Thursday, June 30, 2005

What I am preparing to read:

I have read wonderful things for graduate school; rarely did I read something I felt I had to read. But still, now that I'm done, I have the option to read whatever the hell I want, and of course, I'm blocked and stumped by all my waiting books, books that have sat on my shelves for two years as dirty little secrets that I was hoping to squeeze in between work... So, here are my choices. Any votes?

The Fortress of Solitude: Jonathan Lethem
Dante's Inferno
A Perfect Stranger: Roxana Robinson
Had a Good Time: Robert Olen Butler
Parasites Like Us: Adam Johnson
Angle of Repose: Wallace Stegner

Now Playing: I'm sort of embarrassed, but I bought the most recent issue of The Believer for two reasons: 1-the cool cd that comes with it, which is now on my ipod and has some of the coolest music I've heard in a long time, with bands like Espers, Jim Guthrie, Two Gallants and others that are in that genre that the movie Garden State seemed to kick into popularity (the Shins, Frou Frou). 2-an interview with Aimee Mann, one of my all time favorite musicians, who I got to see in concert at the intimate Mystic theater here in town for my 30th birthday last summer. And because if I'm going to be snide about a publication, I better at least buy a copy to be sure I know what I'm being snide about.

Re-entry is still in effect. I'm happy to be home, but still feel a bit like I'm suspended in some kind of gelatinous matrix that has yet to melt.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

I, Podified...
I was plugged into my new iPod (grad gift from E.) listening to Vivaldi's “Four Seasons” this morning for two reasons. One, to drown out the sound of my neighbor's workmen building the new addition to his house (the guys are so close I have to close my blinds if I want to change), and two, to see if the multi-layered beauty of classical music really does make one smarter, and if it might tap into unknown reaches of my brain and wake up creative genius I did not know was there. We’ll see on the latter.

I cannot say enough about my ipod; it has opened up new possibilities for distraction from the world around me! I can listen to music when I garden, when I walk down town, when I jog or take walks. I can listen to music anytime I must wait in line, at the post office or the bank. I never have to be subject to the white noise of my neighborhood ever again. It helps me drown out traffic and construction workers, loud neighbors and those damn crows that start a caucus each morning. I am now just a head full of sound. Now all I want to do is sit around and upload music to my pod. I'm busily putting all possible cds on it that I can stand to sit still for. I wish there were more places to download free music, but least my investment in these cds is getting a second life.

Witness me...
I want to publicly state that as of next week I will formally be finishing my novel (I intend to have the first rough draft done by my birthday in August). I will be writing from 6-8 each morning, which means I may be slow to return your emails until later in the day. It means I may not shower until nine, and so you will definitely not want to drop by unannounced, as I will quite certainly not smell very good. Right before I left for Bennington I hit a strange high, and I wrote a synopsis of the final half of my novel because I knew I was going to ride my own ass to finish it when I got back, but knew I’d be out of steam. I have plot details, even dialogue notes and the final touches for each character in there. Damn, did I write this? It’s good! I mean, it saves me the work of having to try to come up with it right now when I’m fried. It’s as if I have a little personal assistant-self who was working for me back then. I need to give her a raise and take her out for a nice dinner. Maybe a bottle of bubbly.

I feel the need to write here, but am sort of sapped of interesting anecdotes or good ideas. I should be full of them considering the past few weeks, but my brain is on re-direct. I can only handle what is in front of me. I’ll have more to say soon. I hope.

Now Playing: Beth Orton’s “Central Reservation.” Oh god is she good. I have loved her ever since a friend introduced her to me about four years ago.

Monday, June 27, 2005

My MFA diploma! Posted by Hello

Master of...?

Well...I don't feel exactly like I've mastered anything, except for the fine art of handling transitions over these two years, and the other art of working my ass off. I feel proud, and as if I've come a long way, but I don't think a writer can ever feel as though they have arrived, plateaued, finished. Writing is a thing in flux no matter what.

I'm home now, today, after my whirlwind final residency at Bennington with a very large, strange mixture of feelings that will take probably the summer to sort through. I feel relieved to be home, and also have a troubling pang of sadness every time I think of the physical grounds of Bennington. I love that place, and knowing I would be regularly coming back made it easy to leave. But today, I admit, there's a little emptiness in me. Not about my life; I'm so happy with what I have, and who is in it, but I feel lonely for this wonderful setting and my dear friends, and am curious how it will all unfold from here. Will we stay in touch? How will I integrate this experience into my life? What will my writing life look like?

