Monday, September 28, 2015

Right Here, Right Now

Because I can't seem to update this blog once a week (my current goal) and because nothing big has happened lately, I thought I'd write a post using that "currently" format that occasionally floats around the blogosphere (or whatever the kids are calling it these days). Here's what I've been up to these last few weeks. 

Currently watching: Orphan Black. The first two seasons are on Amazon (free if you have Prime!) and we've been burning through them. The show is about a woman who discovers she's actually a clone, one of who knows how many (new ones keep showing up) and of course there's some kind of evil plan the clones have to uncover in order to save their lives. I like sci-fi television in general (BSG, anyone?) but this show is extra fascinating because one actress, Tatiana Maslany, plays all the clones and DAMN that woman can act! Even though they are technically identical, each one feels completely different and wholly realized. The show is also an interesting commentary on bodily autonomy, individuality, capitalism, religion, science, etc. Super fun, super interesting, highly recommended.

Currently eating: Will I ever tire of Snapea Crisps? I hope not, especially since I bought the giant bag at Costco. I also joined the Snap Pack, and I stalk the company on all forms of social media. My love knows no bounds.

Currently reading: THE DAUGHTERS, by Adrienne Celt. She is a friend of a friend, though she doesn't know that. If you like Eastern European fairy tales, modern motherhood, opera, dreamy prose, and/or infidelity, you should read this book, too. Also this is my 30th book of 2015, which means I am pretty much going to smash my goal of reading 35 books this year. Huzzah!

Currently drinking: Growlers! We bought a growler, which holds 64 ounces of fresh and delicious craft beer, and we've been getting it refilled at our favorite breweries and bottle shops. Not only is the beer more interesting than anything we can find in the grocery store, it also cuts down on waste and packaging.

Currently buying: A bridesmaid dress for my sister's wedding. She's getting hitched in March and I'm the Matron of Honor. This will only be my second time in a wedding party and I'm pretty excited! (Also, the dress I bought is a lot nicer than the ones pictured above, just so you know.)

Currently using: My soup pot. I'm back to buying dried beans, due to always being broke, and also the fact that my sister is getting married in March. This means that I always have a pot of beans soaking on the stove. My current method is to soak overnight, then bring to a boil and simmer for about 45 minutes. I freeze most of the beans in separate containers, and put some in the refrigerator for immediate use. So far, so good, so cheap! Being thrifty is delicious.

Currently wanting: Real estate. You know that feeling when you help friends move into their amazing new house over the weekend, and then you go home and look at your own rented home, and all the quirks you loved and the tiny space you appreciated is suddenly old, dull, drab, and depressing? Yeah, that. Here's to hoping this particular wanting passes soon, as we're still years away from owning anything.

Now I have to rush off, or I'll be late for work. In the meantime, tell me: what's currently keeping you busy? 

Sunday, September 13, 2015

The Honest Truth

Today* I finished reading The Folded Clock by Heidi Julavits. I needed something a bit lighter and and happier after A Little Life, and figured Julavits' book - a diary of sorts, covering two years of her life - would be a good choice. I was both right and wrong. The Folded Clock is smart, funny, and fascinating, but it's also startling. 

Julavits begins each entry (the dates go out order, so this is less a recounting of her days and more a recounting of her moods and experiences) with "Today I..." What follows is something that happened that day, which leads her to think about, obsess over, and muse on other things - similar experiences, mistakes made long ago, personal failings, epiphanies, etc. 

The most interesting thing to me, which probably says all you need to know, is how honest she appears on the page. Julavits isn't always a nice or rational person. She's mean to her husband for no reason. She gossips with her friends about other friends. She resents her children. She wants to be a celebrated artist, but she also wants to be pretty. She is jealous when other people are successful. So many complications I can relate to, yet Julavits admits to them readily and I never do. 

I started keeping a diary when I was twelve, and I wrote in it almost every day until I went to college. Then I kept a diary sporadically, out of habit and guilt, and then I started blogging and that became the record of my life. My diaries when I was younger (I called them "journals," because that sounded more important) were not important. Julavits, when she reread her childhood diaries (the discovery that prompted this book) found they "revealed [her] to possess the mind of a paranoid tax auditor." 

