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Jim Ciletti and the Writer’s Journal

I had a wonderful two days at Author Fest of the Rockies. I learned so much and was able to make some great connections. I’ll be posting on the seminars over the next few weeks so bear with me. Day one I didn’t record anything and I really regret it. Day two, I recorded everything. I’ll try and post some clips when I get out from under some of this homework. At least it is mostly creative writing homework this weekend.

One of the the seminars I went to was by Jim Ciletti, our current Pikes Peak Poet Laureate.  It was called: Sensating Poetry. He led us through an amazing exercise which helped me to write a poem. This is especially good news as I haven’t been writing much poetry.

When he came in, he brought a toolbox with him. Inside were crayons, paper, and other tools. He also laid out his journals. The journals were about 10×10 square (hardcover). Inside, he had written observations, words, snippets of conversation, and poems. He pasted in news clippings and pictures he was writing about. He also had a lot of freehand drawings. He said that he likes to draw things because it helps him make sure he is really looking at it. That might be a bad paraphrase. I recorded the session so I’ll have to listen to it.

I was so inspired that I stopped at Michael’s on my way home (the 20% off coupon didn’t hurt). I couldn’t find the exact size I wanted. I realized that part of the reason I don’t use my fancy journals is that they are too small and I don’t want to wreck them. With large sketchbooks, I can do whatever I want. I was stoked when I found the Artist’s Loft Canvas Sketchpad. The paper is decent quality and it is a nice size. The big plus is the cover is canvas so it can be drawn on, decoupaged, or even painted (after using gesso of course). I can’t wait to decorate it. It reminds me of the cloth binders I used to get when I was a kid. Eventually they’d end up covered in doodles and quotations. Without the coupon it was $9.9 (hint: if you signup for Michael’s email list, you get a 40% off coupon). I suggest investing in one and starting a journal if you haven’t already. I’m hoping my Tombow dual brush markers don’t bleed through the paper. Otherwise, I have a nice set of watercolor pencils (tip, if you are going to use watercolors in a notebook, place a dishtowel or a thick layer of paper towels under the sheet you are working on. This will soak up the extra moisture and help prevent warping).

I have a few other tips to share with you from Jim’s talk but those will come later. In the meantime, start your writer’s journal. Also be sure to check out Jim’s blog and his book of poetry, Sunfire.

Stay tuned for a realization on how a printed book is much better than an e-book (imho).

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A Secret

I’m going to let you all in on a little secret: I judge MFA programs based on the quality of the printed materials they send me. I know, it sounds terrible but think about it. What does it say about a school that doesn’t take the time to put together quality materials. I know it sounds arbitrary but with so many programs…it helps narrow things down.

I received a packet from Ohio State University today. It was in the form of a comprehensive handbook. It’s large, has a clear typeface, table of contents, and a sleek cover. I’m impressed OSU. I plan on applying and hope to get one of the fellowships so my tuition will be waived. I also like that MFA students can take the literature seminar courses offered by the English department.

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GRE and Me

After several days of procrastinating, I finally signed up for my GRE. I’m going to test the day after Thanksgiving because it is a partial break week. I’ve found that most of the colleges that offer full funding want GRE scores. I’m going to study (sometime between my five English classes this semester). My math is weak so that will be my primary focus.

Author Fest of the Rockies is this weekend, I’m really looking forward to that. Stephanie G’Schwind is giving a lecture. She is the managing editor for the Colorado Review and the director of the Center for Literary Publishing at Colorado State University. I’m hoping to meet her, especially since I found out that CSU offers and MA (not an MFA) in creative nonfiction. I’m learning the value of looking at who is presenting before going to conferences. The conference is Friday and Saturday. The majority of the creative nonfiction panels are on Friday.

One concern about starting an MFA program is that I’ve convinced myself that I need to have an idea for a book length work. The flip side is that I am afraid I won’t have an idea for my long work when the time comes. Anybody know how the thesis proposal works? Do you brainstorm with a teacher or are you expected to have an idea?

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Ivy League…Me?

I’ve been looking around at full-residency schools and have found a lot of great programs. One of my top picks is the University of Notre Dame. They only accept 5-6 students in the fall but they provide full funding. I really think I should apply though I never considered an Ivy League school as a possibility.

