Monday, December 30, 2013

Holiday Card

Dear Friends and Family,

I don't think I can complain one bit about 2013. It's been an adventurous year for me--busy, certainly, but mostly busy with wonderful things. Busy with fun, busy with spontaneity, busy hanging out with all of you, busy with thrilling upheaval.

I saw a great deal of the United States this year. In January, Meg and I went to New York City to visit Kevin. We explored Brooklyn and attended an over-the-top David Bowie/Elvis birthday party. We also stopped at a Doctor Who-themed bar:




In March I traveled to Las Vegas to see if I'd actually like living there, as I'd been accepted into UNLV's fiction MFA program. Turned out it wasn't just a single street full of brightly lit casinos in the middle of a cartoonish desert as I'd always imagined it. I sat in on a poetry workshop, I won $15, and I met many delightful people who thoroughly won me over and who would eventually become my friends. But that comes later...

Also in late March I went with Gena to Green Bay for Easter.  We dyed eggs and visited Lambeau Field and bought records and lots of underwear and we watched musicals and had a generally lovely time.

In May I went to Florida to meet up with my family and participate in a 5K for stroke research in memory of my Aunt Tracey. We stayed in a cottage near Jacksonville Beach, and on the way back to Uncle Bill's house in West Palm Beach we stopped in St. Augustine to fulfill my history nerd desires. Here's me with my parents at the old fort there:




In July I went back to Las Vegas with my dad to find an apartment. It was 117 degrees that week. I won $70 this time, and I found an AWESOME roommate in Lulu. But I still wouldn't get to know her until a little later.

In August I finally made the move to Vegas, but I had to get my car out there. This called for a cross-country road trip with the best friends! Meg and I left from Chicago and drove to Omaha. We ate a pound of Goldfish crackers in one day. We pretended that we did not. The next day we drove from Omaha to Denver, where we explored bars with Sacha and Dan (a gay cowboy bar, a Grateful Dead bar, a super divey dive bar), and where we picked up miss Leta for the rest of the ride. From there we drove on pitch black roads to a tiny town in the middle of the Utah, and the next day we finally reached my new home. It was amazing to see so many different landscapes in just a few days. Albert, my dinosaur plant, accompanied us. Here he is heading into some mountains:

And here we are on top of a mesa in Utah:

Did you think the traveling would stop just because I officially became a graduate student? Of course not! Over Labor Day weekend my new friends Michael, Shaun, Olivia, and I took the Extraterrestrial Highway to Area 51.




And in October I drove the rest of the way to the Pacific to visit my friend Katie in Los Angeles, where we attended a Halloween masquerade, among other things.




In November I flew back to Chicago for Thanksgiving, and now I'm in Chicago again, enjoying my Windy City friends before I fly back to Vegas on Wednesday.

Here are some other rad things I did this year:

Death-to-Our-Youth-Themed Birthday Party! (Sharon Tate, Kim Jong-Il, and Madonna's Career)

 C2E2! (Meg and I make a pretty good Buffy & Faith, don't you think?)




Gogo dancing!




Rocky Horror!




Got a Chicago flag tattoo!




Met Neil Gaiman!




Chopped off all my hair!




Pitchfork Festival!

Chicago-themed going away party! (St. Valentine's Day Massacre & Lake Michigan)









Lollapalooza!

Taught my first class ever!




Read my stories in public for the first time ever!




Started playing Dungeons & Dragons!




Not to mention the fact that I started an amazing program and that I've been working hard on my writing and that I've made tons of new friends who I adore and who are becoming just as big a part of my life as my friends in Chicago.

I realize that my 2013 would not have been such a resounding success without all of you. And I mean ALL of you. Your love and support has made this major life transition far easier for me. Thank you.

Enough with the sappy stuff. Let's toast to 2014! I'm certain it will be just as wonderful. 

Love,

Becky

Friday, December 13, 2013

Why Grade When You Could Blog?

A question for the ages.

It's been too long! I've been kept pretty busy this week by several end-of-the-semester shenanigans, which I will now describe for your enjoyment.

Marianne's Typhoon Haiyan fundraiser went spectacularly well. There were even people there who had nothing to do with UNLV or our MFA program. Crazy, I know. In the end we raised over $1,600.
Sunday I played Dungeons and Dragons for seven hours. Yes, you read that correctly. Seven. Hours.

Wait. I haven't mentioned that I'm playing D&D on this blog yet, have I? Well, I am. My character's name is Penumbra Dreadful, aka Penny. She's a cheerful goth chick who worships the Raven Queen, goddess of death, and it is her sad mission to stay alive as long as possible so she can spread the good news about death throughout the land. (Human cleric, for those of you in the know.) I play with Austin and Shaun and Josh, and Jamison and JD just joined our party. Yeah, that's right. Our bartender plays D&D with us. 

I can hear you groaning. You all should have seen this coming.

Anyway, the only reason we played for seven hours that day is that these assholes came into the Frog without a reservation and demanded that JD lead a whiskey tasting for them. So we took a two hour break, but we stayed in the bar. A bar is generally a good place to take a break.

Monday was my last fiction workshop of the semester. (I guess it wasn't all shenanigans keeping me busy.) We talked about Amy and Brock's pieces, and Richard gave a nice speech. On a serious note, I am so glad that my first fiction workshop ever was filled with such wonderful people. Everyone was respectful and insightful and tremendously helpful. I feel like I'm already a better writer because of it. It's going to be strange having only poetry classes next semester, but hopefully I'll have some time to generate more fiction content for future workshops.

I thought we'd go out after workshop, but nobody seemed in the mood, so I met up with Aurora, Olivia, Derek, and Austin for fancy ramen. Then we went to the Frog, because when don't we?

Tuesday was a fun day as well. After grading at Sunrise Coffee--yes, Chicago, Vegas has local coffee shops, too--Olivia and I felt in the holiday spirit, so we watched White Christmas while drinking wine. Lots of wine. I don't think I need any wine for a while now. We also demolished half of a tin of popcorn because we are simply that classy.

Wednesday evening Colby had a few people over to his place. I met a lot of people who either used to be in the program or are PhDs whom I have not yet met, so that was nice. We were going to watch Anchorman, but we somehow ended up watching The Saddest Music in the World, which is fantastic if you're in the mood for a deep and existential yet zany comedy.

I promise that I was doing lots of work in between all this, by the way. I'm a responsible human being. Kind of.

Thursday we workshopped my gothic story, and people liked it so much more than I thought they would! Or at least, they were reading the things into it that I wanted them to read. I was pleased to creep people out. I'll have to keep working on that one, polish it up, submit it somewhere. One day...

Last night was Olivia and Joe's "Cat and Dog Soiree." Originally we were all supposed to read Chekhov's "The Lady with the Little Dog" and Hemingway's "Cat in the Rain" and discuss them. However, it turned into a raucous holiday party with delicious food and an epic Les Miserables singalong and a contentious game of Celebrity. Impromptu Christmas caroling, too. We didn't discuss the stories for one moment. Poor Joe. His neighbors must hate him.

Today I felt like a badass because I changed the tire on my car. I still have no idea how I got a flat in the first place, but it's okay because I'm a strong, independent woman who can do things like change a tire on a car. I mean, I had to Google it, but still. There are a few others to whom I also owe my success: Lulu, who helped me get the spare out of the trunk, and my adorable elderly next-door neighbor lady, who brought me a flashlight, a hammer, and a far superior lug wrench, simply out of the goodness of her heart. I'll have to bake her some cookies. I have a blister now, but at least I also have a car that I can drive.

Tonight: bingo! You didn't honestly think I'd be spending my Friday night in, did you? Actually, a night in would be nice, one of these days. However, I don't have many evenings left in Vegas before I head back to Chicago for the holidays, so I'm determined to make the most of them.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

How is it December already?

Sorry that I haven't written in a while. I had to concentrate on getting everything done during the last week of the semester. How did that happen? It feels like I just got here.

Thanksgiving was great, if a bit hectic. Having so many babies in the house was simultaneously adorable and insane. Astoundingly cute birth control. I'm just kidding; it was wonderful to see all my cousins and aunts and uncles and to eat ridiculous amounts of food and to have a bonfire and to cuddle my dogs, and even to go outside in freezing cold weather, just for a little bit.

I taught my final class this week. I decided to tell them that it was my first time teaching, and to thank them for not stalking/killing/screaming at me, as orientation had implied that they would. I was pleased to discover that most of them were surprised regarding my inexperience. I think I'm going to miss those crazy kids.

