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Monthly Archives: September 2015

I’m Trying to Cut Back, or, When Blogging Becomes Procrastinating

I’m Trying to Cut Back, or, When Blogging Becomes Procrastinating

When I started this blog over three years ago, it was because I had just quit my full-time job to focus on writing, and I needed something to get me back into the habit of writing. Back then, I posted nearly every day. Sometimes the post was all I wrote that day, but at least I was honing my writing skills and warming up my creative mind. Plus, it was a major confidence booster – a way to prove to myself that I had things to say and a creative way to say them. The blog was the kick-start I needed.

But now the role of my blog has changed. In those three years, I have written four and a half novels. (Two I’m working on getting published, one is a “drawer novel” that will likely never see the light of day, one has some potential but needs a major rewrite, and the halfsie is what I’m struggling to finish right now.) These days, I don’t need to prove to myself that I can write (although sometimes I still feel that I do). Instead, what I really need is to put in some solid hours of work each day on my various writing projects.

These days I worry that I’m using my blog as a procrastination tool. Instead of working on one of my novels, which can be a hard and thankless task that might take years or even decades to see to fruition, I will choose to write a blog entry so I can get the immediate satisfaction of posting it and watching as people “like” and retweet it. It’s addictive, that rush you get when you know people are reading and appreciating something you wrote. But I don’t want to become a blog-writing junkie who never produces anything long-lasting.

Here I am in my pajamas, hanging from the staircase in my apartment...instead of writing!

Here I am in my pajamas, hanging from the staircase in my apartment…instead of writing!

I’ve had some hard blows lately when it comes to my writing career, and even though I know I’ll reach my goals eventually, I’m frustrated. I feel like I still need the immediate gratification and ego boost that a blog post provides… but perhaps I don’t need it quite so often.

For the past two years I’ve posted twice a week, on Mondays and Thursdays. I spend anywhere from one to three hours on a post, which means that each week I’m losing up to six hours of precious time that I could be spending on my writing projects. (Not to mention the time I spend checking to see who has “liked” and retweeted my post.)

So I’ve decided to cut back and stop procrastinating. From now on, I will post only once a week: on Wednesdays. It’s going to be hard for me. I might go through a bit of withdrawl. But I think this is going to be good for me in the end and set me on the path to a more healthy writing habit.

See you next Wednesday!

No more procrastinating!

No more procrastinating!

A 60-Second Journal & A Podcast Partner, or, Say What You’re Looking For

A 60-Second Journal & A Podcast Partner, or, Say What You’re Looking For

Over the weekend at the SIBA conference, where publishers and bookmakers displayed their wares, I saw a lot of beautiful adult coloring books (apparently those are very in right now) and a lot of beautiful writing journals. One such journal was called The 60-Second Memory Journal: A Yearlong Happiness Chronicle. Each page was divided into Morning and Night with morning questions such as “I will make it a good day by…” and evening questions such as “Today I really enjoyed…”

I thought this was a nice idea, and similar to the daily exercise of “three happy things” described by Shawn Achor in his book The Happiness Advantage. (See my post about that.) For a while I was trying to jot down three things that made me happy each day, but for some reason, I wasn’t able to stick to the habit. Maybe because I was typing them in a Word document instead of writing them in a beautiful journal…

The 60-Second Memory Journal made me decide to try again. I like the idea of setting a positive tone for the day, and I like the idea of flipping back through a year and seeing all of the little things that made me happy. So I took a mostly-empty journal and put it on my nightstand, next to my retainer. The plan is to write one or two sentences in the morning along the lines of “Last night I dreamed…” or “Today I’m looking forward to…” and then a few more at night like “Tonight I am thankful for…” or “Something that made me laugh today was…” As of now, I’ve done it for two days, and I’m hoping to make it a habit.

On Tuesday evening I wrote in my 60-Second Journal, “Today it made me happy when Ally said I have a nice voice and should host a podcast.”

The 60-Second Memory Journal is available from Sterling Publishing Co.

The 60-Second Memory Journal is available from Sterling Publishing Co.

