A few weeks ago a friend and his wife invited my husband and me to a tour of the Frederick Olmsted House in Brookline. We hadn’t seen this couple in a long time so it was nice to reconnect. We scored on getting a park ranger who knows his stuff and is passionate about his job. Before touring the home of the “the founder of American landscape architecture,” our ranger breaks down the philosophy behind Olmsted’s interest in designing outdoor spaces. Olmsted’s vision for reducing city living stress in the presence of nature resonates instantly. Listening to ideas, which extend to everyone’s access to this communication with nature, reflect civic and political implications of designing inclusive physical spaces for all. Central Park was Olmsted’s first major example of his vision but his touch expands to many other local green mere miles around where I live.
The house is impressive, and the archival work the National Historic Park Service is doing makes Olmsted’s work continue to live beyond the divisive times we’re currently experiencing.
But I buried the lede. It’s about nature. Visiting the historic park reaffirmed an uneasiness I’ve been having. I wanted to hit a giant pause. In my mind I designed a simple button, like the ones they have at Staples, that say “Easy.” Instead, my button would have a huge “Pause” icon on it. I’d press it and the whole world would freeze, kind of like in the Matrix. I just wanted a moment to get perspective and to hear an uninterrupted thought that helped me look forward. It had been a hellacious 3 years of non-stop life junk and I wanted a lifeline.
When a friend, who needed to leave her cabin in Vermont for a week, offered her home to us to use in her absence, I instantly said yes before looking at our calendar. I had missed out on the offer in previous years, because June happens to be a jerk of a month. It’s constantly battling me with its ultra-scheduling kung-fu and I alway lose. This time though, I made it work.
I’ve traveled to incredible places in my life, but I have to be honest with you here: I’ve never been so excited about any vacation before. When my friend, also a writer, described her log cabin in the woods, the land around it and – wait for it… a waterfall in the back yard – I knew I’d found my pause button. When I say waterfall, I am not talking Koi-pond waterfall. I mean, a nature-built-it type of beauty that soothes any brain and boy did my poor brain need soothing.
I packed every book I could imagine would fit into one tote. All of the titles, half started, not started, not looked at, ordered but not thought about in a couple of years or used as a coffee cup coaster instead, are here with me now. I have simple goals for this vacation: write something, read something, meditate using one of the many meditation apps I’ve download so far, and enjoy downtime with my family. So far so good.
On my second day here, I am writing this post. Not too bad! I’ve taken a long drive with my husband in search of perfect tomatoes on a roadside farm stand, but no luck there. Somehow the farms were all closed. We wound up instead at a cool health food store in Montpelier and got them there. During our long ride with our windows open, looking at the expanse of land, my breathing opened up and softened. We stopped off to the side of the road and picked up bunches of Queen Anne’s lace and placed them gently between my husband and me. He kept saying how happy I seemed. I was and I am. Thanks, nature.
I grew up in an island where there’s no shortage of communing with nature. Ocean breeze, bright night skies dotted with clear stars, salt water, exotic plants and fruits, were just every day of the week occurrences. People say that Dominicans are on “island time” which is true. I wonder if it’s because they live around so much natural beauty there might never be a need to press pause.
These old faithfuls kept me somewhat sane during AWP17:
1. Astro E5 16750mAh Portable Charger
2. LOQi Museum Collection bag
3. Everlane New Modern Backpack
4. Mavala lip balm
A portable charger. Ha! So long suckers who have to fight for outlets in every corner of the conference venue. I use this one to keep me juiced up.
LOQI bags because I always pick up too many things at the Bookfair
This functional and small new backpack by Everlane. Big enough for my MacBook Air, and deep enough for some bulky things, even lightweight sneakers. I chose white and haven’t washed the yuck I’ve managed to spill over it, but I am confident it will clean easily.
Mavala lip balm– For years I have hoarded extras because I am afraid that one day I’ll wake up and someone will discontinue this luxurious, rich smelling, perfect balm. Don’t do it Mavala.
