Endings and New Beginnings

This morning, I couldn't sleep, so once more, I pulled out the warm slab of my laptop, and let its screen keep me company in that early hour (early for me, anyway), as the light of a new day spread across the walls and the floors.

Ten minutes ago, my wonderful sister and her wonderful boyfriend Sam brought me a mimosa and breakfast in bed (woot!) . Their timing couldn't have been better, because just moments before, I wrote the last sentence of my novel draft. Time to celebrate the next step, a new year, and a new decade.

It feels a little surreal and emotional. Soon, we will be packing up and heading for two days of relaxation in Montana. I'm bringing books, but not my book. Of course, there is still work to do. Hello, revision and rewrites! But for now, I'm settled in with the happiness of being done and leaving behind this stage for a new one, just as my character did an hour ago, crossing into her imagined future and spinning out into the ether of narrative possibility.

I want to toast my beautiful, supportive family and my wonderful friends and cheerleaders. I am so lucky to have you along on this ride. Your love, even from afar, gives me faith in myself and humankind in general. See, I told you this was the year of feeling feelings!

Okay, it's party time. Raising a glass to all of you!

Marking Time With Words

Spring is a brown time in Wyoming. I noticed this anew as my plane flew low over the hills two days ago. Each time, I can pick out the road that curves against the bluffs south of town, and then we fly over one of the low hills that marks my own neighborhood, over the entirety of the town grid, and touch down--spectacularly--at the base of the snowcapped Tetons. That's what I noticed, however, as we flew over: a neverending swath of brown, and all the mountains still encased in snow. Bison welcomed me back, as did an intrepid weasel that somehow snuck into our suburban home, crept into my room, and, in illustration of every possible rodent horror story, hopped right onto the bed. This is the west, after all.

I was flying back from Seattle, my home of seven years, and where I had spent two luxurious weeks visiting with friends, celebrating a wedding, and remembering the riot of spring. Cherry blossoms, dogwoods, tulips, magnolias. Spring in Seattle is a time of carpet petals and palm-sized camellia flowers that fall, often unblemished, directly to the grass. It is a time of chill winds and spitting rain and oddly timed sunbreaks, too, but I couldn't help but feel that I'd picked an almost tropical locale as snow continued to drift in my hometown and the thermometer dropped back down to winter temperatures.

What does it feel like to be back in Seattle? It's an odd disjunction--more familiar to me in many senses than my life in Jackson, and yet the tugs of loyalty to Wyoming were there, too, as if, in choosing to spend these months in the mountains, I must swear fealty again to my vision, even as the warmth of my friends and the verdant scenery were things I could slip back into so naturally. I caught up with my friend Jessica, who now makes her home in the Bay Area after years spent in Seattle as well, and she remarked that visiting the city now feels like it once did to visit her hometown. This seems about right: the instant, comforting embrace of the known, not tinged by nostalgia, but rather by a deep sense of recognition. A marvel over what has changed, and yet an ease with what has not been forgotten: the buses I take, where we should choose a restaurant, where I should buy a book of poetry.

It's been months since I've ridden buses, and while I sat on one reading, I realized that the city had created a mode of thought for me in the rhythm of how I got from place to place; in the cadence of my walking, in my notation of businesses I passed, in my constant state of being around others in public spaces, and yet often burrowed into my own solitude. It was the same as I rode the bus from Portland to Seattle on a Sunday evening, a continuing drama of glowering clouds, rainbows, and sun outside the windows. I tried to take a picture of the clouds out of the glass, but I ended up taking one with the strip of setting sun from the opposite aisle smeared along the bottom of the frame. Like a double exposure or two counterpanes, tissue-thin, existing side by side. This was the feeling of being in Seattle. My old life close enough to taste and easy enough to resume, my new one waiting anxiously, afraid of being abandoned.

And yet. Part of living in Jackson feels like coming back to the beginning in the best way. Here, I have found new ways to think, too. In cars, playing my music and singing along like a banshee. On long, aimless walks while our dog Iris bounds unbidden into fields to chase the birds. In the feeling of electricity whenever a coyote howl pierces the dead of night or yes, even when a weasel sneaks into the house and brings everything that is outside, inside. I know the big question hangs there, swollen with the accumulation of months: Where will you go? And the truth is, I still don't know. I suppose I am still living the questions. I suppose my journey is meant to go a little further. At least the scenery will not disappoint. And at least I am reminded of the dear friends who support me and mean so much to me and whose much-needed company will no doubt buoy me through the rest of this month and beyond.

