Dispatch from the Unknown

At this point in 2018, without the structure of having class to attend every day, I’m wandering around my head as if I were in a Narnian wardrobe, which is to say in a bamboozled state of wonder and not particularly sure what to do with myself. I’ve been steadily creating writing projects, reading so many books, and watching and rewatching all the seasons of the British Bake Off. And yet, my studentia soul aches to get back into a familiar rhythm. It doesn’t help that the world outside my windows is a snow-icing landscape of white with creeping mists, hazy mountain silhouettes, and gnarly-fingered trees. So there’s that Vermont in Winter otherworldliness factor, too.

Luckily, the wait is short, because this coming Monday, I will dive right back in to my studies— this time with some new and old faces at the front of the classroom. My schedule for this semester is:

  • Modules with Julianna Baggott (Screenplay), Matthew Dickman (Poetry), Jericho Parms (Creative Nonfiction), Trinie Dalton (Fiction), and Sean Prentiss.(Thesis Development)
  • Workshop with Robin MacArthur
  • Publishing with Miciah Gault
  • Professional Development (with various Module instructors)
  • Internship (TBD)

Here’s a pic of the latest book haul (all school books):

More information on classes are sure to follow soon!

Today was a mix of the mundane and the historically significant. In between cleaning my studio and a bit of list-making/email housekeeping, I walked in the local Montpelier Women’s March anniversary event. Donning a hot pink scarf and a “I have more than enough courage” button, I joined the hundreds of others who gathered at the base of the Vermont State House. Even a T-Rex traveled through time and overcame extinction to make an appearance. What I find thrilling about this particular Vermont event is that it was a youth-led, youth-organized march and speak-out for youth of all ages and their allies. I think it is an incredible thing to give young people the stage and respect to be heard by their townspeople, many who are decades older than themselves. When we show up to events like these, we’re not just saying “Impeach Trump” and “We want change,” it’s showing (and therefore speaking volumes) that we believe that what children have to say and feel about this country’s future matters. They are our future. We are all in this together, literally, sharing this world and all of Earth’s resources. I know from my experiences as a preschool teacher that children produce some of the most intelligent and rawest ideas and feelings. Because they don’t always have the speech capacity to vocalize these thoughts efficiently, children are written off as dumb or naive. But I think this is far from the truth. Children hold some of the most fundamental qualities of life to be self-evident. For example, in the photo below, a child in the right bottom corner holds a sign that says: “Be nice and share.” How many adults do you know who struggle with this advice every day? Just some food for thought.

Portrait of Montpelier’s Women’s March with T-Rex


And now to something completely different…

I’ve been listening to a TON of Moby lately (my favorite tracks are the gospelly ones: “Honey“, “Natural Blues“, and “In This World“). Mostly, because I realized that I need very specific music to settle my brain down and tell itself that it’s time to write. Certain music, like Emancipator or Moby, creates a sort of cave for my brain to curl up inside and produce these sprigs of ideas which sprout outward from me like degravitized roots. Caves are the perfect environment because it’s dark in there and echoey and my brain can practice sounds, while also not feeling super calm. There’s always a slight dripping sense of unease in caves, which is what I like in a good story. Also, good writing music: the soundtrack to American Beauty. The last time I saw that movie, I think I almost bit through the pillow I was clutching during the last scene. The soundtrack though is worldly, disturbing and comforting all at once — again, quintessentially cavernous.

So right now, I’m standing in this snowy cave of Vermont looking at 2018 spread out in front of me, all full of possibility and exploration and nail-biting political nervousness, and I’m not sure where the year is going to take me, what it’s going to teach me, and who I’m going to become. But I have my boots, and I trust them to take me one step further and then another.  I’ll make sure to send dispatches back from the unknown.


The Sound of Water

I am home again—well, home in Vermont (I have many places I feel at home)—and I am starting to get the swing of 2018.

As I write this, it is a brisk, frosty, nose-hair-crystalizing temperature outside and there are snow-plowed mountains peaking high among the streets. As I write this, my feet are toasty in fuzzy oven-warm slippers and I am serenaded by the trickling sound of water as it twists through the metallic veins of ancient radiators.

I am realizing what a blessing it is to have a month-long break between school semesters. With two more weeks left, I am properly hibernating with tea and a mound of books. I am doing a bit of writing (revising short stories and beginning a new novel), but mostly reading. I want to voraciously learn everything I can from my predecessors and my contemporaries.

I just finished Donald Antrim’s The Hundred Brothers (at Porochista Khakpour’s recommendation) and am halfway through this beautiful Penguin Horror edition of Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House, as well as Stephen King’s On Writing. I have Kelly Link’s Pretty Monsters and Tana French’s In the Woods to pick up when I’m finished. Plus I just ordered a box of more bookish goodies for later in the semester!

