I never know what my time at the coffee shop will bring. This day I had an impromptu trip and ended up journaling a little pep talk to myself.
If you’re interested in honing your writing skills outside of the traditional classroom you have a lot of options. I’ve been cobbling together my own DIY MFA curriculum over the past several years through a combination of reading craft books, taking online classes and in-person workshops, and attending writing conferences and retreats. My path has been less a strategic plan of attack and more a meandering exploration. It’s worked well for me, but I have some tips and thoughts to share that are useful even if you prefer a direct route.
I am deep into the trenches right now. The baby is eight months old, the big girl four-and-a-half. It’s winter. I don’t leave the house much. I don’t get much sleep. There is no time for reflection, considered thought, planning my writing life. But I am writing. 250 words a day. Whatever comes out. It doesn’t mean anything, doesn’t add up to anything. Not yet anyway. But here’s some from last week.
The hot breath of a teething baby. That smell, what is it? Raw, iron-ish, but not bloody. Metallic, vital. It makes me want to put my face right up next to hers, kiss her repeatedly while breathing in that life force. Four new teeth at once! I tell her she is doing a really good job.
I’m in the tail end of another 30 day writing challenge with this group I now refer to as my infrastructure. I’ve participated in these challenges in the past and enjoyed the camaraderie, focus and once had publishing success as a result. I don’t always hit my word count and sometimes miss a day, but I think about the writing in a more obsessive way, which I embrace.
“Being a doctor is hard. It’s harder for women.”
This is objectively true. They actually did a real scientific study. Because you know it isn’t true until someone puts a p value on it and calls it a statistic.
I am not sure whether it matters if it is “true” or not, or whether it is statistically significant or not. There will always be someone who argues against this. They will say being a doctor is hard for anyone who attempts it.
This is true.
This doesn’t mean, however, that there are not gradations of this thing, “hardness.”
I recently participated in an Oprah and Deepak 21 day meditation. I almost always sign up when they’re available because it’s free, they have a theme, and are generally limited to 20 minutes. Regardless of the topic there’s something within the theme that applies to me and I welcome the opportunity to change up my solitary meditation practice.
A string of a dozen four-year-olds paraded by the front of the coffee shop, chubby little hands grasping the rope connected by a teacher at each end. Some kids waved and smiled, one asked the teacher what we—the folks sitting at the open coffee shop window—were doing, but it was a little girl in the middle that caught my attention. She was in the center of the pack holding onto the rope just like all the other kids, but what made her stand out was that her eyes were closed. She had red, curly hair, and a tiny, knowing smile on her freckled face. She followed along, trusting the rope, trusting the teachers at either end, trusting the kids in front of and behind her. The pack moved slowly enough for me to see that she wasn’t peeking out from squinched eyes, she wasn’t glancing at the ground while trying to maintain the impression of trusting. In fact her eyes weren’t squeezed shut, they were simply closed. She looked…relaxed.
Writers and artists are all around us, y’all. In this case, Wendy Lym is a colleague and neighbor (her office is just down the hall from mine) at the community college where I teach. Since we’re also friends on social media, I learned that she won the Texas Observer’s 2017 short story contest with Muriel, and I knew I had to interview her about her off-campus life as a writer. Enjoy!
I didn’t keep a journal when my first daughter was born four years ago. For the first week, my partner and I kept a notebook recording details of feeds, nappy changes, and the odd piece of commentary: “Day 3: a no good, terrible, horrible, very bad day”; “Day 5: first parental fight, re dates.” Dates the dried fruit, or dates on a calendar? Four years later, I have no idea, and the notebook is no help. Soon after it stops altogether.
Later, I wished I had kept that notebook for longer, or even better, an actual journal recording my thoughts and feelings. Becoming a parent was momentous and life-changing, and not entirely positive. I ended up writing a book about it, and when I did, I had only unreliable memory to go off. I think I did okay at recounting the experience, but I wished I’d kept better records.