Monday, December 31, 2012

Wishing You a Happy 2013

I don't know about you, but I am happy to put 2012 behind me. This was a year of dualism, filled with disappointment and pain as well as much that was divine. There were so many horrific events and so much economic difficulty. And yet, this year was also filled with innovation and hope. Communities came together, and, in hard and even impossible times, people lifted each other up.

My 2012, in summary: 

My family faced illness and worry, and we bounced back. I traveled to visit all the members of my family this year. I also went to New York City for the first time to read at the KGB. Thrillingly, I discovered a new favorite writer in Edith Pearlman and found publication of my own short work in two of my all-time favorite journals: Gargoyle (#58) and PANK (as well as many other fine literary venues). I made new friends, and many friends moved away. I made a dent in my student loans, but still have many years to go. The husband and I moved to a larger apartment, where we can actually have our own space. We get along even better now. We both moved up in our positions at work, if slightly. I became very sick and began working to raise awareness about endometriosis in my small way; I was always afraid to write about this illness but no longer am. I became anxious a few times this year but bounced back naturally. I learned to appreciate a little more, cope a little better. I am, I think, on track to being healthier than I've ever been. I didn't write enough, didn't finish my novel, didn't look for an agent; but I am far prouder of what I wrote this year than I've ever been. I know I'm on my way. I've slowed down a bit, but this has helped my writing more than it has hurt. In 2012, for the most part, I did not fight with people who were out to fight. Engaging is losing. I worried over global events (large source of anxiety), but I also found myself in a better position to truly contribute to causes I believe in, to take a stand in my way. This feels good.

In summary, I'm glad 2012 is over and thrilled to begin anew. I have a lot of hope for this new year.

In 2013, I plan to:
  1. Have fun, take risks
  2. Read more
  3. Write more 
  4. Give back in the ways that do not drain me
  5. Somewhat conversely, say no more often
  6. Join a local group of some sort: running, foodies, something other than writing that will fuel writing
  7. Support other writers and writing journals
  8. Continue to eat better; workout, but know my limits (again, not too much)
  9. Finish the novel, finish the novel, finish the novel...
  10. Travel more, visit out-of-town friends and family, and make plans to travel out of the country sometime in 2014 (this will take a small financial miracle, but I have hope)
  11. Take a real vacation
  12. Meditate/relax/don't stress over what I can't control
  13. Aprender mucho de azar frases en español y utilizarlos de forma esporádica. En otras palabras, comienzan a estudiar español (correct me if need be... I'm out to learn)

So that's it. I wish you all the best in this new start. We're in this thing together, so I'd love to know your resolutions. Feel fee to share below. Peace. -Jen  

Oh, and...
Happy New Year!!!



Sunday, December 30, 2012

2012 Resolutions Revisited


Resolutions were important to my family when I was growing up. New Year's Eve was one of our few genuine, steadfast traditions. My father would hand my sister and I pens and ledgers and pour us some sparkling apple cider, then tell us to get to it. For reference, we would look back at the resolutions from the previous year. This part of the process could be a little disconcerting sometimes, especially as I got closer to teenage years and the goals got more complex. I stopped making resolutions for many years after I left home, especially the years I didn't want to reflect on. But I've been back at it for a few years now, and today I'm clinging to the tradition. Resolutions are just goals on paper, but they're also a record of events and a record of hope. Like journal writing, they are enlightening and, to me, necessary.

Before I post my 2013 list on New Year's Eve (I need to think it over), I'm going to look back. But first, to close out 2012, here's some writing news: the last acceptances and publications of 2012. 

