Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Back at work!

So, today was my first day back at work for the fall 2016 semester.

It was a little bittersweet. Ok, more bitter than sweet. It's going to take a bit of an adjustment to get back into the swing of things, apparently. Even though it was just for a meeting/professional development, the day felt crazy long for my body. Ugh. Maybe it's because last night I ran six miles. Maybe it's because I'm not used to getting out of bed before 10am. Maybe it's because today I had to sit for about five hours, which I'm not used to, which means my back gets achy. Anyway, whatever. I'm wiped out.

This isn't exactly an ideal start to the semester, but hopefully by the time my actual classes begin on Monday, I'll be used to it again. I figure now's as good as a time as any to set up some goals for the semester.

1. Perhaps most importantly, I want to keep up my routine of writing. I want to be able to produce something every week, to make measurable progress. I think just some general poem generation would be good at this point. I'm not entirely certain what my next "project" is going to be, and I don't want to put pressure on myself to figure that out yet, but at the same time, I do want to keep writing and working, figuring that out. It might mean making further progress on my Valley Cultura poems with Corinne. It might mean working on my "Body" poems. Maybe it means something else entirely. The important thing is to keep writing. I hope to sort through the mess I create over the Christmas holiday.

2. Successfully teach this semester. This goes without saying, but I want to be a good teacher for my students. I'm teaching creative writing, poetry appreciation, and composition, so it will be a challenge to juggle these "preps," though I am confident that I can do it. I'm going to plan a big reading at the end of the semester for my students, too, to present their works in the community. It's a big project, but it's so worth while.

3. Successfully present at two conferences. I'm already set to present at the Langdon Review Weekend in September and the Texas Association of Creative Writing Teachers in October, so I'm pretty well set up for this semester.

4. Submit poems to journals. I'd like to send off at least one submission a week. I wish I had more time to dedicate to this because I have a book coming out, but meh.

5. Work on career advancement

6. Train for a marathon! Yep. That's happening. In December :)

I'm turning thirty this semester. So there's that too!

Friday, August 19, 2016

Summertime Reflection

Ah, yes, it's about that time of the year...

My work email is bustling once again, the school buses wind through my cul-du-sac every morning and afternoon, and I'm digging out my syllabi with a mixture of elation and dread. Yesterday, while revamping my Rhetoric and Composition syllabus, I had some sort of a mini-panic attack as I pieced together my semester. Yikes.

Before moving onto the next phase, it's important for me to reflect on the season that's passing. As a writing teacher, I'm always stressing the importance of self-reflection. So, it's time for me to practice what I preach, although, really, this blog is like one big enormous public self-reflection on my writing self. 

This summer began a bit rocky, but in the end, I think it's been my best, most productive, most fulfilling (creatively... and let's face it, otherwise too) yet. I eased into a routine of daily writing. I learned that inspiration is a habit, a muscle. I wrote like a madwoman, spending hours everyday in my place of bliss (and sometimes frustration). I worked through the tangly poems, a tangly manuscript, a tangly mind. I've created a manuscript I'm proud of, and I can't wait for the world to see it next year. 

I also went out of my comfort zone as an artist, presenting my work at new venues, met new people/communities of writers, and tried my hand at ekphrasis. 

I put my work and my self out there, to various degrees of success, but I harbor no regrets. My skin is  (mostly) calloused with rejection, but my heart never tires of the elation of acceptance. 

I'm dipping my toes into the role of a literary critic, branching out and challenging myself to write an article. 

I'm still the same gal who went into this summer with wide eyes, though I think I'm a little more confident, sure of myself, and excited for the future. Back in May, I set the following goals:

1. Don't die. I have successfully survived. Thrived. My heath is good. I feel stronger than ever. 
2. Finish poetry manuscript -- either split it up or make it work. Either way, send to Publisher by end of August! Done. Done. Done. 3. Write two book reviews Written. Submitted. Accepted for publication. Moving on.4. Submit to residencies I submitted to one? It's not plural but it's a damn good one.5. Submit poetry packets out at least once per week -- so, let's say a goal of 15 by the end of summer. I did two yesterday, so I'm off to a good start! Yawn. Blew this one out of the water by more than doubling it. 6. Do at least one public reading a month. I've got May and July squared away, so figure something out for June and August In May, I read at my old high school as a keynote speaker. In June, I went to an open mic at The Prelude. In July, I read at Malvern Books in Austin. In August I'll be reading at the Sekula Library here in Edinburg. 7. Successfully teach summer course while keeping my writing schedule going This went surprisingly smoothly.8. Practice Spanish ::crickets chirping:: ok, this is something I slacked at. I didn't even open my Duolingo app once. Let's add this to the fall goals. 9. Exercise five times per week, keep it a priority Yes. I have transitioned in to full-blown marathon training. I'm in week 4, running 4 times a week and cross training once a week. 10. Enjoy and savor the extra rime. Bake cakes. Play video games. Snuggle the cats. Take a long, frivolous roadtrip with B. Enjoy and life life to the fullest everyday. I have baked my heart out. I've almost finished playing Final Fantasy 5 (note to self, beat final boss before the summer officially finishes). I currently have a kitty on my lap. I took two frivolous roadtrips. I have enjoyed my summer and savored the long, beautiful days as fully as I knew how. 

