Month: October 2015

Processing

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Last week, I experienced a lot of death.

Sorry if that was kind of an intense place to begin. Sorry if that’s not quite what you were expecting. But it wasn’t what I was expecting, either.

Although none were directly connected to me, the deaths did impact people in my inner circle, and, as a result, impacted me as well. This summer, I have found space within myself to open up much more readily with those around me. I have nurtured a growing sense of empathy and compassion, two qualities I believed to be beneficial.

Until last week.

There was something so personal about all of the losses. For two days, I allowed myself to be swallowed by grief, part of which was for souls I had never even met.

How could this happen? How could I be so distraught over a loss of something that was never mine?

It all had to do with my processing. I latched onto the sadness of each occasion and allowed my empathy and compassion to overflow to the point that it engulfed me. There was no separating myself from it, or so I thought.

For as long as there is life, there will be death. And, for those of us left behind, there will never be a good time for Death to take the ones we love. It’s a fact. It’s a heart-wrenching, blood-chilling, terrible fact. But, that’s the way it is.

So how do we process this? How do we cope with the things in life that are too devastating to handle? How do we pick ourselves up and move on.

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I’m going to be honest and say, I’m not quite sure.

For me, diving into a creative form helps. Be it writing or yoga, there is always a way in which you can introduce a new concept that shakes up your traditional form. Sometimes, being gentle with yourself in whatever activity feels right, will allow you to dig deep, unearthing words or movements you may not have thought possible. And sometimes, accessing those deep, quiet places is exactly what we need to begin to heal.

Throughout the summer, I have experienced so many varied events, some of them positive, some of them negative. Finding a way to incorporate the painful moments into my thesis is a challenge that I have chosen to accept. Because, life isn’t perfect. It can be beautiful and inspirational and so full of joy at times, but there is a dark to every light, a down to every up. And embracing the fullness of it all is part of what makes us whole.

It might not be easy, but it’s a good place to start.

This Week’s Inspiration:

For the Eyes: I’ve been learning Lightroom this week, which has meant a lot of increased screen time. When my eyes need a break, I take myself outside for a change of scenery, or I take a nap. Because that’s good for your eyes too, right?

For the Ears: Do you find yourself starting to speak before someone has finished their sentence? I’m definitely guilty of this. So, let’s be mindful together and actually listen to the people we are talking with. Maybe thinking of it as talking with instead of talking to will help.

For the Soul: “Forgive, not because someone deserves forgiveness, but because you deserve peace.” -Deepak Chopra.

Til next time, friends.

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Still Life of Girl with Computer

eleanor1One year ago, I boarded a plane and left the Pembroke College National-Writing Academy of Writing Summer Programme. I did so with a heavy heart, sad to be leaving the community and shared knowledge that my peers and I had created. I knew I would miss my friends. I knew I would miss my work-shopping group and the practicing authors that we met every week. I knew that even if I tried to come back the following year, I could never recreate the same experience.

What I did not know was that things would just get better. I did not know I would have the opportunity to workshop with an incredible fiction class upon returning to school. I did not know that the friends that I made in Cambridge and I would stay in touch, supporting each other as writers from our remote locations. And I certainly did not know that my pipe dream of writing a novel would become a reality.

This summer was a dream – and not in the terribly cliché the-character-was-asleep-the-whole-time sense. Working on my novel this summer was everything I wanted it to be. I have been trying to test my skills in a big way and I have proved to myself that I am capable of this kind of writing. Furthermore, I have really enjoyed it (although I am convinced that the first five minutes of sitting down to write does not get easier).

When I left Cambridge a year ago, I had four short stories in my pocket. I was proud of one of them. And looking back, that one still needs work. I am sure in five or ten years, I will look back on my novel and think the same thing. As P.G. Wodehouse wrote, “An author who expects results from a first novel is in a position similar to that of a man who drops a rose petal down the Grand Canyon of Arizona and listens for the echo.” I am trying my best to listen for the echo, but what is important to me is that the next novel, or the novel after that will be progress on progress and that I will get better with each word that I put down on the page.

