Monday, December 31, 2012

2012: A Wrap.

I wanted to send a note to everyone I knew detailing what we did this past year. I thought, that will be pretty quick. 2012 was a pretty good year but a pretty mellow one. No new kids were born. Nobody changed jobs. We took no huge trips to Italy or Costa Rica. We didn't move. But that vision of 2012 was the vision from the mind of someone with a hazy memory because when I sat down to think about what happened this year, I remembered some things did happen. Some good ones and some bad ones and, for someone who claims not to love to travel, a lot of travel. 

Also. Max turned 2. Which was kind of the defining point of the year. 

In January, our friends Misty and John and their five-year old Louisa rented a house in the desert. It was plenty cold in Flagstaff and we hadn't seen these friends in  four years so we headed down to see them. Zoe and Louisa ate 36 Cuties (those possibly Genetically Modified Oranges that are so easy to peel. Zoe repeats the TV commercial 's tagline daily, Cuties are for kids. Although sometimes she lets me eat them too). The kids built a castle with a moat from water diverted from the Grand Canyon. We ate delicious salad and this is where Zoe learned she loved toast but really only if Misty makes it. 

Also in January, Erik and I went to see Social Distortion 
and I had a super long essay about microorganisms published in The Normal School.  That was cool because it was very long. For me. 

February, there was still travel but this was by myself and so less fun. AWP was in Chicago this year, in February, if I didn't mention it was February in Chicago already. The highlights were seeing grad school friends. Like almost all of them. In the lobby of the Hilton where they always hold AWP in what always seems like February. The lowlights were February in Chicago but it wasn't that bad. Lunch at the Art Institute with Jenn Gibbs, Dave Hawkins and Cole Swensen made up for the cold. You can tell February was its normal February self for the lack of photos taken by either my phone, Erik's phone, or Erik's fancy camera. Poor February. However, it was brightened by the visiting of my sisters and my niece and nephews. This is a picture of the nephews. The nieces, once together, become wind-like and as equally hard to photograph.

March was hard. My friends' Rebecca and Todd's twin daughters were born too early in January. We wanted to see them. We didn't want to be in the way. We wanted to help. There was nothing we could do. Still, we went. First we stopped by Julie and Steve's house near Big Bear on the way to Los Angeles. Staying in the mountains of California makes you realize why people move to California. Also, my best friends live in California which is another reason to want to move to California. Also. The beach.

Erik and Todd took Bek and Todd's kids and Max and Zoe to the beach while I went with Rebecca to meet Andi, the new baby on a ventilator. That day, the doctors talked to Rebecca about taking Andi off the ventilator. It was a miracle and I feel so lucky to have been there. And, it made me feel like I wasn't entirely in the way. Bek and I went out to lunch at a French Bistro to celebrate while the kids were at the beach. Steak tartare and wine at noon. Another reason to like California. 

The real good news is though that Andi is doing so well. She's meeting her milestones and gaining weight and is almost one year old. One year! Progress!

Later that March, ,we met Julie and Steve and her kids to camp in the Muddy Mountains outside of Las Vegas. To see those folks already now three times, if you count AWP, in one year is a record. And it's only March!

In April, I thought I was dying from some heart condition but the ER doctors said it was just stress. I blame my job and the attempt to turn our MA into an MFA Indeed, once the MFA was approved, the heart pains disappeared. Also it snowed in April. But then, it was regular April and Zoe started Microsoccer  which made me write more microessays which you can find here and here. 

May was bad because my grandmother died. She had been doing totally well but complications due to diabetes became too complicated. She was 85. I miss her. We did get to go to Salt Lake for the funeral, for which I am grateful.

May was good though because my mom retired. She could visit more! I hosted the High Altitude Writing Institute, and since Max's day care had imploded, my mom came to the rescue. We also, that same week, ordered seven tons of landscaping rock, kind of a yellowish, pinkish, whiteish, brown rock, for the front yard. We only made my mom shovel 1 of the tons of rocks. 

May was also good because here, if you drive a bit, you can already be outdoor swimming. Our good friend Sam invited us and our good friend Beya and her kids to swim in Sedona. Thanks Sam!

Also in May, Ander and Megan came to visit. That was much fun as usual. They got us hooked on Words with Friends. We'll get some work done later. 

