Thursday, July 31, 2008

day ten or seven or the fifth from the end

“Today is Thursday,” begins my morning orientation process. Day Seven of my third writing residency. Three days left with my writing friends, five days left of travel. I’ve been away from home a total of ten days.

The next set of orientation notes follows—I’ve never been good at holding schedules in my head, so these notes help me find my way through the days:

Today—read manuscript for workshop.
It’s the “final” day of workshopping my classmates’ manuscripts, and I must read Kevin’s essay at breakfast—which means I must find enough concentration to do his essay justice. Yesterday I plugged in the iPod, took my morning coffee to the deck of the dining hall and faced the hills, to read for an hour prior to classes. I will do the same today. After this prep, I’ll be in classes from 9 a.m. until dinner.

Today—love my dear friends.
My close friends Brian and Jill are onsite for the Glen Workshop, held alongside my MFA residency. They leave early, tomorrow. I’ll see Jill in a few weeks, but I don’t know when I’ll have the next excuse to see Brian. I already “hog” all the time they can spare, and I suppose I’ll be even more over-the-top about pursuing them today.

Toda--, find my three best pages to read aloud.
Tonight, a small writer’s circle convenes. It’s an “invitation only” event, but each guest must bring material to read. Last year this circle sealed my confidence in my writing—this year, I need to figure out how to excerpt pages from my very long essay, and that will take some concentration, too. Can I think it through at lunch?

And after the writer’s circle is a movie with my classmates. And after the movie (or during?) is the bottle of wine on my desk.

Friday-- pack up my stack of books and ship them home, to lessen the load in my suitcase. Friday I read in worship, which means I should look up the passage from the book of Job.

Saturday-- meet with my faculty mentor to sketch out my writing and reading for the coming year, and begin my goodbyes with dear classmates, especially Emily, who graduates at the close of this week.

The next step of my morning orientation involves packing my bag for class, insuring I arrive with my books and papers, the Dante books, the essays I’m reading and excerpting… I’ll want to look at the schedule one more time, to make sure I’m not missing anything. When I look at the schedule, I remember the stack of articles I’ve brought for others, the bags of sea glass for Emily, for Gina.

And the step after that involves washing my water bottle for the day, choosing clothes, washing my face for another day of gorgeous weather, hot and dry and sunny. I will write a note to my son at summer camp, and then I’ll be oriented, ready for coffee, reading, breakfast, class. Ready as I’ll be for goodbyes, for gift-giving, for another day’s goodness.

Tired. Very, very tired and emotionally stretched from days with too little sleep, too many written words, such late nights filled with

concert snapshot

Last night Over the Rhine played an intimate concert, and while introducing a song Linford mentioned his dream that people would dance in the aisles. As an aside, Karin said, “once a couple cha-cha’ed to this song in our living room, just like that vision.” Two people started laughing in the audience and Karin said, “oh that’s right! Those two are right here!” The band started the song and those two people rose and danced, the loveliest thing to happen in the aisle of the church, in the middle of the concert, their happy faces focused on one another as they mouthed the words of the song.

I keep it as a snapshot, these two beloved friends twirling happily, the love between the dancers and the band, my admiration and joy for all of them.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

San Isidro

Purchased this tiny painting/icon at The Spanish Market.

early morning, day four of grad school residency

Dear Amy,

Thanks for reminding me that you are waiting for word about how things are going. It’s easy to sink into a constant state of “overwhelm,” and it’s also good to step out and describe.

I’ve been traveling since last Sunday, really, when Scott and I drove children to camp, returned the two hours home, and ate dinner at a favorite restaurant. Monday morning was extended several time zones as I flew to Phoenix to be with my brother.

And on Thursday I arrived here in Santa Fe. The forty-minute plane ride was uneventful but the two hour shuttle ride featured a broken air conditioning system, so the passengers were struggling to drink enough water in the canned heat of an enclosed bus, in the midday sun.

Even covered with sweat and lugging suitcases up terraces, I’m elated to be at my third “residency” for my MFA program in creative writing. The suitcase full of books is emptied on the shelf above my desk in the tiny dorm cell. A row of lightweight summer dresses goes quickly onto hangers, for the hours of heat, and another row of warm pants is good for the cool evenings and mornings. I brought way too much stuff, still coasting on a plane ticket with “grandfathered” luggage rules. If I CAN bring two suitcases, then of course I WILL bring two suitcases. I’m thinking I’ll mail books back home at the end of the two weeks, though, and pack everything else into one giant suitcase, to make my life easier.

