Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Review: Tenth of December

photo credit
I finally read Tenth of December a few weeks ago, despite the fact that I bought a copy last winter and everyone I know had been raving about it. I'm glad I waited - it was exactly the book I needed in that moment, and was absolutely worth the wait.

In this collection of ten short stories, George Saunders examines relationships, the future, and our weaknesses through a view laced with sarcasm and tenderness. I tore through these stories in the span of three days, but only because I forced myself to slow down. What I loved most about this collection was the reminder that short stories can be fun. Sometimes I get caught up in the seriousness of writing, the THEMES and the MEANING and the BEAUTY OF LANGUAGE. Which are all well and good, as I love those things, but sometimes you just want to romp through a collection, and romping is the best way to describe how I felt as I read Tenth of December

That's not to say this collection isn't also full of beautiful themes and language. It is, of course - there's a reason George Saunders is considered one of the best writers of our time. There were a few stories in this collection in particular that were absolutely dazzling, full of language that dipped and twirled, voices that delighted and disgusted. I loved the narrative leaps so many of the stories took, the brazen style that might feel gimmicky in a lesser writer's book. 

One of my favorites was the opening story "Victory Lap." The way Saunders completely immerses the reader in three separate characters' heads, as they each experience the same dramatic moment, was thrilling. The characters - a teenage girl, a teenage boy, and a bloodthirsty criminal - would have been sort of ordinary, if not for how deeply we're plunged into their minds. 

"Escape from Spiderhead," another favorite, is a futuristic story that starts out funny but gets very dark very quickly. The language here swings just as widely, especially once the narrator is given a drug that makes him more eloquent. I loved the way his vocabulary ebbed and flowed according the powers of the drug, so that the same character could say something like "Heather soon looked super-good" and then "our protestations of love poured forth simultaneously, linguistically complex and metaphorically rich; I daresay we had become poets" just a few paragraphs later. The pacing of this story was perfect, and the ending! So chilling, and so great. 

My favorite story, the one that grabbed me and wouldn't let go, was "The Semplica Girl Diaries." Told through the diary entries of a middle class suburban dad who aspires to give his family the kind of life he can't afford, his voice was touching and felt so real. I found myself invested in his struggle, completely understanding his urges and even his mistakes - until it becomes clear, over the course of the story, what lengths he's willing to go, and what horrors have been normalized in his world. (I'm trying not to give too much away, even though most of the reviews I've read do, because figuring out what the narrator wanted was one of the best moments of the reading experience. Go read it now, and then we can talk in more detail!) Basically, it's a dark and futuristic version of "keeping up with the Joneses," with chilling consequences.

I really enjoyed this collection, and am so glad I read it when I did. Not only did it get me back into the habit of reading regularly, but it made me want to write short stories again. Read it, and let me know what you think! 

Monday, September 22, 2014

24 Hours in Asheville, NC

This past weekend, I spent a whopping 24 hours in Asheville. This did not include the 14 hours of driving that got us there and back, so you can imagine how productive the rest of my weekend was. Still, it was my first time in Asheville and I have to say: it was worth it. 

I was actually in Asheville for work, on behalf of the marketing team at Next Glass, the start up for which I've been blogging since May. We were tasked with attending Asheville's annual Brewgrass festival, drinking as much beer as we could, telling people about our soon-to-launch app, and getting email addresses so they can sign up. (I may have tasked myself with drinking as much beer as I could. Either way, I accomplished all my goals.) 

Even though we didn't spent much time in Asheville, it was long enough to eat two solid meals. Friday night we had a late dinner at Rosetta's Kitchen, where I gorged on peanut butter tofu, mashed potatoes, gravy, and kale. And Saturday morning, we hit Sunny Point Cafe, an adorable breakfast spot that grew their own produce, composted, and provided coffee while you waited for your table in their courtyard, which was full of sunshine and cute dogs. (Heaven, basically.) 

The festival itself was pretty fun. It got easier to approach random people after a few beers, but there was definitely a tipping point. Not for me - I was able to maintain a slight and totally professional buzz all day. But the people we were talking to got sassier and sassier, which was understandable. When piles of puke started to appear in between tents we decided it was time to wrap things up, and started the long drive home. All in all, a successful, albeit exhausting, trip.

I am very eager to go back to Asheville, especially when I can see more of the city and spend time with dear friends. That's the plan for spring break - we're going to meet Amy and David there, and eat all the food, hike all the mountains, practice all the yoga, and drink every beer I left behind. Until then, I will wait patiently while dreaming of peanut butter tofu and cool mountain air. 

