The importance of being disloyal

The importance of being disloyal

Writing

I’m thinking a lot about disloyalty today.

Let me explain why.

I feel like I’ve betrayed my hometown and home state.

This essay was published today, and I’d like to say a few things about it.

They Found a Meth Lab in Cole Porter’s Childhood Home

A few months ago, Barb Shoup at the Indiana Writers Center asked me to submit an essay to an anthology of Indiana writers that will be published this fall to celebrate Indiana’s bicentennial in 2016. She mentioned that the anthology might end up being used in public schools, and I thought, What would I really like to say to an Indiana high school student? It also stood to reason that Governor Mike Pence might actually read something I wrote. What would I really like to say to him? Oh boy!

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How I feel when Hillary People shake their heads at me

How I feel when Hillary People shake their heads at me

Writing

Throughout my life, I’ve worked hard to balance my idealistic nature with necessary doses of…realism? pragmatism? skepticism?

If you believe in Myers-Briggs, I’m an INFJ.

I don’t think it’s an accident that I married a cynic. Sometimes, the stuff that comes out of my husband’s mouth shocks the heck out of me, but mostly, I am just so thankful that he helps me prioritize and stay focused. When I met him, I was a puddle of naive disappointment. These days, I rarely get that low.

I can remember so many moments in my life when I’ve said something so idealistic that the other person looked away and shook their head in disbelief. “You really think like that?” they’d say, and I’d say, “You don’t?”

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What’s the Matter with Indiana?

What’s the Matter with Indiana?

Writing

On Wednesday, Feb. 24, I sat down to write, and I made a horrible mistake: I checked Tweetdeck.

I have a special list called “Indiana” which is how I stay in touch with my state. It includes newspapers, colleges, political and cultural organizations, progressive and conservative politicians, TV and radio stations, etc.

Yesterday, every tweet in my “Indiana” column on Tweetdeck filled me with despair.

A song came to my head. “Anything you can do, I can do better…” So I started retweeting all the bad news with my tweaked ditty.

After awhile, I got so angry that I logged into Facebook and wrote this:

Screenshot 2016-02-25 13.19.10

Yes, I sacrificed my novel-writing time to Facebook-screed writing time.

This is why I’m going to have to go off social media again.

Tell me, why do you hate Indiana?

My friend Barbara Shoup asked me to contribute something to an Indiana anthology that’s going to be published in conjunction with Indiana’s 2016 bicentennial celebration. Although, who knows? Maybe that’s not going to happen either, since it’s not clear if my governor will be able to find the money to “celebrate” Indiana’s history.

So I got out an essay I started here a few years ago and expanded it.

This essay doesn’t celebrate Indiana. It critiques it. And the more I worked on it, the angrier I got, and I’m actually not sure it’s still appropriate for the anthology.

Here’s a snippet:

I don’t think Indiana is honest to goodness. Sometimes, I think it’s the angriest place I’ve ever lived—and I’ve lived in a lot of places.

I’m going to read it this Saturday and see what happens. Please come and tell me what you think?vouched

I guess that the news about plastic bags and Tesla and payday companies wouldn’t have enraged me any other week, but this week it did.

If you know me, then you know how much I love my home state.

But this week, I did not.

I’m reminded of this scene in my favorite novel, Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom! (Replace “the South” with “Indiana,” and that’s how I felt this week.)

“Tell about the South,” said Shreve McCannon. “What do they do there? How do they live there? Why do they live at all?…Tell me one more thing. Why do you hate the South?”

“I don’t hate it,” Quentin said, quickly, at once, immediately; “I don’t hate it,” he said. “I don’t hate it he thought, panting in the cold air, the iron New England dark: I don’t. I don’t! I don’t hate it! I don’t hate it!”

Subscribe to my list and keep tabs on Indiana

My “Indiana” list has always been private, but I just made it public, so you can subscribe to it, too.

You’ll see bad news, probably, but I also hope this list gives you hope as well.

