I Was Accepted to University.

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I got an e-mail notifying me of my acceptance to the one university that I applied to yesterday.

I haven’t felt much about it other than the sudden absence of worry that I might not get in.

Other people have been enthusiastic, though, to a point that I don’t really understand. To me, it was more of a bureaucratic hurdle than anything. I’m no dummy; I know that plenty of people of average intelligence get accepted into and even graduate from university. This is not and should not be considered a marker of intelligence so much as a willingness to fill out forms and jump through hoops. So when people tell me, hey wow good job, my immediate thought is that they think that I’m stupid and that’s why they’re impressed that I was accepted.

This thought has nothing to do with these people. They’re nice folks, and I have no reason to doubt their sincerity. It’s just a reflection of my childhood imposing itself on my adult life. I’m slowly getting better at managing this stuff and separating out the insidious whispers of my youth from reality, and I think that’s key to growing up.

I am excited to have been accepted; I’m excited to get out of community college and get a big-girl degree. I’m excited to no longer be the only person in my family without one. I’m excited that after that I get to move on to a new part of my life, one I probably should already have been working on ages ago. Some of us take a little longer to cotton on than others, I think.

In any case, I thought it would be fun to share my application essay. Judging by my cumulative GPA, I have to assume it was the reason I was accepted. In the meantime I’m one day and one exam away from spring break, and excited to have the chance to get some work done.

Enjoy.

The moment I realized that contemporary corporate capitalism had failed us, I was sitting in a dingy meeting room with my coworkers, listening with dawning horror as we were told that we would all be laid off. It was 2010; we had weathered the Great Recession. The country was now said to be in a period of recovery. We thought we had survived. The layoffs were the result of an acquisition of our regional utility company by a larger one; the acquisition happened during the run-up to the recession. We had been assured that our jobs were safe.

The moment when I learned that “failure” is another word for the moment when we stop trying, I was on a rocky footpath in the hills of Bhutan. I was suffering from pneumonia and hepatitis. One of my knees had given out under me a couple of miles back, and I was leaning heavily on my trekking poles. I was hiking back to town from our trekking group, too sick to continue the climb from our basecamp at thirteen thousand feet to the summit of the trek at just over fourteen thousand. I paused on the trail to catch my breath and looked down at the Paro River below. I knew it was cold; it was flowing down from the snow-covered mountains that we were escaping. It was milky with silt and bluish green. In that moment I knew I did not have to carry on. I could lie in those icy waters until the whole thing was over. It wouldn’t even take that long.

I didn’t stop. I kept going, but even in my compromised state it was with the crystal clear understanding that continuing was a choice that I had made.

Both of these moments were instrumental in bringing me to where I am today. I have recovered from the second but not the first; after working a series of temporary jobs in a desperate bid to pay my bills, I realized that I didn’t want to depend on the whims of a large company for my living.

We’re told that taking a job with an employer is the safe option, and that entrepreneurship is the risky one. Year after year, the idea of job security seems more illusory. It’s time to ask whether the safety we supposedly receive in exchange for our independence is worthwhile, and whether entrepreneurship is a smart way to hedge against the whims of the market.

Since these events, I have published my first novel and written a few other books. I have also started a small business to sell and market those books and have come to realize that great writing is only one small part of succeeding as an independent fiction author.

My goal is to become a producer of value in the economy rather than a voiceless part of a much larger production chain. An education in business, acquired in my own community where I have long-standing relationships with a number of local entrepreneurs who can supplement that education with mentorship, seems to be the next logical step toward success.

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I Took a Walk Today.

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Took this picture on a walk.

It’s been a while since I’ve taken a walk. I mean, since I don’t mostly drive during the week I do a bit of walking here and there just getting around to work and school. But it’s been a long time since I went and took a walk simply for the purpose of walking.

I am very, very out of shape.

I used to walk all the time. It was an essential part of my day; it was wrapped in to physical and emotional and mental well being. It was a part of me spiritually. The rhythm of footfalls, the pounding of drums, the beat of one’s own heart; these things are so indelibly human that to deny them is tantamount to denying one’s own humanity.

I stopped walking as much during a rash of street harassment I experienced  prior to my trip to Bhutan, and then pretty much entirely after I returned from Bhutan. I was so sick and in so much pain after the trip, and then, well… my previous walking experiences had been so unpleasant, both having to deal with being yelled at by men in a pickup truck on multiple days, and having to complete the emergency hike in Bhutan while I had pneumonia, that the thought of walking filled me with dread. And when a thing fills you with dread it’s so easy to come up with ways to avoid it, especially when you’re busy.