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I am not where I want to be yet and I am really enjoying the journey. The first short story I wrote, when I was five, was about two princesses protecting their castle from an evil witch (original, right?). I used an Illustory, a kit for children to write and illustrate stories, to publish it in hard cover. Today, I’m halfway through my first novel. I have grown so much from that first princess story, and even more so in the last year.

This summer my fellowship has shown me that I can write, that I can write a novel, that I can balance many other things in my daily routine. It has shown me what free time means and taught me to relax in it. I have learned to be kind to myself on days when writing is hard and to push forward through creative challenges. This time spent writing my thesis was a gift that I am so thankful for. I wish it would go on forever…but then, what would I write about?

On Guidance

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“I am so happy to have a mentor.” This was the thought that came to the forefront of my mind, as I sat, meeting with my advisor, Jane Bernstein. It was a warm afternoon, and with light pouring in through her office window, the whole world just felt right.

While my very free summer months allowed me to grow as a creative in so many ways, it is immeasurably comfortable to be able to sink into deep discussion with someone who is much more experienced in the ways of writing. To have a mentor who is familiar with your past work, understanding of your current work, and enthusiastic about your future, is something that has re-ignited my own passion for this project.

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And, the beauty of mentorship, is that it doesn’t just help in academics. This week one of my yoga teachers cued the class into a headstand in a way that I had never tried before. The whole sensation was thrilling and somewhat daunting at first, but with her careful and clear instruction, I was able to dabble with an inversion.

In work and life, it is so necessary to have that someone (or many someones) who can give you advice and ease you into a newer, stronger place. Whether we are still in school or working full time, we can always be students, learning from those around us who inspire us with their own ways of being.

I’m ecstatic to have Jane on my team as I continue to grow my thesis this semester. As of right now, I will continue to produce work, keeping in mind certain aspects of my writing that are especially effective, and letting go of those tactics that tend to weigh down my writing and distance my readers.

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One of the first comments Jane gave me was to “be in my body” while I tell these little life slices. I honestly could not think of a more perfect comment to receive. After all, this whole summer, I feel that I have been working to be more present, to feel each moment, and to savor every breath.

So, now it’s time to flex that muscle and let that life experience wash more readily into the vignettes I am writing. It’s such a joy and a pleasure to be able to bring my professional and personal lives together in this way. I’m so excited to see the quality of my work improve as the time passes. I’m just excited, I think, for this entire year.

This Week’s Inspiration:

For the Eyes: Have you been noticing the way the sun looks a little more golden, a little more autumnal? I love seeing beautiful transitions that take place this time of year.

For the Ears: My yoga teacher played her harmonium in class today and it actually made my day. If you’ve never heard of this instrument before (I hadn’t either!), you should definitely check it out.

For the Soul: “The world is changed by your example, not by your opinion.” ~Paulo Coelho

Til next time, friends.

The Three Little Pigs

“Have you thought of an ending?”

“Yes, several, and all are dark and unpleasant.”

“Oh, that won’t do! Books ought to have good endings. How would this do: and they all settled down and lived together happily ever after?”

“It will do well, if it ever came to that.”

“Ah! And where will they live? That’s what I often wonder.”

J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

Hello friends,

As I near the final pages of my first draft, I have been wrestling with the issue of endings. I often feel like I view my ideas for an ending with the personas of the three little pigs; this one is too happy, this one too sad, this one too cliché. None are just right. I know what my ending should not be, but I lack the knowledge of what it should be. Two-hundred plus pages into my novel, I wished I knew exactly how the story would end.

I realize that in my fear of writing something so important, the ending to my first novel, I reverted back to doing what I do best, planning and focusing on plot. It wasn’t working because I had been using an entirely different style for writing the rest of the novel. I had to put my faith back in the characters and the world that I have spent the last half of the year building, brick by brick.

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Inspiration came from an unexpected place. I recently had the opportunity to see The Moth at the Rex Theatre. The Moth is an NPR sponsored event of slam stories. I had a wonderful time listening to the participants’ experiences and how they related to the theme of the month “Guts.” Reflecting on the stories I saw there, I have decided on two things that I will use to guide my characters to the end of this particular story.

