Saturday, December 31, 2005

Report from Vermont

Quotes from lectures

Nance Van Winkle: “A novel needs a big engine.”
“Don’t waste creative energy on something that is not giving back.” (referring to the process by which one decides to abandon a novel attempt
“You gotta have the joy!”

Xu Xi says every novel must have a polemic, but a must also tell a story. Must be a balance so the polemic does not overwhelm the story.

Phyllis Barber, quoting Adam Sexton (I think) in a lecture on pov/narration: “Once you’ve found the voice, you’re half-way there.”

On other fronts:

I spent the night 12/28 with Annie, Michael and Sam, perhaps the most congenial family I know outside of the McJiltons. Annie Lighthart is a poet, also back from leave after having a baby, also in her fourth semester. Slept like a rock all three nights so far.

Am currently skipping a lecture (which is actually recommended – if I went to all of them I would burn right on out). Have met a few people, very talented people here. Student readings last night – 12 people writing in such distinct voices, all quite accomplished. I’m glad they let me in.

Enjoyed workshop. Abby Frucht, one of the leaders, freaked me out – in the sense of showing me where the next hurdle is. She talked about being conscious about the choices you make in writing, at some point in the revision process. I am so unconscious, and I have this idea that stories should come as an oeuvre, full-formed, adult and alive and all I have to do is be the channel. Abby is talking about one heck of a lot of hard work.

I made conscious decisions about the shape of my story Amber Vitae, for the first time, and it may be my best story to date.

Am terrible lonesome for my family. I want to get everything I can out of the residency, to make their sacrifice count for something. I mean, if I am asking them to go through all this trouble I ought at least to get something out of it. Larry uploaded some pictures of his and the kids’ activities yesterday. Awwww…. What a great guy I married.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Leaving on a jet plane

--- but I do know when I'll be back again.

I'm off to Vermont College for my penultimate intensive residency on the road to my long put-off MFA in Creative Writing.

For ten days, I will sleep by myself, every night. If there is too much noise and commotion, I can choose either to join in or go to bed. It will be entirely at my option. I will converse with adults for hours on end about things that matter to me. People will comment on my writing. Some of them will have something useful to say.

There's a lot of debate in the literary community about the value of MFA programs. My favorite comment on the subject comes from Flannery O'Connor, who reportedly replied when asked if MFA programs discourage young writers: "Not enough."

But getting to be with other people obsessed with this quixotic practice, and sleeping without little kids kicking me or wanting milk or etc. etc. tips the scales for me.

Yes, I will miss my husband and my kids. Paul especially may have a hard time with our separation, and I always worry that any emotional difficulty will land them on a professional's couch where they will stay well into their 40's. On the other hand, there is some danger that the kids will want me to go away again after they see how much fun Daddy can be. Daddy plans to set up the tent in the living room, take them to McDonald's, and maybe the Carousel -- and that's on day one.

We all get a chance to do a public reading, and I plan to read something from my collection of coyote stories. In Native American mythology, the coyote is the trickster and there is usually a moral associated with the coyote stories.

My coyote stories refer to an expression used when you drink too much and wake up with your arm underneath the sleeping form of someone so ugly, you would rather chew your arm off, like a coyote in a trap, than wake that person up. There's an element of the trickster in them, too. I'm having a great time writing these stories when I have the time.

Have a happy, safe and sane enough New Year.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Happy Winter Solstice

The days are now officially getting longer -- even if the difference is imperceptible, it's quite important up here in the northern climes! And Merry Christmas, too!

Monday, December 19, 2005


Spent some time with women friends this Saturday hanging out and dishing re: in-laws, past indiscretions, pet peeves, etc. It meant enough to all of us that we carved time to go, among/despite/because of the holidays, kid commitments, and visiting relatives. I appreciate those women taking the time, and of course, we had an absolute blast. The interesting thing for me is how much we have in common, in ways that are not apparent from casual connections. I feel fortunate to have friends, and got to pondering what I think makes a good friend.

Axl Rose melted my heart on MTV in 1990 when he lifted up his shirt and showed his nipple rings, saying "Any woman wants to be with me should look at these and know I can take a lot of pain, baby." Or something like that. So his criterion for a girlfriend was the ability to psychically infer from his piercings that he could take (and presumably inflict) a lot of pain. Hang on, I'm getting to the point, really I am.