One of my favorite ways to read through my ever-growing book pile is by reading while walking on the treadmill, which is almost as satisfying as reading whilst hula hooping. It’s amazing how fast the time goes by and how after reading 50-60 pages, I’ve already walked 3-4 miles. I believe that when the body is active, the mind is also stimulated and therefore, it is easier to absorb and comprehend complex plots and details. Plus, the gym in the dorm is located in the basement, meaning that it is quiet enough for me to read out loud. (It has always been a dream of mine to one day become an audiobook reader, so I practice as much as I can.)

And now, we return to the symphony of the humming radiator and the back-breaking shovel digging out a snowbound car.

Old & New

The Dutch call New Year’s Day oud en nieuw — meaning Old and New. In one sparkly seam of time, the past and future collide and explode into fizzly fireworks. (Isn’t that what makes us human after all? A cocktail of dreams and memories, fears of the unknown and regrets of what’s past?) And last night, as I blew into a semi-obnoxious noisemaker with a slightly tipsy head, I couldn’t help but think about how my life has so vastly changed over this year.

It seems it was just New Year’s 2017 when my boyfriend and I sprinted ten blocks at 11:55pm to get to the Chicago River on time for the fireworks. (We made it just at the countdown of 3-2-1!) And here we are again together, in Austin, Texas, where he now works, spending the disappointingly chilly weekend bowling and watching The Princess Bride and fueling up on heartwarming Indian food.

Somewhere in the middle, I worked at a preschool and fell in love with the honesty, joy, imaginations, and most tender emotions that my eighteen four and five year old students had to offer. I wish them all the best as they go on with their kindergarten schooling and beyond and hope they will remember their dear Teacher Cammie as much as I’ll remember them.

I was a Teacher Assistant for one of the most important humanity classes taught at University of Michigan, about the Holocaust and the legacy of Anne Frank’s diary. I learned that I love office hours and talking with young students about their ideas and how they can develop them more. I love that so many of those students are going to go on to teach others about the importance of telling these histories, so we will never forget the horrors that so many have suffered, and so many have overcome.

There were travels. I did not get mauled by a bear in Alaska, met amazing writers in Martha’s Vineyard, and found my happy spot in Seattle.

I no longer live in Ann Arbor. I am a full-on fully immersed Montpelierian (Montpelierite?) in the green mountains of Vermont. I started a graduate program that has filled my heart, fired up the stone inside my stomach, challenged my brain coils, and has introduced me to lovely people who will produce such amazing pieces of literature in the next few years. So get ready world — and make room in your bookshelves.

My creative work was published five times this year (thank you so much to all of the editors of Across the Margin, Moonchild Magazine, Dream Pop Press, Orange Quarterly, and Emerging Writers Network) and I began writing blog content for the Michigan Quarterly Review. I’m still near the bottom of the mountain (just off the ground), but I have coffee and strength and am excited to find the next foothold to push me that much closer to the top.

2018–I can’t wait to see the stories that come out of you.

In terms of the annual media roundup, I read 66 books and harrowingly narrowed the list of “favorites” down to 25. 

An eclectic list of old and new (hand drawn by me in the style of My Ideal Bookshelf):

Alias Grace – Margaret Atwood
Euphoria – Lily King
The Things They Carried – Tim O’Brien
Her Body and Other Parties – Carmen Maria Machado
The Child Finder – Rene Denfeld
Gutshot – Amelia Gray
Life After Life – Kate Atkinson
Neverwhere – Neil Gaiman
Tales of Falling and Flying – Ben Loory
The Little Stranger – Sarah Waters
And the Pursuit of Happiness – Maira Kalman
The Spoons in the Grass Are There to Dig a Moat – Amelia Martens
Grief is the Thing With Feathers – Max Porter
The Most of It – Mary Ruefle
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time – Mark Haddon
History of Wolves – Emily Fridlund
The Snow Child – Eowyn Ivey
Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain– David Eagleman
Middlesex – Jeffrey Eugenides
Rebecca – Daphne Du Maurier
Case Histories – Kate Atkinson
The Girl Who Drank the Moon – Kelly Barnhill
We Have Always Lived in the Castle – Shirley Jackson
How to Set a Fire and Why – Jesse Ball
A Woman is a Woman Until She is a Mother : Essays – Anna Prushinskaya

TV greats included Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, which I think I could watch over and over and over for its music, style, wit, and its female protagonist extraordinaire.

I didn’t see too many movies this year, but I did really enjoy the quirkiness which is The Shape of Water. I also finally got around to seeing Arrival, which was excellent and non-linear in all the best ways.

My mood music for 2017 was hands-down Fleet Foxes (who I saw live in August) and Emancipator (who I’ll see live later this month!) It’s a tie between Fleet Foxes’ “The Shrine/The Argument” and Emancipator’s “Rattlesnakes” for which one was on repeat the most.

On this first day of 2018, the cards are in the hands of the stars. Anything can happen and I feel excited by that. No fear of the blank page. Let’s start writing the year now.