Posts tagged with "grad school" - Faerye Net 2011-03-18T10:41:06+00:00 Felicity Shoulders Blog recommendation: MFA in a Box 2011-03-18T10:41:06+00:00 2011-03-18T15:49:50+00:00 <p>My first advisor in <a href="" target="links">graduate school</a> had a huge influence on me. I had several fabulous teachers in the program, but working with <a href="" target="links">John Rember</a> set the foundation of my writing life. He got me to state with confidence &#8220;I&#8217;m a writer&#8221; and taught me that being a writer is a <a href="" target="internal">continuous state of being and seeing</a>, not something you just do when you write. The books I read at his behest and discussed with him in my correspondence semester helped give definition and certainty to things I had felt as instinct and hunch: things about the importance of writing, writing as survival strategy, writing as making meaning.</p> <p>John&#8217;s craft talks at the program were also rich and valuable. They were the sort of lecture where you scribble notes intensely, and you can&#8217;t keep up with all of it that you want to get down, and you also want to be writing your own notes about all the things in your own writing and life that hook into what he&#8217;s saying, all the ideas this gives you. Luckily, many of the rich, layered craft talks that he wrote for the Pacific program are now available to me in a more complete and much more legible format than my own scribbles: printed essays in book.</p> <p><a href='' rel='powells-9780982579428'><img src='' style='border: 0px; margin-right:5px;' align="left" title='More info about this book at (new window)' style='border: 0px; margin-right:5px'></a>John has written a writing book, <em><a href='' title='More info about this book at' rel='powells-9780982579428'><span class="caps">MFA</span> in a Box</a></em>, which I am reading. To be honest, I&#8217;m reading it very slowly. That may sound like an odd endorsement, but it&#8217;s an honest one. I started reading the book on the plane to a convention. Every chapter is an essay, one of those rich interconnected thought-weavings that we got to listen to as Pacific students, with the addition of a top ten list at the end of each &#8212; valuable for focus and review, but also often funny. I found, reading on the plane, that when I was done with the first essay, I didn&#8217;t want to read the second. I wanted to write. So I dug out my carry-on and switched activities. On the plane ride home? Same thing. One essay, and then writing.</p> <p>Obviously, this is a rare writing book. I have read quite a few, and I don&#8217;t remember any of them making me want to write <em>that moment</em> like this does. The cover says it&#8217;s &#8220;a <em>Why</em> to Write Book&#8221;, and the evidence says it&#8217;s convincing.</p> <p>So the good news about John&#8217;s splendid craft talks is that you can <a href='' title='More info about this book at' rel='powells-9780982579428'>buy the book</a>, and the bonus good news is that you can <a href="" target="links">read his blog</a> while you&#8217;re waiting for the book to arrive. It&#8217;s a relatively new blog that he&#8217;s started in support of the book (hence the name!) and it is chock-full of the stuff John Rember specializes in as a teacher: thoughtful, mordant, lucid non-fiction about things which are important and hard to tackle.</p> <p>Here are some of his posts:</p> <ul> <li><a href="" target="links">Narcissism and Depth</a>, which may obviate or at least mutate two blog posts I meant to write here</li> <li><a href="" target="links">The Wannabe Writer</a>, about stopping pretending to be a writer and actually being one.</li> <li><a href="">A Writer&#8217;s Meta-Narrative</a>, about the stories everyone lives by, not just storytellers</li> </ul> <p>I don&#8217;t think I&#8217;ve ever written a blog post just to recommend another blog before. Maybe John&#8217;s blog isn&#8217;t the blog for you, if you&#8217;re not a writer or interested in writing, or don&#8217;t like hard questions. But I am so glad it&#8217;s there, that someone with so much experience and so much willingness to examine it honestly is sharing in this way. John as teacher is challenging, wise, and dryly, darkly funny. John as blogger is much the same.</p> Observations 2010-07-06T12:46:57+00:00 2010-07-10T15:03:37+00:00 <p>One of the first things I learned in writing school was to watch more closely. My first advisor in graduate school (and author of the upcoming <a href='' target="powells" title='' rel='powells'><em><span class="caps">MFA</span> in a Box</em></a>), <a href="" target="links">John Rember</a>, pointed out to me that being a writer is not just writing: it&#8217;s how you see the world.