We're finally reading our own gothic stories in class. Mine hasn't gone up yet--that will happen Thursday--but the ones I've read so far are mostly phenomenal. I'm a little worried about mine. As it stands, I think I accidentally wrote a horror story with gothic elements, as opposed to an actual gothic story. But it's a fine line. I guess we'll see what people have to say about it.

Last night was way too much fun. A few of us proposed a trip to Atomic Liquors, and tons of people showed up! So it was a big MFA end-of-the-semester party. Olivia proposed a lovely toast, I drank some delicious whiskey, and aside from the part where I cleverly tripped over a stool and fell down because I am just that graceful, I had a fantastic evening.

Tonight there's more fun in store; Marianne organized a fundraiser for victims of Typhoon Haiyan, so several of us will be reading at the open mic, and there will be lots of prizes up for silent auction. Now to see if I can actually get some work done before that happens. There is nothing more difficult that convincing oneself to grade student papers.

You guys: have I mentioned that I'm glad I moved to Las Vegas?

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Homeward Bound

Writing this post on my phone outside the building where I teach, waiting for Austin-the-saint to drive me to the airport. Some student organization is blasting dubstep. It's sunshiny. Not looking forward to winter weather this evening.

I am, however, looking forward to everything else this evening, for I am finally returning to Chicago! Well, the suburbs, but close enough.

This Thanksgiving we're having an epic Flaherty-side family reunion. Besides my parents and my sister, we have: Uncle Bill, the Boyd clan (Adam and Amy + tiny twins Jonas & Ella and tinier Lydia), the Kappelboyd clan (Erin and Rembert + tiniest twins Willem & Hendricus), Aunt Trish, the Dilger clan (Caroline and Rich + tiny Colleen and tiniest newest baby Anna), Kevin and Catherine, and Catherine's parents. 

Not to mention my dogs. Pretty psyched about the dogs.

It's going to be madness, in the best possible way. 

Getting in pretty late tonight, but I'm going to make every effort to make it to the annual McGrath turkey fry so I can see my Meghan. Also because food. Also because her parents throw the craziest parties I've ever attended.

On a final note before I take my holiday, I'd like to thank you all for your insightful and kind responses to my last post. They made me grateful that I'm acquainted with so many good people. 

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Meditations on Knowing; or, I Have All The Feels

To get this out of the way first: my reading last night at Neon Lit went well. I was far more nervous than I thought I'd be, but I think I read clearly and at a good pace, and everyone assures me it was great. Everyone here is so nice, however, that I'm fairly certain they'd lie to me and tell me it was great even if it was horrible. I don't think they're lying, though. People laughed. I had a good time. I looked like a total babe. Here's a picture:

See? The babeliest. The other readers were awesome, too. Afterwards we went to Velveteen Rabbit, the most hipster of bars, and then we went to a zombie-themed bar's fetish night because Friday. (In regards to my syntax, you should read this article from The Atlantic about how "because" has become a new preposition. I've been doing it for a while now. Only in informal writing, of course.)

So you're probably wondering about the title of this entry. I've been trying to write a post about this for a while, but I haven't had the time, and I hadn't thought it through enough until today. Not that I actually have time to write it now--I should be finishing up my gothic piece--but I'm going to do it anyway.

Fair warning: this is going to be a long one.

Those of you who know me from my pre-MFA life know that I'm a relatively even-keel person, erring on the cheerful side. Cynical and snarky, perhaps, but always with an undercurrent of happiness and overall faith in humanity. That's why I like to start political arguments at the dinner table and other similar things frowned upon by society; my emotions are typically so stable that a heated debate gets my blood pumping. I feel elated afterwards, and for the most part I'm a live-and-let-live type of person, so it usually doesn't matter to me whether I've ultimately changed your mind.

In terms of outward appearances, I would say that my personality has not changed much since moving to Las Vegas. However, on the inside, to quote one of the finest movies of our time, "I'M IN A GLASS CASE OF EMOTION."

When I'm happy I feel practically manic. When I get hurt it feels like someone socked me in the gut. Of course, I do realize that while I think I have, in internet terms, all the feels, I'm probably just dealing with what normal people call feelings. Lowercase f.

I've been trying to analyze why this is happening, why my control over my emotions has become so poor. After much consideration, I believe it has something to do with the fact that nobody here knows me yet. Sure, they kind of know me. I'm sure they all understand that I'm cheerful, that I like music, that I write flash fiction, that I love Chicago, etc. (On an unrelated note, I'm worried I'm driving everyone nuts because all I talk about is Chicago. But it's not my fault! I have no other point of reference for anything in life.) Yet I feel like, at this point, we all only know each other and are friends with each other on an archetypal level--Becky the cheerful gogo dancer and Michael the San Francisco hippie and Shaun the goofy Irish poet and Kayla the wild child and Austin the nicest human ever, and so on.

I don't mean to diminish my friendships here. I would say that there are, at the very least, glimmers of truth and honesty in all my relationships with my fellow MFA-ers, and I've grown considerably closer with some of them--Olivia especially.

When I came here to visit in March, I noticed that everyone in the program only hung out with each other, and dated each other, and I thought it was a little weird, honestly. And I understood that, if I were to join this program, I would have to get used to a much lower level of privacy than I had previously enjoyed. I used to be a very private person. Since coming here, however, I've made a strong effort to be brutally honest with everyone, because I know that no matter what I do, it's going to get around to everyone else sooner or later, so I might as well share it on my terms. I guess I just thought that being so honest and trusting people who I had no real reason to trust would lead to deeper friendships faster.

I'm not an idiot. I know that it usually takes an incredibly long time to get to know someone on the level that I'm talking about. I've known my friends in Chicago for years. Some of my Chicago friendships, were I to personify them, would be in high school. The odd exception is, of course, the lovely miss Gena, who swing-danced into my life and in less than a year we were practically inseparable. Naturally, I'm going to feel like those people know me better than the people in my program.

It's just hard being in a completely new place without someone who truly knows me. I don't know who I can talk to about things. I'm certain that, in the future, many of my friendships here will reach that level, but in the meantime it feels sort of like I'm climbing across a net with holes strewn here and there.

I am irritated with how many times I've used the word "know" in this post. The French have two words for the verb "to know": savoir, to know facts, and connaƮtre, to be familiar with a person. This is a distinction we desperately need in English, n'est-ce pas?

Back to the point: the other side of this is that being brutally honest and open is hard. And the weirdest part is, it's difficult to do it without it feeling a little fake, since it's not natural to be so open and honest with near-strangers.

It's like flirting. I always feel like I'm lying when I'm flirting, not because I'm not interested in the person--obviously, I wouldn't be flirting otherwise--but because I'm not naturally a touchy-feely, eyelash-batting, floozy-esque person. I suppose it can be fun sometimes, but it normally takes a great deal of conscious effort on my part. It's exhausting.

It is equally exhausting being as honest about oneself as one possibly can with everyone all the time, especially when I feel that I'm not getting as much out of it as I should. You could argue that I could just not be myself--moving to a new place is the perfect opportunity to reinvent a personality, after all. But that seems wrong. I could never do that.

It's also a problem--and this was a problem sometimes in Chicago, too--that people always seem to enjoy my general cheerfulness, so much so that I am completely out of my element when I try to talk to people about the less-than-cheerful feelings I have. I'm not allowed to have such feelings--I'm Becky. You know, the perpetually happy one. It takes a long time for me to trust someone enough to tell them when I'm feeling low. This post would lead me to believe that I've apparently known the internet long enough?

I guess I just wish that someone would walk up to me and say "Hey, Becky, I want to know you more thoroughly than any other person so let's just talk about everything." Actually, no, I don't wish that. That would be totally creepy.

I do wish that I could spend one day with each member of my program hanging out with them individually. We almost always spend time together in groups, and I suspect some one-on-one time would go a long way in terms of knowing my fellow MFA-ers, and them knowing me. That's probably one reason why Olivia and I are closer--we have girls' nights all the time. Also she's just awesome.

Okay: rant over. Thank you, internet, for being my silent Freudian psychoanalyst. No comments necessary, folks, unless you really want to. I'm not looking for a pity party--just some catharsis.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

What is this water falling from the sky?

It's raining. Gross.

I guess I can't complain; the weather has been gorgeous for the vast majority of my time here, and I'm sure this won't last too long. Even the desert has to be watered sometimes.

Let's see. Updates. Tuesday the poet Derek Henderson came to do a craft talk and a reading. Both were lovely, although he never explained what I desperately need to understand for next semester: how does one write a poem? We all went out after his reading, and there was lots of good music, and I stayed up too late. Shocker. Whether I'm out with friends or doing work in my room, I am consistently up too late.

