Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Getting into the Swing of Things

Does your body ever do that thing where all your muscles seize up painfully and stay that way for over a week? Probably not. This isn't the first time it's happened, and I'm fairly certain it's anxiety-related. I have no idea what triggers it, but honestly, I'd prefer to learn what causes its eventual abatement. Then I could get rid of it faster. I've been trying to stretch. I went to yoga class yesterday for about the third time in my life. And for the first time, I actually enjoyed it. Mainly I liked the instructor; she seemed kind and helpful. I still didn't feel graceful or one with myself or whatever, but that should theoretically change at some point? Right? I think I'm going to keep going, if only because the UNLV exercise class schedule clashes almost entirely with mine this semester. Yoga's pretty much the only class when I'm free. Besides boxing and bootcamp and spin, all of which sound intensely unappealing. Zumba has been relegated to the 9-10 p.m. slot, and the only instructor who teaches it is the terrible male one who can't count and has poor taste in music, so I'm not doing that.

Okay--change of subject. Although I do write my blog for myself and to work out my feelings sometimes, I don't want it to become "Becky complains about her anxiety 24/7." What else has been going on?

Dungeons & Dragons has started once again. I kicked off the semester by killing a blood spider cluster (gross) and healing lots of people. Where would they be without me? Or, rather, without Penny.

Because last Monday was a holiday, I had my first Chaos Theory Lit class the other night. I'm looking forward to it. There are several small assignments, which might be irritating on a certain level, but there aren't any broad, time-consuming assignments, either. Plus, we get to read Douglas Adams. Amazing. Right now we're reading this sci-fi novel by Connie Willis called Bellwether, about a female scientist who studies fads. It's funny, if a little repetitive. (A lot repetitive, to be honest, but there may be a reason for that.) At any rate, considering that it's my only real class this semester, and my last literature class during the program, I think I picked a good one.

Getting into the swing of things has been somewhat difficult so far, simply because I have so much unstructured time, thanks to thesis hours and my independent critical essay. I'm largely staying on task thanks to Carrot, but every time I cross something off the list, another thing pops up, and I have no idea when to do it. I really have to figure out all my study abroad stuff, for instance, but it seems like I have too many immediate concerns, like reading for class and writing a response for class and presenting in class on Monday (I wanted to get it over with) and reading The Marvelous Land of Oz for my critical essay and writing my novel every day and practicing French every day and reading for Witness every day and--well, you get the idea. When am I supposed to squeeze in study abroad applications in all that? Not to mention a trip to the grocery store?

Ack! This became about anxiety again. Sorry.

Here's something I am legitimately excited about, that is causing me no anxiety whatsoever: I read the first volume of Saga, and it was wonderful. I haven't been that engrossed in a story in quite some time. I want to read the rest. You know. In my spare time.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Voilà! Your Professor

Today it was once again time to take up my professorial duties. Last Thursday--that is to say, Thursday, January 15th, not even one week ago--they finally informed me that I would be teaching English 102 again. And thank goodness for that. Now I don't have to plan anything new. Reuse the same slides and lesson plans, make sure all the links work. If I'm feeling ambitious over the summer (I doubt it), perhaps I'll re-theme my course. The world could use a David Bowie-themed composition course, don't you think? I could scale it back to glam rock in general if need be. Maybe a Doctor Who-themed course would be in order. Alas! If only those subjects wouldn't completely alienate a large portion of the student population...

My students this semester seem to be lively and good-spirited. In my first class, I'm teaching several men who are clearly significantly older than I am, which has never happened before. Hopefully they'll respect me the same way they might a younger colleague, but I guess we'll have to see. In my second section there's one student who has evidently designated himself class clown and is taking every opportunity to speak over me loudly and make jokes because I am female and he thinks I won't do anything about it. I suspect he'll cut that out when I explain that it negatively affects his participation grade. Overall, though, they seem nice.

I think I'm going to do what I did my first semester teaching, which is to wear a different outfit each day. No real reason for it--it's just an entertaining personal challenge. Here's Day 1. So professional it hurts.

Because I'm taking only one real class this semester--Dr. Campbell's Chaos Theory lit course--it has suddenly become crucial for me to organize my own time well. Here's hoping I can stay on task enough to keep writing my novel, write an independent research essay, plan my summer study abroad, and do all my other incidental work. Not to mention maintaining a social life. No one ever said grad school would be easy.

On that note, I have some emails to send. And I have to work out. And I have to write. À bientôt.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

And The Scholarship Goes To...

A few months ago, poet and dear friend Shaun Leonard sent me an email with application instructions for the SCBWI Student Writer Scholarship. (For those of you not in the know, SCBWI is the Society of Children's Book Writers & Illustrators.) We had just workshopped a chapter of my children's novel The Marrow World, and he thought a trip to their winter conference might be a good opportunity for me. So I applied. You know. Figured I'd give it a shot. Figured it couldn't hurt.

But then I won.

Initial reactions:

Look at me, using gifs like The Kids These Days.

In all seriousness, though, I'm really excited! I get to spend three days in New York City hobnobbing with lots of children's publishing professionals; what more could an aspiring writer ask for?

There's so much I hope to learn at this conference. One goal of mine, for instance, is to settle the question once and for all of whether my novel is middle grade or young adult. I've been writing it with the Harry Potter crowd in mind, and apparently the internet can't figure out whether Harry Potter is middle grade or young adult--probably because it's both, I'd imagine. The earlier books are middle grade, and as the characters age, so does the reading level. At this point, I feel like my novel is written in the style of a middle grade work, but the themes and actual situations it deals with might be more appropriate for a young adult work. Maybe? Perhaps I'm worrying about it too much. Either way, it's possible that someone at this conference, someone with years of experience in this field, could tell me what it is! Or what I need to do to fix it.

