Wednesday, April 18, 2018

compiling my thesis (sort of)

No one told me how hard it is to compile a thesis.

It's like you get into grad school (hurray! 🎉) and then you do some work, and then it gets progressively harder and harder and then you quit your job to focus on school and spend so many of your waking minutes obsessing over getting it not just good, but really fucking good and then you're in so deep that you can't quit, you're so close to graduating and then you and your friends commiserate and send angry emoji texts about your thesis preface and then you get drunk, thinking maybe coping like you did in your undergrad is the answer but it's not, you're so hungover the next day and that makes it harder, all the work you have to do still on your thesis so you pound latte after latte and when those aren't enough, you buy chocolate covered espresso beans and you tell yourself you'll stay up late, all night working like you also did in your undergrad but you can't do that shit anymore, you're 35 with two kids and by 11 p.m. your eyelids have drooped so low you can't tell if you're awake or asleep and then you say you'll get up early like you used to do when you worked at a coffee shop but fuck that, you need your sleep so you cram it all into the daylight hours while your oldest son is at school and you try like hell not to let yourself get distracted but there are dishes and laundry and the internet and literally anything else sounds better right now but stop it, just do it, you're almost there. You almost have a graduate degree, don't fuck it up, you've got this, you're a badass, almost an MFA holder and then one day, if it all works out, you can become a professor and have books out in bookstores, actually for sale with bar codes so just finish this god damn thesis you whiny little bitch. Just do it already.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

plea for life

Last summer, at residency, I met this woman. She came as an alum and shared her words and I laughed and laughed and cried and cried. She was a student in my program's first class. She read from her application to the MFA program, which she had written 13 years prior. She called it a plea for life.

While she spoke, I scribbled down notes, my eyes blurring with tears. Here is my favorite part:  

Eventually, to the surprise of many including the Groom and myself, I married—beginning that phase of life many women refer to as The Lost Years. As often happened to intelligent women of my generation I busied myself by robotically performing the duties expected of me whether they made sense or not. I said “yes”a lot; smiled, nodded in agreement, changed diapers, learned to cook,
learned to clean, WANTED to clean, learned to drive and transport kids and things and stuff, gained weight, hated suburbia, lost perspective.
I had no options. Write—or shrivel up and die.

After her speech, I went up to her. I am introvert who fears talking to strangers but this woman was so incredible, I had to know her. She told me she wished she had a magic wand to tap each student with while she said, "be honest." I kept thinking of that last semester, while I wrote my letters to my daughter. This isn't honest enough, I thought to myself, and I revised until snot poured from my nose and the honest things I didn't say before found homes in words.

Last semester I got to know Tonie as we shared emails and FaceTimed about the website she made. She said, "Holly, I'm 76 years old. I never thought I'd make a website," and yet she did it. She is the most amazing woman. When I started writing my thesis preface, I emailed her asking if I could quote her. Because when I went to write about what I've done these past two years, I realized I haven't done that much on my own. It's people who brought me this far. People like Tonie who helped me recognize my need to find my own voice.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

another year older

 So we went to Washington, the boys and me.
 They were absolute champions with luggage. OK, most of the time. When they weren't, the kindness of strangers came through again, as it always seems to.
 Holden, no longer the baby, took care of the baby in his own way.
 The cherry blossoms were out, the grass was green, it felt like spring.
 Jumping on the trampoline and playing with their cousins wiped the boys clean out.
 We went to the Puget Sound, which my landlocked boys called the ocean.
 We ate boujee ice cream. Amber and I didn't get any, so we licked their cones.
 We played croquet with Grandpa. Holden with a mallet is a scary idea (sorry, Brandon's head).
 Grandpa is a natural with kids.
 When the noise gets to be too much, there are iPads.
 Holden turned four in Puyallup.
 He let everyone know it was his birthday and that we should sing to him.
 The next day was Avie's birthday, the next week Brandon's. So we had a combined birthday party.
 Brandon got a bit sugar high. He won a lot of Sequence for Kids.
 My sister is an excellent party planner.
 I bought a leather jacket, after years of talking about it.
 We said goodbye.
 Back home, the boys had a Nebraska party at BounceU.
 Brandon's best friend came.
 I took pictures off their website. 
 The boys had the best time.
Brandon turned six. 

We are all another year older now. And we are doing great.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018


I have long thought myself displaced.

I have lived in the Midwest for a dozen years, pointing out to anyone who would listen that I'm not from around here. I complained about the too hot and too cold weather, the lack of things to do. The lack of mountains and ocean.  I'm a Pacific Northwesterner, I would tell people. I like good coffee and own a half dozen flannel shirts. I can change lanes four times in twenty seconds. I don't need an umbrella in the rain.