</p> <p>Before I went to grad school, I already loved little idiosyncratic details. I loved noticing how one thing was so unexpectedly like another, and deploying that likeness in prose to give someone a jolt of recognition. I loved stealing a gesture from a passerby and teasing it out into a character. But I more or less relied on those details to come to me. I wrote things down when I noticed them, but I didn&#8217;t go out into the world, eyes open, ears pricked and (figurative) antennae agape in order to gather them. Now I do.</p> <p>A few things I have noticed recently:</p> <ul> <li>A lone strawberry sitting in the road on a rural highway, pointing up like a caltrop.</li> </ul> <ul> <li>A man in an workman&#8217;s orange vest sitting on a traffic control box he had scaled with the help of a nearby stepladder. He was holding a package and apparently doing nothing.</li> </ul> <ul> <li>Teenage girls in summer dresses stealing a series of appraising glances at disreputably attired young men getting out of a van next to a venue (and thus, presumably, in a <strong>band</strong>).</li> </ul> <ul> <li>A highly-polished Jaguar in a shade of gold so extreme as to resemble baby poop, with <a href="" target="links">scythed wheels</a>.</li> </ul> <ul> <li>A petite woman in silver shoes and a sequined tunic posing motionless for a long time while her photographer fiddled with his camera.</li> </ul> <ul> <li>A man in baggy khakis and a burgundy polo crossing Terwilliger to stare fixedly into the sloping forest. He looked exactly like Bill Gates.</li> </ul> <ul> <li>Lanky siblings, long and slender with their teenage growth, cramming themselves onto swings and seesaws at the park and trading insults and boasts. Their hair was a light fine blond, like toddlers&#8217;, but their brows were dark and straight.</li> </ul> <p>These are the observations that lent themselves to blogular explanation, not the weird sensory notes that will take some time to resolve and render into words. Not all of these are worth using. None of them immediately gives me a story seed (give me time.) But I accrete these images and moments all the time, and it&#8217;s hard to predict when one will blossom, or, set next to my current idea or problem, suddenly connect. Moreover, just collecting them gives me a sense of glee. It makes me feel a part of the world, its weirdness and whimsy and occasional joy.</p> <p>In Psych 101, we learned that you could strengthen your sense of smell by practicing. Our professor noted that many people didn&#8217;t want to increase their nasal sensitivity because they thought they would be inundated with bad smells, but this isn&#8217;t the case. She said that apparently the brain always registers bad smells, because they are potential threats: when you train up your nose, you smell more (and more complex) pleasant or neutral odors. I immediately started training my nose.</p> <p>I wonder if there&#8217;s a similar effect with the multi-sensory observations I make of the world. I noticed some time ago that I am generally happier, mellower and more at peace than I used to be, and I wonder if part of this is from the discipline of observation I&#8217;ve acquired. &#8220;The impulse to write comes from the impulse to love,&#8221; my final advisor, Jack Driscoll, says. Perhaps observing the world closely is a way of loving it.</p> <p><b>Update</b>: Related post <a href="">here</a>.</p> Paper progress 2008-08-26T11:26:58+00:00 2008-08-26T11:26:58+00:00 <p>I&#8217;ve been meaning to take this photo since I graduated in June:</p> <center><a href="" title="writing notebooks by Eilonwy Anne, on Flickr"><img src="" width="500" height="404" alt="writing notebooks" border="0" /></a></center> <p>I admit, this may require explanation. These are my writing notebooks. Almost all of my fiction is written longhand in the first draft (though if I get stuck at the end I start typing it in &mdash; which may explain weak endings on a lot of second drafts!) and my medium of choice is the <a href="" target="links">French-ruled Clairefontaine notebook</a>. This pile contains writing from July 1998 to yesterday, and the strip of blue batik marks the span of grad school.</p> <p>This is my way of communicating what an effect grad school has had on me, on my productivity alone. In the two years and a bit between June 10, 2006 and June 28, 2008, just my longhand compositions fill 346 pages. In school, 173 pages of rough a year, instead of the (hmm, hmm, carry the 2) 79 pages a year I averaged 1998-2006 (much of it <span class="caps">RPG</span> backstory and in-character journal.)