C&L’s flowing multi use cardigan
Semikolon Ecole Notebook
Best travel piece all around. Period. By Crane & Lion : It’s a scarf, a wrap cardigan a shawl, it fits everywhere and I own 3! Though C&L specialize in gorgeous and functional workout clothing, their lifestyle pieces are yum.
I learned my lesson carrying around large surface notebooks to scrawl, write, and doodle. Once in a workshop a woman next to me remarked on how much she liked the way I was taking notes. I need space and room to spread my thoughts people! However, I wound up carrying too many things, my bags multiplied and all of them were too heavy to carry around comfortably. For this #AWP17 I grabbed myself some lightweight compact yet spacious smaller notebooks by Semikolon. Check them out! A gorgeous site with tempting options. Thank goodness for Google Translate.
Anyone who knows me will tell you I am big on snacks and I like them to be pretty. Here are some of the stops I made:
Pain Quotidien: I’ve been to the ones in Ct, NYC and was happily surprised that they were around the corner from my hotel in D.C. New faves from their winter menu: Steamed ginger lemon drink I picked up a large one of these every morning on the way in to the conference and a Daily Blend on the way back. Pick up the refreshing cups of natural juices and whole fruits and veggies and bring them up to the counter for an on-the-spot-blend.
1. Organic steamed ginger lemonade
Daily Blend flavors
When I tweeted out that the lines were worth it, I wasn’t kidding. These are nice folks and the coffee is worth the long line. Writer in one place gravitate towards caffeine.
They make a great Cortadito and it’s almost as good as the one my friends in Brookline’s 4-A make it.
Smooth Gel Pens
All over great screen and eyeglass electronics cleaning cloth by Real Simple. I make a mess out of my eyeglasses all the time and this cloth is my savior. Since it’s big enough for my laptop screen too, my eyes and electronics are smudge-free.
Muji Gel Pens- Muji has my heart in every single curated object they carry. I have too many colors of this pen but enjoy them all the same.
I won’t lie. I wasn’t too eager about going to D.C. for the writers’ conference this past February. I had whiplash after November, and hadn’t processed all of the stages of grief. I spent very few days in denial, not that recall if fear is part of the stages, but I will admit to being afraid and since I am not a thrill-seeker, I don’t do well with uncertainty.
Got to the airport super early and got some grading work done
The screen in front of my seat was frozen on this image forever (or so it seemed)
I enjoy going to AWP for all of the right writerly reasons. I like the community, the workshops, the engaging talks and if I’m lucky I see old friends and make new ones. Normally, I wait too long to make reservations, the hotels are all sold out but this past year, I acted quickly. The conference hotel option was gone but I managed to score a deal in a nearby hotel on Embassy Row.
Yup. Not digging the view
Come play with us Danny…forever…and…ever
My comfy home for the week
I unpacked my bags, got organized and decided to let D.C wash over me without any orange crumbs and to make the most out the conference. It turns out that AWP soothed my uncertainty and I had a blast.
Hotel: The Fairfax hotel on embassy row: Not too close to the venue, but the price was right, the hotel room super big and the metro ride was super easy. My stop was in Chinatown which was super vibrant at all hours
BTW- What I vowed to never do again: Rely on Apple’s maps! Having said that, I also vowed to spend less time trusting any map other than a paper map. I walk way too fast and sometimes the corrective response of the map doesn’t go as quickly as I want it to. Next time I am grabbing one of these crumpled maps
Here is a common problem for me: Cool sessions happening at the same time. Since I haven’t figured out how split myself in half, I normally pick my top 2 and go to my first choice. If for some reason the first one doesn’t work out the way I thought it would, I duck out quietly and make my way to choice number 2. I’m mentioning my favorite ones.