Graduation was a blur, though my family actually caught it on video tape. It was as hot as all get out, and we were sweating through our nasty polyester robes. Because of that, except for the video, I don't think anyone got a photo of me in my robe because I whisked it off so as to prevent myself from passing out. Except for being called "Joann" instead of Jordan as I strode to accept my degree, it was exhilarating (and short) and we got to boogey out of there to wonderful bongo drums. But after the actual event, I confess I felt deflated, tired, sad. I wanted nothing more than to sit around in my sweats with my friends and get drunk and tell silly jokes. But we had our families to attend to, and the reality that to say goodbye was somehow too much. I know I didn't say it to everyone; it felt too final. I said it to those I saw, but really I felt as if I was unwilling to let go of anyone. I mean anyone. From people I hardly knew, to those I love dearly. It's strange how the ritual actually serves to make things feel final. They do feel final in one way, and I'm trying to access what Clark expressed in his speech as our class speaker, that this is an opening, not an ending.

The actual residency was, I thought, the best one of them all. We graduates attended all of each other's readings and lectures, which added up to a hefty schedule, but also, made me feel more full and stimulated and creative than in a long while (and impressed with what a killer class we have!). I did not get more than 5-6 hours of sleep a night, and the eve of my lecture, only 4, because I was so nervous. My lecture and reading went off well, I felt proud and glad to have accomplished them. And a few times in the past day I've held my diploma in my hand and looked at it, amazed to realize that there is nothing left for me to do anymore to be qualified a graduate, and that this is my Masters in Fine Arts in Creative Writing and Literature. This is it. (I'll post a photo). Endings are a strange thing...even ones you've been looking forward to.

Now there is a desperately overgrown garden to weed; a starved-for-love cat to attend to; work to organize, and my novel and non-fiction book to get to work finishing. I'm happy, but overwhelmed, and nowhere near integrated yet. I will post thoughts and musings as they happen.


Sheryl and Emily at the grad dinner before we all high-tailed it outside...that was some killer heat! Posted by Hello

Happy grads! L to R: Tracy, me, Clark, Hayden, Keith. Posted by Hello

My mom and I, after the big ceremony, sweaty as all get out.It was 95 degrees, at least. No air conditioning through either the ceremony (in those awful robes!) or the party. Posted by Hello

Caleb in front of the quickly melting ice sculpture at the graduation dinner. Posted by Hello

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Timothy Liu and Amy Hempel. Posted by Hello

The grad/faculty dinner. Me (looking fatigued, and relieved), Joe, Martha Cooley and Sheryl (expecting her first baby in August). Posted by Hello

Me, lecturing. You can even see the bottom of my overhead. (By the way, the lecture went fine!) Posted by Hello

My buddy and classmate Keith and I the morning of our lectures (me, bleary-eyed from only 4 hours sleep). Posted by Hello

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Our departed Elizabeth (by plane, not the grim reaper!) and Liz... Posted by Hello

Liz, finished and relieved. Posted by Hello

Emily and Sylvia in forefront. Leslie, Hayden behind. Posted by Hello

Lips! Me, Niloufar. Posted by Hello

More fun with photos. L to R. Joe, Keith, Hayden, Clark. Posted by Hello

Tracy and Shomit on this most beautiful Summer Solstice evening. Posted by Hello

Bennington Days, Solstice Nights

It has been much more difficult than I expected to find time to post. Our class has been acting in a frenzy of support, going to all of each other's lectures and readings, which is a lot more input than I've taken in here ever before...It's great, and I love the feeling of tightness we have, but I feel brain-full.

Last night, a bunch of us stood on the commons lawn at "the edge of the world" (it does feel like it, and even precipitates conversations about, "what if the world blew up and we were stuck here...?"), and for the first time, I understand the song, "Bad Moon Rising." I don't know if an orange moon, shivering with a kind of cold heat, a dry ice heat, counts as a bad moon, but it was also a full moon, and it rose in front of us, over a far hill, and it was, truly, quite spectacular. I felt awed, and then, a little sad. See, it's really almost over now. I can feel the familiar life hinging toward me. I got to spend the longest day of the year with people I've really come to enjoy, in a beautiful place, with a little liquor in me to give it a maudlin punch.

This reminds me of the summer I was turning 13. I had been at camp for four weeks, and was not at all interested in leaving. So I told my father to come for me at the very end of the final day, so I could stay longer with my counselors and friends. My father took me literally, and hour after hour, the counselors exchanged worried glances: had this pre-teenage girl been abandoned there? Which one of them would have to call the county to have me taken in? But I was ecstatic to have those final hours with them, feeling strangely safe, comforted, never wanting to leave. When my father arrived, and the truth came out that I had told him to come so late, they grimaced at me, but they understood. They knew how much it meant to me to spend my summers there (my camp's name, by the way, was "Real Adventure Camp.") I bawled on the way home.