</p> <p>This is just one way to measure. It doesn&#8217;t count the things I type as a first draft &mdash; much of Faerye Net falls in that category &mdash; or tell you how much of that raw material I used in subsequent drafts. But it does tell you how profoundly grad school transformed my habits. It forced me to think of myself as a writer.</p> <p><em><font size="1">Let&#8217;s see, since June 28 I&#8217;ve used 123 pages, divide by 2, multiply by 12, 720 pages a year&#8230;apparently being done with grad school has been good for productivity as well. Except 60 of those pages are in the last two weeks&#8230;I&#8217;m tempted to make a graph.</font></em></p> My first public reading - Forest Grove, Oregon 2008-06-09T18:28:11+00:00 2008-06-09T21:16:36+00:00 <p>To fulfill the requirements of my Master of Fine Arts in Writing, I have to give a jolly ol&#8217; reading. The details:</p> <p><strong>When:</strong> Sunday, June 22, 4:15pm-4:45pm<br /> <strong>Where:</strong> Taylor Auditorium (Room 216), Marsh Hall, Pacific University Campus<br /> <strong>What:</strong> Graduate readings (15 minutes each) by me and fellow fiction student Lesley Weiss<br /></p> <p><strong>About my reading:</strong> I&#8217;ll be reading a fabulist piece from my <a href="" target="links">thesis</a>, <em>Sea Selves</em>.</p> <p><strong>Logistics:</strong> Marsh Hall looks like <a href="" target="links">this</a> and is located in the middle of campus. That means you&#8217;ll have at least a short walk from any parking spot. Here are <a href="">campus maps and directions</a>.</p> Thesis matters 2008-05-28T12:36:18+00:00 2008-05-30T14:43:56+00:00 <p>It occurs to me that I haven&#8217;t talked too much about the nuts and bolts of my <span class="caps">MFA</span> program here, which is generally by design; however, now that this site is more officially part of my semi-professional authorialness, I thought I would mention my thesis.</p> <p>I quickly resolved, on joining the <span class="caps">MFA</span> program, to work on short stories. I didn&#8217;t feel that I wanted to commit to just one story (a novel) for the whole time, and wanted to work with different voices, settings and styles as I learned. This dictated a collection of short stories as my final creative manuscript (dubbed &#8216;thesis&#8217; in the program.) Then, my first semester in the program, I wrote two thematically similar pieces of fabulism which my advisor thought particularly strong, and he suggested I pursue the theme further.</p> <p>So it is that I ended up writing fourteen short stories and two microfictions in the program, but only putting seven stories in my thesis. &#8220;Burgerdroid&#8221; and four other viable stories (two are dead-end drafts) are not in the manuscript.</p> <p>So I have a somewhat odd accomplishment sitting in front of me: seven carefully arranged stories under the title of &#8220;Sea Selves&#8221;. Though it fills 120 pages in the program-approved format, the collection might only be 70 book pages, too short for a legitimate short story collection. I feel like I have no more ideas for this theme &#8211; and yet, I felt that way before the last story or two, some of the strongest, were written. Is this a full book? Have I written a book? And yet, even if I have, short story collections are rarely saleable. Whatever my pride and enthusiasm may dictate, I will probably just send the stories off individually to markets and work on my first novel.</p> <p>But whatever the pragmatic verdict on my &#8216;first book&#8217; may be, I am proud and relieved. This was a strange, ambitious project and it came together. Came together well, I dare say. I managed to discipline my creative impulses and turn them, more and more each semester, towards one goal. I even wrote my longest story yet, 29 pages, a much different mental task from the 10 page tales I often write. All these are important steps towards being able to finish a long manuscript. A few days ago, I took the important symbolic step of putting pen to paper, writing down a working title and the first few lines of dialogue. My first novel is underway. Graduation is one month from today. A world of change beckons.</p> Revision party-hardy 2008-04-05T20:42:45+00:00 2009-09-18T11:09:35+00:00 <p><em>&#8220;Revision isn&#8217;t cleaning up after the party, revision is the party.&#8221; &mdash; William Matthews</eM></p> <p>The quote above is well-distributed in writing circles. When it was last passed back to me, by my current advisor, I remembered the shape of it, worn smooth and familiar by many fingers. I also suddenly recognized it as very true.