If you use Twitter, I highly recommend you use lists. Here’s how. It allows you to follow accounts without actually “following.”

Once you subscribe to the list, create a column for that list on Tweetdeck (or Hootsuite). Here’s how.

I hardly ever look at Twitter via the Twitter app (unless I’m on my phone). I look at Twitter via Tweetdeck, where I can see a variety of columns. Some people think Tweetdeck is overwhelming, but I think Twitter is, actually. Once you get used to the interface, it’s easy, because your feed and your interests are nicely organized–by you.

Maybe my legislators think that no one is paying attention to what they’re doing?

I’m paying attention. I hope you will, too.

Reading List: Starting a Writing Career

Reading List: Starting a Writing Career

Writing

Yesterday on Twitter, Celeste Ng asked a great question, and people responded.

How do you start a writing career? Some of these books will help you with the craft of your writing (very important) and others will help you with the business of writing (more important than you think).

You also have to expand your notion of what “a writing career” is.

  • Maybe you write grants and promotional materials for a non-profit and work on your novel every chance you get.
  • Maybe you teach high school, sell cars, work in a bank, etc., and work on your poetry every chance you get.
  • Maybe you are a free-lance writer trying to actually make a living from YOUR creative writing or journalism.
  • There are many ways to create a literary life for yourself, no matter what your job title is.

Anyway, on to the Storify!

Five Things: 2/1/16

Five Things: 2/1/16

Five Things Writing

1.

I want to thank my friend Gail Werner for recommending that I read Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic, which came to me–as many books do–right when I needed it most. I’ve never read Eat Pray Love. I didn’t watch her TED talk on creativity (where Big Magic got started), even though lots of people were sharing it on Facebook for awhile, singing its praises. Why didn’t I? Why not read her wildly popular book or see what she had to say? Well, because I knew that a lot of writers I admire didn’t like Gilbert much–as a writer, and/or as a cultural phenomenon–and I really, really wanted them to consider me a good, serious, “important” writer. Of course, I wasn’t thinking any of this consciously. I was unconsciously “pandering,” similar to what Claire Vaye Watkins talked about in this provocative essay which came out a few months ago. Every time I think I’ve stopped “pandering,” something comes along to make me realize that I still am. Man, this shit runs deep in me. In all of us, I think. The older I get, the more I realize that the high school lunchroom mentality never leaves us. Even though I didn’t mind not sitting at the cool kids’ table in high school, I still aspired to it–just in a different lunchroom.

2.

The first month of my sabbatical is over, and I’m happy with the progress I’ve made thus far. I have some self-imposed deadlines: finish the current section by the end of January, finish the next section during February, the last section in March, revise in April. I write every day–at least two pages, sometimes five or six. The manuscript is currently at 400+ pages, and at this rate, might get to about 600 pages, but I don’t think it’s going to end up that long. I’ve been writing very scenically, dramatizing much of the novel in something akin to “real time.” This would be fine if the novel’s “clock” was a month, a year, or even a few years. But the novel covers about 20 years. I wanted to “see” the scenes in my imagination and show them on the page, but now that I know what happens, I plan to go back in and do more summarizing, more telling, which is what I really prefer doing anyway.

3.

I’ve been reading a lot of young adult novels over the last few years. Almost all of them take place over a relatively short period of time and are quite “scenic,” unfolding at a rate of, say, one day or maybe one week represented by one chapter. That’s something I’ve been trying to teach myself how to do better–create a “faster read” by slowing way, way down, create a vivid and continuous fictional dream. Novels need scenes. Novel readers need moments when they can just be “in the story.” But frankly, I get a little bored after a while with this approach–both as a reader and a writer. Another book I read recently was the marvelous Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff. This book covers a lot of time, and certainly, there are dramatized scenes, but lots of skillful telling, too. I remember one chapter in particular that needed to cover the first 10+ years of a couple’s marriage. Groff did so by focusing just on the parties they threw in their apartment. The style of party changes over time. The main characters change. Their friends mature. Think about how some of the montages in Groundhog Day work–Bill Murray figuring out how to play piano, how to woo Andi McDowell, etc. The thing I have to figure out, I guess, is how much of what I’ve written needs to be “in scene” and how much needs to be montage.

4.

At the same time that I’m thinking about shortening/tightening the chapters I’ve already written (a process I really look forward to), I’m also trying to draft brand new chapters (a process I dread). I love to edit, but I do not love generating new stuff. Here’s how I’m learning to cope with this: I think of each new chapter like a painting. An oil painting in particular, which is created in layers. First, I sketch. I write about the scenes rather than writing scenes. I free write as things come to me. Then I move things around. Decide on the beats of the chapter. I try not to get bogged down in details like what my characters are wearing or their expressions or what kind of couch they’re sitting on. Sometimes those details come first in my mind, and I build around them, but most of the time, they come last. I use this a lot: xxxx. Reminding myself to come back later and fill in the blank rather than get sidetracked with research–and boy, is it tempting. Every day, I try to add another layer, another level of detail to my painting. Let’s say that my chapter/painting’s not done until I complete 10 layers. Maybe I’m still too much of story writer, and I should move onto the next chapter after I finish step 5, but I like the feeling of accomplishment that comes with getting to about step 7 or 8. I love the feeling of “finishing” a chapter. I usually take a day off  and do something physical, and then I start the next chapter and remind myself (again) not to fuss with the first sentence, the first paragraph, but to just start sketching.

5.

Today, I’m heading to Lake Forest, IL to do a residency at Ragdale. Eighteen days. I’ve never done a residency before. I think I was always afraid that I’d get to one of those places and not be able to write. I also thought that it was kind of silly to go somewhere to write when I live in a relatively quiet house with no kids. I even have a husband who does all the cooking! So why do a residency? But my friends swear by them, and I think it will be good to separate myself from the allure/distractions of my home, my yard, my dog, my cats, my neighborhood, my job, my husband. I’ll let you know next week how it’s going. Here’s a nice video about Ragdale, what it looks like, etc. In the summer of course!

Publishing in Print and in Pixels

Publishing in Print and in Pixels

Writing

I published my first short story in 1995. Twenty years ago. How can this be?

In Print

I was a graduate student at the University of Alabama. I’d been sending out my stories for two years without much luck. Then, over Christmas Break 1994, I went with my mother, a hospice nurse, on a “death call” in suburb of Cincinnati. The experience stuck with me, and when I got back to Tuscaloosa, I tried my hand at writing a “short short story,” or what we might call now “flash fiction.” 742 words. I sent it to Quarterly West. and they accepted it immediately.

When I got the magazine in the mail, I marveled at it for awhile, and then I put it on my shelf. My poet friend Tim kept the journals in which he’d been published in a place of honor on his desk, like a trophy case, and so I did the same.

I also added a line to my very brief curriculum vitae.

“Hospice.” Quarterly West. 41 (Autumn/Winter 1995): 6-7.

A year later, I published a story in The Florida Review about a man raising his daughter alone. Another magazine on the shelf. Another line on the vita.

“Leon’s Daughter.” Florida Review 21:2 (1996): 88-98.

Slowly, I kept adding more journals to that shelf. More lines to the vita.

Out of Print

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2014: My Year in Review

2014: My Year in Review

Writing

Was it a waste of my time?

In 2013, I posted to this blog once a week and enjoyed some pretty great stats. 47,000 unique page views. Up from 20,000 the year before.

But at the beginning of 2014, I declared (a little facetiously) that this blog was a waste of my time. Instead of posting once a week, I posted sporadically. About 17 times total.

And a funny thing happened: I still got about 43,000 page views.

How did this happen?

  • Well, I think I got Googled a lot because of the musical.
  • A lot of my old posts about Statements of Purpose and LORs, etc. still get read a lot.