I'm also looking forward to learning what feedback from publishing professionals is like, as opposed to feedback from peers and professors. When I joined the MFA program at UNLV, I'd never taken a writing workshop before. As an undergrad, I'd studied English Literature and History, but never Creative Writing. I started my own workshop in Chicago after I graduated, which certainly helped hone my craft as well as my ability to give others feedback. Nevertheless, when I arrived in Vegas, I was still nervous to get into a classroom and have my work critiqued formally. (It went well, though, as this old post reminds me.) Now, in the Writers' Roundtable Intensive, I'll get a taste of what the next step is like. Am I anxious about it? Absolutely. But I think it will be good for me. Great for me, in fact.

Anyway, I can't thank the SCBWI enough for this opportunity! I'm so glad they saw potential in me and my novel. I also can't thank Shaun enough for sending me the information, or Maile Chapman, for writing me a letter of recommendation. Also, thank you, friends and family, for being so supportive of me, and not saying things like, "you're going to graduate school for what? Isn't that a waste of time?" I'm so glad to be surrounded by people who do not think art is a waste of time.

And now I'd better get back to my novel, actually. These things don't write themselves.

Friday, January 2, 2015

2015. 2015. 2015. Must get used to typing/writing the correct numbers. I always screw that up in January.

Happy New Year! I've never been big on New Year's resolutions; they're fairly easy to break if you try to make lots of changes all at once, and the false ambition at the beginning of the year discourages you from making the changes you need to make at other points during the year. That said, I'd like to address my anxiety more concretely this year--consistent therapy, perhaps. We shall see what campus has to offer. I'd actually like to put more effort into taking care of myself in general. I tend to put a great deal of pressure on myself on a regular basis. A girl deserves a massage every once in a while, though. Right?

Enough about that. Let me instead describe to you the absolutely 100% amazing way I spent my New Year's Eve. First, Gena and I met the lovely miss Jane at Panes for lunch. I haven't seen my intrepid lexicographer friend since she moved to Oakland, so it was delightful to be reunited. After a delicious meal, we trekked downtown to the Museum of Contemporary Art for the exhibit of my dreams: David Bowie Is.

The suggested time for viewing the David Bowie Is exhibit is 1.5 hours. This is a vicious lie. We arrived at 2:30 p.m., and we were there until 5:00, when the museum closed and they kicked us out. I could have spent all day there.

For a moment, let me distance myself from my Bowie obsession and say this: it is one of the best-designed museum exhibits I have ever seen. The rooms begin by following the trajectory of his career, and they continue to do that to a certain extent, but as his career grew more varied and dynamic, so does the exhibit: there are rooms focusing on his androgyny, his film work, his innovation in music videos, his style in the recording studio. The last room focused on his live performances. At the beginning you receive a headset for an audio tour, but instead of pressing numbers for each piece, the audio switches automatically depending on where you're standing. It also syncs up to videos in each room, some of which are complicated and dazzling video collages. The lighting is clever as well, and changes from room to room. I can't imagine the amount of time and money it must have taken to create the exhibit.

Now let my Bowie obsession rush back in full force: ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhitwasthemostbeautifulthingihaveeverseen. So many of his outfits. So. Many. Right there in front of me. So close I could touch them. So. Close. The outfits that he wore. On his body. My spirit animal other self*.

Fact: As I rounded the corner from the section where he had his break with "Space Oddity" into the section where he became Ziggy Stardust, I found myself face to face with the outfit he wore when he performed "Starman" on Top of the Pops, complete with a video of that performance fractured and doubled across mirrored walls. I have watched that video online countless times, and I love it, and at that point I almost started crying. There were tears. In my eyes. I had to cover my face and lean on Gena.

Yep. I'm that girl.

Unfortunately (but understandably), you couldn't take pictures of the exhibit, but here's a picture of me with an extra-large image of his wondrous face outside the gift shop. David Bowie is perfect because he is weird and I am weird and he makes the world beautiful in whimsical, bizarre ways and I want to make the world beautiful in whimsical and bizarre ways, too. 

Okay, as much as it pains me, I am moving on from Bowie--because our New Year's Eve was not nearly over! After a brief rest at Gena's apartment, we got all dressed up in sparkles and Meghan met us and we went to Marty's for a Wisconsin beer or two. From there we headed to Emporium to dance away the rest of 2014 with the band that single-handedly solidified my friendship with Gena, JC Brooks and the Uptown Sound. And oh! did we dance. They started playing at 11:00 p.m., lead our joyous countdown at midnight, and proceeded to play until 1:00 a.m. How serendipitous that they were playing a show while I was here! And on New Year's Eve, no less. It was perfect. I've never actually been out to a bar for New Year's Eve before--I've only ever been to/hosted parties. Ultimately, I think I'd prefer parties with my close friends, but I'm glad I spent it at a bar once, especially at a bar with JC Brooks. They really do consistently put on one of the best live shows I've ever seen. Soul music is good music. (Even David Bowie knows that.)

As you may have noticed, I was on my feet for the majority of the day, and the next day as well. My Fitbit says I took over 14,000 steps both on New Year's Eve and New Year's Day. As a result, it is possible that I have a stress fracture in my foot. It's quite painful to walk on at the moment. Hopefully it's just strained. But I don't see this as a downside, my friends. I see this as dedication.

I hope your transition into 2015 was as wonderful as mine. Wishing you all the best of luck and happiness in the year ahead.


*Tumblr brings up good points about the phrase "spirit animal." Apologies for my white privilege. David Bowie is my patronus.