I am also turning 30 a week from today. It's a milestone that I want to meet with a marker. This week, I will complete my book. So, when I say I am marking time with words, I mean it very explicitly. This is the week. I will be holing myself up for as long as it takes so that I can emerge on the dawning day of my next decade and know that one thing I did in my twenties was finish my book. I will put the dot at the bottom of that question mark. I will move to the next sentence. And then, it will be time to move onto living another question, to finding another path in the trees.

Just Shelved

The Marriage PlotThe Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I can't be the only English major or liberal arts graduate who read this book with a fond sigh of recognition. Ah, the college seminars, the days spent reading like it was your job, and that super annoying pretentious guy who always had a point to make in every. single. class. Like Madeleine, the novel's heroine, I was devoted to the unfashionable Victorian texts. Still am. I, too, never felt particularly edgy in my literary proclivities. I just liked to read. Still do. Those little digs of recognition end there, however, and become stymied in frustration. Maybe it's because this novel feels "low stakes." Do we really worry about anyone who's heartbroken at the tender age of 22? Especially if she's  already been accepted into a prestigious post-grad program and has the deposit money on hand for a Manhattan apartment? Is this self-consciously clever investigation and reappropriation of the marriage plot really necessary? It seems, actually, to be far more retrograde than those fusty old novels. Those heroines were so compelling that their marital hijinks were riveting--a sensitive reader is not wrapped up in the "romance" of these books, but rather enmeshed in the diminished possibilities for the brightest and most independent women depicted therein. At the end of Middlemarch, one does not close the book with a happy sigh that Dorothea and Will have been united at last. One closes it wistfully, looking forward to a century when a woman of Dorothea's gifts could *be* a finer version of Will Ladislaw. Now that that century has come, Madeleine disappoints. The men who vie for her affections are both more brilliant, and she is mired in class prejudice. She's not an entirely unsympathetic character, but she's certainly not representative of me or the other talented young women I knew in school. As a final note, the fate of Leonard Bankhead, my favorite character, disturbed me. Eugenides' ending seemed to imply that people who suffer from manic depression are de facto disqualified as stable partners or part and parcel of a happy ending. Haven't we come further than that very Victorian idea of madness?

The View from Castle RockThe View from Castle Rock by Alice Munro
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I started this many times, and wasn't in the right zone until now. A more personal and less classical short story collection, View From Castle Rock is nonetheless engrossing and bracing, like everything Munro has ever written. Loved it.

View all my reviews

Gold Leaf Fixations

As writers, I think we cycle through various fixations. At different points of my life, I have been obsessed with silent film stars, describing snow, the personal effects of dead people, and medieval tapestries. The list goes on... Currently, I can't stop myself from Googling images and clips of classical ballet dancers. Curiosity feeds my art, even when there will be no pointe shoes in what I'm writing now, and only a little snow. Sick, sniffly, and cranky today, I combed through my own writerly archives and found these quite ancient poems. They brought me right back to my medieval portraiture/gold women fixation of seven years ago. I had just traveled to Europe that summer, and saw the Lady and the Unicorn tapestries in person. I loved those arch, stiff figures, and the symbolically mysterious cornucopia of creatures fixed at awkward angles around the maidens. Back in Seattle, I was cutting apart an old calendar of Botticelli's most famous paintings, and his flaxen-haired maidens painted centuries later called me back right away to the tapestries. Those same blonde maidens with the same faces, cast again and again as Madonnas and Venuses and Muses. I guess I'm still a little in love with them. Anyway, these two ekphrastastic (new word!) poems came directly from two of those uber-famous works. I post them here because, truth be told, I never was a very good poet, and this is really the only venue informal enough to share them. Also, they are oooolllldddd. Don't judge.

After Botticelli’s Birth of Venus

I am the bone white Venus.

I cut my feet when I walked to shore;

I wore clothes that were not my own

but my breasts glinted as pearls
inside my raiments.

The children came to touch my skin.

It wouldn’t be hidden

but glowed.

You are a body of fireflies!
They exclaimed.

My hair looped around the room like the rings of Saturn
and I spit seawater onto my plate.

Excuse her for she has just been born
they said in embarrassment.

I did not know the language yet
and my old tongue fled quickly,

twisted away like gilded fish.

