31 December 2014

year-end clearance

I spent December digesting what I learned from my November, my mini-NaNoWriMo. In that month, I wrote around 25,000 words, which is only half of the true NaNo goal, but that was fine because I said, quite truthfully, it wasn't my aim to get the full fifty. But I plugged away, and with a correct sort of dedication, and I thought I was really getting somewhere.

In true keeping with my process, what I understood at the month's end was that I'd written most of that chunk simply in order to find the starting place I really needed. From what I'd done in November, I kept some broad strokes—conceptual, plot-based things—and bundled the rest safely into a holding pen with the rest of the false starts.

I've spent this second half of December restarting, again. I want to say that this, this is the correct starting point, but that will only jinx me.


At the end of November and into the beginning of December, just as the semester's end was approaching in its whirlwind wind-up-cool-down push-pull that it always is, I read Eleanor Catton's The Luminaries and was saved, as I have been before, by reading the exact right book at the exact right time. I set one of those reading goals on Goodreads last year, a target number of books to read, and I didn't make it. I don't know if I'll set a target number this year, but I think I will finally settle back down with The Greenlanders because Catton gave me back that thirst for good, big books.


I will probably end up making some manner of resolutions post sooner rather than later, because I like that kind of thing, even when it's predictably ineffective. The hope is sustaining, for a little while, and I've learned that I can talk myself into recreating it again, usually in mid-February, and again toward the end of April, and so on. It's cyclical in my life, the energy for positive change, and I'm starting to recognize that wheel better. (It's a bit ironic that it's taken me this long, being a medievalist and being well-acquainted with Fortune's Wheel and all that, but, well, forests, trees, visually obstructive noses, and so forth.) 

Some of the upswing is mandatory: the spring semester begins in slightly less than two weeks, and there's much to be done between now and then. The resolution game, the cycle, is also part of a scheme to use well the time that I have. My spring usually includes two conferences, the all-absorbing AWP and the smaller, quieter CEA, both of which give me opportunities to present my creative and pedagogical work, to test things out with an audience of comfortable peers. Due to an overabundance of enthusiasm in the fall, I'm also adding NeMLA and the Kalamazoo Medieval Congress to present some new Anglo-Saxon scholarship. All four of these events take place in a six-week span, which overlaps with the last five weeks of the spring semester. The timing isn't exactly ideal, but it's exciting (and a little terrifying) and I will start the rituals for good weather then right now.


Tonight, we're celebrating the turn of the New Year pretty quietly at home, though I am going to make lamb chops for the first time, and individual chocolate cakes with dulce de leche because David Lebovitz has never steered me wrong.

23 November 2014

nostalgia and big stories

There's lots of talk about Dragon Age: Inquisition this week, and while I don't anticipate playing that particular title, it did get me thinking about video games, and every time I think about video games, I think about the Final Fantasy series. It usually happens that I want to immerse myself in an RPG when the weather gets cold, and right now, I'm thinking of Final Fantasy XII. It's not a perfect game, mostly because SquareEnix made the choice to tell the story through another whiny teenage narrator (paging Tidus from FFX) instead of one of the real hearts of the story, but the trappings of it are still so full of imaginative potential that I'll forgive it most things.

It was, too, one of the games that I think wrung every drop of the PS2's graphics ability from the system, and it had a marvelously expansive world. Many people don't want to sink a hundred hours into a video game, but I definitely do, when I play. The difference may be that I don't play often (and I don't play often because I want that expansive, all-encompassing experience, which is completely incompatible with the semester-as-usual + writing a novel). But a well-envisioned world—complete with a thousand side-quests and a well-defined map—is something I will always love. (And, Square, if you're listening, I'd still go see the movie version, from the Fall of Landis all the way through the game's end, at least a dozen times, so you know. And Chris Hemsworth will soon be the right age to play Basch. Just saying.)

Maybe that's why I finally picked up Eleanor Catton's The Luminaries, which I got for Christmas last year. I'm not terribly far into it, but I'm already feeling the insulating fiction of it all wrapping around me. Quite a bit of that, I'm certain, is due to the really excellent deployment of an omniscient narrator that has effectively sold me on the 1866 setting. The omniscient narrator, too, has revealed itself as a we, the full identity of such we remaining to be seen. The world of the novel is unfolding slowly and deliciously, and even where some of the character dialogue is predicated on them drawing stories out of each other, it feels appropriate.

I feel awed so few pages in, and I hope the feeling continues.

I'm not sure it was a great idea to start a book of more than eight hundred pages when I've got a Thanksgiving break coming up with a very tall stack of grading in it coming up, but I've made worse decisions.

16 November 2014

halfway to something

It's mid-November, and for all of the folks diligently plugging away with National Novel Writing Month, that means 25,000 words. Maybe it means having reached that mark and a little bit of triumph or a sense of security against less productive days or weeks. Maybe it means a renewed sense of determination to catch up to that fleet wordcount bird. Whatever it means, NaNo swabbers, sail on.

In the first sixteen days, I do have a count for what I've done so far: a little more than 18,000 words. Like I said before, I'm not really trying to hit the 50K mark in earnest, and I'm certainly not aiming for a complete draft, but simply having the everyday connection to the project has made a huge difference. I've even hit the point at which I get impatient for the next bout of writing as soon as the current day's is over.

One cost of that is feeling like I'm wishing time away, something I try very hard not to do. For one, time is already speeding along, every year seemingly faster than the last, and while in a conversation with the young woman who cuts my hair, we decided that every year feels that way. Every year is going to feel that way. There is no point at which the clock finally seems to settle. For the other, I need those daytime hours; it's mid-November, the tipping point of the semester.

(I actually counted the other day: we have only twelve more actual class days before finals week. It doesn't bear thinking about.)

Though the leaves are still stubbornly sticking here and there in thick clumps of gold and red—a stubbornness I much appreciate—there's no pretending there's much autumnal left. Some Thursday "raindrops" drifted down and spattered small crystals across the windshield, and some high enough hilltop nearby sent out cars dusted white on Friday morning.

I talk about the weather all the time. I complain about it, too, because I'm always cold, the kind of cold that doesn't warm up, no matter how many layers I add, no matter how I move. But even when the weather is hot and lovely, even when the weather is so room-temperature benign that the very air is beige, I want to speak of it. It fascinates me. Maybe, too, at this time of the year, I want to make conversation from it and find what's interesting in the alchemy of moisture and temperature and the wind's list so I won't hate it so much. If I'm busy looking at how the first wet flakes fracture, I'm not as busy feeling something shiver loose in my chest. Every year is a struggle not to lose each long night entirely. I try, again, to take Annie Dillard in her winter at Pilgrim Creek to heart:
It is winter proper; the cold weather, such as it is, has come to stay. I bloom indoors in the winter like a forced forsythia; I come in to come out. At night I read and write, and things I have never understood become clear; I reap the harvest of the rest of the year’s planting. 
There's nothing that will get me to write at night, I think, but the same happens in the chill, dark mornings, when the only sounds are sleepy cats moving to take my warm spot on the bed and the shower kicking on in the next apartment. Some days, too, what blooms in that cold morning space grows on through the day, picking its way clear in the minutes between meetings or while I drink an afternoon tea. It's important to remember: the novel is both greenhouse and plant, as am I.

