Wednesday, September 14, 2016

"She Tells a Story" at Cameron Art Museum


Way back in July, I had the opportunity to take part in a super cool exhibit at Wilmington's Cameron Art Museum. The name of the exhibit is "She Tells a Story," and here is how the museum describes it: 
She tells a story celebrates the work of fifty-two visual artists from CAM’s permanent collection and connects the forms of visual and literary arts. Exploring the catalytic relationship between visual imagery and text, CAM invited fourteen Wilmington-area writers to compose new work inspired by these selections. This juxtaposition of visual with word illuminates how artists communicate their experiences, perspectives and world views through their chosen medium. 
This exhibition recognizes these creators by the quality of their work. However, their gender and societal mores within the time they lived shaped their identity as artists, their work and the interpretation of it. By acknowledging and questioning these effects, this exhibition hopes to highlight the many contributions, past and present, of women in the visual and literary arts. 
Writers participating in this exhibition include: Anna Lena Phillips Bell; Karen E. Bender; Wendy Brenner; May-lee Chai; Cara Cilano; Amrita Das; Nina de Gramont; Dina Greenberg; Celia Rivenbark; Gwenyfar Rohler; Emily Louise Smith; Bertha Boynkin Todd; Kelly Rae Williams; and Margo Williams. On July 28, 2016 four additional writers added their work to the exhibition: Hannah dela cruz Abrams; Christine Hennessey; Kathleen Jones and Isabelle Shepherd.

I attended the original opening and reading of this exhibit, drank a bunch of wine, and told the organizers how much I desperately wanted to be included. I'm pretty sure that's why they asked me to take part in round two, and I'm forever grateful to them, and to the wine. Especially because I wrote a short piece of flash fiction inspired by a felt sculpture of a frog mid-dissection (apparently this is what speaks to me), titled it "Anatomy Lesson," and got to read it to a lovely crowd one sweltering July night (see above photo). Since then, my piece has been displayed in the museum, alongside it's inspiration, where it will remain until the exhibit comes down on September 18th. 

If you have the time and inclination, I recommend seeing the exhibit while you still can. Both the art and writing are wonderful, and seeing the ways writers speak to one another through their work is fascinating. A thousand thanks to Cameron Art Museum for letting me bully my way into the exhibit - it really was an honor. 

Friday, September 02, 2016

The Zero Waste Kitchen


Last weekend Nathan and I went to a composting class called "From Garbage to Garden." It was run by the Coastal Composting Council, and it was held at the local dump - or, as they put it, "in the shadow of the landfill," to help us better understand the necessity of composting. At first I thought this phrasing was a bit over the top, but I have to admit - that landfill was very tall and staring at it for three hours on a Saturday morning was very disturbing. Well played, Coastal Composting Council. Well played. 

When Nathan first suggested we go to this class, I didn't think it was necessary. We're pretty savvy when it comes to composting - anything we don't throw to the chickens goes into a big pile in the backyard. We've got a worm factory in our guest room, which Nathan diligently tends. I try my hardest to plan our meals in such a way that we use everything before it goes bad. Some stuff ends up in the trash, but overall I'm happy that we create very little waste, especially compared to the average American.

Still, there's always more to learn. Nathan relishes the chance to discuss composting with anyone who will listen, and the event advertised "light refreshments," which sealed the deal for me. Off to the composting class we went. 

And I have to say - I really enjoyed myself, despite the robust breeze that wafted from the landfill. We both learned a few new things, and even though we don't throw out that much food, we're far from calling our kitchen zero waste. Because of course that phrase - "zero waste kitchen" - was mentioned, and of course I latched on to it immediately. I like a goal, especially when it's a catchy one. It helps that the goal of using up everything in our kitchen (either by eating it, giving it to the chickens or the worms, or composting) dovetails nicely with my recent personal finance obsession. Waste not, want not. We're on it. 

The event ended with a raffle, and right before they pulled the winning ticket I turned to Nathan and said, "I'm going to win this." Sometimes I just know when I'm going to win a raffle, and I'm usually right. This time, I was the lucky recipient of my very own spinning compost bin. (It was that or a worm hotel, and since we already have a great worm set up I went with the bin.) 