When am I going to realize that I'm too old for 2 a.m.?

(The True Champion is NEVER too old for 2 a.m.!)

I am ultra-excited for tomorrow because I'm doing my first public reading ever at Neon Lit. I've mentioned the event before; it's the monthly reading our program organizes at an art gallery downtown. I picked out the stories I want to read yesterday, and I practiced a little last night. I'm nervous, but I'm sure I'll get through it fine. I usually do. I'll have to practice some more tonight, assuming I don't waste all my time BS-ing my teaching philosophy for pedagogy class. So much work for a class that means so little.

Other things I'm excited about:

Gena told me about a wonderful, completely historically inaccurate show about Mary, Queen of Scots called Reign. It's hilarious. So bad it's great. Sexy Nostradamus.

I'm listening to "Seven Swans Reimagined" for the first time in a while, and I forgot how wonderful it was. Nothing like DM Stith, Carl Hauck, and Bonnie 'Prince' Billy covering Sufjan Stevens.

And, most importantly, WELCOME TO NIGHT VALE IS DOING A LIVE SHOW IN VEGAS IN JANUARY. Yes, I know Cecil Baldwin is fictional (sort of). Does that mean I want him to be my best friend any less? No it does not.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Return to the Pioneer Saloon, and other adventures

Phone blogging from Einstein Brother's between writing center shifts because I don't buy or cook meat not because I'm a vegetarian but because I'm lazy but sometimes I just want a goddamn turkey sandwich, okay? Don't judge me.

Run-on sentences are fun.

Anyway, as the title of this post suggests, we made our triumphant return to the Pioneer Saloon on Friday night. You remember the Pioneer Saloon--it's that 100-year-old cowboy bar in the middle of nowhere. And once again, it was utter madness, in the best possible way.

Jamison rented a grill and cooked us all burgers and brats. Lulu sang Whitney Houston and made a local cry. Joe sang my favorite Lou Reed song ("Perfect Day," for the record). Austin did a truly stunning rendition of Electric Six's "Danger! High Voltage," and we are all now his karaoke groupies. Colby discovered his calling as an inspirational dancer. Flynn, the grizzled old biker dude from last time, rocked "War Pigs." Monica, the bartender, offered us all shots of whiskey on the house--assuming we'd let her pour them directly down our throats from the bottle. As a designated driver, I did not partake. However, I did discover that I can sing Led Zeppelin's "Rock and Roll" pretty damn well. 

We shut the place down. It was magical.

Last evening was Good Hair Fiction Club at Jean's. It should really be called Good Hair Fiction and Eating Club because there was tons of delicious food. Jean made chili, Brittany baked cookies, and Joe brought cronuts. Cronuts

I read my gothic piece. It's still awful, but I got lots of helpful feedback, so I'm generally excited to revise. Why can't it just do what I want it to do? (Said every writer ever.) I wish we didn't have to turn it in the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. More time would be helpful.

I have "Danger! High Voltage" stuck in my head now. I hope you do, too.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Productivity (or lack thereof)

Remember how I said I was going to finish the first draft of my story for gothic fiction class? Totally did. Quite pleased with myself. The middle is basically awful, but that's why one revises.

As you may have guessed, the rest of my Veterans Day weekend was largely full of writing. That's what I did Saturday, until that evening when I met Shaun and some of his friends who had driven in from L.A. at the Freakin' Frog. I was reluctant to go at first because I was getting so much writing done, but ultimately I'm glad I did. When I write, I get into this zone where I forget about everything else, including moving the vast majority of my muscles. I usually end up quite sore afterwards, and I'd been writing all day, so a few beers definitely helped. Besides, Shaun's friends were lovely, and I got to hear about all their adventures at the Grand Canyon.

Sunday I read some stories for Witness in the morning, but then I decided to give myself a break. Aurora, Colby and I headed to Boulder City for a few hours. It's this quaint little town right near the Hoover Dam. (We didn't go to the dam, though--I want to save that for another day.) We went to their little microbrewery for lunch, and we ended up at this funny art fair in the parks & recreation gym, where several cute old people were selling their wares. Then we drove down to Lake Mead, where I saw the creepiest fish ever. Aren't they awful, swarming all over each other with their gaping pinkish mouths, desperate for food? Not at all right.

Monday was another writing day, and also a grading day, but grading is horrible and I don't want to talk about it.

Last night was better than Monday. Last night there was a free scotch tasting at the Frog, and it was expensive, tasty scotch to boot. Lulu had never had scotch before, so I insisted she attend. Shaun, Austin, Josh, and Olivia were all there as well. I spent the evening being entirely unproductive, and I do not regret it in the slightest. I should be unproductive more often.

Haha just kidding that is so far from my nature I don't even know how I'd handle myself what is laziness I don't understand help I'm so nervous just thinking about it.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Let the Long Weekend Commence

Three posts in one week? WHAT IS THIS MADNESS?! It's strange to actually have some spare time. Strange and wonderful, obviously.

It's Veterans Day Weekend, so we don't have school on Monday. I don't think I can adequately express in words how excited I am to not have to work in the writing center on Sunday or plan a class for Monday. You know what I'm going to do instead? Write. Well, I'll probably have to grade some student essays, too. But let's pretend like I don't have to do that, and instead focus on the writing. I'm going to try to write as much of my gothic story for Maile's class as possible. Hopefully I'll finish it.

After my last post, this week continued to be awesome. Honestly, I'm a little afraid I'll jinx it. Joe told me about a contest that Tin House is sponsoring in which you must finish an unfinished Shirley Jackson story. As if that weren't intimidating enough, the judges are Shirley Jackson's family and the so-talented-it-makes-my-brain-hurt magical realism writer Kelly Link. (If you haven't read her collection Magic for Beginners, you're missing out.) I was so pleased to have time to write on Tuesday evening that I banged out my whole submission right then. Of course, it ended up taking me until 2 a.m., but what of it? Sleep is for the weak. I'm still editing it, of course, but I must say that I'm awfully proud of how well I maintained her voice throughout the portion that I wrote. We shall see how that goes.

On Wednesday evening after Zumba, Aisha, Rosemary, Scott, Brett, and I all went to the Double Down Saloon to celebrate Brett's birthday with a little game of punk rock bingo. The phrase "punk rock bingo" is probably enough for you to imagine it correctly. It's regular bingo--just straight lines, no patterns. Probably so that people can get wasted while playing. Instead of a dauber, you use crayons. The host makes dirty jokes all evening, and you certainly don't win money. Oh, no. No money for punk rock bingo. Who would want money when you could win a themed prize package of whatever the host could find in her house/whatever people were willing to donate/whatever was cheap at the drugstore?

I was, in fact, one of the winners of punk rock bingo that evening, and I received the coveted BAG OF RANDOM SHIT. My prizes included but were not limited to: a Godzilla cupholder, antique playing cards, a Sailor Jerry shot glass, Bettie Page coasters, a pint of black zombie costume blood, some toy skeletons on a piece of twine, a juniors' size small shirt that says "nothing wrong with a little junk in the trunk" (which I was forced to put on immediately), and a porn flick. You think that's good? The birthday boy also won, and he received the Instant Pedophile Priest kit. The host dressed him up in his new priestly garb, bestowed upon him his plastic crown of thorns, and pressed a creepy skeleton-child doll to his crotch. It's really the classiest of events. Did I mention the performance by the huge, tattooed crooner who sang "Luck Be a Lady" while a hula-hooping burlesque dancer stripped? 

Thursday night I had dinner at the Frog with many friends, which was great since I haven't been in such a long time. Last night we went out to Fremont Street for Aisha's birthday. A ridiculous number of people in my program have November birthdays. Aisha's not technically in the program, actually--she's a literature grad student--but we like her anyway. We went to this place called Brass Lounge which honestly reminded me of The Bronze from Buffy. It was obnoxiously overpriced, but it had a nice balcony. Had a lovely time talking with people. We then proceeded to Beauty Bar for karaoke. (Yes, Chicago--they have a Beauty Bar here, too!) Between Kayla, Mel, and Marianne's stunning rendition of "Wrecking Ball," Shaun's theatrical version of "Sweet Transvestite," and my classic performance of "Sunday Morning" (Olivia requests that I sing it every time we karaoke), we brought the house down.

I know what you're thinking. It's okay if you're jealous of my fabulous life. That's normal. Just remember that I'm the True Champion, and it's my job to be this awesome.

