Be the Best Libra You Can Be

My new friend/colleague at VCFA, who graciously has let me share her office space when I work on Hunger Mountain managing editorial things, recently showed me the brilliance that is Rob Brezsny’s Free Will Horoscope. These are mine from the past two weeks, and I have to say, it is a great time to be a Libra.

The poet E. E. Cummings said, “To be nobody but yourself—in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else— means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting.” On the other hand, naturalist and writer Henry David Thoreau declared that “We are constantly invited to be who we are,” to become “something worthy and noble.” So which of these two views is correct? Is fate aligned against us, working hard to prevent us from knowing and showing our authentic self? Or is fate forever conspiring in our behalf, seducing us to master our fullest expression? I’m not sure if there’s a final, definitive answer, but I can tell you this, Libra: In the coming months, Thoreau’s view will be your predominant truth. 

Be realistic, Libra: Demand the impossible; expect inspiration; visualize yourself being able to express yourself more completely and vividly than you ever have before. Believe me when I tell you that you now have extra power to develop your sleeping potentials, and are capable of accomplishing feats that might seem like miracles. You are braver than you know, as sexy as you need to be, and wiser than you were two months ago. I am not exaggerating, nor am I flattering you. It’s time for you to start making your move to the next level.

I think I should calligraph these in my favorite purple pen and hang it up somewhere on my studio wall. Say what you will about horoscopes, but I will not bash anything that encourages positivity and self-confidence. They are a great reminder to be grateful for positive energy when it blows your way. Take a big inhale of it and pass it along to the first person you see in your next exhale. This, Rob Brezsny, is mighty fine energy you’ve just given me.

books! tacos! gala!

When the director of my MFA program announced that any student who wanted to attend the Third Annual Vermont Book Award Gala could go for free if we volunteered to set up chairs and hang up coats, I jumped at the chance. Who am I to resist a reason to dress up and dance?

First, a little background on the history of the event. The Vermont Book Award is a $5,000 literary prize created by VCFA to celebrate the literature of Vermont. To qualify, a book must be a work of outstanding literary merit by a Vermont writer. Authors and poets are nominated by Vermont independent booksellers, as well as publishers. From a selection of over 400 nominees, a panel of judges narrows the list down to eight finalists. The winner is then selected from those finalists and announced at a fancy schmancy gala in the fall.

Which brings me to Saturday night! I’m not sure if the gala can be properly described to you, but I will do my best, and trust me when I say it was amazing.

The event was hosted in the VCFA Alumni Hall. Now this is New England, so even the alumni hall has a “stable/barn” feel to it, especially with the wooden beams and rafters. But, once the party started, this was absolutely no barn. Picture caramel wooden floors perfect for dancing; colossal brick loft walls; pane glass windows letting in vitamin D and light, and then later, blanketed by luxurious velvet indigo curtains. Surrounded by a 20-foot spread of charcuterie and finger food was a centerpiece of potted trees, with fairy-lit trees tangled around boughs, and stacks on stacks of gloriously dusty, collectible books.

We emerging writers took in the same precious air in that hall with literary notables, such as Katherine Paterson (of Bridge to Terabithia fame) and last year’s Book Award winner, Major Jackson. A most humbling feeling indeed. We drank cocktails called Anne of Vert Gables and snacked on scrumptious delectables from Montpelier’s own Mad Taco. Later, we danced until our feet were bleeding to Burlington singer Kat Wright and her band, The Indomitable Souls. Love her raw, jazzy and soulful style, much in the vein of Adele and Amy Winehouse. You can spend hours watching her band’s videos on YouTube—they are so good!

The moment we all were waiting for was truly titillating. Standing in a room filled with over 200 people, all witnessing eight terrific readings by the finalists. We gave a toast with our free prosecco (*yum!*) like it was New Year’s Eve. In the end, it was Jensen Beach who won the award for his newest story collection, Swallowed by the Cold. I give my heartiest congratulations to him, as well as to all of the other finalists. They are all worthy of winning in my eyes.