Writing: It has been a while since I posted some writing news, but here's some:

  1. I recently found out that I will be attending the Vermont Studio Center in February for two weeks. Here, I plan to finish my novel. For real! Really finish it! I'm thrilled and honored. Thank you so much to everyone there, for the assistance and opportunity and support. I have purchased long underwear and gloves and back-up gloves, and I absolutely can't wait. 
  2. I have a short piece, Weightless, coming out in Lost in Thought Magazine. Thanks goes out to Kyle Schruder and Robert Vaughan.
  3. Another short piece, which is rather experimental for me, called In Transit is coming out in Stone Highway Review (big fan, thanks to the editors).
  4. Gorge, a novel in stories put out by Pure Slush, was released on December 21st. I contributed a short story to this collection. I have yet to read the whole book yet, but based on the excerpts from so many of my favorite writers, and imagining how we'll all mesh... it should be pretty strange and wonderful.


Personal:

I'm a little afraid to look at these... 


1. Tell the best possible story each time I write
2. Do not write to publish but simply write, then publish
3. Vary my workouts and avoid backbend push-ups, no matter what
4. Eat just a little better than last year
5. Don't fall asleep in my contact lenses or on a bus (this one is worth the carry-over)
6. Make trips to see my family despite finances 
7. Be patient with my loved ones--let them make their own resolutions
8. Pay outrageous student loans without cursing, stomping feet or looking up to the ceiling and screaming, "Why?"
9. Find either a) an agent and/or b) a fellowship that will bridge the gap between the larger literary world and my working life
10. Smile more (this one's weighted)
11. Get in the habit of turning my cell phone off at work and on when I get home (a biggie) 

How'd I do?

1. Could still improve and will continue to try
2. Much better as far as this goes; the internet makes this one tough as I sometimes feel I have to constantly share new work, but truth is I'd rather write one great, timeless story in my life than publish every other week.
3. Yeah, um, I did a plank the other day, and even though my tendon has healed well, it still killed! I need to work on this one. Don't overdue it will definitely make my list this year.
4. Oh yeah. Doing this.
5. Utter failure
6. Yep
7. Trying
8. Unrealistic. What was I thinking?
9. No agent. I've sent out one query, so this is another utter failure in that I didn't really try as far as the agent, but hey, I'm going to VSC in February! Partial success! 
10. I think I did this the first few days of 2012.
11. Lost cause


When you make resolutions, if you do, do you look at the prior year's list first? Are there certain ones that carry over, seeming to be there year after year? Yeah, well, since I revisited this tradition there sure seem to be a few on my list that just can't be crossed off. But I'll keep trying. I hope if you review your resolutions, they pleasantly surprise you. But if not, hey, there's always next year. 

I have to say, this wasn't as bad as I thought. I'm almost ready to make that 2013 list.







Wednesday, December 26, 2012

5 Reasons Not to Travel on Christmas Day

This is a cautionary tale, in list form. It is based on my experience flying from Ohio to Atlanta to San Antonio yesterday, with a three-hour layover. The takeaway here is that I do not recommend traveling on Christmas day. I do not recommend it no matter how cheap your tickets. Here are the top-five reasons why:
  1. Multi-baby planes. Let me clarify here: I am pro-baby. And, I empathize with the challenges of the traveling parent. That said, this is a simple equation to consider when traveling. More families are traveling, and this means more babies. Consequently, there's a chance at least one will be crying during any given minute of the flight. And sometimes, two or three will be crying at once. Noise cancelling headphones can only do so much. 
  2. The people at the airport DO NOT want to be at work. Before we were greeted for our Christmas dinner in a restaurant in the airport, we heard a five-minute argument about how our server was not going to take any more tables, hell no, because she had to get to Christmas dinner with her family. And a rebuttal something along the lines of, I have a family, too, and I actually got here on time. It went on. 
  3. Things are out of stock. I don't think shipments come in on the holidays, so good luck getting your favorite brand of gum or sparkling water.
  4. Ukuleles. In my experience, there's a better chance you'll be in the waiting area next to a girl playing the ukulele as her boyfriend rubs her leg.
  5. Image by: William Fisher
  6. Bathroom bathers. Perhaps because people are going to meet family or friends/coming from meeting family or friends, it seemed the women I encountered in the bathrooms were more thorough. One seemed to be washing her hair in the sink, another flossing her teeth, complete with the pop-floss-out-of-space-between-teeth projectile action. My husband's experience, however, was far more disturbing. He reported a rather hefty and weathered man with his shirt off at the sink, wash cloth in hand, working on his pits.
So there you have it. It's up to you, but in my experience the cost-benefit ratio of traveling cheap on Christmas day turned out to be a mediocre deal. My family was more than worth it, and I had a magical time in Ohio as evidenced by my previous post. But, I'll be damned if there isn't a cost-efficient alternative waiting for me next year. 

