Sunday, August 30, 2015

Draft Process: The Legacy of Our Sister Sleep

89º ~ feels like 92º ~ after a stretch of glorious weather in the low 80s, here we are again rising to the sweat-inducing 90s with high humidity ~ the hummingbirds continue ~ a neighborhood cat slinks through the yard next door, in and out of focus through the fence slats

This week was my first full week of teaching at UCA, so I'm trying to be patient with myself as I adjust to a new schedule. At PTC, I only had one face-to-face class, since all of my Comp I sections were online. At UCA, all four of my classes are face-to-face. This is taking quite a toll on me physically. I feel like I'm always hungry, and by the end of the week, I was physically exhausted (and my back went wonky yesterday). None of this is meant to be complaint. I know my body will adjust and so will my brain. That takes about three weeks for me, given past experiences.

FYI: I prefer teaching face-to-face because I can really get to know each student. Even after years of teaching online, I never mastered getting through to all of them.

Now, I was all set to ignore writing this week, and then I read Stephanie Vanderslice's tribute to Alan Cheuse, who left us far too soon. Stephanie is one of my new colleagues at UCA and I'm looking forward to talking writing and teaching with her as the years unfold. In any case, as I read this tribute to Cheuse, I was struck by his / Stephanie's "gargantuan word count in the sky" idea. This was a reminder to get back to the page, even if I only had 15 - 30 minutes in the mornings.

So, I renewed my effort. Things are a little more complicated this year as I've added some brief yoga stretching and 15 minutes of mindfulness meditation to my morning routine as I struggle with a seriously painful and unrelenting case of TMJ. At this point, I'm getting up at 5:15 (leaving the house at 7:00). It looks like I need to get up at 5:00 to extend my drafting time. All of this piles up at the end of the day to me being ready for bed by 7:00 p.m. Luckily, C. and I are hermits and this is usually not a problem.

But back to today's draft. I fiddled with words and lines each morning, in fits and starts. However, on Wednesday, some lines coalesced. Six lines in fact. On Friday, I added two more. Today, I drafted the full poem, all 14 lines (no it isn't a sonnet). If you had asked me a month ago, I'd have told you that I "don't work that way," that I can't write in bits and pieces and then bring it all together later on. Well, whadda ya know? Look what I just did. Here's the opening of "The Legacy of Our Sister-Sleep"

The moon, Sister, bright disc upon which
we spent our wishes, has reset itself to zero.

The poem goes on to be both memory and current accounting. It seems I'm stuck on addressing "Sister" in my drafts at the moment. Let me say that I actually have two sisters, whom I love and am thankful for; however, this "Sister" in the poems has come to stand more broadly. I do think of my sisters, but I also think of the relationship my mother has with my aunt. I think of women friends I have who have come to be as close to me as sisters. So, the poems broaden out, I hope.

The process of this week does not fit my ideal, but it is a process and it netted one cohesive draft. That deserves a Wahoooooooooooza (and a huge "Thank You" to Stephanie).

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Getting Called Up to the Bigs, Or, Leveling Up

75º ~ at the tail end of a 40-minute thunderstorm, featuring three massive lightning strikes and three flickerings of the electricity, along with lots of cloud-rumbling and sky-flashing

After months of anticipation, and five days of orientations and meetings, the first days of teaching at the University of Central Arkansas arrived for me Thursday and Friday. On Thursday, I had my Introduction to College Writing students. The majority of these students are recent high school graduates, and part of my first day discussion included a comparison / contrast of high school and college.

I've had this conversation with many classes over the years, and the analogy I always use is one from baseball (Go Cubs!). I announce to my classes that the move from high school to college is like being called up from the minor leagues to the majors (also know as the big leagues). For those who aren't into baseball, I extend the discussion to include moving from college ball to the NFL, NBA, WNBA, MLS, NWSL, etc. Finally, for those who aren't into sports but might be into gaming, we talk about leveling up.

We talk about how the freedoms and responsibilities grow with the promotion and how the physical environment changes as well. I address specifically how my role as their professor is different from the role of their high school teacher. I also point out that faculty have a lot of jobs outside the classroom and office hours. This is a shocker for many of them who are used to their teacher being in one room all day.

In the end, my goal is to be crystal clear about my responsibilities and theirs. I promise to come to class with passion & enthusiasm every day, to present them with the material they need to tackle the course skill set, to give clear directions and specific expectations about assignments, to be available to help them as needed, to treat each of them fairly and consistently, and to assess and return their work in a timely manner. I then outline their responsibilities and the fact that students in my classes don't "get" grades; they earn them. This is not the most entertaining day of the semester for the class, but it is crucial to starting off on the right foot.

On Friday, when I switched to my Introduction to Creative Writing students, I didn't have to hit this topic as hard, given that the class is 2000-level course. However, on Friday afternoon, with teaching completed for the day, it struck me that I am experiencing a similar shift in dynamics to that which my first-year students are experiencing.

I, too, have been called up. In my case, I've been called up from a non-tenure track job at a community college** to a tenure track job at a four-year comprehensive university. At heart, the tasks are the same, but everything is "bigger" now, and not just the campus. I'm having to learn a new physical environment, yes, but I'm also learning a new relationship environment as well. I'd been at PTC for 10 years. I was a seasoned veteran with all the confidence and exhaustion that entails. At UCA, I'm a rookie, and I need to navigate a whole new set of people and responsibilities. I need some time to figure out who everybody is and what role they play. I need some time to figure out what is expected, specifically, of me and what role I want to play within my department, my college, and the university as a whole.

