Friday, February 27, 2015

Never Email Unless You Are in a Hurry for Rejection

I emailed to ask if, although I knew, given the time that had past, that I hadn't won, to ask if I had. Never do that. They'll tell you 'no' and add a little extra information about how much they do not want you, just for you. Merely asking seems to tip the universe against your favor. You would think that perhaps you'd get points for being proactive: "Now here's a real go-getter." But you'd be wrong. You'd look like a sucker who spends too much time refreshing her gmail, which you are. 

But having internalized a solid 'no,' I have now moved on to thinking of the good week news. I have finally been published in a magazine you can get at the grocery store. Well, Whole Foods at least. This makes my day. Also, the piece is about my mom so my mom can get it at the grocery store. Well, Whole Foods.  You have to buy the magazine to read it, but I'm pretty happy to be all glossy-like. It's a short essay and some short essays won Best of the Net for 2014 which makes two years in a row which (you have to read Keise Laymon's which is a much longer and better description of how it seems to go in the don't-email-if-you-don't-want-a-"no" department), and Justin Hocking's essay on Bending Genre went Freshly-Pressed viral (meaning I get 100 messages a day telling me my blog has a new follower--not this one!) makes me feel like I have won the internet, at least for the day, even though we all know there is no permanent winning. Scott Walker will show up in my feed for the next four years, I fear. I thought Arizona had the worst governor, but I might be wrong. 

Speaking of bringing money to Arizona! (segue? Like a cop!) I have, after four months of trying, made my fundraising goal for the NonfictioNOW conference. This is exciting because I love to raise money. I should have maybe followed my sister Val's footsteps and gone into sales. The adrenalin is almost as excellent as getting an acceptance in a lit mag and the rejection much less personal. Plus, now I can host a party for 450 people. Like a wedding but without so many flowers. Maybe a few flowers. 

But the bad news was also bad enough to make me want to quit and become a maker of kombucha and charcuterie. A little homemade pancetta with your probiotics? I got a rejection for an essay I wrote exactly for a specific editor/magazine and I guess it was too depressing even though it IS THE LEAST DEPRESSING ESSAY I ever wrote. Maybe it is depressing, talking to Zoe about climate change and the end of the world, but there is the excellent bright spot when I think I see a sloth hanging out in a ponderosa tree. That is as good as it gets, isn't it? I worry that I sound a lot more depressed than I ever actually am. In actuality, I am the smilingest person I know. Zoe and Max's taekwondo tells me every day that she likes my smile. And then she turns to the kids and says, "Did I hear a yes, ma'am?" "No, ma'am." "Then get to the back wall." She's tough. Like the smile I make when I think I'm funny when I'm not. 

But if there's one thing that's important to win it's sabbatical because you only get one (or maybe 2 or 3 but at the rate Arizona's going, this could be it) so today I took Zoe and three of her friends ice-skating. We skated for an hour and they who were just learning to skate stopped holding onto the wall and they who are practicing skating backwards skated backwards and I went around the rink 147 times and I'm having a hard time standing up to answer the door now that the parents are coming to pick up the three girls who came over to our house after skating to play with Zoe and try on her every dress and ask Max to marry them but he says, "no" even though he did put on his tuxedo. 

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

It Would Be More Fun with Pictures

At some point, I will find a perfect definition of sabbatical and then I will perform it. In the meantime, I will cobble together a semblance of an idea and then wish I posted minute by minute what I did on my sabbatical but will instead post month by month.