Truthfully, a lot of my blogging energy went into this blog, maintained by my department at Ball State. If you read the post I’ve linked to, you’ll see the stats, etc.

Lately, my blog posts have been about administrating in higher education and my personal life rather than teaching and writing. I guess that’s what happens as time passes–the things that occupy space in your brain change.

I’ll be happy if you continue reading, despite these changes. Thank you.

My year in review

My husband published an essay at the Rumpus on the occasion of the death of chef Charlie Trotter.

The Indy Star did a nice story about me.

Spoke about Literary Citizenship at the Antioch Writer’s Workshop “Paths to Publishing” event. Reunited with Erin Flanagan and met Kirby Gann and Steve Saus.

The night I came back from Yellow Springs, my dog was hit by a car. He lived. We rejoiced.

Seattle
Seattle

Went to Seattle with my husband for AWP 2014. Loved Seattle. For some reason, I felt compelled to blog about my marriage while we were there. I put them on Tumblr rather than here. I don’t know why. “Traveling as a Couple,” “AWP Spouses.” And this one, too.

I wrote about my fear of and desire to be looked at on my Tumblr blog. (I wasn’t sure if these personal stories were appropriate for the Big Thing. I guess I felt safer posting them in this little corner of the internet where you might not see it.)

Took part in a roundtable discussion on Money and Creative Writing Programs with some amazing writers (Dinty Moore, Robert Hass, Elizabeth McCracken, and Yiyun Li. ) for Scratch Magazine.

10565229_10152593054361672_7229724189396453769_n
My mom celebrating her first blog post.

Helped my mom start a caregiving blog.

Redesigned this blog. Click around. It’s kind of pretty.

Started a new job as Assistant Chair of the English Department.

Gave a talk at Hanover College because my book was the “common read” there. What an honor.

Published a two-part essay in Inside Higher Education about starting over in academe. Part 1. Part 2.  (This essay started as a blog post, which I sent to IHE instead of posting to my blog.)

Published an essay about the value of a degree in English at The Millions. (This too started as a blog post that I sent out rather than posting here.)

Taught with Dinty Moore at the Grailville Retreat Center for the Antioch Writer’s Workshop.

Found out I’m going to be an aunt again. To a girl this time.

Read with Ben Clark at the R.J. Julia Bookstore and at the Mark Twain House and Museum. What an honor.

West Baden
West Baden

Went to French Lick for a book signing that went bust, but got to stay at West Baden.

Did a webinar for AWP’s Career Services on Requesting Letters of Recommendation.

Saw two of my former graduate students publish books: Karin Lin Greenberg and Katie Coyle.

Saw a new production of The Circus in Winter.

Launched my department’s first e-newsletter. 

Lost two members of my extended family to cancer.

Reunited with an old high school friend and started trading work. Thanks to a new set of eyes, I got excited about my novel again. Worked on it a lot over Christmas Break and have applied for a sabbatical so that I can get that baby out the door.

In Conclusion

I started writing this post feeling like “Man, I don’t feel like I accomplished much this year,” but now I see that I was as busy as ever in 2014.

Thanks, as always, for reading. Have a great year!

 

This is what I’ve become.

This is what I’ve become.

Teaching Writing

It’s been four months since I started my new job, and the things I most feared have happened.

  • I’ve stopped blogging here.
  • I haven’t been working on my novel as much as I’d like.
  • I care about stuff that I never cared about before–like bulletin boards and registration time tickets and how class rooms are assigned and posters and scheduling grids.

I’m not surprised. Administrating changes you. Entire realms which have been hidden from view suddenly appear, and all you can really say is, “Holy shit.”

This quote from an Inside Higher Education essay by Chuck Ryback is on the money. Read the whole thing here.

Looking back to when I was first hired on the tenure track, I really didn’t know anything about how the systems I was working in were structured. Literally, it has taken me 10 years to even achieve a competent grasp. Why? If a maze built by Daedalus is complicated, imagine a maze built by an army of Daedaluses. Campus and system governance in public universities is deeply complicated and entangled, and this is largely because it’s supposed to be difficult to understand (but that’s a whole different post).