Sadly, I also got in a car accident in May. It was minor but a car accident is never a good thing, making May a difficult, if sometimes also great, month. 

In June,because we'd had so much fun with Misty and John and Louisa, we went to Portland for the longest, biggest trip we'd taken since Max was born. We went to the coast. 

We went to Pok Pok. We went to OMSI. We drove in the rain. I hadn't been to Portland for 5 years. I drove by my old house on Brooklyn Street. It looked the same. People's Food Co-op looked entirely different. We also visited our friend Van's new brewery, Gigantic Brewing. A microbrewery. If you're getting the theme here. There's Erik, standing next to one of Van's not so micro barrels.

I spent the most of July teaching an online class and working on long essays about Micropreemies and Microclimates and Microwine and freaking out about Max's preschool situation. The one preschool that I liked the best, required him to be potty-trained. The other one that I didn't like so much, didn't require him to be potty trained but they did require him to go five days a week. That seemed a bit much for a Max. It also seemed a bit much for a two year old to get potty trained, these days. But I bought a Cars themed potty and began to apply myself. Max, at first, applied himself not at all. But he did like to go walking in the woods with me and would sometimes there pee. Progress!

We also went camping with our friends Mara and Martin and Lis and Alex and their kids. We did not take pictures of that. For a glimpse of our camping spot, look at the picture of us swimming at Sam's. We camped up there on that ridge called Sycamore canyon. 

Zoe traveled more than the rest of us. She went to Montana for Erik's cousin's daughter's wedding. She danced until midnight. She went on a rafting trip. She got almost as many mosquito bites as she did three years before in Italy. Even so, it was hard to convince her to return. But, we were fortunate in that we could bribe her with a birthday party. Z turned seven. I turned 100.

We did get to go down to Phoenix in the middle of July and if you can't call that traveling, I don't know what you'd call it. Erik got us tickets to the Diamondbacks and his parents found an awesome hotel. We watched the Diamondbacks play baseball. Max learned to like coffee and Zoe learned how to be 17. 

Throughout the summer, Zoe went to Camp Invention, and two Discovery Camps--one Spanish and one Poderosa Explorers. She was signed up for another but we canceled because summer was already almost over. Zoe and Max took many swimming lessons. Zoe can swim across the pool. Max can get his face wet. Progress!

My friend Karen and I started a writing group where I finished (again!) Salmon of the Apocalypse AND made progress on the Micro project. Summer appears to be full of small bit of progress.

While Erik worked and worked at his job, making short films like What's Cooking which feature restaurants around town: Tinderbox, Brix, and Elote, to name a few and started remodeling Zoe's bedroom (scraping the popcorn off the ceilings, painting it green and purple, tearing out the carpet) the kids and I went up to Salt Lake where my sister Paige took them to bouncy town in practically Provo (so far from Salt Lake! And hadn't I just driven through?) and we swam every day and I ran up by the zoo and for the piece de la resistance? Lagoon. I love Lagoon but, unlike the kids, I need never go there again. 

We spent the rest of the trip being hosted by my sister who knows how to cook for 17 competing appetites. Paige and Val and I had another Iron Chef, this time, Iron Chef ocean. I made crab sandwiches and hamachi salad and cauliflower panna cotta with smoked trout. Val made whole roasted snapper, ikura three ways, paella and fun of an octopus. Paige made clam dip, mussels and shrimp bisque. We did leave a micro amount of fish in the ocean.

Zoe and Max got to hang out with their newest cousin, Blake, and who, is now one of their I-wish-we-lived-in-Salt-Lake cousins like Lily and Cam. 

Fortunately, in October, my mom will bring two of the three cousins to visit us, but we're not quite there yet. First, the kids must help their dad finish Zoe's bedroom 
while I spend the latter part of August figuring out the new data system for how-to-apply for tenure.
This is the first year you had to upload all your materials into Faculty 180, a software program designed to make you regret getting your PhD. Of course, I go up the year of the electronic upheaval. But between Angie, my friend and the department's associate chair and me, we figured it out. So far so good from the various and sundry thumb's-up-for-tenure-givers. 

September? What else happened? We went to pizza at Fratelli's and took this picture outside in the dry Rio de Flag riverbed.