Let me back up. On Tuesday I met my friend Allyson (“Ally”) in downtown DC, and we headed to dinner. She was telling me how she needs to buy a new car and is not looking forward to the stress of car shopping. “Sorry,” she said. “This is all I can think about. It’s all I’ve been saying to anyone – just moaning about having to buy a new car.”

“No, that’s good,” I said. “You should tell everyone, and then maybe someone will have a good lead or be like, oh, here’s a car for you.”

(This really can work. Back when I lived in New Orleans, I was moaning about how my car was dying, and a girl I worked with said, “my dad has a car he’s looking to sell,” and that was that.)

“Yeah, exactly,” Ally said. “I just need to put it out there.”

I was about to say “the squeaky wheel gets the oil,” but that wasn’t exactly right. Is there an idiom that means “how can anyone help you if you don’t say what you’re looking for?”

Ally and Eva

Ally and Eva

Later, as Ally and I were walking back to the metro and giving each other podcast recommendations, she said, “I was thinking the other day that you have this nice, soothing voice, and you like to tell stories. I could totally see you hosting your own podcast.”

I literally started jumping up and down with excitement. “Oh my gosh! You are not the first person to tell me this, and maybe this is a sign — maybe this means I really need to do it!”

I had been told essentially the same thing (soothing voice and all) over the summer, and since I’ve always secretly wanted to host a radio show or podcast, I started looking into it. I even had a great idea for what my podcast would be about.

But then I realized there’s technology involved. And research. And marketing, especially if I want to try to get sponsors and possibly make a little money. It seemed like too complicated of a venture for me to try on my own.

But now, with Ally bringing it up out of the blue… maybe I shouldn’t toss out the idea altogether. Maybe, what I need is some help.  A partner, perhaps. It’s too overwhelming to jump into podcasting on my own, but if I had a partner who knew about technology and could help with the research and the marketing. Or even if I helped someone else with their podcast for a while and learned how it was done.

“I mean, I love stories and I love to talk,” I told Ally. “It’s a great fit.”

And that’s when I realized: I just need to put it out there. And what better way to put something “out there” than to put it on the Internet?

So, universe, I have an announcement: Ally needs a car, and I would like a podcast partner.

After all, how can anyone help us if we don’t say what we’re looking for? Maybe this should be one of the morning prompts in my 60-Second Memory Journal: “Today I am looking for…,” and start out the day with the assumption that someone, somewhere, will help me find it.

Hey universe! Help me!

Hey universe! Help me out, please!

What I Got Out of the SIBA Conference, Besides Free Books

What I Got Out of the SIBA Conference, Besides Free Books

I had a hard time explaining myself this weekend. “So, where’s your bookstore?” I was asked on more than one occasion, often as a free book was being shoved into my hands.

“I’m with a small press.” I’d flip over my nametag, which was almost always facing the wrong direction.

“Burlesque Press,” the person would read, sometimes arching an eyebrow — perhaps imagining feather boas and strategically-placed tassels, even though we at Burlesque Press don’t do burlesque nor do we publish books about it (yet). “And you live in Knoxville?”

“Oh, this is a lie.” I’d wave my name tag and laugh in that forced-friendly way everyone at these conferences starts to adopt after a few hours in the noisy exhibit hall with its fluorescent-lighting and sub-zero temperatures. “The press is based out of New Orleans, but the director recently moved to Knoxville.”

“So you’re in New Orleans then?”

“Well, I lived there for six years, but I recently relocated to the DC area.” I had decided after the first “explaining myself” disaster to leave out the five other places I’ve lived in between.

“But I’m actually an author,” I’d sometimes add, feeling even more like I should just stop talking.

Eva and Jeni at the Burlesque Press booth.

Eva and Jeni at the Burlesque Press booth.

And to be honest, that’s pretty much what I did at the SIBA Conference in Raleigh this weekend – shut up and listen. Because although I didn’t really belong there, I had a lot to learn.

SIBA, or the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance, holds a conference every year to bring together publishers and booksellers, of which I am neither. I came on the coattails of my friend Jeni Wallace, who directs Burlesque Press and has just begun the exciting yet daunting process of publishing books.

