On a College Campus Again…

Starting Monday I will be offering up my poems for workshop in an MFA Summer Residency.   This is the second of three summers, the cornerstone of a program that pushes us all to improve as writers.

I feel that my writing is becoming more personally resonant and more open. There is more freedom as I sit down to write. Last semester, my class engaged in discussion about self-censorship and why it is essential that we not censor our words in our writing. There are no longer “off-limit” topics. If there was a topic that I avoided, I am forcing myself to go there and write about difficult subjects, characters, and events.

Writing is an art and it is therapy. You might call it “free therapy,” but anyone who writes knows that in reality there is a cost to laying yourself bare on the page.   Writing digs deep into our human emotions. Not to mention the fact that poems are meant to be read aloud, and reading aloud in workshop or on stage such raw poems is tough.

Step by step. I will start with the writing and the workshopping process. Later, I’ll step my toes into the process of sharing with an audience: submitting to publications and reading aloud in public.

Art is emotion and it can be hard to wrap your brain around sharing it with the world.

But, this is why we write, and especially why we are in an MFA program.

We are taking steps to share our experience.

I’m Drawn to Artists

My parents shared with me their own appreciation of the arts.

Their talent certainly isn’t singing, but they aren’t afraid to sing their favorite tunes off-key.  Might I add, my mom is a world-class whistler.  She’s a songbird.

They always enjoy hearing quality live music.  Even now they especially enjoy local music and the singer-songwriters who play in smaller venues.  The best part of the concert is the backstory.  They reveal slices of their story in between the notes.

They encouraged my interest in reading.  The newspaper was more than news.  We read the bylines and continued to read our favorite weekly columnists who slipped in their own story as if we were reading chapters of their personal memoirs.  We discussed John Switzer’s philosophical take on the weather and the migration of birds, and Joe Blundo’s take on the intersection of morals and politics.

They took me to countless art galleries as we marveled at the genius of sculptors and painters.  They never had to drag me; I always enjoyed hypnotically gazing in wonder at works of visual art.  I’m not a visual artist, so I especially valued seeing this style of art.

Last summer, looking at my friend Greer’s oil paintings mounted on a wall at the Beachwood Community Center really hit home.  She has been practicing her art since as long as I’ve known her.  All artists practice their craft.  Art is about expression not perfection.

She’s been improving her own art technique and her artist’s eye allows her to share her story on canvas.  A picture is worth a thousand words.  I won’t do it justice by trying to explain.  The paintings are her point of view.  I did feel a sense of being outdoors after looking at her images, which were all grounded in nature.  Being outdoors brings a sense of calm but also it also brings me back to equilibrium.  I always pray for strength, health, and energy; nature freely gives me all of these.

The writing process is my main artistic venue.  My secondary venue is through music.  I have always been a singer in a choir, and for the past decade I have been dabbling in guitar.  I am certainly amateur, but what I enjoy most is setting my own lyrics to music.  A life beyond poetry on the page.  It’s more universal and more meant for sharing.

The process is visual.  Removing my guitar from its case.  Adjusting the strings back in tune.  Cutting my fingernails.  Making time out of my day to play notes, chords, and build calluses.  Allowing the time for songwriting to ooze out of my pores.  Waking up from a dream with a new phrase or refrain written.

Giving time to art is the key.  As much as you practice and edit, you must let inspiration have the time to make the masterpieces you are meant to create.  You must allow yourself the time to create your art and finally to share your art.

The writing process is more internal, and more about mastering your awareness.  A poem percolates from an observation.  Notice both beauty and injustice.  Practice mindfulness daily.


(Art is about perspective. Kouros holding a ram, Akropolis, 600 B.C. in Thasos Town, Greece.)

Road Trip Underground

The last Tuesday in May was ideal for a road trip.  The semester break gave me the day off both school and work, and my boyfriend requested the evening off.  The weather was sunny and warm.  We had the freedom to go where we pleased.

When my boyfriend asked me where I wanted to go, I replied, “Ohio Caverns.”  I had never been there, but the website and a brochure I’d been eyeing looked enticing.  The temperature stays 54 degrees according to their site, which features a video. http://www.ohiocaverns.com

The drive was short, about an hour from our home base of Westerville, Ohio.  As we pulled into the parking lot we noticed the sheltered picnic area was teeming with students, and their bus was from central Ohio.  In my head, I said a quick prayer that they would not be in our group touring the caves.  Luckily, they had a separate reservation, and I deduced this field trip must be going on the “Historic Tour,” which was a different cave section than the tour we went on, the “Natural Wonder Tour.”

After browsing at the gift shop, it was time for our tour to begin.  A lovely college-age lady was our tour guide.  The group was six strong, only three couples.  When we entered the cave the tour guide said, “Your eyes will adjust to the dark.”  There were some small sconces added to the cave to allow electric light.



Rust Formations

The tour guide turned the lights on as we entered each area, and she turned them off behind us.  We were in for a real shock as she said she was about to turn all the lights off.  For about two seconds, we stood in pitch dark.  “This is how dark a cave really is.”

The cave was devoid of animal life, but the rocks were alive.  The crystals forming above us dripped icy water on our heads.  Moss was growing in a few spots, looking like wiry green hairs all in parallel.  Once we had seen a few stalagmites, stalactites, the guide pointed out some “columns” which are crystals formed all the way from the top to the bottom.

I never experienced darkness that was so illuminating.

Unpacking Baggage

As recently as my trip to Greece, I was reminded that I carry too much baggage with me.022

As we departed Greece and sat in the airport in Munich, I was the one who was lugging a thirty-pound backpack carry-on.  The other few members of the group also with me in Germany were smarter travelers.  They had small totes and daypack excursion backpacks that I would guess only weighed a maximum of ten or fifteen pounds.  Why couldn’t I be that carefree?

