Friday, July 29, 2011

Writing Prompt: Imagined Social Networking Profile

I started on Friendster, then moved to Myspace before migrating to Facebook and LinkedIn and today I’m on Google +. It is exciting and exhausting to continue to start over on each new social networking site. (It is even more exhausting to think about all of the social networking sites I mostly ignore, like Twitter.)

For today's writing prompt, write the profile you would (probably) never publish. Who are you? How do your dreams and fears define you today, in this moment?

Write non-stop for five to ten minutes and then go back and underline the key lines/ideas/images that emerge.

I'd love to read your piece or responses to the exercise below in the Comments section.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Taking Breaks: Halfway through the summer

Yikes. August is almost here, so that means that we are more than halfway through the summer. Nope, I never said I was an optimist.

Well, maybe I am. We still have about a month left, which means there’s still time to work on that project you put off last fall, winter and spring. And early summer. With some careful planning, you can finish those lingering projects and get onto the next one that suddenly seems more exciting.

We all need to relax and reboot. Take a rest on a lawn chair in your backyard, visit friends, go to the beach, see that museum you didn’t have time to see and catch up on New Yorker magazines.

Then, take your renewed energy and apply it to that to your work.

I teach twelve months a year, so I’m not having the traditional academic’s summer where I can focus 100% on my creative projects. That’s ok, I like teaching – it really does feed my work (and, of course, we all like an income that literally does feed us.)

There are many aspects to a writing and academic life. Maybe too many. The key to avoiding going completely batty is to make lists, carefully organize your time and go through each project step by step. Some folks work better doing a little of each project every day or so and others like to work project by project. It is up to you to determine how to best balance your time and commitments.

Here are the main aspects of my writing life:

Write original poetry and essays
Edit and revise original poetry and essays
Organize the final versions into manuscripts
Submit poems, essays and manuscripts for publication
Stomach rejections and send out more work
Submit query letters for freelance work
Submit writing residency applications
Apply to reading series
Read related and challenging creative work
Attend readings, conferences and workshops

And on the academic side of things:

Revise and plan future courses
Teach for-credit classes (monitoring discussion board posts, answering student questions via email, phone and live office hours, grading papers)
Teach private students
Advertise my services
Submit academic conference proposals
Write academic papers
Stay up to date on the subjects I teach
Read related material to help improve my teaching
Attend readings, conferences and workshops
Sometimes organize readings

Yes, that’s a lot. As a poet, freelance author, private writing coach and adjunct professor, no one is standing over me reminding me of deadlines or duties. It is up to me to organize the hours of each day and be productive.

Sometimes it seems impossible and all I want to do is drink a frozen, very alcoholic drink with a large straw by the ocean in a foreign country where they don’t speak English. One where my few saved dollars can be stretched and I have nothing to do except swim and get massages. Where I lie in the sun, but never get a sunburn.

Wait a minute… that’s just a dream.

Back to reality. Usually I can work through the projects one day at a time. I only succeed in doing that by experiencing the world, going outside and surrounding myself with loved ones between the many projects.

Take a break, writing friends. Even if that means scheduling them. You can reach your goals. 

Monday, July 25, 2011

Prague Summer Program

Ahoj! (“Hello” in Czech.)

I didn’t learn Czech when I attended the Prague Summer Program  in July 2004, but I did write many poems.

I first read about the program in the bathtub. I saw an ad in Poets & Writers Magazine and was excited. I thought was that it wold be the best way to sneak in a trip to Italy (It was my first year living back in the States after three consecutive years of living in Florence, Italy. I was still experiencing re-entry culture shock.)

Of course, my four weeks studying Czech literature and writing poetry was more than a pit stop after visiting friends and feeling nostalgic in Florence.

Except for the food (I went after a visit to Florence, remember), the entire program was a dream. I took a poetry workshop with Marvin Bell and one with William Olsen. I also took a literature class with Petr Bilek that involved astonishing walking tours of the city. The city was surprisingly easy to navigate and almost everything was fairly inexpensive. I was lucky to receive a partial scholarship from the program and some funding from Sarah Lawrence College.

Between the two classes a day, regular lectures, exploring the city and some day trips, I had time to write. I would sit in cafes or in my shared dorm room and write poetry. Living in an unrecognizable world – a very different language and landscape – helps writers to hone their five senses. There is so much to notice and consider.

I didn’t find myself writing about Prague, exactly, and oddly the city, art, history or literature hasn’t shown up in my poetry the way that Italy has rooted itself in my work. But the experience of being there helped me to focus my work and consider new ideas. I’m very grateful to have had the experience.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Why Blog? (Times Three)

Sunset from our hotel room on Santorini, Greece, on our honeymoon

I love to travel and so does my husband. Just the other day, I asked him which places on Earth he most wants to see. He answered, “All of them.”

For now, we are planning a winter trip to China. As we prepare and learn more about China, we are blogging about it. Meanwhile, after living in Italy for four years, I keep a blog about Italian language and cuisine.

