Sunday, December 28, 2014

A Special Christmas for Mom and Everyone

This month has been a very busy one indeed.  I imagine that it is a busy month for most people no matter what they celebrate.  As for me and my girlfriend, we celebrated Yule twice, lit candles for the fourth day of Hanukkah, and celebrated Christmas Eve and Day.  One round of Yule found us in Spokane with the IEPG.  We participated in a beautiful Ritual wherein the Holly King slays the Oak King so that the nights might be shorter and that new life can spring forth on earth.  The second round of Yule was at home with the parents.  We sent our wishes and blessings into the fire to be lifted into the air with the incensed smoke.  All in all it was a beautiful night spent partly out of doors.  Our kitty, Narcisa, wore her harness and joined us around the fire.  She sat with Hannah on the lawn bench.  I have hopes that she will be able to explore the outside with us bit by bit and yet remain safe.  Already she rides in the car very well.  What we're working on right now is getting her to associate her harness with the privilege of going outside - and that in order to go outside she must wear it.   I know she's smart enough to grasp this concept but as of yet she is still young and squirmy and bitchy about the whole affair of putting the harness on.  

For Christmas Eve I experienced something very strange.  My boss lost her grandmother and had to leave to take care of her family (which I understand completely), and I spent the last few hours at the store alone.  This is not usual for us at all - we always have two or more employees in the store at any given time for safety measures - and so this was my first time in this situation.  We took measures to make sure I was safe but it was a bit exhilarating and scary to close all by myself having only closed a handful of times prior.  The rest of the evening was much more relaxing however.  At home we had pizza and movies.  Hannah and I watched 12/12/12 which was absolutely awful.  Then we watched the Radio City Music Hall Rockette's Christmas Special on Netflix.  That was infinitely better than the other one.  (We later watched 13/13/13 and now have finished out the whole set that started with 11/11/11 and have appeased the innate OCD that forced us to watch them in the first place).  

Christmas Day began at six in the morning.  My mother is the activities director for two assisted living homes in Hayden.  Her residents are more than just people she plans activities for - they are a part of her life and steadily becoming her extended family.  She put a great deal of her own money into making sure that they all had gifts to open on Christmas Day this year (in years past they often times are forgotten by family and others) and she wanted to be there to share in the joy with them. 

At the first house we had coffee and doughnuts (cheap little Walgreen baggies of doughnuts since the house employee responsible for making sure we had cinnamon rolls that morning totally botched his mission), and then passed out presents and stockings and watched with pleasure as the residents opened their gifts.  Then we went to the other house - now sufficiently caffeinated and sugared up - and watched them enjoy the fruits of my mother's diligence and labor.  After everything was opened and being enjoyed, a few of us went into the sun room and sang Christmas carols while a deaf resident played the piano accompaniment for us.  It was unique and beautiful and it made that resident's day.  

We had our own Christmas after all of that and opened our own stockings and gifts.  It was wonderful and yet the excitement paled to some degree in comparison to the pure delight in sharing Christmas with those who often receive nothing.  

Some of the gifts Hannah and I received include: the Luis Royo Tarot, the Gothic Tarot, Tarot for Writer's by Corrine Kenner, a slew of books, some beautiful jewelry (namely a dandelion puff necklace that I cannot wait to wear!), soaps and scrubs, blankies and Monster High Dolls.  That's a small list of all our goodies.  Already I'm delving into some of the books as well as the tarot deck.  Lots of inspiration and information to be found in our gifts this year.  Hannah and I have been doing some writing exercises from the Tarot for Writer's book to stir up our creativity and passion for the craft once more.  

Friday, December 12, 2014

Writing and Me Part II: Being in an MFA Program

I'm currently in a low-residency MFA program at Pine Manor College.  The Solstice MFA Program, as it is called, kicks off each semester with ten jam-packed days on campus.  This means I get to go on a long-ass flight from the Northwest to the Northeast twice a year.  The traveling doesn't bother me, in fact it is one of the reasons I chose a low-residency program over a full.  The other reason of course is that there are no full residency MFA's in my area and I am not at a point in my life where I can relocate.  And yet, I prefer it this way honestly.  Less time in the classroom gives you more time to write.  Also this style of learning forces you to adopt an actual writer's lifestyle which prepares you for what it will be like after the MFA.

During the residencies we're busy from nine in the morning to nine at night and during meals and short breaks we meet and mingle and network.  Writers are pretty intense (not to mention odd) people in general, but brought together under compressed circumstances, they become, as our Director says, a bit radioactive.  We feed off each other's energies, we blossom with ideas, we taste humility, we taste exhilaration, and suddenly a mass of strangers become best friends.  Even after only ten days some of these connections will last a life time.  That is residency.

The rest of the semester is spent exchanging packets of creative and critical work with a mentor.  For me this has been tremendously helpful.  It is a writer's dream to write something and know for a fact that someone out there in the world - someone intelligent, accomplished, and published - is not only going to read your work, but critique it and offer advice entirely in your best interest.  I have appreciated every valuable moment spent with my mentors.  Each one gave me something different and now, in my final (and unfortunately, extended) semester, I am able to combine what I've learned all along to work toward my goal of a complete and polished manuscript.