They could not tell I wept
thought my tears a remnant of my salted womb

like the drippings from my limbs,
bursting into bloom on the plank wood floor.

Bless us!
they clamored.

I gurgled words I knew to them, uncomprehending;
the nymphs stole in at the sound and stole cheeses from

the bell dumb crowd

as I rang and rang them with a sound like whale calls.

That wicked baby who has dogged me flew in,
pinched my nipple.

I was dreaming of the shell, tongue-pink
my kelp body, drifting


just another unfound treasure in the deep

and now diminished, diminishing

trawled out and flaking light
like the most common catch,


After Botticelli’s Madonna del Magnificat

Oh mother of the milky skin cry the angels.

There, I shall write in your book, pageboy;
you are prettier than girls.

The corona of my baby cuts into my breast,
my fingers slide over the slick seeds of the pomegranate.

Your wrists are lilies cry the angels.

My baby is fat and transfixed and heavy;
my skin is taut over my forehead.

I can feel the angels rotating my crown like a poker traced ‘ore my scalp
ear to ear.

Your hair golds like wheat cry the angels.
Your face is beautiful and fine like a shell.

I want them to waft this baby, this weight, away;
my robes stripped off

and float aimless like a star
unknown, unheralded, unflaxed with gold,

empty as I was born.

(all images: Wikipedia)

Back On The Chain Gang

Remember those chain letters you used to send by hand until email took over and then email became Facebook "Notes" and then the threat of malware made us wary of chain anything altogether? Well, I am happy to report that the chain letter is alive and well, but in a much more edifying, safe form. The "Next Big Thing" Blog Chain invites writers to interview themselves regarding upcoming projects and then tag writer colleagues in kind. I've tagged a couple of amazing writers at the bottom of this post. I myself was tagged by the lovely and multi-talented Paullette Gaudet, who blogs over HERE. In her self-interview, she discusses her novel-in-progress about acrobats on the Gulf Coast (how cool is that?!) and her forthcoming short story, which will be published in Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine. As a recent convert to BBC's Sherlock series, I am very excited about this story. I met Paullette through the University of Washington MFA program, and I can tell you that she is a trifecta talent: wicked smart writing, sassy salon skillz, and very kind and funny to boot. She's also an Artist's Trust grant recipient!

So, here goes! Self-interview, commence:

1. What is the working title of your project?

The Minister

2. Where did the idea come from for the book?

The bossy, drank-the-Koolaid voice of my main character sprang into my head, fully formed, after I read an article online about Squeaky Fromme, who was a member of the infamous Manson Family. The accompanying photo of Fromme as a young girl–defiant, brazen, and mousy—became the first image of the novel and my guiding Muse for the protagonist. I should note, however, that my novel is entirely a work of fiction, and not based on real people or events.

3. What genre does your book fall under?

Literary fiction? I always have a hard time answering this question.

4. Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

Although for parts of the novel, the characters are older, let’s be honest: the young, glamorous fantasy casting is the most fun.Willie, my criminally insane spitfire of an anti-heroine would be played by a young Holly Hunter (around the era of “Raising Arizona”). The Minister himself is meant to be highly beautiful and highly sinister. A snake-tongued Paul Newman would do the trick. To round out the quartet of young characters, I would cast Robin Wright Penn as my soulful, pained blonde and Jonathan Rhys Meyers as my Byronic-beauty-in-decay.

5. What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Two women reflect on their relationship with a highly charismatic--and dangerous--cult leader, and the havoc their incendiary youths wrought upon their adult lives.

6. Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?


7. How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

I began working on the novel in 2009, and pecked away at it intermittently until I became more serious about finishing in 2011. Since moving to Wyoming to focus more intensively on the novel, I have completed the remaining 2/3. I am now in the process of quilting my two primary tales together.

8. What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

In terms of the storytelling style, I aim towards some tints of Duras’ The Lover or Louise Erdrich’s first person narratives. While not overlapping in subject matter or content, I think that those authors succeed at a hypnotic sort of lyrical narration, even when their characters are being nasty or cruel. My goal is to hit the same mark: create a voice that lures the reader in, even as the reader thinks Hey, this person isn’t someone I’d necessarily want to know…

9. Who or what inspired you to write this book?

I worked in a criminal defense legal office for several years, and this experience has informed my novel writing, as well as my inspiration points in general. Two of my characters narrate from prison, and I have been very influenced by the real incarcerated voices that I've been privileged to know. There's a combination of grandiose writing, a belief in fatedness, a delusional insistence on blamelessness (even when evidence mounts to the contrary), and an awareness of the abject loneliness, privation, and suffering that incarcerated men and women experience that I believe I will carry with me forever. Phew, that's a long sentence!

10. What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

It’s a double love story. Happy Psychotic Valentine’s Day, everyone!

Thank you for taking the time to read about my current project/obsession. Now, please take a gander at the blogs of the two talented writers below!

Jaimie Gusman is a fellow graduate of the University of Washington's MFA program who has continued on to the enviable shores of Hawaii, where she is a PhD candidate at the University of Hawaii and instructs and investigates poetry. Her prolific writing has appeared in DIAGRAM, Juked, and Pacifica Review, among many others, and she also has three books under her belt. Her two recent chapbooks explore the Gusman-created concept of the Anyjar. To quote Jaimie herself, "'Anyjar', as object-idea, is a mediator of sorts, as it gives agency to language and all her movements through a world that is all at once alarming and comfortable, surreal and ordinary, serious and full of play." One Petal Row, which was the first of the series, spent a good couple months living in my purse being read and re-read. Jaimie's expert word play, incisive emotional and intellectual grappling, and technical brilliance had me completely floored. As if that weren't enough, she is also featured in a new anthology from Tinfish Press and curates an interdisciplinary art series entitled M.I.A. (Mixing Innovative Arts). She is a busy, talented, and all-around awesome person, and probably one of my favorite folks to stalk on Facebook.

Scott Herman and I met through the trivia domination of Team Stimulus Package at my local Seattle pub, and I then had the pleasure of learning playwrighting craft from him in a class that he designed himself. Scott earned his MFA in creative writing with an emphasis in dramatic writing at Goddard College. Last year, his original full-length play, Octopus's Garden, was staged by San Francisco-based theatre company PianoFight to rave reviews. In the Seattle area, his work has been seen at Open Circle Theatre, Pony World Theatre, and 14/48: The World's Quickest Theater Festival. An avid motorcyclist, Scott is affiliated with ACT Theatre and is also a frequent performer at Seattle's The Moth's storyslams. He is an associate editor of T(OUR) Magazine, which is a collaboration of art related to the queer experience, and features a variety of writing and art in each issue. As associate editor, Scott often posts about the uber-fun parties T(OUR) throws for its issue releases, and I kick myself every time that I am stranded in Wyoming and unable to attend. I hope that will not be the case for the next play he has staged!.

Image Credit: http://cdn.sheknows.com/articles/crave/Paul%20Newman(1).jpg WOWZA!!

Just Shelved

Tenth of December: StoriesTenth of December: Stories by George Saunders
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The best writers truly love people. I mean, really, why write fiction if you don't? Saunders' humanism, compassion, and empathy stand out on every page, as does his absolutely delightful facility with language play, and the voices in our heads. His imagined fantasies within his characters' inner monologues are completely hilarious, while at the same time being that rare something -- true. I laughed out loud many times while reading this collection, and the title story had me weeping. Most of these stories are five star stories, but since not all of them were at the same level, I went with four stars overall. Highly recommended!

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Fun and breezy, though not as laugh-out-loud funny as Bossypants, the funny girl memoir to which all others will inevitably be compared.

Backward Glance

As I pondered what my theme would be for 2013, a friend told me about her own goal-making for the upcoming year, which is based around aiming for desired feelings rather than achievement-oriented goals.  I did some poking around, and liked what I saw.  Happiness is never the sum of things we check off our list, but rather the product  of how situations make us feel.  It's not that accomplishing our goals does not bring happiness, but goals are not just a phrase.  For instance, goals of my past like "finish my thesis" were not happy-making in and of themselves -- the attendant emotions of pride and accomplishment were.  Not to mention, there are plenty of accomplishments or things we have finished that haven't made us happy at all.  (Hmmm...actually, completing my thesis may be among those).

I know I have a lot to decide this year, especially when the book is finished.  Where will I live?  How will I construct that life?  What are things going to look like, wherever that may be?  If I stated it to myself flatly as "Figure out where to live and how to do that," I know I would instantly feel panicked and destined to fail.  Instead, I want to take a page from Rilke's book and live the questions themselves.  I want to pay attention to how things make me feel, and no rationalizing, no neurotic mental backbends -- I want to go from there.  The past, as ever, provides a fruitful place to mine.  As I drove home on what has become my Rumination Road two days ago, I listened to this song, and thought back over the past year and the moments where I felt truly happy and at    peace...or one, or both.  I got choked up and turned down a side road, and kept thinking.  I listened to the song again.  And then, lighter, I drove home.  In order to start thinking about what I want to embrace this year, here are the memories that embraced me first.  In no particular order, my Greatest Hits of 2012:

1.  Standing in bare feet in a 1960's cocktail dress on my 29th birthday, eating cake with a spoon straight out of the pan with so many Seattle friends around me.

2.  Skiing in the first 10k ski race I had done in 10 years (thanks, Becky!).

3.  Singing mournful country ballads in a two-person karaoke room with Elizabeth on Valentine's Day.  Also, the surreal moment of singing "Ring of Fire" a couple of octaves higher in the room by myself, all full of ghostly reverberation.

4.  Running in bare feet around the Cal Anderson Park baseball diamond on the night of Michelle's bachelorette party.  That was springy, yo!

5.  Camping with my Dad in Idaho on the shores of Lake Coeur d'Alene the night I left Seattle.

6.  My mom and sister and I getting serious about Easter Brunch in Yosemite.  I had seven mini-desserts.  Dinner and conversation with one of my oldest friends in Oakland a couple of nights before.

7.  Running on the beach in La Push during one of the most beautiful sunsets I have ever seen.

8.  Maggie and I taking the ferry to Bainbridge Island, walking ourselves to a sunny pub, and then treating ourselves to a wine tasting before ferrying back.

9.  Sitting on a crinkly tarp in the middle of the woods, quieted down like middle schoolers, as we listened to a midnight troubadour at Doe Bay.  (Trixie!)

10. Going on an 8-mile hike by myself and standing absolutely alone at a trail crossroads as the late afternoon light flared from behind Mount Moran.  True gratitude.

11.  Being whipped by the wind at the top of Jackson Peak with the whole valley spread out below, and good company.

12.  Sitting on a sunny patio, post-Pride parade.

13.  Fresh tomatoes and green beans and a glass of wine with my parents on our back deck.

14.  Knowing that my family loved me during a hard time.  Probably the most important one of all.

15.  Holding my Grandaddy's hand and seeing my family in Ohio.

16.  Dancing wildly with my college friends at my friends' Erin & Mike's wedding, with my best friend and her husband there, too.  All staying in a hotel room together.

17.  Every time I turn a corner and see the Tetons.

18.  Rambling, long phone conversations while out for walks.  You know who you are, ladies!

19.  Bluebird skiing with my brother.

20.  The aspens turning colors in the fall. Driving the curve of Oxbow Bend.

21.  Treat Yoself days.

22.  Leisurely Cinco de Mayo tastiness and conversation at the Owlery.

23.  Shivasana, and in a similar vein of peacefulness, W.G. Sebald and compline at St. Mark's.

24.  Cracking ice on the Snake River at the first hint of winter.  Watching the fish dart past even in the cold.

25.  Picnicking at Gasworks with dear friends on one of my last evenings in the Northwest.

Honestly, I could go on and on...which begins to feel self-indulgent. I mean we're already up to 25 here!  And I've probably forgotten some, too.  Lucky to have gathered so many special times together, like picking up smooth stones and sea glass. Common themes to all of this slip-slide through memories of the last year?  Friends. Family. Connectedness. Meditation.  Nature. Silence. Love.  Those are the feelings I need to seek out again, no matter where I go.  Here's to finding the way.


One more day left in the Year of Being Brave.  Yesterday, I got out of bed and looked out the window and was shocked into full consciousness by the sight of a little red-breasted bird sitting on one of the crystalline branches right in front of me.  That little streak of red on an otherwise white, glittering world reminded me that so much of winter in Wyoming lies in brushstrokes: the planar snow, the dusky shadows of the trees, the days that lack dimension as layer of layer of snow fold down vs. the days that  are etched in true bluebird blue.  Those days dawn with an almost shocking clarity.  When I lived in Seattle, those skies -- so full of pigment -- were one of the main things I missed about home.  The dense, mysterious snowstorms have their own beauty, however, not least being the anticipation of skiing fresh powder...