This, too, I can relate to. My own journals were detailed plans about how I would finally make eye contact with the boy I loved; painstaking lists of what I received for Christmas and my birthday; and a recounting of what made MTV's Top 20 Video Countdown that week, the list then preserved for future generations (this was before the Internet, when I imagined archaeologists would one day unearth my journals as priceless primary source materials). In other words: my journals were kind of dumb. Sure, they got more interesting as I got older, but not much. I was always so conscious as I wrote of an invisible audience, was always performing on the page. This is why I love blogging. The audience is still mostly invisible, but I can look at my page views and know that you are out there, reading along. 

Julavits also has an audience, much larger than mine, and yet she doesn't feel the need to sugarcoat herself. She puts her bad habits, her less-desirable qualities, on display. She regrets some of her actions (she would like to be nicer to her husband and children, at least) but she doesn't really apologize for them. She is who she is. 

I am who I am too, but I don't always feel good about it. Sometimes I gossip about other people without really understanding what they're going through; after, I feel guilty and mean and small. Sometimes I get in drunken arguments with people I love, or curse people who win the literary prizes I want, or hold some people to standards that are too high while forgiving other people everything because I can't bear to be angry with them. I'm conscious and compassionate when it's convenient, then feel guilty when I take the easy way out. I try hard to be a good ally, a good feminist, a good liberal, but then when I'm too tired to read all the articles and essays, when I'm worn out from the ceaseless anger, I retreat rather than fight and feel like a coward. 

If I learned anything from The Folded Clock, it's this: no one is perfect, especially me. I will always have flaws and regrets. I'll always make mistakes. Years from now, I'll read these "pages" and I will be embarrassed by and proud of the person I used to be. 

* I actually finished reading the book yesterday, but wanted to imitate her structure and style in this blog post. Forgive me, readers. Forgive me, Julavits. 

Wednesday, September 09, 2015

Wedding Weekend + MFA Reunion

Labor Day weekend was spent celebrating the wedding and marriage of two of our dearest. I met them four years ago, when Katie and I were both brand new to our MFA program. Since then, she and Dory have become some of my closest friends, and the main reason I survived my post-graduation year (they stayed in Wilmington, just like us, and for that I will be forever grateful). The wedding was perfect and unique, and full of love, humor, and personal details. It was a brunch wedding, with endless mimosas and a shrimp and grits bar, laid back and fun, and full of so many wonderful friends, old and new. And that was before the crazy dance party we had later that night! Such a perfect wedding. 

As most people know, I'm a huge fan of weddings - I love public declarations of emotion, I love crying during the vows, I love dancing and getting entirely too drunk on love (and, okay, on endless mimosas). I can have a good time at almost any wedding, but it's extra special when the people joining their lives together are so well-matched. In the ceremony and around the tables, every single guest marveled at what a wonderful relationship we were there to witness, how inspiring their vows and promises to one another were. I left the wedding grateful for their love, the community they brought together, and my own marriage, and inspired to be a more patient, loving, and supportive person to everyone in my life. 

Mazel tov, Dory and Katie! Here's to a long life filled with endless love and plenty of mimosas. 

Speaking of endless love, this wedding was also an opportunity for an MFA reunion, which was much needed and so appreciated. Since we graduated nearly a year and a half ago (has it been that long?!) I've seen my friends once or twice, in different places and different combinations. While I'm grateful for any chance to spend with them, there was something extra wonderful about reuniting here in Wilmington, and with such a large group of us at once. Five people stayed with Nathan and me, and we laughed, gossiped, drank, ate our favorite meals, and went to the beach three days in a row. Not bad for four days of non-stop hanging out! 

We discussed more than once how lucky we were to have each other, and how unfair it was that we all live so far apart. That's the blessing and curse of the MFA program - you find your tribe, the people who get you on a deep, intimate level, who share your interests and passions, who support your art and can talk endlessly about books and sentences and rejection, but only for three years. Then you graduate and your utopia is torn apart, your friends scattered, your tribe dissolved. In some ways, it's lonelier now because you know how good it can be. Still, it was worth it for those three years of intense community, and it will continue to be worth it for a lifetime of friendship and support, even if we only see each other once or twice a year, can only reunite like this for weddings. (We came up with a strict wedding schedule this past weekend, so we should be good for the next three years if all goes according to plan.) 

This past weekend gave me so many joyful memories, and so much to look forward to in the months and years to come. Hooray for love! 

