Monday, May 30, 2016

Directing the C.D. Wright Women Writers Conference

81º ~ a day of hazy heat with pop-up thunderstorms probable, thick white overcast, birds & squirrels abound

In late January this year, I was invited to attend a meeting about the possibility of creating an annual women writers conference at UCA. You can read about that meeting and the creation of the C.D. Wright Women Writers Conference on the homepage of our website. After that initial meeting, we began gathering twice a month to lay the foundation for our first conference, which we scheduled for November 3 - 4, 2017. At some point along the way, I leaned in and requested the position of "director," knowing that someone had to hold all the threads, knowing that most of my colleagues had been at UCA long enough to have major initiatives of their own going, and knowing that directing a project like this is often a part of one's tenure package. Yes, having the title "Director" is prestigious, but that prestige will have to be earned through a lot of woman hours behind the scenes. I know this.

I'm confident in helping create and lead this conference in large part because of the fabulous colleagues with whom I work, especially the Executive Committee: Nan Snow, Terry Wright, Dr. Gayle Seymour, Jennifer Deering, and Dr. Stephanie Vanderslice. From the beginning, our committee has done a great job of task-sharing, communicating, and working toward a common goal. It is a delight and a privilege to be called the director of this group of people.

Building a conference is about details large and small, and everyone on our committee has brought vital experience to the table. We picked our locations and dates first and secured those. It may seem early to anyone who has never done this before, but key rooms and buildings on a campus go quickly, let me assure you. We also had to choose our name, and we are ever thankful to Forrest Gander for allowing us to honor the late C.D. Wright in this way. Now we are working on getting the word out, fundraising, naming our Board of Directors, and creating our media kit. In the fall, we will work on logistics and put together our call for proposals, which will go out November 3, 2016.

While our Mission & Vision Statement page offers a good idea of what we are aiming for, I want to re-iterate here that this conference is for women writers of all genres, styles, fields, and experience levels. We want to bring together academics, professionals, & writers-at-large -- poets, novelists & short story writers, young adult & children's lit authors, dramatists, journalists, bloggers, technical writers, advertising & marketing writers, scientific writers, and more.

If you are a woman and you write, we want to provide a space for you to discuss your work and to build a community with other women of words.

After announcing the conference about a month ago and releasing our first newsletter a few weeks ago, I've received numerous emails of enthusiasm and support. Most people ask, "how can I help?" For anyone interested, here's how to get involved.

1. Like us on Facebook and/or follow us on Twitter.
2. Sign up for our newsletter on the website (scroll down) and be the first to know about our call for proposals and registration details.
3. Share the news with your writer friends. Feel free to share this post, our newsletter, or any of our social media posts.
4. Make a financial donation if you are able. Founding Members (those who donate before our first conference) will receive a special gift and recognition at each conference. While we are hosted at UCA with most of the staffing hours covered by our contracts and we may receive a small amount of money from the College of Fine Arts and Communication, budgets are tight in academia. Initiatives such as ours must rely first and foremost on fundraising and registration fees. Your contribution will be used to support our ability to offer scholarships to women without the means to attend the conference on their own, to create an emerging women writers prize, and to help us spread the word through advertising and the creation of a media kit.

As ever, I am thankful for the opportunities and the responsibilities that have come my way as a literary citizen, and I am looking forward to hosting many of you at UCA in late 2017!

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

The Home School and a Summer Poetry Project: Self-Ekphrasis

86º ~ dew point at 70º ~ getting swampy out there, mixed bag of clouds and sun, strong breezes, storms to the north and grass in need of mowing

Summer 2016: The Grand Adventure Awaits

In August, I will have the privilege of attending The Home School in Hudson, New York. No, I'm not going to be learning how to home school my non-existent children. The Home School is a week-long poetry workshop held in Hudson, NY, in August and in other locations in January, most recently in Miami. For a solid week, I will be studying with five of the following faculty members, although I haven't received my specific assignment yet.

Cynthia Cruz
Adam Fitzgerald
Douglas Kearney
Myung Mi Kim
Harryette Mullen
Dorothea Lasky
Geoffrey G. O'Brien
Ann Lauterbach
Rebecca Wolff
Kate Durbin
John Ashbery

At the start, I will be assigned to a workshop group, and that group will stay together for the entire week, with a new faculty member each day. Each evening, there will be readings by core and visiting faculty.

Uhm...somebody wake me up; I still don't quite believe this is happening.

I first heard about The Home School about a year ago, and I was drawn to it for its promise of bringing together an eclectic group of poets and artists to explore poetry's place alongside and among other arts. As many of you know, I also work in collage, so this workshop is a perfect fit. I must also say that this group doesn't pay lip service to being inclusive; it lives and breathes diversity, something I cherish and attempt to actively cultivate.

Needless to say, I am thrilled to be taking this journey, in part because I am still searching for whatever is coming next for my poetry. In fact, thinking about The Home School's focus on ekphrasis has led me to my Summer Poetry Project: Self-Exphrasis.

For the first time in my life, I've got a plan. In other words, I'm not simply sitting and writing and discovering. Instead, I'm going to sit, collage, write, and discover. My plan is to create at least 20 collages and at least 20 corresponding poems. Instead of approaching ekphrastic poems by looking at the art of others, I am going to look at art of my own. Instead of making collages inspired by poems, I'm going to make poems inspired by collages. While I've often felt that my writing and my collaging informed each other, I've never taken it to this level of direct involvement.