God, you all probably think I'm some kind of ridiculous party girl. I swear I do real work out here, too. It's simply not as entertaining to write about it. I promise that this week has also been full of grading, teaching, reading, tutoring at the writing center, and working out. I'm going to do work right now, in fact. Now that my fingers have been flying across the keyboard for a while, it's time to buckle down and write some fiction. Until next time...

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Happy Days!

Here's why:
  • My second time up in workshop last night went stupidly well. I feel so invigorated and full of ideas thanks to my kind and insightful classmates. (Not to mention Richard Wiley, who also liked the piece.)
  • The Bears beat the Packers--at Lambeau, no less. (It's amazing how much more willing I am to watch sports now that they remind me of home.)
  • I think I'm making more new friends.
  • I registered for my second semester courses today: Poetry Workshop, Forms of Poetry, and Survey of Critical Theory. As an avid nerd, I am pretty damn excited about literary theory. I'm nervous about having to write so much poetry, but I think it will be a good experience for me. Plus, I know that Michael and Kayla have exactly the same schedule, so at least I'll have friends along for the journey. 
  • And, last but certainly not least, MARRIAGE EQUALITY IN ILLINOIS!!!!! Wish I could be there to celebrate with all my lovelies--have a drink for me! I'll toast you all when I get back for winter break.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Out on the Town

Although this week was quite busy, I really was out on the town for a large portion of it. I suppose it was a "work hard, play hard" scenario.

I believe my last entry left off right before Justin Torres was about to give a craft talk. I did indeed attend that craft talk, and I quickly came to the conclusion that Justin Torres is great and I want to be his best friend. During his talk he was engaging and honest, not to mention hilarious. Some gems:
  • When writing realistic fiction, your artistic integrity must be important enough to you to be willing to potentially hurt the people you love.
  • Genre entrenchment is unfortunate. Feel free to explore both fiction and poetry, and to mix them.
  • How to get the most of an MFA program: buckle down and be a writer. Connect with the writing community. Grow thick skin.
I also learned that he loves semicolons just as much as I do. Later that evening, after his reading, he took a picture of my semicolon tattoo. The reading was good as well. You should pick up his book We the Animals. It's beautifully written.

Afterwards we all took Mr. Torres out to The Peppermill. I was excited to go, since I had heard of the establishment many times. I was not disappointed. This diner/bar is in the kitschy old part of Vegas, which so far has consistently been my favorite part. We sat in large round booths beneath ugly fake plants, our gaze drawn by the flames that danced on a pool of water, drinking happy hour mojitos and discussing literature. Tackiness is next to godliness.

Wednesday was a "work hard" day. Taught class, went to zumba, finished writing an essay. Not so much fun to write about.

Let's skip right to Thursday, because it was, of course, HALLOWEEN! My favorite holiday. There was candy in the writing center. Our gothic fiction class fit right in with the mood. (You should read Sylvia Plath's story "Johnny Panic and the Bible of Dreams." Delightfully creepy.) Later that evening we celebrated by going to a strip club. Yes, a strip club. One of our friends (whose name I will not use here) is, in fact, a stripper. So we all went (in costume, of course) to a dingy little joint in the Vegas suburbs to see her dance. I had never been to a strip club before--it was about what I expected. I think I probably analyzed the whole thing a little too much. Found myself tipping ladies mostly based on the difficulty level of their acrobatic feats. There was a costume contest. Joe was robbed. That's all I'll say about that.

Here's a picture of me in fine sugar skull form:

We did not get home until 2 a.m. While we were having a good time, this was ultimately rather unfortunate, as I had to give a presentation in my pedagogy class the next day. Don't worry, dear readers--the presentation was just fine. If there's anything I can do well, it's act bright and cheerful and alert on only a few hours of sleep. Friday evening Olivia and I finally found the time for a girls' night again. Indian food, as usual. Delicious. Because I'm a perfectly normal person, I then went straight to bed and fell asleep watching Carrie.

Saturday was the Vegas Valley Book Festival. I went early to hear Maile, one of my professors, moderate a panel with a few authors, including Alissa Nutting, whose novel Tampa I would highly recommend if you want to feel 100% uncomfortable. Seriously. It's a remarkable read. The weather was beautiful, and I had a wonderful time hawking The Salted Lash with Michael--rather, attempting to hawk The Salted Lash with Michael, because nobody was buying. Nevertheless, I enjoyed spending the day outside, talking with Michael and Joe and Olivia and Aurora and Derek.

Then we come to last night--oh, last night. Last night was fun. It was Joleen's birthday, so we all went dancing at Free Zone, our favorite gay bar. I met Olivia there a little early, so we managed to catch the entirety of the 10 p.m. drag show. After that it was just a ridiculous dance party, a dance party to the extreme, a dance party turned up to 11. Let me tell you: us MFA kids have got the moves.

On a final note, I want to thank my parents for finally sending the rest of my belongings from Chicago. (Hi Mom & Dad!) It was a somewhat harrowing experience getting the giant boxes home from the FedEx store, but with Lulu's help I managed. (My roommate is a saint.) I am so happy to have a bedside table again. You have no idea how nice it is to have my tea at arm-level. It's the simple things.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

About the time I ditched Nevada for Nevada Day

Nevada Day occurs annually on the last Friday of October. It's a holiday for Nevada to celebrate its Nevada-ness. Or something like that.

The point is: we had the day off school. Since I feel no particular obligation to Nevada (it's nice and all, but I haven't left the state since I arrived), I decided to spend my weekend in Los Angeles. This was most certainly the correct decision.

It was a lovely time. I stayed with Katie, my good friend from high school, at her gorgeous apartment by Griffith Park. The weather was unseasonably warm, and I enjoyed wandering her adorable neighborhood--very high-end hipster. Lots of trendy cafes, bookstores, boutiques, and the like. I even walked right past Kristen Schaal, one of my favorite comedians. I didn't say anything to her because I didn't want to be that person. I didn't realize running into celebrities in L.A. was something that actually happened, though.

On Friday evening we attended Mindshare L.A.'s 6th Annual Halloween Masquerade. Picture the most stereotypically Los Angeles event you could possibly attend. You are picturing this event. We drove to an area full of warehouses that appeared abandoned at first glance, but were actually full of restaurants and markets and studios. The masquerade took place at Lot 613, an art gallery in one of these warehouses. Practically everyone we talked to was an artist or worked in the entertainment industry. Before the party started, Mindshare brought in a few people to give talks. For instance, the masterminds behind the waiver-requiring haunted house experience "Blackout" discussed how they got into the business and how they scared people. We played a zombie infestation logic game with a bunch of strangers. We peered into interactive art exhibits. We danced to the music of "DJ Pumpkin" (who people seemed far too excited about--although any DJ who kicks the party off with Bowie is alright by me) in a blacklight room where painters were creating glowing pictures. I ran into my second B-celebrity of the day when Santino Rice served me a piece of raw-vegan-gluten-free-cacao-with-dates pie. I regret not asking him to introduce me to RuPaul.

Now we get to the part of the weekend where I basically just ate food. Saturday we had brunch #1 of the weekend at Home, Katie's favorite brunch location. We spent a lazy day shopping and lounging at Katie's apartment, and later I drove to Kenzie and Alex's new HOUSE to catch up with them. It's strange thinking of my friends as homeowners, but that they are--a beautiful 1914 flipped place with a cute front porch and an extensive garden in the back. We were going to go to a hipster hot-dog restaurant in Santa Monica for dinner, but the line was unnecessarily long, so instead we went across the street for Carolina BBQ. Pulled pork. Delicious.

Later I went back to Katie's and carved pumpkins with three of her friends. They discussed D&D and WoW and I was confused but I carved a pretty awesome Night Vale pumpkin, so all was well. (ALL HAIL THE GLOW CLOUD.) We drank hot apple cider and watched scary YouTube videos until 2 a.m.

We kicked off Sunday with brunch #2 at Cafe Figaro, a French restaurant with myriad brunch options. We people watched. We meandered. We checked the air pressure in Katie's tires. And then, alas, it was time for me to return to Las Vegas and all my grad school obligations.

I can't really get the post-vacation blues, though. It may be a busy week, but Justin Torres is coming to do a craft talk with us today! Meeting all these critically well-received authors makes me want to write even more.

Speaking of the craft talk--that's in a half hour. I should go. Until the next adventure...

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

I'm Considering a Move to L.A.