It's time to set a goal for next year, but I'm not sure what it will be yet.  Last year, it came to me on a wan, sunny morning as I sat on a bench on Orcas Island, facing the water.  That's when The Year of Being Brave declared itself as the goal and the mission for 2012.  Like anything, the grandiose title was truly a product of incremental changes and decisions, as well as setbacks, because, well, that's life, isn't it?  This year has tested me in ways that I couldn't have imagined: some of it has led me to immense happiness and pride, and some to sadness and discouragement.  One of the oddest things that occurred was that life began to imitate art, the very art I'd set out to create.  It's a bit eerie.  Someday I'd love to share that story, but first things first: the book.

I tabulated today, and the first draft is very close to done.  Of course, after that there will be days and weeks and months (??!?) of polishing and reconfiguring and quilting together the two narratives.  But the actual writing part is definitely on the wane.  At this point, I am happy to report that I am as comfortable in the skin of my second character as I was with my first.  If anything, she has become my virtual stand-in -- the more neutral, dispassionate voice.  I wrote a love scene for her today and felt almost suspicious of myself.  Was I subconsciously writing it for myself?  Hard to say.  I have learned through this process that spending so much time with one work is often glorious rather than limiting.  So much expansion is possible, so many tangents (even if I need to edit them out later).  Overall, the process is more freeing than expected.  So, yay!  Onwards...

Friends, so many of you have accomplished amazing feats this year.  What are your goals and purposes for the coming year?  I'd love to hear.  In the meantime, I'll wait for that stroke of clarity that will hopefully arrive on the morning of January 1.  

The Ugly Truth About Writing, and Thank You

I am currently backing up my hard drive.  You mean, you've had a novel on your laptop, 6 years' worth of writing, photographs, music...and your laptop is from 2006 and incredibly slow...and you've never once backed it up?  Nope.  Haven't.  Stop looking at me weird.  Although, the novel has been living in Dropbox since the spring, and I have used one of those online back-up thingamabobs.  I remain a technology neophyte in many ways.

A task such as backing up one's laptop always leads to the most delightful writerly navel-gazing.  In succession, I opened languishing Word documents entitled "Dream Transcripts," "The Savage Dentist," and "Even the sound of cars driving by is hurtful after the end of a relationship."  Raw. Ouch.  Like the true hoarder I am, I suddenly felt pained to even transfer these long-forgotten and yet obviously beloved documents to the external hard drive in order to delete them from the laptop and thus free up much-needed memory.  I suppose, at heart, every hoarder feels a sense of psychological ease in knowing that something will stay and live where it has always lived, instead of the "banishment" of storage, deletion, or (unspeakable!) actually throwing it away.  This exact drama had a preview as I felt pangs thinking of storing even one box of books or papers in my parents' garage, despite the fact that I haven't yet scratched the surface of unpacking them.  I had bought that used copy of W.H. Auden's Selected Poems, and now, in the dead of winter, on CHRISTMAS DAY, a rat was probably going to chew through its center, and then I would have never really read Auden, and his Modernist words would be masticated and forever lost to me.  This line of thinking would occur with each book.

Another thing I save with a hoarders' obsession are the drafts of stories that I wrote in grad school and submitted to workshops.  I save every single copy that was annotated by professors and fellow students: many covered with loopy script, and even personal, page-long comments sheets addressed as letters.  Same thing goes for the comments my writers' group of 3 years in Seattle was kind enough to bestow upon me.  The last time I really looked at some of these comments--some dating from the very first quarter of grad school--it struck me that in that period of my life, I received the most validation and well-wishing and good old-fashioned understanding of my writing than at any other time before or since.  I am aware of the flurry of critiques that surround MFA programs, and I have found myself on both sides of the debate.  Still, it is a special time: when you are a serious person in a serious city, writing late into the night, printing out multiple copies, receiving engaged attention, even when it is salted liberally with criticism.  For me, it was a time that made sense.  Not in every way.  But in one important way.  Each day, I do the thing I am best at doing.  Each day, others witness it.  Others care.  I cared about them, too.  Some of the writers I worked with at the University of Washington became my dearest friends (holla!) and through its hive of networking, I connected with the three fabulously talented women who traded work informally with me for several years.  Some of my colleagues wrote indelible stories and poems that I still think about, even if it has been years since I've seen them.

When I speak of the "ugly truth," what I mean is that, as any writer knows, the image of Hemingway and Fitzgerald drinking gin fizzes at a cafe table in Paris while also casually writing masterpieces on their napkins and/or moleskin journals is simply not a real thing that occurs.  Take me, for example--maybe not writing a masterpiece, but plugging away nevertheless.  Mostly, I am unglamorously dressed.  (The nice thing about living in a cold place is that you can wear a hat all the time).  I write on a Saturday night.  My dog seems confused by what I am doing.  I dream about my characters more than real people I know.  I set aside a day of unfettered writing and end up reading a book about the history of marriage until noon.  I queue up the novel and then hear the opening score to Downtown Abbey downstairs and spring from my bed in a second.  Truly Pavlovian.  I write.  And also, I don't write.  Or I write content for jobs, which are not novel-related.  The secret shame about working on a big project is that you've said "Goodbye!  I am off to make my fortune!" and you have been waved off and embraced and supported. And every day is a litmus test as to your commitment to the goal.  Some are banner days, and some are struggles--especially that old, beastly struggle of the will.

So, this is where I get to the "thank you" part.  Sometimes, I barely recognize myself.  Like an adolescent in limbo, I no longer live on my own (aka with the best roommate in the history of the world, ever); I no longer go out much; I no longer dress up (although I wear waaayyyy more hats); my evening calendar is often bare; I watch more television than I have in almost 10 years (unfortunate confession, but the fact that a show called "Duck Dynasty" exists has sadly not escaped my notice); I read about the same amount, but with a sense of guilt that I really ought to be writing my own words; I no longer report to the same office at the same time every day (give or take an hour); I no longer see the majority of the people that have provided my everything-or-close-to-it for the past seven years.  It's hard to know, without enough perspective, if all of these changes are bad or good, although certainly none of them have to be permanent.  I am not unhappy.  Sometimes, I feel happier than ever.  But, still.  Often I am confused and discouraged and demoralized, traded off equally with being ecstatic and purposeful and hopeful. I suppose there is no way to know what this time has meant until it is over, and the novel is done.  And even then, so much is uncertain.

So, thank you, friends from near and far.  And family, too (of course).  Every time you ask me how my novel is going, or we talk novel-shop, you comment on my blog, or you tell me that what I am doing is inspiring to you, it adds one more drop to the bucket of this is a time that makes sense.  Every time we talk in general, whatever it's about, my heart is gladdened and lightened.  The work is made real.  It seems less like the undertaking of an underemployed 29-year-old woman in her pajamas, and more like a valid project, and a dream that is worthwhile to pursue.  Obviously I wouldn't have come to Jackson if I didn't already believe that, but as obstacles rear themselves along the way, it is still heartening to remember.  I am so fortunate to have this time, to have the support to make it happen, and to have all of you.  Thank you.  Even though I am thousands of miles away, I could not do this without you.

P.S.  Miss you.  Love living vicariously through all of your news and adventures!

Just Shelved

The Hare with Amber Eyes: A Family's Century of Art and LossThe Hare with Amber Eyes: A Family's Century of Art and Loss by Edmund de Waal
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

You may want to become familiar with the words "vitrine" and "bibelot" before beginning this marvelous journey into the past and into objects.  They come up a lot.  Indeed, de Waal does not shy away from rarefied diction throughout, but his artistic choices seem altogether suited to his subjects, which include Paris, Vienna, Impressionism, Proust, dynastic families, what it means to be a collector, post-War Tokyo, and what, exactly, happened to his own powerful Jewish family's legacy in the wake of World War II.  Oh, yes, and this is also a book about netsuke--marvelous, rare, and yet simultaneously quotidian Japanese objects.  Their journey into de Waal's hands is remarkable.  His reflections on what it means for them to have been first collected, then displayed, and finally, passed down, are equally remarkable.  Never completely comfortable with the easy angle, de Waal's own ambivalence often soaks onto the page, and while some reviewers have found this frustrating, I found it absolutely authentic.  Trusting the reader to draw his/her own conclusions, de Waal's nevertheless takes us on a entirely unique journey.  I highly recommend this book.

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TracksTracks by Louise Erdrich
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Another stunning, indelible book from Erdrich.  What can I say, this book saw me through a dark hour.