And I have been kinda busy.

But last weekend I was a part of a parade. It was a short route, like a mile or less, not more, and all flat, urban walking, and by the time we were done and had walked back for lunch, I was feeling energized. I wanted to walk more. I was in a good mood, and my brain was clicking over at a good clip.

So today, when I finished writing up the notes for the latest episode of the podcast, I went on a walk. It was around seven in the evening when I left, and the sun was setting. It was the same route I used to walk in the evenings after work, a good and hilly two miles round trip, that can be extended to three by adding another hill. I stuck with two. And as I walked it, I just had all these memories, kind of barely formed, of times when I’d walked that route before; times that I’d seen deer, or times when particular slopes had been icy. I remember having watched the seasons change along that route.

And I’m not going to lie, after a particularly steep slope I was a little out of breath. The muscles in my hips feel tired from the slopes, both the inclines and the declines, and will probably be a little sore tomorrow. And you know what? That’s okay. That out-of-breathness, that soreness, that’s not a failure. It’s just another starting point, one of many I’ve had throughout my life and one of many that I will have throughout the years to come.

Starting points are fun. They’re the easy part, where everything is new and exciting.

I do desperately want to start walking again, but I won’t be able to do it every day with my class schedule unless I work it into my commute, and that’s only about a mile and a half. Maybe a little less. But maybe I can do it on some of the days. Maybe I can get a walk in on most of the days. And maybe until my schedule loosens up enough, maybe that’s okay.

 

Watercolor.

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Doesn’t look like much yet, does it?

I told myself that after my novel, A Guide to a Happier Life, was published, I would never paint my own book cover again.

The unfortunate fact is that when you release two books that are related, like they have the same characters or whatever, you want the branding to feel consistent. And the cover is perhaps the most important part of your branding for a book. So since I painted the last cover, I’m going to have to paint this one too.

Since it’s a project that is going to require a total of nine covers, I have my work cut out for me.

The first cover was done in watercolor, and watercolor has a pretty specific look, so it’s watercolor again.

I’m not a big fan of watercolor.  Well, I’m not a big fan of using watercolor. It’s unpredictable, you see. It blobs out and runs and bleeds, and that’s actually part of its charm. It’s supposed to do that, to be out of control. And that’s part of what I like about looking at watercolor paintings, but it’s hard for me to not see those blobs and runs as horrible mistakes that I made when I’m painting in watercolor. And since watercolor is transparent, you can’t really cover them up. You just have to go with it, and as I’ve discussed previously, I’m not great at that.

You don’t really control watercolor. You nudge it. You guide it. You provide it with a path. But mostly you sit back and let the watercolor paint for you. You relinquish control, and just… participate. Play. See what happens.

Not my specialty.

And the thing is, not only are those inconsistencies, those idiosyncrasies, what makes watercolor beautiful,  it’s where I live in the painting. It’s the visual record of how my eyes, brain, and hand differ from everyone else’s in some number of tiny ways. And that has value, right? If we wanted everything to look perfect we’d just take photos and painting would have been abandoned by now.

Choosing something as rigid and architectural as a cityscape probably wasn’t the best idea either, but I think I’ll have a little wiggle room based on how this is all going to be used in the final product, that maybe I can curve those buildings around the vanishing point just a little, and maybe I can have the chance to play with some unusual textures here and there. It’s to my advantage that the image is intended to not be immediately recognizable. Maybe I can do something interesting in some of the sections where it’s mostly repetitive lines and rectangles.

I’m not feeling anywhere near as confident about this as I was about the last one. I do have more watercolor paper in case I change my mind, though.

So I’ll take that sketch with the big important lines and shapes, and I’ll probably do a couple more drawings; one with more detail, and one that kind of shows where the light and shadow is supposed to go. That’s going to be kinda fun, since that’s where I’m making the most dramatic changes to the source material.

Then I’ll start transferring the big shapes and some guides to the watercolor paper, and I’ll mark spots to leave white for highlights. Then I’ll lay down some big washes… pale yellow for the sky and brown for the buildings, lavender for the street.

And then come layers for shadow and detail.

Because more than anything else, painting in watercolor is the practice of painting light. I just have to remember that. This is a medium that works best for me when I think about it like that; about light and shadow covering everything like a thin veneer, rendering what’s beneath invisible.