09 November 2014

achieving some greater better

Earlier this week, my commute-music shuffle dropped Southeast Engine's "Try" on me, and so I'm stealing their lyrics for a title and a jumping off point here.

Because I graduated from Ohio University in 2005, it wasn't possible even for me to miss that Southeast Engine existed, and I saw them play live, I think at Casa Nueva. More importantly, I left Athens with one of their CDs, Coming to Terms with Gravity, and though I haven't really kept up with them since, I'm always glad to hear them (like on NPR's Mountain Stage). 

While I was driving, it was misty, as so many of this autumn's mornings have been, and I thought a bit on my time in Athens, where the fog rolled in off the Hocking in similar white waves. As an M.A. student, I definitely did my work and kept my head down. While there, I certainly had some great classes and professors and some marvelous colleagues, some of whom are still among my favorite people, but I stuck to my comfort zone, wrote the short stories my workshops expected. Despite having the opportunity to take workshops in creative non-fiction and poetry, I just couldn't take the chance at doing so. What if I was terrible? I'd written essays and poems as an undergraduate, had gone through rather rigorous workshops with exacting and inspiring professors, but I definitely didn't identify as an essayist or as a poet, and so I couldn't gather up the bravery to make the leap. I was only there for two years; what right did I have to encroach on another genre's territory?

When I got to my Ph.D. program in Binghamton, I did stretch myself at least so far as to take a poetry workshop, but it was largely generative, rather than with an intense critique component. So I wrote poems, and I shared them aloud, and when the semester was over, I put them away and didn't think about them again. 

Then I got a job in Wyoming, and maybe because I was teaching multiple genres of writing to my students, maybe because I didn't have to answer to a workshop anymore, maybe because no one was going to grade my attempts, maybe because of the high altitude—whatever the reason, I wrote a few poems. I wrote some essays. I found the guts to pitch a few essays, and then to simply submit, and someone even asked me to write a piece

And so I've gone along, up to my elbows in two novel manuscripts (one finished, one not), and still sometimes writing other things, while the novel percolates, while a draft rests, or when I simply can't not write the somethings else. 

In the past several days, it's been the somethings else that have brought the most exciting news. 

A poem I wrote while at the American Antiquarian Society was selected as the Writer's Block Poetry Contest winner. The judge was Rebecca Morgan Frank, founder and editor of Memorious, and I'm just so pleased about it. The poem will appear in a future issue of Memorious. In the meantime, you can read an interview about the poem at the Louisville Literary Arts/Writer's Block blog.

An essay I'd been working on for more than a year, too, was published at The Rumpus. "Leaving Early" was churned out of an experience I had while actually gathering material for my Brandon Nimmo/Sand Gnats piece. The essay is about baseball, sort of, though it's more about fear and living in the world. "Leaving Early" also makes use of something I read while I was at Ohio University in David Lazar's History of the Essay course, which seems strangely fitting, given my own cowardice when it came to actually signing up for one of David's essay workshops.

I'm still pretty peeved with myself for not taking better advantage of those other writing experiences I might have had when I was younger, simply because I didn't want to fail, didn't want to risk a B on my transcript. But I don't have to be myself at twenty-two or twenty-five anymore, and I'm glad I sent this work into the world. I'm glad it's getting easier to simply write without worrying about what it means that I have written X or Y or Z. I'm glad it's easier to simply write. I'm glad, too, that these things found homes. I'm starting to feel the same. 

02 November 2014

time warp!

This week seems like a good time to post about my own daily time warping, given the overnight clock shenanigans.

Around midday on Tuesday, I was finishing up class prep for my English Literature I class and I'd just done some reading for a conference paper I'm working on. Early that morning, I'd spent my writing time on my novel, and it was very much an ordinary type of Tuesday, a good Tuesday, one in which I'd felt I used my time wisely and well, on the whole. Still, there was something big and breathless-feeling in my brain, everything just trying to catch up—to what, I wasn't sure.

It took longer than I'd like to admit to figure it out: it was just trying to get settled in crossing eight hundred years of historical context and detail in the space of six hours. My novel is set in the early eighteenth century, and the process is immersive, drawing on the huge body of research I collected at the American Antiquarian Society this summer, and I've been mentally hanging out there for a good long while now. When I got to my office, before the building really started buzzing with activity, I settled in with a volume of conference proceedings on eleventh-century Archbishop Wulfstan. I spent about two hours switching my brain over to Old English and the niceties of transition between Æthelred and Canute, as well as the particular language of academe. (I tend to think medievalists avoid some of the worst lit-crit buzzword bingo offenses, but as I'm not a professionally trained linguist, I bring my own set of challenges to this kind of reading. Luckily, I also bring my OED.) After that, I put together class notes for our first day discussing Shakespeare's Twelfth Night, easily my favorite play, and though those came together rather quickly and happily, there was that final gasping feeling.

I wrote a quick e-mail to a friend, essentially making a joke about the temporal whiplash I was feeling. It's not new for me—my teaching responsibilities have always meant switching between time periods and subject matter, and working both as a creative writer and a literary scholar demands that, too—but I don't think I've ever been doing work so tightly pinpointed and demanding in such diverse periods before. My last novel project was contemporary; while I definitely did some research, I felt pretty well qualified in describing clothing and hair and food in twenty-first century America. When I dabbled in medieval studies, that was the only leap I was making at the time, and that certainly fed into the medieval lit course I was teaching at the time. The novel before that, my dissertation, was set in the same period as my scholarship: more Anglo-Saxon England, but that was half a decade ago, and I wasn't confronting a whole new set of texts.

Still, despite the strange flurry in my brain most of the time, the interplay of times and topics is helpful to me, particularly to my teaching, because this particular cocktail of timelines keeps me very mindful of the connections between history and literature and the evolution thereof. And, for better or worse, they're sparking other connections, especially in my creative writing. The next-novel queue is a firm four texts deep, and I'm actively adding to their Evernote catch-all files whenever I encounter something helpful.

Earlier today, I was making fun of myself and my inability to sort interesting things into just one box because I'd found a somewhat snarky response to Wulfstan from Ælfric. It might be useful for my scholarly project, but I was more interested in it as a dramatized moment, and I filed it away because it might be particularly relevant to Second-Novel-in-the-Queue. Still, it's easy for me to overwhelm myself.

Having a good system to hold onto those diverse pieces helps. I use Evernote. I also have physical notebooks for certain projects, and I make a point to transfer whatever handwritten bits and pieces end up in my daily everything journal to some electronic source because I spent way too much time during the last move dutifully typing up hundreds of scraps. (Though laborious, it was better than the prospect of hauling another box of paper up to a third floor apartment.)

What do you use to keep track of these things? Do you follow the Joan Didion admonition to keep a notebook, even if it's digital? Or do you trust that the most important things will stick in memory, that if they're really the lightning flash they feel like at first, they'll stay burned in the brain?

26 October 2014

a work in progress

By the week's end, it will be November. Writers the world around are gathering themselves for National Novel Writing Month, and I, like I've done for years, am circling it. I've already started my new novel, and it doesn't fit into the 50,000-word template. I know my own process well enough to know that trying to bash through beginning to end in thirty days isn't going to work. I write big, then pare down, and that takes time. The National Novel Writing Month frenzy isn't about writing big—it's about finishing a draft. I'm not worried anymore about not finishing. 

But, like I've said before, I'm a huge fan of getting high off everyone else's NaNoWriMo fumes, and I'm always in favor of energy turned toward writing.

The novel I'm working on now was revolutionized during my time at the American Antiquarian Society, and I've spent a good bit of the writing time since my residency re-envisioning it. Some of that is in my mind: having to think of a novel with a different opening and some different central premises than those it's had for two years is difficult, and having so much more—and better—research in the balance is having similar effects. Some of it is quite literal: I'm setting up this project in Scrivener because of the sheer amount of research I gathered and because Scrivener allows me to see all of the pieces that I need to see at once. I can also hide things when I don't need to see them, and I can do it all without the kind of window-swapping rage inducement Word causes me. (Also, my last manuscript in Word started to take nearly twenty seconds for each save, during which I couldn't continue working. Yes, it was long, but just a pile of perfectly plain text should never require so much fuss. Thus far, with more than a hundred pages of notes and so on, I've had no such issues with Scrivener.)

Apologies for the software commercial, but this project is quite different from my last. The cast of characters is still gargantuan, but the timeline is a challenge, and since the work is historical, making sure I don't get things flat-out wrong is important to me. But the real reason I'm sharing this now, on the edge of the NaNo bubble, is that the energy devoted to that novel-in-a-month project does get at something I've been thinking about a lot with this project: consistency. Presence. And I think of Annie Dillard and one of my favorite passages from The Writing Life:

A work in progress quickly becomes feral. It reverts to a wild state overnight. It is barely domesticated, a mustang on which you one day fastened a halter, but which now you cannot catch. It is a lion you cage in your study. As the work grows, it gets harder to control; it is a lion growing in strength. You must visit it every day and reassert your mastery over it. If you skip a day, you are, quite rightly, afraid to open the door to its room. You enter its room with bravura, holding a chair at the thing and shouting, "Simba!"
A project like this really does go feral overnight. I've already found that to be true, even when the time away from the actual writing part was productive (actually giving the work time and thought to reconsider its structure) and necessary (packing, moving, starting a new job). The details drift away, and the details, for me, are everything. The every day necessity of NaNo, the staying-in-the-room, helps to keep that wildness in check.

It's also much more difficult to be scared of or intimidated by a large project if I'm seeing it every day. A week into it, the sense of even writing a novel fades away. It's simply spending time with people I like. I can see the work growing, and the work becomes its own living thing, a plant to water, rather than a finish line to reach. Yes, the NaNo push is toward a very definitive finish line of fifty thousand words and a full draft, but the writer who can hang onto the NaNo habit even after reaching that line (or despite not reaching it) will be able to keep the project in hand.

In the coming weeks, use the ambient writing push to help you. You don't have to sign up. You don't have to be a novelist. You don't have to do fifty thousand words of anything. But show up to your keyboard or notebook or recorder. The thrill's in the air. Breathe.

19 October 2014

"such is the bread of an everyday life, from morning till noon, to the shadowless night"

In having an actual commute again, I'm listening to more music than I've done in a long time. My general inability to read or write while listening to music is something I may have mentioned here before, so I tend not to listen to much of anything except while driving or working out and sometimes while cleaning or cooking. Now, I have at least an hour each day to listen, which means mostly that I put my entire collection of music (which is not very large, admittedly, only something like two thousand songs) on shuffle and let it go. Most days it means a pleasingly varied bump from Dvořák to The Dreadnoughts, Mediæval Bæbes to Melody Gardot. Sometimes, my iPod seems to want to make a point, slipping from the random algorithm to something that feels suspiciously like surreptitious DJing, playing two or three songs from a single artist in a row, settling in on a genre for most of the drive. Friday morning was one such morning, when the device settled in on Flogging Molly for a bit, and I kept coming back to this track, "Rebels of the Sacred Heart."

It's been a long time since I listened to Flogging Molly with any singular verve. I thank them for being my introduction to something kind of like Celt-punk, which I continue to love, for being the first live show I attended with a mosh pit, for being a band that traveled in my ears when I went to Edinburgh by myself more than a decade ago. I don't even have their newest album, though I might have to get it after this post, which has made me miss them. 

"Rebels" isn't even one of my favorite tracks, but on Friday morning, Dave King's blunt imprecision charmed me. Most of the words have a broad finial of -ah, perhaps best heard in the opening lines, no matter whether it seems to make sense, and there's not a clean th- to be heard, all of them rounded into d-. Even after the playlist carried on, my mind repeated, ah well—such iz da bread uff an evryday life, with the kind of obsessive return that I couldn't help but think of Anders in Tobias Wolff's "Bullet in the Brain." The sounds were wonderful and almost silly and from so far away in memory and experience, from a much younger and more naive self, albeit one who was a little more attuned to popular music, who bought albums on their release dates (not the me who missed the last two albums from this band entirely). And those sounds were from right then, that second, when I was also literally thinking of bread, thick, good, brown bread, full of a dozen kinds of seeds and grains, which I'd had for breakfast, which I would also have for lunch. And I was thinking of the expectations of whatever one's everyday life might be. 

For me, on Friday, my everyday life brought me my morning writing, some student conferences, some scholarly reading, and administering the reader review session for the student papers I'll spend this week grading. I assigned the work to my classes; my only expectation must be that I will also read and comment and return that work. I think also of expectation as it is tinged with hope: that my students will surprise me, again with their care and their insight; that my writing projects will find homes. It is, on the whole, incredibly evryday, incredibly predictable.

I was also thinking about hockey and the expectations therein because on Thursday night, when Pascal Dupuis was struck on the back of the neck by a Kris Letang shot, expectation and fear and all of that came crashing together. Mostly, I was worried. Dupuis was taken off the ice on a stretcher, and no matter his thumbs-up to the crowd on his way out, it was scary. I remember last season when he was taken off the ice with his destroyed knee, and this season how he started, somehow, with every bit of the expected hop in his skates. That made the possible outcomes sadder: how unfair to be injured again after most of a year spent rehabbing another major hurt. Early on Friday morning, though, my concern was mostly about general wellness—there'd been no update at all. Yes, Dupuis had moved his legs. Yes, he lifted his arm. Neither of those things constituted anything like real reassurance.

I don't think players and fans consider injury "expected"—not major injuries, anyway. The little ones, like bloodied mouths and missing teeth and puck bruises and soreness, fall under some other heading. They're inevitable, which is not the same as expected. In some ways, those little things are part of the "everyday bread." Soreness comes of working hard; puck bruises might mean a successfully blocked shot. And those kinds of small hurts are the ones fans celebrate. I'm as guilty of it as anyone, feeling somehow proud of the late October game last season when Dupuis popped two teeth out of his own mouth while sitting on the bench between shifts, and on Saturday night, when Evgeni Malkin laid out to get a stick on the puck carried by a breaking Travis Hamonic. 

Thankfully, by lunchtime on Friday, the news was that Dupuis was skating already, well enough to be under consideration for Saturday night's lineup. On Saturday night, he logged nearly sixteen minutes of solid play against the Islanders. It wasn't a four-point performance like his work against the Ducks in the Penguins' opener, but it was really all right for a player who'd been stretchered off the ice forty-eight hours before. What I'd expected from that image wasn't what I'd received, and I find myself incredibly grateful. More and more, each time I watch a sporting event, I am grateful when nothing catastrophic happens. I willfully forget what I know can happen, so I can celebrate the good that I am seeing: Patric Hornqvist in front of the net, Malkin finding his shot, Pascal Dupuis standing beside Dan Potash between periods on Saturday night, upright, catching his breath, awkwardly accepting well-wishes from his favorite target for jokes. 

On Friday, I put bites of cheddar on small chunks of bread, and I read the updates from practice at Consol Energy Center. I played the song again at my desk, and for a little while, I chewed, and I listened, and I was grateful.

06 October 2014

give me stitches

I have the luxury of being able to write this from the sweatpants-clad comfort of fall break. For two days, students are (theoretically) able to study and prepare for the mid-term onslaught, and professors are (theoretically) able to grade and prepare for the same. I've been doing my part, trundling pretty happily through English literature exams and Beowulf papers and composition papers predicated on students arguing for which single track to include on a Golden Record single. (The idea for that paper came after reading Elena Passarello's essay "Space Oddity," in Let Me Clear My Throat.) It's good reading, especially when I get to learn about new music, and extra-especially in these occasions:
In the in-between, I've slept more than I usually do, and I've watched as much baseball as I can, and I've knit. I'm reaching the point on a project I've been working on for more than a year where it is actually becoming itself. For all of my various organizational obsessions, I'm a poorly organized knitter. I don't plan yarn purchases for specific projects. I have a Ravelry queue of more than a hundred patterns, and I can safely say I'm not really intending to knit most of them. So when I began the Virelai Ancien wrap, it was mostly an experiment in ridiculousness, and I more or less accepted that it was going to pattern on in shifting shades of blue and green forever. But I've finally reached the end of the colors I had put aside for it, and I'm very nearly ready to begin the border. I'm still trying to decide on what I'll do around the edge—surely black—but it's reaching that point where the edging is becoming a reality. It's something I'll need to do soon. And like the process of finishing a novel draft, once the end came into sight, I felt this barreling feeling. I couldn't stop.

an entrelac blanket in various shades of blue and green
Entrelac. All of the entrelac.
Which meant that I've probably spent something close to thirty hours knitting since I came home on Friday, which is roughly 1000% more knitting than I usually do in a given three-day span. Which has precipitated me needing to dig out the wrist braces I bought back in the dissertation days.

hand in a wrist brace atop a book
Andrea Barrett's story collection, Archangel, is pretty great, though.
I'm wearing them now, and I wore them as I graded this morning, fully anticipating that I will spend all of the night's MLB playoff action knitting. I will do that even though I know it's going to hurt—
(Read this by Kyle Beachy wherein he talks about pain and acknowledgement far more gracefully and pointedly than I do here.)
—and tomorrow, when I have another morning of typing and grading ahead of me. At night, I will put my hand under my pillow because the weight of my head holds my wrist flat, and the eventual warmth will feel good. And I will probably knit more tomorrow because I'm close to the end and I'm excited, and the project isn't of such a complex nature that I'd screw it up by continuing to work on it.

The barreling feeling gets me in trouble at the end of writing projects. I finished a draft of a short story today, and I wasn't even out of the shower before I figured out that I'd rushed the ending. I made myself spend longer on breakfast, making a Fancy Coffee in my own kitchen (because leftover salted caramel and some frothed milk never hurt anyone) and eating my toast before I went back to the computer. I fixed it then, and there was still that heady little buzz of finished finished! when I closed the file and got on with today's grading.

The story is short by my usual standards, just over 3,000 words, and I'm doing my best to wait at least a day before looking at it again. Wisdom says I should wait longer. If a story is a small wound—and for me, they usually are, painful in so many ways—I should let the whole thing heal, wait for the work's edges to become whole before I look again. Then I'll see what's gone right and what might need to be opened again, where the stitches went awry.

26 September 2014

in good company

For a good part of the time I was in Casper, I was lucky to have knitting friends, and friends who didn't knit but who liked to get together with good food and conversation who weren't bothered by the constant twitch of yarn and needles. Still, I did—and do—most of my yarn-based pursuits in private, usually in my living room, while watching baseball and hockey. It's something to do with my hands that simultaneously justifies the act of watching and is a pleasure in and of itself. I don't knit a whole lot in public, though, and while I love to talk about it, I don't tend to do so unless I know I have a like-minded conversation partner.

On Saturday, I attended a meeting of the Cocoa Area Fiber Enthusiasts at the Hershey Public Library, where I had the distinct pleasure to spend nearly three hours in the company of people who are not only knitters but also spinners, dyers, felters, weavers, crocheters, and so on. Many of the participants also expressed interest in other creative pursuits: paper-making, historical crafting practices, dichroic glass-making, quilting, and on and on. Through the midday, we worked on our projects and talked pretty exclusively about similar creative pursuits, showing off current projects and older ones.

14 September 2014

variations on a leaf

I turned on the heat in my car the other morning as I drove to campus, and I have worn jackets. But this leaf was on the apartment complex sidewalk while neighbors still sweltered poolside, I took the photo because the leaf is lovely, peach-tinted instead of aflame. But I didn't notice the piece of dead grass lying atop it, and I didn't want to pick it up and press it flat between book-pages because I didn't want its loveliness. I never want fall. It comes anyway.