Solo en Español
Wow! how it gave my heart alegria to hear only Spanish read in the literary form. The essay read by Lupita Vargas-Strathman, about identity, language and place, was nicely relevant during this political climate. Right before the conference I watched a series based Sor Juana Ines on Netflix . I was especially inspired and still in my mother tongue’s language embrace when I sat in the audience for this session. When I was younger I read Sor Juana Inez de la Cruz’s poetry only to have the memory languish with the sediment layers of my daily english speaking life. Guess what I have on my endless to read book pile? I am going to read her plays.
The Netflix series
The panel’s readings and conversations unearthed for me Spanish words and terms that were not permanently lost by any means, but suppressed.
The stunning voice of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie made me wish she’d read the whole book to me right there
E. Ethelbert Miller asked great questions
Reading and Conversation with Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Ta-Nehisi Coates, Sponsored by the Authors Guild.
I had missed the opportunity to hear Ta-Nehisi Coates in person, when a Harvard conference (Universities and Slavery: Bound by History) booked up quickly. I taught his book and his essay A Case for Reparations, last semester and was motivated to join a packed house (no hyperbole) for this important dialogue. I managed to get in before the previous session ended and caught the tail end of the Emma Traub and Ann Pachett session so I secured a seat and got to hear a delightful conversation about independent bookstores and advice on reading and writing characters. I had a great seat, and as the venue filled out and more people tried to come in I was relieved to stay put. The reading by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie was amazing and I seem to be the only person in the country who hasn’t read Americanah. So, guess what’s waiting on my endless to-read- book- pile?
Writing the Dual Self
Every once in a while you happen on a session where you find yourself saying “get out of my head!” over and over. This was one of these sessions. Writing about self when so much of the outside world has expectations of who you should be has been a specific challenge for me. Once, in AWP Boston I attended a session of writing across diasporas. At the time, although the authors were all East-European I latched on to the vocabulary and language of the experiences of those, who like me, call other countries home. This session had solutions and honest perspectives. In this panel all the speakers were intuitive and articulate. Props to Sonya Larson from Grub St. who makes everything she touches radiate pleasant clarity.
The Assay Journal has a nice comprehensive recap of the session. I am particularly interested in the form of the speculative Essay because of it’s open-ended form. The ideas of a speculative essay, far from being wavering, ask pertinent questions and invites the reader to inquire along with the writer. Just like a solid essay in the speculative form, the session peered into questions of author’s responsibility for voice and for truth, ideas of self and belonging through Emerson and Thoreau’s writing, origins and intent of the essay and impressions of the form. I came out of the session with a nice reading list, and while trying to find the subterranean location for the session, met the super-cool author Michael Tager.
Many essayists have employed speculation throughout the form’s history, relying wholly on speculation (relating nothing verifiable) rather than engaging “fact.” Virginia Woolf’s “Death of a Moth,” for example, does not require a verifiable moth to achieve its power. But what are the limits to speculation? Must essayists always signal their speculative intentions? Can an essayist delve into the traditional realm of the fiction writer, overturning traditional notions of point of view in the essay?
The panelists discuss responsibility of place in writing
An important panel exploring the responsibilities and perspectives from the immigrant writer’s voice and experiences. The timeliness of the session in the midst of conversations about the freshly instituted travel-ban gave the panelists plenty to discuss.
How does immigration affect a writer’s creative pursuit in another country? There are many success stories of immigrant writers, but there is yet another side of their stories to tell their challenges after migrating to another country, either by choice or in an event that forces a migration. Immigration not only results in binding of cultures, but also leads to a creative chaos in want of proper opportunities, recognition, and an environment to be creative and productive. A much-needed debate!
Poetry lends itself to the kind of whimsy and wit that is spontaneous and witty
What does the Fox say?
About the pieces in the Convention Center by artist Donald Lipski
Convention Center Art
by Donal LIpski
Sure! Just what you expect at a panel
The Latino X Caucus Meeting- Check out the FB page. The Latino X Caucus continues to develop and expand. New initiatives, ideas and focus need your help. Get involved!
Wonderful authors reading great work but none best than my dear amigote and talented Chicano Noir writer Ito Romo. His reading was the most entertaining and engaging I’ve seen-ever- . Seriously. Check out his exceptional work.
