What Jane Wants to Do Most at AWP 2017

“If you do not breathe through writing, if you do not cry out in writing, or sing in writing, then don’t write, because our culture has no use for it.” —Anaïs Nin

2014, pre-blog, found me as a contractor without paid-time off, boobs-deep in credit card debt (seven pieces of plastic to be exact). 2015 found me unemployed on an island in the most isolated archipelago in the world. 2016 found me unemployed on the same island. Three makes a pattern. It’s 2017, my third year of the what-Jane-wants-to-do-most posts, and I’m employed (knock, knock, knock on all of the wood). I’m working for a temp agency (more on this later) in a new state (more on this later), but I’m, again, missing AWP, a conference I once-upon-a-time lived for.

After five faithful years, AWP is a stranger to me. The 5oth anniversary is in DC, where once I watched Junot Díaz, a glass of cab warming me from the inside. That has to be the biggest compliment for a writer—that a reader went offsite in the fresh air, booze abound, and returned to the sea of cardigans, spectacles, and totes for literary love.

Here’s what I will be missing this year. Please live-tweet everything, take a bookmark, yank some chocolate, buy a book and lit mag, scribble some notes, and swig some wine in the back of a conference room for me.

Wednesday

8:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. – 4th Annual Rock and Roll Reading. 12 writers, including Danielle Evans and Porochista Khakpour, will read song-length pieces inspired by rock-and-roll. Swoon.

Thursday

9:00 a.m. to 10:15 a.m. – Say Yes to the Press: How Effective Small Publishers Do What They Do featuring Brent Cunningham, Juliana Spahr, Martin Riker, J. K. Fowler, and Sunyoung Lee. The stuff of my entrepreneur dreams.

4:30 p.m. to 5:45 p.m. – Whereas, Standoff, Cinder, Rapture: Graywolf Poets featuring Jeff Shotts, Susan Stewart, David Rivard, Sjohnna McCray, and Layli Long Soldier. I have been counting the minutes to March, Whereas’ publication month, and, duh, Graywolf.

Friday

12:00 p.m. to 1:15 p.m. – The Shape of Fiction: A Look at Structuring Novel-Length Prose featuring Christian Kiefer, Jeff Jackson, Esmé Weijun Wang, Janet Fitch, Kirstin Chen. Hello, ladies I love, ladies I have read, ladies I want to read, ladies whose organizational skills and planners I admire, ladies whose thoughts on structure I want to witness.

1:30 p.m. to 2:45 p.m. – A Reading and Conversation with Alexander Chee and Valeria Luiselli moderated by Lisa Lucas. I’m still not over the shoes Alexander Chee wore on Late Night With Seth Meyers and his essay with the Chloë Sevigny-cameoThe Story of My Teeth is on my TBR list. Have you heard Valeria Luiselli on Between the Covers with David Naimon?

4:30 p.m. to 5:45 p.m. – A Reading and Conversation with Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Ta-Nehisi Coates hosted by E. Ethelbert Miller. Because I’m reading Between the World and Me. Because Purple Hibiscus, because Half of a Yellow Sun, because Americanah, because We Should All Be Feminists, because Beyoncé. I haven’t read That Thing Around Your Neck just so I would have some unread Adichie in my near future.

Saturday

8:30 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. A Reading by Rita Dove, Terrance Hayes, and Ocean Vuong with introductions by Jennifer Benka. I love Terrance Hayes and Ocean Vuong in a buy-their-book-the-second-it-publishes. And Rita Dove. Are there words? Tuesday afternoon I read her conversation with David Masciotra in Salon that sent my soul vibrating. And her words, and this reading, are a perfect end because now, more than ever, we need poems: “Poetry pulls us back into a focus of our impressions as we move through the world. These are things that are unremarked upon because they are too sensitive, or they are considered things that we experience every day, like how the air feels as you walk along on a spring day and the wind catches the hairs on your arms.”

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Considering 2015, Jane Resolves

“White hot and passionate is the only thing to be.” —Roald Dahl

I wouldn’t call 2015 a draw between me and my resolutions. I won, narrowly, thanks to high scores in the Always-write and Start-a-writing-group categories. I made a lot of progress, but the lofty list of goals frazzled me by October.

On NYE, I resolved to focus my energies. It has taken me sixish weeks to decide on the key day-to-day elements I must improve to inspire notable positive change, momentum, results.

Find a Way to Sustain a Creative Life

If you follow my blog, you know that balancing work and writing is a constant struggle in my life. A perfectionist and hard worker, it’s difficult for me to do anything half-heartedly. Either I need to find a job that gifts me room to be creative, or I need to find a job that nurtures my creativity. Because I have done the full-time thing and didn’t write, and I have done the part-time thing, which became a full-time thing, and wrote, and when I finished both, I was standing in an eerily similar place; even though I made progress, the matter of a couple drafts, I was another year older and still working on the same things.

Actually Finish Things

When you’re creating, it’s hard to gauge success. Even though the novel manuscript is fully drafted, I’m revising a lot: adding scenes and the much-needed lick or two here and there, deleting darlings here and there, while cringing at—and editing—the remnants of the first draft I wrote in the last 15 months of grad school, which almost murdered me. I have moved so many damn commas that many pages look like they are hemorrhaging or someone’s triplets took Crayolas to them, but I am getting closer.