Perhaps it is an indicator of my socioeconomic class. I’ve always thought that those schools were for people with money and connections. Looking at UND’s website, I don’t get that sense. I think it would be wise to apply to any program I like that offers funding, even if I end up paying a few-hundred dollars in application fees.

I also think that I am too hard on myself. I have a 3.88, am a member of Phi Theta Kappa (from community college), and Sigma Tau Delta (English Honor Society), and now Sigma Alpha Pi (National Society of Leadership and Success). I have been published five times as an undergraduate, including one national publication. I had a poem broadcasted on NPR. I teach a creative writing course to at-risk youth in my community. I’m a Rosa Parks Scholar and I won the Robert Burns Memorial Award for one of my poems. I’m an officer in the Free Expression poetry club on campus. These are great accomplishments and I’ve worked really hard. I just don’t know what other applicants come to the table with.

Of course, the majority of the weight of my application is the writing sample. I’m hoping to get it done in November so I can get it workshopped and ready for January. I’m also scheduled to take my GRE after Thanksgiving. I’ve got a few prepbooks and have downloaded the free software from the GRE site.

This just seems like a lot of work on top of my five English classes. I need to breathe and take things one step at a time. First, I need to make a list of the schools I want to apply to and what they require. I should probably wait until next weekend to start this.

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Fall and Full Residency

I’m so glad that fall is finally here. For some reason, I like gray skies and drizzly rain more than the heat of summer. Of course, living in Colorado, fall is a very short season.

This weekend, I’m buried under a mountain of homework. I’ve moved into the lyric essay portion of my independent study, which I’m excited about. I just have to get through three other essays this weekend so I can start working on it.

I’m starting to learn that I can’t do everything. I’ve had to cancel events and other plans because I need the time to do my homework, writing, and just to think. To find topics for essays or creative writing, I need time to think things out. Last night, I even cleaned off my desk so I had a workspace. If you know me, this is an epic feat.

There have been some changes in my financial situation and I am now able to look at full residency MFA programs. I’m excited because I feel that I need the support of a writer’s community. When I’m left on my own, I tend to get lost or stuck. Also, the full residency programs often offer funding. A teacher of mine told me that it is easier to get hired to teach at the university level with full residency. Low-res just doesn’t seem to get the same respect.

This change means that most of my applications are now due in January, instead of April. Basically, I have to start gathering materials (like recommendation letters) in the beginning of October. A lot of the programs require a GRE so I will have to take that as well. I found a date during the Thanksgiving break, I just haven’t booked yet. It’s $160 and you only get half of your money back if you cancel. Yikes! I’m not too worried about the test. I’m going to study my butt off to be sure, I’m just not stressed. I can only do the best that I can do.

Although a city on the East coast (particularly New England) sounds enticing, I’m actually hoping to get into the University of Colorado at Boulder. It wouldn’t be quite as far and I’d be able to see my family on the weekends. Plus I would qualify for in-state tuition, which is a huge bonus. I just don’t want to finish a program with huge debt.

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Meta-narrative and Talking Things Out

I ended up turning in a series of fragments for my memoir piece. I numbered them to keep things separate but couldn’t really find the thread that connected it all. Each time I sat down to write, I would come up with a scene or a fragment. Some of it was events from my childhood and the rest were things that were happening while I was writing. My teacher suggested that I create a meta-narrative in the form of struggling to get the writing done.

It seemed like a great idea. I’m always fascinated by works where the writer talks about their writing process. I also realized that I was shying away from writing my current self into the narrative. Because there isn’t the perspective/distance granted by time, I don’t see myself as involved in the story. It seemed strange, like Kaufman writing himself into his screenplay in Adaptation. The idea that I don’t belong in my own story is preposterous, especially since I primarily write trauma. Somehow everything I learned from reading Writing as a Way of Healing. So I decided to use the struggling writer as the meta-narrative but I still didn’t have any kind of a theme.

