The issue of Michigan Quarterly Review I got with my subscription sign-up deal and the Ghost Writers collection I finally purchased.

The issue of Michigan Quarterly Review I got with my subscription sign-up deal and the Ghost Writers collection I finally purchased.

some driving skills for his test, which is today, and then I applied for a job while watching this week’s episode of Breaking Bad. By the time I finished will all of that, I had no time to post.

The Kerrytown Bookfest was such a treat. It was an entire event devoted to books and those who read and write them. It was like a craft fair, but the booths were all filled with books and people making bookish things. There were also speakers throughout the day that ran the gamut of genres. I was particularly interested in two talks that overlapped near the end of the event. The first was a panel discussion on women writers, moderated by V.V. Ganeshananthan, with Bonnie Jo Campbell, Lolita Hernandez, Natalie Bakopulos and poet Susan Ramsey. It was a fascinating discussion with fascinating women–an important discussion–the overarching theme, of course, being how the literary world continues to undervalue women writers and women’s points of view in writing. I say points of view, because our points of view are as varied as the number of women on this planet. There is no one way to be a woman and the literary world is rather single-minded if it continues to ignore these points of view. All of the women brought up interesting points, from Hernandez getting flack for being a woman writing about factory workers (which is personal for her since she worked in factories for many years) to Bakopulous finding Vogue‘s Edith Wharton photo spread as a metaphor for how the strong and complex female point of view is feared. I found her examples defining that point of view refreshing as I think about my own work and how I have viewed my novel character, Rosa. She pointed to the characters in the movie Bridesmaids. I realized there are similarities to the struggles Rosa goes through. I struggled with Rosa for a while, feeling that maybe she wasn’t outwardly tough enough, but hearing that discussion made me realize how I need to stick with her and flesh out all of her complexities. I need to keep my faith in her as a solid, interesting character and not be pulled by what I hear on the outside. For that, and more, it was a more than worthwhile discussion to hear. I had to duck out before it ended, though. I wanted to attend another discussion.

At the Kerrytown Concert Hall, the final discussion featured authors Matt Bell and Benjamin Percy discussing the intersection of the literary, the supernatural, and the strange. I am really really interested in exploring that intersection in my work. I am really really interested in reading Bell’s new novel In the House Upon the Dirt Between the Lake and the Woods and Percy’s novel Red Moon. I had signed up for a Michigan Quarterly Review subscription and purchased a book I had been meaning toget  for a long time, a collection of ghost stories by Michigan writers called For Ghosts Writers: Us Haunting Them, which I know follows that same literary, supernatural, strange, theme that just seems so much a part of who I always was as a writer and a reader. Anyway, that was my book quota for the day, so Bell and Percy’s novels are on my Christmas list, or maybe my October book quota list, just in time for Halloween, though their stories are much more complex than simply lumping them into Halloween stuff. Anyway, that discussion gave me the equivalent of a writing caffeine jolt. It was as if I had downed ten Red Bulls. It was a mini-writing workshop-type discussion that I found well worthwhile, especially hearing not just the writing process of both authors, but the reading process. Both had their unique processes for dissecting the works of others to understand better their own process of storytelling.

I did attend an earlier talk by a couple of mystery writers. I can’t say I have ever really read mystery, but the discussion was focused on family and I found that also helpful in thinking about my novel, which does look closely at family.

The event was free, which was an added bonus, and open to the public. I wouldn’t say I am a collector of anything, but if there is anything I do collect it is books–books and art–but not with the intention that I will sell them for three times their value or anything. I just like books and art. So, any opportunity to celebrate books is a good opportunity (dare I say it) in my book.

Anyway, happy reading and writing. Now, it’s off to do some work on the novel and later hold my breath as I witness my son’s driving test. Yikes!

Football, fall and the wonderful women in my life

Jay's UM hat.

Jay’s UM hat.

It’s Sunday again and I am posting again. It’s a miracle. I know it’s not officially fall, but what marks the beginning of fall in our house more than the autumnal equinox is the first Saturday kick-off at the Big House (University of Michigan Stadium). While I could really care less about U of M football (and the fact that they killed my alma mater Central Michigan University yesterday), what I enjoy is that reason it gives for us to gather with our good friends. My husband, Jay, and his friends (nearly all of whom he’s known since high school or middle school) all attended U of M. They now all attend all of the U of M home games. The wives hang back at someone’s house nearby, have cocktails and chat while the kids run and play.