Along with this blog, that means I keep three blogs. Three. I write them while I’m also writing poetry and creative nonfiction for publication, teaching online classes, teaching writing privately, teaching Italian language, teaching Italian cooking, and sometimes doing laundry. I’m a busy girl.

I’m also a happy girl. Most writers are passionate not only about writing, but also about particular subjects. Language, food and culture fit closely together for me. I learn as I research and then organize my thoughts into writing. I hope that the information that I share is helpful for readers. Teaching writing, language and cooking similarly inspires me.

I always tell my writing students that the best way to improve their writing skills is to write and read. These blogs not only allow, but encourage, me to do both regularly.

To keep things organized, I keep a schedule. I blog here three times a week, about Italian language and cuisine once a week and, with my husband, about traveling to China twice a week. It wouldn’t be possible for me to blog three times a day about three different topics.

If you are considering blogging, I recommend that you choose a narrow topic for a blog and create a schedule for yourself. This will keep you focused and organized.

Do you blog? I’d love to add your blog to the list of Reader’s Sites on the left hand column of resources. Share your link below in the Comments section.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Commas: Proper Use

Please use proper punctuation when you write. I understand that language evolves and perhaps some outdated rules are no longer necessary. (Of course, some rules become relevant again, such as using “they” to indicate a singular, gender neutral pronoun.)

When you write academic papers, emails, even Facebook posts, don’t forget to use proper punctuation. Punctuation helps to express the ideas that you are spending time to share with others.

Commas are, at times, completely ignored. Remember the book “Eats, Shoots & Leaves” by Lynne Truss? The title is a great example of a (purposeful) misuse of commas. On her site Save the Comma, you can test your comma IQ with a quick and entertaining online quiz.

Maybe some writers are ignoring commas because they have questions about their use. For a quick reminder of the rules, I strongly recommend the Purdue Online Writing Lab’s Commas: Quick Rules. You can click through extended rules and more, including commas' relationship with semi-colons on the left.

To test yourself, you can try the exercises that Diana Hacker offers in A Writer’s Reference. (If the site asks you to log in, simply click “cancel.”) The chosen answer will be clearly explained to you and you can better understand why you were right (or wrong.)

We learn language in part by using it. Therefore, when you read published, edited work, pay attention to how commas are used. By actively reading, you can learn to be a better writer.  I know you can become a better writer. 

What are your favorite comma-use resources?

Monday, July 18, 2011

Writing Residency: What is it?

View from my writing office window at the Vermont Studio Center

I am very excited to be going to a writing residency on Martha’s Vineyard this October. I’ve received a number of questions from folks asking what that means.

Wikipedia nicely defines a writing residency:
Artist-in-residence programs and other residency opportunities allow visiting
artists to stay and work so that they may apply singular focus to their art practice.
These programs offer conditions that are conductive to creativity and they provide
for working facilities, for both individual artists and groups.

Sometimes a writing residency is hosted some place where there are residencies for visual artists. For example, the Vermont Studio Center, which I attended a few summers ago, hosts both visual artists and writers.  There were open studio visits and readings, which was a wonderful way to cross-pollinate ideas.

The overall goal of a residency is to give the writer time to create. Often a residency has a group of people at once, so that there is the possibility to form a community. Sometimes there is only one person in residency. When there is a group of people, there are often group meals and some activities. Some residencies will hold workshops and classes.

If you scroll down the right hand side column of this blog, you’ll find links to many resources, including one section entitled, “Conferences, Residencies & More.” On these sites, you can search through domestic and international writing residencies.

Have you attended a writing residency? I’d love to hear about your experiences in the Comments section below. 

Friday, July 15, 2011

Writing Programs & Residencies I've Attended

View of the writing studios at the Vermont Studio Center.  

Recently, colleagues and clients have been asking me about writing programs and residencies I’ve attended. Here's a quick list. I link to related blog posts, where available, about the experience. (Looks like I've got some writing to do!)

I look forward to writing about the residency on Martha's Vineyard this fall.

Poetry Retreat at Zen Mountain Monastery in New York

Vermont Studio Center

MFA Program at Sarah Lawrence College in New York

If you are considering any of these programs, I'd be happy to answer any questions about my experiences. 

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Haruki Murakami's Kafka on the Shore

I recently read Haruki Murakami’s Kafka on the Shore, translated by Philip Gabriel. At least I think I did. After reading it only once, I’m wondering if the entire book isn’t a metaphor for life or at least a metaphor for the literary device itself. In either case, the novel and its plot may or may not exist for all of us and it certainly might not have its given name.

The first Murakami book I read was A Wild Sheep Chase. It was, more or less, assigned to me since I was teaching someone else’s syllabus for a literature class. I fell in love with the prose and the abstract world that Murakami created. In both books, mythical characters are created in a fantasy landscape grounded in our actual world. In this respect, Murakami catches us off guard since our expectations of normalcy start to be met, and then suddenly aren’t.

