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: