The Snow is Whiter on This Side

So it’s 2016! There were many times over the winter break where I thought about some really great blog topics, but of course I didn’t write them down, so now I’ve forgotten. And now all you lovely readers will have to follow along with my ramblings.

First: it’s definitely cold in Chicago, for everyone that’s been asking. Today, my Lyft driver told me one time he breathed in too quickly when it was -20 out, and the air temporarily froze his lungs. HIS LUNGS FROZE. He couldn’t exhale right away. That’s probably the scariest story I’ve heard yet. Thankfully, I don’t think it’ll get that cold this year. KNOCK. ON. WOOD. It’s only snowed once since I’ve been back, too. But it’s sticking around and making walking a little trickier than usual. I’ll keep you guys updated on the state of my lungs, and all other vital organs.

I survived the semester! I not only survived, I made it out with flying colors and a job. I was quite sad to say goodbye to my two fun classes, and couldn’t say bye fast enough to the third. I promised myself that I was going to take a very well-deserved break from all grad work while I was home. So, I flew home mid-December, and spent much of my time sleeping and eating and being very lazy. I didn’t even read, even though I had a grand plan to. I did drink a lot though, haha. It was like I was this coiled bag of muscles and I was finally able to relax and let loose… But mostly, I was recovering. Both mentally and physically. See, my courses stressed me out so much, I actually reactivated the chicken pox virus inside my body. That’s right, I got shingles. And let me tell you, shingles SUCK. So for the third year in a row, I spent December being sick and taking antibiotics. I really don’t like this tradition.

Anyways, once I was virtually out of the woods, I spent a lot of time with my family and enjoying the things I missed about Texas. Texan pride is forever, and I felt it so strongly after being away. After the New Year, I thought I should probably take a peek at my lesson plans… but even the thought put me in a foul mood. So I put it off. I’m glad I did, because those 3 and a half weeks really gave me a good distance from the work that put such a strain on my life.

I spent a good amount of time talking to my aunts, uncles, and grandparents over the holidays about their lives when they were my age. I got some amazing stories from them, things they freaked out about as kids, but now look back on and laugh. I’m probably going to use a lot of that material for upcoming stories. It always gets me thinking about whose story it is to tell. Do I have the authority to write those memories, those characters? It’s fiction, yes, but there’s truth there, in a way. There’s always truth in fiction. I’m thinking about stating a collection of stories about family, so maybe these stories are the perfect starting point.

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Here’s my dad and his family in the 70s. He’s the first boy on the left.

Classes start up next Monday, the 25th. That’s also my first day of teaching. I’ve looked at my roster, and I have ACTUAL, REAL students, with names and majors and everything. Once I discovered that, I started having these anxiety dreams, where I didn’t know the answers to questions students had, and I mispronounced everyone’s name, or I came unprepared to class, with no lesson plan. Even when I’m not thinking about it, my subconscious is turning it over and over in my mind, using energy to make me worry. Everyone supportively tells me “You’ll do great!” and I really appreciate it. But honestly, I won’t know how I’ll do until I actually do it. I don’t expect to fail, but I’m not sure I’ll be great, either. Mostly, I’m curious to see if I’ll even enjoy it.

That’s it on the grad school front right now. I’ll probably have more once I get into a routine. Let’s back track a bit, though… I did some pretty cool stuff before classes wrapped up in December.

On December 3rd, Pulitzer Prize winner and National Book Award winner Adam Johnson came to speak/read at Columbia College. His book THE ORPHAN MASTER’S SON and his collection of short stories FORTUNE SMILES are both fantastic reads, and I recommend them to anyone and everyone (the former for people with quite a bit of time on their hands, the latter for those with not a lot). After his reading, which was lovely and entertaining and enlightening, I was honored and lucky enough to be able to go to dinner with him and a couple other graduate students in my program. Yes, that’s right, I sat right next to a literary celebrity and shared sushi with him that night. He’s a very gracious and humble human being, with plenty of advice and a sincere laugh. I learned about his process and his inspirations, was able to get a glimpse into his past and educational background, was touched by stories of his personal life — and at the end, I was amazed at how much he was just like me. He made sure our pictures with him were unique and definitely not blurry… he tailored our poses from what he knew about us. (I’m competitive and enjoy sports, so he challenged me to an arm wrestle. See below.) In 5, 10 years, I’m going to look back and smile at the memory of that night.

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Some of you might’ve seen this pic already – I’m kind of obsessed with it.

I look back even now and smile. But more than that, I revel in how fortunate I’ve been when it comes to literary giants in my life. My freshman year of college, I took a fiction workshop class with author Andrew Porter, who was featured at many bookstores with his novel IN BETWEEN DAYS. I didn’t realize it then, but his mentorship at such a young point in my life was vital. Nearly 4 years later, in my senior year at UT, I was taught by Elizabeth McCracken. The very semester I took her advanced workshop class, she won the Story Prize for her short story collection THUNDERSTRUCK. After I read it, I was absolutely blown away by the raw talent contained inside. If that wasn’t evidence enough, her insight and guidance were invaluable to me that semester. Her novel THE GIANT’S HOUSE was nominated for the same award that Adam Johnson won this year, the National Book Award for fiction, in 1996. Her tutelage is something I brag about to people to this day, regardless of if they know her work or not. She was that influential to me. And now Adam Johnson, who I only knew for one day, but from whom I learned a lot and whose dinner stories I can pretentiously share when someone asks me a cool fact about myself. I’m only 23 years old, and I’ve already been privileged to know and learn from these people. There are few things in life that I value more.

I just want to point out, by the way, that the Reading Series organized by a fellow fiction MFA candidate Courtney Zellars made the meeting with Adam Johnson possible. She’s a superhero. This Spring semester, we’re having another great round of authors come to the school, and one of them is Kelly Link, superb magical-realism writer of GET IN TROUBLE. I’m probably going to find a way to sneak into whatever restaurant she’s going to after her reading, because I’ve been a fan for quite a while. If only I’m so lucky…

LOOK! I avoided talking about my New Year’s Resolutions! That wasn’t so hard. Also, I apologize if this was a lengthy post — I had a lot to talk about, apparently.

It’s been under 10 degrees the past few days, so wish me luck as I brave the cold. Onwards and upwards.

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