My days are bookended by thirty minutes in the car, which is new. I listen to music, setting my digitized music collection to shuffle, and while I drive, every musical whim I've had confronts me. Sometimes the randomization creates patterns—three and four songs by the same artist in a single drive, out of hundreds of artists and two thousand single tracks—and I sink into when and where and everything is fleeting. The player is set to fade tracks in and out, so the beginning of one song overlaps with the end of the previous, partly for the unexpected juxtapositions, but mostly to avoid flat air.

There isn't much music I've ever grown out of. Some things fade out of intentional listening patterns, but when the music I loved best at ten and fourteen and twenty-four cues up, I usually let it play. When there are too many things to think, often on Monday mornings and Wednesday evenings, I turn the music louder and louder and it isn't until I park that it seems far too loud.

I drive with the windows open. I remember that I actually like the smell of skunk, and I remember how close the scents of manure and earth and drying cornstalks. With the windows open, sometimes bits of leaf and chaff blow in, sometimes rain.

Sometimes the air here smells like melting chocolate and roasted almonds, but I still only want to eat peaches, all summer-tasting and sunrise-hued, the colors of this heatmapped leaf. 

There's no sense in me saying not yet. Waiting until I'm ready only means dead time between tracks.

10 August 2014


On Friday, July 11, Stymie Magazine founding editor Erik Smetana announced that Stymie will be closing its doors after rolling out a few last accepted pieces. This makes me sad, not only because a great journal that published a lot of things I enjoyed reading, but also because Stymie Magazine helped me as a writer in ways I am still figuring out.

In 2012, Stymie published a story I wrote during my MA program, a story called "Middle Infield." It's a story I loved writing, one of the first (and still few) short stories that came off the keyboard in any way that felt easy, natural, purposeful. [For me, a good short story is the hardest thing in the world to write.] And it was a story that came from bits and pieces of life, and it was a story that I also wrote about. I was so incredibly happy when "Middle Infield" found a home; for whatever reason, it was the publication that made me feel most like a writer up to that point. More likely, it was a publication that came when I really needed to feel that way—three years into a demanding new job, a job I loved but also a job that could have easily swallowed my writing whole. I was in the middle of a novel draft then, too, trying to finish while also trying to teach five classes and run a literary festival, and that acceptance came at one of the times where it was hard to see the end of the draft, hard to see how any of it would work.

In the end, it did work. I finished the draft before Christmas of that year. I submitted all of the literary festival grant evaluations on time. I did my best work for my students. I had reasons not to write, but I wrote anyway, and I know that story helped that happen.

There are weeks like this one—these past ones—where life, generally, threatens to consume all of that, anyway. All writers go through periods where the world is full of completely sane, reasonable reasons not to write. In the current month, I have a 2000-mile move, a house to sell, an apartment to settle into, a new office to unpack, new classes to plan, family I've been away from for half a decade to see—all things I can point to as functional reasons that the carefully cultivated habit is off the rails. Most mornings, I still put myself in my desk chair. I'm two hours later than I should be; I'm easily distracted by the internet, my phone, the oddments that are never going to have a proper place in this apartment; my cupboards are in the wrong places; my tea takes longer to make; the cats are not in the places I'm used to looking for them. Who hasn't sung this song before?

I'm trying to be gentler with myself (in this hour, at least—this morning was a different story); there can be quieter writing times, smaller progresses. Invisible progresses. Internal percolation. Something.

Yesterday, we drove the hour and change home—
(a place I still clearly don't know how to name because home is this apartment in Hershey, so close to the park that I can see the Kissing Tower from the living room and all of these summer days are written over with rollercoaster screams and the soft whistle of the park train, home is where that desk chair is where I sit and don't write but want to, but home is also where we did our growing up, the same school district, where family is, but there is the house in Wyoming, now empty and waiting but for five years, it wasn't, was home and where we had our other family, the family we choose, and how many homes can one person hold in one heart?)
—and we spent a few hours with my husband's family, and then a few hours with mine, and then we came back to Hershey in time to watch the last outs of the Phillies' game. The drive takes just over an hour by one possible route or nearly ninety minutes by another. We drove through old coal country; we took a road called Gold Mine that turned hairpins here and there and crossed the Appalachian Trail twice. It was green and steep and quiet. We passed a man on a tractor, and we waved, but we forgot about our Wyoming license plates and he looked at us strangely.

When Stymie accepted my story, it felt like someone waving back. It was that acceptance in Stymie, a literary journal that took sports and sport-related content seriously, that gave me the confidence to make my first pitch to The Classical. It was almost six months later, but there was something residual there, something that helped to give me a little more permission to take myself seriously. That's another lifelong struggle, artistically, that's neither here nor there at the moment, but sometimes the feeling crystallizes enough to break off a piece, hold it in my hand, and feel yes, this. Sometimes the feeling has enough weight to throw.

So thank you, Stymie, and Kari, Matt, Julie, Erik, and the other many people who've had a hand in making Stymie Magazine everything it was for readers and for writers. Thank you for asking me to write for your Why I Write feature, too, because now is one of those times when I really need to remember.

06 July 2014

of the nature and use of maps

I spent another month churning miles under my tires, and in two more weeks, I'll do it again. The first leg of my into-June journey was, of course, arriving at the American Antiquarian Society (preceded by a quick tour of apartments in the Hershey area so we have a place to sleep when we head east at July's end). And, since no fellowship lasts forever, I had to leave Massachusetts and go into the west (but only for a little while). I spent a long time agonizing about my route back to Casper. Because the trip east at the end of May and the trip east again at the end of July need to be the most efficient versions (the first for available time and the second because my two cats will be miserable enough in the car), I wanted to see something I hadn't seen before, and so I buzzed north into Canada, skirting Georgian Bay and the western edge of Lake Huron. I drove through Whitby, Ontario the morning after James Neal had been traded to Nashville, and I thought about Nealer, and I hope(d) that some day he'll mature into the human being his hair deserves. If he (and Nashville, mostly because of Pekka Rinne and completely despite Laviolette) do good this season, I'll be happy about it. 