I am closer than I have ever been, but I curse my honey-slow pace. And time constraints. Money. The general state of things. During one of those life-sucking Twitter holes, I found an essay on the incubation stage of creativity, and it reminded me that books take time. Junot Díaz’s third novel, This is How You Lose Her, took 16 years. Alexander Chee’s The Queen of the Night took 14 years. Right now I am at 8 years, and that’s okay. It has to be. Because I’m not ready to let go of it yet. But I am ready to let go of parts of it. Of the 290 pages, I feel confident in 38 of them. Then I think, Moving that chapter-six paragraph to the opening might solve all of my problems….

Read Better

Last year, I finished 32 books, a personal high, which naturally makes me want more, more, more. Usually I read organically, one book leading to another, so I thought the Modern Mrs. Darcy’s 2016 reading challenge would force me out of my lazy river, give me some structure, force me to consider the uncracked or favs already on my shelves. At the same time, the list (below) only consists of 12 books, so if I read 33 books this year, I will have 21 opportunities to float.

  • A book published this yearGreen Island by Shawna Yang Ryan
  • A book you can finish in a dayThe Lover by Marguerite Duras
  • A book you’ve been meaning to readThe Thing Around Your Neck by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
  • A book recommended by your local librarian or booksellerHow to Get Into the Twin Palms by Karolina Waclawiak
  • A book you should have read in schoolI Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
  • A book chosen for you by a spouse, partner, sibling, child, or BFFBad Feminist by Roxane Gay
  • A book published before the year you were bornSula by Toni Morrison
  • A book that was banned at some pointThe House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende
  • A book you previously abandonedTales of Burning Love by Louise Erdrich
  • A book you own but have never readMake Your Home Among Strangers by Jennine Capó Crucet
  • A book that intimidates you Bluets by Maggie Nelson
  • A book that you’ve already read at least onceLove in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez

To the readers and writers who are vowing and working towards bettering themselves, please share your resolutions and reading lists with me.

Jane and Her Average Work Day

“Always choose creativity over fear.” –Elizabeth Gilbert

Maybe it’s because the sky was just spattered with fireworks and I wore a festive crown representing possibilities and blew a noisemaker while sipping champagne, maybe it’s the recently-passed Mercury retrograde (thank the stars), maybe it’s because there are a few transitions looming beyond tomorrow, but I have spent much of January reflecting.

Déjà Vu

A year and some days ago, I wrote a similar post, Jane and Her Average Writing Day, not knowing where life would take me. That a year and some days later, I would write this. Tsk tsk, I should have known. Especially after I shed the previous job, or the previous job shed me. Knowing I am not bred for the office, I try not to let the dingy day-to-day sequester my creativity.

A Day in the Life of Jane Worker

6:20 a.m. Waylon’s alarm buzzes. He hits snooze.

6:30 a.m. Waylon’s alarm buzzes. He showers.

6:45 a.m. Somewhere between water running and the water twisting off, I hobble downstairs to brew coffee.

7:59 a.m. Somehow I arrive at my desk—not the white space at home with a gold pyramid, shells, and a ratty collection of poetry and craft books—but the one with the dual computer screens, drab carpeting and Steak-and-Shake-like lighting. I sip my coffee, stuff some kind of nutrition in my face (usually the doctor-recommended Greek yogurt), and sleep with my eyes open.

8:03 a.m. The only thing I can manage at this ungodly hour is checking all of my social media accounts for any notifications whatsoever. I delete all the shoe and makeup and sale e-mails because I rather not be tempted into giving any of my hard-earned money away. Not when every paper dollar and zinc penny signifies freedom. Basically, until I have the guts and funds to risk full-time writing, I’m saving.

8:10 a.m. As my officemate pops in and out—her kitten footsteps surprising me again and again—I wade in the beginnings of work: checking messages, populating my timesheet, reaching for the manila folder in my file cabinet.

8:37 a.m. I write a few licks. Shake those writing ligaments awake.

8:43 a.m. I write some policy.

9:16 a.m. Snack.

9:49 a.m. When I need to rest my eyes from the company lingo and legalese, I slide a few pages of my manuscript under the policy to revise.

11:11 a.m. I shut my eyes and make a wish that includes a lot of commas.

11:35 a.m. During lunch, I read an article on craft or freelancing. Over leftovers or a salad, I type some notes (snippets of conversation, current obsessions, sticky dream mush). In this half-hour, much food is dropped, and many shirts and skirts are ruined.

12:06 p.m. I edit some policy.

1:39 p.m. Snack.

2:41 p.m. I sneak a piece of candy, or three, out of the lady down the hall’s treat bowl.

2:42 p.m. I indulge in some chocolate and writing.

2:50 p.m. I format some policy.

4:41 p.m. Snack.

4:59 p.m. As the workforce trickles out to beat traffic and meet their dinner dates or mix their vodka and lime or whatever they do, I edit my manuscript. Once in a while, someone sticks their head in to say bye. I guiltily hide my tab, and they definitely know that I was not working. 

