Monday, July 31, 2017

Shifting Gears

New Life, New Places, New Projects

Sooo . . . a frickin' lot has changed since we last chatted.

For one, I'm not, by address, a New Englander anymore. I now live in the very hot, fairly southern state of North Carolina with the Loved One (all writers need cheesy nicknames for their spouses, don't they?). We have our own, small house, where -- unemployed, introverted, heat-wary -- I'm currently spending a LOT of afternoons in solitude. We're busy adjusting to cohabitating married life, to adulting, and to my jarring transition from an 8-person household to a 2-person household. We're contemplating getting a dog.
One of many scenic sites from the New England - South East trek.
Location: Blue Ridge Parkway, somewhere in Virginia.
Second, while my marriage has gone from long-distance to full-residency (ha), my MFA adventures have now shifted to entirely to the internet -- a feat made possible by the fact that the only classes I have left are my thesis and one online independent study. You could say that I'm the MFA program's first and only low-residency student! At any rate, my professors' predictions were right: those two years at SCSU went by appallingly fast. I regret not updating the blog more frequently about my time there, as it's hard to summarize everything I've learned and achieved through that experience. Hopefully I can share many of those lessons in future posts, but for now I'll say that I don't regret one moment spent in that program, and I am indebted to SCSU's writing faculty and community for their excellence and constant support.

Third, briefly acknowledged but not emphasized enough in my last post: I finally, finally, FINALLY have a thesis project underway, and I'm so damn EXCITED about it. (*Insert confetti and kazoo-sounds.*) But seriously, after almost two years of agonizing, having absolutely no ideas or spark of inspiration for a novel-sized project, I'm still stunned by how this story came crashing into my life, out of the blue, only six months ago.

Well, not entirely out of the blue, I suppose.

I don't want to spoil the plot or speak too freely on its origin, but suffice to say that this story is inspired by true events, and has hovered over me, blurry and distant, for some years. The possibility of turning it all into a book had crossed my mind, but I never felt like it was my story to tell; it was too big and too dark, and so utterly alien to anything I've ever written. But six months ago, it stopped suggesting itself quietly to me and starting yelling, demanding. Some writers talk about stories that "take on a life of their own," and while I abhor clich├ęs, and like to believe that the artist is ultimately master of his own art and not the other way around, I have to admit: this idea has had a staggering presence. No idea has ever demanded so much of me, pulling me far outside my usual style, ambitions, and comfort zone, almost as though I have no say in the matter.
I've written some chapters for workshop, and as dramatic as it sounds, the project has altered my entire fiction-writing process. A lifelong polish-as-I-go writer, I've found myself now writing first drafts that -- surprise! -- really do look like first drafts. (If that sounds like a bad thing, you may want to check out my previous posts about the downsides of perfectionist writing.) I find myself taking risks I'd normally never take, such as sacrificing compelling prose for compelling plot, at least in the drafting stages. As one of my professors put it, I've gone from writing "neatly" to writing "messily" -- and, lo and behold, the feedback is positive thus far. Is it all a joy-ride? No. Does "messy" mean I'm able to write stress-free and effort-free now? Hell no. But it is flabbergastingly interesting to see a project able to defy my own inhibitions and perfectionism, all because its content is more important than my aesthetic.

At any rate, I'm excited, nervous, and pleasantly confused to see where this novel takes me.

Other news? A lighter school load and temporary unemployment means, I hope, an abundance of writing time, and a new home means I have a new cozy office to write in. (View below. Much proud.) See that cushy wall-to-wall carpet? Perfect for shoe-less pacing, or lying on the floor for a better thinking-position. See those windows? Good for gazing at trees, or spying on neighbors, or at the very least letting in natural light to allay seasonal depression. Also, bookshelves: meticulously arranged with a personalized revision of the Dewey Decimal System, because I'm geeky like that and I can. And the mysterious reflective bench in the left-hand corner belongs to my Baldwin home organ (view subsequent photo). You know, in case I need a break from stressing over just one artistic pursuit.
Muh writer-cave.
 Well folks, such are my new digs and happenings. I've designed a weekly schedule of rigorous reading and writing for myself (we'll see how well I enforce it), so with luck blog updates should be more frequent and more interesting now. Thank you to everyone who, God knows why, continues to read my work and support my writing from afar. With the relative solitude of living in a new place, it really helps me to feel connected to people in that way. So, much obliged.

Grace and peace to you.

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