Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Pen-Pals

I think I'll sneak in a blog entry while my students are working on their papers in the library. Don't call me lazy--these kids have full-time jobs and are trying to attend college. At this point in the semester it makes way more sense for me to give them class time to work on their papers rather than to lecture at them while they don't listen. Plus, this way they can't use the excuse that they started their papers the night before--not that such a confession would make me more lenient in my grading.

It's a busy time of the semester. Next year my classes are all essentially the equivalent of independent study, which means I need to track down all my professors and have them sign many forms in order to register. It's all terribly exciting.

One thing I'm legitimately excited about is my summer travels. I signed my rental agreement the other day, and I've turned in all the necessary forms to the International Programs Office. Since I have to write a translation next year, I've been hoping that I might be able to contact some of the creative writing graduate students at Université de Toulouse II-Jean Jaurès and translate something they've written. Last week I contacted a professor at the university, and I wasn't necessarily expecting a reply right away. However, she promptly forwarded my message to the current students and alumni, and now I have so many students interested in my project that I'm not sure how to choose! Not to mention that they've all written to me in French, so I'm getting a lot of practice composing in the language. It takes me such a long time to write an email in French, but I suppose it's better than actually speaking. I can read French well, but speaking I'm a mess. I'm hoping I'll improve quickly, though, when I reach France and am thrown into the fray.

I don't mean to complain--I'm thrilled that so many of the students want to work with me. Ideally I can hang out with some of them in Toulouse as well, since I won't really know anyone else there.

What else have I been up to? I've been teaching a flash fiction workshop at The Writer's Block with Becky B.; our last session is tomorrow. Our pupils are 12-14 years old, which is an odd range. It's amazing how different 12-year-olds are from 14-year-olds, in terms of both maturity and language skills. They all want to write about psychosis and death and drugs, and they all want to curse, and it's kind of adorable. Part of me wishes I hadn't agreed to teach it so near to the end of the semester; it's making me feel a bit harried, like I'm not teaching the class to the best of my abilities. If I were to do it again, I'd insist on four class sessions instead of three, so that during the third session we could workshop the stories and point out things they're doing well. Tomorrow they're doing a reading for their friends and family, which should be fun.

Last Friday was the final Neon Lit of the semester, and this Friday we're karaokeing at good ol' Pioneer Saloon. Saturday there's a rather historic, rather expensive boxing match about a mile from my apartment--but nobody cares, because LETA IS COMING TO VISIT! I can't wait.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Attention to Detail or: How I Ended Up with a Sleeve Tattoo (sorry mom)

On Sunday I did something I've wanted to do for quite some time now:


I started my passport stamps tattoo! 

Even when I was little I wanted to travel to other countries, but I was never able to do so until 2007, when Mickey and I went to visit Leta while she was studying abroad in London.

From St. Paul's Cathedral

(Before that there was a brief trip to Sault Ste. Marie while I was on family vacation in Michigan, but that was before you needed a passport to go to Canada. It hardly counts.) 

Since then I've been fortunate enough to travel many places. As an undergraduate I received Loyola's Ricci Scholarship, which allowed me to study in Rome, Italy for one semester and in Beijing, China for another.

The Vatican

Tiananmen Square

While I was in Italy, I visited my cousin Erin and her then-boyfriend-now-husband Rembert in The Netherlands, I toured Greece with friends, and I visited my friend Mark in Scotland.

On Rembert's bike in Amsterdam

Overlooking the Aegean Sea in Greece

St. Andrews Links (for Dad)

I traveled all around Italy and China, too. Couldn't miss that opportunity.

A few exclusively domestic years passed, and then my lovely mom announced that we were taking a family vacation to Ireland. 

Cliffs of Moher

A year or two later, I was bored at my job, and jealous of my roommate, who had just returned from a trip to South America. I searched Travelzoo to locate the cheapest foreign plane tickets I could find. That's how I ended up in beautiful Montreal. All by my lonesome, too!