5:31 p.m. Hoping the next morning is fuss-free, I prep a numbered to-do list.

5:48 p.m. I save all of my documents to their respective places (e.g., folders, flash drives).

5:56 p.m. I leave work just in time to witness the sunset, which astonishes me pink night after pink night.

6:20 p.m. While listening to my fav podcasts, I fix dinner. I like losing myself in the washing, chopping and stirring of cooking, and I like multitasking.

6:52 p.m. We eat in the living room while watching Anthony Bourdain eat on Netflix or our DVR.

7:20 p.m. Because I cook, Waylon tidies the kitchen. I shower, unless it’s a good writing day or I’m reading a good novel or I have a literary deadline approaching. You get it. I am driven, and disgusting.

8:06 p.m. While Waylon watches TV and reads or dozes, I do busy work: editing, scheduling payments, researching submission deadlines.

8:59 p.m. We trudge upstairs—imagine the most exhausted trudge you can imagine.

9:07 p.m. While I floss through my night routine, I listen to the baby crying through the wall.

9:20 p.m. I read and breathe, read and breathe, and play footsie with Waylon under the covers until he runs his fingers through my hair. This is, by far, my favorite time of day. My happy place. True rest.

9:21-11:30 p.m. Depending on how good the book is, I read until I PTFO. It sounds peaceful, but it can be dangerous. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s hefty fiction, I’m convinced, is a deadly weapon to the bedtime reader.

Dreams

By skimming an outline of my weekday, I know and you can see what’s important to me. I’m conjuring the guts to let go of the things that don’t matter, and do what I love. But until then, because being a writer is an essential part of me, I will find ways to write. Even the littlest pockets of time can ease the creative soul.

In Cheryl Strayed’s interview in The Great Discontent, she professes, “I believe in writing as a calling. If you truly feel that calling in you, then listen to it and respect it, but don’t expect that anything is going to be given to you—you have to get it.” When I was a preteen, I wanted to be a nun. I’m glad I didn’t follow my little-kid dreams, but what I became wasn’t too far off. To me, writing is service work. We do it because we have to. Nothing else will whisper down the anxieties. And we do it, often, for nothing. We do it so we can sleep. We do it for the tired souls who may not even read it. We do it for peace.

Jane Writes Like Her Boyfriend Is Out of Town

“Don’t stop for sunsets.” —Roald Dahl

While Waylon is gone, I don’t watch a single Sex and the City rerun. I don’t comb my hair, I don’t shave, I don’t wear clothes fit for public because other than work I don’t venture into public places, but even my work outfits are questionable: t-shirts stuffed into pencil skirts, no bra. I eat embarrassing amounts of canned chunky vegetable soup. Library books, To-do lists, calendars, and manuscript pages litter every surface of the house. The dishes pile. I use paper plates, wooden chopsticks. Before the new blog post collects dust, I draft a new one and I list ideas for future ones, before the dread of never writing another even sets in. I write on lunches. I work the day job until 6 pm. When I get home, I run until the sun sets, circling cul-de-sacs because kidnappers, duh. While lentils simmer, I shower. I edit while I eat. When I’m too tired to write, revise, or edit, I read in bed gluttonouslylimbs wild, body diagonaltaking up as much area as I can. If a sentence comes, I record it in my bedside notebook. I give my considerate book light a vacation and blare the lamp. The silence prods me to repeat this schedule daily. My mind is alert, my muscles taut under my red-wine belly. I am well-slept for once, other than one night when Merritt Tierce’s Love Me Back forbade me to sleep. I feel on it, living a single writer’s life, getting shit done, crossing all the damn things off of all of the damn lists.

In my thirty-two years, I have learned that if being a writer is an essential part of you, you will adapt to your environment. In the fourth grade, I started my first novel and quit after several pages because it didn’t read like the books I loved and, like a kid, I went on to the next thing. In high school, I wrote poems when there wasn’t a song to sing my feels. In undergrad, I wrote for workshop deadlines. After graduation, I wrote when the words pulled me out of bed, my only alone time during my 55-hour work weeks of bartending and bookselling (the best job combo in the world, feeding free coffee and booze into my gullet as rapidly as lungs need air, always a book in the hand or purse). In grad school, again, I wrote for workshop deadlines. After finishing my thesis, a 300-page novel manuscript, the roughest rough draft in the history of rough drafts, I didn’t write for 15 months, but I revised the shit out of that manuscript, hiding the beast behind spreadsheets and the company browser on my double-screen PC. Then a bout of unemployment, a terror for a list person, which quickly mended my busted writing life. I wrote until days blended together. Sometimes I couldn’t tell you the month, but I could recite word counts and new books and articles I read and podcasts I listened to and new writers I found and, finally, I understood the amount of work it took to be a writer and, finally, I felt like one according to my stubborn, hard-ass standards. When I ran out of time and money, I found a heavy on the part-time technical writing job. Now, I write out of urgency, afraid that I’ll lose momentum, that my days are numbered, that I’ll never finish, that the words won’t return, that I’ll dry and crack in the florescent office lights.

