Sunday, August 26, 2012

Writing Aches

I am writing at the pace of what feels like one word a minute. I stare into the computer, facing that screen, trying to push the words from my hands. Words are on the edge of my tongue, pushing up to the edge of my skin, almost making it through to the outside, slow to emerge. The Rolling Stones play in the background, their steady beat and lyricism of "Wild Horses," and my all time favorite, "Gimme Shelter," help my brain's chatter to dissipate a bit, putting me in the zone of feelings, a place where music takes me.

I've been putting many hours into my writing since Thursday, probably close to fifteen hours. I had an ambitious schedule, that I have almost met. After laboring all day Thursday over what felt like a terribly shitty first draft, I realized that it had promise, and I am now almost finished with my workshop submission piece. For several months, I've been pondering submitting a piece to Slice magazine for their themed issue on Obsession (due August 31st), and finally a week ago, I committed to myself and am revising and revising, hoping I have the nerve to send it off. Finally, I have a weekly 500-word assignment to complete, and feel like after breaking to eat, breaking to write this, I can return, able to generate the beginnings of a draft.

What I know I should do, but am too lazy to do at the moment, is initially draft it in my journal. If I remove the barrier of the keys, I usually am able to generate writing more quickly, even if rough, because I don't edit as I write. I tell my students never to compose initially on the computer, but I do. Even when it causes pain. Even when it threatens to interfere with my words.

When writing aches, as it has for a bit this evening, I am much more sympathetic to my students, ready to go into my writing classes tomorrow and talk about writing processes, sharing my advice, my truths, and ways I don't listen to my advice.

Back to the Stones.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

First Week Smiles

For three days I've been smiling, downright giddy, and deeply thankful that I have the coolest motherfucking job in the world. Even though I gave myself a ridiculous schedule, cramming three classes into my Mondays and Wednesdays, I find myself elated, energized, excited to be where I am all day long. And on Wednesdays, after teaching and my writing class, I get to come home, slowly chill, reflect, and begin a long weekend of work, writing, and of course, play.

Starts of the semester are always filled with a bit of awkwardness, an innocence before experience, and an expansive sense of possibility. Class periods are spent noticing the silences, finding ways to coax voices, beginning to establish community. It's not a quick process, and the more patient I am, the more present I am. Early in the semester, only good has gone on in class. I'm not feeling tired, not prone to any crankiness, and I believe that my students are right there with me.

And so the semester, just one week old for me, is off to a damn good start. Today, in my Comp I class I felt uber excited talking about rhetoric, thrilled when students understood the complexity of the relationships of purpose, audience, and context. They're engaged with analysis, able to read visual texts, and smart about the world. Even though I only had forty minutes after the class ended until my next class, I used that time to eat and chat with colleagues about a few things, rather than madly trying to answer emails in between bites of food.

In my Humanities class I did a brief introduction to the Romantic Era and then charged the students to embody the spirit of romanticism. That gave me permission to conduct class outdoors, in nature, and while there, they wrote and drew pieces inspired by the smells, sounds, sights, imagination, and anything else they individually channeled. When I gave them the opportunity to share, many volunteered. I closed class sharing my piece: "A Treatise on the Value of Outdoor Education." I received applause and walked back inside chatting with a student.

And to finish off my afternoon, my creative writing class began to dig into poetry, understanding that rhyme doesn't need to reign supreme. One of my favorite things is to have them generate a list of their favorite words and put one word from each student on the board without them knowing where the whole activity is going. Once all the words are up there, they are challenged to write a minimum of 16 lines using at least eight words. Today, the challenge included bamboozled, spontaneous, crunchy, motherfucker, tortillion, and remember. Again, I wrote along with them, sharing my piece at the end of class. The more I am writing with my students, the more vulnerable I am, the better the community and trust. Ultimately, this results in deeper learning for them and a more gratifying experience for me.

When I walked down the hallway after class and ran into my Dean, she asked if I had just come out of class since I was all smiles. When I got home, I asked Nan if she remembered me being that happy with my job. She replied that I am always like this at the beginning of the semester. Here's hoping the smiles last longer. For now, I will delight in the innocence and the promise of infinite possibility.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Tripping down Memoiry Lane

If you asked me a year ago whether I had a memoir in me, I would have stared puzzled, thinking no way. But sometime during this past winter that changed after I took a memoir workshop, believing I was simply there to mine material for memoir type essays. No way did I have a longer work in me. When I left the workshop, though, I had a small journal filled with potential scenes, motivations, random memories all focused around the seven years I lived in NYC. Since then, the concept has grabbed me and now I have surrendered, realizing that if I don't write my way through those years, I will want--want for the understanding, want for the revisiting, want for capturing a glimpse of those years with my slightly aged being.
My apartment was on the 4th floor,
two left windows were my views of the street. 

This summer, I finally began writing, working on an essay about the apartment I lived in on 1st and 1st from 1979-1986. The essay, though, did not want to contain itself to that and begged for answers to questions, leaving me with a range of territory to explore. While the essay brought the apartment back into my present, a recent trip to NYC delivered its presence.

Last month, wandering the streets of the East Village, I noted all that had changed, all that remained, and tried to let whatever moments surfaced leave impressions, rather than dissect the experience through my head. The visceral of sitting in Tompkins Square Park and hearing police sirens alert the local homeless that the detective had arrived, helped me travel back a bit to the early 1980s, when squatters and addicts' naps were disturbed by those same sirens. Walking down my old block, heading east down 1st Street from 2nd Avenue, brought only one familiar landmark--the Catholic Worker. Rather than hurrying past, as I often did to escape the  stares of the homeless, I lingered, peering in the open windows on a hot summer day, stopping and breathing in the familiar.

Later that evening, I returned to the street with Nan to dine at Gabrielle Hamilton's restaurant Prune, several doors west of my old apartment. After dinner, Nan and I walked to the front of my apartment, staring up at the fire escape and windows, noting which windows held my past. Nan snapped some photos, and while she captured a shot of the buzzer, a woman about to unlock the door asked Nan, "What are you doing?" I told the woman I used to live there. When I found out she lived there and had been there over 18 years, I asked her about some of the people I used to know in the building. She had stories to tell and helped spur some of my own memories about my neighbors. When I asked her what her apartment number was, she answered, "4D." My old apartment. I couldn't resist and asked her if she would be willing to let us see the apartment. And so, riding the tiny elevator those four flights, entering the door that I unlocked and locked almost daily, peering into the kitchen and seeing the same stove that held many meals, has begun to clear the bleary lens of my twenties, spurring me to trip a bit further into my past.

I have begun to read through journals from those years, cracking myself up with some of my moaning woeful tales of love and heartache, but more importantly reading stories about some early band gigs, complete with details and my commentary. The journal also holds names and events that help me picture certain instances, reminding me of the crazy edge that some of my nights held. Most significantly, though, it contains pages and pages of writing--bits of songs, noteworthy news items to use as fodder for writing (I am still apparently enamored with the concept of the Tecopa pupfish), and half started stories/poems/character sketches. Some of the material is worth revisiting, but what it holds more than that is a clearer truth into the years I stopped writing. All the time I lived in NYC I wrote and wrote, never abandoning my musical and writing passion. Even though my early undergrad years had damaged my ego some, providing me an easy scapegoat for not committing to writing, they did not stop me. Leaving the city and detouring into the suburbs and a semblance of suburban life accompanied a distancing of my art.

As I revisit, I imagine a series of oh shit moments, tears, surprise, and a nagging nostalgia for a time that for now is very alive.

Musical inspiration: Yacht, Iron & Wine, Blind Faith