Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Memoir: You Don't Look Like Anyone I Know

In 2010, I was moved when reading Oliver Sacks’ A Neurologist’s Notebook: Face-Blind; Why are some of us terrible at recognizing faces?  (Since the full article isn’t available for free, try listening to a related interview with Oliver Sacks here.)

Since then, I’ve been personally interested in prosopagnosia (the inability to recognize faces and places.) The symptoms that I have are substantially less pronounced than those described by Sacks, but they are present. I was able to determine that I wasn’t simply a hypochondriac after speaking with a researcher who I found through this organization.

Heather Seller’s memoir, You Don’t Look Like Anyone I Know, continues to clarify the experience of someone with prosopagnosia in a well-written book. I quite literally finished the book in two days because I couldn’t put it down. There are two chronological narratives throughout the book: the past and a more recent present. Sellers presents events as they happened and offers the reader a chance to experience the same, “aha!’ moments that she did. And there are many of these moments.

For more on the book, watch this video trailer for the book or visit the author’s site.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Memoir Writing Workshops @ Politics & Prose Bookstore in Washington, D.C., this February

I am looking forward to teaching two memoir writing workshops in February at Politics & Prose Bookstore in Washington, D.C., on Thursdays in February. Memoir Writing I will run in the mornings (10:00 AM – 11:30 AM) and Memoir Writing II will run in the afternoons (1:00PM – 2:30 PM). For both classes, we will be looking closely at selections from The Art of the Personal Essay: An Anthology from the Classical Era to the Present edited by Phillip Lopate.

I taught my first class at the bookstore in November, Memoir Writing I, and it filled up quickly. Register through the bookstore today to reserve your space.

In these classes, we sit in a circle, write in response to given prompts, discuss student writing and essays assigned from the text. What’s better than spending an hour and a half weekly with like-minded adults writing and discussing writing in a lovely independent bookstore?

Friday, November 18, 2011

Writing Prompt: Parent / Caregiver Memory

Describe a memory you have with a parent or caregiver. It could be your earliest memory or even a recent memory. Rely on  your five senses to describe the scene.

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, November 16, 2011

Show Me the Money: Grants and fellowships for writers

Florence, Italy: Where I would go if I won a writing grant... 

It isn’t easy to support yourself as a writer and searching for financial opportunities can cut into your writing time. Here are a few great sites to help make that job easier for you. Do you have others to recommend?

Monday, November 14, 2011

Etsy Shop: Postcard Poetry

Photograph by Melabee M. Miller

Did you know that I have two sets of postcard poetry available in my Etsy shop?

One set, the first one I created, is based on memories of my great Aunt Dora. The poems have titles in the present tense, defining a contemporary action that led me to a memory. The poems themselves are written in the past tense.

The second set is a series of love poems paired with photography of sea, land and sky taken by my mother, photographer Melabee M. Miller. The image above is one of them.

While early drafts of the poems from both sets were firmly grounded in my own experiences, further revision moves the emotional heart and human truth of each into a more universal realm. They are not meant to be historical documents, but rather artist interpretations of our lives together as humans.

I hope you'll visit my Etsy shop for more details. 

Friday, November 11, 2011

Writing Prompt: Turning Point in your Life

Write about a turning point in your life’s apparent direction.

Suggestions: You may consider a moment of happiness or a challenge. It might be something as definitive as a decision to go to college, a death, a marriage or something as small as a thought you had in your car while waiting for the light to change. Maybe a shred of fabric from your grandmother’s wedding dress put you on a certain course. Or perhaps you heard the Dalai Lama speak and were encouraged to change your life. I’ve been working on a series of poems based on being called the name of a late friend by a stranger who confused me with another stranger. This event prompted a larger meditation. You never know what will prompt a change in thinking that leads to a change in your journey.

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, November 9, 2011

The Poem’s Origin: You

I'm confused when writers announce that someone else – a muse or higher power of some sort – gave them a poem.

How is that possible? You – the writer – sat down and wrote something. Who else would have written it for you?

Your writing is a combination of your experiences. That is to say, a combination of things you’ve done, read, heard, felt, dreamed and thought about.

Take a risk and allow yourself to own your writing. You are allowed to admit control over the writing process – from drafting to revising to editing to publishing.

Of course I’ve had experiences where I seem to wake up from a sort of trance and find myself surprised by what I’ve written. Our brains are powerful muscles that transform input, input that perhaps started before we were born, into something new that we create. And that trance? It was probably concentration that is hard to find when we constantly multitask in our crazy worlds.

Are there inspirations that move you to write? Maybe a certain action (like running or cooking) or a place (like standing by the sea) helps you to concentrate and allow your mind to think of words, phrases or entire pieces. If so, good for you for knowing what works and allowing yourself to experience those things.

Good work writing! You did it.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Expensive or Hard to Find Textbooks: Some tricks to find cheap textbooks

When I teach writing or literature courses, I try to assign books that aren’t terribly costly. I understand the financial challenges that being a student can present. This semester, one literature anthology that I’ve used a number of times was no longer easily found and the prices skyrocketed. I looked online, asked around and found a few good spots to look for books in general. Let me know if you have any additional suggestions.

Your school or local library might have the books available

Rent your books on Chegg

Your school bookstore might sell used copies of the books

Indiebound, which brings together independent bookstores, might help you to be able to find your book while supporting a local bookseller

Try the book publisher’s website which might list a number of places that sell the book

Ebay’s Half.Com has a great selection

Amazon has used and new textbooks

Friday, November 4, 2011

Writing Prompt: Something that has been asked of you

Write in response to a question that has been asked of you. Did someone once pose a question that left you speechless? It might have been a simple or complicated question. Maybe someone called you by the wrong name. Maybe you were asked to explain something that had seemed simple and then no longer did.