Join the editorial staffs of Grist and Iron Horse Literary Review as they present several of their recent contributors at the 2017 AWP Conference. The Mulebone offers regional Southern-American food with craft cocktails. Their appetizers: corn maque choux, Texas shrimp & buttermilk biscuit, pickled fried green tomatoes, and the “script board” with Virginia ham, biscuits, deviled egg, pickled veggies, and pimento cheese.
I was glad to be there, a brief moment standing on my tiptoes trying to get a glimpse at the speakers. I couldn’t see well, but the signs, the tempo of the voices and the candlelight reaffirmed messages of love, determination and the beauty of words.
The second PWN was simple and effective. We got down to business quickly and shared our work effortlessly. What amazed me the most is how out of practice I am. I am creaky and achy. All of the writing I have been doing has been all in my head. My material has been trapped, forgotten, swept away, and ignored. I am hungry for more opportunities to write and these PWN’s are just the thing.
The perks of having lovely friends who like you even when you don’t stay in touch that often.
When Mr. Belm emails out a ‘save- the- date’ I get giddy that we’re still on the list. The Belms were in my husband’s life before they were in mine but it only took me meeting them once to understand their tight connection. As much as we like one one another somehow we only see each other once a year during Mrs. Belm’s birthday dinner. We’d like to see them more often but being on the invite list, regardless of our lack of communication, almost makes up for being out of touch.
Mr. Belm is an accomplished chef. He’s mastered the elegant precision of the basics and embarked in the truly experimental and creative. Mr. Belm doesn’t just cook us dinner, he choreographs a stunning feast to celebrate his wife. I imagine that the preparation starts early on with deliberate planning and since he’s a scientist; some kind of experimentation. It was during one of these dinners when I first learned about (and tasted) molecular gastronomy and the precise alchemy of Sous Vide.
On the evening of the dinner when I come into Chez Belm, I head straight to the kitchen to hug the chef and scan around for unexpected equipment (hint: there’s usually a somewhat unrecognizable gizmo). There’s always a neat assembly setup and light conversation. Some of us go to the living room for Prosecco, and a damn good cheese platter until it is time to eat. As we sit down to the first course Mr.Belm makes an appearance at the head of the table wearing meticulous chef’s whites. He describes in way of charming stories, why will be eating what will be eating, and then we toast the birthday girl.
What stays with me, after the sumptuous dishes, the flawless wine pairings, and the guests’ lively conversation is the unmistakeable love story. The yearly birthday dinner is about exquisite food yes, but it is also a tender valentine from Mr. Belm to his charming Mrs. Belm, who is obviously appreciative. My husband and I spend time with a lot of couples, and we admire them all for different reasons. I take particular delight in seeing partners who demonstrate, sometimes effortlessly how much they genuinely ‘like’ their partners. The Belms embody this notion of reciprocal like. They are clearly smitten with each other. 2016’s dinner was another knockout and I can’t wait to get our ‘save-the-date’ for 2017 (no pressure at all Mr. Belm).
You can read it all about it from Mr. Belm himself.
We’re on the Road to Somewhere: Approaches to Managing the Writing Life.
Another effective session. The panelists were all super candid about what works and doesn’t work trying to manage a writer’s life. Heavens knows this is a tough management area for me. I need unbroken stretches of time, not only to write, but to fully embody my self as a writer. If I don’t get that space I am just walking around wishing that (insert blank here about writing). It’s not a pretty sight.
There are no shortcuts when it comes to writing. Sometimes, the challenge isn’t getting started—it’s sticking with it through criticism and rejection; doubts and confusion with the material itself. In this inspiring panel, successful writers discuss their own winding paths to publication and offer practical suggestions for building a creative and professional life in a variety of writing fields—including editing, blogging, and screenwriting—while managing a writing life over the long haul.
