When Writers Gather

My first MFA Residency experience has been one of absolute joy and a profound sense of belonging which I don’t know that I’ve experienced more than a few times in my life. I am living and working and eating among 125+ others who are seeking the same thing I seek. Doing the same thing I do. Striving for the same thing for which I strive. Whatever the genre, the age, education, number of publications, we are all artists, working to improve, to perhaps some day perfect, our art.

Although it is only halfway through, I can already say with certainty that this has been the most rewarding experience of my creative life. Workshop every day. Lectures on craft and on elements of writing that inspire me to go out and live the way a writer should! Readings by faculty members who are brilliant. Purchasing faculty books and not knowing which one to read first. If a heaven for writers exists, this week must a peek around the corner, a tiny window, a door knocker.

Needless to say, the creativity is so pervasive one can feel it in the air, a physical energy, a presence that follows down sidewalks, into buildings, up stairs. If writers could feel this energy all the time, surly they would get a lot more work done. There is a love here, for words and for what we can convey and create and imagine while using them. There is a camaraderie and a respect in everyone for everyone else, everyone knowing that we have come here, together, from the corners of a vast country to seek out and strive for the very same things.

I walk a few blocks in the morning, two fiction writers behind me discussing the difficulty they have presenting round antagonists, the opposite of their beloved protagonist heroes.

I pass a group lunching beneath an umbrellaed cafe table, one reading poetry aloud to the other, who listens with interest and respect.

I seek a place to sit, be still, and ponder.

I feel incredibly blessed to be here, and relish that while much has happened, much is still to come.

A taste, for you, of what has transpired here, is this Sonata No.3, “Moon,” composed by Jeremy Beck – an excerpt of which I saw performed live on Sunday. Enjoy! And may you be inspired.

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Adventures in Nature

Caleb and I recently decided to become members of the local nature center, Sarrett. After living in the Appalachians for four years, we’ve been going through some adventure withdraw up here in (mostly flat) Michigan. While not a mountainous national park with hiking like we are used to, the Sarrett Nature Center provides some lovely board walks and trails through swamp, brush, and wood.

I packed a bag with journal, pen, and book, hoping to find a quiet spot to sit and work or read inspired by the outdoors all around me.  This cool Red Dogwood Bench seemed like the perfect spot, until I sat down, and realized there were far more bugs in inspiration than I am comfortable with. So I walked on. (If you keep moving, they mostly leave you alone.)

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The next bench, too, was buggy. Go figure. I gave up on my plans and decided to snap some pictures instead!

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Unfortunately, Sarrett is, at least at this time of year, little-used, meaning that the birds and frogs and such were so shy it was ridiculous, flying away and jumping into ponds from as much as 10 or 15 feet ahead of me! I had a tiny run in with a garter snake, who of course hid his head in the grass before I could reach the shutter, but other than that – let’s just say I’m grateful that flora has neither the capacity for fear nor the ability to flee that fauna are so fond of!

Sarrett

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All in all, it was a fun and relaxing trip on one of the first truly warm days we’ve had in Michigan this spring. I’m looking forward to seeing what the trails look like with green leaves on all the trees and the plenty that is summertime!

Thinking Back

LibraryWorking in a library surrounded by page after page of information, one begins to wonder about things. The kids that come into the library regularly are always the same kids, and even in just the short amount of time that I’ve been around, I’ve gotten to know their faces. i know which kids are good, strong readers, and which ones make a beeline for the graphic novels. (Nothing wrong with that!) I know what each person likes to check out before they place their items on the counter.

As a kid, I was an avid library user, and I took full advantage of my library’s services. I placed holds and found them later on the shelf with my name and the date I needed to pick them up by. (E. Hemphill, 10/23.) I saw the library as my place, and I knew the librarians – which ones I liked and which ones were grouchy. It never occurred to me, however, that those librarians might know who I was, too.

Now I think back and wonder, did they know me like I know the kids who come into my library? Did they notice what I checked out and what I put on hold? Did they know when they rang up my books what my name was and what I liked to read? My childhood library was much bigger than the library where I work, but each time I place a paper around a book and write someone’s name on it for pick up from the holds shelf, I wonder.

I wonder, too, if of all the books that we process and place on the new shelf, one of them might someday have my name on the cover. We see a lot of books come through. Many of them are wonderful, but as many or more I could never bear to read. The thought all aspiring authors have flashes through my mind regularly –

If these people can get published, certainly so can I.