Ideally, we should gather other times. Sometimes we do. We are all good friends, however, most likely because football brought us together. I met all these women through my husband. I love my husband. It’s an extra bonus that all his friends’ significant others are such wonderful people. I’m blessed in that I’ve gotten to know them over the years and football season is really the impetus for that. In fact, at yesterday’s tailgate we were laughing about the first time I experienced a football Saturday with the gang. It was an away game, so everyone gathered at what was just Jay’s house at the time to watch the ever heated annual battle between University of Michigan and Ohio State. I hadn’t moved in yet. University of Michigan lost. The guys were none too happy and a television controller happened to slip out of my husband’s hand and crash against a wall. No worries. The television controller is the only football casualty I’ve witnessed to date. Well, a few UM baseball caps have been hurled violently to the ground, but nothing more. Still, the passion for their team is what brings us together. It was bringing the gang together long before I came into the picture, and it has continued to bring everyone together for the past nine years that I’ve been with my husband. I probably wouldn’t have gotten a chance to know these women the way I have if we hadn’t spent many long leisurely Saturday afternoons going to parks, shopping, playing badminton, among other things, while our male counterparts baked in the sun or sat in the rain or cold watching UM football.

My immediate family lives an ocean away or at the very least many states away. My friends from previous lives are scattered as well. These women are the family I have here. So, as much as I might grumble that the chaos of football season has begun. It can get chaotic when there are three home games in a row (eight home games total) and the events of those days take up the one down day left in the week. Still, I appreciate the lasting friendships that my husband has built with his friends, and I appreciate that consequently I have built lasting friendships as well. These are the women I am blessed to have in my life. These are the women that make me grateful that University of Michigan football really means the start of fall in our family. A friend of mine gave me a sign that I hang in the house in the fall. It reads “We interrupt this family for football.”

Yes, we do interrupt this family for football. I am so happy for the interruption. I’m so happy to have these lovely days to spend with the wonderful women in my life.

Thoughts for a quiet Sunday

One of my wet felting projects.

One of my wet felting projects.

I don’t often get quiet time. I have teenagers. I have a husband. This morning, I have a bit of quiet. I figured I’d write a blog. I have gotten away from writing–and blogging. I have worked in fits and starts all summer, but I did not accomplish nearly anything I had hoped. I am learning to forgive myself that much. I wanted my novel done done. I don’t want to think about it anymore, but I am still at the beginning of this latest revision and it is agonizing.

This is the real life of a writer, I guess. I am agonizing over revision. Then I get frustrated and move to something else. Poetry. I’ve written some new poetry. I am working on a collection now. Rethinking my collection anyway. I have my creative writing students to thank for that. I had put poetry down for a while. Maybe, I should just put writing down for a while. It is such a struggle lately. Maybe, it’s supposed to be that way. Maybe, I need a vacation.

I had a vacation. I strained my back on vacation and couldn’t really do much but lay in bed or hang out on the floor in front of the television. It took me almost three weeks to recover from that.

Really, I need another creative outlet that doesn’t involve writing. I found it. I am wet felting things now. Mostly, I was looking for an inexpensive way to make round art to decorate my career corner. I got most of the other quadrants of my home to where I feel like they need to be according to Feng Shui. At least the corners I have access to. I do feel a sense of calm when I am in those places. My kids’ rooms are a bit difficult to access, but that’s okay. My career corner has made me feel uneasy. It doesn’t look pleasing or inviting and round art is hard to come by unless you want to fork over a lot of money. I decided to wet felt some things. I was interested in doing it for a while. Now, I’m hooked. Maybe that is the outlet I need, something other than writing, but something creative all the same.

Fall is quickly approaching. I start teaching new classes this week. The summer was busier than I expected and not with fun stuff. I do appreciate the times when things seemed quiet and summer-like. I am grateful for a lot of things that I did do, even if I didn’t get the writing done that I wanted to.

The summer things I did enjoy and continue to enjoy include:

1. Going to the Farmer’s Market every Tuesday to pick up our CSA share. Our fridge has been stocked full of the best fresh local produce all summer. We have eaten some really healthy fare. We should have done this a long time ago. It also made us carve a little time out with our good friends who we split a share with.

2. I got to spend more time at home with my kids for the first time ever! I worked, but teaching college is odd hours so I spent more time at home.

3. I started running with my dog, though my back issue sidelined me for a bit. I am back at it and happy to be so. My next goal is to run a road race.

4. I spent a day at the Detroit Institute of Art with my daughter and dear friends of ours. I grew up going there with my mother, so it was a blast to take my daughter there. Also, all this talk of appraising the art to possibly sell it to help Detroit get out of debt made me want to see the world class exhibits all the more. I am hoping, hoping, hoping with every cell of my being that Detroit realizes the value in keeping that treasure and sees that while Detroit has a lot to deal with it still needs these treasures intact if it wants to rebuild and become vibrant. If there is nothing cultural to come to in Detroit, no one will come. (Sorry, for the soapbox. I love my DIA).