My job as Whack-a-Mole

When people ask me what I do all day as Assistant Chair of Operations, I tell them it’s like this:

You walk in the door and the moles start popping up—in my office door and in my inbox—and I take my mallet and whack whack whack as fast as I can.

Perhaps this makes it sound bad. Like I’m mad. Like I resent the moles from popping up. Like I’m trying to hurt them.

Au contraire.

The “whacking” isn’t hurting, it’s helping, solving, progressing.

For twenty years, I’ve written words that took months if not years to be published, taught students that I (mostly) never heard from again. So there’s something deeply rewarding about walking out of the office at the end of the day knowing that I actually finished something. Even if it was answering/archiving/deleting 50 emails and signing five forms.

My job at the candy conveyer belt

I like coming home and having dinner with my husband and maybe writing a little in the evening or reading or watching a movie, like a normal fucking human being who is almost 50 years old, not a graduate student. Like my doctor. Like my lawyer. Like pretty much every professional person I know.

Except for teachers.

We don’t expect our doctors to help us and answer our questions when they aren’t in their office. Why do we expect college professors and teachers to do this? I don’t know. But it drives me crazy.

I never worked this hard when I was in my 20’s and 30’s. This is a new development. It’s Lucy Ricardo’s candy conveyer belt and the chocolate is coming faster and faster and faster. Because there are real chocolates and virtual chocolates coming in via email.

One reason why I took this new job, I think, is that I’m no longer Lucy at the conveyor belt anymore. I’m her supervisor. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing, but for me, it was a necessary thing.

My job as a state bureaucrat.

Last night I went to a play with my cousin, who is a freshman at Ball State. She introduced me to a friend and I said I was the Assistant Chair of the English Department, let me know if you need anything, etc.

Later, I saw a dean walk down the aisle and pointed him out. “That’s the dean of your college,” I said to my cousin. She looked at me, and I thought, Oh my God, if I was 18 years old and a freshman, I would have no freaking idea what that meant nor why it mattered in the slightest.

So I said, “Okay, so pretend Ball State is a country. President Ferguson is the President. The deans of all the different colleges are like the governors of the states.”

She nodded. “So you’re like a senator, right?

“No, a department chair is like a senator. I’m like his chief of staff.”

“Oh.” She sighed. “I’m sorry. I just think politics is kind of boring.”

“Yeah, I know. Or think of it this way. The department chair is like the mayor of a city. And the English department is a big city in the country’s largest and most populous state.”

“So you’re like the mayor of Los Angeles?”

“No, more like Sacramento. I’m like the deputy mayor of Sacramento.”

I remembered then that her friend had wanted to meet me because I’m a writer, but lately, I’ve started thinking of myself as the deputy mayor of Sacramento because I really like the job.

And that’s what scares me. Can you help run a city and write books at the same time?

That is the question, isn’t it?

Here are some more:

  • How does your identity change when you take on an administrative position?
  • How do you maintain your identity as a writer when your daily work is so specific to the institution to the place where you work?
  • Since so many of us have day jobs–lots of different kinds–how can we balance our job (paycheck) and our work (art)?
  • How do we keep our work from becoming a hobby?
  • How do we keep our job from defining us?
  • When do we say to ourselves that we’re better at the job than the work? Or can we do both?
  • How do you keep doing your job for years and years and years without becoming overwhelmed by despair?
  • Here’s a great essay that’s helped me think through these things.

(more later, i’ve been thinking about this a lot)

 

Come upstairs and see my route book?

Come upstairs and see my route book?

The Circus in Winter Writing

Route books are a gold mine of circus history. They’re a yearly archive of a show’s acts and travels, meticulously recorded for posterity, then printed and given to circus personnel as a keepsake.

I have one that belonged to my great great uncle Henry Hoffman, superintendent of the menagerie for the Great Wallace Show.

