To My Health This Fall

Hi friends and family! Thanks for being patient all summer. Many of you were able to visit with me during the various months since my last blog (or maybe you’ve been seeing my FREQUENT social media updates….), so you’re a little caught up with how Chicago life has been lately. For those of you who weren’t able to, here’s your update (or for those that don’t care, you can skip to the numbered list because before that it’s literally like, me-centric and I feel kind of bad)

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back to the grind

I won’t bore you with the anecdotal week-by-week happenings. But I split my time between Texas and Chicago, naturally. I don’t miss Texas summers, that’s for sure. 98 in Chicago is not the same as 98 in Houston, and I know you know which one I prefer. I also took two family trips: one to Arkansas, as is tradition, and one to Oregon. I hadn’t been back to Oregon in nearly 7 years, so it was a great trip, both for the company and the scenery. Waterfalls were hiked to, Indie Bookstores were browsed, birthday parties were had.

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an incomplete past/present/future of my reading list

Now, I’m back in the Windy City for the time being! Classes started up today for Columbia – finally – so I’m back in the swing of things. But! There are quite a few new developments in my sphere, and I’m excited about all of them. Ready?

  1. First and foremost, I’m most excited about announcing the launch of our Literary Magazine Arcturus, a sister site to Chicago Review of Books, which you all know I contribute book reviews and interviews for. For Arcturus, I’m taking a bit larger role: I’m the Managing Editor, and I’m proud to get this magazine out into the world today! If you, or any of your friends, have place-themed writing (or art or comics!), send them over to the magazine to check out our Submissions Guidelines! We’d love to read/view your work!
  2. I accepted a job as a Graduate Ambassador for the Fiction Program at Columbia. What this means is I’ll be the go-to for incoming and prospective graduate students. I’ll also be updating a blog for Columbia called Marginalia where I’ll be doing similar writing to what I do here, except more specific to “Fiction MFA Life.” I’ve already been to a few events where I’ve met the incoming graduate students, and I think I’m gonna have a lot of fun being the Ambassador for the next two semesters.
  3. I guess these next things aren’t new, but I’ll be teaching again this Fall. A new course, however. Still Writing & Rhetoric, but a pre-requisite to the one I taught in the Spring. I think I’ll enjoy the change in material. Also, I’m taking a class called Literary Magazine Editing for a different literary magazine called Hotel Amerika.  It worked out that I’ll be taking a how-to class at the same time I’m running head-first into Arcturus, a fledgling journal that’s basically getting kicked from the nest and told to learn to fly on the way down. It’s not as harsh as that, but maybe just as thrilling…

MISC:
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  • For those of you that might have missed it, I got my first short story published this summer! If you care to check it out: “When You Leave”
  • I read the new Harry Potter book (thoughts are too plentiful to be in this blog). Would do many, many things to be able to see the play in London.
  • Spent the 4th of July at Wrigley Field, so THAT was the most American thing I’ve ever done
  • Went white-water rafting down a freezing cold river in Oregon and had one of the greatest days in my life doing it.
  • Hiked to a waterfall with my siblings during that same trip, also a memorable day, albeit with sore feet at the end
  • Read a book by a Chicago-local author and she was so thankful for my glowing review (it was well earned, I assure you) that she asked to meet up with me and it was a surreal and awesome experience.
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  • Was smitten with and then quickly disillusioned by Pokemon Go, as was the whole world.
  • Found out that Madison, WI and Portland, OR are very similar to Austin, TX and I am having serious questions about why I can’t live everywhere at once.
  • SPIRO AND I HAVE TICKETS TO SEE HAMILTON: THE MUSICAL IN CHICAGO IN OCTOBER AND I HAVE LITERALLY BEEN COUNTING DOWN THE DAYS UNTIL I GET TO GO (only 50 more)

Other than that, I’m still reading a lot (free time, for CHIRB, and for class), trying to enjoy the city before it gets too cold (though I’m not dreading the winter like most), and Spiro and I are doing our best to become “meal preppers”for the semester. Always good in theory, but practice might be a little harder…

I’ve got a lot of good vibes and energy going into this semester. Let’s hope I can sustain it!