We put it in our backyard, just off the deck, so we can easily toss kitchen scraps into it each time we cook. In a few months, those scraps will transform into black gold, and I can't wait to put it to work in our garden.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

This is 34

Another year, another birthday. I still love getting older, so I don't mind celebrating - especially since I get to be the center of attention. This year I was very mature and shared my birthday with a friend, who was also born on August 9th. Even though it fell on a Tuesday, we rounded up a group of ten, had drinks at a fancy wine bar, dinner at a fancy restaurant, and then played Cards Against Humanity at our favorite dive bar. (We can only be fancy for so long.) Then, over the weekend, we threw a backyard bash complete with build-your-own tacos and a cornhole tournament. It was lovely and one of the best birthday weeks yet, and I started my 34th year feeling quite loved and quite spoiled. 

But now birthday week is over and life is back to normal, which is a different kind of nice. It also means I finally have time to write my annual time capsule. For the last few years, I've written these "This is XX" posts near my birthday, in an attempt to capture life as it is in this moment. Here is number 34. 


Thirty-four is still working the same job, except now I find the 8-5 grind - dare I say it? - freeing rather than smothering. (The new promotion helps.) I like routine, find comfort in patterns, am productive when I'm at work, and - more importantly - am productive when I'm home. Some days are better than others, and there are plenty of moments when wish I were still on campus, or a full time novelist that doesn't have to worry about bills or heath insurance. For the most part, however, I like what I do and I'm grateful for the career I've stumbled into. 

Thirty-four is an unhealthy obsession with politics. I hate so much about this election - the divisiveness, the hateful rhetoric, the 24-hour-news cycle. Even Twitter stresses me out! It should come as no surprise that I'm pro-Hillary and deeply, deeply against Donald Trump. I'm experiencing anxiety for the first time in my life, and I'm so afraid of what a Trump presidency would look like, especially for anyone who isn't a wealthy white dude. Below all that angst, however, I'm optimistic. I think Hillary Clinton will be our next president, and that makes me happy. She's flawed, but all politicians are. The difference is that her promises give me hope, while his fill me with fear. This year, as in all others, I'm voting for hope. 

Thirty-four is writing, still. Getting up early most days to fit in an hour before work, making slow progress on a new novel while the old one sits in a drawer, rejected for now and nursing its wounds. Thirty-four is thinking about Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert, a corny book I couldn't help but love, and realizing that I'm a writer because I write. This is great news, especially since it's the only aspect of the creative process I can control.

Thirty-four is a newfound passion for personal finance, which is how I know I'm definitely thirty-four. It's taking control of my money through budgeting apps (I love you, YNAB!), getting close to paying off our credit card debt, watching our savings account grow, and thanking Obama, sincerely, for Income Based Repayment, which is the only reason I'm not crippled by my student loan debt. Thirty-four is wanting to control my money, my spending, my income, to live below my means and feel satisfied with what I have. 

Thirty-four is marriage, finding comfort in and feeling at home with another person. It's independence within that institution, thanks to the fact that Nathan works nights and I work days. It's supporting one another's careers and dreams, and fighting about stupid things, and realizing that I will never get bored of this person because we are both constantly changing and growing and learning, even after fourteen years together. Thirty-four is understanding that no one is perfect, and that as long as we stay true to our shared values (which are unique to our relationship) we can get through anything.

Thirty-four  is friendships, and the way they ebb and flow. It's watching people I love create new life, and welcoming tiny humans into our world, our circle, our hearts. It's still - always, always - missing the people who live so far away. (Texas! Washington! Oregon! New York! Rhode Island! Michigan! A roaming trailer! The list goes on!) It's learning to love and accept people, despite our flaws and differences, and learning from one another however and whenever we can. It's quiet nights on someone's porch, and raucous nights at the brewery, and visits that are always too short. 