(I'll post about writing this coming weekend. Now, to decompress, relax, and enjoy being home.) 

Monday, December 24, 2012

Walking the old neighborhoods and hiding school pics

I'm drinking green tea as my mother makes a quiche for her neighbor. In the two days I've been here, she has also made or purchased ingredients to make a lemon cake for family, a turtle brownie cake for a coworker, molasses and peanut butter cookies for us, an exquisite salmon dinner and sides for me last night, and homemade chicken noodle soup for lunches and snacks. She is in pain. Mom is scheduled for surgery for her foot. It hurts her to walk. She needs to be relaxing, and my sister is yelling at her about this, but this is my mom. She wants to cook and bake and fuss. My husband laughs as he tells stories. I am saying I'll be off the computer in a second. I am a little too cold but otherwise just right. We're home.

We're tired. We've visited family and a few friends who were able to meet us at this busy time. We've visited Brutus Buckeye and a few landmarks from our childhood to see how they've changed. Columbus is so flat and quiet and lovely. The homes here are quaint and eclectic, and the air is cleaner here than in San Antonio. This, the capital city, has undergone quite a bit of revitalization in the last few years, especially in the areas around campus and the neighborhoods I grew up and lived in. I ran these streets this morning, and I became thankful that I am not still that younger me. That these streets are not now how I remember them. Things are supposed to change sometimes.

Glen Echo Park, the site of a beautiful ravine that was known to me as a kid as little more than a short trail, some water, and a few quiet, graffiti-covered tunnels that were perfect for bad-ass kids like myself to hideout in and smoke and drink. Thanks to the revitalization, the park is now graffiti and bad-ass kid free. Artists have painted the birds of Ohio in one of the notorious tunnels. My husband and I walked in sub-thirty degree weather (we are now Texans and barely able to stand it) and reminisced fondly of the lesser park we remembered. We thawed out only to drive to another path along the Olentangy River.

Columbus is dusted with snow right now. I have continuously nudged Mom's heat up to seventy-two degrees. She has consistently nudged it back down to seventy. This will continue.

We visited my husband's immediate family last night, which is bigger than my own and filled with kids. We are not versed in buying kids gifts. Case in point: for the three-year old nephew, we were excited to find a truck that he could put together himself with giant plastic screws. When he opened it; however, our excitement was met with a three-year old frown, followed by a wary thanks and a confused look. He turned to his mother and said, "Broken truck?!" Even after we got the tires on that bad boy, our nephew still referenced his new toy as his broken truck, despite the fact that he could now push it around like his others. My husband's sister was gracious enough to host the evening, and lucky, lucky me: she pulled out the childhood pictures. My husband cringed; I clapped and laughed and asked to keep a few.

The tables will likely be turned tonight, when my sister comes over and we have Christmas Eve egg white quiches. I will help to clean my mother's house, and I will tell her to relax. She will insist on making our meals without help and I will insist she not. We will play Scrabble (again) and argue over words (reiron is NOT a word!) and laugh, and the pictures will probably come out. My husband will grab at images of me from the early nineties with diagonally-designed blue backgrounds to offset my unruly red hair and hexagon-shaped plastic glasses. I will graciously add them to the pile we collected last night. Likely we will take a few more walks around the old neighborhoods and we will savor the beauty as we know our time here is limited. I'm so grateful that I'm home to celebrate. The holidays are for family now, for going home and for appreciating what we have; and in our case, they are also for yelling at each other, laughing, hitting and missing with the present picks, and making fun of old pictures.