Life is pretty freakin' glorious. May it continue to be as I move into the next season, the fall semester. B says he has a good feeling about it. I'm staring at my calendar feeling a little nervous. But with his support, I know I can tackle just about anything. 

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Collaborations and Ekphrasis

This summer has been amazingly fruitful. Amazingly.

I'm not really sure how or why, but I've just been on a roll lately in terms of inspiration and a simple will to write. It's been insane. Seriously. I feel like I have a little idea generator going on inside me and I can't shut it off. Not that I'd want to, of course. It's so easy to chalk it all up to magic, some external muse that keeps me going and going, but I think it's a little more complex than that.

First of all, of course, I had a clear(ish) direction of my manuscript in the beginning of these summer months and a real desire to wrap it up. That motivation carried me through all of May, June and the second half of July. When I finally handed it off and declared it done, though, I wasn't really left with that "now what?" feeling.

I think the reason is quite serendipitous, actually. As I was finishing up my summer class, I received a curious email from an artist who was working on her catalog for an exhibit. I knew/know next to nothing about art, but she was wondering if I'd be interested in writing an introductory essay for her book. This was totally out of my comfort zone as a writer, but I'm not one to shut doors, so I agreed to meet her.

It was late July. I agreed to meet Corinne at a Starbucks to see what she had in mind. She'd brought her art and the gallery manager, Aleida, with her. I was impressed with the energy and spirit of both women, and felt an instant connection. Corinne showed me a few of her pieces and talked about her inspirations for them, mainly, the unique cultural landscapes of this regions, depicting them in order to construct and represent her own blended identity. Neato, I thought.

As I was looking at the pieces, I felt this kindred connection. I thought about my own cultural identity, its complex nuances, my own feeling of otherness while amongst other "whites," a strange feeling of both rootedness here in place and a disconnection. An existential crisis of sorts. Who the heck am I, and why am I here?

Those questions, of course, are the root of poetry.

"Your work, it really inspires me," I told her, "I want to write about it." ... but the only way I know how to put the ineffable into words is through, well, poetry.

Surprisingly, Corinne's eye lit up. "Really? You'd like to write about my work???"

And I did, I genuinely did, and well, do!

So for the past month or so, I've been steeped in Corinne's images, drafting up poems that echo Valley Cultura, the culture I've grown up in and assimilated into. It's been really inspiring. Some days, it's a challenge to get into another artist's mindscape, and others, I feel right at home. Corinne's also been sending me theoretical texts to get me up to snuff on the bones of her work. It just reminds me a lot of Anzaldua's Borderlands: La Frontera, how being "half" or "mixed" in terms of culture tends to be seen by our society as a negative thing, but instead, using this "dissonance" to create "melody" or reframing it as such. Boom.

We don't have anything formal yet, but right now I've got a nice fat handful of poems inspired by her work. I hope to write more, too, as she continues creating, perhaps even inspired by a few of my already-written poems. I hope this project continues to evolve, perhaps even into a book of ekphrasis and illustration.

It's a new source of inspiration, and I'm relishing in it. The lesson I'm learning from all of this is to keep an open mind to different ideas and approaches, to not limit yourself as an artist, and that synergy is a real thing we can work to create. It's not magic. It's going outside your comfort zone. It's conversations. It's work.

Check out Corinne's Valley Cultura collection here. She'll also be showing her artwork next month in Harlingen, and I hope to attend!

Friday, August 12, 2016

Summertime Submission Tally

Well, one of my goals this summer was to send out more submissions. I wanted to submit to at least 20 venues. Let's see how I did. Here are the venues I submitted to from May 1st through today!