The way it worked was this: Publishers displayed their wares in the exhibit hall. The booksellers walked around the tables to collect free books and place orders for their store. Then there were the meals. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner, we would all file in to one of the hotel ballrooms and collect a stack of new books. As we ate our wedge salads and drank our sweet tea, the authors of the books we’d just received would stand up and talk.

And that’s where it became interesting for me. Not just because we heard talks from big names like Augusten Burroughs (author of Running with Scissors) or Walter Wick (creator of the I Spy children’s books) or because we got stuff I’m super excited to read (like Pretty Girls by Karen Slaughter), but because one day, I’d like to think, it could be me up there, telling booksellers why they should buy my book.

As I sat there eating my pecan pie for desert, I was filing all of this away for later: noting which authors really sold themselves and their books, and how they did it. Loren Long, author of Little Tree, moved people to tears. Homer Hickman, author of Rocket Boys (aka October Sky) had people laughing. Some other authors, however, were total snooze fests. So I learned what not to do as well.

Eva, Dawn, and Jeni, displaying some of the many free books we received.

Eva, Jeni, and Dawn at the hotel bar, displaying some of the many free books we received.

On the last night of SIBA, after dinner, my Burlesque Press friends and I sat in our matching t-shirts in the hotel bar, surrounded by piles of books. I nursed a cider and imagined myself up on that stage. Somehow I knew I wouldn’t get there with either of the two middle-grade novels I’ve written. When I imagined myself up there, I saw myself talking about a book of mine that I haven’t even written yet. An idea I’ve been kicking around for a couple of months. It’s something I really want to write, and yet I’m scared to write it because it’s different than anything I’ve ever done before. I told my friends the idea. “You should write that book,” Jeni said in her no-nonsense voice. “You should write that book right now.”

I got a lot out of the SIBA conference, but that might have been the most helpful thing I heard all weekend.

I got a lot out of the SIBA conference this weekend -- like all of these free books!

I got a lot out of the SIBA conference this weekend — like all of these free books!

 

Mistress America, or, The Dilemma of All Fiction Writers

Mistress America, or, The Dilemma of All Fiction Writers

Before I move on to more serious reasons why I liked the movie Mistress America, can we please talk about Lola Kirke’s lisp? She has one. It’s both slightly distracting and majorly adorable. Not since Ione Skye in Say Anything have I seen a lead actress with such a pronounced speech impediment. And I don’t know why no one is bringing it up. I’ve read reviews and articles about Mistress America, thinking someone would mention it… but no. Finally I typed into Google, “Lola Kirke lisp” and got nothing. Which is ridiculous. She has one (click here to hear it), and I think it’s awesome, and I would watch any movie with her in it. (It should be pointed out that I have a slight lisp and was at one point trying to be an actress, and so I might be biased towards the awesomeness of actresses with speech impediments and the need for people to talk about it.)

So. Now we shall discuss the actual movie. Lola Kirke plays Tracy, a lonely freshman at Barnard in New York who is writing short stories and trying to get into her school’s prestigious literary society. She becomes friends with her soon-to-be stepsister, Brooke, played by the delightful Greta Gerwig. Brooke is a whirling dervish of fun and crazy: impulsive and egocentric and sort of bitchy, but in an endearing way. She says and does absurd things with no apology and is a fountain of grand ideas that she will never follow through on. Naturally, Tracy, the quiet, observer-of-life writer, is enthralled by her.

Screen Shot 2015-09-15 at 11.43.06 AM

Greta Gerwig and Lola Kirke in Mistress America. photo credit.

I have certainly had Brookes in my life. People who I knew were absurd and teetering on the edge of sanity. People who I knew they weren’t necessarily good friends (or, in some cases, good boyfriend material), and yet I hung out with them, in part because they were fun and interesting, but also, I must admit, because my writer brain kept shouting, good god, this person would make a great character!

And, in fact, sometimes I did make them into characters in my stories. For a short time I hung around with a college-dropout who lived in a teepee in someone’s back yard, wore women’s skirts, and played his guitar on the street for money. He became a character in a short story, obviously. Then I dated this sharp-dressing, egocentric gambling addict who got together with his buddies every year in Vegas and called it “the Dominators Convention.” He was a treasure trove of material. After we broke up, I wrote a short story with a main character based on him, and later, for some reason, I emailed it to him. He was not pleased, and I understand why. The character was less than flattering.