Sometimes the world offers serendipitous opportunities, but mostly you must make them for yourself. Writing is hard fucking work with sporadic strokes of luck. When Waylon has to fly to the Mainland for business, I whine intermittently, but choose to smother-hug the silver lining. I, the president of the Dirty-hair-don’t-care Club, gets to be an even more disgusting human being than I already am.

When Waylon returns, my week without him feels a little like cheating. I sit there thinking, You don’t know the things that I have done. I’m distracted. I’m forever waiting for him to go to the bathroom, call his parents. The second he leaves to stir the contents of the crock or grab a beer I’m on my phone (writing). When I go up to the bathroom or climb the stairs, I pause at my desk. There, in plain view, spreads my other lover, dazzling in the light. On the left, the edited pages are flipped down. On the right, the page I am currently laboring over is on top. Look at me, it says. Touch me, it urges, you know you want to. And I do. More pages wait under it. I pussyfoot. I wonder what’s there. I have time for a paragraph. A line fresh in my head, I inch downstairs. Until we meet again, I repeat it to myself.

Idle fingers trouble me. Weekends are not my own. Even if I enjoy what I am doing (TV, cooking, driving), I devote at least 50% of my energy to writing: reading an article on craft, researching contests and lit mags, listening to writers interview writers, backing up documents, eavesdropping, something, anything, but I’m always waiting for the writing. I do this every workday, weeknight, and weekend until I just can’t anymore. Exhaustion usually sets in around 3:30 pm every Sunday. Depressed another Monday is on deck, I binge-drink with Waylon while binge-watching Twin Peaks and binge-eating slow-cooked chicken and dumplings. But if Waylon takes a shower, there is the urge: whispering in the heart, in the brain, in the soul, in the marrow, muscles and skin.

I don’t like the sneaking around and I don’t like the guilt, but cheating on your boyfriend with writing can be effective. Always submerged in thinking about the next thing: a deleted comma, a stronger verb, an unnecessary “that,” the next phrase, sentence, paragraph, scene, page, chapter. Always turned on and lusting for next time. Always waiting, a writer on fire.

Jane Wins a Liebster Award

“Writing is its own reward.” –Henry Miller

Part 1

Last Friday This Ugly Beautiful City nominated The Adventures of Jane Writer for the Liebster Award. (I Pinocchio you not. Check out the post.)

Hold-up, what is a Liebster?

Previously nominated bloggers present the online award to new bloggers producing promising content. This honor encourages readership in the blog community in a chain-letter fashion.

The Rules

If the nominee chooses to accept the award, they must complete these simple tasks:

  • Post the award to your blog
  • Answer the 11 questions posed by the person who nominated you
  • Thank the blogger for the nomination and link to their blog
  • Ask bloggers you have discovered recently or followed faithfully (with less than 200 followers) if they are interested in participating
  • Nominate the yeses for the Liebster 
  • Create a list of 11 questions for your nominees

This Ugly Beautiful City’s 11 Questions

Q: Why did you start blogging?
A: Since undergrad my professors stressed that all writers should have a blog. It only took me seven years.

Q: How did you come up with the name for your blog?
A: I had already written my first post but blanked on a name. I wanted something simple. I wanted something with Jane in it. Because I move a lot I didn’t want it tied to a place. Because I felt transient in that moment The Adventures of Jane Writer seemed perfect.

Q: Excluding the topic of your current blog, if you started another blog what would it be about?
A: Book reviews. If it had to be eggplants and pumpkins, completely unrelated to writing, travel.

Q: What is one blog or website you recommend in your subject area that you think everyone should read?
A: “Writers’ Other Jobs” featured on The Writers Bloc. It’s fascinating in a Humans-of-New-York way.

Q: What do you do to de-stress?
A: It depends on how stressed I am. I run outside. I visit my favorite lagoon, close my eyes, submerge myself then float. I sing songs loudly, badly, boldly, until all self-consciousness falls away and I am nothing but heart and voice. I breathe deeply and recite a mantra. Just today while driving home I said, “Let it all go. Let it all go. Let it all go.” In the past week, I have done all of these things. Some of them I’ve done multiple times. 

Q: What is the one thing you make sure you do everyday?
A: Laugh.

Q: What would be your theme song?
A: “Uptown Funk” by Mark Ronson featuring Bruno Mars or “Treasure” by Bruno Mars. You get the idea: Bruno Mars, something infectiously dancy. 

Q: What has been your favorite travel destination so far?
A: Always Hawaii. I want to visit every corner, every beach, every cranny, every ma and pa shop.

Q: If someone was traveling to your city and only had 24 hours to spend there, what is the place or places you would tell them to visit?
A: Waimea Bay, The Bishop Museum, The Pig and the Lady, a beachside happy hour to listen to live music and sunset gaze, an ABC Store for Spam musubi.

Q: What is the one thing you always pack on a trip?
A: A book.

Gratitude

Mahalo to This Ugly Beautiful City, a curious and generous blogger living in a fantastic city, for the nomination. Make sure to peruse her blog and share it with any friends or family visiting or relocating to Los Angeles.

Please return for Part 2, “Jane Awards Some Liebsters.”

