Wednesday, December 31, 2014

I've moved!



2014 is donezo. Or as close to it as I will get. I have big plans to be swaddled in flannel and fast asleep well before midnight.

Generally I've made a point of answering a set of year-end reflection questions. You can read those responses (2013, 2012, 2011, 2010) if you're so inclined. But I'm changing things up. This is code for "I am too tired to answer all those damn questions." So here's what I thought about 2014:

In late January, Henry had a tonsillectomy. It frigging sucked. I had no idea how rough that kind of thing is and I just didn't see it coming. Too many adults in my life downplayed kid pain and played up kids' ability to "bounce back." Henry didn't bounce for a long time. Homeboy didn't react well to his pain medication and his recovery was slow. He's fine and in the scheme of things it was minor. But when it was happening I felt that helpless B.S. feeling that I have only known as a parent. Lesson learned (again) in 2014: Seeing my kids in pain hurts more than anything.

One of the best things I did this year was GO (my one little word resolution from last year--odd how those always work out), and specifically take trips by myself. I am just not the same person I was three years ago--the kind of person who would have thought going places was a good idea and then never done anything about it. In March I spent a day entertaining myself in San Francisco, and by June I was on a plane to Ireland. And then England, France. For the first time in my life, I actually did go. And go, and go, and go (I walked about a hundred miles in three weeks...) And I loved it. I've found that not only am I okay traveling by myself, it makes me really happy. Discovering that this year was pure joy. There is a huge world to see, and I'm not waiting for permission anymore to go see it.

My goal last year, just after finishing my MFA, was to figure out how to integrate writing into my daily life. I didn't want writing to be something I talked about and didn't do. I knew I could write if I could find time, but finishing my thesis made me an emotional wreck. I couldn't sustain that kind of writing over a lifetime. I needed to find a way to make writing as routine as showing up to my [other] job. I was panicky about this in December. At that point I didn't even have a space in our house dedicated to writing, and it felt like writing was something extra I was layering on top of all my other responsibilities. I didn't want it to be that. The most important thing I did this year was develop habits that would facilitate writing (and work as a book critic) as a viable job. I didn't want it to take me away from my family or leave me drained by the end of the day so I'd be Horrible Troll Mom. I feel really good about the fact that I've figured it/myself out. I am writing (and reading, the other part of this job that takes a billion hours), which I love, but I am also present for my family. I am very busy, but I am very happy. The routine will change--in fact, it's always changing--but I've figured out what my process looks like. I've also given myself permission to call it my job.

2014 wasn't the best year, but it wasn't the worst year, either. So many wonderful things happened to me (and I stood in front of the oldest known Beowulf manuscript, you guys. Gah.) I think the best part of 2014 was giving up fears I'd held on to for a long time: That I'd never be able to work writing into my real life. That I wasn't the kind of person with enough confidence to travel. That I couldn't be a good mom to my kids and wife to E if I was working diligently at something just for myself. Goodbye to all that.

So. Tomorrow I'll be writing about 2015, but it won't be here. I decided it's time for a change, so I'll be moving over to a domain that's my name, like a big girl. I will leave all of my posts here until I have the time to go back over 1500 of them and update links. (Eek?) But beginning tomorrow, you can find me at See you there.

{new post} Blooms, Shakes & Blocks. Two nights in a row at #Leatherbys with these monkeys. Link in my profile.New library book.Okay, this was pretty cute Young selfie. (Not de Old selfie.)Better late than never?Look out, world.No idea where he gets this behavior.I made him run with me today.Heaven is the library at Trinity College.Cashel selfie. Taken from my solo visit to Hore Abbey. (Yes, I said Hore Abbey.)Sláinte!Needed some sit-around-in-PJ-time today.Drive-by Eiffeling.The #SmorethBean Bag Summit 2014I wish I knew how to quit you.Big Legos.uploadWorld domination makes me nervous.Applying makeup at my desk this morning (as one does), I was frightened by the specter of Joan Didion's detached head in my mirror. #writers #Sacramento #JoanDidion #pencenterusa #amwritingStill life with fish mirror.Zero Prostate Cancer 5KBecause you know I'm all about that beet, 'bout that beet, no turnips.My first book review printed on actual paper. Like, with ink. #sacnewsandreviewThe most interesting cat in the world.Stoked to have my first post up at Ploughshares today. I got to write about Hamlet, Sons of Anarchy, Lana Del Rey and The Simpsons. You know, just a regular Friday with PDawg.  Link in profile.'Tis the season.The family that selfies together...uploadHeather's Brain Tonight!  Starring: Mrs. Dalloway Clarissa Vaughan Anna Karenina Aya Kawaguchi Gregor Samsa and Gregor Samsa

(You can go look right now, if you want.)

Sunday, December 14, 2014

The End


I just woke up from a pillow-mark-on-my-face, sweaty-hair, drool-on-the-pillow nap. Work hard, nap hard, I guess. The sun is setting and the resort is quiet. Almost all the writers are gone.

I came back this residency to TA--to work for the school keeping the schedule of editor and author appointments and to do anything I could to help out. In exchange, I got to be here to see my mentee graduate and catch up with my friends. I'm dog tired, and not in the way that I usually am. Ordinarly my brain is fried by the end of the week. This week it's my cankles. Assisting is not a huge mental challenge, but I was always moving.