This ends up being one of the major plot points of Mistress America. Tracy writes a short story not-so-loosely based on Brooke. Despite the fact that she loves and admires Brooke, the short story doesn’t exactly speak to that.  (The Brooke character is, at one point, called “a carcass doomed to failure.”)

The story gets Tracy into the prestigious literary society. But when Brooke ends up reading it, she’s so angry she stops speaking to Tracy altogether.

This bring up the difficult question of whether or not writers should write fiction based on people they know. A question to which there is really no good answer.

In a funny and climactic scene of Mistress America, everyone reads Tracy's story and is appalled.

In a funny and climactic scene of Mistress America, everyone reads Tracy’s story and is appalled.  photo credit.

To be honest, I don’t feel especially bad writing the story based on the gambling addict. After all, we weren’t together when I wrote it, and I wasn’t sure that I would ever see him again. What I shouldn’t have done, perhaps, was send it to him. That was a bitch move.  A year or so later, he contacted me and said what upset him so much was that the story made him face some difficult truths about himself.  (Although, in retrospect, he might have just said this to get me to give him a second chance, which I did, and things yet again ended disastrously between us, prompting me to write yet another short story.  Was this a good thing?  It’s unclear.  I got two short stories and a pile of emotional baggage.)

The point is, I don’t have a good answer to this question. Sometimes I write stories with characters based on people I know. Sometimes they never end up reading it. Sometimes they do. Sometimes they’re upset. Sometimes they’re not. Sometimes they’re really mad at me, but they get over it in time.  Usually I try not to base characters on close friends and family just in case, but sometimes I can’t help myself.

In Mistress America, Tracy is unapologetic when it comes to writing about Brooke. She’s sorry to have upset her, but she’s not sorry she wrote the story. I guess that sums up the way I feel about it most of the time, too. I never intentionally want to hurt someone’s feelings, especially a loved one. But I also want to write good stories with interesting characters. And sometimes, the things that people do or say are just too absurd or funny or maddening or poignant to let go to waste. Some people are begging (whether they realize it or not) to be turned into characters.

I guess the problem with fiction is that you take a real person and exaggerate them for the purposes of your story.  And that can get tricky.  They feel that you’re misrepresenting them, spreading lies.  You feel you’re being creative.  In a way, you are using them for ideas.  On the other hand, where else are your ideas supposed to come from other than your own life?  What are the ethics of this, exactly?  Again, I don’t have the answers here. I’m only posing the questions.

I don't have the answers!

I don’t have the answers!

It’s sort of poignant, I suppose, that in the end, Brooke, with her fountain of big ideas, unintentionally gives Tracy ideas for her story. It’s not what Brooke had in mind, and it’s not the way she wants to be portrayed, but still, she’s left a definite impression.  And isn’t that what we all want to do in life?  To leave some sort of an impression on the people we meet?   

All-in-all, I enjoyed Mistress America, and I didn’t do a very good job of describing it here, so please read a more thorough review here or here. I thought it was a funny and poignant and an all-around delight.

 

*Check out my post about another Greta Gerwig and Noah Baumbach film, Frances Ha here:  Frances Ha & Making a Plan   

 

Interview with Nancy Reddy, Author of Double Jinx

Interview with Nancy Reddy, Author of Double Jinx

I first met Nancy Reddy when we were fresh-faced twenty-two-year-olds, teaching in side-by-side high school classrooms in a low-income New Orleans public school. I taught Algebra I, and Ms. Reddy taught freshman English. I remember we laughed (but really we wanted to cry) when Johns Hopkins sent Nancy a box of children’s picture books based on her students’ reading scores. (In particular, I remember one called Cats, Cats, Cats! that the students did seem to enjoy.) What we didn’t realize back then was that Nancy and I would both go on to get our MFAs in creative writing and start running into each other at AWP conferences instead of faculty meetings.