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OH AND OF COURSE. The whole reason I’m here: writing. My goal was to have 100 pages of my thesis completed this summer. Now, I’m sure the grads above me are laughing, because I know *I* am. I set the bar pretty high, and yet I don’t consider it a failure that I didn’t reach it. I wrote two full stories this summer, and edited another a great deal. So, even though I only have about 75 pages, I call it a win. I still have three semesters left, after all. (Please, don’t comment on how fast it’s moving… I KNOW)

Here are bonus pictures for making it to the end of this blog; Spiro being cute with a dog, and a timely #tbt of Spiro and me as Ash and Misty back in high school (you’ll probably wanna click on it ….)

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The Plan is to Fan this Spark into a Flame

*if you know any of the Hamilton: the Musical soundtrack lyrics, this will be a much more interactive read

Last night, I finished my first year of Grad School.

What.

I looked back on my first post of this blog, “Genesis,” and here’s a little quote from past-Sara:

But you know what else comes after the euphoria? Fear.
Fear of failing. Fear of leaving. Fear of the unknown.
I am under the assumption that everyone I talk to is right, that I 
will have a fantastic time. That I will love it in Chicago. That I will do great things. 

And then, at the end, this is a reason I gave for keeping this blog:

Hopefully I can document how I overcame my fear and eventually became the wonderful, talented writer that everyone seems to believe I am.

Guess what? Past-Sara was right. She didn’t know it, she couldn’t even imagine it, but she was right.

Here I am, mid-May, and I have turned into a weepy, sentimental grad student who feels 50, not 23. The age thing probably comes from realizing how much I’ve gotten done and changed in just ten months. I look back at August and it’s like looking back over years and years worth of work and discoveries and progress.

In undergrad, I didn’t find my niche. I knew I loved writing, and I enjoyed and benefitted from the workshops I attended in college, as well as the guidance of professors and the advice of my fellow English majors. But it wasn’t a community I was actually part of. Even the literary journals, where I was on the editorial boards, felt like something I could put on my resume (which, trust me, look really good on the resume) rather than something I felt embraced by. I didn’t even explore the opportunities for publication – I didn’t know what those opportunities were. I was just writing stories, turning them in to my classes, getting feedback, and revising. Those stories then sat around, collecting dust.

Grad school is way cooler. I know I’ve talked about it a lot on this blog, but I think you’re supposed to talk a lot about something that changes your life. What I’m not sure about, is if people realize the life changing things while they’re changing their lives, or if it only becomes clear to them after they’re over. I think that’s one reason I’m so vocal about this program – I can see and feel the change, and I’m trying to document it while I’m in the moment.

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In August, I had a handful of stories but not a single publication to my name. Now, my Submittable page has way, way more rejections than acceptances, but you know how many rejections I had in August? None. Rejections mean work is getting sent out, but I wasn’t doing that before Columbia. I also have fiction forthcoming, an interview published, and I’m a contributor for two different websites. And I owe it all to this program.

I’m a big believer in one person making the biggest difference, and I’ve had dozens of people. At first I was so thankful for the little family I’d formed with my fellow fiction cohort. Then, as time went on, and I ventured forth from my familiar genre, I found the nonfiction and poetry cohort were also part of my family. We would go to social gatherings – readings, bars, house parties, shopping, museum viewings – and we would talk about everything. Not many of them are as into sports as I am, but I forgave them 😉 What we talk about makes up for it: books, authors, conventions, narrative, publishing opportunities, teaching nightmares, language, experimental forms we’re trying out, successes and failures. And that’s just in the literary world.