5. I taught my first college level creative writing class and loved it!!! I found out how important it is to revisit the basics of creative writing from time to time.

6. I baked a lot and continue to bake. We hoped to make a killing at this one music festival this summer, but it turned out to be a bust. We were left with a lot of staples. I mean a loooooot of staples. I have giant bags of flour and sugar, like 25 pounds giant for the flour and a huge box of sugar that will last forever. So, I make my own bread now and I have been making zucchini bread, lots of zucchini bread. I even convinced my daughter to try it and she loves it.

Well, here we go. The last week of summer is upon us. I measure it by when the kids are in school. They start after Labor Day. I get a break from one college, but the other starts this week, so I never really got much of a summer break. Still, I only taught one day a week over the summer, so I can hardly say I worked the entire summer. Anyway, the fall will be tricky getting kids to different schools far away, but we’ll figure it out and before I know it Christmas will be here.

Well, I’d better get back to revision. See you much sooner than before, I hope.

Process, writing groups and reviving this blog

Ice on my morning walk. I feel like I can see the universe in it.

Ice on my morning walk. I feel like I can see the universe in it.

I have been inconsistent with this poor blog. Chalk it up to an overload of classes (the never ending plight of an adjunct instructor) and the constant running that comes with having teenagers. Oh, there is also my guilty pleasure–a little Doctor Who. I am going to try to be more consistent, though.

As a fledgling writer I am trying hard to encapsulate an hour here and an hour there for some novel and short story revision. It’s at a point where I have some sparks of ideas, but I can’t really give them a lot of attention until the other projects are cleared away. That would be part of my own process. It has taken me this long to figure out that I have to work out my own process. These books that tout certain processes of writing as “the optimal” processes are lying. There is no one process fits all. Each writer has his or her own approach. Those approaches are as vast as the universe.

My process is scattered. Some days the best work I do is while sitting on my couch in my writing room. Some days I do my best work at a cafe. The most important thing is to be reading and writing at least a little bit most days. I write this to tell myself that as much as anything. So, to revive this blog I’ll share my trials and tribulations of living the writing life, as I have been doing all along, and I’ll bring in a bit of discussion on what I have been reading. In addition, I’ll share the images I get on my contemplative walks, another key part to my writing process.

My latest trial and tribulation of the writing life has been trying to find a writing group that I feel comfortable with. I had a perfect group, the Sistah Scribes, a while back. I loved the Sistahs. I grew with the Sistahs, but a we all scattered to different regions about the time I started grad school and couldn’t really commit to the time. After grad school, I wanted to find another group. I wanted to continue the momentum of growth that grad school gave me. Finding the right writing group is not easy. I was misled with how easily the Sistahs formed and gelled so well.

That’s not to say I haven’t gotten anything from the groups I have visited. I have. I’ve met some great people. There are ultimately either scheduling conflicts or the group is too big or it’s online or…or….or. Well, I’m giving it another shot. This time, though. We are forming organically as off-shoots of other groups, a little like the Sistahs did, so it looks promising. It’s a small group, another good thing. I can tell it is going to be focused and hopefully consistent. Mostly, it will be more at my pace. Weekly, is too often for me. I need time to write. So, we’ll see how it goes. I have a good feeling about it. Now, it’s off to get some work done. Must turn some stories that have been rejected around and send them out today. Happy writing. Today’s image is of ice. I know we want spring to stay, but there were some wonderful patterns in the ice during my walks these past couple of months. Enjoy.

Perspective: Why “to MFA or not MFA?” is the dumbest question I have ever heard

If I was given a nickel every time I mentioned I had an MFA in writing and someone told me in not so many words that it was not worth money, I would have paid my student loans off years ago.

First, I would never consider telling someone their dreams were worthless. Second, the debate is so tiresome. I understand people don’t want to “waste time” or “waste money” or “make a major wrong life step.” Still, to think that hard about it means those people who say mean-spirited stuff like “it’s not worth it”  have missed the point altogether.

We hear the sentiment “If you do what you love, you will never work a day in your life” all the time, but when someone actually adheres to that as a life mission statement, we tell them it’s a mistake. It’s not worth it. Perhaps those who say that need to look within themselves a little deeper.