Yesterday marked the first official day of feeling "weird." Too many feelings to sort out and summarize. Too many desires to untangle. I want not to have to leave this place forever, though I do not want to do so much as another week of school. I don't want to lose touch with my friends. I am hovering in this odd place where being in California will feel strange too, as if I've actually moved here, though come winter, I'm sure I'd be craving home. I told E. that I've been hit by a feeling of wanting grandiose changes: to move somewhere completely new. To start fresh. He seems to be having the same urge, fortunately.


Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Martha congratulating Karen on a lecture well-done (I, still in a state of panic as have yet to go)... Posted by Hello

Saturday, June 18, 2005

How it's going...

Who knew that two seemingly small glasses of wine could put me into such a drunken state? I mean, I should know by now. Really I have no excuse. Lightweight should be branded into my skin with a hot iron, or carved into my flesh by sharp exacto blades as a constant, painful reminder. I. Can. Not. Hold. My. Booze. I mean, I didn't do anything indecent or black out. I did cartwheels while watching fireflies on the big lawn with Tracy, Hayden and Stephanie. I giggled a lot. I cracked up Leslie and Niloufar by apparently allowing an errant piece of popcorn to linger in one nostril far too long. I told people I genuinely like that I genuinely like them. But still. Shouldn't I know better by now? is it worth the headache, the parchment mouth, the scratchy throat the next morning? Is it worth taking away the feeling of purity from my body? I still don't have an answer. Having run terrified away from all things intoxicating for so long, Bennington has served to facilitate a slightly more regular than usual series of drinking events. I have a drink a few times a week here, and though one part of me is totally resigned to the normalcy of this, the other part still hears an echo of my prudish teetotaling days, that piece of me not convinced that I won't inherit the addiction that runs in my family.

I gave my twenty minute reading today, part of the graduation requirements. I remember thinking that all the grads before us were sort of rock stars. They were untouchable, so far from where we were; they had learned all there was to learn, or so it seemed. Now that we're here, I don't know at what point we became these people, who seem so accomplished and smart.

I was nervous to the point of sweat-producing adrenlination (yes, I'm coining that) as Leslie and Elizabeth read first, both reading with poise and humor. I sat there thinking, "oh god...the audience is eating out of their hands, and then they're going to end with me writing about small family dramas, prose that falls clunky and sluggish on tired listening ears." But they were more than kind to me, and three of my four teachers came (Martha tells us all ahead of time that she has to choose, so she comes to lectures, not readings), which made me feel happy, as Sheila K. hadn't thought she would make it. But they did. Jill and Alice both in the back where I could glance at them. Even Betsy Cox had a nice word for me. And I finished with a flush of relief and emotion, realizing, "Hey, I've DONE something here. Something BIG."

I haven't assessed my feelings very well yet. I feel adrift in a kind of time-soup (I've only been here two and a half days). I don't feel the days or hours here the way I do back home. I don't know how long I've been away, or where I am in relation to myself and my usual roles and identity. That's common. I always end up feeling this way, a little bit lost, a little bit freed at the same time. It's okay with me. This time, the emotional drift feels appropriate. Two years are done. TWO YEARS! Wow. Who was I two years ago? I don't entirely know, but I do know that this me, here now, is the one I like the most. I know this self better than any other (and yet, I have so many more inroads to make into knowing myself).

I am not feeling anxious about my lecture right now, and maybe I won't have to. Meanwhile, I'm looking forward to the work that I will create when I come home and am no longer under the umbrella of mentorship. Who will I be when freed from supervisors and constant packet production? I will be back to my own internal master, will have to write and revise by my own rhythms.

But I'm ready.


Friday, June 17, 2005

Star Struck

I arrived here at Bennington yesterday, which proceeded to turn from steamy high 60s into a rainbath, and quite chilly. It poured all last night. But today the sun is peeking through and even though there's more rain on the horizon, next week is supposed to be hot, which I am really looking forward to.