Characters remain unnamed, a short hand for the common, everyman, and animals have more skills than we witness in our physical lives. It isn’t clear that each character, named or unnamed, actually exists within the sphere of the book. In Kafka on the Shore, their expectations, journeys and desire overlap enough that they could be alter egos for the same character.

Metaphors themselves are directly discussed throughout the book. In the final chapter, one character says kindly to the title’s namesake, “The world is a metaphor, Kafka Tamura” and then adds, “But for you and me this library alone is no metaphor. It’s always just this library. I want to make sure we understand that.”  I can’t help but think not only of Kafka’s writing, but also Borges’ famous libraries

The power of books, the ability of individuals to navigate and command their destinies, the condensed nature of the past, present and future, and questions about a higher power pull this text out of a fictional world and into our own. These are, after all, our own preoccupations.

I always tell my students that writing is one part of a dialogue between writers and readers. To help continue a conversation about this book, I’d like to thank my friend Robin for suggesting that we read it together.

Do you read books with friends or family members? 

Monday, July 11, 2011

Poetry, Prose and Art on HIV/AIDS: Spaces Between Us

Writing and publishing poetry can be a tricky business. Literally.

While I was an MFA candidate at Sarah Lawrence College in 2004, I wrote Mouth Pebble. I submitted the poem nine times, starting in 2004, before it was accepted for publication in the anthology Spaces Between Us: Poetry, Prose, and Art on HIV/AIDS

I saw a call for this anthology on the Creative Writers Opportunities List and submitted the poem in May, 2009. I received an email accepting the poem that November. The book was published in September, 2010, and I only discovered that it was out this spring (2011.)

Alas. These things happen. Between the acceptance and publication, I moved from the Midwest to the Mid-Atlantic. Perhaps something got lost in the shuffle.

I just received the copy of the anthology that I ordered from Amazon and I’m flattered to be among such great writers as Kwame Dawes, Rafael Campo and others. HIV/AIDS, of course, remains a serious issue, even in this era of medication.

My poem Mouth Pebble displays my early obsessions with health and food. The narrative of this poem was inspired primarily by two stories: a gay, male friend who is HIV positive and another friend who once found a pebble in her cooked fish. Of course, I added, deleted and changed many details. The final, published version is quite far from the original inspirations.

I invite you to help support this blog and purchase your copy of Spaces Between Us: Poetry, Prose and Art on HIV/AIDS in this blog’s Amazon store.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Writing Residency: Writing this October on Martha's Vineyard

If you follow me on Facebook, you know that I was recently invited to the Martha’s Vineyard Writers Residency.

As you can imagine, I am super excited. Super. Excited.

I will be there for three weeks (October 10 – 31) working on my new poetry manuscript. I decided the beginning of this year, literally starting on 1/1/11, to start a new collection of poems. The manuscript has already had a few titles, but the focus has remained the same: loss, grief, the mourning process, health and healing. I also decided that I need to better prioritize my writing. Enter writing residency applications.

To celebrate the upcoming residency, my husband took me out for a New England meal at Hank’s Oyster Bar: Oysters, fried olives and lobster rolls. (If you like food as much as I do, you might enjoy my Italian cooking and language blog, Fare La Scarpetta or  Chinese food-oriented blog, Forks to Chopsticks.)

If you’ve been on this residency, I’d love to hear from you. If you have tips about Martha’s Vineyard, I’d love to hear those, too!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Job Searching for Writers

Committing ourselves to writing often means that we don’t want to commit to a full-time job. As a result, we might find that we are cobbling together part-time jobs.

After working in the career counseling office at Sarah Lawrence College as a graduate student and successfully securing p/t gigs these last few years, I’ve become experienced in the job search. Below, please find a list of resources that I’ve found most helpful. You might also be interested in two articles that I wrote for Inside Higher Ed about online teaching: Landing Online Teaching Jobs  and Should You Teach Online?

Teaching Writing:

Higher Education Recruitment Consortium (look for your region’s consortium)

College or university department or human resources webpage

Non Profit Sector Jobs:

Jobs for Writers:

Local Listings:

Local Newspaper

Local sites: My favorite in D.C. is dcjobs  

Try contacting your undergraduate or graduate career counseling offices or alumni associations for additional help. If you meet folks, through the associations or elsewhere, who have jobs that interest you, you might consider asking them for an informational interview in order to learn more about the career. 

What other resources would you recommend?

Friday, July 1, 2011

Paris Review’s Interview Archive Available Online

Whoever says you can’t get anything (worthy) for free is wrong. The Paris Review is now offering all of its author interviews online for free. The archive goes back to its first issue in the 1950s. What an amazing resource for readers and writers. I look forward to reading the words of some of the poetry greats, like Robert Lowell, Marianne Moore, Paul Muldoon and more. You can search through the archives by author name or decade of publication.

Thank you to the Writer’s Chronicle for bringing this to my attention (yes, I'm quite far behind in my journal reading...)