These days, Nancy is Assistant Professor of Writing and First Year Studies at Stockton University in southern New Jersey. She earned her MFA from the University of Wisconsin and has a PhD in composition and rhetoric. Her poems have been published in 32 Poems, Tupelo Quarterly, Best New Poets 2011, and elsewhere, and her first collection, Double Jinx, will be released from Milkweed Press at the end of the month. Pretty impressive, no? Here’s what Ms. Reddy has to say for herself.

You can own your very own copy of Double Jinx by going here.

 

If you were at a cocktail party of non-writers and someone asked you what Double Jinx is about, what would you tell him/her?

Yikes! This question always makes me want to shove a copy of the book into someone’s hands and run away. It’s been hard to move from writing the poems to writing and talking about the poems. I think that’s especially true because the culture of the workshop is so much about letting poems stand on their own – the poet doesn’t talk when her work is being discussed – and so it’s been hard for me to learn how to talk about my work. For so many young writers, it’s a struggle to be quiet and not explain, and then [later] you have a book and your press sends you a marketing survey and all of a sudden you’re expected to explain yourself.

So I think I’d say the short answer is: Nancy Drew, girlhood, transformations. And I’d point readers to the Nancy Drew poems (The Case of the Double Jinx is available online), as well as Bad Magic, Ex Machina, and Horses Dream of Horses as examples of poems that are representative of what the book is trying to do and are also hopefully accessible for non-readers of poetry.

 

Tell me a little bit about how Double Jinx came to be.  Did you write the poems during your MFA program?  

When I started my MFA, I really just wanted to write. I knew a book was the ultimate goal, but I didn’t start the MFA with a clear sense of what that would be. I’d been teaching high school English for five years, which (as you know) is amazing and rewarding, but doesn’t allow much brain space for things beyond who’s chewing gum or texting under the table, whose parents you need to call with an update about grades, and which students need additional help refining a thesis. Several of the poets in my cohort at Wisconsin started with really clear projects, which have since become amazing books – Brittany Cavallaro’s Girl-King, which uses a whole assemblage of personae to explore girlhood and power and sexuality, and Josh Kalscheur’s Tidal, which takes place in Chuuk, an island that’s part of Micronesia – but I was just so grateful to have time to write. I’d ride the bus along Lake Mendota to campus and watch people walking their dogs or biking or playing ultimate Frisbee, and I felt like my eyes were growing back, like I could see again in a way that would allow me to write.

I was really lucky to have Quan Barry’s workshop first semester in my MFA. She had us read a book a week and write two poems a week, usually one in a received form and one free. I wrote a lot that semester, and while relatively few of those poems made it into the book, it did set a certain metabolism for my writing practice that I think made it possible for me to write the later poems.

 

Double Jinx is book-ended by pieces about Nancy Drew.  Did you read Nancy Drew books growing up?  Why was she an inspiration for this collection?

I definitely read the Nancy Drew books. She had my name! And she was the only red-headed heroine I knew of until The Little Mermaid came out, so I basically felt like all her adventures were mine.

I didn’t write about Nancy Drew until my late 20s, though, when I was in my MFA and starting this manuscript. When I wrote that first poem – “The Case of the Double Jinx” – a lot of the themes and obsessions of this book started to come together for me: rivalry and competition, word play and nonce forms, dark humor. After I wrote that poem, I felt like I could see a lot of the other poems the book needed, even though they weren’t exactly in a series. I wrote several other poems quite quickly after that, and it helped me to see the shape of the book.

 

Your book was selected for the National Poetry Series.  What does that mean exactly?

Mostly, it means I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have the support of both the National Poetry Series and Milkweed Editions, my press. NPS is an annual, national contest with five judges each year; each of those judges is paired with a press, and the manuscript picked by each judge is published by their press. Alex Lemon selected my book for Milkweed.

 

Part One of your collection plays heavily with myth and fairy tale (“Cinderella Story,” “Little, Red”). Why do you think we writers love to revisit these well-known stories and tropes?

For a lot of us, I think those stories are the first ones we read, so they really shape how we think of narrative and characters and writing broadly. For me in particular, so many of those stories are really about these magical transformations, whether they’re pleasant and hoped-for (Cinderella becomes a princess) or kind of terrifying (the wolf disguising himself as the grandmother) and so those stories became another way of thinking about identity and metamorphosis.