If it were only so simple!

Here’s to libraries, to child readers, and to the ones who grow up to supply the libraries with new books for new readers.

Pensworth 2014

Some of you might be familiar with the annual publication put out by the University of the Cumberlands’ English Department – Pensworth, a journal of student art and writing. Although I did not have the privilege of acting as a student editor this year, I think the journal looks lovely! April is a fitting month for the journal’s publication, for me, because even though I haven’t celebrated Poetry Month this April the fruits of last year’s inspiration made it into the journal. My creative nonfiction piece which won the 2013 Creative Writing Award also appears among the work of many other talented writers! Please enjoy!

You can read last year’s issue here, or visit my post from last April.

P.S. Happy Earth Day! Go plant something! Green

Country Manor Adventures

Nancy Drew Mystery Series

Last week Caleb and I had the fun task of house sitting for some friends of ours while they were away on a medical mission trip. Their house is lovely, and living above ground again made it even sadder that spring was not yet here. Each day we looked out of as many windows as we could ever hope to have at a (usually sunny!) garden and fields to go walking in – but the temperature was still nippy enough to keep me mostly inside.

We did venture out one day and head up to the town of Niles, MI. (We went to see Noah, but you can ask Caleb about that one.) There’s a little secondhand and antique bookshop in the downtown area that I love, called A. Casperson Books. It’s one of the few really magical bookshops left to be found anymore, and we make a point of stopping in whenever we’re in Niles for a movie or anything. Books line the shelves, walls, floors – every nook and cranny – so there is always something exciting to find.

Not everyone knows that for several years now I have been collecting the old Nancy Drew books. They have blue board covers with orange titles and silhouettes of one of my favorite childhood companions printed on the front cover. I have several of them now, but they can be pretty hard to find (in the antique/rare book world, they are considered “scarce.”) A. Casperson’s is special because the first time I went the owner had two of these books with intact dust jackets on display – it is immensely harder to find these books with dust jackets than without. I’ve found more, at least of the orange titles, reliably on every visit to the shop.

Last week, however, I was blown away by how many of these books were on a shelf behind the checkout desk. There were more than a dozen without dust jackets, and three with them – many more than I’ve ever before seen in one place. The other difficult thing with these old books is that there are so many different editions, some with only minor changes, that it can be really difficult to tell whether or not a book is a first edition (the very scarce). On this trip, however, I finally found my first first edition – and it is a copy of the first book in the series, too! Now if only it had a dust jacket… 🙂 I left a happy camper.

We had a great week in the house of many windows, and because were dog-sitting, too, I got some quality canine snuggles in. The availability of natural light from windows that provide great views of the countryside was a great aid for me with the writing I needed to do (that and the awesome-if-nerdy event of finding my first first edition). My first residency for the MFA program I’m in is at the end of May, and this week was the deadline for turning in our first writing sample to be discussed in workshop at the residency. I sent mine of today – not without a bit of fear and trembling.

In the meantime, the temperatures are rising! Soon I’ll be suggesting you go enjoy a good book – first edition or not – out of doors.

Constancy of Purpose

quote-Benjamin-Disraeli-the-secret-of-success-is-constancy-to-44923 (2)When I graduated and left school in December, my life became a constant swirl of crazy. With tons to do to get ready for a wedding followed by a 12 hour move, my writing habits were voluntarily chucked out the proverbial window, and the most successful and fulfilling months of writing I’d had in a very long time were followed by some of the most wordless.

After nearly two months without writing anything at all, it’s been difficult to get myself back into the good habits that I’d developed during my last semester of school. I have to keep reminding myself of all of the “writer’s truths” that helped me get into those habits in the first place, as well as some newer ones I’ve discovered. The one I display on my desk most prominently is the following quote:

The secret of success is constancy of purpose. – Benjamin Disraeli

I have to remind myself what my purpose in writing is, and keep the end goal in mind while viewing the path to getting there realistically.

Speaking of that path, my first story was published in something (just slightly) bigger than my alma matter’s departmental English journal! (You can read it online at TWJ Magazine.) I’ve used this bit of success recently to tell myself, “See, I’m a writer!” But now I have to remind myself of another favorite bit of writing advice:

Don’t be a writer. Be writing. – William Faulkner

So I am.