  1. Imagine this picture. Hike. Mt. Elden. Fat Man's loop. It is January on a Tuesday. I think I'll have the whole trail to myself but as there are on Friday there are again on a Tuesday runners and dog walkers and fast hikers hiking straight up 1.5 miles and then straight back down. It's slippery walking downhill. Be care. 
  2. Trip to Oregon. Saw Misty. Gave a quick talk. Came back. Portland, as much as I don't want to love it, is still lovable. I went to Laurelhurst Deli and picked up charcuterie to take home. I ate it on the drive up from Phoenix. I also found a beer I like. It was sour. It tasted like kombucha. I wish I'd stayed longer to see more people but seeing Misty was rejuvenating. 
  3. Book book book book. So I have been writing. 7 new essays since the end of last semester, all in an attempt to tie the book together. Narrative is a lie though and I write nonfiction so no narrative, baby. It's OK. I can live with that. 
  4. I submitted one of those essays on Monday. It was rejected today. So maybe not OK. 
  5. Conference, conference, conference. It's OK, in some ways. I mostly work on getting sponsors and responding to email and planning social media pushes on Mondays but that bleeds into Tuesdays. Budget budget budget. No sleep at night. But then, by Wednesday, I usually get it out of my head, at least for a few hours. 
  6. There is a lot of cat in two kittens. 
  7. I have done something so terrible to my hip that I can hardly run. I've been doing strengthening exercises and using the IT roller but it still hurts. If I have to see a doctor for my hip, I will resign myself to old age. I think I'll see an acupuncturist first. 
  8. I might make kombucha for the CSA. 
  9. I have field trips. Did I mention? Water treatment plant, recycling plant, ice cream cone factory, toilet paper factory, Grand Canyon? Also, where is my butchery apprenticeship? Where?
  10. I went on another hike to find the heart rock behind Zoe's school. I found some rocks and a cave and got kind of lost but I just ended up in a neighborhood. I had to sneak through someone's back yard to get back to my car, but no one shot me. Yay Arizona!
  11. I'm going to volunteer at the CSA. I fear I will regret this. 
  12. On campus. Only twice. Not too bad. 
  13. Great Narrow Chimney Series Readings. Have been to them all this semester. I'll see if I can keep it up. 
  14. Planning trips for March and April. Tucson, Torrey, other places that begin with T. Minneapolis does not begin with T. Not looking good for AWP. 
  15. Facebook. Problem or friend? Who else am I going to talk to? 
  16. It's pretty easy to get used to talking only to yourself, your cats, and your computer. 
  17. Taekwondo for Max and Z. 2 days a week, each, different days. 
  18. Cheffering up a little bit. Made a good mole amarillo although I added a few mole verde ingredients (pumpkin seeds, mainly). I think it was pretty good but not spicy enough. I made curry last night, having finally found garam marsala. It was excellent. Also could kick the spice notes up a notch. Fajitas instead of tacos one night. Ground breaking! 
  19. Birthday parties. Ice skating. Trip to Jerome. 
  20. No snow. Mostly I spend none conference thinking time thinking about how fast the forest can go up. Don't read Timothy Egan's "The Big Burn" if you live in a forest in the middle of a drought. 
  21. Microfilm! First page written. 50 pages to go. 
  22. Egg. Book. This week. Proposal forthcoming
  23. Next book plan. Running even though it kills you? Well, I'm off for a 3 mile walk/run. I'll let you know if I survive. Next month. 

Wednesday, January 28, 2015


In November, my neighbor sold me her bike. I thought that maybe it was too big, but it seemed OK when I took it out for a test drive and Zoe has been begging me for my bike. I had been riding my bike once or twice a week to school and at least once in the forest last semester and this neighbor's bike had better components. The seat felt great. The tires were bigger. The bike was faster.

But the bike is too big. I've pretty much stopped riding because whenever I take that bike out, my shoulders pinch and hunch as I put too much body weight forward to reach the handles. This is bad news since Zoe loves my bike (which needs a tune-up. The cable snapped. Erik fixed it but it still needs some adjustment to make it perfect). So either I have to boot Zoe back to her tiny bike (it's nice, but too small for her) or buy a new bike or try to share by old bike with Z which is what I did today. Having ridden only in pain for the last two months, riding down the hill and around the lake felt like flying. As I rounded the corner, I saw a herd of elk. Close up, those weird almost-camels chewed right in my general direction. There must have been thirty of them. I rode on, past the little library--one of those libraries-in-mailbox form--and thought of all the books I should put in there that I've read lately. Rounding another corner, I looked up in the tall Ponderosa where the eagle sometimes sits. I didn't think he'd be there since I thought maybe I'd seen him out over the golf course but there he was. Such a big fat white head. I love my eagle. I said, "Hello eagle" and rode away so I didn't bug him too much.

I rode home, up the big hill even though the gears wouldn't shift to smallest, and thought that maybe I will find a way to buy Zoe a new bike and keep this one forever.