Thirty-four is settling into my body, which is an ongoing process. It's sometimes choosing mental health over physical health - IE, skipping the gym in favor of a glass of wine and a good book. It's noticing I have a few new curves, and not hating them. It's accepting that there's only so much time in a day. Thirty-four is looking forward to the fall, when the air will be cooler and my runs will be longer. It's 17 years of vegetarianism, which is officially half my whole life. It's knowing what's good for me and doing that about 3/4 of the time, which feels like a good balance.

Thirty-four is corn and wheat tortillas from Trader Joe's, The Mindy Project and Jane the Virgin, a summer so hot I can hardly stand it, encouraging rejections from literary magazines, and no longer living life by the cadence of semesters. It's mason jar salads, a garden that won't grow, IPAs, my library card, and fresh flowers every week. It's the YMCA, going out on the boat, book club, and freelance gigs on the side. Thirty-four is good, and I can't wait to see what else it has in store . 

PS: 
This was 31
This was 32
This was 33

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Management Material


Every post about my day job must include a picture of Peggy Olson. 

Way back in March, I meant to write a post about what I'd learned in the year since returning to an office job. That post, like so many others, didn't happen. (But, like so many others, it still might! Don't lose hope!) In the meantime my work-anniversary passed, quietly and without fanfare.

I don't write about my day job very often. No one really likes to talk about work when they're with friends. A job, after all, is a necessary evil. It takes up 40 whole hours every week, and by the time you're finished paying your dues you want to focus on something else - books, beers, the beach. If you have a problem and need advice, or had a success and want to celebrate, then yes - talk, share, vent. If you had a regular day where everything was fine and nothing out of the ordinary happened, let's talk instead about Stranger Things and our latest book club pick. It's only fair. 

That said, it seemed time to write a little update about my job - mostly because I got a promotion! (Hence my choice of that Peggy picture for this post.) A few weeks ago, one of my favorite coworkers was offered a new job out in California (she'd been telecommuting after moving with her military husband). Our marketing department is small (three people, including me) and she was really talented, so the hole she left was substantial - so substantial, in fact, that I was invited to step into it. 

(I maybe didn't phrase that right. Forgive me - my blogging skills are rusty.) 

I'm now the Digital Marketing Manager. I got a raise, and new business cards, and updated my LinkedIn profile, which are all weird corporate things that secretly bring me a strange sort of joy.

You see, I'm a person who hasn't spent much time thinking about her career. I was never really interested in "leaning in," and I never wanted a corner office in a tall building. I didn't dream of becoming President of the United States (though I am super excited to vote for Hillz in November) and I would rather cut off my arm than be the CEO of anything. 

This isn't because I'm lazy or lack vision. It's just that my day job has always been a means to an end, a way to support the work that I am passionate about - my writing. As you probably know, fiction doesn't pay the bills, and life is a constant balance of trying to carve out enough time to make art and still afford groceries and rent. When it comes to leaning in, writing is the direction toward which I point myself. 

However! I happen to like my day job. I think digital marketing is fun and interesting. It's a different kind of storytelling, combining writing, technology, and psychology in ways I find fascinating. The work is challenging without wearing me down or zapping my energy. If I have to have a day job, and I do, then this one is pretty perfect. 

Which is why I'm excited for my promotion, for the chance to dig deeper into my field and add management skills to resume. To make a little more money and contribute to my company in a larger way. To look toward the future of marketing and try my best to not just keep up, but anticipate where it will go next. And, of course, to leave it all at the office so I can focus on what really matters in my off time - writing, writing, writing.

It's a good balance, one I'm grateful to strike. 

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Listening and Learning


June was a very full month. If you need proof, look at the date of my last post. June 1 - after that, we were off and running, and there was no time to write posts and keep y'all in the loop. But now it's July. Things are quieter, slower, and hotter. And I figure a Thursday morning at home, the sun beginning to rise, a cup of coffee beside me, is a great time to catch my breath and catch up. (At least until it's time to get ready for work.) 

While life has been busy, my schedule wasn't the only thing keeping me away from this space. I'm not sure how often you read the news, but many terrible, tragic, awful, and rage-inducing things have been happening across America and the world. The attack on a gay club in Orlando, the shooting of unarmed black men, the assassinations of police officers, the terrorist attacks in Europe, the Republican National Convention - clearly, it's been a tough summer. 