As these first few weeks unfold, I'm going to try and be mindful that the stress I might feel as I set off on this new level mirrors the stress my first-years will be feeling. Hopefully, this will help me be a better professor along the way.

I'm also going to be mindful that my writing is taking a hit at the moment, and that's okay, for now (but only for now). Give me two weeks to work out the kinks in my schedule and I'll be back with my BIC (butt in chair) doing the work of drafting.

**I want to make clear that I don't think those folks working in community colleges are "minor" in any way. I know how much talent they have and how much effort it takes. My analogy extends more to the infrastructure around and outside of the classroom. Also, most community colleges are first-and second-year institutions. At UCA, I'll be teaching upper-level classes in a creative writing major and graduate students in an MFA program. That will be another adjustment.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Poet on the Move: Readings and Conferences, Fall 2015

86º ~ feels like 92º ~ yup, after several glorious days without it, the heavy humidity is back, the sun continues, no rain in sight

Last night, I attended my first-ever "Welcome Back" party for the Arkansas Writers MFA Program, where I am now an Assistant Professor. After two full days (Thursday and Friday) of new faculty orientation on the UCA campus, it was a relief to be able to relax a bit with good people, good food, and good conversation. I'd say it's going to be a wonderful year if last night is any indication.

In the course of the evening, I had a conversation about all my goings-on for the fall. I surprised myself with how many events I have scheduled. Here's the list so far:

Mid-South Book Festival (9/9 - 9/13), Memphis, TN
Where I'll be:
The Well Read Reception, Friday evening, 9/11
Street Fair Reading Tent, Saturday morning (time TBA), 9/12
The Mind as  Broken Mirror (reading/panel), Saturday, 4:00 p.m., 9/12

Conway Artsfest (9/26 - 10/3), Conway, AR
Where I'll be:
UCA Writing Department Reading, Thursday 7:00 p.m., 10/1
I'll be reading with my fellow new faculty Jennie Case (CNF) at the Faulkner County Library.

Hendrix College ShopTalk, 10/8, Conway, AR
Sponsored by the Hendrix-Murphy Foundation
Where I'll be:
The Murphy House, Thursday, 4:00 - 5:30 p.m., 10/8
I'll share the stage with Jo McDougall.

Southern Festival of Books (10/9 - 10/11), Nashville, TN
Where I'll be:
Schedule TBA, but I'll be there Friday night through Sunday.
Look for my reading on a panel of poets on Saturday.

Creative Writing and Innovative Pedagogies (CWIPs) Conference, 10/16 - 10/17, Warrensburg, KS
Sponsored by the Creative Writing Program at the University of Central Missouri
Where I'll be:
Panel: Inspiration: The Benefits of Irrational Thinking, Schedule TBA
Co-panelists: Garry Craig Powell, Lynne Landis, Rose Bunch

Poets in the Parlor at the Vachel Lindsay House, 10/18, Springfield, IL, 
I'll be sharing the mic with Matt Minicucci at 2:00 p.m.
This is a new addition, and my details aren't on the VLH website yet.

Eastern Illinois University, 10/19, Charleston, IL
Hosted by the English Department
Details TBA

Big Rock Reading Series, 11/3, North Little Rock, AR
Sponsored by Pulaski Technical College's Division of Fine Arts and Humanities
I'll be sharing the mic with good poetry-friend Angie Macri at 6:00 p.m.

In feast or famine news, I have 0 events scheduled for Spring 2016 (outside of attending but not presenting at AWP). This could be a good thing, as I might need the spring to recover!

Monday, August 10, 2015

Invest Your Ego Elsewhere

81º ~ feels like 88º ~ one more day of heat advisories with a temp of 102º before the index and then we cool down to the low- to mid- 90s. Ah, summer in the mid-south.

While I've been away from the blog these last two weeks, much poetry work has continued on. I've been revising and polishing, and I did start sending out new submissions. I'd sent out a few in June as well, and as the timing would have it, just as I started to send out new work in August, the rejections from June started rolling in.

Yes, rejections still sting, even when they are "good" rejections as two of these were. Yes, the rejections mean I have to dig a little deeper for the motivation to submit more work to the world. Yes, this is the nature of being a working poet.

All of this recalls to mind some advice I received in the late spring of 1999. Lo those many years ago, I traveled to Fayetteville, Arkansas, to check out the MFA program there. On that visit, I met the amazing poet Alison Pelegrin. As we chatted over drinks, I must have asked her for some advice about entering the program. She turned to me and said, "Invest your ego elsewhere."

What followed from there was a discussion on group dynamics and competitive natures in workshop, but we also talked about writing and publishing in general. The truth is, as it ever was, there will always be someone out there publishing in your "dream" journal when you get rejected, receiving the award you were just sure you would receive, getting the slick 2/2 teaching gig at one of the top 5 grad schools, and etc. Sadly, there will also always be people who need to talk down the work of others in order to feel better about their own writing. This is human nature.

To deal with what it means to be repeatedly rejected and disappointed, Alison's advice has never let me down. Yes, I celebrate my poetry victories and I am proud of every accomplishment I've achieved in writing, but victories and accomplishments can not sustain me and bring me back to the blank page. More importantly, they are fleeting, so there need to be other relationships and activities in my life that offer a more stable emotional reward. For me those include family and friends, my cats, collaging, and teaching. And chocolate, of course, you can never go wrong with good chocolate.