Tuesday, March 31, 2015

s.p.r.i.n.g.b.r.e.a.k.

Hello, everyone. It's Spring Break, and I officially can't get my shit together.

Seriously. I'm exhausted because I am apparently incapable of setting a reasonable bedtime for myself, and the exhaustion makes me disinclined to get any work done. I have gone out to eat a few times though--the other night to Tacos & Beer with Olivia and Austin, and this morning with Denise to PublicUs for lunch--so, I mean, at least I've left the house? I have binge watched several episodes of The X-Files. Does that count as productivity? I think not.

Tomorrow. Tomorrow I'm going to do real work. After I get a tattoo.

I am the worst adult.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Suspicion

Lately I am plagued with suspicion. I feel that there is almost certainly something wrong, something that I'm missing. Why, you ask?

I'm not particularly busy.

The first half of this semester was a mad dash, full of reading and projects and meetings and applications. Even two weeks ago I was giving myself headaches trying to finish all my students' papers before midterm grades were due to the department.

Compare that to last week: I completed a short story I started in L.A. over the summer, wrote a new short story, and wrote a new flash fiction piece. I started reading Karen Russell's Swamplandia! just for fun. I've almost finished it. (That's a hard book to say I'm reading "for fun," by the way--it's one of the most sweetly sad novels I've ever encountered. Between that and Sufjan Stevens' new album about his dead mother, I've almost cried multiple times in the past several days.) I have done a great deal of this reading and writing outdoors. The weather is idyllic.

Something has to be wrong, right? But I can't think of what it is.

Emerging Writers Series stuff is manageable at the moment--we only have four fiction candidates left, so essentially all we have to do is rank them. I'm hosting Neon Lit on Friday, but that shouldn't be a problem as long as the readers get back to me on time. (Hint-hint, readers who have not returned my emails who happen to see this post.) My creative project for my Chaos Theory class is off to a good start--most people are responding to me quickly. (If you'd like to help write sentences for me, I'd greatly appreciate it! See this earlier post for details.) I have to write my critical essay, but that's what Spring Break is for.

No doubt my life will plunge back into pandemonium sometime in the not-too-distant future, but I'm going to try to enjoy this brief pause as best I can, anxiety be damned.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Getting to Know My Toes

Last Wednesday, this was my schedule:

wake up, do second job work, go to a meeting, grade papers, go to another meeting, grade papers, do second job work, practice French, grade papers, send emails, grade papers

Pro tip: DO NOT DO THIS TO YOURSELF. I was a wreck. I was trying to get all my students' Writing Project II's graded before midterm grades were due to the department. Never again. It's not worth it.

I've been trying to take better care of myself this semester, and that day I definitely failed. Recently someone pointed out to me that I participate in an amount of activities that could be considered excessive; this is true, especially considering that I read for Witness, and that I am a member of both the Neon Lit committee and the Emerging Writers Series committee. I would like to drop some things from my schedule--the trouble being that the very activities I wish to drop are the ones I absolutely cannot. 

I want to stop teaching composition. I am constantly tormented by daydreams of all the interesting things I could be doing if I didn't have to teach my students and grade papers. Unfortunately, I need to do that in order to get my stipend. I also wouldn't mind dropping the second job work, but again, that's what pays the bills. All the other stuff with which my schedule is packed: Neon Lit, EWS, Witness, studying French, and especially writing--all that is stuff I want to do. I am actively interested in it, and it makes me happy. 

And thus I arrive at the timeless question: why won't people just pay me to do the things that make me happy?

Recently I've been taking a mindfulness and meditation class, since I vowed to take better care of my mental health this year. It's lucky I got in--they don't accept that many people. Everything pop culture tells you about meditation is a vicious lie. It is not relaxing. It is not even supposed to be relaxing. It requires intense focus, and training your mind not to wander--and yet, not scolding your mind for wandering, either. The not scolding part may be the hardest. I am often inclined to scold myself for doing things poorly. I am a bit of a perfectionist. Not in all things--anyone who has seen the messy state of my bedroom can attest to that--but in many areas. 

We have to do this 40-minute body scan meditation daily. It's excruciatingly slow. Think about your toes. Think about your toes some more. What's going on with your toes? How do your toes feel right now, as they are? Your big toe? The one next to that? The middle toe? The toe next to that? The little toe? Do your toes feel cold? Do your toes feel warm? Do your toes feel tingly? Can you feel your sock against your toes? That sort of thing. On and on, for every part of the body. It's a frustrating exercise, because when you're busy--the way I was last week--all you can think is that this is taking up forty of your precious minutes to get work done. You are neglecting serious shit to focus on your goddamn toes! And when you're not quite so busy--like I am this week--all you can think is that it's taking up forty minutes of your precious free time. I could be reading a book! For pleasure! Please leave me alone, body scan!

Apparently it's supposed to be good for you, though. Or something. Hopefully my body will eventually discover and reap its benefits.

The other night, at about 1:45 a.m., I had the strange, overpowering urge to acquire a pet bird. I was googling cages and everything. I've decided to wait and see if this urge actually persists before I make any big decisions, but I was thinking it might make good story fodder. We shall see.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

It's Not That I Don't Love You...

...it's just that I have to write a lot.

Lately I've been extremely dissatisfied with my writing when it comes to the novel. I was tired of writing the same thing all the time, and I feel like the quality of my prose has been suffering for it. You try spending years with the same characters! It can be a bit suffocating. However, I was reluctant to take a break, because I knew that if I buckled down, I could have a (very) rough draft finished by the end of March.

Then Leta and Mickey talked some sense into me. Listen to your friends, people. They are wise. They have your best interests at heart.

