Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Still I Rise.

Celebrating the third semester residency with a new class name and Vermont maple creemee.

I've meant to write about my VCFA experience at least once a semester . . . and yeah. A year later, I've only blogged about my first residency.

Instead of backtracking to share last winter semester, I'll skip it for now and write about this past July, my third residency. Even though I don't blog very often, I want to capture some of my feelings about grad school before *poof* another year flies by and suddenly -- I'm graduating.

I can actually feel it now, graduation. It's at my fingertips and in every word I type. I can't believe that only a year ago, I was starting school and the graduating class this residency was beginning their third semester.

Adrienne Kisner, Brendan Reichs and I all wore black when we helped Ally Condie with her graduate lecture on death. I'm going to miss these graduates!
I've already completed a draft of my critical thesis -- thirty pages of a subject that is personal and dear to me. Can I tell you something? I love, love, love school. Even if it sometimes kills me.

When started the MFA program, I knew I was going to grow was a writer. I wasn't aware of how much. My workshop leaders and advisors have helped me reach, deep inside myself. I've pulled out words I didn't know existed.

With David Gill, Melanie Jacobson, Jenilyn Tolley, Alison Randall, Rachel Stones.
After a trip for ice cream (a.k.a. my happy food of choice)
This art has seeped into others areas of my life. Yes, I'm a better writer than I was a year before. I think also I'm a stronger person, too.

People talk all the time about the magic of VCFA in the Writing for Children and Young Adults program. I caught a glimpse of it last July and feel so lucky it continues to work it's power on me today.

During this summer residency, something happened that changed me forever:

I had to rise.

I was picked to do a reading in front of the school. It was the most horrible, terrifying thing that I have never wanted to do. Oh, the fear and self-doubt that accompanied me during those ten days in Vermont! This July, they were my ever present companions.

A sneaky photo taken. Can you see the hesitation in my face?


For my reading, I had to write something humorous and share it with the people who I respect the most. My classmates, the faculty, all these amazing writers -- they were all expecting to laugh.


There was one small problem: I'm not funny.

(Or at least, I didn't think I was.)

At the time, getting selected wasn't an honor. It felt more like, the biggest joke on campus. I was going to fail and die a miserable graduate school death. In front of everyone I admired. Oh VCFA, why must you always push me to the brink?

Like everyone, I have fears. I keep a running checklist in my head of all the things I am scared of.  Fear can paralyze me. It can whisper lies, snake around my heart and squeeze out my last bit of confidence till I forget all the victories and only see failures.
Speaking of fears, these were seen around campus.
I've had it with these motherf*@#ing snakes on this motherf*@#ing plane! (or VCFA)

Since I've been at school, I've developed muscle to wrestle away this fear. Mainly because it pops up every month around my packet deadline. I've learned to look it right in it's beady little eyes and say, "GO AWAY. I'M NOT AFRIAD."

I face it, stay firm, and it leaves. Sometimes it works right away, sometime I have to eat a lot of chocolate chip cookies. Or cupcakes.

If you follow me on Instagram, you'll notice I stress bake. A lot. 

No matter how many times I feel like this will be packet to undo me, remarkably, I will pulled it together before the due date. Last semester, I turned in my assignments hours before deadline (true magic).

Whenever I hit "send," bravery replaces the fear. I've hit the send button elven times now. I've turned in hundreds of pages of creative writing. Ten essays. One critical thesis and read over 100 children's books in the course of a year. Writing has given me the strength to overcome.

Except, when I was asked to do this reading.

I wasn't expecting to have to write something and share it with anyone during residency. Like I do every month when my homework is due, I said to my fear: "GO AWAY. I'M NOT AFRIAD."

"Dispose of all plastic SNAKES put out over residency."

When the time came for me to read, I stepped up and did it. Wobbly legs, shaking voice and all.

After my reading, I felt like my life ended. I felt so exposed. I hid. In my dorm room, I called my husband and cried. I told him of all my self doubt, the anxiety, the feeling of embarrassment.

Allison Ritchie, Marianne Murphy and I. Deliriously funny women.

"Go down to the Wine Pit and socialize," my husband said. "I'm sure it wasn't as bad as you think."

"No. It was worse."