Last night was the end of something. The end of my time here? Maybe. At least the end of my time here as it has been. Being here two residencies after my own graduation has shown me, as my friend Maggie puts it, that we're all completely replaceable. There are new people at the fire pits now, new people who have their usual spots in the R Bar and their own jokes and their own memories of drinking cheap wine while they laugh and cry about awkward moments in workshop. New people eager to hear advice about publishing and discover more about this world. I'm excited for them and what they're discovering. But it's been good to discover that the thing I think I miss has very little to do with convening in the desert. The thing is the people I took with me, and they're with me just as much at home.

The people--my people--are so much a part of my daily and weekly life now that I don't need the excuse to meet up. Being here I just feel the absence of the other friends who are not. But in real life, they're all there. Several times a year we're together in person, and in-between, it's our texts, chats, Google Hangouts and phone calls that keep us close. One of the best things about a low-res program in 2014 is that all these people live in my phone where I can reach them instantly, regardless of where they live.

I want to say that being here showed me that I don't need this place anymore. That sounds kind of sad, or maybe a little rough. But I think it was the lesson of this, my 6th residency. I guess it's shown me that the thing I was so dizzy about finding over the course of the first few--the community, the feeling that there are people out there who understand me and what it is I want for myself--isn't only something that exists here.

I didn't take that many pictures this time. We're all too comfortable with each other. Just family. Plus it just feels like I'll see them again. I feel less frantic clinging, because I know who has proven they'll be there next week, too.

If anything, being here reminds me that I am responsible for keeping the ties I have to this network of people. If I want to workshop, I owe pages to the two friends that read my work every few weeks. If I want to get together and laugh, I need to keep making time for it. If I miss people, I need to call them.

This school helped me find myself as much as anything. To figure out that I can call myself a writer and that having a group of like-minded nerds might enrich my life. I have that part down. I'm good. I just need to go forward and work hard. I need to keep the people close to me who I want close, even if this phase is over.


Tuesday, December 09, 2014

My Year in Reading

One of my favorite things to do is to ask people about the books they've read. Naturally, I love The Millions' A Year in Reading series. Each day they post a few more authors' musings on a year of books. They range from the new to the classic. I can't get enough. They feed my desire to be both nosy and well-read. I thought I'd write about my own Year in Reading. I'm up to 60 books so far this year--more than ever before. It's been a year of great reads. I am rich in the written word.

The first book that I got lost in this year was Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch. Like practically every other human in America, I couldn't read enough about Boris or antique furniture restoration. But I loved quite a few smaller, quirky novels this year too: Shane Jones' bizarre and transfixing Crystal Eaters. Daniel Seery's oddball novel A Model Partner. The raw and beautiful Green Girl by Kate Zambreno. Sarah Gerard's haunting, scientific Binary StarI also spent some time in the dark world of The Beat Generation in the late Don Carpenter's Fridays at Enrico'sTod Goldberg's Gangsterland made me both laugh and contemplate my mortality. And Gina Frangello's gritty, sweeping, sexy tale, A Life in MenI finished in one big gulp.

I raced through Jenny Offill's Department of Speculation and Ruth Ozeki's A Tale for the Time Being after seeing both authors at the LA Times Festival of Books. Both works ask questions about what we expect from a story: Offill makes a collage out of disparate parts, while Ozeki changes the game midway through. I listened to Time Being on the train from London to Paris and back. I heard Ozeki read the final lines as I pulled into the tube stop for Heathrow. It was a joy to read something that took me out of myself while I was also displaced from home.

I read more short story collections than ever, and many of them--Beside Myself by Ashley Farmer, How to Catch a Coyote by Christy Crutchfield, Does Not Love by James Tadd Adcox and See You in Paradise by J. Robert Lennon, to name a few--were wonderful books that challenged me to read in new and different ways. My eyes really opened this year to how much freedom there is in short fiction. I read some weird stuff this year, man. But so much of it was great, weird stuff.

I reread books for teaching: The Great Gatsby, Anthem, and for my appearance on Literary Disco, Albert Camus' The Stranger.

In an attempt to make myself a better person/artist, I read books like Twyla Tharp's The Creative Habit and 10% Happier by Dan Harris. In an attempt at escapism, I read Mindy Kaling's Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?, which was decent, and Amy Poehler's Yes, Please, which was a delight. I also read Lena Dunham's Not That Kind of Girl, but this became a vehement hate-read after only a few pages. (Seriously, don't bother.) I'm ending the year as I began it, walking on the treadmill to a mystery book. (First was Ben H. Williams' Countdown City, then Marisha Pessl's Night Film, and finally the Robert Galbraith--née Rowling--mystery The Cuckoo's Calling.) I like a little crime in the morning.

Two essay collections I loved this year were Megan Daum's The Unspeakable (especially for the opening essay), and Dinah Lenney's fabulous The Object Parade. Leslie Jamison's The Empathy Exams rocked my world. Somehow, the memoirs I read this year began to coalesce around the idea of faith. I read Sara Miles' City of God, Megan Hustad's More than Conquerors, Diogo Mainardi's The Fall, and Krista Bremer's My Accidental Jihad.

But the best read this year wasn't the best book. I read Sharon Creech's middle grade novel, Walk Two Moons. My daughter read it for seventh grade English class, and she loved it so much that she asked me to read it. She wanted to talk about it. There's no better read for me than a shared one.

What did you read? Let's talk about it.