When I first came to school, two years ago, I was a bit awestruck by the writers here whose work I had read, and whose names still had that tiny charge of celebrity for me. Whether it was Jill McCorkle, with whom I first worked, or Sven Birkerts, Amy Bloom or Robert Bly, I quivered with shy awe as I passed by them, could hardly focus as we brushed hands reaching for grilled cheese sandwiches or sat awkwardly across from one another over computers in the library. I made up excuses to talk to those I would not be liable to work with, made dumb jokes and blurted out foolish statements just to be able to have made contact with these people I admired. I had wanted this; not just to be a star-gazer, but to be in a community with real, working, established writers, apprenticing myself.

And of course, soon enough, their bodies became familiar in the pub, strolling the commons or passing in and out of the bathrooms. I caught them doing all the human, sometimes vulgar and irritating things that people do, drinking and making fools of themselves just like students, making inappropriate jokes, having a good time...and now, now they're no more or less people to me than anyone else. I don't feel the need to brush up against them, to know that for one moment in time they knew my name.

So just when I had finally become normalized in the world of writers, my buddy phil makes an appearance. Phil is one of my favorite actors of all time. I have seen just about every movie he has ever been in. The first time I saw him, in Boogie Nights, I knew he was going to be a lasting star, the kind of actor who makes smart choices, who melts into his characters, who compels you with his very gaze. There's an theater group here of, I guess, actors, directors, writers, and my buddy Philip Seymour Hoffman. No, he's not really my buddy. Yes, I can hardly strip my gaze from his cute, portly back as he loads the same paltry cafeteria food on his plate, as he leans so far into the ice cream bin that he nearly falls in. I admit it, I am once again star-struck. I have an uncanny ability to be in the same spot as he is in the cafeteria, looking slightly like a zealous fan.
And yes, I introduced myself to him yesterday and forced him to make small talk with a fan. He was kind, though reserved, and now I can continue to rise into ecstatic moments of geekness, thinking of his scenes in Magnolia, or one of my favorites, State and Main. I can look at the boyish, pale handsome face of his as it was all gussied up as a gay man in drag trying to put some fun into Robert Deniro's nasty stroke-victim in Flawless, or cringe, thinking of his brilliant turn as a gambling addict, with Minnie Driver, who wears the best bad glasses you ever saw, in a little independent film that will break your heart, Owning Mahowny. Or even his funny, scary or odd turns in the likes of Cold Mountain, 25th Hour or Punch Drunk Love.

So...that's just the way it is. Right now, Phil amazes me. I go all geek around him. I'll have to get used to the fact that he too, like the writers I've become inured to, is as messy, strange and human as the rest of us.

But I won't be here long enough for that to happen.

Anyhow, I give my reading tomorrow at 5:10 Eastern time. The serious hustle bustle of graduate lectures and readings begins tomorrow, and I'll keep you posted. Alice Mattison gave a brilliant reading last night. I loved her story, and am doubly grateful that she advised on this novel-in-progress. Donald Hall read and discussed sad times of his final years with Jane Kenyon, which left me feeling really down.

I slept hard.

More soon.


Thursday, June 16, 2005

Me and family. Posted by Hello

My cousin Tim, his wife In, and baby Kai at a very cool riverlook park in Brooklyn, tues June 14. Posted by Hello

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Hello from hell...

I'm in New York...staying in Brooklyn and traipsing to the city each day to visit with friends (how did I amass so many NY friends?). And the temperature is good old standard NY summer: humidity takes the ninety-something degree heat and slowly drives it into your bones, boils your organs, melts your brain. I've got a lovely view of the Manhattan skyline from my cousin's apartment (he watched the twin towers fall from here on that fateful day), and last night we went and had a picnic dinner at a park overlooking the East river. It was heavenly, and the perfect temperature due to the water breeze.

I like visiting; I like taking subways into town and going wherever I want, knowing that I could do and see just about anything here. I love the intensity, the bustle, the energy. But it wears you out fast. I am not made of the stuff to live here permanently, I don't think, but I love visiting.

So...I have little to report, except to tell you that I'll post photos tomorrow or Friday, once I'm at Bennington, and let you know how today's meeting with the agent goes.


Saturday, June 11, 2005

The girls, June 2004... Posted by Hello

Me and Sheila Kohler, January 2004 Posted by Hello

Joe and Clark (don't kill me for posting these :) Posted by Hello

Another of my favorites. From Left: Sheryl, Me, Elizabeth, and Emily. Posted by Hello

Some of my most favorite people. Posted by Hello

This view is stellar in summer. In winter it's got more of an eerie beauty, all covered in white.  Posted by Hello

This was the beginning. June, 2003. Bennington Commons lawn (Vermont). That's me and Liz Hille working on our workshop stories. I can't believe it's almost over! Posted by Hello