mimsy and outgrabe //

a record of panic, parenting, teaching and art-making


30.6.16

Writing Process as Hangover: Berate Yourself, Hydrate, and then Push Through It

My latest blog posts have felt so solipsistic, particularly in light of the fucking chaos and violence in the world that has always existed but seems, thanks to irresponsible and inconsistent mass media coverage, as if it's escalating inordinately of late -- but I'm keeping up with them as a record of my writing process, which is useful in hindsight but feels something like a giant, unrelenting hangover right now. 

Sometimes Twitter provides catharsis.
Part of this headache-like pressure is very much due to the upcoming script development lab. I told A. earlier in the week that I was thinking of emailing the program and asking them if I could switch from the script development lab to a writer's residency, and he was of the opinion I should just stick with the original plan. He can probably sense that I'm a gigantic coward and that I don't want other people -- particularly people who know what they're doing when it comes to drama -- to read and critique my early work, or work that feels early even if I've been writing it piecemeal for the better part of a decade. He can also probably sense that it's better for me to face my fears instead of just slumping into despondency. It's not even the tough, nasty critique that I'm afraid of -- it's the noncommittal, polite critique that happens when people don't really have any strong reaction to your work at all in either direction: that is truly horrific.

A.P.'s suggestion for writing a treatment of the play -- a la screenwriting and adapted to the process of writing for the stage -- was a fucking good one and it's helped tremendously. It took a few days to get my head out of my ass, but I managed to sit down for a few hours and think through the plot and character development of this play. Something finally clicked. For the first time I began to see a clear development beyond the first act -- I've been stuck in the first act for years -- I've been rewriting the first act for years -- and I suspect this may have been the most significant progress so far. 

The result, however, is that I need to drastically reconfigure my first act (major cutting, adding a through line, re-imagining entire scenes to reflect that through line, etc. ) just to get to the second act and also -- if I'm going to truly commit to this script development lab -- so that I have a workable script for the actors and dramaturg who'll be giving my play their time and effort. 

I have six days before the beginning of this conference, and six scenes outlined for the first act that need to be developed. Basically, one scene per day over a holiday weekend with only one day of babysitting (today) which is also filled with meetings BECAUSE OH MY GOD PEOPLE ARE SCHEDULING MEETINGS RIGHT UP UNTIL THE VERY LAST DAY WE ARE CONTRACTUALLY OBLIGATED TO BE AVAILABLE. 

So . . . the odds are in my favor, yes? 

I think I'm going to rename the subtitle for this blog something like "rants and tantrums about writing and academia" because that's what it's turning into. 

I'm a gem, I really am. 

P.S. OH, and because I ignored my blog for so long, I forgot to post the following as a record that I've actually accomplished something during the past few months:


and

24.6.16

The Black Mood and Blue Funk of Post-Deadline

I took the week off from writing. More or less. It began promisingly with a lunch date with A.P. to discuss our projects (his novel, my play) and then took a big nosedive from there. After last week's frantic and frenetic push to meet deadlines (the A-form for my final promotion, a somewhat-workable draft of the play for July's script development lab) I think I needed a solid break.

Not that I can afford to take a break at this point. The graduate class (and script development lab, and conference) begin July 6. I'm going to have to use this weekend, and next week, to get some serious work done.

I guess there are two things that left me needing the break and also just kind of deflated me: one, I turned in my promotion paperwork and instead of feeling elated and happy because it's (supposedly) the last time I'll have to go through this process, I felt deflated and weary. And then I found out that my application was far less substantial (like, it probably weighed 3 lbs less) than a colleague of mine on another campus. I *know* we're not supposed to compare ourselves to others but goddamnit how realistic is that? Most days I think I'm pretty confident and pleased with my work and how I've performed throughout my career, but maybe I'm at the edge of burnout again because I kind of wanted to send an email to the Executive Dean's secretary suggesting she just dump my pages directly into the shredder.

And two, when I met with A.P. we spoke at length about Act One and also about how I see the act working inside the larger three-act play, and A.P. had a really good suggestion for an exercise that might help me work through plot and character development and push me towards actually finishing this fucker. But in the hours that followed our conversation, as I chewed and mulled over what he'd said, I just kind of sank, feeling like I never should have shown anyone this work until it was a complete draft. In, like, you know, the year 2035.