These people – my cohort – are my people. I can text a number of them a screen shot of Jennifer Egan praising Don DeLillo’s most recent work and know they’ll understand my disappointment; I can send a Facebook invite to them for a poetry reading next week and know most of them will at least consider attending; four out of five books I read in any given month are books lent/recommended to me by these people; they share my accomplishments and I share theirs. We are happy for each other, really happy. There’s a feeling – at least on my end – of an alliance. We’re all in this together, we all know what it feels like to create and submit, recreate and resubmit, fail and fail again. We love words and the power they hold.

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And then the teachers. Even as a writer, it’s hard to find the right words to explain what I’ve learned, how thankful I am, what they mean to me… so, maybe I won’t. Maybe my lack of words can speak more fully to their affect in my life.

The other day I was in my workshop class and I looked out the window behind one of my classmates. The window framed the Sears Tower standing tall and solid against the darkening sky, the rest of the city unfurling on either side of it. In the room, my classmate said something like, “Everything is about the futility of language,” and we kind of laughed, and I just sat there thinking Wow. Wow. 

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If you haven’t heard the “Hamilton” soundtrack, do it.

So it’s the end of Year One. There are things in the works for this summer, but this is not the blog to talk about those things. I’m not looking ahead right now. Right now, the view behind me is just so beautiful.

In Between the Seasons

Hello, WordPress. It’s been a minute, hasn’t it? But I’m here now! And I’ve got some news.

First, in the last blog, I mentioned school was about to start back up – specifically teaching. And start up it did. I wasn’t nervous going into the first day, despite the anxiety dreams. But I wasn’t sure what to expect, either. I only had so much time to prepare myself for being a teacher. But prepared or not, Jan. 25 arrived and I had to do it. The result? Let’s just say it could’ve gone worse. I’d give myself a solid B on Day 1. The kids were mostly attentive and present, and I was mostly on top of things. But I definitely learned some things, things that I would do much differently given a round 2.

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This was me on my first day…

Next semester, I’m teaching the prerequisite course to the one I’m teaching now, so it’s an entirely new curriculum and lesson plan. I’m hoping it’ll be a refreshing start, and hopefully I’ll put to use what I’ve learned from this class into that one.

As for my other courses, just like last semester, I’m loving them. It’s more reading and writing and then talking about what we’re reading and writing. We get to go to events where authors I love and admire read and answer questions. We’re given the opportunity to interact with these authors, write up reviews or interviews, and then pitch them to actual publishers with the hopes of getting them published. My teachers are smart and creative and invested in our success. My cohort are amazing, amazing, amazing (yeah, amazing x3, that’s right). When I say I’ve “found my people,” imagine one of those cute little animal movies where the main character is an outcast and spends a long time trying to find their home/herd, and then finally at the end they find where they belong and the swelling music plays and everyone cries happy tears. No, I’m not being dramatic, my life is like a Disney movie, ok??? The end, happily ever after!

Ok, speaking of these interactions with authors, I’m about to brag. Because I can’t keep a lid on things, I’m sure many of you already know about my chance to interview author Kelly Link last month when she was visiting Columbia. It started with my Arts Criticism class, where I was given an assignment to conduct a Q&A with an artist of some kind – any kind, really. And the instructions were just that I had to do it by a certain deadline. Via email, phone, face-to-face, whatever I preferred. I knew Kelly Link was coming to an event at Columbia, and I asked if I could get some time with her to do my interview. A few hours after I asked, it was granted. It was a surprisingly easy process to get it locked down, one that reminded me how lucky I am to be in a position where such opportunities are given if only you ask for them. (Lesson: ask! The worst that can happen is someone will tell you ‘no.’)