Sunday, January 25, 2015


Perhaps what a sabbatical is is a chance to see where you went wrong. I am mostly working 8 hours a day on stuff that I've volunteered to do. I'm not sure what I'd do if I was working my regular job right now. I have poetry manuscripts and essay collections and essays and novellas to read. I have contests to judge. I have money to raise. I'm calling potential sponsors. I'm emailing editors to buy tables for a bookfair. I'm making charts and spreadsheets. I'm reviewing proposals and panels and books. I'm responding to emails. I'm reminding Max to send thank you letters and Thin Air to send thank you letters. I'm writing letters of rec. I'm editing blogs and blogs and another blog (which reminded me I'm behind on another blog post). I am driving kids to more activities than I ever thought I would allow. I'm trying to make extra money to fix the things that broke. I'm also three layers of sick, which is maybe one drawback to the sabbatical. The body thinks it can lower its defenses.

The problem with administrative work is that it seeps into the rest of your brain. I'm afraid whatever I write will sound like "Dear potential sponsor....the opportunity to support your fellow writers.....appreciate your consideration."

I'm thinking the real sabbatical will start in February. Which is good because my manuscript is due at the end of it. But, if I look at my list of stuff to do, I really think March might be the real beginning which is kind of sad because then it will be spring break and mostly over.

These are the things I want to do:
Tour recycling facility.
Tour toilet paper making factory.
Apprentice under Proper's butcher.
Make sourdough starter.
Buy a gigantic chalk board.
Tour water-treatment plant.
Volunteer at literacy center.
Write script for Micro film.
Rewrite Salmon. Change title.
Finish Micro. I thought it was done but it's not.

To have a really writerly sabbatical, I think you have to leave town for the whole time. But the kids are in school and Erik has a job and I don't want to leave them for a whole 4 months and although I worry about administrative brain creep or brain seep, if I spent all my time writing. Well, that's a lot of time alone in my head without spreadsheets.

So I'm going to fund raise like crazy this week and get the registration form for the NonfictioNOW website underway. I'm going to read these manuscripts and essays and then I'm going out of town for a couple of days to give a reading. When I get back, I'm going into a sensory deprivation tank. Or on a tour of the recycling facility. Or maybe try to start my taxes because sabbaticals might just be the time when you get all the things done without having a nervous breakdown trying to do them while working your regular job.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Breakfast--A Safe Subject

Actually, it's probably not a safe subject considering that nothing has not an opinion attendant and yet I'm venturing back to the blog with an update on breakfast foods.

Some days, I eat cereal but Zoe is on this Honey Bunches of Oats kick and Max likes Cinnamon Life (or maybe they switched favorites this week) but no matter because I like none of them. Usually, I eat breakfast with them before Erik takes them to school but lately, with these too-sweet-cereals, I've just sent them off and then poked around the fridge for something less abominable. Usually, I go with toast, which, at least this brand, has just as many refined sugars but you can put butter on it to make it taste less sweet. But the other day, I had leftover quinoa. I added some pine nuts and some almonds, some currants and some coconut (and, admittedly, a little butter) and it was good--less processed-food-tasting and not too sweet.

Max and Zo like oatmeal but they prefer waffles and French Toast and sweet cereal. I like granola but I keep forgetting to buy it and I keep promising to make it. Granola is safe for everyone.

Thursday, January 08, 2015

Failing Better

Writing better. I think about it every day although I only work at it when I have "time." Meaning, so much time on either side of a perfectly crisp, picturesque day where I can unload the dishwasher and keep up on Facebook and "write." I'm afraid this "time" and this "writing" makes writing seem like something precious. And while time might be precious, writing probably shouldn't be. As Karen Craigo said on Facebook said (see, Facebook is helpful!) and on her blog, there is no writer's block, there's just brilliance block. I don't have a brilliance block, I'll write anything. But, as I told my students on the last day of class last semester and to someone on Facebook today, that I really do wonder where writing and writing better intersect. I know I can write some drivel but can it be expected that I write less drivel now that I've studied writing (called "reading), and taught writing, and wrote so many words that they must go together in a better order somewhat more easily than they did when it felt like wrestled every word like I had to do in the olden times? Maybe a little. At least I have a sense of what I do, even if I don't quite know what I do well. I think I know what I do badly and I'm getting better at re-reading my words without cringing. Or rather, when I cringe, I don't just keep reading and pretend it's just me that's cringing. I stay and fix it. Is that getting better? 