Well, not a move--a visit. And not considering--I am indeed going. Tomorrow, in fact. You'll have to excuse the imprecise title. It's an Art Brut song. Many adventures await me in the Golden State, but I want to save everything for when I get back, so no details yet.

Instead let me tell you what's been happening this past week.

The exhaustion never ends. I thought last week was busy, since we had to finalize our students' midterm grades. I'm afraid that the upcoming weeks, however, are going to be much worse. I have an essay due for Gothic Fiction class next Thursday, a pedagogy presentation due next Friday, and I have to submit my next fiction piece for workshop next Friday as well. That's what I'm most worried about; I have no idea what I want to submit. I've been working on a series of linked flash pieces, but I know they're not ready for workshop yet. I've started writing the gothic fiction piece that we'll turn in at the end of the semester for Maile's class. I suppose that if I managed to bang out the rest of that I could workshop it, but I don't know that I'll be able to finish in time. There is one older piece I could submit, since it's at least a finished draft, but I'm afraid. It's weird. In terms of how it's written, I mean. It's written in letters and report cards and IM conversations. I don't want to be laughed out of the classroom if it doesn't work.

I'll have to think about it.

I'm still stuck on what to do with Pretending to Know You. I want to keep it going in Vegas, but it's difficult to find the time, or even the inspiration. If anyone can suggest a viable Las Vegas angle (i.e. people on the CTA in Chicago), I'd be grateful. I am editing a manuscript of several PTKY stories from Chicago to submit to a few chapbook contests. That's another thing I have to finish--the deadline for most of the contests is November 1st.

I did lots of work (too much work) for Pedagogy class over the weekend, but I did manage to have some fun as well. Saturday evening was the MFA girls' night. Me and the other lady-writers gathered at Jean, Brittany, Austin, and Shaun's for an evening of snacks and wine and chitchat, and it was delightful. (We kicked Austin and Shaun out first, of course. Actually the men decided to have their own guys' night. I'm sure it wasn't as good, although I did hear it may have involved shirtlessness?) On Sunday night I went to see Gravity with a few other MFA-ers. The cinematography was gorgeous, but I had a difficult time suspending my disbelief. The dialogue was often cheesy, and absurd stereotypes abounded. (How do you know it's the Chinese space station? The floating ping-pong paddle, of course! And you know the Russians have vodka stowed away on the ISS.) Nevertheless, I was holding my breath most of the time.

Today Dr. Roop observed my English class. I think it went well. I talked about logical fallacies today, so I showed the kids the "burn the witch" clip from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. They seemed to like that.

That's about all I can think of for now, which is a good thing, since I have to change clothes and go to Zumba. Exhaustion is not an excuse for laziness! I shall write again when I return from the sunny climes of Los Angeles.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The Blog That Writes Itself

Or at least this would be the blog that writes itself, assuming I could find the time to transcribe everything. It's an unusually hectic week; our students turned in their second writing projects, so we had to grade all those, and then they took their midterms, so we have to grade all those, and the university demands that we officially submit their midterm grades by Friday. Bureaucracy sucks.

Friday night Michael and I launched The Salted Lash at Atomic Liquors. It was a fun event, hosted by the Writers of Southern Nevada. We sold a few zines, and we got to talk to lots of local authors who are fairly commercially successful. I'm excited about the future. We're gonna make business cards.

After that we proceeded to run into two tourists from Ireland because of course we did. Why wouldn't we? This is the ridiculous life of an MFA student, after all. They joined us as we partied it up at a few bars in the downtown area.

Saturday was full of procrastinating and grading and more procrastinating. Sunday I got sick. It's been going around. I called in to the writing center and I watched something like twelve episodes of 30 Rock. I also managed to grade eight student essays because I am made of magic.

Monday I gave my first midterm, which was a rather relaxing experience, actually. I didn't have to plan a lecture, so I read for fiction workshop the whole time they took their test. I had them apply the various aspects of rhetorical situation and stasis theory to Jonathan Swift's "A Modest Proposal," so I'm almost looking forward to grading some amusing essays tomorrow.

Today was busy, and I've been so sleep deprived that I thought I was actually going to faint at one point. (I'm going to bed directly after finishing this blog entry.) In the writing center I encountered one English major who had somehow managed to never analyze a poem. That was unexpected, to say the least. In Gothic Fiction class I led discussion on Charlotte Perkins Gilman's "The Yellow Wallpaper," which, if you haven't read it, is essentially the most horrifying story ever written. I highly recommend you take the time to look it over. People seemed to have a lot to say, so I think that went relatively well. Although it's difficult to imagine it not going well simply because the story itself has so much depth. I could have talked about a million issues; it was difficult narrowing it down to three.

This evening, dear readers, was spectacular. The Black Mountain Institute brought George Saunders to speak. Yes, that George Saunders. The guy who, according to The New York Times, wrote the best book of 2013--in January. It turns out that one of our professors, Doug Unger, was Saunders' fiction professor at Syracuse, and that another of our professors, Maile Chapman, was Saunders' fiction student at Syracuse. So they all chatted together, and what a lovely and insightful discussion it was. He even signed a book for me. (I'm relatively certain it says, "with best wishes," but it kind of looks like "with best wife," which cracks me up.)


This is why MFA programs are cool. I mean, they'd be cool anyway. But to get to talk about craft with someone like George Saunders--that's priceless.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Procrastination & Promotions

I had a wonderful reason to procrastinate this weekend, as the lovely miss Leta came to visit me! She's winning the best friend contest at the moment.

A recap of our adventures:

Upon her Saturday evening arrival, we went to Crown & Anchor for dinner, since I knew Leta's affinity for British pubs after her days in London. From there we headed to Casa de Jean-Brittany-Austin-Shaun for this year's first meeting of the Good Hair Fiction Club. It's an informal reading/workshop in which the fiction students get together and talk about what they've been writing. Jean was kind enough to allow Leta to join us--she even brought her own piece to read. I'm sure everyone was awed by Leta's mad writing skills. I know I was.

Afterwards we went back to my place, watched Star Trek Into Darkness with Lulu, and ate the delicious chocolate cookies that Lulu had baked earlier that day. We then went to bed and talked until 4 a.m. This became a pattern.

The next day I had to work in the writing center, but after that I proposed a trip to Sunset Park. We meandered, looked at the ducks and geese, talked some more, etc. We ate dinner at The Dispensary (delicious-burgers-divey-goodness), and then we went to the Freakin' Frog, where we were joined by the Shauns, Austin, Olivia, and Lulu. Leta wanted to see what my normal life was like out here, so I figured she needed the full practically-on-campus bar treatment. It was a little weird; I've never seen the Frog so dead. We still had a good time, though. Drank some beer, played Exquisite Corpse. Afterwards, Leta introduced me to the Welcome to Night Vale podcast, which is basically my new favorite thing. I'm a sucker for creepy. Then we talked until 3 a.m.

Monday I had conferences with my students (ugh), and later Leta accompanied me to fiction workshop. After critiquing Haider and Dan's stories, we all headed (as usual) to Stake Out, where we drank more beer and ate free Monday-Night-Football-halftime hot dogs. Yum. Later we listened to more Welcome to Night Vale, and we talked until 2 a.m. Never doubt the ability of two best friends to talk.

Yesterday we went to Mint Indian Bistro for lunch because it is freakishly delicious. We wandered around campus for a while, and then we went to American Gothic class, where Leta basically owned everyone else with her insightful comments. Get that girl into grad school!

After that we headed to the airport. I considered stitching our arms together, or perhaps biting my arm and hers and letting the wounds heal together, so that we could be conjoined twins and she could stay forever; although Leta considered these ideas appealing (because we are both equally as bizarre), she was forced to reject my proposals in favor of returning to Denver. I was sad to see her go. It was nice to have someone here for a while who actually knows me. I love my new friends here, and they sort of know me, but they don't know know me. Hopefully they will someday.

Speaking of the difference between knowing and knowing knowing, you should read my friend Jane's Dictionary.com blog post, which is about just that--reduplication.

As far as the promotion goes, I am no longer the intern of The Salted Lash. No, fair readers--I am now the assistant editor of said publication. I've always wanted to work on a publication of some kind, so the fact that I'm working for two--the zine and Witness--is exciting. I can't wait for the launch party on Friday, and to start taking submissions for the second issue.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Look Out (Here Comes Tomorrow)

Yeah, that's right. I used a song by The Monkees as the title of my post. Deal with it.

I borrowed the aforementioned song title because LETA IS COMING TO VISIT ME TOMORROW AND I'M SO EXCITED WHAT EVEN WHAT EVEN WHAT

You'll hear more about besties in Vegas after that actually happens. In the meantime, let me fill you in on what's happened over the past week.