Whatever. I need to stop worrying about it and just do it.

 

I’m Doing a Photo a Day.

One of the things I decided to do at the start of the new year but didn’t really talk about was to post a photo a day. That’s it, just a photo a day. No theme, no challenges, no list of things I have to take photos of, just take a photo of something every day and post it.

I’m posting them to Instagram, and you can check that out here.

It’s nothing terribly exciting. I’m not a fantastic photographer or anything, and frankly my schedule is often too packed to be able to capture anything that isn’t already along my accustomed game trails. I’m not performing any editing on the photos other than the cropping and filters native to the Instagram platform.

So why do it?

I’m not a photographer, so it’s not a way to get my potentially lucrative work out, and I don’t usually tag them so mostly nobody notices that they’re there.

Well, I’m not doing it for other people, exactly, although the fact that I’m posting them on a social networking platform does help keep me accountable.

As someone who blogs sometimes (both here and at barelysalvageable.com), photos are surprisingly important. The space has gotten so crowded that common wisdom states that you need photos on your blog posts. And it’s true, posts with photos get a lot more love on Facebook, etc when they have photos attached. It’s difficult to find good, free to use photos out there, so I reckon that even if I manage to maintain both this blog and the business blog on a weekly basis, taking a photo every day will provide me with pictures to use in service of this finicky behavior. I mean, if I’m making sure to take a photo every single day (and so far, as of this writing, I have), then at least a few of those will be worthwhile. This takes care of most (or all) of my photo needs, and does it with fresh content that hasn’t already been used to make inspirational memes.

But there’s more to it than that. This is also personal development stuff. I hope that committing to taking a photo every day will help me to be more aware of my surroundings, to seek out the beautiful (or the at least visually interesting, I’m told I have an unusual conception of beauty) in the everyday. This is useful; I tend to spend a lot of time wrapped up in my own idiocy and not enough time externally focused.

Since I’m also an artist, taking photos (or engaging in any of the visual arts) is likely to improve composition skills regardless of intention. Looking at things in terms of composition every day is practice, and that’s a difficult skill to learn without just doing it. I mean there are basic fundamentals of composition that you can learn from a class or a book or a website or whatever, but you don’t really learn it until you put it into practice, and I’m so out of practice with anything connected to the visual arts that I might as well toss all of it in the bin.

It’s not that I don’t love creating art; it’s just that it has become clear to me that it’s never going to be a thing that puts bread on the table for me, so I’ve decided to focus instead on writing as a trade. The result of this is that my spare time (such as it is) is spent on writing and writing related pursuits. And taking a photo a day is a way to cram in a little bit of practice time on this neglected pursuit without having to reschedule my whole day to fit it in. I mean, it only takes a few seconds to take a photo.

It’s been interesting and fun so far, to wake up each day with a photo on my list of goals. We’ll see how long I manage to keep it up.

 

Productivity and Keeping Busy.

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Winter quarter is about three weeks in now. I talked a lot about productivity in my New Year’s post, and how important it was to me last year to at least prove that I can attain professional productivity levels as regards my writing.

I’m in kind of a holding pattern right now, as I wait for a couple of projects to get to the production stage and hold off for just a little while on finishing and editing my project from NaNoWriMo. I have a third project that needs to crystallize a little more before I really start digging into it.

But generally I hope to always be working on something, and I fill my plate with projects at varying stages of completion in order to accomplish that. Classes aren’t pulling a lot of punches this quarter; classes aren’t difficult exactly, but the work load is high and I’m already a little behind because of some personal stuff that had to get taken care of.

But the funny thing is, the busier I get, the more likely I am to make time for writing. To make that time, and to guard it jealously. I was joking with a friend and collaborator last night that I’m less likely to have problems making time in my life for writing, and more likely to have problems making time in my writing for life. And this increases as I become more and more pressed for time.

I guess it’s partly a question of priorities, which is not to say that I’m letting my studies take a back seat to writing. That’s definitely not the case. But my priorities tend to fall like this: School, Work, Writing, and Everything Else if There’s Time. That everything else includes things like socializing and video games and books and eating food and sleeping.

Some of this is elegantly worked around by setting my social landscape up in such a way that my social time does double duty as work time; writer’s groups and collaborative projects, etc.

But I think another aspect of this is that being in school gets my brain fluids all moving around in ways that spurs creativity. I think school, even though it eats up the most time out of all of my obligations, actually causes me to write more, or to think about writing more, which I’m sure I’ve told you before is almost the exact same as writing. There’s some kind of stimulating effect of being back in the classroom that is salutary to all manner of creative endeavors.