Austin Bunn spoke about coloring outside your own lines as a writer. He discussed his experience expanding his writing to include direct interactions with his audiences by creating collaborative synchronicity through screenwriting and immersive theater. He’s a super cool guy, smart, and funny. His approach of incorporating writing and expanding into other genres and mediums has allowed him to produce exiting work. Check him out.
Leslie’s energy is contagious. She spoke about the long road of being a writer and pointed out what you can and can’t control. She’s the winner of the Drue Heinz Literature Prize for her novel This Angel on my Chest. Thanks to Leslie’s suggestions I am starting a local writer’s group. Here’s her essay for AWP around the writing group idea.
that kept her going a
Here’s Sonya Chung making one of her points in this interview from The Days of Yore, a damn great blog about writers and artist in their ‘early days.’ A little inspo to keep you focused and reassured.
“My answer is persistence; hang in there. It takes awhile.”
Some of the suggestions I am running with, like creating a writing group.
Other ideas dealt with fighting demons of envy and despair and instead refocusing our the work to be real and concrete.
Working with what’s in front of you is also a huge leap of faith.
Hit the ball from where its at. It’s okay to go for low-hanging fruit.
One only has control of talent, hard work and perseverance, the rest is luck.
Yiyun Li, who is also a scientist motivates herself by uttering the words by Elinor from Sense and Sensibility: “…Exert yourself, (dear Marianne).” She notes that in Science you don’t wait around for inspiration. You experiment. Do the same with writing.
Josh Rolnick “There is virtue in abandoning something. Let it die a crypt death.”
Take your writing life forward in small steps.
Little victories matter.
If you’re wondering if you’re writing from a dark place or not, then you’re not writing from a dark place. It’s important to write from there.
Create small writing hacks, reward yourself and writing partner with outrageous rewards or punishments. Did you write? Yes or No? Simple. Set a timer!
The question from the audience the panelists didn’t work hard to answer; ” How do you explain the necessities of the writing life to your spouse or partner?“
Creative Writing and Resistance in the Classroom: Helping Students Write Social Justice.
An importatant discussion on confronting writing about issues of social justice writing in our classrooms. I struggle finding open and effective ways to teach my students rhetoric based content that reflects important sociopolitical issues. The panel gave examples of writing exercises and practical ideas to implement in writing workshops.
Creative writing students compelled to write about social justice may
be intimated by the challenges of shaping art, craft, and social forces in
their writing. How do teachers encourage students to explore political
inequality and injustice, while crafting narrative art? Panelists discuss
specific pedagogical approaches and techniques that both respect
students’ backgrounds and beliefs and encourage their exploration,
examination, and literary engagement with our complex world
If you have a moment check out Hayan Charara reading “Out, Out” by R. Frost
Creative writing that is grounded in good craft provokes conversations about social justice and diversity and gets recognized as literature.
To over come resistance of writing about social justice issues: Use rhetoric for argument, counter argument and debate. Use creative writing for empathy
From Achy: Take a story like Indian Camp, by Hemingway, where the Indians never speak. Come up with a set of questions. Why suicide? Why is the doctor unprepared? Why does George vanish? . Reconsider the story by recasting it. Tell the story from a different character’s POV and ask the original questions. They seem different now.
Teaching social justice takes empathy and courage. In order for this to work you need to
anticipate the resistance
question the canonical texts
understand that it is challenging to write outside demographics.
good to ponder what we know and what we don’t know
Challenge students notions about scene in dramatic story. Ignore facts, and extract drama from a minor character.
Change a major element of the narrative, either age or gender, change a dominant version as reality.
An exercise which can help students write and read about experience and then apply to their own realities: Choose 3 images which evoke a sense of social justice, and have students write on the place, composition of the images and then work on the Fabula. Then choose 6 words or less for the titles.
Hayan- There’s a resistance in the classroom to so called “political poems.” Some think they are propagandist poems to sway the reader. However, If one is an Arab is hard not to live politically. The personal is tied up in the political. Check out the creatively charged space program in the University of Houston where Hayan teaches.