When I started doing readings for The Circus in Winter, I took lots of pictures and put them in scrapbooks. I wanted to remember as many of those wonderful moments as possible.

But I noticed that many of the pictures from those years featured me standing behind a podium or sitting at a table.

That isn’t how I remember readings and events. I remember looking out at a sea of faces.

So for the last few years, I try to take a picture of the audience at all my readings.

Check out the new Route Book page

When I was creating my Route Book page for this website, I decided to do more than caption the photos. Where. When. I decided to share my memories of those events, and what I realized is that I’ve met and re-met so many people by going on the road.

Readings are hard on me. I have a bad back. I have anxiety issues. I’m an introvert. But I also love the experience of being in the room when people are experiencing my work or reacting to my ideas.

So feel free to follow the link and thumb through the pages of my route book. Maybe you’re in one of the pictures?

Check out the new Events page

I’ll be adding lots of pictures to the Route Book page soon; I’m going to be on the road a lot this fall. For more information, check out the Events page.

And may all your days be circus days. 

 

How I travel back in time, hold myself accountable, and refrain from smoking

How I travel back in time, hold myself accountable, and refrain from smoking

Mrs. Cole Porter Writing

I’ve been blogging a lot lately, just not here on WordPress. I’ve been using Pinterest and Tumblr for quick posts. The interfaces are simple, and the stakes are low because not a lot of people follow me there.

What am I blogging about? Well, they aren’t “essay-like” blog posts, as you are used to here. These are more visual, like a bulletin board or scrapbook. Or they’re more utilitarian, like a ledger. That’s why I don’t think to share them here on the Big Thing.

A few years ago, I went to an exhibit at the Morgan Library on diaries. I was especially interested in how artists use them.

I spent a lot of time looking at the writing journal John Steinbeck kept as he wrote The Grapes of Wrath. Here’s a great post from Austin Kleon’s blog about that.

steinbeckI want to hold myself accountable, too, like Steinbeck did. That’s why I started this little Tumblr blog called Every Day I Write the Book.

I also use Tumblr (and Pinterest) like scrapbooks. A place to archive the images and maps I find.

Sometimes I just reblog a picture.

Sometimes I add a picture to a scrapbook I keep for Linda.

Sometimes I make digital scrapbooks comprised of images and maps of one particular place, like Villa Trianon.

The pages I’ve been writing this week are set at Villa Trianon, and I look at these pictures to sort of “will” myself into that time and place.

exterior villa

I suppose it’s no different from cutting something out of a magazine and pasting it down so that you can go back and look at it later.

If you’ve seen Somewhere in Time, you know what I’m talking about.

Sometimes I do more than just clip images. I actually start writing about what they mean to me. Proto blog posts. Like this one on the so-called “classic” look.

In this article, Edwidge Danticat talks about how she creates bulletin boards so that she can see her ideas and the images that inspire her, as well as the overall plot structure.

That’s what I’m doing, too, I guess, except my bulletin board is digital. And share-able.

But this research can’t overtake the actual writing. Instead, I play with my bulletin board/scrapbooks as a way into the writing or when it’s time to take a break from writing–instead of smoking. (The urge to do so has been strong lately for some reason.)

I’ve also been watching period dramas to keep myself thinking in the past.

  • A Room with a View, both the 2007 and 1986 versions
  • Ridicule
  • Austenland
  • My Immortal Beloved
  • The Other Boleyn Girl
  • A Royal Affair
  • The King’s Speech
  • Agora

Another way that I will myself into the past isn’t digital at all. I read books that were published at the time I’m writing about. Right now, I’m reading a novel by the Duchess of Sutherland, who was a friend of Linda’s. It’s not very good, but the book smells old, the details are marvelous, and it definitely transports me into that milieu.

 

If you have any other suggestions for me, let me know. Good luck with your own writing projects. Thanks, as always, for reading.

[And so ends today’s writing warm ups. Time to start writing for real.]