This year, the river should have been running. It rained every day in the summer. From Zoe's birthday (see July) until the end up September. And not just the 1-3 in the afternoon monsoons but sometimes from 11 to 5. It was wet and good. A lot like our trip to Portland.

Although I told Zoe that she could do only one activity per week, she does four. Mondays are gymnastics, Tuesdays Spanish tutoring, Wednesday homework club and Thursday Ballet Folkoricio. Max made it to the potty-trained preschool! Good job Max. September is the month of figuring out the tenure schedule, the activity schedule and the remodeling schedule. 

People visited like crazy in late August and September. Emily, Erik's cousin and my good friend down for a too-short weekend (come back Em!) My father-in-law's mom and his sister Tippy and her kids Lynzi and Taylor came on Labor Day.  Then, Erik's aunt Joyce, his uncle Frank, and his uncle and aunt Harold and Becky came so they could go to the University of Utah game in Phoenix. It was hotter in September than in July. 

But the visiting that occurred in September paled in comparison to the visiting that occurred in October, mostly because the September visiting happened at my mother-in-law's house (did I mention they live 0.6 miles away?) and the October visiting happened at my house. Early in the month, Robin Hemley, my nonfiction mentor from the University of Utah came to visit. He did two things--inaugurate the new MFA and  to work on the film he and Erik had shot the summer of 2011 in Poland. Roast Beef in the Jews will be at a theater near you soon. Ish. Robin has to come back and visit some more (come back Robin!). 

Then, my mom brought my niece and nephew down for 5 days of I-wished-we-all-lived-in-Flagstaff. Then, my good friend Peter Covino, whose book The Right Place to Jump had just been released, came to visit my class and to give a reading at La Posada in Winslow, AZ. La Posada is the train station designed by Mary Colter and once had been a Harvey Hotel but then had collapsed into disrepair. Allen Affeldt, his wife, and Dan Lutzick restored. Julie Paegle brought her family to stay with us and read with me and Peter making this the 4th time I'd seen Julie this year. Erik's sister came to visit too. She stayed for Halloween. October visits made this year one of the best ever. 

Then, November,  I tried a modified NaNoWriMo writing 500 words a day. Tiny progress. For my birthday, Erik hung my wall of copper and

who, with his parents, took me to Napa
 where I stalked Geoffrey Zakarian 

and drank wine. 

And then we came home from Napa. I wrote letters of recommendation and apparently, mostly, ran out of words for the year. 

December seems like it's full of Christmas but really it's full of letters of recommendation writing. We did go to the light parade in downtown Flagstaff which is just like the Fourth of July parade, but with lights. 

We decorated a tree and sang some songs

and spent the day with Erik's family where we made this prime rib. 

W met my family in an undisclosed desert location, making the year a circle of time, where indeed just last January we were with Misty in a different undisclosed desert location and yet also, forward we went, making some progress. Max turns three in a week. He has moved on from Thomas the Train to Spiderman. He likes to say "bootie." We like him not to.  He's reading his letters and likes us to read the book "Go to Bed" which somehow makes him stay up later. Erik is polyurethaning new doors in the kids' rooms and sneaking in to work today to work on the Roast Beef movie. I am stressing about books forthcoming (Zone 3 Press! Continuum Press!) and books forthwaiting and books I wrote and books I want to write.  I will try to unstress this stress by actually writing something this week. Zoe is drawing a tiger for her cousin Lily with the art supplies she got for Christmas. She is mad that we're probably not going to go skiing today because we just realized that half of Arizona will probably be trying to make it up the mountain today and it costs $65 for an adult day pass. Snowshoeing does not sound to her like an acceptable substitute.  Perhaps she will instead read a book. She is pretty forgiving still, even for a seven (teen) year old. (update. Erik's colleague's husband is firefighter. He has offered to let them slide down the firepole. The day is saved. Progress!)

Tonight, our friends Brian and Beya and Liam and Ian are coming over. Erik's parents, if they're over this cold that we've all had for 10 days, will come too. I'll make spanikopita (because the spinach leaves promise it will be a good year)  chicken souvlaki, greek salad, potatoes. We'll stay up at least until ten. And then, we will go to the Pinecone drop downtown where it is zero degrees and full of Flagstaffians who will do anything for a well-lit pinecone. 

