Sunday, May 31, 2009

Finding Solace in Music

Now, this post is going to seem an obvious exploration to anyone who loves music, but, the older I get, the more surprised I am by the fact that I have not shed this teenage tendency. While I'm no longer inclined to run to my room, fling myself on my bed and crank up some Pat Benatar, there is a kernel of that urge in every impulse to be absorbed in something specific.

A few summers ago I spent several days in Paris. On one of our last days there, the group I was with went to Versailles. By that point in the trip, my brain was fried from a combination of jet lag, lack of sleep, grief, and an overwhelming influence of art. Walking through the vast indulgence that is Versailles, I felt incapable of processing any new information. I turned down the audio tour headset. Then I didn't feel like reading any of the signage located every couple of feet. Instead I dug out my iPod. David Byrne' 2001 release, Look Into the Eyeball, turned out to be what I needed. I floated through the rooms and felt comfortable just letting the art just wash over me in waves.

Likewise, my mom had hip-replacement surgery this past week. She did great and is recovering nicely, but I really do not like hospitals. The complication of surgery combined with an anxiety of not knowing and the tedium of waiting is an unsettling combination I find unlikely to master. On Sunday, we transported her to a rehabilitation facility, my dad driving her car, and me following behind in his vehicle. Anyone who knows my dad knows he has a nice car. Anyone who's ever riden in it knows it has an awesome sound system. Even though we were only traveling a few miles away, I came prepared, slipping Beck's Modern Guilt into my bag on the way out of my house. I got through about three songs on the way there, and finished off the rest on my way back to my parents' house. Like in Versailles, the instant the music I deliberately pooled into my ears, I felt better.

Released. Just like back in my bedroom, but in a totally new way.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Fitting in...

I've always been a person enthusiastic about jumping right into organized activities and bonding with people over them. I loved going away for camp and coming home a week later with people I felt sure I'd stay connected with forever. In school I was "inside joke" girl; so much so that my yearbooks are filled with obscure references about hypothetical beach parties and nicknames that no longer make sense. Every time I go into a new work situation (which is often) I can find a lunch partner in no time at all.

And so it comes as no surprise that I have developed a great bond with folks whom I have met in my MFA program that I completed almost a year ago. I went back this week, to visit classmates who are still there, and to get a little work done uninterrupted by domestic chores and such.

Honestly I didn't know entirely what to expect. For those of you unaware of my program, it is a "brief residency" which has gained popularity in recent years by attracting mainly older and/or non-traditional students who are not in a position to pick up and move to some college town for two years to teach undergrads. Instead, there are two ten-day "residencies," twice a year, where students and faculty alike arrive from all over the United States for intensive workshopping and lectures and leave with an individual mentor whom they will work for the ensuing semester. It was everything I'd hoped it would be and more.

Still. Coming back someplace when your status has changed can be awkward. You don't want to be the loser-y burnout who is forever spotted playing hackey-sack on the Quad (okay, Spalding doesn't even have a Quad and I'll admit I've not once seen anyone playing hackey-sack...) But you get what I'm getting out.

Check Spelling
But it turned out great. I ended up seeing most of the people I wanted to, had interesting interactions with new folk, and get an impressive amount of work done (if I do say so myself) while still managing to indulge in dinners and drinks with friends. And staying with a super cool new-ish friend who didn't mind not knowing how long I planned to "hang out."

The best thing about "fitting in" here is, like most places where people share your interests or mindset, there is no explanation needed. Most everyone just "gets it." After about ten years of feeling like a "writer" outside of this group I still find it necessary to buffer my answer with jobs I have had or am currently pursuing in order to make ends meet. It's quite lovely to not feel the need to do that.

In the same way it feels good to start singing camp songs and have someone join in. Not that I do that...often...

Friday, May 22, 2009

The Bob Seger Rejection

So I have an essay called "The Bob Seger Receonciliation." It is, essentially, a short piece about three seperate bonding occurances involving Bob Seger music that forced me to reconsider being so smug about the man.

Anyway, it was one of the last pieces I wrote for my graduate collection during my MFA, and my mentor (who is very open and cool as a teacher but tends to be more traditional) really liked it, so I felt it "legitimate" enough to send out into the world of literary magazines.

In February I attended AWP, a very large writer's conference where most of the literary magazines have a table. As a writer, I find the process of walking up and down the aisles and phyically seeing the collection of publications and the people who run on work on the publicaton quite helpful. Because the "unsolicited submission" pile at most of these places is vast, much of the processes is, admittedly, a numbers game. However, I think there is something to the repeated advice that you take a look at old editions and try to place your work accordingly.

