Sometimes, Writing Takes Breaks and Makes Zombies

This only took about 12 hours!
This only took about 12 hours!

I was going to post something amusing today about literary submission + rejection and how it is similar to the worst parts about applying to college and online dating. Next week, I promise. I’m going to write a lot this semester about imposter syndrome, rejection, and the harsher realities of the writing life so that people don’t keep getting all doe-eyed and excited when I say I’m a writer. Also, maybe to stave off some of the retired would-be novelists…

But then I finished this little guy last night, and I decided it would be better to talk about him. Unnamed Zombie Rockstar, crafted about six months late for my darling Child. (It was supposed to be a gift for her July 30 birthday.)

First, I got this book over the summer. What it lacks in creative title, it more than makes up for in fun, mostly easy knitted Zombie projects. It’s called Knit Your Own Zombie. It’s by Fiona Goble. She lives in England, and SHE’S ALSO ON WORDPRESS. Lookee!

But let’s rewind. Last year at this time, I was living with a dear, sick friend. Her name was Judy. I helped her take care of herself and her house in her last days. It was a privilege and an honor to have shared that time, even though it was the second hardest thing I’ve ever done and I’m still not over it. She was a Knitter Extraordinaire. She knew how to do all the stitches, including Entrelac. And she needle felted. That’s a real textiles geek squee thing right there. She was among the most creative and intelligent people I’ve known. I miss her.

I learned to knit when I was in high school, but hadn’t really done a lot of it beyond a few years back when I knitted about a dozen hats for people for Xmas.

It’s peaceful. Some peace was called for over these past three or so weeks.

I was taking a break. A well-deserved one after the kinetic and vocational fury of the recently ended semester. Some time to think and breathe and plan for what’s next. There are revisions and a big paper and a new manuscript in the works.

And whenever I knit, I feel connected to Judy. I remember he sagacity: “Just trust the pattern. Suspend your disbelief!”

Which is good advice, and applicable to my life now, as it moves forward on a path that finds me mostly happy, content, and successful. And I’m living the dream. But I still have difficulty accepting it. I am waiting for things to derail, for a shoe (or two) to drop, when it really looks like things might just go well for a while.

Which is a good segue into imposter syndrome and some of the lesser joys of being a writer. Stay tuned.

But for now, tell me what you like to do when you need a break.

Five Fabulous Memoirs by Women

How To Be a Woman How To Be a Woman by Caitlin Moran rocks.  The cover says, “The British version of Tina Fey’s Bossypants.” That is a lie. This book is at least seven times better than Bossypants. It is feminist and smart (not that Bossypants is not smart, it’s just not as substantive) and so, so funny. The gold, though, is at the end, when Moran talks with eloquence, heart, and genius about motherhood.

Orange New BlackOrange is the New Black by Piper Kerman is fantastic. It gave me a yearning to teach writing classes in women’s prisons. The best thing about this book, however, is not the writing. It’s the love and sensitivity with which Kerman renders this totally underrepresented American population: people, in fact women, in jail. It made me want to get involved.

I made one exception, but for the past year plus, I have only read books by women. Recently, VIDA, an organization that advocates for and tracks women’s literary success, celebrated five HUGE wins for women in literature during 2013.

book-looking-for-maryThe best-known work by Beverly Donfrio is Riding in Cars With Boys, which I also read, and her new book, Astonished, is near the top of my “to read” list. But Looking for Mary is this heart-wrenching, gorgeously historical, vulnerable, feminist work. Especially since I grew up with religion and have a lot of static about Biblical figures, and a lot of anger about the mythology. Looking for Mary showed me Mary as a feminist icon, as a symbol of motherhood and strength and an appealing mysticism.

surrendered childOne of the themes of the books I’ll continue to read over the next months, is motherhood. I am perplexed by my own relationship with motherhood (sometimes it is uncomfortable), and engrossed by other women’s relationships with their versions of motherhood. Therefore, Surrendered Child by Karen McElmurray, which is among the most beautiful books I’ve ever read, is appealing for literary and personal reasons. I’ve rarely read a book with such an intentional, belabored pace. In fact, I haven’t even finished reading it yet. I don’t want it to be over.

Boys of YouthFinally, The Boys of My Youth by JoAnn Beard is fantastic. It’s presented as individual essays, and they are mesmerizing. It was a useful book to read early in drafting my own memoir because Beard’s life, like mine, has been pretty regular–that is, the things that make me the kind of person who wants to write a memoir are fairly common: raised by Christians, single mother, etc. Beard had an alcoholic father and a shitty marriage.  The thing that makes the book worth reading is the telling, the introspection. Especially “The Fourth State of Matter,” which takes place during the shooting at Iowa University in 1991.

How about you? What is the best memoir by a woman you’ve read?

The Future Ain’t What It Used To Be*

Me and My Mentor, Nancy McKinley, at Fake Graduation from Wilkes
Me and My Mentor, Nancy McKinley, at Fake Graduation from Wilkes

A lot of shit happened during 2013.

I moved twice, took care of my dying friend, had more freelance clients than ever, lost myself, found myself, wrote a book, experienced real grief, improved my love relationship, repainted and decorated a room in our house (w/ my partner) got a restaurant job after a long non-restaurant work spell, explained the concept of “biological father” to my child, told her there wasn’t a real Santa, had the furnace replaced in our old drafty house,  went to a writers’ conference, made new friends, lost track of old ones, and reconnected with people from childhood.

It has been intense and difficult and magical.

At the end of all of it, I got a Master’s degree. That photo up there is my me and my mentor, Nancy McKinley after our moment during fake graduation the last night of residency. She’s a fiction and essay writer, and a feminist, and among my favorite people on Earth.

The Wilkes University Low-Residency MA/MFA program is the one I’m working through now (I write my MFA critical paper this semester), and It’s amazing. If you’re not in the know, low-residency means that you go to campus for a small amount of time each semester and do the rest of your coursework online or by correspondence.

One of the recent graduates from the program, Lori A. May, actually wrote the book on the best low-residency MFA programs. So if you’re interested, that’s a great place to start, and it’s no accident that she’s there, at Wilkes, out of any of the other many low-res programs available.

I think New Year’s Resolutions are disingenuous at best. Every year I, instead of making a list of things to accomplish, try to adopt a general posture of self-improvement.

This year, my blogging slump will straighten, I will focus my excess energy on writing and teaching. I will say no to things that don’t help further my goals.

Why are you telling me this?

I must seem like one of those attention-seeking internet lame-os. I am. But if you’re reading this, you had, at least once, a passing fancy for my blog, and I need to confess these things to help keep me accountable. It’s a lot easier to break a promise to myself than it is one I make to internet strangers.

So, dear Internet Stranger (Internet Friend, Real-Life Acquaintance, or Real-Life Friend), thanks for being here.

And know that I will post on Wednesdays for the rest of the year.

Once a week, about 500 words (probably sometimes way more).

For me, for you, for art.

And if you’re in North Central PA, go click Workshop Registration and join me for a study of blogging or of memoir. Next week? I’ll list five of my favorite memoirs.


* Lyric from a poignant song from Love is Dead by Mr. T Experience.