The thing is, I know that feeling is bullshit and I just need to keep going. I know this project should be a play: the idea "arrived" as a play, and I've never been able to envision it any other way. The problem is that I don't fucking know how to write a play. I teach that shit, but it turns out, I don't have a clue how to do it myself. This is compounded by the added challenge of writing in meter, and I get the feeling from A.P. 's feedback that I'm just not good at it. (I don't think he was trying to tell me that directly, but it's the feeling that remains). Despite putting in a solid month or more of real, earnest work and believing I'd made some good, productive changes and meaningful progress, *now* I feel like I've just been treading water all this time. Scribbling. Writing crap.

Additionally, A.'s been dealing with some stuff of his own, work and life problems and frustrations. It's been a tough week overall for our little household.

There was a bright spot: Little Miss Talkalot was recognized at her fifth grade moving-up ceremony with the Principal's Award and a state award for student achievement (service to others, academics, etc.). She won those awards all on her own, for being pure, unadulterated Little Miss Talkalot, full of perpetual sunshine and energy and a willingness to engage the world and make it a better place, and not because of anything A. or I did -- but it was gratifying all the same to realize that we haven't fucked her up or gotten in her way, and that she feels secure and loved enough to help others thrive, too. It was a tiny signal from the universe that, to some degree, we're doing *something* right. And so that helps, I guess.

13.6.16

The Blergh Chronicles, Volume 485, No. 6,437

This week the "mini-sabbatical" ends and two major projects are due: a finished, revised/revamped Act I of my play, and the A-form, my last application for my final promotion at the college.

Things are not going well with either project. I have made the tiniest dent in my A-form and I haven't worked solidly on the play since last week. The weekend was spent hyper-involved in the domestic sphere, shuttling kids to parties and playdates and working with A. on making our house, and our yard, look less tenement-like. 

THAT hasn't really gone well, either, in that we have a bunch of half-started (or half-finished, if you like) projects scattered all over the yard(s) and house -- felled trees that still need to be cut into logs and hauled outta here (and no one wants ME playing with a chainsaw, people); about 7 yards of mulch that needs to be distributed between tree beds and flower beds; weeding, lawn-feeding; laundry -- always laundry, particularly with Vampire Toddler's 16 costume changes a day; a broken garbage disposal; a bathroom that still lacks a ceiling; and clutter, clutter, clutter (paper, toys, books) that desperately needs to be removed from the house. Basically, I should just invite the Salvation Army into my home and ask them to take whatever they want. 

I'm giving serious thought to whether or not I should even apply for promotion this cycle. Everyone at work acts like we should apply for promotion exactly when we're eligible because that's how you make more money, particularly when it comes to retirement, but I don't give a fuck about the money at this point. It's the least of my concerns. That may not be smart -- it's not like we're living in luxury with three kids and a disaster home to maintain -- but I'm feeling really apathetic about rehashing the last five years of my life where work is concerned. I did the work, and I'm done with it, and I don't have an interest in selling myself to people who really don't know me and when it comes down to it, don't give a fig for the projects to which I've dedicated the bulk of my time and energy over my career.

I've had similar thoughts about finishing this act of my play and participating in the script development lab at Southampton. I have a half-written first act of play in metrical verse (that may or may not hold up to scrutiny) about an old lady who's losing her mind. How's THAT for a hard sell? At the very least, I have more of an idea of where the play will go, but writing in verse -- and trying to approximate something that might actually be poetry -- is far more time consuming than writing in prose, and behind it all I'm afraid I'm just spinning my wheels creating an epic theatrical disaster. 

On top of this, The Boy was doing boy-things on Friday and with all of his frenetic boy-energy he crash landed on his little arm and after resting it all weekend it's STILL hurting him and I'm afraid my morning is going to be spent in a doctor's office and possibly traveling to some other location for x-rays. 

Ultimately, how the hell am I supposed to get all of this done and is it all even worth it?

People ask themselves that question all the time, and about bigger and more important things. Ultimately, I'm a boring privileged suburbanite with first-world problems. I'm mired in pessimism at the moment and that makes me even more boring. Sorry for the yawn-fest post. And for being self-obsessed. I mean, Orlando. Bigger things. More important things. My own concerns are petty and ridiculous, you know?

I'm going to go call our pediatrician now.