Friday, September 12, 2014

Friday Reads

I've been saving up links over the past few weeks and finally decided it was time to hit publish. Most of these were written by friends and former professors; each one is lovely and perfect.

Enjoy, and happy Friday!

"today I am coming out as a person that is capable of large amount of love for other persons" by John Mortara (If you haven't read John's work yet, prepare to fall in love.) 

Two super gorgeous poems by Kathleen Jones in the new issue of MiddleGray Magazine (flip to page 34, but also read the whole thing). Plus an interview! "Kathleen Jones on Foreignnes, Home, and Flower Cacti"

"Portraits of Handwashing" by Eric Tran (so swoon-able.) 

"Mama Never Told Me There'd Be Days Like These Because She Met My Father in Kindergarten and Carried Only His Name in Her Notebook All the Years Since," by Sally J. Johnson (Everything Sally writes is gold.)

"A Guide to Surviving Your Father's Homelessness" by Hannah Dela Cruz Abrams (I was so lucky to turn Hannah from a professor into a friend!)

"Prayer for Gluten," by Wendy Brenner (I laughed and laughed, and then I ate a loaf of bread.) 

"Living Simply in a Dumpster," by James Hamblin. (I do not know the writer or the man in the dumpster, but I really enjoyed this article and thought you might, too.) 

Monday, September 08, 2014

The Dogs Days of Summer

This past week was a good one. Nothing crazy, or out of the ordinary, or especially adventurous. Just easy & pleasant & nice. Even though it wasn't the kind of week that makes great blog fodder, I'm going to give it a shot anyway. 

Nathan and I both had the whole weekend off, which hardly ever happens. As the Saturday approached, we made many grand plans. Camping at a nearby lake! Kayakying out to Masonboro island! Finally finishing the chicken coop! Unfortunately it rained the whole. entire. weekend. While this washed out many of our plans, we still had a good time. We decided to brew a batch of beer, the first one in a long while. We ended up drinking a beer at the homebrew shop while getting our ingredients, which was pretty wonderful - the folks at Wilmington Brewing Company really are the best. We ended up choosing an English Porter and after an easy afternoon brewing and hanging out with our friends K and W, we treated the chickens to leftover spent grains. Everyone was happy. 

This week was also the annual Pooch Plunge. I have blogged about it before (in 2011, 2012, and 2013, to be exact) so I won't flood you with the usual photos. I will say that it continues to be the best week of the year, at least according to Seamus and Calvin. In case you need a refresher, Wilmington's public pool closes after Labor Day, and the following week, before it is drained, they open the pool to dogs. It costs $5 per pup, and the money goes to the local animal shelter, so there's really no reason not to go. We went a record breaking three times this week, and it was great. Seamus loves to swim, and Calvin loves to chase a ball through the water, and I love to watch them having the time of their lives. Plus the Pooch Plunge is the only thing that will keep Calvin asleep past 6AM and that is priceless. 

The other morning I snapped the above photo of our living room and posted it on Facebook and Instagram. It reminded me that I still owe y'all a proper tour of our new house. One day. In the meantime, it's safe to say that this house is one of the main reasons things have been so nice and pleasant and easy lately. It's amazing what a difference actually liking the place you live can make.

As for today, it will be a busy Monday. A morning meeting, then a class to teach, then a rainy afternoon at home, catching up on some freelance assignments, and finally yoga. I'm recommitting to fitness this week, and I already have the sore muscles to prove it.

I hope your week is off to a relaxed and productive start. More soon.

PS: All photos from my Instagram account, AKA the lazy way to document my life in a semi-meaningful way. 

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Show Up

I enjoyed this article about The Psychology of Writing. It's fascinating and interesting and kept me from actually writing for a good ten minutes. Which is sort of ironic, considering the whole thing can be summed up with the following image: 

I also love that the mug in the illustration is clearly Dear Sugar's design, which I own and adore, but only allow myself to use those mornings when I am Actually Writing. Speaking of, I better get back to it. 

Thursday, August 28, 2014


The fall semester started last week. I'll spare you my first day photo, even though I did head back to the classroom. I'm teaching a section of First Year Seminar at UNCW, which is basically College 101. How to manage your time, how to establish good study habits, how to use the library, etc. Compared to the classes I taught while in graduate school, it's a piece of cake. It's also exactly what I needed. 