It’s kind of a curious impact, having less time making one more and more productive. I mean, I think there are situations that call for a certain quiet of the mind; times when you have to coax the words to come and seek out the particular voice that best contains what you’re trying to say. I think there are times in which that internal sojourning is vital, and I think it can be difficult to get to that point with a busy, cluttered mind.

But I also think that sometimes the way to reach that quiet of the mind is to just sit down and start, no matter what it is that you’re doing. And that sometimes being busy as hell can be a means or an impetus to that start. It can be the noise that borders the path of quiet, and without which that singular path might remain invisible, bordered on all sides by the similar and camouflaged by it.

So I guess instead of assuming that you’re too busy to do this work, maybe we should all experiment with simply hurling ourselves into the teeth of the storm and see what happens.

I Finally Got a Kindle.

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I know, it seems crazy, right? That a person who writes in part for e-readers would not own one.

I have tried to take part in the ebook revolution, really I have, but without a dedicated reader I have found it nearly impossible. Reading on a cramped phone screen was almost painful, and much too distracting to do for any length of time. Reading at home on my laptop suffered the same distraction problem, except more so, as the laptop is where I do my work, my writing, and my schoolwork.

A few days ago, I finally broke down and ordered a Kindle Paperwhite. I wanted something that wouldn’t be constantly connected and offering the siren’s song of social media and the internet constantly. A kind of walled garden for reading. And, I thought, at $139.99, it would pay for itself in savings on books in no time!

I am delighted by it. It is just small enough that I can (barely) cradle it in one hand, yet large enough that it’s comfortable for someone raised on mass market paperbacks to read; the user interface is so easy to learn that you almost don’t even need the tutorial that appears on startup. The display, with its adjustable backlight, is suitable for any light level and doesn’t cause the kind of eyestrain that a computer screen or a phone can.

In short, I love it.

I can read in bed now, without needing to have a light on. I can read while cooking or eating without having to weigh a book open or (gasp!) break its spine to get it to lay flat.  I can read in the bathtub (the touch screen functions through a ziploc bag even, so I don’t have to worry about ruining it), and perhaps most importantly I can read on the bus to and from classes.

This is the real game-changer for me. As I’ve gotten busier I’ve noticed my recreational reading time dropping off precipitously, and as a writer, continuing to read is vital. You learn craft from reading books; sometimes you learn what to do, sometimes you learn what not to do, but it’s all learning, and it’s all necessary. So turning the thirty to forty minutes that I spend on the bus every weekday into productive time is the perfect way to get my reading back.

I can carry dozens of books with me wherever I go on this one slim little device. It fits in my purse, and it fits in my jacket pocket. I will be able to take it traveling with me, and when camping I will no longer need to waste headlamp batteries on reading before bed. Wouldn’t want those batteries to run out on a trip to the latrine, after all.

And speaking of batteries, the battery on this thing lasts literally for days. I don’t even have to think about charging it, which is a revelation for someone who frets constantly about her phone battery.

I started out my Kindle adventure by re-reading Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut, and if the reading suffered at all for having been on a screen, I didn’t notice. I chewed through the novel in chunks of thirty or forty minutes at a time over the course of a few days; slow for me, but much more than I’d been reading pre-Kindle.

I still prefer paper books, don’t get me wrong. The feel of them, and the beauty of them (the flexibility demanded by the ebook format reduces your opportunities to create beautiful books) still charm me in a way that ebooks just can’t yet. But this experience has mostly cemented my vision of the reading future as one that includes both e-reading and paper books… but now, I can leave my paper books at home, and still read to my little heart’s content no matter where I am. The sheer convenience offered by ebooks isn’t something that paper books can match, and isn’t going to just go away.

I have always been astounded by claims that ebooks are declining (they aren’t) in popularity; owning a Kindle only makes such claims more obviously ridiculous than they seemed in the past.

And if you haven’t yet, my friends, join the ebook revolution. You have nothing to lose but your chains.

About That MFA Article.

So there’s this article that’s been making some ripples in corners of the internet lately. It’s titled, “Things I Can Say About MFA Writing Programs Now That I No Longer Teach in One.”  I posted it to my writer’s group recently and it got a range of responses, from the ambivalent to the negative.