Sometimes, as the world appeared to burn, I wanted to fire up my blog and ramble about books and writing and the beach, but I couldn't bring myself to pretend everything was fine. Of course, I'm still living my regular life (albeit it with a daily dose of horror). I'm going to work. I'm hanging out with friends. I'm reading and drinking and going to the gym and writing. I was busy with a lot of good stuff in June. But living a lucky and privileged life is one thing - bragging about it on the Internet is another. Instead, I kept quiet. Listened and learned. Tried to understand the world we're living in and how to make it better. 

I don't have any answers yet. I suspect it will be a while before any of us do, and that a lot more terrible things will happen before the good stuff makes a comeback. In the meantime, I will keep learning, keep listening, keep trying. 

I was going to end this post with a list of fun things that happened in June (because, as I said, it was a fun month for me personally) but I think I'll save that for another day. More soon, I promise. Until then, take care of each other. 

In the meantime, read this poem, originally published in Waxwing Journal, which was the very best thing to happen in June. 




Wednesday, June 01, 2016

How A Novel Is Like A Television Series


My husband prefers film to TV, but I would rather watch a television show. This is something we bicker about, mostly on Netflix nights when we're trying to decide what to watch. Sometimes, in a moment of snobbery, he insists that film is a higher art form than TV, with the rare exceptions - Mad Men, Breaking Bad, The Wire. I think there are plenty of terrible movies out there, and plenty of good TV shows. For me, however, my preference for television isn't based on artistic value. It's based on the way I experience the story. 

When it comes to books, I prefer to sink my teeth into a novel. Television shows satisfy that same hunger. Movies, on the other hand, are like short stories. 

At first glance, this does not appear to make sense. Television seems, on the surface, more akin to short stories. They're both episodic, consumed in small doses. That, however, is where the similarities end. When you watch a television show, you spend a lot of time in the story. You get to know the characters deeply. You watch as plots develop, narrative arcs, conflicts build and fester. Each night, when you dip back into the television show, you settle in quickly, picking up the story where you last left off, immersing yourself once again. The same is true with a really good novel.

Short stories, on the other hand, are more challenging - at least for me. I love short stories, but they require more energy than a novel. Each time you read a new short story, you start from scratch. What world am I in? Who are the main characters? Who am I rooting for? What is the problem? It doesn't take long to become immersed, but the initial energy you must spend to get to that point is more than is required when you're in the middle of a novel. Then the story is over, and you have to go through the whole process again.

This is why movies are like short stories. A brand new world, every single time. A gift, yes, but not one that I always have the energy to accept. Most Tuesday nights I just want to drink a bottle of wine and slip into a familiar story, visit with old friends, see what's new in their world. Most of the time, I want to watch a television show or, for that matter, read a novel. Most of the time, we do.

(Sorry, Nathan. We can watch a movie this weekend.) 

Friday, May 27, 2016

You're Not the Boss of Me


A few weeks ago I was at the bar with some friends, drinking a beer and having an intense and lively discussion about... credit card interest rates. It was one of those moments where you realize just how deep into your 30s you are. 

Needless to say, I've been thinking a lot about money lately. Mostly because I'm in my 30s, and if not now, when? But also because for the first time in my adult life I actually have some. Not a lot, and most of it is spoken for, but overall our net worth is inching up. (Make no mistake, we're still in the red. There is, however, a light at the end of the tunnel.) 

This progress, incremental though it may seem, is a big deal for me and Nathan. We've been together nearly fourteen years and for the bulk of that time one or the other has been a student, paying money to a university rather than making it at a job. As you can imagine, this added up. 

Now, however, we both have jobs we like. We live in a city we adore. We've embraced a very frugal lifestyle (with the exception of good beer and decent wine - hey, we're not monks). Financially, things were better than ever, but it still didn't seem like enough. We got paid; bills took most of it away; 10% went into savings; and the rest disappeared, dollar by dollar, until there was none left. When it came to our money, I felt like a passive observer with very little control. 