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

A Little Life, A Lot of Heartache

I spent most of August reading one book - A Little Life, by Hanya Yanagihara. My book club chose it as our latest pick and I'll admit - I wasn't completely thrilled with this turn of events. The book is 720 pages long, and that seemed like a lot of time to set aside for a book that someone else chose for me. (We vote on our monthly selections, but still.)

Before I even started the book, it quickly became apparent that this was THE novel of the moment. Right after our book club chose it, it made the short list for the Man Booker Prize. (Coincidence? We'll never know.) Many of my friends began posting to social media about how heartbroken the book had left them. I got added to a group on Facebook created purely to provide emotional support while reading. Every mention of the book on Twitter was accompanied by two emojis - broken heart and crying face. Things were getting serious. 

And so I started reading the book. It took me about 50 pages to really get into it. At first, I was confused. Who was black? Who was white? Who was gay? Who was straight? We're in New York City, but what time period does this take place? Who are all these friends that keep stopping by? Who is important? Soon, though, I settled down and settled in. For the most part, the book follows a core group of four men, recent college graduates who have just moved to New York City. As the book progresses, it becomes clear that one of these men, Jude, is the true main character, and bit by bit we learn about his history, the life he led before he came to college and met his three dearest friends. It was a life marked by all kinds of abuse, and it's a good thing we don't get the details all at once - they're hard to take, and a huge part of why this book is so ridiculously sad. 

But for a book that delves so deeply into tragedy and sadness, there are also moments of real happiness, which creates a gorgeous and complicated testament to love and friendship and our limits as human beings. Since I finished the book, I've read a ton of interviews with Yanagihara, reviews of the book, and analyses of the characters, and I've seen it called everything from a rare view of male friendship to the Great Gay Novel to a dark fairytale. It is, of course, all these things, because a book - at least a great one - is never one thing, and this book is definitely great. I've read 27 books so far this year, and none of them has affected me as deeply or lingered as long in mind and heart as this one. 

You might notice that I'm not saying much about the actual plot of the book. There are so many twists and so much happens - the book follows the characters from their early 20s to their early 50s, which is a lot of life - and each reveal is so highly anticipated, so necessary and horrifying and such a gift, that I can't give any of them away. 

Instead, I will tell you this. I finished the last 200 or so pages of the book over the course of a few nights, alone in my house because Nathan was working late. I knew that even though things for the characters had been bad, they were soon going to get worse, so I approached each reading session with fear, trepidation, and a box of tissues. In between the hours I spent reading, I wandered through the world and went to work, but I was barely there. I couldn't stop thinking about the characters, Jude especially - they took over my life in the best way. At once point, while reading, I was so engrossed that I didn't see something very big coming. When The Thing arrived, I slammed the book shut and yelled, "No. NO. NO!" into my empty house. I finally finished the book in a two hour stretch during which I could not stop weeping - I had no idea I could produce so many tears. Maybe this is a strange sort of recommendation - "Read this book! You'll never be the same! It will break your heart into a thousand pieces!" - but you should know what you're getting into. Think of it as a doomed relationship, one you know will not end well, but will challenge you, force you to confront dark truths, and make you question everything you thought you knew about love, friendship, and loss. 

And when you're done, let me know. No matter how long it takes, I'll still be thinking about this book, and I'll always need to talk about it. 

Saturday, August 22, 2015

This is 33

I turned 33 on August 9th, and it must be a sign of maturity that I'm only getting around to reflecting on the occasion now. That's okay - age, after all, is relative. Ever since I turned 31, I've been doing a yearly time capsule to capture the moment and the year as they are in this moment. You can read 31 here32 here, and 33 below.

This is 33.

Thirty-three is a new career, again. It's going to an office five days a week and hoping all the studies that claim that sitting in a chair all day will kill me are wrong. Thirty-three is using my skills as a writer and a digital native to help other businesses grow. It's wondering sometimes if this particular career is enough, if any job is enough, if jobs are supposed to be enough, if enough even exists. 

Thirty-three is a literary career - the one that I care about most, the one that would most certainly be enough - teetering on the edge. It's eleven revisions and an agent and the maddeningly slow game of waiting for something to happen. Thirty-three is letting go of expectations and control and throwing myself into a new project, the first draft of another novel, because it doesn't matter what happens with the first one. The only thing that matters is that I keep writing. 