The Writing Center has been insane lately, probably because midterms are coming up soon. Honestly, I thought I'd like working in the Writing Center far more than I actually do. For some reason I assumed that I'd prefer working with students one-on-one, when in reality I far prefer teaching my class. I don't like planning for the class or grading for the class, but the part where I actually teach them is great. We have so many ESL students come into the Writing Center that I always seem to be giving the same advice: watch your plurals, watch your articles. I'm happy to try to help them, but I feel like the aid I can give them isn't particularly effective.

I've been quite productive this week. I finished grading my students' first major essays, turned in my midterm exam materials and final writing project materials to my pedagogy professor, read for Gothic Fiction class, read for Witness, cleaned my room, cleaned my bathroom, and repaired the towel rack with my handy toolkit--all this while still managing to meet up with friends several times. Not that exciting, perhaps, but definitely further proof that I am The True Champion.

On Thursday night Tom Barbash, a journalist and fiction writer, came to speak at the Marjorie Barrick Museum on campus. I greatly enjoyed his talk; based on the story he read, I think his new short story collection is worth reading. The best part was that afterwards he and a few students and professors--myself included--went to a nearby restaurant for drinks and snacks, where he continued to impart his writing wisdom. It was amazing to get that up close and personal with a successful author.

This evening I finally went to First Friday in the Arts District. It was such a cool event--busy bars and chic art galleries and people in costumes and bands and food trucks. A spectacle, to say the least. Parking was a bitch. (I miss public transit!) A few of my fellow MFA-ers read their poetry there, along with some other local Vegas poets. I had a really good time.

I was supposed to go to Jess' birthday party tonight, but I am so sleepy. Friendship failure.

Remember how I mentioned that I'm the new "intern" for my friend Michael's zine The Salted Lash? Because I am such a dedicated intern, I created an official Facebook page for the zine today. You should go like it so that you can hear about rad stuff like the Las Vegas launch party we're having next Friday at Atomic Liquors.

That's all for now, I'm afraid. A little writing before bed, and then one more sleep until Letakins' arrival. (!!!) 

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Bigwigs and Readings and Austen, Oh My!

Sorry that I haven't updated recently. I try to write at least twice a week, but it didn't happen this week because I've been positively swamped. Grading is so incredibly time consuming. Even if you don't spend more than 15 minutes on a paper, there are still 24 of them to get through. They tell us that teaching shouldn't be our top priority, that we need to focus on our own work. While I agree with them, I can't bring myself not to care at all. These kids are here to learn to write. I have to try to teach them that to the best of my ability. They deserve at least semi-detailed feedback. All I know is that I'll be happy to never hear about Gary Gutting's "What is College For?" ever again. Ever.

There have also been lots of events this week. On Tuesday the Black Mountain Institute hosted a reading by Richard Wiley, one of my fiction professors. He recently released a new novel, The Book of Important Moments. It was interesting to hear his writing--I've never read his work before. I'm inclined to read the whole thing whenever I have free time again. So I guess three years from now. More exciting than the reading, however, was the BMI's big announcement: an incredibly wealthy donor has just pledged us (put on your Doctor Evil voice) ten million dollars. He stipulated that the money has to go directly to the writing programs as well instead of construction or anything like that. It's wonderful news. I'm hoping that they'll eventually fund the study abroad component of our program, but I imagine that we probably won't see the direct effects of the money for a while. These things take time.

I don't know if I mentioned this, but my friend Michael started a zine called The Salted Lash back in San Francisco, and he wants to continue it here. He has kindly taken me on as his "intern"--I figure it'll look good on a resume when I try to get publishing internships this summer. Anyway, that's how I found myself at the Freakin' Frog on a Thursday afternoon drinking beer and stapling copies for the second print run of his first issue. We had a mild problem finding a stapler of the correct size ("we need a 'deep ass' stapler!"), but Office Depot came through. I'm going to try to write something for the second issue.

Friday was the first Neon Lit of the 2013-2014 school year. Neon Lit is the reading organized by our MFA program at the Trifecta Gallery in the arts district. It was really nice. The space was phenomenally cool, and the readings were fantastic. There were some first year readers--Kayla and both Shauns--and we heard more poetry and fiction from second and third year students as well. Afterwards we went back to Casa de Brittany-Shaun-Jean-Austin for drinks and conversation (and several rounds of fuck-marry-kill). I had a lovely time. I'm hoping to read at the November Neon Lit. I can't make it in October--I'll be traveling for Nevada Day. More on that later.

Last night Olivia and I desperately needed a girls' night, so we grabbed Indian food and then went to the movies. I hadn't seen a movie in theaters probably since June or July, so I was quite happy to go. And being Vegas, the theater was, of course, inside a casino. We went to see Austenland. It was just perfect--a stupid romantic comedy that didn't take itself too seriously. Helped take my mind off everything else I have going on. I'd recommend it if you're into that sort of thing.

And that's about all for now. More grading and reading and whatnot tonight. I hope those of you who are emotionally invested in Breaking Bad manage to recover before work tomorrow. Just one more week until LETA COMES TO VISIT ME. I'm just a little foaming-at-the-mouth excited. Can you tell?

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Today is for Work...

...but I just finished up planning tomorrow's class, and I still have half an hour in the Writing Center, so I think I'll blog instead. Blogging is work. Kinda. Right?

The other day in Pedagogy class I discovered that I'm a mean grader. We were doing a "norming session"--Dr. Tillery gave us copies of the same essay to grade and we had to come to a class-wide consensus of what the grade should be. Naturally, there was no consensus at all. But I was definitely on the crueler side of things, giving out D's where other people were giving out B-minuses. Fortunately I was vindicated; my harsh grades were more in line with what Dr. Tillery was expecting. Still, I definitely surprised myself. Everyone thinks I'm so nice. Apparently not.

On Thursday night, Shaun's friend Dylan visited from Ireland-by-way-of-California-by-way-of-Canada. This, of course, called for an evening of bar-hopping downtown near Fremont. And for once I didn't have to drive! Exciting stuff. I think my favorite bar we visited was Atomic Liquors. It was kitschy-fabulous and I tried a delicious local beer.

I was the only lady out that night, which seems to be something of a pattern for me in Vegas. Back in Chicago my friends were predominately female or gay men, but here my closest friends are mostly all straight men (except for Olivia and Lulu, of course). Not that there's anything wrong with this. It's just a different dynamic. I think Olivia's planning a Girls' Night for the ladies in the program sometime in October. That should be fun.

Anyway, back to my awesome life of which you should be totally jealous. Last night Shaun and I went to the Oddball Comedy Festival at Mandalay Bay, where we saw Kristen Schaal, Al Madrigal, and FLIGHT OF THE CONCHORDS. Oh, and Dave Chappelle. Him, too. Happily, he did not have a meltdown of any kind. In fact, he seemed quite normal. The first 15 minutes of his set was just making fun of himself regarding the incident in Connecticut a few weeks ago. Flight of the Conchords were amazing, obviously. They played lots of new songs, but they still got through many of their beloved hits--"Jenny," "The Most Beautiful Girl in the Room," "Business Time." Not to mention a "Hurt Feelings"/"Hiphopopotamus vs. Rhymenoceros" mashup. The crowd was sort of funny. You could definitely tell who was there for Flight of the Conchords and who was there for Dave Chappelle. Overall it was a lovely evening filled with much laughter.

Things I must still do today:
  • Print stories and read for Fiction Workshop
  • Read at least a large portion of Melville's Bartleby, the Scrivener
  • Start grading student essays
  • Read for Witness
Oh! I forgot to mention that I'm going to be a reader for Witness, the Black Mountain Institute's literary journal. Why? Because I'm obviously not busy enough! Can't you tell? Basically I get to give an initial thumbs up or thumbs down for the submissions they receive. Not only will it be fun to read so many stories, but it will also look good on my resume. Hopefully it will help me get a publishing internship over the summer. That's the dream...

That's all for now. Another busy week ahead.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

I'll Never Leave the Canyon/'Cause I'm Surrounded on All Sides/By People Writing Novels/And Living on Amusement Rides

Long title. Great song.

One of my pieces was critiqued in workshop on Monday. This was my first formal writing workshop ever, so naturally I was nervous. I was afraid they might just despise it. The part of my brain that hates me (I suspect everybody has one of those) told me that my writing was terrible, and that I had somehow been accepted into this highly competitive program through an utter fluke. Lulu reassured me that there was a bottle of wine waiting at home in case things went sour.