Apparently, I'm not alone in feeling this way. According to The Secret Shame of Middle-Class Americans 47% of us wouldn't be able to pay for a $400 emergency without selling something or using a credit card. Until very recently, I was one of those Americans. We tried to save and think ahead, but every time we made some progress something would knock us back down. The article speaks to this cycle. "[T]he primary reason many of us can’t save for a rainy day is that we live in an ongoing storm. Every day, it seems, there is some new, unanticipated expense—a stove that won’t light, a car that won’t start, a dog that limps, a faucet that leaks. And those are only the small things."

"We live in an ongoing storm." I don't know about you, but that line was a gut punch. At some point, I experienced a shift in how I think about finances. When I was much younger, I scoffed at money. "Capitalism is the root of all evil! Money is a social construct! Experiences, not things!" I still believe a lot of those slogans, but the fact is I live in this society. I've made certain compromises for the comforts of civilization. One of those compromises is accepting money and its role in my life. This doesn't mean I have to give up my hopes and dreams of being a writer in pursuit of a field that is actually lucrative, or that I need to drive a fancy car and live in a big house. It just means I need to be smart, get out of debt, and live, finally, within my means. For many years, I thought of money as the chains that held us down. Now I think of it as the key that can set us free.

(Related: The Story of a Fuck-Off Fund, which is the most inspiring financial advice I've ever read.) 

Right now, our financial goals are to get out of debt (with the exception of my student loans, because let's be realistic), to replace my car in two or three years when it inevitably dies, to save up a six month cushion of living expenses, and to buy a house before we're forty. (Nathan is 35 now, and I'm 33 - 40 seems far away, but also very, very close.) None of these goals are revolutionary. In fact, most of them are pretty boring. But they feel like a big deal. Each one is a single step closer to freedom.

To help us with our goals (and I promise this whole post hasn't been one long advertisement) we started using You Need a Budget. I'm still new to the software and the method, but I can already tell it's going to change my life. 


I won't get into the nitty-gritty of YNAB, because a thousand blogs have reviewed it extensively. Instead, I want to tell you how it makes me feel, because money really is a social construct and so much of it depends on feelings. 

The first step of YNAB is to assign every dollar in your account a job. I don't think it's a coincidence that "job" is the word they use, and that it implies action. This simple idea - that I can and should put my money to work - was one of those lightbulb moments. Now, when we get paid, I go through all our bills, which are set in stone, and I assign them dollars. I pay credit card bills and student loans and put money in savings. Then I go through all our other expenses, like groceries and gas and all the animals, and I give them dollars, too. Finally, if there's anything left over, I put it toward fun stuff, like alcohol, restaurants, and entertainment. When you use YNAB this way, your budget is a tidy zero, because all your money is spoken for, segmented and assigned. You still have it, of course, and you can shift your budgets around as needed. But having a plan for my money, knowing what it needs to do, makes me feel powerful. My money is active. It's working. 

My dollars have jobs, and I'm their boss. 

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Right Here, Right Now


Oh, hello there! Fancy meeting you here. I haven't posted in a while, but I do have a few things I want to write about in the coming weeks. For now, here's a little rundown of all the things currently keeping me busy. 

Writing 


Even though I left the freelance world behind when I got my full time job, I still pick up a project here and there. A few weeks ago I was offered the opportunity to ghost-write an e-book for a local doctor. It's a medical book written for the average person, which is good because despite being married to a medial person I am most definitely not medically-versed. So far the doctor has been really easy to work with, the book is coming along, and I'm going to make enough money to finally pay off the stupid credit card balance I've been dragging around for three years. (I pay it every month, and somehow it never seems to go down!) The nice thing about accepting extra work is that, thanks to my full time job, I have the freedom to pick and choose what I want to take on. (Well, as long as it isn't a conflict of interest.) It's freelance without the pressure of hustling so I can pay my rent, and I like that very much. The downside is that I should probably be working on the project right now instead of writing this blog post... 