But what is this getting better? I had an agent once who really wanted the Salmon book to work and she had many hopes about my ability to make clearer what the book was about and how to make the book funnier and how to make the book more emotional but these were just abstract words laid across the very object-ridden words. I smushed the words to the left. I smushed the words to the right but it didn't make the book better, and, although we both wanted it to, it didn't make the book more marketable. Worse, I lost my voice for awhile, meaning, I wrote like someone else on Tuesday and yet someone else on Thursday.  

When I teach workshop, I try very much to guide the students toward making their kind of essay or poem more of their kind of essay--a more nuanced, vivid, mind-blowing version of what they are doing and saying and imaging. But the reader (who they would like to be an agent or editor) does have an opinion. A "yes, it's working" or a "no, it's not." Their fellow-students think "better." They think whatever they want to think. There are fewer rules for thinking than for writing. They guide and over-correct and take it back and rethink. Everyone is rethinking together, which is my goal and my dream. True collaboration? I'd like it to seem at least somewhat that way. But when the students get home, they have to decide, which better is better? Is Joe's desire for more scene better or Jane's desire for more thoughtfulness? Is Jake right that the free-associating just isn't working here or does Jill's (I have no J-named students this year!) understanding that the free-associating mirrors the fracturing between two people who hoped to talk but couldn't the true reading of the piece?

What does better mean for someone who teaches workshop but doesn't partake in them? What does it mean when you're home, writing for days on end and wondering, is this better than yesterday, the last thing I wrote, the first thing I published, better than that book I just read, or at least approximating as-good-as? If it's as good as, is it just approximating someone else's voice? If the Paris Review says almost but not quite, if the essays and poems get liked, even if they don't go viral, if the essays get rejection after rejection, is that better? I try to live by the Samuel Beckett quotation, "Ever tried, ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better." I try to fail better. But "I try" always sounds so weak. I get sweet rejections that say things like a little more focus or good but maybe trying to do too many things or I love your writing but it's not right for us. That seems like failing better but maybe it's failing worse. 

My main goal for writing is to be as wild as I can possibly be while still writing a scene or cohesive image, evoking emotion (character, in fiction), and being clear (no lost antecedents!). It is also important to me to have something to say. My main goals for revising are not to cringe when I re-read the sentence. To move the sentences around in better order. To make sure the thread travels all the way through the essay or poem (which is harder to do in whole books but there I try too). 

Should I have loftier goals? Besides the two I have which are ridiculous and true: save the planet and revolutionize what we mean by narrative? 

Medium-sized goals are trying to write whole books from start to finish (I'm a piece-mealer with essays and poems. Fiction, I can write straight through but no one knows the fiction I've seen).

Even if my writing isn't better, thinking about better writing is fun and good for my students, who, I hope I can convince that writing better is better than getting an agent or publishing because the idea of better is a strange idea and is worth thinking about even if it's not necessarily worth writing about. 

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

Wonder Twins Activate Sabbatical Now!

My house is as clean as it has ever been or probably will ever be. My computer has been updated and my anti-virus software is staving off viruses like a champ. I have been to the dermatologist. The optometrist. The grocery store. Max's birthday is complete--his kid party organized. I'm almost ready for actual Wonder Twin (sisters Paige and Val) Birthday. Even most of the laundry is done. So, now I just have to take this manuscript and make it read like a philosophical, globally aware, multicultural, domestic, international thriller. I'll be right back.......................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................... Oh hi. Here I am. No thriller. Where did I put that manuscript anyway? Trouble at work. Have to call in. Also, the glasses I wanted to order were so inexpensive ($29.95) but with my wonky, heavy prescription, they are now $70.40. Where is the prescription the dermatologist called in? What the heck is wrong with my hip? Should I see the chiropractor? I'm really not ready for birthdays. I'm not packed for travel. There are only tacos to eat for dinner.