 

You’re Professor Reddy now!  So what classes are you teaching this year?  What are your favorite classes to teach?

This semester, I’m teaching College Writing, which is basically freshman English. And in the spring I’ll be teaching Argument and Persuasion in the Social Sciences, along with a Creative Nonfiction course. While I think some writers treat teaching composition as a burden or an obligation to be dispensed with before moving on to teaching “real” (i.e. creative) writing, I really love teaching composition and creative writing, and I see a lot of connections between the two. My own writing practice has really informed my approach to teaching composition, and my training in composition pedagogy has made me a better teacher of creative writing. (In particular, I think it’s helped me be more thoughtful about how and how much I comment! It’s so tempting to want to address every single thing that could be better in a student paper or a poem – and research shows that writers can really only take in 2-3 pieces of advice or feedback at a time. One of my colleagues at Wisconsin wrote a great blog post about feedback on student writing, and I think about it all the time, whether I’m responding to student essays, commenting on a friend’s poem or manuscript, or giving a family member feedback on a draft resume.)

Nancy Reddy

Nancy Reddy

You and I go way back to our Teach For America days, when you were teaching 9th grade English to low-income students who read on a fourth grade level.  Is there anything you learned about teaching in those early years that you still use or think about now that you are teaching at the college level?

Oh my goodness, so much. We had a student, Derek, who I bet you remember. He’d had a really tough time – he was 16 and a first-time ninth grader, because he’d spent five years in middle school. He’d seen his father shot to death on the street in front of him. But he was such a charming, charismatic young man, and a really talented slam poet. And he read at a fourth grade level. Some days he was spot-on in class, talking and engaged, and some days he just couldn’t be bothered.

One day in particular, we were reading Romeo and Juliet and talking about Juliet’s soliloquy – “dove-feathered raven” and all that, after Romeo’s killed her cousin Tybalt – and I asked about the oxymorons and why Juliet would use them there. Now, Derek had had his head down on the desk all day and I didn’t even know he was listening – but he just sat up and said, “it’s because he killed her cousin and she loves him but she’s full of all these conflicting emotions” and then put his head down on the desk, just like that. That had been the point of my whole lesson, and he leapt right over it, while the rest of the class was still copying the definition of oxymoron I’d written on the board.

So that – and so many other experiences with similarly brilliant kids – taught me that intelligence and insight and intellectual capacity are entirely different things from tested performance. And that being a “good student” is not necessarily the same as being smart. We taught really, really sharp kids who’d been systematically disadvantaged starting before they were even born. They weren’t any less smart than the middle-class white kids I went to school with, but they’d had so many fewer opportunities to learn how to be students.

I’m thinking about this especially now, since I’ve just started teaching in the First Year Studies program at Stockton University. It’s a really remarkable program, and it supports students who are coming into the university with low SAT/ACT scores or other indicators that they might struggle with the transition to college classes. The program does a fantastic job of retaining those students, whose graduation rates are on par with the general population of the university. I feel really fortunate to have a job that brings together my intellectual and ethical commitments.

 

You earned your MFA and PhD from the University of Wisconsin.  Dang.  What’s all that book-learnin been like? 

My scholarship in Composition and Rhetoric is very much connected to my creative work. I’m interested in how ordinary people establish and maintain a writing practice, and in my dissertation I examined the archives of an organization called the Wisconsin Rural Writers’ Association, which was founded at the University of Wisconsin in 1948 to support rural people across the state in doing creative writing about rural communities, history, and folklore. It’s a pretty remarkable organization. The archives are full of members’ accounts of what that encouragement meant to them; one woman in particular writes that having the opportunity to share her writing and received feedback has “erased the inferiority I felt, arising from my limited education, and paved the way to continued knowledge.” And isn’t that what so many of us want to believe writing can do?

