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.

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!

 

Toto, We’re Not in Michigan Anymore

I have been in a whirlwind of travel lately, so this post is a bit of a Weekend Update (of the non-world news variety).

On the way to Montpelier, Vermont and my next chapter of schooling, my father and I decided to take a few detours in our welcoming northern neighbor, Canada. After fueling up with coffee at the quirky, Poe-inspired Raven Cafe in Port Huron, Michigan, we crossed the border and made our way to the Stratford Shakespeare Festival to see alas not Shakespeare, but a musical of equal excellence: Guys and Dolls (the show featuring the song “Luck Be A Lady Tonight.) The actors’ talents were incredible, especially Alexis Gordan who played the part of Sergeant Sarah Brown. If you love irreverent humor, Cuban music and dancing, and can understand thick New York accents, this one’s for you. After seeing this production, I am now excited to go back and watch the 1955 film adaptation starring Marlon Brando and Frank Sinatra.

A Stratford Swan

The next day, we drove into Montreal. I had visited there in the winter of 2003, which was ages ago and I was too young to really appreciate the city. Plus, cities are completely different beings in the snow than in the summer. As we approached town, we could tell how close we were from the city based on the ratio of French to English radio stations. The closer we were to Montreal, the more French we heard. I usually despise listening to the radio (mostly because of the vexatious commercials ) but hearing a voice speak in a tongue I can’t understand has a strange peacefulness about it. I think this has to do with the amount of energy it takes to process language. When we listen to radios in English, we can’t help but process the advertisement’s information whether we want to or not. If we hear it, it is inside our brain and we are forced to understand its meaning. When we commit ourselves to just hearing other languages as “sound” and not “words,” then we are lulled into the kind of calm we experience when we listen to music. We get a break from thinking, which can sometimes be a welcomed escape from reality.

Located in Old Montreal was the chic Hotel Nelligan (named after the francophone poet Emile Nelligan). We checked in and then made our way over to a delicious vegetarian lunch at Lov. We needed the energy for our three-hour bike tour of the central city. Our guide, Mike, was so knowledgeable and taught us things about the architecture of Montreal apartments and why they have curved staircases on the outside of the buildings, about Montreal’s “Quiet Revolution,” and that all Montreal residents are required to have at least two years of college education. The bicycle is really such an easy way to see A LOT of a city. While I am quite the flâneuse myself and prefer to walk around cities, the bike allowed me to see MORE. Did you know that Montreal has over 500 miles of bike lanes? It’s a very eco-conscious, bike-friendly city, where bikers don’t have to follow car traffic laws. Bikers are respected on the road and given the right of way. Oh Canada, teach our American drivers how to love those on two wheels.

Montreal at Dusk

The next morning was spent back on the road, this time heading south to Vermont. Instead of taking the freeway, we chose to explore the backroads in search of those quaint small towns we might call of a pastoral aesthetic. We passed one town in Canada called Bedford, where we passed a movie crew, filming at an Airstream diner called “Clark’s.” Apparently, we weren’t the only ones to notice the simple and nostalgic beauty of this small dot on the map.

I already knew that Vermont is the only state in the U.S. to have ZERO billboards lining the highway, but I didn’t realize the effect it would have on me. Instead of focusing on the constant advertisement distractions, my dad and I spent most of our driving time commenting on the spooky haunted Victorian houses, the abandoned barns, the funny street names, the covered wooden bridges of yesteryear, the general stores, the serene wilderness, and of course, we tried desperately to scope out moose, but to no avail.

And then, all at once, we turned up a steep hill, in the middle of a mountainside, and there it was: Vermont College of Fine Arts. My heart! The New England red brick buildings and large open green squares of land. The little cottages. The verdant canopy of trees overhead. The feeling that I had been transported to Donna Tartt’s The Secret History. I immediately felt like I had returned to a home I had never known to inhabit before. This must be the reason why the state’s motto is “Vermont, Naturally,” because there is no other way to feel but that you have naturally always belonged here. That nature has pulled you to this spot of earth.

I have been waiting for this day to arrive ever since I received my acceptance letter back in March. And now I am here, and I couldn’t be more grateful for this opportunity.

More about my first impressions of Montpelier and the VCFA campus to come!