Curses and Blessings, reprise

What can happen when you’re given time and space alone with your ideas? When you’re sent off to a little cabin and someone else is cooking your food and tending to the day-to-day management of your comfort and well-being? When you’re told that the only thing you have to do is whatever you want to do?

Well, any number of things can happen, I suppose. I’ve had very different experiences with writing residencies and retreats. The similarity across all of them — the DIY and the formal ones — is that I’ve come back to my “real life” changed in some way, come back with some new understanding of the writing I went away to work on, which is precisely what I go away for. So … excellent!

How that realization or understanding happens isn’t at all similar. My first DIY retreat, I spent all day every day writing out one character (I was mostly a fiction writer then). I wasn’t working on the story that character was part of. I was digging into his history, trying to understand how he became the man who showed up in the story I wanted so badly to finish but which I couldn’t finish if I didn’t understand that man.

In the end, I wrote so much about him that I realized he was the main character, that the story he’d stepped out of wasn’t the central story at all, as much as I love my original protagonist. That was definitely not the place I’d imagined finding myself at the end of the retreat. Not even close. But I learned a lot about how I feel my way into a story and how to work with story elements and more formal tools to shape a successful arc and land sure-footedly at a conclusion.

At my first formal residency, I’d planned to write scripts for my comics project. I started a script, and it was a solid start. But, but the end of the two weeks, what I’d done most was learn more about how comics work, how sequential art moves with and without words and that some of my ideas were feeling awkward and clunky because I was writing scripts that were at odds with the medium I’d chosen. I did a lot of drawing, which I hadn’t expected, and learned some things about my drawing and what I want from my artwork.

And now …

I came to Alaska with a plan. I decided a while ago that I want to turn my “Fat Talk” essays into a collection. I had an outline of what pieces were needed to complete the arc I’d imagined for the collection. All I needed was time to really sit and focus, time to start building those missing pieces.

Except that’s not what my time has been here at all. I’ve been writing, yes. I wrote a whole new essay that is at least a strong skeleton for what I want the finished version to be. I’ve done some bits of other, not-part-of-the-collection writing. I’ve read through all of the existing essays and made notes for things that need revision, places where I need to go deeper or where I need to steer back on course.

So … productive. But also … not. Everything has felt a little off, a little not quite what I needed to do.

And then Sunday happened. Sunday, I ran up hard against the wall of: what even is this project? what’s the point? what am I trying to say, anyway?

It’s not an unfamiliar wall, but slamming into it is never welcome. And, to be clear, this isn’t La Impostora creeping up on me. She’s always lurking, but this question, this wall, is different. It’s more the realization that I don’t have the clarity about the project that I thought I had. Similar to the realization during that first DIY retreat that I’d been focused on the wrong character, that I was supposed to be writing a very different story.

What do I do when I run into the wall? Well, this time I did some good and some annoying things. I slept. A lot. I hung out on social media. A lot. And then — finally — I started journaling, writing out the conversation I needed to have to get answers to the questions the wall was asking. I made notes. I made lists. I asked and answered the same questions a few times. I just kept writing.

Slowly, and then more quickly, an answer — the answer — began to come clear. I fought it a little, falling immediately into the control freak role that sometimes creeps into my writing, trying to force things to go the way I want them to rather than the way they actually need to. Because, if the answer that was taking shape was really the answer, most of the writing I’ve done has to be undone and then rebuilt in profound ways … if it’s usable at all.

So here I am, halfway through my residency, with a project that’s totally in shambles.

And this, this is what can happen when you strip away the distractions of work and daily life and spend oceans of time with your ideas. This right here. The curse and the blessing.

Time to pick up my pen and get the fuck to work.


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Gratitude

I’m in Alaska at my writing residency. It’s lovely here, and I feel extraordinarily lucky to be here. My tourist day in town — the day before I came up to the residency itself — was studded with random moments when I’d be walking around and suddenly “Thank you,” would just bubble out of me. Out loud. Literally just saying it aloud as I walked on the beach, as I stood in the museum, as I sipped mead, as I stared up at the mountains. Thank you, thank you, thank you. I’ve never had gratitude burst out of me before. It’s a curious feeling. I’d like to experience it some more!

I’m here to write. I’m here, most specifically, to work on “Fat Talk” essays. I am determined to shape that series into a collection. And, while I haven’t been away from the project for long, I kind of have, too. I did some writing in November, but never cleaned it up and posted it. I’ve been thinking about the project, but haven’t gotten any words on paper.

So these two weeks are time to pull this project back to the front of my brain and see what’s what.