What an entrance into the public world of being a writer! I am most grateful to everyone who spent so much time and effort in planning and coordinating this beautiful literary evening, and to Kat Wright and the local vendors and all the deliciously lovely writerly folk who attended. I was so honored to be a part of it and am very much looking forward to the Fourth Annual Gala!



Updates from the Classroom and Elsewhere

I’ve been reading and writing-o-rama this week and it’s going very smoothly. I have figured out how to manage my time here—by spreading out the workload throughout the week. Instead of doing everything on the weekend or the day before an assignment is due, I sprinkle little pieces of assignments on every day of the calendar. This not only keeps stress levels low; it keeps my fingers and my mind limber as I practice my skills every day and not on just one day of total brain blast.

It occurred to me that some of you blog readers out there may be curious what I’ve been doing in my classes lately! So this is the blog post in which I tell you:

  • What do you see when you stare at a fountain? This is the assignment Mary Ruefle gave to us for the last week of our three week module with her. There is a fountain out front of College Hall and throughout the week, her students sat on a bench and pondered the fountain. Our write-up could be any genre. The fountain could appear or not appear in the piece. The only true limitation was that the piece couldn’t be more than one page in length. It was fascinating how the fountain had influenced every single person in such different ways. In some cases, the fountain was a subject to be analyzed and described architecturally. In others, the fountain was absent in the piece and was a means of remembering a childhood memory. And for me, as I sat by the fountain, a scene unfolded before me and I saw so powerfully a tender moment between two characters that could not pass unwritten. The purpose of this assignment is an important one for all writers: when writer block hits, find something in real life to sit and really stare at. The world is our prompt. The thoughts will come when you use your senses and just be.
  • What does a sestina have in common with the first five minutes of The Social Network screenplay? Well, for starters, repetition of concrete words and subject matter layered in a circular way so the words revolve like a dry cleaning assembly line, always appearing just as you think the subject was dropped. See for yourself! Watch the opening scene of The Social Network and then read this poem by John Ashbery.

  • Speaking of Mark Zuckerberg, I learned tricks of the HTML trade and brought code to life on Now that I can use code to change font face, color, size, style, as well as indent, hyperlink, and create numbered lists, I feel so marketable all of a sudden. And to be honest, a bit amazed. Through HTML, we witness two languages instructing and cooperating with each other. I know that HTML is just the beginning of code, but it really is like breaking into another way of seeing, of thinking, of organizing those thoughts.
  • My program requires us to work at least 15 hours per semester as an Intern for an Arts/Literary Organization. As soon as I heard about May Day Studio (a quirky maker of letterpressed goods), I knew I wanted to be an intern there. This is my first time working in a letterpress studio, and I love it. From the moment I put on my apron, I become an apprentice. So far, my main task is to “distribute” typefaces my boss uses for projects back to their proper galleys (or trays). Every once in a while, she calls me over to observe what she is doing. Last Thursday, she taught me how to mix inks to create color blends using the Pantone Formula Guide. Then, she used a printing press to embed a design into a blank drink coaster and voila! In a few weeks, I will begin my own letterpress project—I’m thinking bookmarks or pocket poetry cards?

  • I’m embarking on a new novel project, which I can’t even say how exciting it is. I’ve been in short story mode for so long, so I feel like I’m diving off the high dive sort of fumbling with my own feathers and my swim cap is half over my eyes, but I know that when I reach the water’s surface, I will have found a way to enter the pool in my own streamlined way. I won’t spill too much information about this project yet, since it is still in its early stages. For now, free-writing to discover voice is my number one priority. But I can tell you that the idea for this novel came from a visualization exercise I came up with in class:

On a dresser drawer sits a metal tin. It may or may not be filled with anything. A person opens the door to the bedroom. They aren’t supposed to be there. This person looks nervous and frequently checks over their shoulder. This person places their hand on the tin and opens it. They look inside and see—

That’s all for now! Tonight is the Vermont Book Award gala, so look forward to an upcoming post about the event! Happy Autumn!