He listened and encouraged me to venture out. I said I would, turned on some LCD Soundsystem for motivation and left my room. In the hallway lounge, I bumped into friends. We talked about my reading, hunting for ghost and I realized it wasn't as terrible as fear had me think. *Poof* my feelings of failure left. I needed to get out of my head and into the hall to remember my victory. I did it.

I rose.

Since I've been home, I've been studying a lot of poetry. Maya Angelou has really spoken to me. Almost, in a really creepy way. I was reading her book at the library and came across this poem:



Thanks for another great residency, VCFA. Only one packet in, and I can't wait to see what the magic does during these next five months.

I'll end with a few lines from Maya Angelou's poem, Still I Rise. It's my fight song to fear, and it's stupid nagging presence.
You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.


Monday, July 25, 2016

The Magic of VCFA.



I did something awesome for myself this summer. I started the Masters of Fine Arts program for Writing for Children and Young Adults at the Vermont College of Fine Arts.

I've had many friends ask about my graduate school experience, so I thought I'd write a blog post.

Note: My photos capture the fun, social aspect of VCFA. It's not an accurate depiction. Lots of learning + self evaluation + being away from home = one crazy Veeda.


Back to the fun part.

Most students stay in the dorms. Eat in the school cafeteria. Yes, it's hard to share a hall bathroom. Yes, the food gets tiresome. Yes. Living in a dorm.

BUT . . . there is something invigorating about a casual hello to a classmate on your way to brush your teeth turning into twenty minutes of deep observation on a lecture that inspires you both. And you forget why you are holding a toothbrush and where the 2nd floor restroom is.

Eating in the same dining hall as everyone in the program was one of my highlights. Not necessarily the food, but the good company. The faculty and students all dine together and the informal setting leads to really good conversation.

Each class has a name. School pride in the dorm rooms, right here. 

I even sat at the same table with visiting writers April Pulley Sayre (so much poetry in her writing. In a nonfiction picture book about vultures!) and Maggie Stiefvater (super cool with her tarot card readings at lunch).


Bringing home these April Pulley Sayre books for my kids. 

Fan girling over Maggie Stiefvater. Her book, The Scorpio Races, brought back my love of horses. 


I appreciate how most people didn't bring up the publishing industry during residency. So often in writer's conferences, I feel like the first things you are asked are: Who's your agent? What books have you published? Are you even worth talking too?

Dinner in town with some of my classmates. I super heart them all.

I didn't feel this comparison at VCFA. There are several authors with books out and many more with agents. These milestones aren't the things that identify them. We are all at school to learn about writing. This similarity is bonding enough.

Montpelier, Vermont is straight up Stars Hallow.

There were times when my brain felt like it was going to exploded. Sooooo much thinking. I needed a mental break. I took several trips into town. It helps. Montpelier is charming and lovely and it's like walking into the world of the Gilmore Girls.

New England homes, you kill me.

Or possibly, a J.K. Rowling novel.



Leaving campus for ice cream always helps, too.




There was one point during my residency when I was feeling all the feels and thought I couldn't make it to another lecture, or face another person. I missed my family. What am I doing, so far away from my children? What am I doing, so far way from the writer I want to be?



I went back to my dorm room and did something I do to get me in better spirits back home. I turned the volume up on my phone, and had my own private dance party.


This song ALWAYS gets me going.


Yes, it really works. After five minutes and forty three seconds of shaking it off, I was out the door again. Speaking of dance parties, VCFA knows how to have a good one. Towards the end of our time, we have a dance to celebrate the graduating class.


DJ Yamile bringing down the house with visiting faculty DJ Daniel Jose Older.

Children's book writers are young at heart. We know how to dress up and get down, get down.

A Midsummer's Night Dream meets Steampunk, and it's a beautiful thing.

Even after the dancing hangover, the next day we are right back to work. Another highlight? The experiencing of finding out your upcoming semester advisor. The list is posted on a bulletin board in College Hall and it's one crazy exciting evening.

The sorting hat does it's magic.
During my ten days at VCFA, I:

- wrote a poem for the first time since 7th grade

- was inspired to be a voice for diversity in children's literature

- Started a writer's journal and didn't make it too precious to use

- believed in my voice

 and

- made life long friends.

Thanks, VCFA. I'm so excited to be apart of this family.

Celebrating the completion of our 1st VCFA residency. Ice cream all around.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

YALLWEST Recap.


Last weekend I took a road trip with some author friends down to Santa Monica for the YALLWEST book festival. It was a great experience.