Jane Stuffs Her Mattress Amid Truth Bombs

“Oh, shit. I can’t do this.” Diane Cook, on a full-time employment opportunity

Toni Morrison infamously said that no one works on Fridays. The last weekday is―surprise―”an unproductive day” and, at my day job, the living queen of fiction is on point, per usual. It’s Aloha Friday, and the office is oh-so-quiet. People are taking thirty-minute shits and two-hour lunches. I edit my novel manuscript openly at my desk. The cool group, who lunches in the community room Monday through Thursday and dines out every Friday, asks me to join them for sushi. “No, thank you,” I say. I’m flattered by the invitation, but if I am blunt with myself, I can’t afford friends. In one hour, I can edit approximately three pages, test the integrity of about 78 sentences. I note the scalp-scratchers in the margins, reserve them for my next editing project: the read-aloud draft. I know the sentences need steeping, and I don’t have that kind of time now. I intermittently text Waylon, my one-and-only friend and boyfriend. I skim paragraphs of a favorited Twitter article in doses.

Joan Didion insists, “We tell ourselves stories in order to live.” Here are some things I tell myself:

  • You are still writing.
  • Some former colleagues who work full-time don’t write a lick.
  • You’ll get to where you want to be, eventually.

But my heart is smart. The day job, technical writing, gets the best parts of my time and, unquestionably, the better brainpower. Sometimes, too exhausted to write at night, I resent almost everything that sucks time. Like Emily St. John Mandel reveals in her article, Working the Double Shift,” featured in The Millions and so many other artists who divide their time between their debts and passion, my dream day job is to be a full-time hardcover writer.

My crooked top knot should have been the first sign. The backwards dolman shirt the second. The third: I had been using Waylon’s deodorant, and two Dasani bottle caps to disinfect my contacts overnightfor a week. I finally cried at my desk. Minus a hobo purse here and a sundress there, the luster of cash has vanished.

Crying at my desk is not a new thing. I don’t have the skin or teeth or soul for an office job. For the first six months of employment, I am usually grateful. Grateful that Fed Loans isn’t hunting me down. Grateful that once in a moon I can treat Waylon to dinner or surprise him with a specialty deuce. Grateful that my credit lines are increasing and my minimum balances are shrinking. Grateful that if I cracked a canine on a Gobstopper or bought a plane ticket to Jamaica my savings account isn’t busted. It has been 26 weeks and I am still thankful for all of these things, but you either are or you aren’t (someone who can work for the weekend). And I am not. On good days, I don’t feel anything. In fact, I have to check my pulse to verify that I’m still alive. On bad days, skyscraper-high cortisol levels, and tears. The tears flow suddenly. As suddenly as my light-footed office mate rounds the corner of our shared space. I reach for my desk drawer and squeeze eye drops into my ducts. As the anti-red solution and teardrop mix river down my face, I know my secret is safe by blaming allergies for my state.

I knew when I accepted my “part-time” gig that I would have to let go of things. The hardest thing to let go of were those beautifully open mornings and afternoons, where creativity was free to happen. Where I could ease into writing by getting lost in a book, jog until a plot point worked itself out, stare at the sky. Where I could write all day and ease into adulting: the cooking, the laundry, the paying of bills. I knew it was just a matter of time before my part-time job evolved into full-time work. I am contracted for another three months and I count down the days but, truth is, I have no guts. I could quit tomorrow. It wouldn’t be financially smart, but I could quit tomorrow. What stands between me and my dream job is that I don’t know if I can run from the student loan police and write a novel at the same time, and the student loan police aren’t the only people I owe money to. I can only bear so much anxiety, but when I clock out, what really stands between me and my last day? It’s me, the coward.

When Gabriel García Márquez wrote One Hundred Years of Solitude, he was pancake broke and the town brought him food. No one’s bringing Jane food because she couldn’t fork over her lunchtime to make nice. I already scrimp and I could scrimp more, but in my old, fragile age, I can’t return to the ramen noodles that got me here.

Some people hide behind the stories they tell themselves in order to live:

  • They would write, if this.
  • They would write, if that.

Truthfully, I write. I write in my car on the way to work. I write between editing documents. I write between edits on a single document. In meetings, I write, or at least take shorthand notes of what to write later. If I see someone who gets paid double what I gross sleeping at their desk, I write spitefully or revise spitefully to accrue a little more value. I write while Waylon watches TV after dinner. But, truth bomb: if I didn’t have this job, I would be writing much, much more. Painfully more. Where do those words go?

Despite all of these feels, I will not quit now, so I stuff my mattress. I stuff my mattress for my eventual unemployment. I stuff my mattress so I can buy organic apples, gift presents or travel when I am selfishly underworking for the man to write. I decided that if I could commit to this short-term life of working a lotas long as I am working towards not working a lotI will fund myself. A free place to stay in the Pacific Northwest for four nights and five days has arisen, and I am awarding myself that writing residency (flight and food) that no one else will currently grant me. I am flying to that foreign city, where I have zero responsibilities and wonderfully open, wiggly mornings and afternoons to read, write, edit, explore, get lost, find myself.