And my roommate comes in, my roommate from last year, whose company I enjoy. “We have a terrace!” she says, and the door flies open to the outdoors. The altitude is too high for mosquitoes—the door stays open all the time.

Thursday is a day for unpacking, learning new names (twelve new students), for orientation meetings, for reminders about altitude sickness. I eat healthy, drink water, and I still get a stomachache that won’t quit. I lie awake all night, wishing I’d packed any bland food—the cashews, the apricots, these are no help.

Friday is another quiet day, necessary. Students switch faculty mentors after the first year, so I met my new mentor after breakfast, when we were both feeling our lack of sleep and the sad absence of the usual quantities of caffeine. Describing myself in these conditions, giving an interview, in the morning—these are challenging tasks. It goes okay. My fellow students and I have our first craft lecture, and I remember I’ll be sitting in classes for hours this week, despite the stunning weather.

A friend and I walk into town on a beautiful sunny day, eager for the flower-filled window boxes on the terra cotta homes, and the buzz of tourist season. The sun is hot but the day is irresistible, clear, sunny.

Friday night, after faculty readings (spectacular, as always) and finding the late-night gathering of classmates, I slept well and woke relieved.

And Saturday is more like the rest of the writing residency, classes beginning at 9 a.m., ending at 9 p.m., with breaks only for meals, for one hour of reading, and for one hour of Frisbee in a big courtyard.

My manuscript was “workshopped” in the afternoon, and I’ll tell you more about that experience tomorrow.

I’m ruminating every step of the way, how different it is from last year, how at home I feel in this group of peers, what an honor it is to learn from these people and to talk late into the night, to recognize my friend Allison’s warm laughter from across the courtyard, to hear my roommate say she hears my own laughter from our room on the other side of campus, as she arrives at the little party in her pajamas, laughing herself.

This morning many students left half an hour ago for a big festival downtown, and I’m thinking I’ll walk in and join them. Or I might sit here and bang out the next story (not a bad idea). While I’m deciding, I’ve put on sunscreen, checked the weather, had a good sneezing fit. If I go into town, I might find cell phone reception, to talk with my children while they are between weeks of summer camp… with that, it’s time to put the shoes on and go.

More tomorrow. Just know I'm so glad to be here that I'd even read Augustine and sit in a classroom for much of the day. But first, for the morning off, in Santa Fe.

love, Denise

Friday, July 25, 2008

santa fe writing residency, day one

Yesterday I left the 106 degree heat of Phoenix to fly to Albuquerque, then shuttle to Santa Fe to this campus in the hills above the city. Weather here is An Event—searing heat, monsoon rains, a double rainbow stretched across the sky, cool breeze. I loved my time in Phoenix with my brother and his wife, two of the most delightful people on earth, but I’m happy to be away from the hum air conditioners, in Gloucester AND Phoenix. My window is open to the smell of the pines and sage, the apricot tree with its ripe fruits, a few steps away from our terrace. The quiet is like food.

Last year I arrived in Santa Fe with the triple threat of altitude sickness, jet lag, and the experience of being a new, green student. I’m glad to narrow the list to merely altitude sickness, with this (maybe momentary?) insomnia thrown in. I love knowing the layout of campus, settling into my room, my regular roommate, the deep quiet of night, here. I love knowing there’s incredible Southwestern food ahead of me, and conversations like food, also.

I’m off to refill my water bottle, then to try sleep once again. Even with the absence of sleep, it’s a good beginning.

a hike above phoenix

I spent Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday with my brother David and his wife-- on Wednesday morning David and I rose at (gulp) 5:30 am to hike a nearby park before the heat set in. My new camera caught two pretty lizards (chameleons?) and a petroglyph.

Friday, July 11, 2008

midsummer weather report

The heat wave passed. The air conditioner rests from its long run and the quiet astonishes once again—sounds from the boat yard below mingle with seagulls and traffic sounds coming through the windows. (Windows—open! Amazing.) A male voice narrates the whale watch boat as it weaves through the harbor and his voice fades in the distance.

Just Madeleine and me this morning, and she is sleeping late, one leg dangling out of the bed at my eye level.