I didn’t make the decision to get an MFA lightly. I wanted a new direction, an authentic direction, not a direction someone else felt was good for me. I wanted to do something that moved me. I had dreamed of focusing on my writing in that way for a long time, but had been afraid for one reason or another. One day, I heard one of those Story Corps interviews on NPR. In this particular interaction, a husband was interviewing his wife. She had stage IV cancer of some type. I don’t remember now what type. He talked of her strength and how she had not let her cancer stop her from following her life dream of getting a Master of Fine Arts degree in visual arts. That story stuck with me. After hearing that story, I wondered why I was waiting any longer to follow my heart and do what I wanted. I dreamed of teaching and writing and being home more for my children. I dreamed of being in a wonderful community of writers and making lasting friendships. Mostly, I dreamed of doing something I was so passionate about that I would literally tell people who thought I was crazy to bag it.

Some did think I was crazy, but I had had a lifetime of being sane, of being the good girl and doing what good girls do. Good girls are practical. Good girls do what they are told. Good girls do something like major in something that everyone around them thinks will be good for them, even if everyone around them has no idea who that good girl really is. So, I embraced crazy. I embraced the idea that I’d read in Anne Lamott‘s book Traveling Mercies that you have to leap and the net will find you.

I lept. I went for it. I didn’t think about the stupid debate. I just knew that I would make the darned thing work for me because I wanted to do it. I learned that rather than fear that the net won’t be there, know that the net is always really there. I wanted to dive into the study of something I loved. I was tested in many ways. My first attempt at getting into schools failed, but I tried again and got accepted to  two schools. That, of course, was not the most difficult test. Ironically, I was diagnosed with cancer in the midst of grad school. In the midst of working full-time, raising two children, and attending grad school, to be exact. I didn’t let it stop me. I finished. I did it. I wouldn’t change it or say it wasn’t worth it. I am doing what I love. I am writing. I am teaching. Do I still have loans? Yes. I’d have them if I did something others thought would be more “worth it.”

I posted a status on my Facebook page that says how I feel about this topic best. I posted it because I heard, yet again, someone who does not have an MFA tell me how worthless or useless it is to get one. I am proud of my MFA. I worked hard for it. I knew going into it that it was not the end all, be all to my writing career, but there is no end all, be all. There are only choices we make in the moment that help us see that this moment is all we have. We have to keep writing. We have to keep taking the path we know deep within is right for us.

Here is my Facebook status posted 3/2/13:

I got a Master of Fine Arts degree in writing because I followed my heart. I listened to the creative Crissy within. I got a bachelor of science degree in sports medicine because I was too young and naive to think for myself. In essence, I did what everyone thought I “should” do. I love words. I love inspiring others to discover they might love words as well. Nothing makes my life resonate more than spending a day working through even a single line of my novel. I have not taped an ankle in more than 20 years and I don’t miss it. I was never able to get a halfway decent job until I started writing. It baffles me how often I hear people tell me in not so many words how my writing degree is some how worthless. Not one person ever told me going into sports medicine wouldn’t be worth it. Perspective:/

When resolutions are resolved

We hear so much about how people make resolutions and then consequently fail at keeping them. We are inching ourselves further way from the start of the New Year, but I wanted to write a little success story. Each year I declare either that I am never making another resolution again or that I am resolving to start running, to get back in shape and any number of other things related to health. Last year, I made a resolution to go deeper than that, to start from further outside myself.

Authors of the book Life at Home in the 21st Century note that “For more than 40,000 years, intellectually modern humans have peopled the planet, but never before has any society accumulated so many personal possessions.”

I would have to say that in my life this was indeed true. I looked all around and there was stuff. I felt its heaviness. Even before I saw statistics, I felt overwhelmed by it all, so last year I resolved to lose the excess weight caused by accumulating stuff. In fact I put it like this on my Facebook status, “New Year’s resolution: Lose weight, but not body weight, material goods weight. In essence, I just want to purge all the junk and open up some peaceful space for family togetherness and writing.”

I actually did it, or a good chunk of it anyway. Here is how I did it. I let go of the emotional attachment to things. I thought about what would ultimate serve my dreams of becoming a writer and what would hinder them. I thought about how I have grown and don’t need to hold on to too many keepsakes from a time when I was someone I no longer really know. In essence, I am letting go of yesterday and not getting caught up in what I think I might need tomorrow.

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My latest Goodwill pile.

Along with letting things go, I understand that this kind of transformation is a process. It can’t all be done at once, though in my case I get focused and before I know it I have gutted the basement. By making it a resolution at the start of last year, I understood that  it would take a year or more to do this. Throughout the year, piles formed at my front door. Piles I would take to the nearby Goodwill store. I have one now consisting of bags of cookbooks, not the good ones my chef husband has collected, but the ones that I thought I would look at and never have. Now, I have an iPhone with millions or recipes at my fingretips, so there is not need for cookbooks I never looked at in the first place. So, off to Goodwill these books go.