My favorite? Being around kids who absolutely love to read. Talking to them was the highlight of the trip.

Made friends with these beautiful girls in line -- with shirts and tote bags they illustrated themselves!

On our car ride to California, each of us made a goal of what we wanted to accomplish during our time at YALLWEST. My friend, Erin Summerill, has her debut coming out this December. She made a measurable goal to pass out 30 bookmarks. Erin accomplished the goal and handed out even more -- I was so proud of her!

While we stood in line, Erin handed out bookmarks for Ever The Hunted and chatted up everyone standing near us. It was so special to see these young readers light up when they knew they were standing next to an author

A lot of them asked Erin to sign their bookmarks, and even wanted a photo with her. I think she was a little embarrassed -- but it was inspiring to see her grassroots effort and talk about her upcoming book. 


An Advance Reader copy, or ARC, of Erin's Book. I heart this cover (and the story too).


The panels were also really great. I felt the power of female friendships in writing at this breakout with Sarah McCarry, Brandy Colbert, Holly Black, Kody Kiplinger, Tamara Ireland Stone and Robin Benway. It was fun to hear them talk and laugh with each other.



 I picked up a lot of ARCs (Advance Reader Copies) and I'm most excited to read these two:


I also had Nicola Yoon sign my copy of Everything, Everything. I cannot stop talking about how much this book. It is EVERYTHING. It's one of my favorite reads this year. Nicola is so lovely and I'm excited for her upcoming book.



Ok, I lied. My favorite part of my weekend is hanging out with my friends who love writing. We talked for 10 + hours in the car about books we love, things that inspire us, the crazy highs and lows of  the publishing industry -- and still felt we had more to say.

Also, the beach. Oh, Pacific Ocean. How much I love you. I loved the sunshine and the soft sand and dipping my toes that glorious water. It refreshed my soul.

I'm so glad to be home and sleep in my own bed, but I'd go again in a heartbeat. Xo




Monday, February 15, 2016

Get up, Get up.

Trying to convince myself I'm having fun.

This winter season, I went skiing for the first time in ten years. I used to go all the time in college. I used to be pretty good. Then, life and motherhood happened.

Fast forward one decade. I'm standing at the top of the beginner slope, scared all over again.

My first run was awful. Torture. I kept falling. On my butt, on my face. I was so tired. My legs ached, my lungs burned and the last thing I wanted to do was get up and try again. 

Unfortunately, I had too. How else was I going to get down? (I contemplated taking my skis off and walking down the hill, but pride wouldn't let me do that.)

Eventually, I made it to the bottom. I encouraged my sister and brother-in-law to go again without me. Even though I completed the run, I felt defeated. As caught my breath, a few thoughts ran through my head.

1) I am an old lady.

2) I tried skiing. I don't have to do it again. But . . . 

3) . . . . if I don't try again, I won't know what will happen if I get back up.


When my sister came back to get me, she asked if I was finished for the day.

"No," I said, shoulders back. Head high. "I'm going to try again."

Gulp.

This time down the slope, I took my time. I leaned into my turns, felt the snow beneath my feetStay away, fear. My legs remembered how to move, my lungs remembered how to breath. The rush of adrenaline and wind whipped through me and then it happened: I felt brave.

Shame was replaced by the joyous sunshine of accomplishment. And guess what? For the rest of my skiing time, I had fun.

I fell. 
I got up. 
I tried again. 
It hurt like heck, but I did it.

My writing process has been a lot like this skiing experience. I've stumbled so many times. It's been painful experience. Querying is miserable, pure mountain climbing torture. A struggle I've wanted to throw my skis at.

However--

I know giving up is not the way to get down this hill. Brush off the snow and try again.
To feel the wind kiss my face and and the thrill of the ride pump blood in my veins?
So very worth it. Let's get back up.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Favorite Reads 2015.

Blogging is hard. I like reading and writing more. Here are a few of my favorite reads lately.


We Are Not Ourselves by Matthew Thomas

It's about Irish Americans. A multigenerational family. The slow, heartbreaking unravel of Alzheimer's disease. It's so devastatingly moving. After I finished it, I was still thinking about for days. Weeks. Months.

I still think about it.

This adult book and debut novel is the first book that comes to mind when asked for a book recommendation. (Mature content and language.)