Reading 


My book club just celebrated our one year anniversary, and I love it more every month. Right now we're reading The Ghost Network, which is strange and lovely. When I'm done with that, I'm going to read the last Neapolitan book. And then I want to devote the rest of the summer to short story collections. I've been working on novels for so long I forgot how to write short fiction (or maybe I never really knew how?) At any rate, I got some great recommendations on Twitter and I can't wait to dive in. 

Hoping 


Speaking of working on novels, I finished a second draft of my New Book while I was at the Vermont Studio Center, and then immediately sent it to two of my best friends MFA friend. They're both reading it and will give me comments in a few weeks. I'm excited because I worked on this book in compete solitude - no one has read a single page of it, which seems so strange. I'm also terrified, because no one has read a single page of it which means no one had the opportunity to tell me it was a terrible idea and I should stop immediately. Oh, the life of a writer.

Learning 


After an expensive spring, thanks to my sister's wedding and my writing residency (I had a fellowship, but I still took two weeks unpaid from my job) Nathan and I are trying to get our finances under control yet again. We don't have much planned this summer, so we will be enacting austerity measures and working hard to pay off debt and save some money. I just started using You Need a Budget which will hopefully teach me about money and make me rich. Last night I drank a glass of wine and watched a bunch of videos, and this morning it finally all started to make sense. I think once I get the hang of it, it'll be a really useful tool. If anyone out there uses YNAB and has any tips, I'm all ears!

Watching 


I'm still conducting a passionate love affair with last year's television shows. I just finished the first season of Jane the Virgin which was utterly delightful, and I continue to worship the women of Broad City. I've also gotten into the Lifetime original series UnREAL, which is  sentence I never thought I'd write. 

Eating 


The last time I did a post in this style, I sang the praises of Trader Joe's Corn and Wheat Tortillas. Guess what? I'm still eating them almost every single day. Now that it's pretty much summer and I'm trying to get more veggies into my diet, I've also revived my beloved mason jar salads, which single-handedly validate the existence of Pinterest, IMO. 

Bragging 


My dear friend Mel, of Local Color XC and Tiny House Hunters fame, has a new line to add to her resume. She just started her very own business, an online shop called Tabled.

Tabled's slogan is, "Every meal should be a small celebration," which is a mission I fully support. The idea is kind of genius. Mel, who has impeccable style and taste, has curated a line of tabletop accessories from independent makers across the USA. You can shop for each item individually and scoop up super cute stuff like a mug rug for your office, USA-themed cozies for your Olympics party, and the happiest serving utensils ever seen. Even better, Mel has also created party packs that have everything you need to throw an extra special event or give an extra special gift, whether it's a wedding, a graduation party, or a birthday. I mean, look at this serving utensils set! It would be a great housewarming gift.


Oh, and for the record, Mel didn't ask me to write any of this. I'm just so proud of her, I think her store is amazing, and I can't wait to watch her knock Martha Stewart off her throne. Go, Mel!

That's It For Me 


What have all of you been up to? Let me know here or on Twitter, where I spend most of my time. In the meantime, have a beautiful Sunday! 

Sunday, April 24, 2016

How I Spent My Residency at the Vermont Studio Center

Hello! I'm back from my two week residency at the Vermont Studio Center and excited to tell you all about it. (Don't know what VSC is? Check out this post for more info.) Before I left for Vermont, I read the website and handbook to prepare myself, but I had a hard time finding any thorough, first-person accounts of what, exactly, people did during their residency. This post is an attempt to remedy that situation, and to share the peaceful and productive time I spent in a truly amazing place. It's also really long, so maybe grab a cup of coffee and find a comfortable seat before we dive in. 

VSC after a few days of rain and snow.

The B Team Makes Their Debut 


I arrived at VSC on Saturday, April 9th. The way the residencies are set up is that most people stay for a full month. The folks staying for two weeks are split between groups A and B. The A group is there for the first two weeks of the month, and the B group (or the B Team, as we called ourselves) stay for the last two weeks. There were only nine of us who arrived on the 9th for the second half of the month. This was perhaps the only negative thing about my experience, and it wasn't even that bad; it was akin to moving to a new town your senior year of high school and trying to break into the cool crowd. Luckily, everyone on the B Team was super interesting, nice, and fun, and we had a great time bonding over meals in the dining hall and beers at the bar. If I ever go back to VSC (and I hope one day I will) I will request to come for the first two weeks of the month, because I think that will yield a very different experience. Not necessarily better, just different. 