So my dissertation asked what makes that writing possible. I used the theoretical frame of new materialism, which considers the agency of the nonhuman. In other words, I looked at how objects like books, desks, and typewriters, as well as blizzards, rural roads, the postal service, rural landscapes, and other things all matter for writers. That might sound a bit esoteric, but I actually think it’s an approach that’s quite well-suited to the writer’s brain. Most of us spend a lot of time thinking about things – the importance of a favorite pen, notebook, mug, or seat in a coffeeshop to a good writing session; a particular landscape that we try to conjure accurately in words – and my research argues that we should take those things seriously as part of how writing gets done.

My advisor, Morris Young, often asked me how my poetry connected to the research I was doing. I feel really lucky to have worked with scholars who saw me as both a researcher and a poet, and I’m not sure that I would have thought to connect those two identities without that prompting. The poetry collection I’m working on now, which examines domesticity, postwar gender ideology and suburbanization, and theories of scientific mothering, definitely steals from the archival research I’ve done.

 

One last question about Double Jinx.  As referenced by the title, the poems in the collection play with the idea of doubles and doppelgangers:  the understudy in a play, twin sisters, school girls writing in “synchronized script.”  I wonder if you see any of the characters in this collection — Nancy Drew or Little Red Riding Hood, perhaps — as your own doppelgangers.

Oh, I think they all are. I think that’s what’s freeing about writing – the space to imagine all these alternate selves and to set them out on adventures.

 

And finally, Nancy, what is your favorite piece of writing advice?

“Write more, be less careful.” Jesse Lee Kercheval said that during the first workshop of my second semester of my MFA. I’m not always able to follow it – I’m an obsessive reviser – but I try.

 

Thanks to Nancy Reddy for taking the time to do this interview.  You can buy her book, Double Jinxhere.

 

Hot Yoga, or, Does a Writer Need to Sweat?

Hot Yoga, or, Does a Writer Need to Sweat?

One of the tough things about moving to a new city is finding a new doctor, new dentist, new hairstylist, new yoga studio, new place where I can lay out in my bathing suit and people won’t think I’m trashy, etc. As far as a new yoga studio goes, I’ve been a bit overwhelmed by the options around here. I decided to give Down Dog Yoga a try since they offer a $49 introductory month for new students, and I’m a sucker for a deal.

I gave the website a once-over and saw something about “sweaty fun,” but I didn’t give it too much thought until I got to the studio and noticed it was a bit warm in the lobby. Was this one of those places that heated their studios? Oh well. I didn’t mind sweating a little. I signed up for the intro month.

“I see you have your own mat,” the boy at the counter said. “Do you want to rent a towel for three dollars?”

Three dollars?! You can buy a towel for that! But all I said was, “Nah. I’ll be fine.”

Then I opened the door to the studio and was hit by a blast of chokingly hot air. This wasn’t just a warm studio. This was hot yoga. And I hadn’t realized it.  D’oh.

Eva doing tree pose by the James River.

Eva doing tree pose by the James River.

I don’t get hot yoga. I mean, it’s fun every now and again to see how much sweat your body is capable of producing, but I don’t get why people feel the need to do it all the time.  I know the heat makes you more limber, but it seems like eighty degrees is warm enough to promote flexibility. No need to crank the temperature to a hundred, which makes it difficult for me to breathe. And I know the sweating is supposed to detoxify you, but aren’t you also sweating out things your body needs? Like moisture and salt? I don’t know. I guess I’m a fan of moderation.  Some sweat = fine.  Gallons of sweat = excessive.

I’d gotten to class ten minutes early, so by the time it started, I was already soaked in sweat. I looked around at everyone else in their expensive Lululemon outfits. Then I pulled off my old tank top and decided to do the class in my sports bra. So what if these people thought I was trashy? I need something semi-dry to wear for the ride home.

We started in downward dog, and beads of sweat dripped from all parts of my body, splashing onto my mat. Maybe I should have sprung for the three dollar towel rental. I was drenched and sliding all over the place on my sweat-slick mat. When I tried to do crow pose, my arms slipped on my sweaty thighs and I nearly face-planted. The summer sun was streaming through the window, directly onto me, raising the temperature in the room even higher. This was what yoga was like in hell.

This is pretty much what the yoga classes in the DC area look like… No joke.  photo credit.