The first thing I have realized is that the main character must have agency in the ending. She must be the one to cause the events that end the story or it will feel unrealistic. The second thing that I realized was that the main character has to grow internally as a result of the rest of the story. Regardless of the plot in the story, the thing that would make the story satisfying at the end was whether or not the character had changed in order to overcome the situations she experienced

With that in mind, I am ready to charge forward in the creation of an ending to my novel. I hope it will be just right.

If My Thesis is a Music Festival…

I guess I’ve just woken up on Day Two. But if I’m going to run with this analogy, and I promise I am, let me backtrack a little and explain how preparing for our end of summer presentations led me to the grand realization that my entire life is, in fact, a music festival (…or something like that).

As I set out to write this latest post recapping my work this summer, I immediately thought that the presentations felt like the finale of a concert. But when I considered that the huge task of actually writing my thesis still looms ahead of me, the work left to do felt like much more than just an encore. Bearing in mind that my entire summer has been spent thinking almost exclusively about music festivals, it took me an embarrassing length of time to see that the presentations were a finale…just not the Final finale. The thesis is more like a two-night engagement…no wait, it’s a festival! Once I equated a few key events from festivals to moments in my summer experience, I would never see the experience on different terms again. Undergoing the “festival experience” sends me through a series of emotions, reactions, and mindsets. Interestingly, undergoing the “thesis experience” has sent me through the stages in much the same way.

I expect finishing my thesis will feel at least a little bit like looking out at a crowd like this one from the One Direction concert...Historians are rock stars too, right??

I expect finishing my thesis will feel at least a little bit like looking out at a crowd like this one from the One Direction concert…Historians are rock stars too, right??

Deciding to write a thesis and apply for the Dietrich Honors Fellowship Program felt much like deciding to attend a festival. Sure I wanted to do it, but sitting there ready to pull the plug on that high ticket price (read: countless hours and notes and revisions) inflicted a sense of worry. Would the end result be worth its cost? Would I be able to get the logistics in place to have a successful experience? Who would I get to sign up for this madness with me? While the jury’s still out on that first question (all evidence points to a huge yes), the rest of my worries were quickly assuaged by support from the program and my advisor Judith, as well as friends and family (like those of you reading my posts!).

Getting started then parallels packing: which tools will I need? Should I read this book or these articles? How much is too much? Where will I keep all of my stuff? How do I decide what’s important? Is there such a thing as too many “essentials”? What happens when it rains (an essential problem to plan for both here in Pittsburgh and out at festivals)? Much of my summer has gone to working on these questions. I’ve narrowed definitions, developed and adapted theoretical frameworks, taken field notes and book notes, made a plan of attack, and tried to think of everything.

Day One at a festival is full of a lot of emotions. Relief as you finally get into place (reminiscent of my first research breakthrough which I was excited enough to tweet about), excitement of entering the grounds (like finally situating my notes into frameworks offered by anthropologists), the rush of those first sets and sights and sounds (I’ll be honest and equate those to the actual festival attendance part of this amazing summer), and the reluctance to see the day end (stemming here from knowledge that everything kicks up a notch during the semester, and that I have so much more to do).

With presenting my work-in-progress at the end of the summer feeling like laying awake in my festival tent rehashing the day, this first month of classes had felt like waking up on Day Two: I find myself a little tired, vaguely anxious, and especially excited.

Here's what Day Two looks like in festival terms from Flood City, my last festival of the summer!

Here’s what Day Two looks like in festival terms from Flood City, my last festival of the summer!

And while this lengthy explanation simplifies and glamorizes what has been a varied summer experience, I know the rest of ‘Geneva’s Thesis’ Music and Arts Festival (a working event name, I’m open to suggestions) will continue to show me a memorable time. Thanks for reading through all the parenthesis and bearing with my thinly-stretched analogy. I’ll be back soon to tell you about how Day Two progresses.

Until next time, thanks for reading!