Resident artwork as seen during Open Studio Night.

New Friends & Social Time


VSC offers residencies to both writers and visual artists. One thing I didn't realize until I got there is that the artists outnumber the writers by 35 to 15. It was refreshing to be around so many artists, especially since they were doing such a variety of work. It was also interesting to compare artists and writers - our work habits and processes are so different, and I'm still working through some ideas based on what I saw, heard, and learned. While the days were very quiet and focused on work, there was usually something going on each evening at 8PM. Sometimes it was resident slides, during which artists shared photos and gave presentations of their work, and sometimes it was a reading by the writers. There were also guest artists and writers there, and they gave presentations/readings in addition to meeting with residents one on one. Antonya Nelson, the wonderful short story writer, was visiting VSC while I was there, and I was thrilled to attend her craft talk and get her feedback on a short story I've been struggling with for almost two years now. 

A beautiful little yoga studio. I came here almost every day.

The town of Johnson, where VSC is located, is really tiny. It has two bars, a coffee shop, and an oddly large number of hair salons. One night, everyone went out for karaoke. A number of nights ended with drinks at the bar. There were two or three laid back bonfires at VSC, which was cool. I also went running a few times along some pretty trails, and there was a VSC yoga studio where I took a class almost every day. Basically, there were just enough social activities to keep you from getting too lost in your own head, and to provide breathing space from your own work. I was grateful for it, and for the friends I made while I was there. (Goooooo, B Team!)

It snowed!

A Comfortable Routine 


I think people who don't consider themselves artists or writers assume creative work is this magical, inexplicable thing. That we're all drifting along, waiting for inspiration to strike, communing with our muses late into the night. In reality - at least for me - creativity and inspiration usually strike when I'm engaged in a routine. Luckily, VSC made it easy to establish a routine almost immediately. Our days were structured around work and food. Breakfast was from 7:30 to 9AM, lunch was 12 to 12:30PM, and dinner was 6 to 6:30PM. This meant all 50 or so residents stopped whatever they were doing and went to the dining hall at the appointed times to eat and take a break from their work. This also meant that every day, from about 8AM until 12PM and then from 1PM until 4PM, I worked. There wasn't much else to do, which was actually kind of wonderful. The dining hall had fresh coffee all day, so sometimes I'd walk over for a refill, but otherwise I was writing, revising, and researching in my small studio. This made it so easy to focus, and I got way more done than I anticipated, which was really gratifying. 

L: the walk to town. R: my little room. 

Room and Board 


All meals were served in the Red Mill, which is the biggest communal building at VSC. It was very comfortable, very cozy, and very beautiful - a great place to talk, eat, and spend time. As you probably know, I love food. I also have some weird dietary restrictions - I don't eat meat, and I avoid dairy as much as possible. While the food at VSC was overall very good - fresh, healthy, and local - it wasn't ideal for a semi-vegan. Most nights there was a vegetarian option alongside a meat dish, but sometimes it was lasagna, with cheese. There was also a big salad bar, warm bread, and a killer cheese plate every day at lunch. I ended up eating quite a bit of cheese (for me) and it didn't seem to affect me too much, which was nice. I know some other people who were more sensitive to me, either to dairy or to gluten, had a harder time. Overall, though, I ate well and appreciated the fact that we had dessert every night. Also many people brought wine or beer to dinner, and if you go to VSC I highly recommend buying a box o' wine and keeping it in your studio. Cost effective and convenient. 

Residents at VSC stay in various houses along the same road. From what I saw and experienced, it seems like the Vermont Studio Center basically bought up a bunch of houses and buildings, then converted them into a sort of commune/paradise for artists. I stayed in Corner House, which a yellow house on a corner. The room was small, comfortable, humble, and even though I shared it with five other people, I almost never saw them. Because we all eat at the dining hall and work in our studios, the houses are only used for sleeping. This was fine with me, because my studio was the best place at VSC, and my favorite place in which to spend time. 