The point is, we are all sending signals to others. I don't have any piercings to send messages, but I do gravitate to people with certain qualities. It's not conscious, and it's not external. (I once got assigned to work with a woman I pegged (unfairly) as a fluffhead because of her spike heels, big hair, and 6 inch fingernails. I'm sure she pegged me as a policy wonk/fruitcake, too. Within a short time, we were laughing our guts out together.)

So here are the things I think make a good friend, after pondering this a relatively short time: intelligent; tolerant (because I can be intense, strange, hyperapologetic, crabby, etc.); civic-minded; focused on outcomes rather than process but not blind to the necessity of process; honest; a champion of the underdog; loving and kind to old people, children, and people in need; fun; non-judgmental; and creative. I particularly like people with ribald personal stories. The aforementioned qualities are not in any kind of order, btw.

To all of my friends, thank you for being in my life.

So, what qualities do you think make a good friend? I figured out how to allow anonymous posts, so go for it.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

The Void

There's a book, the name of which escapes me, that likens ineffectual efforts to "standing at the edge of the pit of hell and throwing in snowballs." I like that.

I've dropped several snowballs into the void in the last several months.

  • Submission snowballs -- I've gotten one (1!) response out of 20 subs since September. (It was an acceptance, happily.) As for the others, I've gotten nothing -- no "go away, you suck," no "we're not publishing anymore," nada.
  • Editing snowballs, little patches and fixes I'm making on my novel which serve the purpose of highlighting more inanity, drivel, and nonsense within the group of words I'm calling a novel. I've said and honestly believed, every time I've said it, that the thing is 75% done. Ha, ha, ha.

Can you tell I'm in one of my "I suck" periods? I do this from time to time, where I sit down and write only because I'm contrary and I'm not going to listen to anyone tell me I can't write, even if it's me.

Went to visit some relatives last Friday. Mother-in-law: "How's the writing going?" Me: "I think I suck, ha ha." 19-yo nephew: "Well, good luck with it." Me: (trying to be ironic): "Thank you." 19-yo nephew, in all sincerity: "You're welcome."

He's a good kid -- full of brio, intelligent, sincere. And he may have just been paying me back for my comments about his numerous piercings -- including his nipple piercing --- eeewwww. Some things an auntie just does not want to think about.

BTGOG, I have not had writer's block. I'm pumping out the prose, and I've got the purple fingers to prove it.

Sunday, December 04, 2005


Here's Lorelai! Proud parents are Jaime and Eric E. She molded her little body right into my arms and I fell in love. And I'm not just gushing because I obviously like babies. This little girl has the air of someone special about her.

In the warmer: Nanci and Ian's little girl, due April 2006. Congrats to all!!!!!

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Thanksgiving photo

Spent it at my sister's new home, which she and her husband finished building this summer. She hosted both sides of her family. We all fit, even after the meal. Lots to be grateful for, eh? Here's Jennifer and cousin Tammy behind her. Jenn's had that million-dollar smile since she was two months old. Tam's shirt says "Groupie looking for a farm boy."

Daisy the coprophage

Time to introduce Daisy, our 5 mo bichon puppy. She needs a good grooming, but until her parvo shots take hold we have to do it ourselves. Can't have her around adult dogs until then. I wanted to post a pic of her in her new coat, a faux fur white and shiny purple affair with a pink rhinestone B for Bauer, but I missed my chance. And for those of you chortling derisively at me for putting a coat on a dog, screw you. The temp sunk to the single digits, and the snow is up to her muzzle. O picked the coat, and how could I say no?

The first great irony is this sweet, delicate, cossetted little thing snarfs down every piece of shit she can sniff out.

The second is that we chose her breed because they have very little dander and I'm allergic to dogs. That's all worked out okay, but my "hypo-allergenic" dog has severe reactions to most foods. So we buy her prescription dog food and make strong efforts to keep her from eating anything else.

I had this idea that, though it would take some work to train her, one trade-off would be that she would keep the floor around Paul's high chair a little cleaner. I guess she is indirectly keeping it cleaner, because I have to get to the mess right when it happens.

I have always had rescue dogs before this, and they've all been trained - to varying degrees.

What's that on my kid's face?
Santa and his sleigh, courtesy of the face painting booth at the Intermountain Children's Home Festival of Trees. Intermountain helps children heal from attachment disorder, and other problems typically caused by abuse or neglect. The Festival of Trees gala raises money for ICH. We go every year and it's a blast. Paul couldn't peel him little self away from the bouncy house long enough to get his face painted, and was napping when I snapped the photo.