Happy New Year! I hope for all of us, next year is full of tiny steps forward. 

Monday, December 17, 2012

Shutting Down

It is hard to move. The end of the semester. The beginning of snow. I sit here at the kitchen table on my normal Monday morning mode without any urgency to move. After the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting is there any point in moving?
Oh, there is. Max is here. He can't find his hammer. He would like some juice. A smoothie. Some pistachios. I will get up and get him those things, look for his hammer, find another Curious George. Trey to stop crying although it doesn't concern him too much. The computer always makes his mama cry.
I should leave the computer. I should go sit and watch Curious George and drink a smoothie and stop looking at news that only makes me feel like no matter what I do, it will end in collapse. The mother. It's always the mother's fault. She's the one who kept the guns. She's the one who coddled him. Should I make Max find his own hammer? She's the one who didn't coddle him enough? Should I run out to the store to get a new hammer now that we can't find the yellow and orange one. And then there's the Huff Post article going around called "I am Adam Lanza's mother" written by a mother who feels threatened by the violence of her child. And then the internet finds her blog and tells her to read this particular book. They find her blog and say she's always threatening her kids with jail time. Either way, it doesn't diminish her call for better mental health care. Even if she's a terrible mother, there is still so little help for terrible mothers with sometimes terrible children. Who knows how terrible a child can be? Only a terrible mother would ask that question. Just love them. As if. Is love finding their hammer or making them find their own? Max is almost three. Maybe he should make his own smoothie. Maybe I should not let him watch George except George is the one who makes him want a smoothie, which is better for him than the Skittles I shouldn't have let him eat but did or the Spiderman I shouldn't have let him watch but did.
I told Zoe straight up about the shooting. Not to scare her. She should be scared but not to scare her. I let her listen to the voicemail from the superindendent of the school district so she knows how serious this is. And how common. It happens every day. Today, three new, separate shootings. The Sandy Hook massacre eclipsed the mall shooting at Clackamas Town Center last week. Zoe is now clued into the news the way we are clued into the news. It washes over like a Facebook scroll until you stop crying. Who looks at the pictures of those Kindergartners? People who cry in front of computers and do nothing to find the hammers of their children who may well need them to build something. Maybe they'll figure out to build something new. Because this is getting old. Older than the news. Older than guns. Older than mothers. Older than not knowing what to do.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Goodbye Forest

It's supposed to snow tonight at midnight. 6-12 inches above 6500 feet. Our house sits somewhere about 6900. The forest behind the house dips up and down but doesn't go below 6500. It's supposed to snow all week. The trails will be covered. Today was probably my last run out there.

Last year, it snowed so rarely that I could run every day. Not that I did run every day. But I could have. This year, when I have been running every day and found out I'm running farther than my bad Run Keeper let on, so I'm loving the running all the more, I don't know what I'm going to do. I hate running in the road. I hate the cars that come up behind me, threatening to splash me with the mud and the drivers thinking, she's still got a pretty big ass for a runner, and the people in their houses drinking coffee saying to themselves, didn't she run by yesterday? Or is it just that she's so slow, she's just heading home now? And, I have to pee when I run. The forest has a tree for me to hide behind. The neighbors do not like it when I pee on their lawn. And Cleo! She can't run on the asphalt or the sidewalk. She hates the leash. She will just drag behind. I'll go even more slowly. The run will become a battle of wills between me and the dog who feels the need to check out every pile of leaves, or, as it shall be come next week, every ounce of yellowed snow. (It wasn't me. I did not pee on the snow in the neighborhood.)

I don't mind cold. I love it cold. I'd rather be cold than hot. But I like snow less than I used to. It requires shoveling and not going anywhere and what feels like today, the severing of the link between me and my  best friend, the forest. Snow also makes me prone to melodrama.

I know we need the snow. Last year. Drought! Emergency! Apocalypse drought. But sometimes I think, a little climate change, won't kill me. In fact, it will make me stronger. Watch me run that 12 minute mile! My heart. My blood pressure. My running shoes. The neighbors with the yellow snow. They don't mind global warming.