Fortunately, I loved having my piece critiqued. It was just what I needed. Aside from the part of my brain that hates me, I was fairly certain that the tone and voice of my piece were strong, but that it was lacking something in plot. Something vague that I just could not figure out. When I write flash fiction, it's usually just the story of a moment. Maybe a longer or more complicated story is implied, but it's rarely stated. Obviously, longer pieces can't be that way. It's sort of funny, because I usually hate stories that are big on description/atmosphere and minimal on plot. I don't want to write that way.

The workshop was great because everyone was able to zero in on what was missing. They also brought up aspects of my story that I never would have thought about--that the tone reminded them of a Norman Rockwell painting, for instance. Obviously there were several nitty-gritty sentence-level issues as well, inconsistencies in voice, and so on. I was expecting that. But I wasn't expecting to leave workshop so inspired--downtrodden and determined to do better next time, maybe, but not inspired. Thanks to my MFA comrades I now know exactly what I need to do to fix the story, which, as you might imagine, is a huge relief! Honestly, I can't wait to submit again. Of course, I have to finish this new piece I'm working on first.

After workshop there was celebratory drinking instead of sad drinking. We went to Stake Out because they have happy hour beer specials and they serve free hot dogs at halftime of Monday Night Football--a poor graduate student's dream scenario. 

What else is new? Tuesday night Zumba is terrible compared to Wednesday night Zumba in that it's far too easy. I had to add moves to make it harder. Teaching is fantastic, but I hate grading. Hate. It. Shaun's friend from Ireland is coming to visit tomorrow, so that should be delightful. Overall, things are going quite well. Until next time...

Friday, September 13, 2013

Late Nights, Early Mornings

My life is not nearly as exciting as the title of this post suggests. Mostly I'm just an insomniac who has to get up early to work in the writing center. I haven't updated the blog since last weekend, so I thought I'd spend another restless night catching up.

What's new? Monday we went to Freakin' Frog for Michael's birthday, where we made tentative plans for Friday (tomorrow--or I guess today) potentially involving a drag show? More to come on that. 

I can't stop listening to Janelle Monae's new album Electric Lady. It is fantastic. It's soulful, retro (50's, 60's, 70's, 80's, AND 90's), catchy, and it has a guest appearance by Prince. What's not to love? I haven't been this obsessed with an album since I listened to Father John Misty's Fear Fun almost exclusively for three weeks in a row. 

My first real fiction workshop was this week. (We didn't have class on Labor Day.) Overall I found it dynamic and useful. We critiqued Oksana and Amy's pieces not only in broad strokes but also in terms of specific sentences and words. Matt and I are up next week. I submitted my piece for the class to read today. Nervous. I guess I'll let you all know how that goes after Monday.

I'm having my students write journal entries once a week, and I was pleased to discover that most of them actually embraced the exercise. Many of them seem to be legitimately reflecting on the college experience. Like, with real feelings. One of them said I look like Hannah Hart (compliment accepted). One of them wrote in stream-of-consciousness. One of them turned in a piece of fiction about a dragon slayer. Those kids are definitely going to keep me on my toes. 

Lulu and I have started a new tradition: Wednesday night Zumba. I thought I did better this week than last week, but I'm so sore today. It's always worse the day after. At least I don't simultaneously feel like jello this time. I also went to yoga on Tuesday. It's frustrating, because I really want to take a yoga class that will teach me to do yoga. As usual, however, this class is far too big for the instructor to do that. I just have to follow along as best as I can. Despite this, it went fairly well. It wasn't as hard as I was expecting it to be. 

That's all I can think of for now. Still not sleepy. This calls for an episode of The Daily Show. Good night. 

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Satisfactory!

If you're ever in Vegas on a Friday night, I have a recommendation for you. First, wait until the sun sets. This is imperative, as I highly doubt the place exists during the day. Drive about 40 miles south of the city, then 6 miles off the highway on a pitch-black, winding road through the desert. Soon you will stumble upon the town of Goodsprings, marked only by its local watering hole, The Pioneer Saloon.

The Pioneer Saloon is currently celebrating its centennial. Perhaps you'll want to take in the night air while playing a game of pool on their sprawling deck. Perhaps you'll simply want to lean against their cast-iron stove and observe the locals, who have all come to sing karaoke. The young woman who knows she looks good in her daisy dukes and high-heeled cowboy boots. The grizzled old biker who riles up the crowd with his renditions of "Because I Got High," "Mack the Knife," and "Copacabana." (You can't make this stuff up.) The friendly bartender with her own microphone. The elderly couple who've just come to take in the show.

You should sing a song, while you're at it. The music selection is overwhelming, and the crowd is more than receptive to strangers. If it's your first time they'll even pour you a free drink in one of their mason jars, and a strong one at that. Don't worry about the drunk woman dancing in front of you while you perform--she's harmless.

If you open yourself to the experience, if you sing and laugh and dance and make friends, you'll leave with lots of hugs and "please come back, now!"s and "drive home safely!"s. Maybe someone will even try to hire you to sing at a party. Forget the glitz of the city; spending the evening in a 100-year-old cowboy bar is the precise definition of a good time.


Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Settling In

It seems like blogging is going to be a thing that happens a lot during my office hours. I just sent some reminders out to my class and checked to see if they'd turned in their annotation assignments. I now resign my professorial duties for the day.

The rest of my Labor Day weekend was something of a blur. Sunday morning Richard Wiley invited everyone in the program to his house for brunch. It was nice talking with some of the second and third year students, since I don't know them as well. I enjoyed talking more with the other first-year fiction students, too. For some reason I seem to have fallen in with the poets. Don't know how that happened. I'm more than happy about this--the first-year poets are a lovely bunch--but I'd still like to bond with my fellow fiction writers.

After brunch some of us went swimming, and then we headed downtown for dinner, where even more MFA-ers met us.We tried to go to this "secret" pizza place in the Cosmopolitan, only to discover that it wasn't at all a secret and that it was overpriced. Instead we went to Fremont for pizza. I was excited to go there because I haven't spent much time in the old part of town yet. Anyway, we downed some slices, headed to a British pub, and spent the rest of the evening shouting over the absurdly loud music.

Monday was procrastination catch-up day. I graded essays and read for my classes. I only left the house once, to get Chipotle for dinner with Lulu. Nothing too exciting.

I'm kind of hoping that we'll all settle in now. Not that I haven't enjoyed going out so much and making new friends. I truly have. But I also know that I need to focus more on why I'm here: writing. And writing requires time. So instead of doing something crazy every night of the week, I'm hoping we might cut it back to three or four nights a week? Something like that?

UNLV has a fantastic, state-of-the-art gym that we're all paying for with our tuition, so I think I'm going to start using it. They have Zumba classes and yoga classes most evenings. I'm not the biggest fan of Zumba, but it's better than walking on a treadmill or lifting weights. They used to have a bellydance class, but they're not offering it this semester. I want to try to get into yoga more as well. I feel like the stretching would be good for both my muscles and my anxiety.

Someone is calling another cubicle, and there is nobody in that cubicle, and the phone won't. stop. ringing. It's driving me insane.

Monday, September 2, 2013

The Road to Dreamland

Our Labor Day Weekend trip can now be declassified: Shaun, Olivia, Michael and I jumped in my car on Saturday and drove two and a half hours north to visit Area 51. Actually, we drove two and a half hours north to visit Rachel, the tiny town near Area 51. You can't visit Area 51. They'll shoot you.

The drive alone would have made the trip worth it. The whole route was on two-way highways that cut through nothing but desert and mountains. Desolation can be gorgeous. Most of the time the weather was overcast and drizzly, and up in some of the mountain peaks we could see hazy black storms replete with lightning webs. The other day in our gothic fiction class we discussed the sublime, and how the terrifying is often beautiful. Sublime is the perfect descriptor for our surroundings--impossibly vast, impossibly empty.

Rachel itself can hardly be called a town. It consists of a handful of trailers, and maybe one or two actual buildings. And, of course, The Little A'Le'Inn, which is on the outskirts of town and yet seemed to be the only place with human activity. It's a little dingy place with a hodgepodge of tables and chairs. Photos of UFO evidence hang on most of the walls, and in one corner were shelves lined with tacky souvenirs. As we arrived, a little old woman was setting up a buffet that she had home-cooked. Two different kinds of potato salad, mac & cheese, hot dogs, applesauce, barbecue chicken, cookies. We ordered that, of course. Health codes be damned. 