Maverick: Where the magic happens. 

Maverick Writing Studios 


At the Vermont Studio Center, the writing studios are all housed in Maverick. This a long, narrow, two story building had eight studios on each floor. They each hold a desk and rolling chair, a bookshelf and a bulletin board, and a reading chair. Each one also has a large window overlooking the Gihon River, which cuts through the center of the Vermont Studio Center. While I have my own little office at home where I write, my studio in Maverick felt different, almost magical. Maybe it was the fact that it had been used by countless writers, maybe it was the river outside my open window, maybe it was the freedom and privacy it offered, maybe it was just the "room of one's own" vibe. Whatever it was, it made me happy, glad, and grateful to spend time holed up in it, whether I was writing, reading, or staring out the window. 

Draft #2!

The Work 


Every writer I met was working on different types of projects. Some were poets, some did short fiction, a few were working on novels, others were writing memoirs. We were also at different stages of our projects. Personally, I'm really glad I was able to arrive with a completed rough draft of the new novel I'm working on. I'd hoped to make some solid progress on draft #2, but by the ninth day I actually FINISHED it. I couldn't believe it! At home, it would have taken me months to make that kind of progress, because I only have about an hour or two a day to work on it, and so much of that time is spent reacquainting myself with the book. At VSC, all I did was work, write, and revise, for six or eight hours a day. I never left the world of the book, and so I was able to dig in and stay there. The hardest part of writing a novel is holding the whole thing in your head at once, keeping all the threads organized, the characters humming along. It's even harder to do this when you work full time and need to reserve space in your head for all sorts of other, non-writing things, like spending time with your partner, walking your dogs, grocery shopping and cooking, going to work. At VSC, those responsibilities fall away, and nothing stands between you and the work. It was actually a bit overwhelming at first, but I acclimated quickly and used my time well. Returning to work tomorrow might be the harder adjustment... 

Final Thoughts, AKA TL;DR


I really enjoyed my time at VSC. Bringing a rough draft of a big project and staying for two weeks was an ideal situation at this point in my writing life. I met great people, stayed in a remote and beautiful town, ate well, and spent hours every day completely immersed in my craft. If you're a writer or artist, I definitely recommend applying for a residency and/or a fellowship. 

Thanks to the Vermont Studio for what was perhaps the most peaceful and productive two weeks of my life. Until we meet again! 


Friday, April 08, 2016

See You In Two Weeks!


Tomorrow I leave for a two week writing residency at the Vermont Studio Center

The Vermont Studio Center, for those who might not know, is the largest international artists' and writers' residency program in the United States. They offer residencies and fellowships to roughly 50 people each month, who stay anywhere from two to twelve weeks. I applied for a two week residency last fall and found out in November that I'd been awarded a fellowship, for which I was incredibly honored and grateful. I've been counting down the days ever since, and I can't believe it's finally here.

What will I be doing at the Vermont Studio Center? Working on my new novel, mostly. As part of my residency, I get a room to sleep in, a small studio to write in, and three meals a day. For the next 14 days, I will have no obligations. No classes or workshops to attend, no jobs to do, no expectations. Just me, my laptop, a terrible first draft, and a whole lot of library books. In other words: heaven.

Because I want to get a lot accomplished during these two weeks, and because this is a rare opportunity to focus so wholly on my writing, I'm planning to cut way back on social media while I'm in Vermont. Just typing that out makes me a little bit nervous, mostly because at this point Twitter is like a fifth limb and I fully expect to feel phantom pains without a steady stream of tweets to get me through the day. I'm going to try to stick to Instagram, since looking at photos is a nice way to use a different part of my brain, so feel free to follow me there. 

Despite my (admittedly silly) fears, cutting back feels like the right thing to do - honor the time I've been given and use it as well as I can. If you could all do me a favor and make sure nothing interesting or exciting happens for the next fourteen days, that would be great.

See you in two weeks, hopefully with a not-so-terrible second draft of my novel. Until then!