31.5.16

Mini-Unofficial-Summer Sabbatical & Other Attempts to Finish What I've Started

I managed to work on my verse play every day of last week, so something is going right. On Tuesday I created a schedule wherein I outlined the parts of Act I that I will revise or create in order to have a complete, working draft that I can submit to the Southampton Theatre Festival in early June; the schedule itself had to be drastically revised on Sunday when I discovered I'd taken nearly six days to revise one scene.

I am not a fast writer nor a prolific one. I'm trying to come to terms with this. Even when I have more time than usual, like I do right now, while the older kids are in school still but I'm not teaching classes, I can write at a snail's pace. It doesn't mean I'm not working -- in fact, I believe I've spent more hours writing over the past week than I have, collectively, over the past year -- but much of the working consists of trying lines, words, whole stanzas and then scratching them out and starting over . . . or staring at the page as I rehearse the lines in my head. It's . . . not exciting, to say the least.
I don't know why I need three notebooks to write. I just do.

It feels really rewarding, though, even though I can't exactly see the rewards in terms of complete pages. I just feel better being actively engaged in my play, in my work, and I'm fairly satisfied that I've kept distractions at a minimum. I deactivated my effbook account last week when I realized I use it far too much like a crutch . . . Can't find the right word? Let's check Facebook! Can't figure out how to resolve this scene? Let's check Facebook! Stupid, I know -- and pretty good indication that I have, like, zero self-control or self-discipline. I realized that if I'm already a slow writer, it certainly won't help to lose myself for 15 minutes to 1/2 hour increments in social media a couple of times a day.

I've felt less pressure, too, being MIA from the effbook: I was a member of two (or maybe three?) different writers groups on there and it was -- in hindsight -- stress-inducing to see people posting constantly about submissions and acceptances and publishing. I'm sure it felt worse than it actually was, but it did make me wonder: if everyone's constantly submitting, when are they writing?

Not that I want to spend all of this post now focusing on effbook -- but it DID connect me with a lot of interesting writers and supportive peers, so it's not all bad. It's just bad when it's constant. So -- at some point I'm guessing I'll return, but for now I'm breathing more easily and feeling glad that I'm better able to focus on working.

All in all, my absence from this one piece of social media (albeit a really distracting piece), coupled with my ability to spend several hours a day working on my writing, feels a little like a mini-sabbatical. Which is an awesome feeling, since I won't be officially eligible to go on sabbatical until 2018. (Boo.)

Mini-unofficial-summer sabbatical has also given me more time to read. Currently, I'm reading Aracelis Girmay's The Black Maria -- it's really moving and beautiful; her writing evokes in me a deep admiration and awe and also a little despair. It's not exactly envy, but it does have to do with someone else's work making me feel or acknowledge my limits and capabilities as a writer. I know I'm a very different kind of writer than she is -- but I wish, sometimes, I had some of her lyrical grace. It's a kind of wistfulness, I suppose.

And now I'm going to leave the blog so that I can go back to working on my play. I have one more scene to revise (or really, start over completely, as I discovered this morning), and then three whole scenes to create from scratch . . . now that I've decided Act I needs to go in a completely different direction than the one I created in 2014's draft.

That's right. 2014. I've been working on this thing forever -- and I know that most (smart) people would read that as a sign to move on, that perhaps this isn't clicking and so maybe I should just give up . . . but I'm really fucking stubborn. Like, really fucking stubborn.

22.4.16

Surfacing

I have a different blog post to write (for my union) and a gazillion papers & assignments to grade and a very disordered house to put in order and clean before my mother visits at the end of this weekend, but I felt the need to check in here. I've been sending my manuscript to a slew of publishers and first-book contests this week, and there's something about continually posting a bio that states you keep "a record of [your] writing life, experience in academia, and motherhood" on a blog that makes you think, "oh, maybe I should actually DO that."

Also, when it comes down to it, I blog more for my own sanity and catharsis than I do for another lame line in my bio. Of course, since I haven't written here for a month you can probably gauge pretty accurately where my sanity's at.

This weekend we're throwing a co-ed baby shower for my brother-in-law and my sister, who's pregnant with my first nephew (another boy in the family!), and because it's in Brooklyn it involves last-minute cake-and-favors shopping and travel and overnight stays with children in an AirBnB and coordinating an event in a bar (and hoping no one notices or minds all the children). I'm exhausted just thinking about it, but I think that in the end it will be fun and worth the trouble. (Fingers crossed, nonetheless.)