I decided to take a week or two break from the novel, starting this past Sunday. Which is not to say I haven't been writing. I've been working on this story that I abandoned last summer. And you know what? I feel so much better. That little change made all the difference. What's more, as long as I pick it up again in a week or two, I should still be able to finish a (very) rough draft by mid-April at the latest. Hopefully by then I will feel refreshed and not want to strangle my characters so much.

That said, I may be a little off the radar for the next month or so, at least in person. Don't worry--I still love you. I just want to get the draft done, and I may need to sacrifice a few hours at Stake Out in order to do it. I'll still blog, and I'll still be present on social media. (Honestly, I think Twitter has become so incorporated into my life at this point that I can't live without it. Where would I find articles to read?! How would I keep up with what's going on in the world?!) But I need time to myself to write, especially considering that I have to work around grading and projects for my other classes as well.

I'm glad I'm taking a break from the novel. It's a gloomy, dark novel. The story that I've pulled out of the archives is juicy. Still dark, but juicy, too. I've decided that I want to write more stories that are juicy and sticky. My best writing is always juicy and sticky. This makes perfect sense in my head.

I think I need to learn to be more patient with my writing as well. Because I was so used to writing flash fiction when I came into the program, I wrote most things quickly. Flash fiction comes out the way it comes out, in one sitting, and it's either good or it's bad, and you can edit the good ones later, but they probably won't change all that much. Writing longer stories and novels is entirely different. I write my novel in little scenes, largely so that I can write each scene in the same way I write flash fiction. But that doesn't always work, because then some of the scenes are bad, and I still need those scenes for the novel. I need to learn to think more carefully about my prose beforehand.

Luckily, when I do have that draft finished in April-at-the-latest, I'll have a whole year to revise!

Do all writers feel like frauds the majority of the time? I hope so.

And now I have to plan my class. A few hours before I teach it. I'm a really good professor, you guys.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Reading Aloud

Friday night was our first Neon Lit in The Writer's Block, which is perhaps my favorite new spot in Vegas. Between our regular crowd and all the buzz the bookstore has been receiving, we pulled in quite an audience--all fifty seats were filled, and many other people were standing in back. (We're working on a way to squeeze in more seating next time.) Aside from my usual role in running social media for the event, I was also one of the evening's readers. I don't always get nervous in front of crowds--teaching's no trouble at all, and I can slay karaoke--but I do get nervous when I have to read something I have written in advance aloud to an audience. I have no idea why. When I introduced Manuel Gonzales the other week, my knees were literally shaking.

I felt a little better than that on Friday, partially because I was reading with so many of my close friends--Joe and Olivia and Brett read as well, and Shaun was the MC. The general cheer of our new surroundings helped, too; The Writer's Block is a charming space. But I was worried because I was reading two flash pieces, one of which was "funny." Which is to say that I was fairly certain it was funny, but I hadn't tried it out on people yet. Sometimes it's difficult to gauge whether my sense of humor will translate to others. Fortunately, everybody laughed! Success.

Here is a picture of the readers. We are adorable.


On Saturday Katie drove in from L.A. to visit, since our friend from high school Monica was also flying into town for a trade show. We went to Makers & Finders Coffee for brunch, which I've been meaning to try for several months. The chai was fine enough, but the turkey club was quite tasty, I must say. Later, after I'd rattled off a list of weird things to do in Vegas, Katie selected The Pinball Hall of Fame. We scraped the bottoms of our purses for quarters and tested our reflexes for a few hours. I've decided that the Waterworld themed game is the best one, mostly because a Waterworld-themed pinball machine exists? That evening we met Monica for late-late dinner and drinks at The Cosmopolitan.

Sunday morning Katie and I had brunch at Park on Fremont, picked up coffee/tea at The Beat, and walked down to The Writer's Block so she could see it. I bought Neil Gaiman's new collection Trigger Warning, which I am looking forward to devouring as soon as my schedule will allow.

Speaking of The Writer's Block, I sent them an email yesterday volunteering to teach a flash fiction workshop to kids. Their dynamic event space (where we held Neon Lit) actually folds into little classrooms, and this month they're kicking off the nonprofit portion of their business, where they offer writing workshops for Las Vegas students. So that is something I might be doing! We will have to see.

I am rooting for The Writer's Block. While many of the critiques of The Downtown Project are completely valid--its businesses are typically only appealing to and affordable for upper middle class white millennials, it's trying to force culture rather than allowing it to grow organically, etcetera--sometimes it does great stuff. Scott and Drew--the owners of The Writer's Block--are fantastic, and they deeply care about not just selling books, but also creating community. I mean, they moved all the way from Brooklyn just to do this. I hope they succeed, but I can't help but worry. Vegas is not a particularly artistic city; most people interested in the arts high-tail it out of here the second they can. I like Las Vegas, but will I stay here after I graduate? Probably not, because I can't imagine finding employment that interests me or for which my skills would be appropriate here. There is a burgeoning arts scene, but will it grow into something sustainable that can support people? I don't know.

I won't get into the whole "will Las Vegas ever be a real place?" debate here, as that would take forever. Here's a good article about the pros and cons of The Downtown Project from The Atlantic, though, if you're interested.

While I'm recommending articles, here's a piece from The New Yorker's anniversary issue called "Holy Writ." It's written by one of their senior proofreaders, and I love it because someone else thinks about comma usage as much as I do! More than I do, probably. Soulmates.

I should probably type up what I wrote today and watch one more House of Cards episode before bed. (I haven't finished the season yet, so no spoilers! All I'll say is that Claire Underwood is a badass. #ClaireUnderwood2016.) But before I go--if you didn't read my last blog entry, I need your help with my homework. Please volunteer to write a sentence for me.