Mostly, though, as I drove north by roads slightly less traveled, I thought I should have gotten a map. I wrote down my directions dutifully before I left Massachusetts, as my phone GPS wouldn't help me in Canada, but I only wrote down the distances between turns when they were really tight. As a result, I spent most of my time on ON-12N being certain I'd missed something, but I hadn't, and then I passed Lake Simcoe, which was so beautiful in the late afternoon sunlight, all blue sky and glitter, that I actually swore at it. (With love, Canada, so much love.)

title page of A Short Account of the Nature and Use of Maps
The title page to William Ailingham's 1703 A Short Account of the Nature and Use of Maps. The red ink is just fantastic.
In my route through Ontario, I didn't get into any new provinces, which made me sad. My first choice for my route to Worcester was actually to go north through Fargo and Winnipeg and finally have a good reason to drive through Manitoba, but that was before I knew I was going to be moving. That route is about fifty hours of driving, all told, and as much as I wanted to, I couldn't really justify adding at least two more days to my travel time when I'd already been gone for almost six weeks and there was everything to pack. Since last summer and the perfect days on the Gaspé Peninsula, I wanted to see more of Canada, particularly the parts I wouldn't necessarily have other reason to see. Several people told me there was no real point in taking the route I'd taken, that there wasn't much there to see.

mention of a report of an exploration of Gaspe
Even the 1714 Calendar of State Papers attests that Gaspé is a draw.
If you judge from my camera roll, I didn't see anything. I didn't take any photos–I was driving solo and trying to make good time with my persistence since I'm not much for making good time with speed. By most standards, too, I didn't see anything "special"–no particular landmarks, as I remember (save a sign informing me that Orillia is the hometown of Glenn Gould). But I saw lake after lake, pool after pool stretching out on either side of the highway, shadowed here and there by trees. All the way up ON-400, cairns of small stones peppered the roadside cliffs, marking the presence of adventurous and climbsome visitors. I saw a place I wanted to come back to, and the tricks of sunshine and my mosquito-free cockpit probably painted a rosier picture than the reality, but that doesn't particularly matter. New places are always more inviting for their newness, for the greens and golds and granite grays that are never quite like those I left.

small sketch of a sailing ship
A small ship sketch on a 1688 map of exactly this part of the world, though a bit out of currently known proportions. Never has anything made me want a tattoo more than this map and its small ships.
During my time at the AAS, I looked at a lot of maps, inked on three-hundred-year-old paper and folded down into tidy, in-volume references that could spring into another level of detail for the accounts they contained, and I looked at one rather large French map, from 1688, that was lovingly hand-detailed, the interior margins of waterways inked a pale blue. Little ships, like the one above, sailed in the little-known parchment seas.

Marbled end-papers of John Oldmixon's 1708 British Empire in America.
The history of these maps and books and what they contain, recorded and elided, is more often violent and heartbreaking than not, because those are the wages of colonialism, and wonder is frequently coupled with disgust or fear. It's impossible to forget that. Most of my research saw me elbows-deep in the various ways human beings can be wretched to each other, wittingly and unwittingly, and I spent a lot of time, I think, investing myself in the objects of study as a way to maintain some distance and maybe, maybe, to find some hope. These small sketched ships, the marbled end-papers–these I read like those cairns, small and perhaps unspectacular and not quite secret, but still as invitations to notice, to step a little further in.

16 June 2014


I think I watched six minutes of Game Four of the Stanley Cup Final, and that was the balance of the end of hockey for me. And that hurts me, somewhere in my hockey heart (damaged goods at the moment, thanks to Pittsburgh's fizzled season and off-season travail).  It's unsettling, too, that I can't quite remember what I've seen. I know, at the end of May, I watched some of Kings-Blackhawks because I was in a small, dark, Dickensianly damp hotel room for a week, but I know also that I fell asleep before any of the games were over. It's all half-memory, scores and highlights and Twitter reactions and forgetting what is first-hand and what is second. It's the same with baseball, though it's a long season and what I'm missing isn't the last firework burst for months.

But I have been seeing a lot. With two weeks of my fellowship now complete, I can say I don't lack for what Annie Dillard calls eye-food. The days are all about diving deep, about filling both lungs with air and fixing a light on the brain, between the eyes, and plunging. Coming up for breath at the end of the day has actually been difficult; the first week, I couldn't. After the archive closed at five (eight p.m. on Wednesdays), I spent nights reading PDFs, something both charming and uncanny in electronic versions of documents three hundred years old. (And painstaking: I discovered that I would much rather turn physical pages than execute the several clicks it requires to advance to the next page and size it to readability, even if that means re-typing large passages of notes instead of digitally highlights or annotating them.)

There have been books, too:

This book, Seamanship, Both in Theory and Practice, has been immensely valuable (not to mention immensely beautiful).

The diagrams are consistently excellent, including this primer on knots (one of several), and it includes written explanations both of the physics of sailing (why sail A on mast X drives the ship in N direction when the wind strikes from Q direction at H force) and how to execute specific maneuvers on-board (like the very particular process of dropping the anchor on a ship of any particular size). If you are going to be time-traveling and expect you may end up in the Age of Sail, or if you are the sort of person who may be marooned on an island where an eighteenth century ship is moored, take David Steel's book with you.

I am very much adrift in the contemporary world right now. There are some lunchtime snippets of World Cup, and President Obama spoke here in Worcester last week and that precipitated some conversation about this city on that particular day, but there is otherwise little talk of here, of now. But everything in this project I am researching feels anchored well, encompassing, whole. It is hard to cope with that sometimes--there are many conversations happening in the places I usually spend my time (both online and in Wyoming and in Pennsylvania) that I know I'm missing and feel I shouldn't--but there are also many conversations here (with actual human beings and texts and the funny writerly place inside my skull) that I would not miss for the world.


And a little plug: my short essay, Final Mica and Final Mare, is the second piece in Narratively's Tales from the Pitch folio in The Beautiful Game feature, in which I wrote about an intercollegiate soccer tournament in Sibiu, Romania.

02 June 2014

Panic early and often.

I've done that thing where I get incredibly precious about posting and thus do not post for months. Working on it. Feeling like I've got something to actually share helps, and all at once, I'm brimming with things.

One, let's start with some excellent, conflicting, perfectly apt advice I've received today. Exhibit A:
"Panic early and often."
Exhibit A was given to me this morning during orientation at the American Antiquarian Society. The person who delivered it was spot on: fellows have an entire month to research; fellows have only a month to research. (The archive, of course, isn't going anywhere, but the point is to do what needs doing now.) That means that one has to be well-organized and pro-active. Don't wait to wade into something--you may need to go deeper than you think. "Panic" here reads as urgency: don't wait. Look now. 

In true and marvelous Madame Clairevoyant fashion, though, my favorite purveyor of horoscopes (and the only one I read because they always contain something I need to hear) offered up Exhibit B: 
Aries: It’s going to be easy to feel like everything is urgent, this week. It’s going to be easy to feel rushed. The world will pick up its pace around you, maybe, and it’s going to require a specific kind of bravery, a strange quiet kind of courage, to move at your own speed, to move slowly and intentionally through even the strangest of days. Try not to let the world chase you off your own path. Try not to let the world make you panic. There’s plenty of time, there’s so much time, there’s all the time you need. ~The Rumpus 
I don't believe in horoscopes in the sense of expecting anything in them to actually come true, but Madame Clairevoyant's whimsical and lovely work strikes the ideal advice-giving balance between koan and fortune cookie: the brush is broad enough, soft enough, to fill in the background behind whatever I'm doing.

And this one is just right. Everything is urgent--but it's up to me to control the rush of it. Nothing has to be rushed. Nothing, dear hobbits, need be hasty. But there is so much: there's this marvelous, overwhelming, exciting residency I've really just begun. I'm working on The Pirate Novel while at the American Antiquarian Society, and there's just so wonderfully much to dive into. But my process is well-organized. The librarians/curators/staff/archive genies/microfilm fae/periodical wizards/map magi are rockstars. All will be well.