Thirty-three is Wilmington, for real this time. Not as a student, not as a visitor, but as someone who lives here and really, truly likes it. Thirty-three is less social, but the days and nights out are always worth it, always needed, always enjoyed. Thirty-three is missing more people than ever before, but realizing this is an ongoing trend - it just means I'm always finding new people to love. Thirty-three is breweries, book clubs, beaches, and backyard parties. Thirty-three is peaceful. 

Thirty-three is thirteen years and counting with Nathan, a relationship that has outlasted nearly everything else in my life and continues to evolve. It's comfort and safety and strength, and the knowledge that no matter what, we'll figure it out and be okay. It's dreaming about the future in our spare time, making plans but waiting to see what will happen next. Thirty-three is ongoing relief that the biological clock has yet to tick, that the plan to remain child-free still feels right.

Thirty-three is gentler on my body - less marathons, more yoga. Thirty-three is feeling stiff in the mornings and sleeping hard at night. Thirty-three is eggs from my chickens, honey from my bees, basil from my garden. Thirty-three is watching Seamus get older - eleven this year! - with wonder and fear about how much longer we will share our life with him. Thirty-three is gratitude for Calvin, only five, who is still fat and sweet and just beginning to go gray. Thirty-three is wine and beer on the back deck, too much and too often and not apologizing for it. 

Thirty-three is reading books like I did when I was thirteen - widely and enthusiastically, but not guilelessly. It's understanding the power of books in a new way, and making a conscious effort to read books by people who do not look or live like me. It's becoming an active member of the wider literary world, and supporting the work of other writers I admire. Thirty-three is watching as my friends and colleagues begin to find success, wondering who will be next, hoping it will be me. Thirty-three is envy and joy, twin emotions in equal measure. 

Thirty-three is hope, and happiness, and health, and heart. It's good to be thirty-three. 

Monday, August 17, 2015

Birthday Weekend in Asheville

Last Sunday was my birthday (I have many thoughts about turning 33 - more about that soon) and to celebrate, Nathan and I decided to spend the weekend in Asheville, NC. Asheville is about six hours west of us, in the mountains, and it's a beautiful, peaceful, strange little town, full of vegetarian food, breweries, and various vagabonds. Suffice to say we fit right in. 

Where We Stayed 

We used Airbnb for the first time ever (we don't get out much) and spent two nights in a truly unique and beautiful place. It's called Franny's Farm, located just 20 minutes from downtown Asheville. Franny and her husband Jeff bought the place three years ago, and in that time they've started growing organic food, raising sheep and poultry, and building an eco-cabin project, which was the main reason we chose to stay there. At the top of a very steep hill on their property, they've built a camping area that has a really nice, fully stocked kitchen, bathroom, and showers, complete with electricity and running water. 

The camping area also includes two eco-cabins, which are tiny dwellings with no power. The cabin we stayed in was 12 x 12 with a loft bed. It was very well made, comfortable, and - most important - super cute. We loved staying at the farm, talking to Franny and Jeff, visiting the animals, and drinking coffee each morning while enjoying this amazing view. 

Nathan and I have a (very) long term dream of building something similar - a farm, filled with tiny houses, where we can host writing workshops and yoga retreats, sort of like what I attended in Aspen. Staying on Franny's Farm was incredibly relaxing but also incredibly inspiring. They're pretty much living our dream, and doing it well. We're excited to continue visiting them, staying on their farm, and watching as their operation grows and evolves. If you're ever in Asheville, I highly recommend booking a night in one of their cabins

What We Ate 

I love to eat more than just about anything, and Asheville didn't disappoint in the culinary category. Somehow, I failed to take photos of most of the delicious things I consumed, possibly because the task would have been too overwhelming. (The above photo, of a delicious vegan eggplant parmesan, was my only foray into food photography on this trip. Worth it.) 

We arrived in Asheville at around 4PM on Friday and headed straight to the farm to check in. That night, we had dinner at Laughing Seed Cafe, where I took my one and only photo (see above). We walked around Asheville for a bit after that, then bought a bunch of wine and snacks and spent the night hanging out in our cabin and enjoying the peace and quiet. 

The next morning we woke early, made coffee and drank it on our tiny porch, ate some granola, then hiked to an abandoned moonshine still on Franny's property. We did not find any moonshine, nor Moonshine Mary, who is rumored to haunt the still. 