Being extroverted also helps. I have a bachelor's degree in theater. Amoung theater people, I am the wallflower. Around other writer's however, I can easily slip into loud-mouth rock star if I am not careful. But, having a knack for amusing small talk and the confidence in knowing what I want to do can give the slightest of edges.

Anyway, by the end of the conference I'd compiled a nice little list of publications and names and went home ready to match them up with the dozen or so submission-worthy essays.

Which lead me to send out a total of about twenty submissions, including "The Bob Seger Reconciliation" to a very cool, impressive reputable journal. That was in February. The lit mags are notoriously slow because of high submission rate combined with notoriously over-worked and under-paid staffs. In the past week, the rejections have started trickling in. Of course most were the sub-human two-by-three inch cheap-ass "no thanks" things that infuriate me (see end of 2/24 post...)

What I've been more pleased with, generally speaking, are the email exhanged. The editors seem to be more inclined to jot a note or two that acknowledge you are being responded to by a person and not just an elimination machine. Take the following:

Thanks for sending this for our consideration. We’ve read it with interest and have had more conversation about Bob Seger than any of us thought we ever would. In the end, this piece isn’t right for us. I’ll say, if you’d like to try us again, we’d be interested to read more of your work, though I think, compared to this piece, we’d be interested in longer work, if possible.

Isn't that nice? Makes me like this publication more and want to work towards pleasing them. Not in an obsessive, stalkery kind of way, but in a way that fuels the writing.

Just wanted to share...

Friday, May 15, 2009

A Thinking Gal's Chick Flick List - Part 2

So the list picks up... (see 4/25/09 post for intro...)

Terms of Endearment - Some will say this is the quintessential tear jerker movie. And they would be right. However, it is also a brilliant portrayal of a mother/daughter who aren't that likable. They are the kind of people you wouldn't want to be stuck beside at Applebees having an argument. You'd be embarrassed for both of them. And the friends aren't all that impressive. Mostly, everyone is given a full-range of character that include complicated flaws and attractions.

The Piano - Fundamentally, this movie is a stunner of cinematography. You can't say that about many standard chick flicks. There's a blue wash over the whole thing that sets the tone for the whole thing. The love story here might be described as bizarre, but it is deeply passionate and ultimately quite tender. And that Anna Paquin, there's this terrific blend of little-kid innocence and old-soul wisdom that is hard to find in on-screen kids. There's a scene where she's telling these busy-body women this huge whopper of a lie that I can just watch again and again.

Remains of the Day - A few years ago I was working in the marketing department of a large company. My desk was at the edge of a "cave" of designers, all guys, all film fanatics. One day I mentioned my quandary of being a female film fan; that I rarely had "peers." I didn't want to discuss the upcoming Batman or Transformers or Indiana Jones movie. "Can't we, for one day, discuss the rich detail and vast scope of, say, "Remains of the Day?" I said to the copywriter who cracked me up everyday. "Um, no. No, I'm afraid we cannot to do that..." I tried to counter by saying it could be spun as a Top Gun kind of phenomenon, that kind of perfect guy/girl balance in the story of war and romance, only way, way more repressed. He wouldn't buy it... Oh, and in the movie Waiting for Guffman, one of the main characters shows off his Remains of the Day lunch box. I want one of those...

The Sweetest Thing - Now this one appeals to me because it is one of the only truly raunchy comedies starring thirty year old women. While I haven't seen women portrayed like this in film, I've worked with these women and roomed with a few in college. I haven't seen this in a while so I can't speak of the details, but I remember watching it and thinking, "Oh my God, I can't believe they're doing this." Always a good sign in my book.

Never Been Kissed - Now this is the one that is the most like a "traditional" teen comedy/chick flick combo. Drew Barrymore makes this one work because, unlike other actresses who they doll up and then put glasses on in order to signal "homely," she can actually pull off dowdy. The plot is typical, in that she is a mid-twenties journalist who disguises herself as a high school student, is embraced by the cool kids, only to learn a lesson about true friendship... But I bought it. I was right there through the transformation and didn't once roll my eyes.

So I'm not done. But I'm liking this idea of getting some movies a second look.

Friday, May 8, 2009

The Cheater Post

I really do not like that I more than a week has gone by without a post...

And yet I have to leave my house in five minutes.

So I'm cheating. Admitedly, I am lame.

Lately most of my ideas (with the exception of the return to the Smart Girl Chick Flick post) are food related. I'm not sure how I feel about that except that it is probably a lighter outlet than the heavy manuscript I've been working on.

In short, Graeters now has pretzel cones.

Seriously. Pretzel cones. Genius. Go out and get one.

Happy Weekend!