My hope is that by sifting through my huge backlog of clipped images and letting myself be drawn by instinct, without forethought, to certain groupings I will discover a new poetic obsession.

Hopes and plans. I take them with the proverbial grain of salt.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

What I Learned During a Year of Leveling Up

76 º ~ gauzy sun, true spring temperatures finally arriving, privet blooms moving from white to brown on the way to seed

As most of you know, but for those who don't, after over a decade of teaching at a community college, I "leveled up" to a tenure-track job teaching creative writing to undergrads and graduate students at the University of Central Arkansas in August of 2015. Please note, I mean "leveling up" only in terms of now having different tasks and responsibilities. I do not mean that there is anything "less than" about teaching at the community college level. It has its own challenges and rewards.

That being said, this first academic year at a new level has been demanding, mostly in the best ways possible. At the community college, I taught Comp I and Intro to Creative Writing, almost exclusively. There are community colleges out there with broader ranges of creative writing classes; mine was not one of them, for the most part. This meant that, after 10 plus years, I knew the class material down in my muscles and bones, so I spent most of my time interacting with students. The biggest "shock" of this past year has been the shift to teaching many different creative writing classes and looking forward at the many different classes I'll be teaching in the future. This translates to hours and hours of prep time outside of the classroom as I attempt to organize and absorb all new materials. Of course, I'm well versed (hee hee) in poetry and in the rigors of creative writing in general; however, I've never had the time to get specific about transmitting my knowledge and experiences to others.

While conquering new class material has been the big challenge, it reminds me that I'm so thankful to all of my students and colleagues from the past. Spending my formative years as a college professor in the composition classroom taught me valuable lessons in classroom management that have served me well in my new environment. Those years taught me who I wanted to be as I interacted with students and colleagues. They gave me the chance to create and improve my professor persona. As one of my grad students put it last month, "You have a shtick; all good professors have a shtick."

Aside from the workload that stretches my mind and my stamina, there is one other big difference that I'm just now noting. I have a new relationship to my students. At the community college, we experienced "swirl and churn" in our student body. While I might have a few students follow me from Comp I to Comp II (when I taught it) or from Comp I to Intro to CW, these were rare exceptions. Mostly, I knew a student for one semester, often I knew a student intensely given the nature of writing classes, and then that student would swirl and churn away, either to other core classes or to transfer to a different institution. Now, I am in a program with a strong undergraduate major/minor in creative writing (that's stand-alone cw, not as part of an English major with emphasis) and I am part of the Arkansas Writer's MFA Program.

What this means is that I now have the opportunity to see a writer's work progress over several years rather than over several months. And while I've only just begun forming relationships with my students, there is a deeper level of engagement on my part, as I'm investing in longer-term goals with each writer. Again, this is not to say that deep levels of engagement don't go on at the community college level or in the first-year writing classroom. It means, that was not my strength in those classrooms.

Finally, I'll wrap up by saying that this year has been exhausting and sometimes frustrating, challenging and mind-expanding. It has been the most rewarding year of my teaching life and the worst year for my writing life (a whole other blog post). I am looking forward to gaining more sure-footedness in the coming year and to working toward a goal of more balance between teaching, writing, and homelife.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

From 60 to Zero

71º ~ bright sun, a few high lazy sheets of white, the cool/wet spring means all the trees are leafed and the privets blooming an allergy-inducing white, a mourning dove nest in the tree outside my window

At the beginning of the fall semester, things go from zero to 60 in the blink of an eye, in nothing flat, in the "name your cliche for speed." While there may be slight variations in intensity, things pretty much stay at 60 through spring graduation (with a slight lull at winter break just long enough to regain a bit of sleep). Now, I'm in that shifting period, trying to downgrade from 60 to zero. Zero is my creative sweet spot. Zero means long swathes of time uninterrupted when my mind can roam, when the words can tumble together, striking and sparking new images, new lines.

You would think that after a decade of not teaching in the summers, I'd have figured out how to make this transition smoothly. This is not the case. Every year, I am stunned by the amount of time it takes me to slow. Every year, I am faced again with finding the balance between "me" time and socializing with friends. Every year, I have to battle the desire to simply sit and stare at the TV for days and days.

Let me say that I am not against "down time." I'm all for taking a break and watching Law & Order reruns or the latest episode of The Big Bang Theory. I'm especially all for reading the latest J.D. Robb books in the In Death series. However, my personality  is one that will quickly turn watching one episode or reading for an hour into a binge that lasts four days. Even now, I'm resisting clicking on Season 2 of Frankie and Grace on Netflix because I can so quickly tumble down that rabbit hole. In other words, at 45, I still struggle to find my balance.

Side note: I didn't learn to ride a bike until first grade b/c physical balance eludes me as much as emotional balance seems to most days.

So, here is my goal: to practice balance.

Practical subgoals:

  • to write daily
  • to blog regularly...whether I've lost you all, dear readers, or not, you keep me balanced when I tell myself you are out there and reading me
  • to continue to meditate daily
  • to be kind to myself when I fail

Upcoming blog posts:

  • What I learned from my first year at UCA
  • The C.D. Wright Women Writers Conference
  • Reading full-length manuscripts for a contest
  • Self-Ekphrastic Poetry: or, my summer project
  • Reports on my progress

Until then.