Once our obligatory amount of exercise had been obtained, we headed back to Asheville. It was Saturday morning and all the brunch spots were pretty packed, but we ended up at Mayfel's, which was fine with me. Giant mimosas, eggs on top of vegan black bean patties, and vegetarian sausage - just what I always wanted. Once we had food in our bellies, we began our self-guided tour of Asheville's breweries (see below). We ended the night at Rosetta's Kitchen for their famous family favorite - peanut butter baked tofu, sautéed kale, and smashed potatoes with vegan gravy. Our final stop on our culinary tour of Asheville was on our way out of town the next day - brunch at West Asheville's Sunny Point Cafe. We had to wait an hour for a table, but it was worth it for the tofu bacon, lettuce, tomato, and avocado sandwiches we devoured. Plus we spent that hour drinking coffee and wandering through the restaurant's extensive organic garden, from which they source most of their menu, and for which I will love them always. Asheville is the best! 

Where We Drank 

Asheville is widely known as "Beer City, USA" and is currently home to 21 craft breweries. While we knew we wouldn't be able to visit them all on our brief trip, we gave it a good shot. On Saturday, we started early and crawled through a good number of these fine establishments, tasting and touring as we went. 

We started at Hi-Wire Brewing and enjoyed a tasting flight of delicious beers. Then it was around the block to Asheville Brewery, where we had more delicious beers AND met up with Eric, a friend from my MFA program who recently moved to Asheville. We held on to Eric for the rest of the day as we sampled beers from Wicked Weed Brewing and Thirsty Monk, where I sent some free postcards to a few friends (whether anyone at the United States Postal Service will be able to read the addresses I scrawled on the postcards has yet to be seen). From what I can remember, the beers were amazing, the conversation was brilliant, and every single person we saw was utterly beatific. In other words, a pretty great day and weekend for this birthday girl. 

I Love Asheville 

This was my first time spending more than a handful of hours in Asheville, and even though we were there for a full weekend, there was so much we didn't have time to do. I'd love to hike to the top of an actual mountain, watch the leaves change along the Blue Ridge Parkway, drink more delicious beers, float the river, and go back to Sunny Pointe Cafe, because honestly, that was the best brunch ever. Luckily six hours isn't very far, and we have a great little cabin waiting to welcome us back. Until next time, Asheville. I'm already looking forward to it. 

Monday, August 03, 2015

On This Day

Two weekends ago, our landlady stopped by so we could renew our lease. Renewing wasn't a question - we love almost everything about this house and might even buy it one day, if we ever have enough money. While our landlady was here we chatted about life, real estate, and the particulars of the house. "It's perfect," we said. "Everything works great and we haven't had any problems at all." We signed on the dotted line and agreed to another year of bliss. 

And then all hell promptly broke loose. 

It wasn't anything too catastrophic. First, our stove stopped working. The light would come on, the digital clock kept ticking, but it would not get hot - not the burners, not the oven. Our landlady is prompt and responsible and it was fixed within two days, and in the meantime we treated ourselves to Chipotle for dinner and made our morning eggs via a camping stove on the deck. After the stove was fixed, however, the AC stopped working. Luckily our heat wave had finally broken, so it was only 95 degrees instead of 106, but still - three days without AC in North Carolina in July can feel like a very long time indeed. A repairman came and fixed our unit, and then the stove stopped working again. Turns out the breaker needed to be repaired, and that took another day. All in all, it was a strange series of events which seemed prompted entirely by the renewal of the lease. It was as if the universe was saying, "Are you sure? Do you really want to stay here? Isn't there somewhere better you could go?" 

To which we said, "Yes, we're sure. Yes, we want to stay. 'Better' is relative, don't you think?" 

I haven't been using Facebook as much as I used to - Twitter and Instagram are my online homes these days - but there is one thing Facebook does keeps me hooked. It's the "On This Day" feature and it pops up every so often when I log in, to remind me of what I was doing last year, three years ago, six years ago, at any given moment. 

Lately, it's been reminding me of my life four years ago. I'd just left my job and friends and community in Texas and moved to Wilmington. I was nervous and sad and excited to start my MFA. I wondered if I'd make friends, if the house we'd rented was really as bad as it seemed, if I would finally be able to consider myself a real writer. 

It's funny now to watch those moments pop up, to remember how I felt then along with what I know now. Our last house was terrible for all three years we lived in it, but we were happy anyway. Getting an MFA was absolutely the right decision. I call myself a writer, even though some days are better than others. And I am shocked, completely and wonderfully, every time Facebook tells me I became friends with someone four years ago. Only four years of friendship? It feels like a lifetime. 