To All the Boys I've Loved Before by Jenny Han

I heart this Young Adult book so much. Not just because it's about sisters or first loves or because the main character is Korean American (yay for diversity!). It's funny. Quirky. Thoughtful and sad. This is the book I want to share with my younger sisters -- and pretty much every woman, every person -- in the world. Sequel out in May 2015.







The Matched series by Ally Condie

I read all three books in one binge week and I can't believe it took me so long to pick them up. It's dystopian YA, and I love the poetic writing, the strong characters, the complex world. It's about following your own path and staying true to yourself. My only regret is that I didn't read them years ago.







What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty

This adult novel was my selection for book club last month. It opens with spin class. Falls into amnesia, divorce, death and the sticky, complicated mess that is love and marriage.

It reads as easy as a summer beach selection, but there's depth and beauty that makes for great book club discussion.

I made Thomas Keller's lemon meringue bars to go with the book's theme, I think both the treat and book were a hit (Yay for Thomas Keller and book club!).





Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell

Another YA book with Asian American characters! My heart is happy. Especially with the cool '80s music. Punk rock love. It's brave and real and mortifying and hopeful. (Mature content and language.)

xo and happy reading. :)


Monday, September 29, 2014

How the 'Gilmore Girls' Saved Me From Depression.

Images from "Gilmore Girls" Season 5, episode 7, "You Jump, I Jump, Jack."

There was a point in my life when getting out of bed seemed impossible. Besides the crippling nausea that comes with 1st trimester morning sickness, I began to feel the loss of my mother who passed away a few months earlier.

It was a strange and beautiful time. I was a newlywed. Married life was just as wonderful and tumultuous as people said it would be. I was a first time mom, a growing baby and pregnancy hormones were a package deal.

My husband was in graduate school and I worked the late shift as a newspaper copy editor. Driving home around midnight, I often felt the need to comfort my stress with the consumption of (fill in the blank) ______________ a) Wendy's Chocolate Frosty b) Nachos Bell Grande from Taco Bell or c) Cheetos. I once had a dream that I gave birth to a bright-orange baby, with skin coated with powdery cheese. I cut back on Cheetos after that.

With my late night schedule and pregnancy weariness, I woke up for breakfast around the time most people sat down to lunch. One sleepy morning, I vaguely remembered my husband's goodbye kiss. Wide awake, I did nothing but stare at the soft green walls of my bedroom.

Depression wrapped around me like a blanket. Its thick, darks layer covered up any light. Hours crept by. Then, I had a thought: 'Gilmore Girls' will be on soon.


I blinked. I liked that Rory Gilmore, budding journalist.

The daily syndicated reruns came on at noon, right around the time I was having my first meal of the day. With my morning meal of ice cream or leftover Chinese, I found myself being drawn into the magical world of Stars Hollow.

Slowly, I sat up. One foot in front of the other, I shuffled past the confines of my room. Watched my show. Ate my meal. Went to work. The next day, same thing happened.

Wake up to bleakness. 
Remembered the "Gilmore Girls."
Get out of bed.

Over the coming months, my heart -- along with my expanding belly -- started to fill. I cried when Rory dedicated her high school graduation speech to her mother, Lorelai. When Lane and David kissed for the first time to the background track of David Bowie, my numbness melted.

My obsession for this comedy/drama became so intact that not only did it get me out of bed everyday, but I looked forward to it while in labor. With no real comprehension of what my next few hours would be like, I got excited when I saw a TV in the delivery room.

Clutching my husband's hand, I gasped. "It's Tuesday night, 'Gilmore Girls' is on at seven!"

I missed the show that night (turns out, having a baby is hard work), but my husband gifted me with a few seasons of "Gilmore Girls" on DVD. I watched my show. Nursed my baby. Recovered from childbirth. The next day, the same thing happened.

Feed my daughter.
"Gilmore Girls" time.
Get out of bed.

Now a days, my alarm clock goes off much earlier. I no longer work at night, although teething babies and sick kids still keep me up.  My children fill me to completion. When I think of my mother, I see her in them.

This Wednesday, October 1st, all seven seasons of the "Gilmore Girls" will be available on Netflix.  I'm among the many, buzzing with excitement and counting down the day when I will be reunited with the show once again. For me, this day will be a celebration. A chance to give thanks to television show that, once upon a time, gave me something to wake up for.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Sisters.

I wrote a post about motherhood and sisters awhile ago and forgot to link it. You can read it here.