Wandering Old Montreal

It's been about three years since I last traveled abroad, but this summer, thanks to my MFA program, I'll be spending two months in France. I'm hoping to visit Turkey as well, since I'll have a friend there at the time. Toulouse is in the south of France, so I may pop over to Spain--but it seems a shame to spend only a short time in Spain. I'd definitely like to visit Andorra as well. It looks so tiny and cute on the map! 

Essentially I've been enormously lucky. While I realize that I did work hard to get the Ricci Scholarship, and to get funding for my travel this summer, and so on, it would be foolish not to recognize that I've had more than my fair share of good fortune in terms of traveling the world.

That's one reason I wanted to get the tattoo: to remember to always be grateful.

Not only have my trips abroad given me some of my best memories and most cherished experiences, but they have also fundamentally shaped my opinions and my personality. For instance, I credit my ability to confidently talk to strangers to my time in Italy and China--especially China. When nobody speaks English, shyness is not a positive attribute. I wanted the tattoo so that it would grow along with me while I continued to physically and mentally expand my horizons, and now I have its beginnings, and I'm so pleased.

I knew that the tattoos would have to be larger than regular passport stamps in order to capture all the tiny details, but I admittedly did not realize how much larger until my artist (Josh Bailey of Heritage Tattoo--thanks for the recommendation, LeeAnn!) showed me the stencils. I never thought I'd be the type of person who could pull off a full sleeve, but when he put the stencils on me, it just made sense. 

It's not quite a full sleeve yet, but I imagine it won't take too terribly long to get there. I only got 5 out of the 8 current stamps on Sunday, as it was too painful. I'll get the other three (Montreal, Rome, and Edinburgh) in May. I only want to get tattoos for the first time I travel to a country. That way there won't be twelve Heathrow stamps or something. Eventually they'll start to overlap, which will look fantastic. I've decided upon a tattoo that will only look better as time goes on! How clever of me.

The size was a bit overwhelming at first, but the barrage of compliments I've received has bolstered my confidence. (Thanks, by the way, if you paid me a compliment in the past few days. I love you!) I know some people won't like it (sorry Mom), but hopefully they'll be able to understand why it's so important to me. 

Now it's time to let them heal up, finish the semester, and plan my travels.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Is this real life?

I'm back from Minneapolis and grateful to be in sundresses once again. AWP was wonderful, and I'd like to write about it sometime later this week, but today I have a more contemplative post in mind.

Recently I've been somewhat jealous of my friends who have 9-5 jobs. Perhaps it's merely a symptom of "the grass is always greener" syndrome, but I do miss having a clear schedule, and the ability to leave work at work. The way my life is scheduled now, I do work whenever I can squeeze it in. Last night I did second-job work from 11 p.m. until almost 1 a.m. (I have some catching up to do after Minnesota). This morning I woke up and graded papers. Later I'll teach class, take a break for yoga, but after that I'll grade more papers. Maybe I'll have time to write? 

It feels like I've written all my tasks on confetti, and some are on multiple pieces of confetti, and I've thrown all the confetti into the air, and I do whatever task I snatch first, and I get to take a break when the pieces haven't yet reached my general vicinity, because I guess the confetti is made of tissue paper or feathers or something that flutters down very slowly.

Confetti schedule may simply be something I have to get used to, especially if I'm lucky enough to become that most elusive of creatures--the successful author. And, honestly, I think it's not the schedule itself that's making me jealous. I think it's that I feel like my life is on hiatus. From August 2013 to May 2016, I get to be Not A Real Adult. 

This is, of course, ridiculous. I'm obviously an adult. I'm 27. Between writing and teaching and second-job, I essentially work three jobs. I pay my bills. But it all seems fake somehow. I guess I probably feel a little guilty that I'm privileged enough to spend three years focused on honing my craft when most writers will never receive such an opportunity. Not to mention that spending three years focused on myself seems selfish. 