This last year has been a strange one. I have new friends, a new job, a new book-in-progress. Our house no longer feels new - now it just feels like home. I suppose I could say the same thing for Wilmington. When I graduated, I felt as if I'd just arrived all over again - that was how much my life changed after the MFA. On this day four years ago, we had just signed a lease but weren't sure what we were signing up for. Today, I remember those feelings of uncertainty while smiling. Despite everything, it's all working out fine. And when it doesn't, well, we have a perfectly good camping stove just in case. 

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

The Volleyball Chronicles

Two years ago, my friends formed a team and joined the beach volleyball league, which plays each week on courts attached to a local bar. Each week I went to their games and cheered (or read a book, depending on how I felt that day). The team was not very good and rarely won (I say this with love, of course) but they almost always had a great time, and not just because we ordered many buckets of PBR during the course of their games. 

Despite all the fun they seemed to be having, I did not join the team. With the exception of roller derby, I'm not a fan of team sports and harbored a special aversion to volleyball. All that sand! All the diving and jumping! That ball, hurtling towards your face at the most inopportune moments! No, thank you. I'll be over here, in the shade, with a book and a beer. 

This year, however, something changed. I decided to play, even though my friends had given up on asking me. I'm definitely the worst person on our team, the combination of heat and sand and humidity is painful, and the moments when I swing my arms wildly and complete miss the ball are just as mortifying as I'd feared. We play every Sunday and some weeks I feel as if I've improved and am actually doing an okay job; other times, I wish I was still on the sidelines. But I am improving, and my team is lovely and supportive (probably because they're all my friends, and my friends are the best) and despite the moments of fear and shame, I'm having a lot of fun. 

It occurred to me that I'm at a point in my life where I don't often get to try something completely new. When I was in my 20s, new experiences were easy - every moment was a revelation, every thought an epiphany. But now, I'm well into my 30s. I've already done a lot of the big things that people do - go to college, get married, move across the country a few times, run a marathon, go to college again, write a novel, etc. These days, life is fairly predictable and the opportunities for Brand New Experiences, Big Scary Things, and Life Changing Events are becoming more and more rare. As much as I like my life, part of me is upset by this reality. I don't want to be the kind of person who becomes stagnant. I want to keep growing and changing and experiencing and feeling. I'm only in my 30s and I've barely scratched the surface of anything. Now is not the time to settle down. 

Thus: volleyball. In the grand scheme of the world, it's just a sand court at a bar that plays 90s alternative rock and serves ice cold buckets of PBR. In my own little universe, however, it's a chance to try something new and make myself uncomfortable. To swing my arms and grit my teeth and maybe, just maybe, send that ball over the net. 

Friday, July 17, 2015

How Is It Already July and Other Rhetorical Questions

I don't really have any other rhetorical questions, but I am surprised that to see that July is almost half over. There's no reason this should shock me - I was here for the whole thing, after all, but there's something about the passing of time that still seems unfair. At any rate, here's how I've been spending my summer. 

At the beach. No surprise there, since we live on the coast. I am happy to report that we haven't been attacked by any sharks, despite that the fact that they've been snacking nearby. We did, however, kayak out to our favorite island and spend the night there. In the morning we had the whole beach to ourselves and were treated to a playful pod of dolphins just out of reach. We walked about a half mile down the shore and followed them, and they were leaping out of the water and playing and having what looked like a great a time. It was pretty magical. 

In a book. I still haven't recapped my June reading list here (shocker) but I have been reading steadily this summer, and all of 2015. In fact, I'm in the middle of book number 25 and since we're in the 29th week of the year, I'm pretty damn impressed with myself. The only thing longer than the list of books I've read is the list of books I want to read. So many good ones are coming out right now and it feels like an exciting time to be a reader and a writer and a human. Books! Nothing is better. 

At the office. I've been at my job now for almost four months, which flew by. (This probably explains why I looked up and it was suddenly mid-July.) There's not much to say about my job, except that it is pleasant, I like my co-workers, and I appear to be good at what I do.  Would I rather spend 40 hours a week reading a book on the beach? Wouldn't we all? But if you have to have a job (and I do) then I feel lucky and grateful to have this one. 