We sat down at the bar, and Shaun asked our waitress whether she knew anyone who had been abducted. She told us that she had seen two UFOs when she was eleven years old, bigger than the mountains. She didn't even blink. Later, she informed us that she had a phobia of people and was working in a restaurant to overcome it. When Shaun mentioned that he forgot to grab a knife, she pulled a nice sharp one off her person and offered it to him.

The first thing that The Little A'Le'Inn ran out of during our meal was water. The next thing was power. We paid for our meals in the dark, another waitress adding up our totals on a calculator. We were going to stretch our legs and wander around the center of town for a little while, but we didn't quite make it there; the place screams that something is wrong--a single bulletin board that hasn't been updated since December, snakeholes dotting the ground.

About ten miles out of town on our way back, Olivia swerved the car slightly--a sinkhole had yawned open on the other side of the road. It wasn't there when we drove in, but it was definitely there now. She and I both saw it. The bizarre part is that it was perfectly rectangular, maybe about half the size of a car, and only on one side of the road. We wanted to call the cops, but we had no cell phone service. We told the attendant at the nearest gas station--fifty miles away. 

We ended our evening back in Vegas at the Freakin' Frog, enjoying what is supposedly the largest beer selection in the United States. I think it was the perfect trip to Area 51--delightfully eerie. If you want to see photos, Michael took several fantastic ones and posted them on his blog. Here's one picture of the four of us in front of the Little A'Le'Inn sign:



Friday, August 30, 2013

School Spirit is Creepy

Last night I attended Premier UNLV, a beginning-of-the-year tradition here, apparently. It was geared entirely toward undergraduates, which I expected. However, I was enticed there by the free food and the opportunity to watch Shaun Leonard freak out with what can only be described as puppy-with-a-new-chew-toy glee as all the stereotypes about the American college experience appeared before his eyes: cheerleaders, marching band, mascots, etc.

In my opinion, the best part (aside from the free food) was when three dangerously close and somewhat unanticipated fireworks went off at the end of the night. Overall, though, I found that the whole event made me extremely uncomfortable. Part of it was that I didn't want to run into my students; I didn't want them to feel like they couldn't have fun if their teacher was there. But I also realized that I have some deep-seated negative feelings about school spirit that I've never tried to analyze. I will attempt to do so now.

One problem is that I've never attended a school where school spirit mattered. St. Pat's had terrible sports teams. So did Carmel. So did Loyola. (So did Loyola I think--I honestly never paid much attention.) I never played sports--too horrifically uncoordinated. I've always been able to simply go to school and focus on my education and my friends without having to care too much about the school itself, and I don't know whether that's a good thing or a bad thing. It seems that the students here definitely care a great deal about UNLV as an institution; I gave my class a reading quiz the other day, and more than one student referenced the values that one must have as a Rebel (UNLV's mascot, for those of you who don't know). I can't imagine anyone at Loyola writing about the importance of being a Rambler.

It also seems that most of the people I've known who do take pride in their school are either obnoxious or utterly horrible. Sometimes it's just a matter of them not shutting up about it, which I can cope with, but I find it irritating. I always wonder why these people take so much pride in their school. It usually has to do with a sports team of some variety. I'm fine with people enjoying sports, but what else has the school given you, then, besides a team that has nothing to do with you? Certainly an education, but I don't get the impression that education is what people are celebrating when they wear school colors and sing fight songs.

The utterly horrible people are worse, of course. I suppose I've just noticed a strong correlation between people with school spirit and people who treat other people like shit. Jocks, frat boys, etc. I know that my brain is perpetuating a stereotype here--not all jocks and frat boys are bad people. I'm aware of that. But it's sometimes difficult to remember when you see the stereotype played out again and again. School spirit and the worship of student athletes is what gets you Steubenville. (And a total lack of appreciation for consent, I suppose. And a generally misogynistic society.) It's an extreme case, certainly, yet I can't help but associate it with love for one's school and one's team.

Furthermore, I'm bothered by the cultish aspect of school spirit. They're like a hoard of zombies chanting rah-rah-rah. To be clear: I have no problem with cheering on your school/sports team at a sporting event. That makes sense to me. Your team needs to hear your vocal support in order to be energized and beat the other team. There's a reason for the school spirit during a game. But what the hell is a point of a pep rally, for instance? Why do you need pep when a game isn't going on? You're not trying to defeat anybody. It seems totally illogical.

I'm sure my issues regarding the cult-like quality of school spirit have something to do with my fiercely independent streak. I don't like asking people for help. I like doing things on my own and thinking for myself to a fault. There are times when I should ask for help and I don't. My fear of doing-things-just-because-everybody-else-is isn't limited to school spirit/sports; even when I'm at a concert, and the lead singer tries to get the audience to sway their hands back and forth, I typically refuse. I don't want to dance that way. I want to dance my own way. So in this regard the whole school spirit thing kind of disgusts me--not that it should. I don't understand the appeal of groupthink. And when I say "groupthink," I'm referring to something most other people would probably call "bonding."

I guess I have some serious cognitive dissonance going here. I believe that people should be able to do what they want, and if they want to engage in absurd, over-the-top displays of school spirit, who am I to stop them? At the same time, I also believe that school spirit is, as I said in the title, creepy. Ominous. Sinister.

I hope this makes sense to some people.

Onto happier things. It's Labor Day Weekend! Hope you all have exciting events planned. I certainly do. I want to blog about it, so I won't discuss it now. All I'll say is that I hope we don't get abducted.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Notes from Office Hours

Office hours. I have those now. Because I am a professor.

It's still weird.

I'm writing from my little cubicle in the RAJ, where I will spend an hour and a half every Monday and Wednesday, even though I'm nearly certain no students will come to see me unless forced. Which isn't to say they don't like me--one of my students told me today that I'm one of his favorite professors this semester. I appreciate the vote of confidence, but I hope he knows that flattery will get his grade absolutely nowhere. I think he might know that, actually; the same student asked: "when does college get fun?" Hilarious. I told him that it's probably already more fun than he thinks, and that when he graduates and starts working in the real world he will likely long for even his introductory courses. That's the way it happened with me, anyway.

Yesterday I had my first Forms of Fiction class with Maile Chapman. Our focus is American Gothic, and the syllabus makes me nothing short of giddy. We get to read Poe and Lovecraft and O'Connor--right up my alley. And for our final project, we have to write a piece of gothic fiction. I already have some ideas oozing around in my brain. A word map may already be scrawled in my notebook. We shall see what comes from all this.

I have just realized that I left my notebook in CBC, where I teach. Great. Why am I always so absentminded? 

Monday, August 26, 2013

Quality

You guys.

I taught my first class ever today.

It went disgustingly well.

I barely slept last night I was so nervous. But something changed while the students were filing in. It felt like someone smacked me across the head with a baseball bat made of resolve. I suddenly knew what I had to do and how I had to do it. 

It certainly didn't hurt that my class seems like a great bunch of kids. They're all freshman, all young. No English majors, but I was expecting that. Most are Las Vegas natives, but I have a few from more exotic climes--Alaska, Hawaii, and so on. They laughed at my stupid jokes, they were willing to participate. My "express your opinions about Daft Punk's 'Get Lucky'" exercise seemed to be successful. They actually debated about it. When they found out I was from Chicago they even started suggesting food places that I needed to try, which I thought was rather kind of them.

Perhaps more importantly, the fact that this is my first teaching gig didn't come up. Of course, now the more intrepid students are going to Google my name, find this blog, and figure that out. DAMN YOU, THE INTERNET!

Oh well. As long as I stay on top of things, I suppose it won't be detrimental to the classroom atmosphere if they discover I'm a karaoke goddess. 

I also had my first fiction workshop today. It's with Richard Wiley, the current head of our program. It was a shorter class than normal, since nobody had any work to share yet. But we did have a great discussion about writers' different aesthetics, and how it's nearly impossible to nail down one's own aesthetic, and how certain authors' aesthetics are more infectious than others. Richard also stressed quality in our writing. He said that it was more important for us to make something than to be somebody. Solid advice, I believe. I'm excited to get started.

In order to wind down from our first day, Shaun, Michael, Olivia, Austin, and I went to this divey little joint called The Dispensary. OH MY GOODNESS DO THEY HAVE INCREDIBLE BURGERS. It's the perfect greasy bar burger, and it's huge, and it's only $6 (with fries). I inhaled mine. This calls for a tiny dance party in my bedroom. Classes at the gym don't start until next week. 

You guys. 

I'm glad I moved here.