At the end of the evening’s dancing the waiter at the restaurant Archodissa in the island of Thasos picked up my backpack and handed it to me.  You absolutely must visit if you get to travel to the Greek islands of the Aegean Sea!  He asked me, with the usual Greek charm, “Is this full of rocks?”  No, I wasn’t packing my bag full of rocks and pebbles from the marble quarry.  It was mostly full of things that I brought from home.  First, I packed my antiquated laptop that ended up only lasting two hours without battery power, so I was tethered to a power outlet most of the trip if I was ready to type up new works or edit poems.  After the laptop, I carried a notebook for scribbling on the go, two books I was reading for class, and a water bottle.   The rest was filled with who knows what.  It doesn’t sound heavy, but trust me, I felt like I was carrying a military issued backpack.  At the airport it hindered me the most.  I felt my back straining.

Fast forward to moving day into a new apartment the final week of October.  I packed all my books, keepsakes, and papers in boxes.  Putting solely my clothes in the master bedroom allowed me to realize that I have too much stuff.  Yet, the moving process was swift, and I only did a quick sort as I packed.  My boyfriend and I got rid of three large bags of clothes before the move.  Then, as moving day arrived suddenly, he simply packed all the remaining shoes and clothes into plastic totes and I packed my shoes and clothes into suitcases.

Once arriving at our new place, the first place that is ours together, we both realized we each had a lot of baggage.  The pile of suitcases taunted me for weeks.  I realized that I was getting along fine without even opening most of the suitcases.  I was not ready to handle my baggage.  To do so I would have to put some summer clothes into the back of the master bedroom closet that has a large storage area of three-foot tall steps.

Cue the closet’s florescent light to flicker and finally burn out.  A dark closet was a good excuse not to handle my baggage.  Tuesday my apartment’s maintenance man came over and replaced the light.  Excuses gone, I have to make progress.  It still is a process, because who wants to try on tank tops in the winter?  However, I am aware that the accumulation of clothes that I don’t wear taking up space doesn’t contribute to the flow of creativity.

Yesterday, my boyfriend hung the mirror above my dresser.  Baby steps.

My baggage won’t define me.  The action I take in this moment defines me.


Quitting is no longer a dirty word

The act of quitting was always discouraged as I was growing up.

If you start something, you see it through to fruition. When you start a sport, you continue it for the entire season. I attributed the act of quitting to a character weakness. You didn’t want to be the person who quit their job every six months. You didn’t want to be the one who kept quitting one hobby after another, purchasing the gear for each activity, which became simply wasteful junk in the closet.

I grew up thinking that the word “quit” should not be in my vocabulary. I grew up always viewing my ultimate strength as being genuinely committed and dedicated.  I did not quit. I was committed and dedicated to every sport, choir, theatre production, job and friendship I was a part of.

However, there have been several key moments in my life that were punctuated by quitting.

Once you are ready to make the decision to end something you finally see it is time to give yourself the gift of freedom. To earn your own freedom you have to cut all the puppet-strings.  The time came for me to find my own freedom.   I had to quit my job because I had to go back to my original dream. I have always wanted to be a writer. I am not sure when I talked myself into becoming a teacher.  I suppose halfway through college it crossed my mind.

After graduation I felt such disappointment and failure; after job searching all over central Ohio I discovered that all a four-year bachelor’s degree in English qualified me for was to be a pre-school teacher. Once hired, I even started taking night classes to earn a two-year associates degree focused on Early Childhood Education. It was a slap in the face that I was teaching in the pre-school room. I enjoyed it for a while, but I was putting a false smile on my face when I worked long hours teaching literacy to 3 and 4 year olds.  My life was spinning in such a rush. I adapted to become the one that multi-tasked the educational and emotional needs of my students. Being a college student was nothing compared to the responsibility of shaping young minds.  The majority of my colleagues were mothers, but I didn’t have such hands-on experiences. I quit the job because it overwhelmed me and stressed me out beyond control. Needless to say, several weeks where I worked 10-12 hour workdays covering extra shifts were the nail in the coffin in this decision.

Fast-forward to 2014 and I made a similar decision. Teaching high school English for seven years was so rewarding and I really did feel more comfortable in the role every year. But the beginning of year eight it felt more and more that it was not my true purpose. I taught the fall semester, but I knew that I would not be able to finish the year out. Deep contemplation in December 2014 helped me realize that I had to leave the school district. I needed to quit my job as a teacher in order to return to my original life dream. As a very young girl, I knew I wanted to be a writer. I always dreamed of following in the footsteps of the writers whose books I enjoyed.

So, I have quit teaching.

But maybe someday I will teach again, in a different way.

It is always a possibility that I would choose to teach.

I have quit, but it is only follow my true purpose. I am a writer: unpaid, fledgling, emerging writer. Someday very soon I will be more.  For now I can sleep at night because I have found part-time meaningful employment 25 hours a week.  As a teacher I consistently worked well beyond 50 hour weeks.  I may have quit the salary, benefits, and pension that would cause many people to stay in the teaching profession until they retire. But I don’t care about fancy things, so I can adapt to living on a fraction of my previous salary.

If it gives me more free time to write, then it is God’s will.

Leaving teaching helped me earn freedom that I have only known the summer before my senior year at college when I chose to not have a summer job so that I could write. Other than the summers of 2001 and 2015, I have always been some combination of student and worker bee.

The realization had to come through teaching.  I can only explain it in that while I was teaching the students to follow their dreams I realized I had to take my own advice. Teaching reminded me to follow my true purpose:  writing my story.