Goodbye forest. See you in April. Maybe, if I'm ambitious, I'll dig my snowshoes out and come visit.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

The Blog Insecurity

It's like the Bourne Identity but darker. There are so many things you can't blog about: specific students, specific friends, specific colleagues, specific husbands. You can't blog about money because you'll seem too rich or too pretend poor or about running because you'll seem still too fat or too obviously thin. You can't blog about how your blog will appear because you'll be a) too self-conscious and b) too boring.

And it is with this, self-consciousness and boringness that I will recap the semester while simultaneously wrapping it all up with the blog insecurity and its attendant dilemmas.

As often happens around the 8th week of the semester, I'm about ready for the semester to be over. That is a feeling that comes about 8 weeks too soon. It makes me feel like a crappy teacher to have these feelings. My job is awesome and teaching writing is awesome and my students are generally awesome but by week 8, the workshop model and the harping on the physical, idiosyncratic (saying it wrong nearly every time), the concrete, the specific, the scene, the image, the example, the argument makes me feel like I sound like a puppet. A puppetmaster mastering a very repetitive puppet. Who can't say the word idiosyncratic.

You can feel, as my students feel my reluctance, the whole class losing cohesion. If we were a boat, we'd be taking on water. If we were a class, we'd start self-consciously still asking for more scene by saying things like, I know I always ask for more scene but I really think more scene would be good here. Here's an example of scene you do well. Do it again. Here.

Even with the concrete example of an imagistic, idiosyncratic scene, some students just don't get it. And then, as I did once in a class with Karen Brennan, they start using horrible words like "reverie." One student used the word "intimated" as a dialogue-tag.

I do this too when I get nervous. Use weird, formal language, usually inappropriately when I get self-conscious and insecure. When people say be more specific, have a point, draw us a picture, be more present, I shellac a wall of bad writing around me to protect me from my worst fear: that someone doesn't like me (my writing, but really, since I like to write and I like people to like my writing, it feels like not liking my writing is not liking me. Which it is, except when I'm writing badly because that is "not me" writing, that's some weird impostor that uses phrases like, "she sank into reverie." I don't like that person either but it's hard to get her out of my head when people are yelling about me about idiosyncranicity which I'm pretty sure is not a word.)

So goes the teaching where at once I feel their frustration, and, especially the first semester students, I feel their nervousness but I also feel like 8 more weeks of reverie might kill me.

Sometimes there are breakthroughs.
Sometimes the 8 weeks continue forth and I bite my tongue and let someone else say, "scene."

Of course, week 15 or so, I am panicking that they didn't learn enough and that they are losing all confidence and all they will do is intimate in my general direction so then I start with the platitudes in conferences about we love you and we just want you to succeed and we just want you to know what we mean by scene. Here, let me show you again. And I feel like I was too mean and I feel like I was too nice and I feel like I don't know if any of us need to put any more words into the world anyway.

And then I get notes like this: "Also, I would like to thank you for a wonderful class. I enjoyed it very much, and I wish I could have attended this last one. You were an awesome teacher (I shouldn't use the past tense here) and other poets were all amazingly talented. So in short, thanks."

So. OK. Not so bad. Maybe harping on the word 'scene' and 'image' didn't destroy my students' ears and all their confidence (confidence?) in the pedagogy of creative writing. And, you thought the other students were getting pretty good at their writing? You are a nicer person than I. It's OK to be nice.

And another student said, didn't intimate, actually said,, "this class has been so awesome. My other classes. They just don't put in the effort you do." Effort? I accidentally wrote "reverie" all over your paper but thank you for taking it with the full force of kindness behind it.

And so, there it is. the students are more self-conscious than I. And I should learn as they should learn and maybe we both have learned that if you get all worried about your writing that worry will come out in your writing in the form of reverie and in your teaching in the form of intimation and instead of writing anything interesting about the world or the words or the people or the pine needles on the ground that are itching to get inside your shoe and ruin your day, you will write a bunch of crappy, defensive bullshit that uses words like insecurity and self-conscious and "blog" and "publish."

So on days when I'm feeling all crappy with rejection and wonder about the way my students keep writing about how they are sad instead of giving me a scene about pine needles, instead of writing about the crappiness, I shall write about pine needles on the ground trying to get into my shoe or food because food is always present and immediate and useful and sometimes people will say,  yes! you can put hollandaise on lettuce and call it a salad. And there is a scene, right there. With egg yolk and butter all over the computer keyboard. A sticky "e" indeed.