Summer skies

"Summer Sky," Mara Morea

I’ve finished my faculty seminar on Suzan-Lori Parks, and while it was a wonderful experience, I am so happy it’s over. Summer’s here!

For the teacher, summer’s often the happy ending to the work year, a time to relax, release, and renew. These last few summers have been packed with so much: two summers of adjusting to the births of my daughters (now almost-5 and 2 years old, babies born in late June and late May, respectively); one summer of moving to our current house; one summer of preparing for a large review. Now that I think of it, this is the first summer that I’ve had in five years where I don’t have a large project planned for myself, personal or professional, which is exciting and a little scary.  Oh, right, there’s this blog.

I expect that I’ll be posting more regularly with the conclusion of the seminar. I still don’t have more MFA structure in mind just yet, but the commitment to more regular posts should help. I’m looking forward to that structure in itself, along with the exhilaration and possibility that summer always brings me. There must be something about the clarity, the openness, and the light of the summer sky.

  • Summer means summer reading, summer fruit: I can’t decide which one I like better. Knowing how much I love both, that says a lot.
  • Summer means beach picnics, bubble-blowing parties in the backyard, picking our cherry tomatoes and basil for dinner panzanella, the metallic humming and clicking of the canner heating on the stove, the vibrant colors and communities of farmer’s ventolin inhaler to buy online markets. (I live within five miles of three farmer’s markets and sometimes can’t believe my luck. Hmmm: I grew up next to a farmer’s market, the famous Denio’s Market in Roseville, California. I sense a post coming.)
  • Summer means time to browse through used bookstores and thrift stores. In both places, it’s all about the pleasure of the unexpected find, the willingness and imagination to give something old a new life. (yet another post?)
  • And this summer, I’m looking forward to learning how to sew: my mom’s just bought me my first sewing machine.
  • Summer means wonderfully long to-do lists with an equally long amount of compassion if I don’t check off every item on the list.

To reflect a bit on this first month of the blog, I have loved rethinking and reseeing the world as a writer. I’ve been excited to think about upcoming assignments for this space. (Other genre possibilities: book review, opinion piece, collage essay.) Being in the seminar for the past two and a half weeks, I’ve remembered how much I love being a student. While I need some time to relax and release, at the same time I can’t wait to carry that energy into the summer.

Summer: where the sunset clouds are Maxfield-Parrish-pink against the smoky blue sky. Where my girls are twirling in the grass and the sunshine, their skirts lifting lightly.

A small postscript: just found out that my friend R tried the adobo recipe and her kids liked it! I’m thrilled. Anyone else tried it? I’d love to know if the recipe itself needs tweaking, for those who love or need specific directions.

On haunting and marginalia: why the private MFA?

It’s hard to think about ways to follow up on that first post, and I am tempted, already, to go back and make changes. Maybe I will, eventually. But first: onward, forward, upward, which is the way to travel if I want to commit to this blog seriously.

I have a PhD in English, rather than an MFA. I have thought about pursuing an MFA for a long time, or at least pursuing creative writing more seriously. There are a number of reasons that I won’t be able to do so, at least for now. I have looked at a few non-residential MFA programs, even one relatively close to where I live. These programs typically ask their students to commit to 10 days of residence at the beginning of each year (for about 2 years), and much of the remaining work is completed through correspondence, at home or off-campus. But I am not sure I can spend 10 days away from my family and my two adorable little girls, much less afford the tuition.

But, just for the sake of argument: If I did pursue an MFA, I would have had to choose a genre, I think. Poetry or creative nonfiction? I’ve got memories and attachments to each.

I remember writing one of my first poems about the color yellow, perhaps in second grade, with Mr. Daley. (I dated his grandson in high school!)
Mustard fields blossoming slowly
Flashing lightning

After watching the pine tree in the front of our house, I remember writing my first haiku in third or fourth grade, which my dad loved:
As the pine tree sways
Gently in the cool, swift breeze
I think it whispers

I wrote a lot of poetry through high school and college. In high school I kept a quote journal of quotations, bits, sayings from writings and writers that I loved. I wrote down spiral notebooks full of song lyrics, as many of us did. I’ve wondered if I wrote those down because I was too afraid to write my own poetry.

I began to write creative nonfiction, essays, at the end of college. Just after I graduated from college, I worked in campus administration. I had finished mid-year, and was applying to graduate schools. I was lucky enough to land a job in the same campus office where I’d worked as a student for two years.

During one lunch break I went to hear a former professor, Robert Hass, read from his work. At work I was steeped in the discourses of underground storage tanks and hazardous waste, and I fell promptly back in love (had I ever fallen out of it?) with poetry, with literary words. The next day I wrote an essay on my lunch break and submitted it to a contest; it won first place.

I wrote journals, diaries well into graduate school. I began to write and experiment ventolin 100 mcg online with artwork and color, joyfully, on September 10, 2001. I couldn’t journal or even open that book after that.

I also wrote a poem for my beloved graduate school advisor, about the memories we shared with each other about our fathers’ deathbeds. It’s called “Eating Grapes,” and I’ll have to find it someday. (I’m a hoarder; I suspect a great many writers are. )

Last year, on the spot, I wrote a poem for a colleague’s poetry blog.

These are some of the important moments of my intermittent writing life, at least to date. But when I think about becoming a writer, about writing this blog, the written word that’s haunting me today is a marginal comment from another college professor. When I was a sophomore, I took “Introduction to Poetry Writing” from the African American author Ishmael Reed. I didn’t really know who he was at the time, nor did I know that I would end up writing one of my dissertation chapters about him later on. I’ll have to find this poem and this piece of paper somewhere, too.

Here’s what he wrote:

“I think you could succeed as a writer. You have the talent, the skills, and the imagination.”

Best marginal comment, ever.

I am not writing these moments down to sound arrogant; they are more like the small squares of comfort I gather around myself as I think about stitching a new quilt of my writing life.

Now that I have had some years of teaching experience, I wonder what led him to write that comment. What does it take for a creative writing professor to write this on your student’s paper? Now I wonder what Professor Reed saw:
–if he knew the young girl who loved L.M.Montgomery’s Emily books, even more than the Anne books;
–if he knew that when I was thirteen I subscribed to an industry magazine, Writer’s Digest, “just to keep up”;
–if he could see those stacks of quote journals, the piles of partly-filled and empty journals, and the sheafs of poems, spilling out of my closets and desk drawers;
–if he knew just how desperately I wanted to be a writer.

I also wonder what he would say if he knew what I “grew up” to be. I wonder if I can unlearn, or need to unlearn, what I learned as an academic writer, as a critic, as a PhD.

And I don’t know if I will ever try to earn an MFA. But in the meantime, I’ll give myself assignments. Maybe I’ll ask from assignments from you reading out there, and I’ll work towards a larger project. Thanks in part to a new and dear friend, I pitched and got my first freelance writing assignment today!–which made me very happy. In the meantime, this is my own practice, my own private MFA.