Teaching three times a week provides just enough structure to my freewheeling freelance lifestyle (I'm putting on pants and interacting with humans on a regular basis!). It's a nice bump in my income. And it's eerily fitting. You see, each time I meet with my students, we talk a lot about transitions, adjustments, and survival strategies. How to make friends, form a community, and turn this university into home. The struggle of figuring out who you are and what you want and creating a life you can be proud of. And even though it's been 14 years since I was a college freshman, I find myself in a similar position. 

When you live in a college town, goodbyes are a part of life. People disappear in the summers, friends graduate and move away, programs begin and end, and you can't even count on tenure to keep folks around. Nacogdoches was a college town, and the seven years I spent there were filled with goodbyes until one day, I was the friend moving on. Now that we're in Wilmington, it's the same sort of life. 

I've said goodbye to a lot of people this summer, and each one has been a heartbreak. The last friend to leave was Erica, who took off two weeks ago for a job in Rhode Island, and that goodbye was especially devastating. Erica was the very first person I met in the MFA program, and we bonded instantly. Meeting her was a sigh of relief, the feeling of finally coming home to the friend you always knew was out there. 

Obviously, I'm still friends with Erica and everyone else who left Wilmington. But Wilmington is different now, and I feel like I did when I first arrived three years ago. Brand new all over again. 

So when I sit in that classroom three times a week, and I tell my students that change is hard and transitions are tough, but by the end of their college career - hell, by the end of this fall semester - they'll barely remember a time when this place didn't feel like home, I'm telling myself the same thing. "Listen," I say. "I've started over a bunch, and each time I've ended up with more friends, more love, and more joy in my life. Change is good, even though it doesn't always feel that way in the moment." 

It's hard to tell if they believe me yet, but that's okay. One day they'll look back and see that I was right. And so will I. 

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The Freelance Life: Month Three

If it feels like this blog is becoming all freelance, all the time, I apologize. I promise to write about other things soon, but creating a new career for myself has been taking up a lot of my time and energy. Things seem to finally be settling into a comfortable routine, so hopefully I'll be able to write about something else soon. In the meantime, month three is in the books. Here's how it went. 

July was a slow month, which caused a few fits of panic and shook my confidence more than I'd like to admit. (Spoiler alert: August has already been much better!) I soldiered on and tried to use my free time wisely. I sent out more pitches, worked on novel revisions and my query letter, and tried to do the best job possible at the start up so they'll keep me around. Nathan and I were also dealing with the bulk of our move during late July/early August, so I'm actually lucky that I didn't have as much work to do. I've read that freelance writing, like most industries, is slower in the summer and tried not to worry too much. 

Everyone at the start up put in extra hours last month as we prepare for the release of the app (!!!). My ghost writing gig picked up again at the very end of the month, which was nice. And even though the xoJane article paid the least, it got the most attention from friends and family. Turns out everyone likes a good love story! Even though July was light, it did offer a lot of variety and flexibility, which are the best perks of freelancing. 

Best Articles Written in July & Published Under My Name: 

Income in July: 
Tech Start Up: 1160
Ghost Writing Gig: 220
Online Women's Magazine: 150
xoJane: 50

Total: 1580 
(I didn't do a good job of saving money in July, due to making less + moving. Most of this was spent as soon as I received it.) 

Goals for August: 
Stay on top of my assignments. Create a schedule and stick to it. Finish revising my novel and send it out to agents. Get excited about the semester and the class I'm teaching. SAVE MONEY OR ELSE. 

For more, check out previous installments of The Freelance Life: 

Thursday, August 14, 2014

This is 32

I turned 32 this past Saturday. I love my birthday and I truly enjoy getting older - so far, my 30s have been my most interesting and fulfilling decade yet. I sincerely hope that trend continues.

And speaking of trends, I finally got around to writing my yearly time capsule to commemorate this occasion. Here's what 32 looks like, right now, as I live it. 

Thirty-two is standing at the precipice of a new phase, while saying goodbye to the last one. 

Thirty-two is putting down roots in Wilmington, renting a new house, and making local friends who don't necessarily know or care what an MFA is. 

Thirty-two is figuring out how to make a life that revolves around writing, even when it isn't easy or convenient or rewarded in any tangible way. Thirty-two is still working on the same book that I was writing at thirty-one, which is sort of crazy to think about. Thirty-two is making final edits and polishing a query letter, wondering if an agent will take me on and help me get published. 