Anyways, I had a lovely, lovely first-ever interview with the wonderfully quirky Kelly Link. And I knocked out two birds with one stone; the interview met the requirements for the assignment, but I also – and here’s the exciting part – got to publish it. That’s right, The Chicago Review of Books picked up the interview and have agreed to publish it on their site in the coming weeks of April. It’s incredibly exciting for me, as I’ve never been published before, and a byline is like: woah, I made it. I know there’s the saying that goes “If you write, you’re a writer,” but legit print is always welcome validation. I’ll post a link to the interview when it goes live. In the meantime, check out the site. (Not to be confused with Chicago Book Review, another great site, but not the one my interview is being published by.)

Not only is CHIRB publishing the interview, they’re also going to let me work with them for future projects. This means possible features, book reviews, event recaps, etc. AKA, more bylines: the stepping stones to success. I get paid in free books (and bylines of course), so it’s like volunteer work, but hey, a job is a job in this world.

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Chicago, as seen from Spiro’s balcony on an average day

In the outside world, Chicago has been moody lately. We had a string of days in early March where it was sunny and 70 … and then three days later it was back in the 40s, with wind chills and gray skies. Gather that up and repeat it now: yesterday it was in the high 60s, sunny, a bit of a chill, but overall really beautiful. It all makes sense now, though: yesterday was April Fools Day, and today it is 30 degrees and there’s a raging snow storm outside my window. Chicago played the biggest trick on all of us: the weather. I guess this is what we get for having a mild winter: a longer winter. All my southern friends and family, please don’t rub it in. I miss the sun enough as it is.

12495142_3365582418377_2465682461172691202_nAs for the future: I’m planning on staying in Chicago for the summer, but not before a (possible, hopeful) road trip with some friends down to Texas once the semester ends. I have also applied to multiple jobs/internships/freelance gigs in the city, because teachers don’t teach in the summer. Pro: vacation. Con: no money. We will see how things pan out. IMG_6594

In the meantime, I’m just writing, and reading, and eating my way through Chicago. Currently I’m working on an essay about the differences between Texas and Chicago, both from my own experience, and from a cultural aspect. Again for a class, but also for posterity and the possibility of publication (boom, alliteration achieved).

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.

Turning a Profit

November is more than halfway over, and it’s been so fantastic I’m suspicious that I unknowingly made a deal with the devil.

Let’s recap, shall we?

First, even before November, Halloween in the city was a blast. There was hair dye and tree climbing and costumes and free nachos and inspirational train rides. [Spiro was a) Jack Frost, b) Smokin’ Jay Cutler — I was a) sexy firefighter and b) TopGun girl]

November 1st, Spiro and I made the trek to Soldier Field for our first ever NFL game to watch the Bears play the Vikings. That completed the trifecta of going to see Chicago sports teams play. Hawks, Bears, and Cubs. We’ve yet to see a Bulls game, but they weren’t a big priority. All in due time. The game was great – we had good seats and the weather was nice and even though we lost in the last 4 seconds, we still had fun.IMG_5295

The weekend of Nov. 13, Spiro and I flew home to Texas for the first time since moving here in August. It was an early birthday present for me, from him. Being back in Texas was strange enough, but being back in Conroe was even stranger. The city life is vastly different from the suburban life where I grew up. I’d forgotten about some stuff, even during the relatively short time I’d been away. The fact that there are trees everywhere! And going to bed without hearing sirens. And driving a car to get places. My siblings also all came home to complete the weekend. I missed them all, and it was so … comforting. We’re pretty different individually, but together we fit so perfectly. They’re some of my best friends. Flying back to Chicago on Monday was a tad bittersweet, but it was a decidedly perfect weekend. FullSizeRender-1

I had little time to catch up/get ahead on school work before this past weekend came racing upon us. Two friends from Texas – Connor, from UT, and Reagan, who we knew from Conroe, but goes to Notre Dame – came up for the weekend. It was easily one of the best weekends/birthdays I’ve ever had. There was pie and cider and SNOW and German alcohol in porcelain boots and waffles and broken elevator fiascos and missed flights and birthday madness. When they left on Sunday, there was a deep, bone-weary quiet that settled over us, and in the space they had taken up there was now a void. The high from their visit battled fiercely with the ache of their absence. FullSizeRender-2