Ah, but that was the problem with the 9-5 job I used to hold--I didn't feel like I was helping anybody there, either. I didn't have any emotional or moral investment in the work, and I felt like our clients would have been just fine without our help. That's one major reason I wanted to do the MFA program in the first place: to hone my craft, yes, but also to gain the experience I need to do work in which I am emotionally and morally invested. I am emotionally and morally invested in literature. I think it's important. I want to work to advance it. 

The other thing is that other aspects of my life are on hiatus, too. I can't grow roots in Vegas, because what would be the point? Unless Black Mountain Institute wants to take that $20 million donation and give us all jobs when we graduate, there's probably no place in Vegas I could work to advance literature. (I could teach as a part-time instructor, but I have no passion for teaching--at least not composition.) Because I'm almost certain I'll be moving on in a little over a year, it doesn't seem like a good idea to make too many friends or romantic connections outside the program--not that I would even have time to properly build those connections if I wanted to. Why invest in a place that won't be my place for long? 

The trouble is that I'm bad at not investing in things. I have a tendency to invest in things that I like quickly and deeply, and despite its problems, I do like Vegas. Cognitive dissonance, I suppose. I want to feel like I belong in Vegas, but I don't want to bother feeling like I belong in Vegas because I know that soon I'll have to belong somewhere else.

Maybe I put too much emphasis on city as identity, and work as identity. Chicago became a large part of my actual identity--Becky As Chicagoan. And isn't it odd that we say things like "I am a writer" instead of "I write"? I wonder how I would describe myself if I couldn't include either of those aspects of my life. 

I'll have to keep wondering, because I have to go teach. No time for existential angst! 

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Minnesota Bound

See how I did that? I said I'd post a longer entry later in the week, and I completely lied to you. I'm sorry, internet.

Basically Spring Break boils down to this: I felt sick most of the time, so I hardly got anything done. I couldn't get my tattoo because the artist needed more time to draw it. (Later this month, hopefully.) My computer died. I received three rejection letters. 

But hey, those rejection letters were the nice, personalized, "we almost published it" kind, so maybe one of these days someone will want to put a story of mine in print. One of these days...

Speaking of writing and books and such, tomorrow morning I'm off to the AWP Conference in Minneapolis! Perhaps you remember my trip to Seattle last year--same conference, different location. I look forward to the offsite readings, the impossibly large book fair, and KAREN RUSSELL!!! *squee*

If you have not read Karen Russell's novel Swamplandia!, you must do so immediately, even though it will make you sad. If you don't want to cry a lot, but you still want to read her work, try her short story collection St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves. I'm going to start her second collection Vampires in the Lemon Grove on the plane tomorrow. Her writing is magical.

That reminds me--over my otherwise unproductive Spring Break, I did cross off one thing on the most-Vegas-things-I-could-possibly-do list: Olivia, Austin, and I went to see David Copperfield. While I'm glad I had the experience, I'm afraid I'm not going to be able to recommend the illusionist for potential visitors. For one thing, David Copperfield himself is the textbook example of smarmy. Not only did he make fun of people's foreign accents, but he also used his own father's death as the basis for a bit--going so far as to film fake home videos of his parents. He did not win my sympathy this way. On a related note, he needs to hire better writers. The plot involving his father's death also involved an alien, and time travel, and it made no sense whatsoever. The man is worth billions of dollars--you'd think he could get someone to write a compelling story. The other problem is that the grander the tricks, the less impressed I was. When he came into the audience to do sleight of hand tricks, I enjoyed it because I couldn't figure out how he did it. Obviously, I don't know how he performed the larger illusions, either, but I wouldn't be surprised if a talented designer or engineer figured out a way to make a collapsable car that could expand very quickly at the press of a button. The more props there were, the less interested I became. 

That said, I loved spending time with Austin and Olivia, as always. But David Copperfield I could do without.

And on that note--packing! I'll try to write from Minnesota if I'm not too busy having fun.