On the Cusp of Autumn

First weeks are hard. There are countless adjustments to be made: new time schedules, meeting new people, figuring out where you need to be at what time, and of course, there are tons of assignments to be done. It is imperative to keep track of what is being asked of you, because your body and mind are surely being asked to stretch into a zillion directions. (Carl Sagan, I’m sorry, we are not made of star stuff, we are made of Silly Putty.) But, as a master of the sticky-note, my desk is plotted like a military graveyard with periwinkle and teal Post-Its, describing each and every task I need to accomplish (with only minor coffee stains coloring the text).

I’ll quickly share a few of my greatest experiences this week during class:

Julianna Baggott, my Forms professor, is a prolific writing superstar. She has perfected something called “Efficient Creativity”: the art of writing without being at your desk. By this, she means that she is always creating scenes in her head while taking care of children or driving in the car or walking through the grocery store, so when she sits down to her computer, she already knows what she is going to write. Because of this method, she has written 20+ books while taking care of four children, holding two professorial gigs, and managing to do other human things, like sleep, eat, relax, exercise, go out. One of her goals for our class is to help us become more efficient writers and through that, she believes in running writing drills, which I actually love! For me, drills aren’t only for me to practice my skill and actually WRITE, but they are an opportunity to play and experiment in a pressure-free space. For example, one of the drills included using our own memories inspired by random words (think: snake, teeth, scar, bad job, fire) and then threading those memories together to create an outline for a short story. In addition to these drills, we also read and critically respond to fabulous short stories: “The Rememberer” by Aimee Bender, “Sweetheart of the Song Tra Bong,” by Tim O’Brien, “My Man Bovanne,” by Toni Cade Bambara, and “The Owls,” by Lewis (Buddy) Nordan.

-My latest room decorating project was also inspired by Baggott. She suggested that instead of constantly worrying about how we compare to the others in the MFA program, we should be looking up at the horizon, at those writers and artists who we admire and strive to emulate. She said we should print out their pictures and hang them above our writing space so we can always have their spirit near us. For me, it was very important to have my wall enriched with the faces of inspiring and innovative female artists—the women who weren’t afraid to create something new and push back on any boundaries set on art. This is only the first half that I’ve been able to put up so far, but there are more coming! I may need more wall. 

-This week also saw my first day on the job as Managing Editor of VCFA’s Hunger Mountain annual literary and art journal. I gratefully received this position by winning the Editorial Fellowship and I already know that this is a place I was meant to be. I love the energy and camaraderie that is felt in that office, as I work alongside Editor-in-Chief, Miciah Gault and Program Assistant, Lizzy Fox. I love that I have a direct connection with all of the writers who contribute to the magazine. My first correspondence with many of the writers was to congratulate the winners of our 2017 writing contests. I am so happy to be able to contribute my energy and ideas into creating a tighter-knit writing community. Writers need to support each other and this position will allow me to help make other writers shine in the unique glow that VCFA has to offer. I work 10-15 hours a week on top of classes, and do a little bit of everything on the journal, so again, sticky notes are a savior.

In other news, what with all of the homework to do, during nights and weekends, I am in a sort of cocoon of coffee and green tea and writing and reading, accompanied by the sonic comforts of Philip Glass, Zoe Keating, Tycho, and Emancipator.

It feels like it could trip over autumn at any moment. It’s summer sunny and yet the air is getting crisper, like someone above poured extra bits of oxygen into our airy fishbowl. I am loving wearing layers of sweaters and jackets and scarves. My nose is on full alert for pumpkin spices. It is my favorite time of year, all cinnamon and leaves and the sound of breeze rustling the earth. Any day now.

But for now, there are still sunflowers and beautiful birch trees and that’s okay, too.

September Readings

I’ve had a very long, very productive weekend. Went to see The Glass Castle, received a very detailed guided tour of the State House by an extremely jolly policeman, cleaned my studio (sort of), dove back into the nerdy pleasures of having homework again, wrote a lot, read a lot. Somewhere in there, it rained and I had wine and I happened upon a stony tower on a hill.

The Tower in Hubbard Park

Before my first class on Tuesday, I’m trying to squeeze in as many “books for fun” as I can before readings are assigned to me—which I will surely love to read just as much. Note: the title “books for fun” is simply just a label of differentiation between assigned and non-assigned readings.

I read The Stranger in the Woods in little under two days. A fascinating read about a fascinating person. This interview with the author, Michael Finkel, is also something to consider.