She wakes and peppers me with questions. What is a hiccup? (A spasm in your diaphram.) What is a sneeze? (Your nose trying to get rid of something irritating.) I wonder what a yawn is, then? (Your body is trying to get more oxygen.) All this while the toast is toasting and we are hugging "hello." She begs for some silly computer game she plays once every three months. I hem and haw and sure enough, while the toast is being eaten she opens A Swiftly Tilting Planet—she’s read her way through the whole trilogy to get to my favorite, one of my top five books of all time. Now that she’s in, everything will disappear and the quiet will prevail. When she is finished, I may need to reread this book again myself. In my college years and my years serving college students, it was my habit to reread the L’Engle trilogy, or Narnia, or Supper of the Lamb each Christmas break, to remember my place in the world. I’ve skipped a few years, it seems.

Midsummer finds me a bit disoriented. I’m reading Dante’s Divine Comedy and Augustine’s Confessions as hard and fast as I can for class requirements. My house full of broken things is becoming ridiculous as I work at reading—the cabinet door below the sink just fell off, yesterday, and my daughter hung a makeshift curtain in its place. My favorite handy man is booked up this summer, so the shelves I need in the children’s room are put on hold, and the pile of stuff to go on those shelves is similarly put on hold. Stacks of papers and projects grow, but I need to finish this reading, and prepare for the kids’ trip to summer camp, and prepare for my trip to my graduate school courses.

I ended the school quarter exhausted with the revision process and feeling some despair that I will ever become “fluent” at this writing thing. (Yes, I can describe things well, I know. But can I learn to write with power? Can I come to a point where something feels absolutely finished, even when I look at it months later?) I’ve written little this summer—but then I’ve had very little solitude or routine, which seem to be my requirements for writing. I travel in two weeks, and I’ll be filling my journal then, I know, as soon as the seatbelt on the plane is buckled and no one needs me. There’s much to do between now and then.

Meanwhile the breeze blows. The girl reads. The boy is sleeping over at a friend’s house, happy to be with other boys for a day. I’ve written a few paragraphs about cooking with my grandmother, and I’m writing still, though I’m not alone and it can’t be called a “routine.” I’m sneaking up on it. The tide clock shows it might be an excellent day for the beach but the quiet encourages me to stay, and noodle at this writing thing a little more.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

eight-year-old muse

Brendan the Beautiful is sweeping the floor while belting out Singing in the Rain for the nine millionth time. He pops in to ask if sweeping can be rewarded with cash, and I say “no, but it needs to be done.” Like me, he is not consistent with cleaning, but once he’s thought of a project, he will complete it. Besides, sweeping will provide a backdrop to singing and tap-dancing. He pops in with a second idea and a third to garner him more allowance money: nope. He takes my response cheerfully, and offers to clean the kitty litter box anyway.

This is the third day it’s been just Brendan and me, while Madeleine is at Arts Camp. Monday he was utterly lost, though this “quiet summer” was his idea. He lounged upside down on the couch, begged me to go get things for him, glanced at book after book without getting involved in any of them, complained when I “forced” him to eat breakfast and lunch. He interrupted my work and complained for a day. Yesterday we completed some errands and he agreed to sort baseball cards at the Tea Shoppe, so I could attend my writing group. When we returned home, he constructed an elaborate city on the floor, made of blocks and train tracks. He didn’t want to leave it, hours later. Then miraculously, while I was reading my homework, he reported he’d cleaned it all up “because I didn’t really want to play with it anymore.” Am I dreaming? No, he's still being very pester-y for too much of the day. But not now. Right now he's a dream.

He needs these hours to be in charge of himself and his own imagination. He knows that. But it’s taken this many days for him to grasp hold of it for himself. He slowly unwinds in the quiet hours, each day a little more. He wanted to try cooking, today, so he grilled kielbasa rounds while I did my magazine work at the kitchen table. He wants to make a little money: I’ve devised a few chores he can complete, folding socks and towels. We need to figure out picnic options for a dinner at Madeleine’s camp. We might go to the beach when the tide is right. Meanwhile, he is humming and wielding the broom, self-motivated, and I am reading the second book of Dante’s Divine Comedy.

Now he’s put on a CD of salsa music to clean by— I know I said “no” to paying him. But I will devise some reward to surprise him, later today, because I'm madly in love with his concentration and contentment, and because he's letting me get my work done. For now I stay out of his way and let him follow his cleaning and dancing muse.

For now I am very, very lucky. Off to my books.