Where I’ve been

A can of vintage MSG. No, this is not where I have been. Though that would explain a lot.

Where have I been?

Well, I’ve been thinking about you. You’ve been on my list, believe me.  I imagine you peeking through the velvet curtains, clicking the website address in vain. Anybody home? Not recently. Ah, well. I’ll try again. And I’m grateful you did.

I’ve been writing, so don’t worry too much about that. You can find my latest food writing here about chocolate and butchers and teriyaki history on Seattlest, and about yoga and running here for my yoga studio. I’m also excited for my upcoming first freelance assignment with the International Examiner, a Seattle Asian American community newspaper. And there’s some other writing I’ve been doing that I can’t quite post here just yet. But I’ve been writing hard. Just not here. Sorry.

I’ve been reading, too. I bought a few new books for the first time in ages—my own copy of Stephen King’s memoir On Writing, plus Colum McCann’s novel Let The Great World Spin, on the recommendation of a couple of friends. I’m excited to begin Monique Truong’s latest novel Bitter In the Mouth.  I’m also two-thirds of the way through Daphne Kalotay’s novel about ballet and jewelry and Stalinist oppression, Russian Winter. And I don’t want to return my library copy (though I will!) of the letters between Julia Child and Avis DeVoto, collected and called As Always, Julia. Their affection and wit and friendship made me fall in love with the two of them, and made want to write more letters again.

And I’ve been following the discussion on the movie and book The Help. In case you haven’t ventolin inhaler for sale seen this response yet, by Ohio State University professor Rebecca Wanzo, I highly recommend it. It’s pretty evenhanded and thorough, acknowledging the book’s emotional power while sustaining a more detailed critique.

I’ve been out and about a lot more—even a lovely date night here!–which is mostly good for me, not so great for the household sleep schedules, and thus not so good for downtime and writing time here.

I’ve been making jam, stocking the jam closet space downstairs. There’s a wonderful line from my goddess of domesticity, Pat in one of L.M. Montgomery’s novels: “While I move and live and have my being I’ll want a jam closet.” A jam closet! I might have scoffed a few years ago. Ah, but now. Now I understand.

And if you read the last few paragraphs of this haunting essay by Alexander Chee, you’ll get some of the feeling of where I’ve been. “What can you trust of what you can’t see?” his yoga teacher asks at the end. Like the yoga students in that essay, I’ve been moving thoughtfully through uncertainty, and trying not to fall.  It is terrifying and it is heady. Because of that combination, I’m sure it will eventually be good for me.

Nevertheless, I’m here too. I made you chocolate cookies. They’re still warm. Or you can spoon up some homemade peach jam over vanilla gelato, to hold onto summer as I have for the last two nights.

In other writing news, my creative nonfiction essay, “How It Feels To Inherit Camp,” is being republished and anthologized. It appeared in Kartika Review this year. I’m thrilled. And I’ll keep you posted.

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.