In the middle of Mad Men. Despite being a Mad Men devotee, I have yet to see the final season of the show. We watch it on Netflix and season 7 hasn't shown up yet, so instead Nathan and I decided to rewatch the whole thing from the beginning, to build anticipation and remember all the things that happened. This has made me believe 1. that I actually am Peggy Olson, especially now that I'm a copy writer at an ad agency, and 2. that Mad Men is the greatest television show that ever existed. I will write a think piece about this when we're done, because if the world needs anything, it's a think piece about Mad Men. 

On Twitter. I may not blog as much as I used to, but I'm still on the Internet all day long. I just spend most of that time on Twitter, which continues to be my favorite social media platform of all time. It's where I find out about everything, from news to writing to nerdy jokes to important culture movements like #BlackLivesMatter. I'm in a place, in life and on the Internet, where listening is more important than speaking, and Twitter is perfect for that. You can find me here, if you're interested, and we can listen to each other. 

You're turn - what are you reading / watching / tweeting? Tell me everything and I will listen closely. 

Thursday, July 02, 2015

Aspen Summer Words 2015

Remember way back in February, when I won a fellowship to Aspen Summer Words, a literary festival in Colorado that takes place each June? I spent all of last week there, soaking in the brilliance of wonderful writers, the kindness of new friends, and the beauty of the mountains. Now I am back home at sea level and ready to tell you all about it. 

Getting to Aspen was a bit of a struggle. I had to fly out of Charlotte, which is four hours away. My 11 year old car's alternator died the day before I left town, so I had to rent a vehicle. US Airways lost my luggage, so I wore the same black t-shirt and pair of jeans Sunday through Tuesday, until the bag was miraculously returned to me. My flight home was delayed and I missed my connection, which meant I got to spend the night in a terrible hotel off the freeway in Dallas. But none of that really mattered, because the time I spent in Aspen was idyllic, inspiring, and worth every headache.

The festival took place at The Gant, an adorable little hotel in the heart of Aspen. I had my own bedroom and bathroom, but shared a living room and kitchen with two of the other fellows, which was actually really nice. I liked having a built-in friend, and before our workshop, one of my roommates and I read that day's manuscripts at the kitchen table and had coffee each morning. Workshops took place from 9AM to 12PM, and my teacher was the kind, generous, and prolific Ann Hood. I learned so much from her in the short week we had, and am so grateful for the opportunity to study with her. Lunch followed workshop, and then the afternoons were filled with lectures and readings from all the faculty. This included Richard Russo, Akhil Sharma (who might find a second career as a stand up comic - I loved his dry humor!), Hannah Tinti, Dani Shapiro, and a handful of editors and agents. In other words, a pretty stellar line up. 

There were seven of us fellows in all, and we were each nominated for the honor by an editor or agent. Getting to know the other fellows was probably the best part of the whole week. We were all considered "emerging writers," though some of us were far more emerged than others. (I, of course, was one of the least emerged. Also, all this talk of emerging is making me think of insects.) In fact, as we chatted over dinner or drinks, in between lectures and on walks through downtown Aspen, I felt quite humbled by everyone's accomplishments. From forthcoming books to major publications to prestigious prizes, it was clear that they were each very talented. And nice, too! I hope we continue to keep in touch and share our work with one another, as we emerge and after. 

This was my first time going to a literary festival or conference of this particular scale. While I've been to AWP twice, that conference felt more like a literary jungle where each writer is out for blood and free books. Aspen, on the other hand, reminded me of a miniature version of my MFA program - an intimate setting, an insular experience, and focused on inspiration and learning above all else. And since we all know how much I loved my MFA program, I was really, really, really happy to be back in that kind of environment.

While hanging out in Aspen and meeting other writers is awesome no matter what, this particular trip came at the perfect time. Last week, while I was in Colorado, I hit the three month mark at my new job. While I've still been writing and revising these last few months, I haven't been working as much or as hard. I told myself I was adjusting to my new schedule, trying to regain the balance of work-life-art that had been thrown immeasurably off. Now, after three months at the new job and one week in Aspen, I feel rested, rejuvenated, and ready to dive back in. It's a very good feeling.

(Here we are, after the closing reception, during which each of the fellows gave a short reading - which was obviously my favorite part. Can you spot me?) 

A thousand thanks to Aspen Words, Ann Hood, my fellow fellows, my new workshop friends, and all the other writers and readers who made this past week so magical. Here's to many more words.