What Jane Wants to Do Most at AWP 2015

“What a miracle it is that out of these small, flat, rigid squares of paper unfolds world after world after world, worlds that sing to you, comfort and quiet or excite you. Books help us understand who we are and how we are to behave. They show us what community and friendship mean; they show us how to live and die.” —Anne Lamott

I read the title fields of email after email, Get Festival Ready! with pictures of whimsical boho princesses and grass wild with weeds. But my body clock is concerned with only one event, and its attendees’s accessories consist of reading glasses, totes, cardigans and scarves, thick books and skinny jeans.

AWP makes some people anxious, but I love every crazy second of it: the flyer shooing, the kamikaze candy and pen grab, the random banana costume-clad dancer, the lightning gossip via live tweeting: OMG James Franco sighting at Sbarro! Michael Martone has THE best hair. Red, red wiiiiine at 1254! I like hiding my name tag so people wonder, for a moment, if I am a lit celeb. But most of all I like being incognito, starry-eyed, scribbling notes in the crowd, where I feel like a better person just for eavesdropping on the panel’s conversation. I love discovering a new-to-me author, the ticking seconds until I touch their book. I love collapsing against a wall to take inventory of my treasure.

For half a decade, I didn’t miss one: Manhattan, Chicago, Denver, Chicago again, Boston, then zilch. No longer a student, I couldn’t get the student rate or reimbursed for attending. A contractor in the corporate world, I have no vacation. Seattle was easy to miss: the crushing weight of student loan debt. Dorothy Parker got me when she said, “I hate almost all rich people, but I think I’d be darling at it.” Plus, the egos and politics. But mostly I felt guilty about not writing, being a nobody.

Maybe I’m feeling a smidge more confident in my nobodiness, or maybe I’m far enough removed from academia that I crave community because I’m suffering withdrawals like the bends. I started searching #AWP15 tweets weeks out. I’ve read the entire catalog. I’m a sadist; I like to know what I’m missing, and here are the top things I, Jane, will be lusting this week:

Wednesday 

  • 7:00 pm to 10:00 pm – AROHO Night of “Glittering, Vocal Expansiveness” featuring Janet Fitch, Susan Straight, Joy Castro, Aimee Liu, Sue William Silverman, Jill Bialosky, and more. Janet Fitch’s White Oleander was one of my “great literary awakenings.” Astrid’s odyssey spoke to a corner of my soul that is forever homeless. I have desperately wanted to hear her speak since. As Dorothy Allison so eloquently states, “Why am I a writer? Because I have a debt. Because a book saved my life.”

Thursday

Friday

  • 3:00 pm to 4:15 pm – Neglected American Masters featuring James Allen Hall, Jericho Brown, Paisley Rekdal, Yona Harvey and Richard Siken. This is one of those events where I hope the panelists read their own work and, of course, the work of neglected American masters. “This poem by ______ inspired this piece by me” is how it pans out in my daydream.

Saturday

During downtime, I would wander the book fair. I love perusing and flipping through books and journals you can’t find in stores. I’m sure some booths are wondering where I have been for the last two years, and there some new things I want to hold in my hands: Arroyo Literary Review, Barrelhouse, Dancing Girl PressEcotone, Electric Literature, Fairy Tale Review, Journal of the Month, Midwestern GothicManoa, One Story, (PANK), The Pinch, Poet’s & Writers, The Rumpus, Third Coast Magazine, and last but certainly not least, VIDA: Women in Literary Arts.

So if you’re going to Minneapolis, or if you know someone who is making the journey, these are not just suggestions, these are proclamations of love. Some are literary crushes I stalk every year in person—and on the internet always. Some are new loves who I want to listen to and let my curiosity peel back then catapult this fresh thing into full infatuation. Please haunt for me.

Jane Weighs the Pros and Cons

Never forget that the truest luxury is imagination, and that being a writer gives you the leeway to exploit all of the imagination’s curious intricacies, to be what you were, what you are, what you will be, and what everyone else is or was or will be, too.” ―Andrew Solomon

I like lists. I like my thoughts organized and my heartbeat even. In the case of greener grass, I miss having fresh Tuesdays for pantlessness and writing and reading into the night. The strict budget didn’t bother me. I got used to living with mostly necessities because wanting less felt as if I was making more. I wanted what I had: time to write, and health and love―always health and love. But when my money ran out, I insisted on returning to work because student loans and student loans and student loans. Here are my top three pros and cons about returning to the cubicle.

Pros

  • Office supplies – Binder clips and clasp envelopes and steno pads, oh my! Highlighters and Sharpies and Post-its, oh my! Legal pads and paper clips and white out, oh my!
  • Money – I bought a dress. It wasn’t on sale. I didn’t die.
  • When it rains, it thunderstorms – For some reason, when one person wants you, they all do. They come shimmying out of linoleum cracks and wood paneling and cakes so, in what seemed like overnight, I transformed from unemployed to basically full-time with volunteer things and other things that pay in addition to the things I want to do: read and write and revise and see things and wash my hair once in a while. If I didn’t have the job, I would have crap so, in fear of it all disappearing overnight, I am doing all of the things!