MFA programs, honest ones at least, don't claim to get you published or make you famous; what they do promise is to work with you to improve your writing.  But that's not all I got out of the Solstice Program at Pine Manor.  I have a network of wonderful writers who just also happen to be wonderful people.  Writing is a very solitary practice, and that is why I think people need programs and conferences and workshops - to remind them that they are not alone on the journey.  We all take different paths to reach our individual goals but there's no reason to ford through the bad times alone.  On the flip side; it's also nice to have someone to give you a pat on the back during the good times as well.  We're all here for each other.  We might provide friendly competition from time to time, but we're not each other's enemies.  Some people learn this on their own, some people know this from the beginning, and some people, like me, relearn this beautiful fact by spending concentrated time at a residency.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Writing and Me Part I: Bad Dreams, Bad Language, Bad Ass

A recent graduate of the Pine Manor College Solstice MFA program asked me to write a small article about what it's like being a writer and also about my experience being in an MFA program.  I'm not sure where to start exactly and I'm afraid it might exceed her 1-2 page limit, but I suppose, as my mentor has said, chronology is my friend, so I'll start at the beginning.

When I was a kid, I had difficultly sleeping.  Between a busy mind and recurring nightmares, nighttime was not my friend.  However, I did discover two pretty reliable cures for my restlessness: the first was lucid dreaming wherein I controlled every aspect of my dream down to the central players and the plot, the second was to write.  By the time I turned ten years old, my ability to dream lucidly was falling by the wayside, and so I wrote.  And wrote.  And wrote some more.  Pretty soon I'd written a novel.  

To borrow a metaphor from Harold Clurman, author of "On Directing," writing is like gardening and in order to get something good out of it, you have to lay down some shit.  There's a place for bad plays/writing and that is to provide fertilizer for the good stuff to come.  Well, that first 'novel' was pure fertilizer.  And that's exactly what it was supposed to be.  When I was younger I always had a book to read and a book to write in.  My diary did not chronicle my daily affairs, I filled it, instead, with the adventures of Jeremy Arbuct and his extra-terrestrially raised paramour from the past.  That was also shit, awesome shit, but shit nonetheless.  Luckily for me there were a few undigested seeds in the shit pile and they started to grow.  Over the years I gave my garden a constant supply of manure while watering and weeding and tending the small, determined sprouts.  This was my happy place.  One of them, anyway.  The only thing I loved as much as writing and reading, was acting and singing.

I majored in Music Theatre at Mesa State College (presently known as Colorado Mesa University) and took writing classes for electives.  I studied screen play writing, stage play writing, poetry and short fiction.  But there was one class that changed everything for me.  And not in a good way.  I took a fiction class from a professor who looked and spoke like Jimmy Stewart.  He was a nice enough man, but his ideas on writing and literature were dated and, I've come to realize, incredibly destructive.  He wrote his own manual for the class - a sort of 100 page manifesto of what he deemed to be decent literature - and then expected us to practice what he preached.  If you were a female, you could not write from the POV of a male character and vice-versa (which was incredibly limiting and sexist to boot).  Your protagonist cannot swear (which was a real fucking downer) and he or she must be an upstanding moral citizen (another downer because sex, drugs, and rock and roll, man!).  And the piece that I turned in for class was a dry, horrid, literary nightmare.  

I reread it years later and recognized that the story had a decent plot and interesting characters, but it was completely and utterly devoid of voice.  The class not only killed the 'me' in my writing; it killed my desire to write prose at all.  I switched to screen play as my primary writing for a while and eventually that fizzled, too.  But even with my desire gone, I couldn't stay away forever.  I dabbled in science fiction and angel mythology and then I learned about role-play.  For a while my writing hinged on the instant gratification that came from the give and take of partnered writing.  I became a little dependent on it, but, in the end, it was what pulled me out of the shell I had created around myself ever since the Jimmy Stewart look-a-like silenced my voice.  I could write from the viewpoint of a man if I wanted.  Hell, I could write from the viewpoint of an alien, an android, a cat, a sentient and sassy toaster!  And my protagonists could be bad boys with drug habits and foul mouths, or sweet young hookers with hearts of gold, or even tortured souls with violently repressed desires.  I even tried a little fan fiction and that is a strange and delightful creature unto its own.  But the point is, I wrote.  And wrote.  And wrote some more.  I added a fresh layer of  manure of cliches and passive voice to the garden, watered my dried up stems with metaphor and simile, and invited the sun to warm my dialogue once again.  

In November of 2010, I finally officially participated in National Novel Writer's Month (NaNoWriMo), and won.  I wrote a vampire story with a little guy-on-guy action (pretty much two of my favorite things).  With 50,000 words behind me on a single project, I started to feel like myself again.  So I signed up for Script Frenzy, too!  For Script Frenzy, I had to write a 100 page screenplay.  This time around I wrote about dragons and reached my hundred pages easily.  So now I had two projects with some weight to them.  Suddenly the idea of writing things, of being a writer, didn't seem that far-fetched.  I wanted to grow, I needed to grow, and the next logical step was a Masters of Fine Arts.  Seven years after graduating from Mesa State, I applied to two MFA programs, both on the eastern coast.  Only one accepted me.  At the time I took it to mean I was only good enough for one - but I don't think of it that way now.  Somehow I was meant to be part of the Solstice MFA Program at Pine Manor College and that next January began a new and bad ass chapter of my writing life.