But do you know how you can tell a place is home?
When your airplane touches down and you're both excited and calm.
Because you're where you belong.

That's what happened Sunday. "Open the window shade," I instructed Brandon. I wanted to watch our descent into the heartland. I had just returned from my childhood hometown but it was here in Omaha that I belonged.

I was giddy to see my friends, to sink into my clean apartment, open a book, catch up my journal. I was excited to exhale, to live in my own space, the space I've created because I needed it.

My Pandora station is pumping out feel-good oldies and Holden is playing his iPad and the washing machine is churning and the sun is filtering in the window and my coffee is warm and I am at my computer, residing as myself, comfortable.

I'm learning to redefine what I thought I knew. Home, for example, is where you are at ease. In some cases, where you reside is not that place. But I have finally made mine one and the same.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

short story

I have these short stories, you see, and I can't get them out of my head. I'll be in the car or the kitchen or the shower and a little tweak pops into my head. It could be a better character name or a new title or scraping a scene or adding a new one. But always, I am tinkering with the stories I've already written. Always, I am fiddling on them, trying to craft them into exactly what I'm trying to say in the most compelling way possible.

The writing life is all-consuming.

No matter where I am, mostly, I am in my head.
Shuffling things around, reordering, changing commas to semi-colons; semi-colons to commas.

I have been thinking about the real world and how to best exist in it while I've got my head rattling, full of ideas to write about.
I am coming up blank.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Seeing Lorrie Moore in a Crowded Room

It was March 9th, 2018 when I was first in the presence of Lorrie Moore.

Setting: Tampa, Florida. AWP Conference.

Mood: Giddy.

Me and my best friend, Jen, a fellow Lorrie Moore Obsessive, went into the conference room early, before the last panel had even left. Once people started filing out, we pounced on the best seats.

For background: Jen and I have made up scenarios where we drive to Wisconsin where Lorrie Moore lived and have lunch with her under the guise of an interview. We have had a writing group where we made up Tom Swifties in admiration of Lorrie Moore's. We have texted each other underlined sentences many times, traded books with each other. We're fucking obsessed.

So Tampa. Conference room.

When Lorrie Moore took the stage, I nudged Jen and she nodded excitedly.
And then, L.M. herself read for a few minutes, an excerpt from her forthcoming memoir.

It was about when she got married in the courthouse and a news crew was there, hoping to film a newlywed couple who married for welfare benefits.
"But we're not on welfare," Lorrie Moore protested.
"C'mon," her new husband said, "it'll be funny."
"No," she answered.
"The bride said no," the judge said, and that is how my marriage began, Lorrie Moore finished.

When the interviewer asked her if her ex-husband would be mad that she wrote about this, without asking his permission, Lorrie Moore replied, "it'll be fine. I'm quite sure."

Lorrie Moore was, as expected, funny and calm.

About writing, there is always an excuse not to do it. You have kids that you're raising, your job keeps you too busy, you're tired, insert a million and seven other reasons here.
But as Lorrie Moore said, "Life keeps changing and you have to work around it. You're a prisoner to the stuff in your life. You're just making it up as you go along."

I have five days to put together the third MFA packet of this semester, my second to last one ever. If I think about that for more than a second, I get overwhelmed. But I'll just make it up as I go along.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

our pursuit

I have lived through much, and now I think I have found what is needed for happiness. A quiet secluded life in the country, with the possibility of being useful to people to whom it is easy to do good, and who are not accustomed to have it done to them; then work which one hopes may be of some use; then rest, nature, books , music, love for one's neighbor - such is my idea of happiness. And then, on top of all that, you for a mate, and children, perhaps - what more can the heart of a man desire?
 ~Leo Tolstoy, "Family Happiness" 

"Happy," for instance, once meant "luck." Not good luck or bad, just luck. Look what we have done to ourselves. We think we can actually pursue happiness. 
~Abigail Thomas,  "What Comes Next and How to Like It"

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. 
~Thomas Jefferson, "The Declaration of Independence"

I never knew the origin of happiness. 
I never knew that it meant luck. 
Although Thomas' quote can be interpreted as bleak, 
I instead read it with hope. 
Like we are lucky, if we are happy. 
Perhaps it is fulfillment that we are pursuing. 
Tolstoy realizes how he can be fulfilled: by being useful. 
I love that. 
Every day now, I will think of how I can be useful. 
In being useful, I will find fulfillment. 
And if I'm lucky, in fulfillment, happiness.