Cons

  • Weekends – Saturday and Sunday have become Thursday Jr. and Friday Jr. They’re more enjoyable than Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, but they are still work days. But at least it’s my heart’s work. And at least there is Baileys in my coffee.
  • Restlessness – I felt it as I did the dishes tonight: I probably won’t sleep; I will wake at 2 a.m., thinking about writing. To calm myself, when Waylon turned the lights off and climbed the stairs, I wrote for an hour―for peace, for sleep, because do I have a choice?
  • Existential crises – Last week, I ran errands on my lunch break. I drove to the good grocery store for whole wheat cous cous, hazelnut coconut milk creamer and the face wipes I like because there is an Office Depot in the same parking lot  and I needed to mail a fiction submission. As I slid the envelope across the desk, my eyes asked, How much? She said, “Oh, we don’t send envelopes. We only ship Fed Ex packages.” She started to explain where the nearest post office was. I lied and told her I wasn’t “from here.” What I meant was: it’s not my part of town. But already the music was playing in my head. My plan was ruined. As I drove an extra three miles per hour back to my severe desk, I felt the beginnings of tears, a steering wheel slap tingling in my fingers, a “Why?” in my throat, but I took a deep breath and mentally added the stories to my Friday to-do list with all the other stupid uncrossed things.

Sometimes all writers feel like frauds, right? I did at my last job. I revised, but because I wasn’t writing anything new I felt like I had broken up with writing. It was self-loathing. It was avoiding my eyes in the mirror. It was spontaneous tears. Writers, like other creatives, need to make things and I felt, at best, a wordsmith. But that was then.

Everyone’s different. What’s right for Bill, may not be right for Murray. But I, Jane, need to write four times a week to not spiral into madness. And I have been able to―so far―maintain momentum (knock on wood). If I fell out of my routine, I submerged myself into the TBR list for inspiration and soon found my way back to the blank page. So this time around, the day job isn’t so bad, but let’s be real. It’s for the mynah birds, and the bills (gratitude). Temporary temp work. Not the dream.

On days when the everything seems like a little too much (everyone else is publishing, finding agents and beingblurbed by lit stars), David Foster Wallace eases into my ear, “Everything takes time. Bees have to move very fast to stay still.” On days when I feel like I am not making any movement, I seek out artists who have scorched a path, like Rainer Maria Rilke who voices:

To be an artist means: not to calculate and count; to grow and ripen like a tree which does not hurry the flow of its sap and stands at ease in the spring gales without fearing that no summer may follow. It will come. But it comes only to those who are patient, who are simply there in their vast, quiet tranquility, as if eternity lay before them.

Everything is moving very fast right now, but I’ll keep writing as if I have an eternity.

Jane and the Partly Grown-Up Job

“It takes a lot of time to be a genius. You have to sit around so much, doing nothing, really doing nothing.” ―Gertrude Stein

Week 1

There are 4 abandoned bras within 15 feet of my front door, and all I can think about is how it used to be. I still wake at the same time, but instead of stumbling downstairs to chug juice and cook breakfast I’m washing away eye boogers so I can prime my eyes to apply eyeshadow then eyeliner and―when I remember―contacts to, you know, feel human. Instead of parking my pajamaed-ass in front of my beloved Mac, by 8 a.m. I am at my desk, not the one I adore, but the new Steelcase one that I have disinfected twice yet it somehow still feels filthy. My tear ducts ache, and I blame it on my suddenly regular make-up and the ancient dustballs tumbleweeding across the desk’s surface. No one can recall who occupied this space last. I’ve asked 12 people, wondering if I need to burn sage or at least switch chairs with another down the hall when no one is looking.

Despite this disruption to my creativity, I have promised myself to write regularly, and the fact that I haven’t before nags me more than any overbearing mother could. My word-desert lurks in the back of my mind while I read “welcome” literature, while I am fitted for mandatory accessories, while I sit through orientations and hyperlink after hyperlink of training, while I fax things I rather not fax to people I will never meet, while I try to remember names, faces, and log-in passwords. This finger-on-my-shoulder past is why I remain part-time. Last week I worked four days, and I forced myself to write three days; I totaled 674 exhausted words.

When my best friend asked how my first week went, I didn’t think about the job and whether I liked it or not, my fattening résumé, the approaching paycheck and luxuries of employment (an occasional latte, a hardcover book). I jumped straight to the barely writing AKA the hardly living. I bemoaned the 674 words, and she consoled, “Seriously, writing anything is a success when you’re beginning a new rhythm.” I nodded emphatically and zipped a response back, even though I know there’s no such thing as writer’s block, that “writer’s block” is simply not writing, and only I’m to blame. I’m fluent in the responsibilities of friendship, that dance. I can recognize a verbal pat on the back, the “Oh, honey . . . ”

When I couldn’t write, I read. I finished one book, then another, and snacked on short stories and poems, demolishing them like Funyuns.