There have been less ideal holiday seasons in my past. Having those tough seasons, however, only makes me appreciate times like this all the more. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go sneak the heat up again.


Saturday, December 15, 2012

Finding peace when it is impossible

Sometimes it feels as though we are collectively punching ourselves in the gut, repeatedly, and that we will continue until we fall apart.

There is no denying the fact that the catastrophe of December 14, 2012 has left an impact that will never fully leave us. We are again changed. Turn on your TV right now, read the news, even make small talk with another person, and the spotlight will shine on the yesterday: a massacre that ended in twenty-seven people dead (including the gunman) for no discernible reason. And there is nothing to discern here, nothing to figure out, because there is no reason. The fact that so much violence has occurred over the last year in the U.S. is surreal and sickening.

Here's my plea:

Let's look within at times like these, take a moment, and then look outward to the opportunities we have to make those we share our world with more content. I am disheartened right now, sure, disheartened in a way I've been too often since 9-11. These mass shootings and suicidal missions seem to be recurring events, regularly scheduled programming, and we need to stop asking why and instead ask how to move forward. No matter how you dissect this, the bottom line is the murder of twenty young children and six adults, ending in suicide, is the definition of evil. It never should have happened. There is no reason.

Here's the thing: I firmly believe we can't dwell. The best way to fight our own pain is to look to what is out there that's beautiful and share that. Find balance. There is so much beauty! And the more we focus on it, and the more we nurture it, the more of it we'll notice and be able to share with those who have given up on the world. Conversely, the more we focus on the pain and the sickness, the more we become accustomed to the feel of tragedy, the more we feed its existence.

What I wish everyone would do: Show support. Research, if need be. But then take a moment. Focus on doing work that makes the world better. Do something nice, pay something forward, make another person feel a little bit better. There is no more important time to do this. This is my plea because I have to believe it will help. We are capable, communally, of being better than we've been. So let's get to it.

Thanks to my good friend, I began my day with this article:  22 Random Acts of Kindness That Will Restore Your Faith in Humanity. It made me smile. And smiling is what I think we all need to do, if only for a moment today.

I'm not saying ignore; that is impossible. I'm saying look to the good. Our country has consumed so much pain and that pain has, in turn, consumed us. What do we have to lose by looking to find balance? Perhaps energy collected in a positive way will help to allow that spotlight to move a little to the right and maybe even illuminate our ability to come together and make change just when it seemed we'd fall apart.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Finals Week

Not much to report here. I am living at the height of the glory and pain of teaching as I drown in end-of-term stories. I am still eating veggies and using my juicer. I am still feeling good. I am working over at the 9-5 to prepare for a real vacation. I have a ton of story ideas I can't wait to write. I've been keeping notes as the ideas come. They will be written soon. Things will be revised. I am not asleep.

Back to teaching. These students (writers) are kicking ass! They're listening, emphasizing their strengths and working on their weaker points. So far, there's been such creativity and growth that I feel downright proud. Here's a glimpse: a brilliant story about a popular children's icon attacking an innocent family; a science fiction piece about a meteor headed toward earth during an evangelist regime, which causes citizens to find their inner hedonism;  a few mind-blowing survival stories; and there is so, so much more. This is an amazing group, and I'll miss reading their work. But, because I'm reading this budding brilliance, this week's blog is short and late. I'll post again next weekend.

In the meantime, here are a few amazing stories (two newer, two older) I read online during breaks and for reference for my students. When I'm done, I'll be able to settle in and read something longer: Open City. It's first on the list. Oh, and I can return to reading at PANK. If PANK will still have me. (I just realized that I am looking forward to my break from reading so that I can read. That's love. Or obsession. Same thing, right?)

Eudora Welty: Why I Live at the P.O.
Alice Dunbar: A Carnival Jangle
Jia Tolentino: The Odyssey
Stephanie Dickinson: Black Night Heron

Now, back to grading, drinking my power juice, getting ready for the corporate work tomorrow, and using every cell in my body to will it to snow in San Antonio tonight. Wow, I miss snow. Have a beautiful week.