Don’t worry – I’m still a grad student, so there’s naturally *work* to be done, too. All this good excludes a certain graduate class that has me stressing every week. I was discussing it with some classmates, and we realized that the entirety of our anxiety is coming from this one class – and it’s not even a creative writing one. Being prepped for teaching is a nightmare. I think this is the closest I’ve come to understanding how it feels to be bait-and-switched. Columbia lured me into their program with the promise of a fantastic program (which it IS) and a teaching position that pays (which I’ll GET), but what they failed to mention is that the teaching course to prepare me is soul-crushing and full of questions without answers and h.a.r.d. I know I just listed all the fun things I’ve gotten to do this month, but it’s the type of fun that is reserved for the weekends and even then there’s a little voice in my head telling me how far I’m falling behind in this class by having fun instead of working. I have a 10-15 page paper draft due next week, and I don’t even have a topic, let alone any interest whatsoever in it. Every time my cohort gathers for a party, or rides the train home together after class, we inevitably bring this class up and we’ve yet to talk about it positively. With the exception of these few weekends, my social life has all but gone into hibernation.

The other two classes I’m taking are great. I’m making a lot of progress with my creative work and feeling really inspired from my lit class. I’m registered for next semester, and I’m excited to see a lot of my friends are in the same classes as I am.

I’m still 7 books behind in my Goodreads challenge for the year. December might find me locked away in my room catching up on the pile I’ve been wanting to get to for months now. The closer the end of the year gets, the less faith I have that I’ll finish the goal. But I’m trying!

I’m not going home for Thanksgiving this year, the first time in my entire 23 years of life. It’s like this event I know is coming up in the future, but I keep pushing it out of mind because there will be enough sadness when it comes. It makes me feel old, really. Adult-life creeped up and boom, now I’m not spending Thanksgiving with my family because distance and money and responsibilities. Thank God FaceTime exists. Next thing they need to do is invent a way to teleport my grandmother’s broccoli casserole and creamed corn and chocolate pie. My mouth is watering just typing that…

So yeah, that’s life lately. People have started to ask me about updates recently so I figured I’d better go ahead and update the blog. There’s been a lot going on, as you can see. But there’s a lot more good than bad. I’m in the black – a reference to Black Friday, if you will. But the way it was intended, where the stores make a profit and don’t ruin the holiday season and people don’t get trampled.

Bring it, December.

P.S. I’m loving the snow. Yes I know I may “get sick of it.” But not yet. I love it. Don’t kill the happiness, people.

 

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me transfixed by snow

Long Distance Love Affair

I cannot count the number of times I’ve stood on a street corner, waiting to cross, looking up at the skyscrapers surrounding me, and thought of how much I have already fallen in love with Chicago. The sun can be setting, rising, slowly drifting over the skyline, hidden behind a dense blanket of gray clouds, it doesn’t matter. I’m amazed, struck, brought nearly to tears. Maybe I’m overly sentimental, but I think there’s something to be said about the beauty of this city.

It probably helps that I’ve met wonderful people and get to go to amazing events every week. And again, I’m extremely fortunate to have a family that continues to help out with my education and living arrangements, so the stress of bill paying is considerably lessened. And yet, I’m sure if I had a full-time job and hardly any time to myself, I’d be happy on that street corner, waiting to cross, just the same.