And all will be well in time to move. Because I am moving in July, back to green Pennsylvania, to Lebanon Valley College, where I've accepted a position as Assistant Professor of English. It's slightly old news if you follow me anywhere else online, but that's adding to the urgency: I've come to the residency directly from a week spent looking for a place to live in Pennsylvania, and I will leave the residency to finish packing and then do an about-face and drive across the country again. 

There's so much happening--so much good--and everything's so green. There's time.

Lebanon Valley College's McGill Field.

09 March 2014

I Learn All My Best Lessons From Baseball: Revision Edition

A year ago, I was on my way to Scottsdale, AZ, to spend my one-week spring break watching baseball and finishing a revision of my novel. It was a week of heaven.
groundskeepers getting the infield ready
I'm here in my mind.
This spring break, I'm still watching baseball, but it's from my desk, and I'm still working on that novel. This morning, I sketched out all of the things I have to finish this week. The list includes an academic paper revision, a review I promised to do, two grant applications for the Equality State Book Festival, and innumerable small tasks related to said Book Festival. There are other things (remembering how to cook actual food, finishing reading any of the six books I am halfway through, finishing some gifts I am in the process of knitting) that I would certainly like to do, but the others are non-negotiable. March 16 cannot slip past without the first set complete because this life is full of deadlines and some of them actually matter.

This morning, too, I took something off of that list, something that had been on my Spring-Break-Absolutes since last fall. I took "finish the novel revision" off of that list. It's the same novel I was working on last spring break, though it's changed a lot since then (for the better), and idealistic me thought that I'd surely be done with it by now (wherein done means "ready to send it out," really, really ready, not only kind-of-ready like I was last spring and still tried three times, stupidly).

I didn't take it off the list because I don't want to work on it. The opposite is true. I've spent most mornings since January sitting with the manuscript, re-reading, re-considering, understanding the big changes that I've been avoiding. I am getting closer to really understanding it. And I've revised it on self-imposed deadlines twice before. Rushing it at the end is not the thing this book needs. It only took a year to understand that, but understanding it doesn't make it easier to swallow.

Back in February, when I was certainly at the height of the now now now feeling this novel has been causing, someone on Twitter linked a post by Sonya Huber that begins
Your book is taking a long time to write. You see updates on social media about the release of other books, and you get a racing hopeless feeling inside, as if your little book with its million little legs were trying to climb up a mudslide. You have been through this draft so many times. You have been asked how many drafts it takes you to write a book, and you want to say that the answer is really the number of times you thought you were finished, plus one. (read more)
Huber's post gets at what I've been feeling for a year. It's agonizing, feeling like I'm very close to being done, but not being done, and realizing more and more with each revisiting of the manuscript that it deserves better than hurrying. There's a piece of feedback that I need, and there's a slowness that the book needs, a consideration and a deep thinking. Neither of those are going to appear according to a schedule. The week since AWP drove that home.

On Monday morning, I woke up and spent my writing hours organizing my notes and my revision plan. I was doing that in preparation of this week: my plan of attack. How would I approach the revision in a way that would let me get it finished while also finishing the necessary tasks I mentioned earlier? What happened was that, while I was puttering about in Evernote, making checkboxes beside planned edits (so when I made them I could put that little mark in the box--it is so incredibly satisfying and so indicative of why my scheduled process has its pitfalls), I figured out something I hadn't figured out yet about the ending. I did the same thing on Tuesday, just slowly puttering and shifting notes from one file to another, and I understood something else. It happened again on Wednesday. In two hours of slow thinking--not even writing at all--I made more real progress than I had in the two weeks before, at least as far as substantial work goes. Sure, I line-edited and tweaked, but I hadn't learned anything. When I had three mornings to think about the project, clarity came. When I had long days in airports and that post-AWP muteness that makes it hard to say anything, I could hear it. (And I could hear the answer to the hard question I've been asking about a chapter for eighteen months. I've known the answer for six, but I didn't want to listen.)

Writing this novel has taught me more about writing than I was ready to learn, most notably that my process has always been about drafting. I'm only now understanding that my process has to change when it comes to revision. Being goal-oriented is great--when it's time to get the draft out, when the point is to make the words happen in the first place--but it's not the answer for finishing anything.

So maybe, actually, it's good to have last year's trip to Scottsdale on my mind.
Peoria ballpark outfield grass
It wasn't possible to stress out during those games.
Sit in the grass. Take a nap. It's just a game.
Everything about the baseball on that trip was about taking time, seeing how it goes. Yes, there's an end to Spring Training and hard decisions have to be made, but they can't be made before we understand what we have. Don't rush this: it's going somewhere. Watch. Wait. That's part of the process, too.

22 February 2014

Where will you be? (At AWP)

'Tis the season and all.

Find me on Thursday morning here:

Redwood Room, Sheraton Seattle, 2nd Floor
Thursday, February 27, 2014
10:30 a.m. to 11:45 a.m.
This interdisciplinary panel features five writers whose work puts significant distance between speaker and writer—whether by writing across gender, setting, historical time, or conventions of language—to reimagine, challenge, and expand the writer’s or narrator’s persona. Each panelist will provide a short rhetorical and practical framework that focuses on crafting these voices before presenting representative work.
I'll be reading a little excerpt from Heading North and talking about character grammar and syntax. Even more exciting is the part where I get to be part of a panel with these excellent writers!

I'll also be reading at Lucid as part of the Festival of Language's 'a reading eXperiment,' on Thursday afternoon from 4:30-6:00 p.m.
The Festival of Language’s a reading eXperiment is an experiment in the reading of original creative works as juxtaposed against expectations, perceptions, other creative works, and audience members. With new and exciting compositions and configurations, this reading eXperiment will be a one-of-a-kind experience for readers and audience members. 
Come say hello! I don't have blue hair anymore, but if you drop a conspicuous hockey or baseball or Beowulf reference within earshot, I'll be the one with her head on a swivel, trying to find the source. 

24 January 2014

read and recommended: "The Old Ways of Defeat" by Chris Collision

Half of this post is months later than I intended it to be, but I'm not often a timely writer, and when I am, usually the coincidence works against me. But maybe it's timely in a different fashion because this week, word hit the hockey streets that the ECHL's San Francisco Bulls are in some dire financial straits. This makes me incredibly sad because I hate to see any team (anything, really) struggling, but I was really hoping the Bulls were going to thrive. I was rooting for them. I mean, the whole team released a You Can Play video, not just a few token players from a variety of teams put together, but a seemingly unified voice, which is still something of a rarity at the professional level. The team has been playing for two seasons, and they've held two LGBT nights (with these pretty excellent jerseys). A team like that makes me want to love them. Back in August, in Classical Magazine Issue Four, Chris Collision, writer of many fine things, wrote an essay I have to talk about, an essay I've been meaning to talk about since it came out, and two San Francisco Bulls playoff games create one of the essay's hinge points. So, here we are.