And that’s hard and stressful because a lot of what I want to write about it hard and stressful. Having to put into words the ways in which I have been mistreated is hard. Having to put into words the ways in which I have mistreated myself is harder. It’s good to be here to do this. To have time and silence to push through the rough pieces. To have a group of writers to sit with at dinner and feel embraced and heard. This. THis is why “thank you” just kept bubbling out of me on Saturday. The understanding and anticipation of the gift of this

I came up a day early so that I could recover from a 20-hour travel day and play tourist in Homer for a minute. I wish I could have come up a full week early. I enjoyed my day of wandering in the cold and rain, however. I was exhausted — arrived at 7:30 in the morning but couldn’t check into the hotel until 5, so I had to stay awake and do something all day. And I did. Walked on the beach, stared at the mountains, had a really good omelet, went to the very excellent and inspiring Pratt Museum — if you’re going to be in Homer, for-sure visit the Pratt. It’s small and lovely. After the museum, I walked over to the Sweetgale Meadworks to try mead for the first time. I sampled all the meads ( 😉 ) and even got pics of a visiting moose before it was time to head to the hotel. On the drive to the hotel, we passed a coffee klatch of bald eagles — six of them just hanging out on the beach. And then I discovered that I’m not too early for late daylight! I thought I’d miss the whole midnight sun extravaganza … and I will, but the sun sets after 10pm right now, so daylight just goes on and on. It’s magical.

Here are some pics from the last few days:

My first good look at Kachemak Bay, taken from the back deck of the hotel where I stayed the first night.
The flights of meads I sampled. The flight on the left had my favorites: Sweetgale, Nagoonberry, and Wildflower.
One of the two moose who came by the meadery as I was sipping mead.
The view from my hotel room … at about 9pm. Crazypants that it was still this bright out!
Hanging out at the Salty Dawg Saloon before heading out to the residency. (That Stella Cidre was good stuff!)
A piece of the view from my cabin window here at the residency. That’s Cook Inlet.
Running away to write. 10/10 highly recommend
A mated pair of Sandhill Cranes who were hanging around outside the main house when I walked up for breakfast yesterday.

And now it’s time to get back to work! ❤


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Original Slicer - GirlGriot

On the cusp …

Today was first contact. First emails exchanged with the cohort of women I’ll be joining in Alaska in 12 days. And it has me feeling giddy and smiley and full and deliciously excited.

And these women, this group of strangers, has already extended their kindness, made a change in whatever plans they’d made for this residency … for me. From the moment I knew I’d be heading to Alaska, I’ve been looking at day tours, looking for one that would answer my craving for nature and wildlife and (with luck) excellent photos. But then I discovered a) that most of the tour outfits don’t start up until well after the time of my residency and b) the one that runs year-round doesn’t book solo tours and doesn’t have any tours scheduled that I could tag along on. Their minimum number for a tour is four people.

So I wrote my cohort and asked if they’d be willing to give up a chunk of a residency day to help make my dream become a real thing … and they stepped right up and said yes!

I am feeling lucky tonight, feeling seen and held. We don’t know each other … but we know each other, right? We know that each of us is a woman writer who’s been granted this time to embrace ourselves and breathe deeply and expand out to our farthest edges. And to support one another in that embracing, breathing, and expanding. And if part of that for me is getting to go on that wildlife tour, and I need their help to make it happen … well, there they are, saying yes. Saying yes for me.

Grateful.

And this little bubble of bonhomie is extending to ghazals tonight. I won’t pretend I’ve suddenly fallen in love with my poems or this form, but this one works for tonight, and I’m grateful for that, too.

Greater than Fear

We run toward the center, we're diving in deep.
Our minds all open and clear, diving in deep.

We haven't yet met but still, drawn to each other -- 
common desire wraps our sphere, diving in deep.

Each one carrying pieces that need making whole,
coming with all we hold dear, diving in deep.

We have faith in the chance that we'll find what we need.
Faith that rises, greater than fear. Diving in deep.

And I, Stacie, make my lists and check them thrice.
I'm arriving, ready, sincere -- diving in deep.

National Poetry Month 2022: the Ghazal

As I’ve done for more than ten years (what?!), I’ve chosen a poetic form, and I’m going to try to write a poem in that form every day for the month of April … and I’m saying that boldly, knowing that I’ve already failed. I couldn’t find my way through to a poem on Day One, but I’m determined to continue.

The “Ghazal” is the form I’ve chosen for this year. Here is the structure and a little backstory (thank you Poetry Foundation):

“Originally an Arabic verse form dealing with loss and romantic love, medieval Persian poets embraced the ghazal, eventually making it their own. Consisting of syntactically and grammatically complete couplets, the form also has an intricate rhyme scheme. Each couplet ends on the same word or phrase (the radif), and is preceded by the couplet’s rhyming word (the qafia, which appears twice in the first couplet). The last couplet includes a proper name, often of the poet’s. In the Persian tradition, each couplet was of the same meter and length, and the subject matter included both erotic longing and religious belief or mysticism.”