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, November 2, 2011

Martha's Vineyard Writers Residency: Overview & Review

Sunrise in Edgartown, Martha's Vineyard, the town where the residency was held.

I returned home on Halloween after spending three weeks at The Point Way Inn for the Martha’s Vineyard Writers Residency. Writing students often ask me to describe not only what a residency is, but also how to approach one and details about my experiences. I strongly recommend preparing for writing residencies, even if you still have paid work to do, by setting specific goals and using the time to take stock of your writing. With extra time and a new place to alert your senses, you can both look closely at your writing and step back to take an overview of your larger projects and progress.

In today's post, I describe my goals and accomplishments, as well as my experiences at this particular residency. 

Goals & Accomplishments
I am teaching writing and literature classes online this semester, so I couldn't give myself a true residency. While I would love to take time off from work and write full-time, that’s not economically feasible for me. My husband and I might be able to squeeze our budget to make it possible, but then I couldn’t do things like this residency (which is fairly inexpensive, but not free like some.) The good news is that I quite like teaching. Teaching online, instead of in-person, gives me the flexibility to do things, like this residency. In the end, it all works out.

I often find myself juggling a number of projects at once. This month was no different. My goals are in bold below, followed by what I accomplished at the residency:

Revise book proposal A (Not started.)
Write book proposal B and two sample chapters (I drafted the proposal and two chapters. It all needs more work. The ideas did turn into an article proposal; I haven’t heard back from the editor yet.)
Write new poems for Elsewhere, a poetry manuscript (I wrote and revised ten new definition poems which I had been thinking about and vaguely drafting in my mind for a few weeks. I’m very excited about them. For now, at least. These things take time.)
Revise earlier poems from Elsewhere and reorganize them into a manuscript (Done. Again, for now, at least. We’ll see how the manuscript fares after I give it some time to settle. As I wrote above…)
Submit individual poems from Elsewhere (I submitted a handful of poems and the entire manuscript to a first book publishing contest. Fingers crossed and air-kisses for the manuscript.)
Review and organize earlier work (poems, essays, articles and proposals) to see what can be re-submitted after earlier rejections (I’ve started to do this, but not as much as I’d like. While I try to keep drafts organized on my computer and in paper files, it gets messy at times. I have an earlier manuscript and two chapbooks that I’d like to continue to submit for publication.)
Write an assigned book review for The Literary Review (After carefully reading through a number of book reviews from published issues, re-reading the poetry anthology to be reviewed, writing a number of drafts and discussing about it with two other poet-residents, I submitted it.)
Read literature and keep up with the news. Of course, it is impossible to write without reading. (I brought a pile of literary magazines, New Yorker magazines and a book of Chinese poetry to read here. I try to keep up with a variety of news sites online. Frankly, I barely made a dent. I did read some work written by other residents, which was great.)
Work on spring Smith College Alumnae reading in D.C. (I coordinated some of the details, from “save the date” publicity to asking for help from other alums.)
Organize and submit panel proposal for a spring conference. (Done.)

So, while teaching online, blogging (x3) regularly and working on these writing and reading projects, I was busy with many projects. 

Martha's Vineyard Writers Residency
On top of this regular work, there was the residency itself, which took some time to settle into, as these things do. We were a group of nine (mostly female) writers – poets, fiction writers, creative non-fiction writers and a playwright. Some people stayed for the entire six weeks and others for two or more weeks, so there was some rotation in the group. I made some new friends with whom I look forward to sharing work and friendship for years to come. Of course there were also moments of strange interpersonal drama, but that's hard to avoid with a group of this size. The program included weekly resident readings at a local library and organized (sometimes potluck) dinners with invited local writers.

At times we discussed our writing, experiences and details about our projects, which is always helpful. I look forward to keeping in touch with these new friends and sharing ideas into the future. One resident, Lisa Blackwell recently guest blogged.

We were assigned individual rooms, intended to be both bedrooms and writing studios. The rooms varied greatly. Some of the larger rooms upstairs included private balconies and sitting rooms. My room was on the ground floor and didn't have an extra sitting space or balcony overlooking the meditation garden. It was a bedroom with a small folding desk. It wasn't a quiet room, since it was close to the front door, front porch and faced a main street close to a major intersection. The house itself isn't far from a church whose bells ring on the hour, every hour, throughout the night. Finally, the room, strangely, didn't have heat. The electric heater was busy most of the residency. Let's just say I'm exhausted from sleeping so poorly for three weeks. 

I never settled into a good writing space. I couldn't work in my room since the internet connection was very weak. I rely on the internet to teach online and I am in the habit of regularly looking up ideas as I write. Maybe it would be healthy to unplug, as they say, but it just isn’t how I work. There was a writing room upstairs, but, again, the internet connection was weak. Incidentally, that room was poorly lit, too. I usually sat in the dining room, which was filled with light during the day, but it was more of a social place (and wasn't available during dinner time), so it was hard to concentrate. It was also unfortunate to have to relocate regularly. I tried sitting in the coffee shop nearby, Espresso Love, but that became distracting, too (and meant I had to spend more money after having paid for a residency and a place to write.)

While I did do a lot in three weeks, I know I get more work done at home. I have a dedicated (and quiet) work space with light, internet and heat. 

All in all, there are some long-term advantages to doing something like this. I am a city person at heart, without doubt, but spending some time on an island was rejuvenating. There is revived sea-related imagery in my work.

Perhaps the biggest advantage of doing a residency is to reminded of what I learned  in graduate school: The importance of integrating and valuing regular writing and reading every day. It is easy to get distracted, rush through life, and do only the paid work and chores during the week. There can be a balance between the artistic, working (paid and household), social and physically active life. No one can be Superwoman, but we can each craft a schedule that works for us.