This should be the last big event for a while, though, which means that maybe, MAYBE, (maybe), I'll catch up on the grading and then begin to write in earnest again. Things have been crazy between AWP, the creative writing festival at Stuffolk, planning/organizing the baby shower, and, you know, raising three little blonde people in fucking suburbia.

The summer looks busy, though. Some necessary things, some fun things. A balance of work, writing, family. Applying for promotion. Teaching a summer class (maybe, if we get enough students for it to run). Taking a summer class (playwriting, maybe, if I get in -- I'm still waiting to hear). Some leadership seminar nonsense for work at the end of July. Camping in West Virginia at the Appalachian String Band Festival. And another baby shower for another pregnant sister! (My parents' heads are whirling -- they'll have so many grandchildren by the end of the year!)

Inkbrick: Poetry Comics, people!
So. I suppose I shall leave the blog with this news: I READ A BOOK, PEOPLE. A BOOK OF POETRY. And it was awesome -- both the book itself and the act of reading. No, wait, I READ TWO BOOKS. I read The Big Book of Exit Strategies by Jamaal May and Serena, a novel, by Ron Rash (which I began in *cough* January). May's collection of poems is really, really, good -- it was my first introduction to his work and I loved it. Also, and MAYBE this influenced my opinion, but I met him briefly at AWP where he was selling chapbooks for the press he runs with Tarfia Faizullah (Organic Weapon Arts) and they were both charming and lovely and kind. They were having problems with the wifi and their ability to run cards (because I was the chump without cash at that point), and they said I could have a free book . . . but I came back later with the money because, you know, integrity. And kindness. And supporting small presses.

ALSO, I should confess I was one of those people who packed an extra carry-on bag for books from the book fair. My husband watched me fill it with a sort of bemused resignation. I am a book hoarder. I only finished May's book because I read most of it on the plane on the way home. Some day, probably when I'm retired, I will finally read all of these wonderful books.

23.3.16

Spring Break!

Okay, so that resolution to keep up with the blog was a bunch of crap. Basically, I was just waving a red flag in the face of fate when I wrote my last post, because it was followed almost immediately by a wave of child illness and job/family care juggling that took almost all focus away from my writing . . . apart from a brief two or three day stint where I wrote like a madwoman in an attempt to put together an NEA grant application. 

My frantic attempt to submit the NEA application was more of an excuse to focus exclusively on my play, though. I would really, really like to have this rewrite of the first act complete by the end of the semester. I'm not particularly sure how that's supposed to happen with the CW Festival occurring in April and more applications due (for next year's conferences and -- deep breath -- for promotion to full professor); but it's my goal, at the very least.
Check out this fabulous "spring" weather!

In order to get back to serious work on the play, though, I have to do some serious grading. Luckily, it's Spring Recess for the college and so I have some time to catch up . . . IF I can use the time wisely. So far I've managed to accomplish a couple of really good outdoor runs (yes, I'm running again, semi-regularly); paid an obscene amount of money to have my behemoth of an SUV fixed and fine-tuned and returned to dependable working order; returned obscenely late library books to our community library; BEGUN TO READ AN ACTUAL NOVEL I'M NOT ACTUALLY TEACHING FOR CLASS; answered some questions for an online interview with a publisher's blog; finished a pottery project that I began back in September when I foolishly thought I'd have free time this academic year; and thought (thought) about what I need to do to get my unholy mess of a house in order.

Things I haven't done: Grade. Work on the play. Actually clean the unholy mess of a house. 

Two out of those three things MUST be done in the next two days, as I have family coming to visit for the first time in forever this weekend. I anticipate getting some grading done on the train later today because I'm taking one of my rare jaunts into the city to have lunch with the fabulous Miss C.; and then later, I'll have dinner with my sister before going to BOMB magazine's 35th anniversary reading in Brooklyn, where Kate Zambreno is featured. (Yay! Can't wait to hear her read). Then, hopefully, there will be a whole lot of cleaning and grading happening tomorrow and Friday.

Thank god for Spring Recess. I mean, in some ways I find it a stupid and silly tradition; and yet it's remarkable how much I feel like I NEED it, desperately, by the time it rolls around.