</p> <p>In this <a href="" target="links">grad school adventure</a> of mine, I&#8217;ve changed as a person, and gotten to know myself a lot better. I&#8217;ve also written a <em>lot</em>. With the exception of the microfictions with which this site is peppered, I had only written three short stories when I entered the program. Three. I&#8217;m now running about twelve, not counting microfictions and stories I&#8217;m not sure will work out. And yes, I love to write. I like messing with stories, being able to fall asleep daydreaming and call it work, stealing a moment or an image and making it into something of my own. But revision? Revision is pure play. </P><p>Creating for the first time is self-conscious work, full of doubt and soldiering on through the frustration. When you revise, you know you have something. You may not know what it is, but its promise is as physically present as a weight you roll in your hands. You feel you&#8217;ve accomplished something, even as you try to figure out what. I love revising.</p> <p>And this is the season of revision. I graduate in a few months. My thesis needs to be ship-shape to embark on the library shelves, and besides those stories, I find myself itching to revisit, revamp and renovate others. In between nervous trips to big-box bookstores (my first publication will be out soon, but I don&#8217;t know the precise date) I find myself remembering this story I laid aside first semester, or even my third short story ever, which I wrote for the application process. I imagine new paths into them, look at them from far off and try to squint out their shapes. Yesterday I made a list of firm to-dos and wishful goals for April. The first word on about half of the entries? &#8220;Revise.&#8221;</p> Back on the beach 2008-01-13T23:52:13+00:00 2008-05-25T20:12:04+00:00 <p>What is the difference between very little and nothing? Approximately the difference between my posting habits in the last few months and my posting habits for the last week and change. I&#8217;m back in my grad school grind (tho&#8217; not a Gradgrindian school). It&#8217;s my final semester&#8230;only one more of these mad, lovely swirls of theory and work, friendship and inspiration awaits me. </p><p>So I write from a hotel room looking out on the Pacific, whose surf is still white even when the water stares black at the starlit sky. Oregon is in my bones as well as in my heart. It&#8217;s good to be home.</p> Is there a universal law? 2007-10-31T03:37:28+00:00 2008-06-02T11:19:16+00:00 <p>That when one wishes to quote a famous book, well out of copyright, in a paper, but does not wish to face the ignominy of a web reference in ones &#8220;Works Cited&#8221;, that book simply <em>will</em> not surface? There exist within the confines of this house no fewer than three copies, but I cannot find one.</p> <p>Here, Moby Moby Moby&#8230;.</p> Why today (now yesterday) was awesome 2007-06-29T01:21:22+00:00 2008-06-08T11:52:25+00:00 <p>Reading went okay.<br /> No one but me noticed flaws in reading.<br /> First semester student said I looked like Kate Winslet giving reading.<br /> Wasn&#8217;t under the glass light fixture dome when it spontaneously dropped and shattered, covering entire floor of my dorm room with shards.</p> <p>Oh yes! A good day!</p> One of us! One of us! 2007-06-26T22:07:13+00:00 2008-06-08T11:53:49+00:00 <p><em>Names in this story have been changed to protect the silly (writers are seldom innocent).</em></p> <p>Some time last year a gifted non-fiction writer of my acquaintance, Karin, told me she did not understand fiction writers. &#8220;I couldn&#8217;t do that. How do you decide what happens?&#8221;</p> <p>&#8220;You just do. You find something cool, and have it happen, I guess?&#8221;</P> <p>She shook her head.</p> <p>Last night, I sat at a kitchen island chatting with Elsa, a wild-eyed fictionist like myself. Elsa wiped the blue formica clean as we spoke, the action almost subconscious for a fastidious parent.</p> <p>With the indiscreet clicking and clacking characteristic of dormitory doors, Karin emerged from her room. She looked stunned.</p> <p>&#8220;That surprised to see me?&#8221; I said.</p> <p>&#8220;Are we keeping you up, honey?&#8221; said Elsa.</p> <p>&#8220;I&#8217;m writing&#8230;a story.&#8221; She half-smiled.</p> <p>Elsa and I exchanged glances, then studied the transfigured face of our friend. &#8220;Fiction?&#8221;</p> <p>&#8220;Yes. I never wrote any before. Never.&#8221;</p> <p>&#8220;You made something up!?&#8221; one of us said, and &#8220;Good for you!&#8221; the other, all at once, as we surged forward to grab Karin&#8217;s hands.</p> <p>The residencies are transformative, remarkable. They are crucibles and comfort. Imagine this change! Imagine the confirmed teller of truths &mdash; or, depending on your philosophy, seeker of them &mdash; turning to fiction. It can happen. After all, I&#8217;m a confirmed confabulator, and I just wrote this.</p>