Thirty-two is taking risks with my career, striking out along the path of self-employment, hoping it leads to self-fulfillment. Thirty-two is trusting that my income will increase as I get better at this whole writing-for-hire thing. Thirty-two is referring to my work as a "freelance empire" because above all else, thirty-two is optimistic. 

Thirty-two is debt, soul-crushing, seemingly insurmountable, regularly depressing debt. But it's also paying bills on time and the world's tiniest savings account, and that almost feels like a triumph. 

Thirty-two is blogging less, even though I still love it. Thirty-two is having less time to say what I want, or maybe just less to say. Maybe so much has been said already, and I'm content with waiting until I have something new to add. 

Thirty-two is supporting my husband as he starts a new career as a paramedic, learning to be selfless and give space when it's needed, to listen and console, to understand that sickness and death are a part of life, even though I haven't yet accepted it. 

Thirty-two is two dogs and seven chickens, best friends and broken hearts, good intentions and canceled plans. Thirty-two is feeling smaller and bigger at the same time, staying focused on my goals , my family, my friends. Thirty-two is a whole summer lost to transitions. Thirty-two is a fried egg every single day.

Thirty-two is looking forward more often than looking back. Thirty-two is watching as things begin to fall into place. Thirty-two is here, and it's going to be great. 

(PS - A similar snapshot of life at 31.) 

Thursday, August 07, 2014

Published at xoJane!

Friends! I'm popping in to let you know that I have a short and sappy essay up at xoJane today. In true xoJane fashion, it's called "I Dated My Husband for 10 Years Before I Was Ready to Marry Him." In case you can't tell from the title, it's about love, marriage, and patience. It also features this photo, which was taken by our friend Terry shortly after we started dating, when we were barely 21 years old and I still had dreadlocks. Oh, youth.

N and me, ten years ago.

And in case you like background on my published pieces: this one was part of an experiment in which I am pitching ideas to magazines and websites that actually pay. While the process is a bit time consuming and can be very hit-or-miss (you have to actually read the magazine or website so you know their style, and there's no guarantee they'll take your idea) it's essential to building a proper Freelance Empire. Luckily, the worst someone can say is no thanks, which, as a writer, I'm quite used to. The best that can happen is they say yes, and you get to see your words in print and watch your bank account grow a tiny bit! 

As always, thanks for reading my words and for being supportive of my work. I appreciate it more than you could ever know. <3

Sunday, August 03, 2014

The Lost Summer

Summer has always been my favorite season. I love the heat, the sun, the beach. I love backyard cookouts and porch drinking. I love yard games and late sunsets and fresh pesto and strawberry picking. I love my birthday in early August (let the countdown begin!). I feel more alive in the summer than I do during any other time, and I look forward to it all year. 

Which is why this particular summer has been a tiny tragedy. I've spent most of it indoors, at a desk, or stressing about our move. I know what you're thinking: most people spend the summer indoors. It's called work and the majority of people must go to it. And I get that, I do. But I've spent the last 14 years, give or take, in academia. Even when I had to go to work, the pace was slower, the vibe more relaxed. I measure my life in semesters, and it's a method that has always just sort of worked.

Until now.

The problem is that I graduated in May and hit the ground running. I was desperate to build my freelance empire so I didn't take any time off or allow myself even a moment of rest. I live on the coast of North Carolina, but I haven't been to the beach in over a month. TRAGEDY, I TELL YOU.

I'm writing this post not to complain, but to make a public promise to myself. This summer will be salvaged. There are three weeks until the semester starts (and I'm teaching one class, so I can still measure my life in semesters at least a little bit) and thanks to our tropical climate, summer actually stretches to October in these parts. There are plenty of beach trips in my future, plenty of backyard bashes to have - especially now that we're semi-settled in our new house and the backyard is awesome. Yesterday was Saturday, and even though it was thunderstorming and we're still dealing with lingering stress from the worst move ever, we randomly stopped by a friend's house and drank afternoon beers. While it wasn't the beach, it was relaxing, spontaneous, and very much needed, and it renewed my resolve to save this summer before it's too late.

Summer Goals for August 
Host a birthday/housewarming party
Kayak to Masonboro Island
Go to the beach at least once a week
Go the Riverfront Farmer's Market
Check out Airlie Gardens Summer Concert Series
Get the garden ready for fall plants
Explore running routes in our new neighborhood

Not a bad list, and not at all hard to accomplish. The trick will be actually getting up from my desk and leaving my laptop behind. One thing at a time...