1. Cimarron Review (Rejected)
2. Codex (pending)
3. Switchgrass Review (Accepted!)
4. FRiGG (Rejected)
5. Hermeneutric (Rejected)
6. Southwestern Review (pending)
7. Rattle (pending)
8. Summerset (Pending)
9. Blue Earth Review (pending)
10. Bat City (rejected)
11. Panoply (rejected)
12. Lunch Ticket (pending)
13. Collagist (Pending)
14. Autumn Sky (rejected)
15. Adriot (rejected)
16. TAB (pending)
17. Waccamaw (pending)
18. Alyss (Accepted!)
19. Poetry South (pending)
20. New Yorker (dreaming)
21. Poetry (dreaming)
22. Concho River Review (Accepted)
23. Rust Moth (rejected)
24. Indianola (Accepted!)
25. Barcopa (Rejected)
26. The Journal (rejected)
27. Redactions (pending)
28. Swamp Ape (pending)
29. Account (pending)
30. Qu (pending)
31. Southern Poetry Review (pending)
32. Thrush (reject)
33. Mezzo Cammin (accept!)
34. Black Warrior Review (pending)

Not bad! I'm kinda sorta proud of myself!

Acceptances: 5
Rejections: 11
Pending: 18

As you can see, I've got a lot of balls still up in the air, which should give me enough suspense to carry me through the next few months, until Christmas rolls around and I'll throw a bunch more poems out to the universe once again.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Edward's Book Release Party

Photo by Christopher Rocha

What a blast of an evening!

Last Wednesday, August 3rd, I had the pleasure of throwing my good friend, Edward Vidaurre, a book release party. We'd been planning this sucker for a little over a month now, and it was so wonderful to see it all come to fruition. Numerous special guests took the stage, including PW Covington, Brian Allen Carr, Odilia Galvan Rodriguez, Julieta Corpus, Cesar De Leon and Daniel Garcia Ordaz. We had about fifty or so people in attendance.

Edward, of course, gave an amazing reading as per always.

We also had a wonderful musical guest, Mr. Jose Sanchez, perform for us. 

I was the M.C! Or the G.C -- I hate the word "mistress" of ceremonies, so I'm changing it to Goddess of ceremonies.

Anyway, I don't think there was a better way to spend a summer evening than on the patio, drinking good beer, in the best company imaginable. Was it a lot of work? You betcha it was. Will I do it again? Of course. My next event is already in the works! Likely until late November/early December I'll be throwing a big ol' celebration for the semester's close and ushering the students who survived my creative writing course into the literary community.

Community. How amazingly blessed am I to have such writer friends? 

Monday, August 1, 2016

FORTHCOMING: The Lost Chronicles of Slue Foot Sue

So it's official(ish!) 

My next manuscript, The Lost Chronicles of Slue Foot Sue, has been accepted for publication by Lamar University Literary Press and is slated for release in early 2017. 

Commence the happy dancing!

I'm incredibly proud of of this manuscript. Truly. 

The book revisions tales from Texas folklore from a contemporary feminist perspective and provides some much needed context to the women of legend in the state. I know I've been yapping on and on about the book over here on the blog as it's gone from little idea to full fledged manuscript and all spaces in between, but it really has been an incredible, educational, and downright enjoyable journey for me. I'm confident in this book, and I'm excited to see what the world thinks of it.

I last left off at the point of restructuring the order of my poems, which I spent a couple of days doing. The result was a four chapter piece, each chapter concentrating on a separate legend. The new structure, I think, is easier to follow. Instead of readers having to navigate these numerous different threads, we follow one to completion then begin another. Narrative. It's all about the narrative, creating that narrative of women. 

A few weeks ago, I was finally happy with how it looked and felt. I sent it off to Publisher and held my breath, momentarily doubting myself my writing. What if I just got lucky with Goddess? What if Publisher thinks this manuscript is too feminist? What if he hates it, and by proxy, me? I'm learning that as a writer, this voice, this fear, never really goes away.

But of course, those fears were unfounded. Actually, within TWO FREAKIN' HOURS, Publisher writes back saying that he loves it, he wants it, and that he doesn't often get poems as good as these. Yes. He said that. I read the email five times, then showed it to B and asked him, "does it really say what I think it says?" 

We celebrated with a few beers that night. I was (and still am) on cloud 9. 

Now comes the arduous task of waiting, and waiting, and waiting. Good thing I have plenty of projects to occupy my time, like planning my friend's book release party, a collaborative writing project with a local artist (more deets later!), and of course, getting ready for the upcoming semester (I was assigned a last minute creative writing class! Whoopie!). 

Anyway, it's been a lovely summer so far. I still have a few weeks left of it, so let's see what I can make of it!