Week 2

Until the creative triggers are blasting from my bra straps, I chase words and pin them down in my Notes. My heart pitter-patters. Sometimes something in there clenches, and I freeze, until it passes. As Joan Didion avows:

The impulse to write things down is a peculiarly compulsive one, inexplicable to those who do not share it, useful only accidentally, only secondarily, in the way that any compulsion tries to justify itself. I suppose that it begins or does not begin in the cradle. Although I have felt compelled to write things down since I was five years old, I doubt that my daughter ever will, for she is a singularly blessed and accepting child, delighted with life exactly as life presents itself to her, unafraid to go to sleep and unafraid to wake up. Keepers of private notebooks are a different breed altogether, lonely and resistant rearrangers of things, anxious malcontents, children afflicted apparently at birth with some presentiment of loss.

My efforts in creating a “mundane routine” follow:

  • When I arrive at work, I do something creative, so I knowbefore anythingI am a writer.
  • I write in the back pages of my legal pad while I’m waiting for meetings to begin, working on the computer; making the water fountain, coffeemaker, refrigerator, bathroom, xerox machine journey.
  • I steal sentences on my iBooks app while reviewing programs. I slide some flash fiction into a manual to rest my eyes.
  • When hallway traffic lulls and my officemate is absent, I transfer scribbled notes into my phone, adding words, sentences, sometimes a scene.

Yesterday was my Friday, Waylon’s hump-day. Our morale low, after work we scattered to gather pizza rolls and six-dollar bottles of Cabernet before meeting at home to become one with couch cushions and dissolve into purple-mouthed grumbles. We half-heartedly twittered while Fresh Off the Boat premiered. When the second episode began, we abandoned our phones. We raged against our body clock’s bedtime. We raged against eleven. We submitted at midnight. We raged when our alarms sounded. We raged against the first snooze, the second and third then, after coffee and a breakfast sandwich, I wrote 1,689 words.

Out with the Old-Work Jane, In with the New-Work Jane

“I have a theory that the truth is never told during the nine-to-five hours.” –Hunter S. Thompson

I always pick the worst times to cry. Concerts. Grocery stores. Speeches (given by me and others). If you can imagine it, more than likely I have cried at it. This April, at a sold-out ballpark I, handicapped by tears, grieved the loss of my creative life. I had clocked 10 months in the corporate world.

Waylon tried to catch my eyes, but I ducked, thinking if I couldn’t see him and the throngs of people, they couldn’t see me. As I eye-rained, he said, “If you are that unhappy, you can quit. You can live with me and write all day.” I felt like a modern-day, nerdy Cinderella. Was this my real life? I rested my throbbing head on my scrawny forearm and shook my head, rolling on bone, hushed by the sentiment. A fairy tale offering, but I couldn’t accept his generosity. I have always supported myself, and I was not ready to not do that. For me to quit my job and write full-time, it would take a miracle.

I’m not ready to call losing my job a miracle. To me, a miracle suggests outcomes: I found an agent, my agent sold my book. At the least, a small writerly win. But I haven’t added any accolades to my résumé recently, not even a publication in an online magazine with a circulation of two. Cue more eye-rain. All I have to show is my Sisyphean climb, and the rock rolling back onto me is form rejection after form rejection, seldom an almost-acceptance–a nice note but in the end yet another rejection, a rejection for fellowships or contests that I have to find myself via the aforementioned post or tweet by the designated loose deadline, thinking, Maybe, just maybe, they don’t notify winners beforehand. Maybe, just maybe, they want it to be a surprise!

It’s hard not to clutch the wine bottle during these hiccups, especially when I work continents harder than I did at my eight-to-six, where I spent a Tuesday lunch here and a Thursday lunch there revising three or four pages of my first novel. Most days, too slammed with work and the hope of landing a permanent position or–at the very least–a raise, I ate lunch at my desk, emailing, editing. “You are the only person who actually works on Friday,” said various coworkers on numerous occasions.

Now, I work weekdays plus weeknights and most weekends while Waylon and I watch DVRed TV that I barely follow because currently I live eye-deep in my novel’s world. I fear I am that lover with the far-away look in her eyes. When I asked a question about the clear motives of an unabashedly sexual character last week, Waylon asked, “Are we watching the same show?” My cheeks reddened like sunsets, and I nodded. He said, his toothy smile gleaming, “Am I going to be changing your diapers in three years?”

Although it seems like life has chosen this path for me, I am seizing the writing days because I know how much a writer needs to write. (Respect to those who can write in addition to full-time jobs, the Joan Didions and Gabriel García Márquezes of the world. I don’t have that talent.) Life with sparse reading and writing is painful. It sucks to be pulled from bed out of necessity because 1) either you get up, write then die at work, or 2) lie there, think about writing then die at work.

This time has allowed me to do so much, and I insist upon doing everything that I have ever wanted to do (more on this soon). Working, on average, 47 hours a week for The Man, old-work Jane read when she could. I tucked short stories that I printed off between my driver’s seat and e-brake to read in traffic, I read poems waiting for copies at the Xerox machine, I read in line at the grocery store, I read in bed until my eyes insisted, No more, but I wasn’t reading anywhere near what a writer should read, and it maimed my writing. While I worked 13 months, three weeks and four days at my ex-job, I wrote 3,384 new words. Just this NaNoWriMo, I have read four books, I have added 24,686 new words to my second novel, and I have slept through most nights.