Tana French is my go-to detective/crime recommendation lately and her newest book, The Trespasser, is all the shades of Irish sass and mysterious intrigue you’ve been waiting for.

I love reading about how other writers perceive the world and strain through their observations and categorize their many story ideas. I also love Virginia Woolf, so naturally, the excerpts of her diary anthologized under the title A Writer’s Diary just fell into my hands.

I picked up Max Porter’s Grief is the Thing With Feathers because I’ve been meaning to read it for months now and it is just short enough that I can pretend that it will take me a day to read, even though (let’s be serious) shorter books always take much longer to read because I agonize over internalizing each and every word. Shorter books are like poetry to me. I care for each word my eyes pass over. I study those words and their placement. I indulge in their sound.

In other things I’ve been reading, I wanted to touch on books about the craft of writing. I am interested in them mostly just to see what other people have to say about the thing I love to do, and how so many people can say the same thing in so many different ways. One of these books I read this weekend while plopped in a floofy chair at Bear Pond Books. It’s called The War of Art by Steven Pressfield. It’s very straightforward, very thoughtful and a no-nonsense call to action for anyone struggling with anything from writing and painting to weight loss and yoga. It is very clear and concise, and frames familiar struggles in terms of battling with RESISTANCE (this nebulous force that is constantly fighting against you). It’s a quick read, and I have a feeling I will be re-reading it whenever I need a frank reminder to be fearless and just GO FOR IT.

I am looking forward to this week of new classes and new perspectives. I have a lot to write, I have much to say. I have the soundtrack to Midnight in Paris freshly downloaded and I still have quite a bit of wine left, too. Cheers!

Montpelier: A Capital Place to Live

At this time last year, I was beginning a new job as a preschool teacher, which was truly an incredible experience. At this time last year, I had no idea where I’d be today.

I certainly never expected to be one of the 8,000 lovely and laid-back people residing in the capital city of Vermont, near the foothills of the Green Mountains.

College Hall, Vermont College of Fine Arts

I have already explored a bit, though I expect Montpelier will always keep a few mysteries to itself.

A few of my adventures so far have included:

  • eating farm-to-table root veggie hash at the cozy Down Home Kitchen on Main Street
  • meeting a few of the local pets, including Veruca the tortoise who lives in the local Bear Pond Books.
  • exercising my legs on the heart-pumping hills (seriously, these hills are giving San Francisco a run for their money).
  • signing up for my own library card at the downtown public library
  • while at said library, befriending a sweet 85-year-old woman named Jan who called me “The Girl with the Pearl Earrings” and instructed me to be the strong woman this community needs, to go out on the streets and promote reading, and help the homeless and mentally ill. Jan, I very much hope our paths cross again!
  • Participating in a terrifically difficult trivia night at the Langdon Street Tavern. No joke – Round 4 was “Presidential Middle Names” and Round 6 was “Famous Athletes in Plain Clothes.”
  • Getting a good night’s sleep because this town shuts down on average at 7 pm.

In addition to discovering the green pathways, the locations of all Free Little Libraries, and greeting the friendly locals on the sidewalks, I also had my VCFA orientation yesterday. We learned about the resident ghost on campus (you can read about Anna Ghost here), took our photos for our ID cards, toured the historic library, and received some advice about how to find success during our MFA program. Our always-encouraging program director, Miciah Bay Gault, reminded us to manage our time well, to stick with a routine of serious self-care (may I suggest this daily yoga calendar?), be fearless, and remember that we were accepted to this program for a reason. We belong here. We need not doubt that.

I’m so excited to continue to build relationships with my cohort. I’ve already met so many of them, shared some laughs at trivia night together, and I have even bonded with one classmate particularly over a mutual love for the Dutch movie, Antonia’s Line!

Classes begin on Tuesday. As we’re going into Labor Day weekend, I plan to see The Glass Castle, explore the Vermont State House, snag some fresh produce at the Farmer’s Market, and soak up the last rays of summer along the grassy trails of the 185-acred Hubbard Park.

New home. New school. New state. New adventures.

Happy first day of September!