Noted writer and blogger Chuck Wendig ripped the article a new asshole over on Terrible Minds, and he had a very different take on the whole thing than I did.  Which is fine, I’m a great admirer of Mr. Wendig; in face he’s just “Chuck” in my writer’s group because we share so many of his posts around.  And the fact that he saw the whole thing very differently than I did doesn’t mean that I disagree with him; quite the opposite.  I think he made some great points, and some of the stuff he said I really agree with. I think it’s not just possible for two people to come away with different messages from one piece of writing, but indeed common, and beautiful.

In the first section of the MFA article, the writer asserts that you need talent to be a good writer.  I actually agree with this… I believe that some people, for whatever reason, have a greater capacity toward creation, storytelling, and verbal expression than other people.  All the evidence that I base that belief on is anecdotal, of course. My younger brother is a more than capable writer, he had to be to get through his degree and certification program. But he thinks that what I do when I write a book is some kind of incomprehensible magic. I don’t know what the difference is; I don’t know if it’s some part of the brain that just works better in me than it does in him. But there is a difference, and that difference is what we call “talent.”

Chuck addresses the talent portion here in greater depth, and I agree with a lot of what he says. I agree that in believing themselves somehow uniquely talented, writers can make themselves lazy and incompetent. Talent is only part of the equation; being good at writing requires work and practice, even when one has a natural inclination.  I also agree that the concept of talent has been used to exclude minority voices and support elitist structures in probably every facet of the arts world. The problem with talent is also the problem with how we view the arts; there’s this idea that some people can do it and other people can’t.  What other field do we see that in? Math and science, maybe? Nobody avoids going into accounting because they don’t have a talent for it, though. Nobody needs to exhibit a specific aptitude to learn any number of technical skills, and our failure to regard the arts (including writing) as a trade also leads to our demand that they be gods and martyrs.

The next section of the MFA article states that if you weren’t serious about writing by the time you were a teenager, you’re probably not going to make it.  I feel like I understand what the author is trying to say here, but I don’t know what “taking writing seriously” means, especially to a teenager.  I started writing short fiction when I was around twelve, but I was such a fucked up teenager that the only thing that I can honestly say I took seriously was suicidal ideation.  I get it, though, because you see all these forty-year-old rich white ladies who think they’re going to write the next great american novel, or an award winning memoir, and yeah, those people probably don’t have what it takes to make a living out of writing, and that’s okay. That’s probably not what they’re looking for.

The next few sections cover concepts that anyone who’s at all familiar with the indie landscape should already know… you need to make time to write; you need to read; memoirs are mostly terrible.  I have some concern with the wording used in the third section, because wishing pain and abuse on the already abused was just not something that needed to be included to make the author’s point and was unnecessarily cruel.

The sixth point is that the author can’t help you get published, and that nobody knows what the hell is going on in the industry these days.  This seems pretty spot on to me… the industry is changing.  People are talking about content gluts and the ebook market stabilizing, but all that means is that the rate of change has slowed enough now that it’s no longer buffeting us.  Yes, you can still get traditionally published, and yes, there are still some advantages to that.  But you absolutely do not need an in with the industry to get published.  In the last portion of this paragraph, the author encourages people to “to reject the old models and take over the production of their own and each other’s work as much as possible,” and I think that’s a beautiful thing.

Seventh paragraph states that it’s not important that people think you’re smart, and that’s true.  This is not a thing you can do for ego gratification… you have to do it because you love it.  Nobody gives a shit about you unless you give them good stories to read. The ego serves the art; the art doesn’t serve the ego.

And the final paragraph, which I thought was pretty weak to end on, personally, was about the importance of woodshedding, which is to say practicing. Yes. This is true. Practicing is important. It is possible to succeed with your first novel. I didn’t, I needed two novels practice before I produced anything I thought would be worth polishing.

Now I want to say right now that I do feel that the rhetoric used in the MFA article is hyperbolic and shitty. I think I overlooked that because I’m used to seeking out the inspiration hidden in the manure pile. I think I overlooked it because I, too, am a bit of an asshole. I’ll openly admit that the writers I want to spend time around aren’t the sort who wish they spent less time writing; they’re all the kind who wish they spent more time writing. Lord knows if I had a choice I’d write full time and attend classes and go to work when I could fit it in.

What I took away from the article was that this work isn’t for people with the money and resources to pursue an MFA.  It is specifically for the people with the brains, the heart, and the sand to do the work. Not for people with fancy degrees. Not for people who insist that art serve their ego. And I found that to be an inspirational message.