And now the conflict: how is it that a heart can fall in love, equally, with two different cities? I was -hashtag blessed- to have gone to school in Austin, to have had the wonderful college years running around, eating tacos, working in arguably the best bookstore in America, watching Texas sunsets, and hanging out in bars with some of the best friends. This past weekend, UT played our rival OU in Dallas, and we won. It was an amazing game, one I cheered on from a couch in the suburbs here in Chicago. My fellow alumni celebrated both at the game and on social media, and my heart ached for the camaraderie of Longhorns. As if that wasn’t enough, it was also weekend 2 of ACL. My youngest brother was there, and he lamented that he was in Austin the one year I wasn’t. Some of my close friends are still in school there, constantly telling both Spiro and myself how they miss us and wish we were there with them. And I remember standing on campus and looking up at the Tower and feeling the same love that I feel here in Chicago. I have twice as much love, but twice as much ache. And when I let myself be consumed by the love of one of them, I feel like I’m cheating on the other. It’s very complicated.

>>RELEVANT: Literally just overheard Spiro saying this to his mom on the phone, “Mom, I was in love with Austin. We were in a four year relationship. We recently broke up. And even though I found a new girl that I really like in Chicago, you can’t ask if I like her more. I’ve only known her for 2 months.”

S A M E. 

I’m probably feeling the ache for Texas a little more than the love of Chicago right now, and that’s because I did the math (rare, I know), and this is the longest I’ve ever gone without seeing my family. Like I said in my last blog, in Austin I could go home every month or so and see my parents, my younger sister, sometimes one of my brothers would be there. My dogs! My siblings are some of my best friends. And being home just has a feel of home, you know? But now, it’s been over two months, and I have another two to go before I’m home again. FaceTime is a God-send, yes. But technology is no substitute for physical nearness.

To sum up: I miss my family.

Ironically, my writing has been reflecting the opposite of my feelings. It’s funny. I’m kind of known for writing dark, somewhat depressing stories. It’s my “niche.” But the most recent story I submitted for workshop was light-hearted and sarcastic (hint: the character was based off Spiro 😉 ). I guess that’s strong proof for writing and fiction being an escape, yeah? Even stronger: the other story I’ve been working on has been extremely family oriented. Ha.

Let’s look on the bright side, though (since I’m always lauding my optimistic personality). I’ve made some great friends already in my program, even friends that are girls! And Spiro’s extended family has been so welcoming and comforting here in Chicago. Texas friends have been trying to make plans to come and visit. And most of all, I have Spiro with me. The support system is strong and I feel secure and less alone.

Some school updates: I got a story workshopped (see sarcastic, light-hearted description above). It went pretty well, and I have high hopes for the rest of the semester. My cohort is very intelligent and insightful and helpful. Then, my lit class: I have a paper due tomorrow, and I’ve spent two weeks working on it, which is more effort than I’ve put into a paper before. I also enjoyed writing this one, and the material and the direction I went.

Mars books that I wrote my paper on.
Mars related books that I wrote my paper on.

So that’s life thus far. It’s getting cooler by the day; I’ve put away all my shorts and I’m in the process of taking sweaters out of boxes and hanging them up for more frequent wear, because GET THIS, Chicago has seasons. The Cubs are in the playoffs (!!!) and Spiro and I are currently about to walk out the door to go to Wrigleyville and cheer them on in Game 3. It’s a pretty good life.

My Stable Axis

Music of the day: Mars, by Sleeping At Last

The most accurate representation of my time here in Chicago would have to be this picture (note the dates and times): Screen Shot 2015-09-25 at 1.49.00 PMI am taking full advantage of the food delivery service here, mostly because I’m busy and get hungry late at night. My excuse to my dad is: you don’t want me out at night anyways! This is my solution 😀

So, I have survived the first three weeks of classes! Here’s a run-down of what each one is like:

  • Tuesday nights: Ray Bradbury and the Dark Fantastic. This class is a seminar where, for “homework,” we read a lot of works by Bradbury, and then essentially go to class and talk about them. Which, if you know me at all, is like a dream come true. I’m the only first year in this class, which I guess is because most people take their seminars later in the program. But oh well. I’m loving it. I’m a big fan of the short story, and Bradbury was kind of a genius about it. Also, my professor is the official biographer of Bradbury, which means he spent 15 years getting to know him and has an infinite amount of insight and knowledge into his work and process. THIS IS VERY COOL. You ever have a story where you’re like “ok, but is she really dead?!” at the end? Yeah, my professor knows the answer to Bradbury’s stories. (Fahrenheit 451 readers: ever wonder if Clarisse died?)
  • Wednesday nights: Graduate Fiction Workshop I. This class is where all the writing gets done. In my program, I have 9 cohorts. And we’re all in this class together. So far, we’ve only been turning in short, 600 word pieces of writing that have come from a prompt. Our workshop has been minimal, but it’s been good stuff. And it’s at least making me produce work, even if it’s short. I have a full length story due this upcoming Wednesday. I have an idea, but I haven’t started writing yet, and I’m a bit nervous about leaving it until the last minute. Honestly I should be writing that instead of this blog. In due time…
  • Thursday noon: Graduate Student Instructor, Theory & Praxis. Hmm, what to say about this class. The short and sweet is that this class is preparing me to teach rhetoric and composition to a class of undergraduate students  next semester. The gritty part is that it’s freaking hard. And not necessarily in the way that I think math or science is hard. At least with those, there are answers. In GSI, it’s all abstract and vague and there isn’t one right answer, and I’ve read about 10, 20+ page articles so far that all say the same thing: we don’t know the right way to teach writing to first year students. And, ok, I get it. There’s no one right way to teach a kid how to express themselves in writing. But then we get into *what* is writing, really? And which parts do we teach? And do we introduce other modes, like images and videos and podcasts, because of the evolving culture? It’s all a big mess, to be honest. Hopefully, in the next 12 or so weeks, I’ll have enough confidence and knowledge that I won’t go into my classroom next semester and say, “Alright guys, I don’t know what I’m doing, please don’t hate me.”

And that’s it for my classes. I have them once a week, and then I have a four day weekend. It’s a pretty great schedule, actually. Except for the two classes being at night. Do you know how many sports games and TV shows I have to miss because of that? It’s killing my vibe… First world problems, right?

My dad was blown away with how much free time I have all week, and was saying I should get a job just for the sake of having something to do. And at first I agreed with him. But then I realized that all that free time isn’t actually free time. It’s time I have to be writing and reading and writing some more. It’s time that I have to travel into the Loop to get to class on time. It’s time that I have to go to readings and mingle with my cohort and professors. It’s time that I enjoy, but that is not, in any sense, free. So basically, no job for now.

I feel like I’m finally settled in. Like I’m orbiting the sun on a stable path. The sun being writing. The block I was struggling with over the summer was shattered once classes started, like I hoped it would. Being surrounded by people with the same passions as me was the water to my parched throat. I feel fueled and ready. This place is good for me.

For those of you interested in how Spiro is doing, I wish I could tell you, but he’s buried in textbooks worth of reading and cases and highlighters and notes, haha. We have been in serious need of a good coffee shop, and have yet to find one. We try to take Fridays to explore different parts of the city, and so far have found some really cool neighborhoods. Tomorrow, we’re going to a Cubs game. Living that Chicago life, I guess.

I’ve started to get a little homesick, though. For a lot of reasons. Whataburger, Blue Bell, real Mexican food, 24 hour coffee shops… oh, my family I guess 😉 And even if I were in Austin, maybe I wouldn’t have gone home to visit yet, but I would know that I could if I wanted. Right now, I’m realizing that I can’t go home for Thanksgiving, and so mid-December is looking really far away. I always spend the holidays with family, and it’s going to be a big shock this year when I can’t. Not to mention, Thanksgiving is probably my favorite one. But I’m looking forward to the snow and the weather, even though everyone is saying how awful it is.

This was kind of a boring post, I think.

Things to look forward to: writing this new story; Cubs game; Blackhawks game; The Martian premier; various author readings around town; National Coffee Day; sweater weather