Monday, May 26, 2014

Moon jellies and oil refineries

Because we had an extra day off work this weekend, for Memorial Day, Chris and I packed up too much stuff and the pup, and headed to the Gulf of Mexico via Corpus Christi on Saturday. Talk about an interesting drive. We were staying at a hotel ten minutes from the city and beach, so we had to drive past all the oil refineries and tankers to get to the water. At one point during the drive, there was natural gas burning from a narrow tower, a stationary train, and a huge oil tanker to my right; the ocean, lined with wind turbines, was to my left. The turbine blades are exported from the same stretch of road, and together: the beach, refineries, train, and turbines made for a strange drive. The fact that my husband insisted on listening to instrumental metal as we drove made it all the eerier.

We made it to the beach though. Ahti saw the ocean for the first time, and was pretty excited. She dug and rolled around in the sand, chased waves, and batted at seaweed.

Chris and I took turns hanging on to her as the other went into the ocean. (We had to do this after she tried to drink the ocean water, which isn't great for dogs.) And just as I was about to go out into the water again, we saw this guy (below), along with a less formed clear jellyfish friend of his. From a little Internet research, I've concluded he's a moon jelly (aurelia aurita), which means he's pretty common. The visible shamrocks are his gonads (I had to look that up). The fact that jellyfish function without a brain, lungs, or heart is amazing, and I had never seen one so close. I'm glad I didn't have to pee on my husband or have him pee on me (that was in an episode of Friends (below), and I've relived enough sitcom-like scenarios to suit me a while). 

After we dropped Ahti off, we walked the danger zone, down a levy in the ocean. The wind, as I said, was intense, so it didn't take us long to do an about-face and head back to find food. Today, on Memorial Day proper, we're at home, and the rain outside is intense. There are flood warnings in San Antonio, so I feel bad for those of you around these parts who were planning to have a cookout. We made it back from the beach just in time. I often wonder what it would be like to live in a beach town, perhaps not that much different. I do know I'd love to sit out there by the ocean day in and day out, writing away as the waves kiss my feet. Then again, I'm a redhead, so it's probably best I don't. 

Happy Memorial Day! Gratitude to all those who served honorably.

I'll post about writing next week. For now, I'm going to use the rainy day as an excuse to write away.... 


Sunday, May 18, 2014

Creative frustration

Something new every day:
I just read about titanosaur bones found in Argentina. The titanosaur was an estimated 130 feet long, the newly identified and largest (to-date) dinosaur. This story, on NPR's blog, made me smile. I think because it reminds me how small I am - the micro nature of my world.

Last week and the delusion of being overwhelmed:
I've been finding a lot of excuses for not finishing longer stories I started and not submitting more lately. The number one reason is lack of time, a feeling of being overwhelmed by commitments and changes in my work life. Number two is dual frustration/pride that comes from so many close calls. I've been getting a lot of them, the bittersweet nature of the almost. In other words, I've been a little insecure. I have been craving a little creative self help. Creatives recognize patterns; we dwell in nuance, and sometimes that makes us dwell in our minor shortcomings and think our inner worlds are larger than they are. Time to look outward.

Cue self help:
It is also from nuance that characters and their worlds spiral out to create fully-formed stories. And experience is where such things begin. See Amy Tan's TED talkwhich opens on "The value of nothing: Out of nothing comes something." This is the author's childhood observation, and it proves true in her working creative life as she realizes that living creates the stuff of story. Living, really living, means paying attention and not being afraid to delve into emotions, empathy, and vulnerability. Storytelling is a side effect of the creative. This talk is fantastic and motivated me (and it wasn't even the first time I watched it), as did the words of Ernest Hemingway, in an interview with The Paris Review, "The Art of Fiction No. 21." 

If a writer stops observing [s]he is finished. But [s]he does not have to observe consciously nor think how it will be useful. Perhaps that would be true at the beginning. But later everything [s]he sees goes into the great reserve of things [s]he knows or has seen. 