After class, I walked to my car. My skin was slick and smelled sour. If I’d known it was going to be a hot yoga class, I would have brought a change of clothes and a towel so I could shower there. Instead, I had to drape my semi-dry tank top on my seat and hope my stink wouldn’t soak into the car. So much for stopping by Trader Joe’s on the way home.

I’m not sure why people like hot yoga so much, but I have a guess. There’s the limberness and the detoxifying, sure — good stuff. But I bet a lot of people like it because the sweat makes them feel like they’re really working.

I get that. When I was in college, I didn’t think yoga counted as exercise because I went to a yoga class and didn’t sweat. Oh, how little did I know back then.

These days I frequently I go to non-heated yoga classes and don’t sweat (or don’t sweat much). But I can tell by the way my body feels afterwards that I worked hard. Unlike a cardio or spin class, a lot of the movement is yoga is small, and the work is internal. Standing in Warrior II, it may look like nothing much is happening, but the yogi is pressing her back foot into the mat (engaging the hamstring) and keeping her right knee deeply bent (engaging the quadriceps). She is pulling her leg muscles together while reaching out with her arms (engaging the triceps ) and lifting her chest to stretch. She is working on balance and strength and concentration. Even though it seems like she’s not doing much, both her body and her mind are working hard.

warrior2

Warrior II pose. photo credit.

I think some people want external proof of all the internal hard work. And when you leave a hot yoga class, dripping in sweat and smelling like a locker room, ain’t nobody gonna doubt you worked hard.

I can understand that. Not so much with yoga but with my writing life. From the outside I know it looks like I’m not doing much. It’s been three years since I quit my full time job to focus on writing. So where’s that published novel with my name on it? I know I’m working to make that happen, but it might be difficult for other people to see that. Sometimes I really want something external to prove to the world that I’m working hard at this. That I’m not being lazy, barely breaking a sweat.

The thing is, people sweat in hot yoga classes not because they’re working any harder than in a regular yoga class, but because somebody turned up the heat. A lot of sweat doesn’t always mean your workout was more legitimate.  Sure, I could turn up the heat on my writing — give myself ultimatums and chastise myself even more for not being where I want to be — but will it really make my writing practice any better?

Much of the forward movement in the career of a writer is small, and the work is internal. Just because you can’t see me sweat doesn’t mean I’m not doing it right.

Working hard on an arm balance.

Working hard on an arm balance.

*As a side note, I will not be returning to Down Dog Yoga because they really pissed me off. My healthcare provider told me that, due to my medical history, I should not do hot yoga. I ask the studio for at least a partial refund, but they refused, claiming that their practice is “safe for all.” I was really annoyed that they presumed to know what’s best for me, despite the fact that they don’t know me or my medical history and in fact are not healthcare professionals themselves. Plus, $3 for a towel rental? Boo. I say the nay-no to Down Dog Yoga. Whew. Glad to get that off my chest and excited to find a normal-temperature yoga studio.

Labor Day & Writing Blogs I Enjoy

Labor Day & Writing Blogs I Enjoy

In the spirit of Labor Day, I am taking today off from blogging.  I’ll be back on Thursday.

In the meantime, you may want to check out some of these writer-type blogs I often enjoy:

Practicing Writing.  Erika Dreifus lists writing and publishing opportunities that pay and contests with no fee.  Great for a Scrooge like me!  And she always has a grab-bag of other writing related news and resources.

Nina Badzin blogs about writing and blogging and social media.  Some great articles and tips.

The Writer’s Almanac publishes a poem per day plus lots of little interesting tidbits about famous writers and people from history.

Jane Friedman has helpful articles and tips for writers who want to get published.

The Incompetent Writer.  Daniel Wallace blogs about fiction in a way that’s both academic and fun.

Burlesque Press’s Variety Show has a hodge-podge of poems, stories, reviews, and literary whatnot.

Sara Zarr.  I actually listen to her podcast, This Creative Life, in which she interviews (mostly YA) writers.  But I would imagine her blog is good, too.

Have a great day!  Relax and enjoy!

Me and my aunt in the pool...  where all good people should be on Labor Day.

Me and my aunt in the pool… where all good people should be on Labor Day.