I have succeeded in keeping with my resolution. I have purged load after load of stuff. Goodwill and Freecycle are my friends. It’s amazing how much more there is to get rid of. I have another Goodwill pile growing in my front room. What I learned from the experience and continue to learn is to make peace with the small space I live in. Part of making peace with it is to rid myself of things to open up the small spaces and make them peacful. As part of all this  I have been rearranging things and dusting corners that have not been dusted in years. In fact, I discovered a little book in my bookshelf called “Move Your Stuff, Change Your Life: How to Use Feng Shui to Get Love, Money, Respect and Happiness.” I figured decorating my home with the guide could do me some good. Essentially, the idea is to clearn things up and place things in order to increase the chi, or the universal energy. I will admit a few good things have happened since I began moving things. Whether that’s because I’ve moved my stuff or just because they happened, I do believe that the new placement and the purging has opened the flow of energy, a peaceful energy that allows the the creativity to flow and allows the space for good things.

The resolution, however, does not end. There is more work to do. I have conquered a good chunk of my house. The major projects are done. The year ended with the basement purge. Now, it’s the smaller areas–drawers and cubbies. Things seem less overwhelming. There is space. There is chi. Now, it’s time to honor my creativity.

One foot, two foot

A long time ago, after many failed attempts at trying to make my family sportingly proud, I took to the only sport that didn’t require me to dribble, kick, or throw a ball. I took to long distance running. I won’t say I was great, but I was good and distance running came surprisingly easy to me, the one kid who always finished last in sprints, in pretty much anything that one would file under the title “sport.” It wasn’t that I had to be sporty. My family accepted me just fine. Still, my sibs were way more sporty than me. My brother played hockey and baseball and did just fine. My sister, well she probably got the most sporty genes of all of us and the looks and the smarty genes, but that’s a whole other blog.

The first time I took to the roads, though, I felt something liberating. I ran two miles. I was surprised how good I felt. The next day I ran four. I was training for my first road race, the Dixboro Fun Run, held in the small hamlet of Dixboro. My dad signed me and my sporty brother, who was running for wrestling training, up for the race. I think I trained for about a week. I ran the two-mile and surprised myself by finishing first in my age-group and second overall female. I got hardware. At that point, I hadn’t really ever won anything sporty in my life. Well,  I think there was a softball championship in there, but I never felt I contributed that much to the team. Softball was torture.

After that race, I craved road racing. I ran all the time. My neighbors came to know me as the girl who was always running. One of the older boys who used to hang out in the neighborhood used to call me Champ. He said I was going to be a champion one day. I never knew his name. He will never know how good that made feel, some strange boy urging me on. Parents in the neighborhood urged me on, too. Someone would inevitably catch me coming into our tiny subdivision at the end of the run and ask how far I’d gone that day. Some would laugh and tell my parents they saw me in the next town 10 miles away. You could say I became a little obsessed. I loved running. I ran track and cross country. Ultimately, though, my favorite were the road races I ran. I loved the community that surrounds road racing. Everyone was so encouraging, especially to women runners who really were just making inroads into the sport. I was always pacing with some group of guys because the women were spread so far apart and they were all welcoming.

I ran a little in college, but by that point I wasn’t good enough for college running. I ran two marathons and came close to qualifying for the Boston Marathon, my dream at the time. At some point, life got in the way. Kids came. I had other things I needed to do. With kids came a few stubborn pounds.  I never got back to running like I used to.

More than five years ago came the devastating news that I had cancer. My treatment regime was long and hard on my body. It took a long time to recover. I still am not sure I have fully recovered. This summer, however, I wanted to get back in shape, if nothing. Every time I say I am going to start walking, I end up running. I also needed to help Maynard the Wonder Dog lose a few pounds. He came to us on a diet. He is now my jogging partner. I started in the spring. It has been a struggle. I’m slow, much slower than I used to be. It’s much harder than it used to be. I think I have been running two miles since spring and it has felt hard and tiring since spring. Today, though, I felt the shift. The one that I used to feel after only a week or two, the shift that helped me see I was really back, that running was what I was supposed to be doing. Yes, I felt it. My feet didn’t shuffle as much. I kicked my heels a little more. I kept a pace, still not fast, but faster, more importantly more comfortable than running has felt in eons. I had gotten to a point where I thought I’d never feel that.

For me, there is a strong connection between the endurance and persistence of hitting the pavement or trails and the endurance and persistence needed to come to the page regularly and work through rejection and work through drafts. I love that they remind me of each other. I love that doing both makes me feel so good. Carry on. Endure. Persist. One foot. Two foot.