Life keeps us going and keeps us growing. We live, we remain small, and our material is everywhere because the world is more expansive than any single imagination. We are forever growing. Our material comes from the accumulation of knowledge, empathy, attentiveness, and ability to come up with new questions. My material comes from knowing that I don't know everything and must continue to absorb. It comes from knowing that I don't have to be number one of however many. I am not the largest, the best the smartest, but I am alive. We creatives recognize patterns and find stories simply by living, often when we're not even looking. And when we have time, we write them down; further, it seems, they do not disappear but change. Writing grows from life. We just have to hang on for the ride. There are new discoveries every day (giant discoveries). In other words, I'll remember how small I am. The writing won't stop.

Have a creative week!  Jen

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Mosquitoes, opportunities, and readings

Spring seems a fairy tale in the southern parts Texas. The weather pretty much goes from mildly cool winters to hot, and the hot is here. Bring it! I have my sunblock and mosquito repellent at the ready. Finding a way to exercise outside in summer in San Antonio, however, will be a challenge.

I'm thrilled today because I had time to read for a long stretch this morning. I recently finished Len Kuntz's The Dark Sunshine, which was put out by Connotation Press, and Stephanie Dickinson's Love Highway, which will be out in nine months or so. Kuntz's book is a collection of short shorts, each potent and delicious (a few slightly disturbing as all good fiction is). Dickinson's book is necessary, vibrant, a novel that is so filled to the brim with pain and truth that it tips over to a sort of thankfulness more beautiful than I could have imagined. To sum up: Good books. I also read a lot of short fiction, some good, some okay. Funny, I've had no time but what time I have had has been spent the best possible way.

My book-to-be (no publisher to-date) earned semifinalist status in the Sarabande Books 2014 Mary McCarthy Prize in Short Fiction, which is encouraging (Sarabande Books publishes some of my absolute favorite authors). I also got some really great feedback from a friend, so I'm going to begin shopping it hard. Also good is that I got into the Art Farm, a residency in Nebraska. My residency would get me away from the relatively bad heat of SA and offer me the time to finish another book. If I get my way, I'll have two completed manuscripts by 2015. But, I have to get the official okay from work. Seeing as how I just got a new position there, it's a sort of gamble but I have a good feeling that all levels of approval will be met. If not, I'll deal and write as much as I can from home. Residencies are so fantastic for people like me who haven't traveled much. I'm not saying a writer has to travel, but it sure does awaken my creative awareness.

In the meantime, I'm off to walk my dog, a dog that needs to walk more apparently because she hid and ate two of my bras and a shoe in the time between folding laundry and putting it away. She's a sweetheart. :)

Have a beautiful week. -Jen

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Workshop it!

My husband and I spent the day driving around San Antonio and looking at small houses with our eyes wide. We are not yet in a position to buy, but the desire is there. The small, ranch-style homes with big backyards for our rambunctious pup are the stuff of daydreams right now. It was a lovely day to drive around and explore, a Saturday well spent.
When we do eventually buy a home, a criterion will be a roomy office space. A cozy home office, after all, makes for comfortable writing. Not that less ideal space keeps me from writing. But a girl can dream.

To achieve this goal sooner, I have decided to offer writing workshops and coaching services to individuals. I love teaching creative writing at the community college, but the classes I teach are large, and there is only so much individual attention I can offer each student. The goal of these workshops is to offer what I cannot in large classes with time constraints, the additional attention writers so deserve.

I am offering workshops locally and online (email correspondence; Skype at the writer's request). I have done this on a very small scale some years ago, and it was a success, so I hope there is still a need for this service. If you have a story to tell or know someone who does, please check out my website. These workshops are customized and adapted to each writer's individual goals, and I'm excited to get started. If the idea takes off, I will set up a website dedicated solely to the workshops soon.

In writing news, I'm happy to have another kind review of DTTE at Amazon. I'll be setting up another San Antonio reading soon. Details are forthcoming.

I hope you all have a great weekend  (what's left of it)! Enjoy doing what you do.    

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