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ArcadiaArcadia by Lauren Groff
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Two stars seems a bit harsh for a book that is quite well-written and populated with rounded, unique characters.  However, of the three Groff titles I have read, this novel was the least strong, and though I finished it quickly, I really resisted her choice to tell the entire tale in the present tense.  It made the whole novel, especially the beginning, seem hazy and overly precious.  I'm still waiting for the gorgeous, darker novel that I feel is up Groff's sleeve.  In the meantime, I hope to read more of her sparkling short fiction.

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Potent Quotables

After the passing of poet Jack Gilbert, my friend Jessica wrote a beautiful tribute to him on her blog, and mentioned that his Paris Review interview was one of her favorites. Intrigued, I read it myself, and it's full of wisdom and just the kind of love we should wish from great artists.  Here is my favorite quote:

"I think serious poems should make something happen that’s not correct or entertaining or clever. I want something that matters to my heart, and I don’t mean “Linda left me.” I don’t want that. I’ll write that poem, but that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about being in danger—as we all are—of dying. How can you spend your life on games or intricately accomplished things? And politics? Politics is fine. There’s a place to care for the injustice of the world, but that’s not what the poem is about. The poem is about the heart. Not the heart as in “I’m in love” or “my girl cheated on me”—I mean the conscious heart, the fact that we are the only things in the entire universe that know true consciousness. We’re the only things—leaving religion out of it—we’re the only things in the world that know spring is coming." --Jack Gilbert
We are also the only things in the entire universe who know winter is coming.

Winter's Teeth

It seems only yesterday that I was rhapsodizing about autumn.  Then this happened:
You may be able to make out the Wyoming flag flapping in the breeze.  A metallic edge is in the air and crystals are forming on our windshields at night.  In high school, I drove my sister to school in the mornings and we were always running so late (totally my fault) that I would scrape the tiniest little square using my driver's license and then force her to roll down the window and watch the edge of the road as we careened into the school parking lot and tried to make it to class before the 7:55 bell.  We were successful about 50% of the time.  Scraping a windshield in 10 degree weather on a dark, moonless morning with snow clogging the bottom of your flats? Probably not the most romantic part of Wyoming.  But, of course, even with the trees bared and the grasses grayed, a beauty of desolation remains.

In the past two weeks, a lot of things have happened, some of which I am choosing not to write about here.  I visited my grandfather and family in Dayton, Ohio; I started reading a book about the tracing of a family heritage through objects.  I started writing a children's book.  I wrote a description of Seymour, Indiana for a hotels website.  I want to write at length about stories and families and the beautiful sculptures of glass, light, and stainless steel that I saw at the Dayton Art Museum. Several friends have been blessed with new joys, and some have met new griefs. And, the other things that have happened...well, they have renewed my gratitude for life and for the people I love in ways I could not have imagined.  It truly is a gift, this life, and being able to see it as a gift...well, at the risk of sounding trite, that's a gift, too.

Also, I got a library card.

One thing I love about my life here is the repetition of my walks.  Readers of this blog may even notice that many photographs are taken from the same areas.  Each time I tackle Game Creek or Cache Creek
or what is fondly known in town as "the high school butte," I feel rewarded with the incremental changes to the landscape I see.  Geese were migrating, and now four swans are flapping by like white linen on a windy day.  No more two-stepping herons in the field; but on a still night, the coyotes whine.  The yellow leaves I love are also gone, but in their place are bundles of ice, binding the grass together in little clumps, little secrets.  The stars, even, seem colder and more inscrutable.  The characters in my book feel ignored; they, too, are cold and fractious and on edge.  That's what this in-between season is all about.  It's about the portent of changes, and oddly, amidst the tumult, about settling in.  It will be a long winter.  Better keep writing.  Better keep walking.  Better keep pausing to say thank you, under my breath, and yet loud enough for the world to hear.

More Publication News!

My story, "Going," is now up at DISTRICT.  Check it out HERE.  This is the first of two stories that will be featured at this rad literary magazine.  Not only is the work great, but the editor was gracious enough to track me down on Facebook and ask me for a story.  That never happens!  Until now.  So, needless to say, I am a huge fan.  Enjoy reading!

Publication News!

I am excited that one of my stories, "Edward Hopper's Women," is the first piece of fiction being featured by the lovely and Seattle-based Pacifica Literary Review!  Go and check it out HERE.  I wrote the first draft of this story in 2009 and polished it up for publication afterwards.  It's oh so nice to see it in print.

I've also had two stories accepted by District, another brand spanking new and high quality literary publication.  I'll be sure to link to those stories as they go up!