Should be interesting!

March Madness

Another month of slices comes to a close. March goes by so fast (SO FAST!!). And every year I have the same realizations. I remember how much more I write when I focus on writing every day. I remember how easy it is to post to my blog regularly. I remember how fun (and sometimes stressful) it is to find a slice every day. I get a chance to check in with other slicers — catch up with returning folks and meet some new folks.

I also am reminded of how quick I am to cut back on sleep and how that adds up to me being completely exhausted by the end of the month. Case in point: how many times have a dozed off while writing this slice?! And every year I promise myself I won’t be in this situation next year … and here I am. Oy.

And now it’s time to start April’s challenge: a poem a day for National Poetry Month/National Poetry Writing Month. I have gotten nervous about taking on the Ghazal for the month, which tells me that I should definitely take it on. It’s been a couple of years since I’ve used a form with a rhyme scheme, so that will be an added challenge. I always kind of balk at rhymes.

Last notes for March:

I’m out of town tonight, having come south to visit my family and celebrate my sister’s birthday. It’s my first visit since Christmas … which you should read as I’m still pissed at Covid for keeping me from seeing my family every month.

The moment I saw the notification on my phone about second booster shots being approved, I was online signing up to get mine!

I have just a few weeks to set myself up for my residency. While I’m taking this mini-trip to see family, my cat is having a trial run being boarded so we can see if he can stay there while I’m in Alaska. (And oh my goodness, this should probably just be a slice of its own! I really had no idea what a nervous, fussy cat parent I am or how hard it would be to leave him at the boarding place!) So far, so good — because of course I’ve called them twice already to check on him and make sure they’re on top of his meds schedule. It’s either the kennel (that’s what we call “boarding places,” right?) or the hospital connected to the vet’s office. The kennel is a much nicer option. So, fingers crossed.

My desktop computer with its wonderful, giant monitor, has died. This is the computer I set up during the second week of quarantine in 2020 … and that shocking and unhappy event fell exactly one week after the service contract expired. Naturally.

I am having fun reacquainting myself with my hair at this new short length. I still catch myself doing things that would only be necessary if my hair was as long as it was three weeks ago. And I’m wearing earrings that have been out of rotation for years because they would get tangled in my hair, a thing that’s not an issue now. It’s like all these old faves are brand new again.

And there we are: the slicing challenge is an old fave (I still can’t quite fathom that it’s really 15 years!), and every time I participate, it’s brand new again. Thank you to everyone who has visited and commented. Thank you to Stacey and the team at Two Writing Teachers. And thank you to my own dogged insistence that I participate year after year!


It’s the 15th annual Slice of Life Story Challenge!
Head on over to Two Writing Teachers
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Original Slicer - GirlGriot

Reply All

What was I thinking?! I left a comment on a public post — a post made by NPR — on FB. And now I am renewed in my understanding of why I never do that!

Damn.

Several years ago, because of my job, I locked down my social media: mostly anonymous on Twitter, just about entirely PG on Instagram, all the don’t find me if I don’t already know you security measures on FB. It doesn’t create an echo chamber exactly because I’ve left some problematic characters in there, but it does mean I’m not out in the general fray every minute of the day.

Why on earth I would choose The Slap to be the thing I’d comment on in such a crazed forum as the open comments on an FB post? Obviously, I am nuts. Just fully nuts.

I got off easy, though, I’m sure. A whole convoy of people telling me I’m stupid and clueless and reaching and “making everything about race” and defending violence and embarrassing myself. No hate speech, no out and out ugliness.

One man accused me of infantilizing people with the way I responded to comments. When I get all preachy-teachy in here, do you, my readers, feel infantilized? If that’s real, I want to do something about it.

Was I a little snippy with some folks? Yes, I definitely was. Mostly with white people who couldn’t seem to accept that I might think or feel something different from them, who basically told me that if they didn’t see it, it hadn’t happened. I don’t really have time for that kind of nonsense, and I said so. I was polite about it, but clear.

Mostly, it’s really interesting for me to see how willfully people will not hear you — or in this case, not read what you’ve written. People would read my comments and then accuse me of saying something else entirely. I would say, “I’m not talking about alopecia,” and people would come back at me with all kinds of information about alopecia, telling me that if I understood it, I’d know it had nothing to do with race. Um … ?

Oy. Lesson learned. I’ll be keeping my thoughts … well, not to myself (as if!), but keeping them out of the comments sections!


It’s the 15th annual Slice of Life Story Challenge!
Head on over to Two Writing Teachers
and see what the rest of this year’s slicers are up to!

Original Slicer - GirlGriot