"The Old Ways of Defeat" is, for detail junkies like me, a joy. The ambient sounds of the minor league sporting event--perhaps in their most Platonic guise at a hockey game played in a place called the Cow Palace--are everywhere, and sharp, and right. The situation of the team, the league, and the circumstances of these particular games are clear and purposefully placed, rounding out a personal experience with knowledge that is effortlessly conversational--"the ECHL will, for example, teach you things like 'there is an Ontario in California'"--and self-aware in a traditionally (and I mean this as a compliment of the highest order) Montaigne-like fashion.

How easily this essay communicates is one of its strengths and ironies, as the piece starts in a moment of isolation, the alone-in-a-crowd feeling that is so difficult to handle--on the page and in person--as it's eroded here and there by the strange charms of the minor leagues, the fans, the trappings, the unlikely Bulls-versus-Alaska-Aces playoff matchup. In this essay, the erosion is only partial, so much in the way that the verve of these particular games are: highs, lows, no definitive Moment, a point best illustrated in an incredibly brief, mostly elided hockey fight that means essentially nothing in the course of a lopsided game and the Bulls' season's imminent close. The fight gets no glamor on the page, a writerly restraint I admire, and it's also an illustration, I think, of a final separation: "There is watching it, and there is doing it." We're just watching, most of us.

But there's something arresting in that, too, and I have to give you the whole final paragraph because I can't bring myself to carve it into anything but itself:
And then there are these live events—moments shared and unrepeatable, in all these shabby but life-full places that pull a poorer and more diverse crowd. They are not glamorous or even particularly beautiful, and there are whole buried rivers of disappointment running under all of it. But these can all be a step towards a life that's less lonely, less canalized through phones and less inert in front of a screen. It's a fight. But Kris Belan fought B.J. Crum, held him accountable for a smallish transgression in an essentially meaningless AA game. He fought harder for less.

My interest in the San Francisco Bulls is bandwagon-y at best, due mostly to "The Old Ways of Defeat" and their work with You Can Play. I can't name a player on the team without going back to Collision's essay or Googling something, and I've never seen them play. I wanted to, and I almost had the chance: in October of 2012, my husband and I made a mad weekend scramble to San Francisco over my fall break so that he could see his beloved 49ers play in Candlestick before they moved on to what will be their new, shiny stadium in Santa Clara. It was not a good trip to San Francisco. The point of being there was only the football game, all of it already an extravagance, so we were staying cheaply, far away from any of the San Francisco I'd seen the year before (the piers, Golden Gate Bridge, great food) while road-tripping with a friend. It didn't feel at all like being any place anyone would want to go--just a chain hotel, chain restaurants, and a sense of rushed alienation: not quite thirty-six hours in the city, all told.

Twenty-four hours after we arrived, it would be clear that the trip was a disappointment in many ways. At the top of the list was the fact that the San Francisco 49ers got shellacked by the Giants. It should have been a good game, in terms of 2012 competitiveness, one the Niners had a good chance to win. The Niners did not win, and the experience itself wasn't pleasant. We got the only tickets we could get: in the endzone, in the very top row, at Candlestick Park, where the giant concrete bowl gathers only the coldest air from the bay and slings it back around the rim. The sheer size of an NFL stadium and the distance from the game--something I'd not experienced before--made me want a ridiculous jumbotron uglying up the place, if only so I could see what was really happening. My reading glasses weren't cutting it. The one-sided game drained all of the live-sports-experience out of it, too; the Bay was quiet. The Niners Noise drum line was basically the only life in the place, and they stood in our endzone far too little. But that would come later.

We arrived in San Francisco on Saturday evening, and the San Francisco Bulls were due to play the second game of their inaugural season against the Bakersfield Condors that night, too. But there was no permutation of flights that would get us from Wyoming to California in time to make the game. The BART train we took from the airport toward our hotel actually passed the Cow Palace, probably sometime early in the first period, and had we not also been toting our suitcases, I would have lobbied that we go, anyway. Then the train ride was long, and we walked a long ways afterward to actually get to where we were staying. Even if we'd simply dropped our bags, turned around, and headed back to Daly City, the game would be over before we arrived. Still, as we ate our burgers from In-N-Out, I ended up following the third period from my phone for no other reason than being more near to that game than anything else familiar, which was one version of being connected, in some small way, to everything happening there.

Here's hoping the San Francisco Bulls can hang on.

You can get Classical Magazine at iTunes and in PDF/epub/mobi format as a monthly subscription or by the individual issue.

21 January 2014

the start of another semester, plus some fiction

Today was the first day of classes for Casper College students, which means it's well nigh time to get back on all of the horses. Part of me protests I never got off the horse, didn't have much time out to pasture over the break, so to speak, because winter break is always a flurry of final grades and airports and preparing to tackle new things. This winter break, it was preparing to teach a compressed video/distance education course for the University of Wyoming. Teaching Middle English Literature using brand new technology in a brand new building is both peculiar and perfectly fitting. It also means slipping into old favorites and re-reading texts I haven't looked at since graduate school, and that reminds me so much of why I'm in this profession.

This afternoon, after from doing a little Beowulf prep (which mostly consists of me writing hard time limits on my class outline because I know myself), I settled down with Richard Waswo's article "The History That Literature Makes" (New Literary History 19.3). Waswo's article looks most particularly at the legendary history of Britain, its hunger for ties back to Troy and an older, more civilized civilization.

Aside from reminding me how much I simply enjoy this article, Waswo's work got me thinking about that reaching desire to see oneself as part of something larger, something older, something lasting. And of course I thought about writing, but also reading, and also American literature and culture, and I was again struck at the way my writing projects inevitably intersect:

One thing that happened while I was away from the blog was that I was awarded a Robert and Charlotte Baron Creative and Performing Artist Fellowship at the American Antiquarian Society. I'll be there in June, working on the pirate book. As a 18th century transatlantic narrative, seeking and also resisting ties--to religion, family, nation, and even narrative itself--are certainly at the forefront.

And because I just wrote that last sentence, which is unrelentingly academic, let me make it up to you with a baseball story: To the Wall, appeared in the inaugural issue of The Rappahannock Review in December, and it offers up rookie-level minor league baseball in Casper, Wyoming, with a side of painkiller addiction and Justice League references.

This post is not a great post, but it does serve some purposes, including making those two pointers about my own writing that I'm pretty excited about. But more importantly, it's pulling the Band-aid off on the blog-drought. I've been thinking about what kind of post I could make after more than two months that could justify the absence, and I didn't have one. I have this, which is a post, after which another can be written, more easily.