This Saturday, I met with a friend that I took a creative nonfiction class with in the spring of 2009. I told her about the fragments of work I had and she asked me to read them to her. She’s a great listener and really supports me in my work. Anyway, after hearing me read she said that she got a sense of different kinds of violation. She was right. I wrote about the violation of space, sacred space, the body, positions of trust, and so on. With this in mind, the revision was easy. I ended up cutting a couple of scenes and I added in a good bit of new material. It still isn’t where I want it to be yet, but I’ve got a great start.

For the next section, I’ll be writing lyric essay. I’m hoping to write some every day so I am better prepared. It seems silly but I realized the importance of sharing my work and getting someone’s opinion of it. If you do this, make sure you aren’t sharing with a friend who simply says “it was good,” or these kinds of helpful statements. I prefer honesty. If I lose you as a reader, I want to be told.

Anyway, that’s about it for now. BTW- The Seneca Review has a special issue out this month on the lyric essay.

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So I need a minimum of eight pages for my creative nonfiction independent study tomorrow. I’ve been writing, almost everyday for the last five days. I start on an idea but don’t seem to have enough to sustain it. I think of memories that I can work from but the same things keep coming up. Most of which I have already written about.

If I put together everything I’ve written so far, it would probably be enough but it is a lot of fragments and not very cohesive. I wouldn’t mind doing a collage like Suheir Hammad‘s Drops of This Story but I can’t seem to find a connecting thread. I’m also getting hung up on the idea that memoir is about an event or a period of time. I’m starting to move past that and into something more lyric but I am still struggling. Any ideas for where to start?

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On Fire

Right now I’m in the midst of a lot of projects. I am being considered for a scholarship to two separate conferences, I am going to a poetry conference next weekend, I have just started my independent study in creative nonfiction, I am still looking for schools for my MFA, and I am now preparing to teach a creative writing class to at risk youth in my community. Why is it that the creative life happens this way for me? I go through periods of drought and doubt where I can’t seem to get any work going and I feel terrible about my life. Other times, I can barely breathe. So many good things are happening but I wish it could be paced out a little. I’m in school full time and it becomes a juggling act.

I shouldn’t complain when good things happen. I don’t mind being busy or obsessively working on a project. I do mind the periods where nothing is happening and I have trouble motivating myself.

My plan this weekend is to finish a scholarship packet, get ahead on class reading, write about five pages, and start planning the exercises for the class. I’ve found some great teaching resources put out by WritersCorps along with youth writing they’ve published. I’m a little nervous because I haven’t taught before. At the same time, I’m excited. Writing is my passion and I can’t wait to share it. We live in an ageist society where the voices of our youth are ignored. I’d like to give them some tools to aid in their writing but also to encourage them to keep writing.

I plan on taking a social justice/awareness slant. I want to share audio, art, news, and written works that will inspire them. I don’t think video is an option, otherwise I’d show some spoken word videos. Anyone know of artists who record spoken word? Any ideas for media I can share with them would be awesome.

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Writing Begins With the Breath

I’m trying to get through Writing Begins With the Breath by Laraine Herring before school starts. I know I was supposed to read Spunk & Bite but I was kind of bored by it. I’ll go back to it soon, once I have time to give it the attention it deserves. I’m sure it gets much more interesting.

Herring’s book is amazing. She talks about the way we are blocking our writing instead of blaming writer’s block. There are a lot of exercises and I have to say that I stumbled on one of them. The exercises are emotionally intense and brought up a lot of painful feelings for me. Makes me want to reread Writing as a Way of Healing by Louise DeSalvo.

I’m going to try and work on the exercises more this evening. In the meantime, I’ve been researching MFA programs. Pine Manor is at the top because I like their program and my mentor lives a few miles away. I’ve heard Boston has a great arts scene. I don’t think it is wise to just pick one but I also don’t know how much I want to spend applying to different schools. So far, my list includes Pine Manor, Pacific University, Ashland, Goddard, Antioch, and Goucher. The application fees are $30-$50 each. It’s good to have options but how many do I really need.

I am also debating cross-genre studies. My main concern would be taking a semester away from creative nonfiction (and thus my thesis) to study poetry. While poetry could inform my writing, I don’t know if this would be a positive or negative thing. Pine Manor and Ashland offer cross-genre creative nonfiction and poetry. Given a choice, I’d love to go to school in New England. Hmm…

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