Sunday, December 2, 2012

Trying to better myself, damn it!

Personal:

In only two weeks, I'll be grading the finals for my creative writing class. I'll miss my students, but the extra time will be more than welcome. Then, gulp, here comes Christmas. How is it that ads, retail displays and even some holiday decorations go up as early as October, and yet the holiday sneaks up on me each year?

Holiday season or no, I am getting so healthy! Okay, not really, but I'm still trying to eat better. If I am what I eat, up to the last few weeks I'd be packaged in thin cardboard and stuffed in a freezer next to the Lean Cuisines.

Along with trying to reduce milk (switched to almond milk and oat milk), I recently bought a single-serve blender so that I can begin tricking myself (and hopefully the husband) into eating more fruits and vegetables. It has only two days, but I think I've already consumed more veggies than I did all last month, so it's working as of now. I bring this up because I am completely romanced by my blender, and now I want to get everyone on my list a single-serve version, which is quite affordable. This thing is magical, people! It's making it possible for me to eat kale without gagging. Point is, if we exchange gifts every year, and you don't want one, I recommend dropping me an email now.

Here's is my first creation:

  • Kale
  • Spinach
  • A few pieces of kiwi
  • A few small strawberries
  • Broccoli 
  • Mango Juice 
  • Protein powder
  • A splash of oat milk

There were no real measurements.

And the result? Wonderful tasting, but I drank it too fast and felt like a balloon for a good twenty minutes.

In support of a proposed new, healthier lifestyle, my husband went to Green with me today. This is a guy that wants a fried egg, bacon and extra cheese on his burger, and today he ate (devoured rather) his first veggie burger. What a guy! And the best part is, he liked it. I'm hoping I can make this work long-term. I'm never going to be one of those people who does everything right, but I'm on a mission to do all the holistic curative and preventative stuff I can tolerate without letting it keep me from normal outings. I'll let you know how I do, even if I end up reverting to old ways in a week's time.

Writing:

I was invited to submit a piece to Lost in Thought Magazine by the amazing Robert Vaughan, and I'm hoping I can deliver. I have a good start, so we'll see.

I found out a few of my short stories, notably the first three here at Fictionaut: A Glimpse, Soft like Snow, and Getting There, will be taught in a fiction writing course next term. This is the second college that my stories have been taught at, and I'm over the moon about it.

I've thought a lot about Duotrope's new subscription policy. This is a service for short story and poetry writers (and now even for those looking for small publishers for full-length manuscripts) to find journals that meet their individual needs; and more, Duotrope offers a tracking device for the writer's submissions so we don't, oops, submit the same piece twice and not realize it. Not that I've ever done this... Anyway, Duotrope is now a $50/year or $5/month subscription service, as of the first of the year. I've been discussing this a lot, debating the costs and benefits and rationale with other writers, and I've come to the following conclusion: They should charge! Here's why I've come to this conclusion after an initial response akin to oh-hell-no: 1) It's a service, and there are costs associated with said service, so there should be a fee to cover said costs. 2) Writers should read the journals they're submitting to, and programs like Duotrope are designed to allow a writer to bomb the lit industry with his/her submissions without ever having read many of the journals s/he submits to. And, 3.) There are plenty of other places to find lists of literary journals. Check New Pages. Check Poets and Writers. Check other writers' blogs and bios.

Finally, I'm officially shopping my second short story collection, which is a bit more diverse than the first, topically at least. We'll see what happens. In the meantime, I've been tinkering with final novel notes, and after my class is complete (the one I'm teaching), I plan to go at that bad boy full force. Maybe my blender and super-power green veggie and juice drinks will be just what I need to finish this damn novel.

Me versus My Novel
or
The Part of my Weekend I Don't Want to Talk About 

Have a beautiful week, all! Do like me, eat your greens!

Observations: Dublin Vacation

Dublin seemed the obvious destination. We would be close to various restaurants and tourist attractions. It would be easy to call a cab or...