9.2.16

Back to the Blog // Back to Reality

I'm going to begin my blog again as a companion to the writing and submitting work I am kind-of sort-of doing right now  ... in an effort to move me out of the kind-of sort-of zone and more solidly into the definitely-and-making-lots-of-progress zone.  Because my writing life is some kind of pie chart or line graph, obv.

In January I mapped out a plan for revising the first act of my verse play and moving -- finally -- into Act II. That original map has itself been revised over the past few weeks. This is a result of that "kind-of sort-of" progress: painstakingly slow, but happening, nonetheless. I'm adding new scenes about five lines at a time (i.e. five lines per day, when those days of writing occur). It's a rather pathetic pace, I know, but at this point I'm encouraged that I have a pace. 

Frankly, sometimes I'm amazed that I have a pulse, let alone a pace.

Work feels less intrusive to my writing time than it did last semester. I wrote so seldomly; teaching one class extra over the course of a semester -- and only a credit's-worth extra, because it was a team-taught class -- still kicked my ass. It was a fairly wonderful and transformative teaching experience -- an honors seminar on Gender, Bodies, and Identity -- but it didn't help me generate work, that's for sure. 

I didn't submit much work over last semester either. Not writing new poems will do that for you -- you can't submit work if you don't have work to submit. 

Actually, that's not exactly true. I have a couple of new poems. See, over the summer I had some interest from a small independent publisher in my full-length manuscript. He requested that I write more "sow" poems, to make the first section of the MS different from my chapbook, and that I think of a different title for the MS (because he felt that Fabulous Beast: The Sow and Fabulous Beast were too close and would create confusion with readers). 

Good news, right? I mean, someone actually wanted to publish my book! And this coming off of that rejection in the spring that laid me kinda low with its criticism (that I asked for, just to be clear). 

The request for the new title and the additional sow poems made me really, really apprehensive, however. It was really difficult to move myself out of the play and back into those sow poems. I tried to be a good sport, though, and diligently made attempts to create new parts of that narrative -- to fill in the gaps. My fears -- that I'd be writing the same exact poems over again, but in a slightly altered voice -- were valid: I threw away a handful of lame/uninspired attempts where I was just repeating myself unnecessarily. But I came through the fall with about four new poems to add to the fable -- not TOO shabby, but no great shakes, either. 

I spent January editing them a little -- shared them with A.P. and S.M. in a little workshop, received some helpful feedback -- and placed them within the MS. I was feeling optimistic about the publication in the book, more than I had been in months. I even started looking for artwork for the cover -- I have a definite idea that the cover should be closely associated with folk art or reminiscent of folk art, since this MS is a commentary on traditional literature like folk tales, fairy tales, myths, and fables.

And then I received a message from the publisher that he was closing down his press.

So . . . if I'm looking for silver linings, I can say that at least now I have more poems and a more fully-developed (and hopefully stronger) manuscript. Also, I won't have to change the title of the MS -- unless another publisher has similar reservations. But . . .  damnit. I practically pep-talked myself into writing those new poems, and that time could have been spent on my play, which AS ANY REGULAR READER OF THIS BLOG KNOWS has taken nearly a decade to write. Also, in those autumn months there were a slew of book contests and open reading submission periods to which I could have submitted this MS, but I didn't because I felt I should be loyal to the publisher who showed an active interest in my work. So missed opportunities for both writing and submissions.

I'm not actually holding any of this against the publisher -- I understand how much work a press takes to run (I've worked on enough publications to know this) and it's really difficult to balance having a life and maintaining a press, especially if you have to work a full-time job in addition to running your company. HOWEVER. Disappointment all the same, you know? I feel like fate is kind of kicking me in the ass. Or maybe this is hubris -- maybe I was thinking a little too much of myself and my MS and its place in the world?

So now I'm back to where I was before, but definitely more deflated. I mean, I've already submitted the MS to a couple of places since I received the news, but it feels . . . I don't know. Half-hearted and obligatory? It's not that I'm unenthusiastic about the presses I just submitted to . . . it's that the odds seem stacked against me. 

Not that they were in my favor six months ago. Maybe it's just the winter doldrums. Currently, we're surrounded by more snow, and I just spent the past 24 hours locked away in my house with my children. There's a two hour delay this morning, too. MY KIDS LOVE ME RIGHT NOW. I AM IN NO WAY CRANKY AND OUT OF SORTS.