2019-07-21 MFA Res Days 8 and 9 – Tough Choices

The last two days I’ve felt less anxiety and less pressure, mostly, yet still inspired by so many shiny objects. On the downhill slide, the back of the back 9, the preparing for a return to reality from the dream, I find that the most difficult task is the necessity to chose between things, people, places, moments, activities, and food. A sense or acknowledgement that I cannot, infact, have it all as it is an impossibility and am faced with decision making. Not my strong suit.

Do I hang with people I just met, or my closest allies here who have grown more dear to me by the hour, or perhaps the faculty who I would get more wisdom from. It is not lost on me that everyone is on their own back 9 and also having to choose.

I had to choose between watching the sunset and talking with one of my previous mentors. We both kept crossing paths all week and promising each other we would take some time and catch up, but the time never materialized. We have similar dispositions and both worry about doing everything that needs doing and focusing on the next thing at hand. We were both prioritizing (though some of mine was dictated by basic needs sort of stuff). I chose the conversation, the sunset behind me. It was one of the easier choices and well worth it.

Later I had to choose between staying at the lodge and leaving for a walk with a few folks. Should I stay at the physical place that embodies the spirit of the program with its diversity of great people and potential conversations and possibilities for fun and games and amusement? Or do I leave the place and choose to reward myself with physical activity and the opportunity to have a more intimate conversation with a select few? More of a difficult choice, but I went with my gut. What I needed.

Some walking and digestion. Less sensory input, not more (except for that one bar we stopped in along the way where it was all just much too much). Less drinking not more. Less chaos of conversation not more. I made my choice and In return I was again rewarded by the universe by having a wonderful walk and conversation with two really incredible people. One a mentor and the other, a woman I met in the program who is now more than just a fellow writer, peer, safe space at the dining table, she’s a friend. Not the ‘see you later, let’s do lunch’ type of friend, but a genuine human I want in my life for a long time.

The walk deserves a whole blog post of its own, perhaps a collection of poems. Isnt that something!?! But my time for this one is getting short now and I’ll have to wrap soon. You know what they say about time.

This morning I woke naturally after the most amount of sleep I’ve had in 9 nights. I opened my eyes and shortly thereafter heard the low rumble of thunder. I got up and opened my window which revealed the pouring rain. I thought to myself “how god damned appropriate is that?”. “IT” was still happening, the serendipitous-ness of the program and the place and its people, even as everyone was well on their way back to their own realities.

The release, the transition, the dramatic change being echoed by nature. Or felt by it, or being mourned by it. It took me two trips to get all my stuff loaded into the car. I closed the trunk of my car and looked up at the sky, the rain on my face felt wonderful.

With peace and so much love,

~Miss SugarCookie

2019-07-19 MFA Res Day 7 – Deep Breath

Compared to the three previous days waking up today, despite still only having just shy of 4.5 hours of sleep, I’m feeling much closer to my center. Perhaps it’s because I just woke up and am enjoying my routine already but it could also be the fact that we are on the downhill slide of this little adventure and that yesterday there was a great release when the swell that comes from my having my “15 minutes of fame” here was over.

I’m talking about the student readings which appear on the surface to be no big deal to other folks. That’s how things often appear on the surface so I’m not sure if there is any truth in it. It’s a big deal to me to have the eyes of so many brilliant writers – brilliant people – all on me for even a short time like 5 minutes. One has the attention of the room and that brings power. And with great power becomes great responsibility. I felt it.

It’s a responsibility to step up to the plate and kill it, somehow trying, through my words to make a case that I belong here. That I, too, am worthy of this experience. It’s feels self serving to highlight the fact that the journey that led me here is very different than most people I talk to. Maybe I’m just drawn to talk to people with backgrounds and situations that differ from my own because that’s interesting or because I’m searching for the common threads between us.

Through reading their work and hearing them read it that is easy to glean, as the passion bleeds through. It feels like such a great opportunity to get a glimpse into the hearts and minds of everyone, many of whom are early in their writing lives and careers. It’s a special thing and I feel as tough the price for admission is contribution. Therein lies the pressure and the swell.

I spent several hours in thought and action for preparation, including most of my morning yesterday. Everyone else was having scheduled meetings with their mentors and finalizing study plans for the semester. My mentor was absent on “other duties as assigned” by the program and university. It’s a privilege to be working with someone who is so intrugal to the program, someone who is so invested in it, and whose work I respect so greatly. It’s worthy of so many more words but I’m going to hold them hostage until another time.

By mid-morning. I was done with final edits, timing everything, and preparing my comments for my reading. I’d love to appear fearless and polished, graceful and unrehearsed, and, as I said, worthy. I want those things to be real and overpower the anxiety and uncertainty that I experience with public speaking.

When it was over and done, I felt pretty good about it. I truly did, which is awesome, and then I had a wave of relief wash over me. The rest of the day I felt so much lighter inside. Other aspects of this time started to take their shapes again and some of my focus has returned.

As always, there’s a great deal more I could say about the rest of the day’s activities. Day spills into night and crosses through dreams and returns with the sunrise. With that, the sun is up and my time is up too.

Enjoying the Exhale,

~Miss SugarCookie

2019-07-18 MFA Res Day 4 (And 5 And 6)- Going Beyond the Pale…

And trying to get back.

I’ve pushed past cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs and have moved into territory that is a little unfamiliar. Is this what this is supposed to be like? This has happened a little in the past two residencies but not like this one. I’m in such a strange headspace, bodyspace, universe space I’m not sure what to make of it.

Yeah, I’m out my body and out of my mind and trying to figure out if I’m ever going to be the same. Think, if you’d like, that I’m being overly dramatic, but I’m not. I’m being nauseously, wrecklessly serious. I’ve lost 5 or 6 pounds in the last 5 days (verified this morning). Every time I eat, I feel sick to my stomach. I’ll stop short of going into the other sketch physical details, just know, it’s not pretty.

The problem manifests with physical symptoms, but it 90% mental, I am certain. I’m trying to maintain some sliver of routine, but it’s damn near impossible and my brain fixates on an idea and I can’t shake it and it throws me off whatever well-intended course I have.

My morning rituals, for example. This morning is the first morning I’ve really been able to find my way to the treadmill. When you don’t start like you normally start the day, it’s already off the rails. Then it goes into the weeds and grass on a paved path which turns into dirt trails leading into the woods. The packed brown earth beneath the feet begins to narrow and the canopy becomes more dense and you can’t stop and before you wake from the rythem of the daydream of your silent footsteps, you are lost, and when you turn and peer back and squint you can see the pale behind you.

Yesterday I was still in that place and so punch-drunk with the euphoria of the freedom that comes from being in an unfamiliar space. It’s exciting and you know you should leave, call for help, retrace your steps, ask for a map (you are not alone), or just slow down. But you don’t want to.

The instinct of logic has left your side and your left-brain, being absent, leaves your right brain scurrying around wild-eyed and manic. It just wants to know how far this path that is not a path goes.

***

I’m back on the treadmill now and need to get my act together because I have a lot of important business to take care of today. Fighting through the constant distraction of seemingly brilliant beginnings of thought is probably going to pose the greatest challenge. Every shiny object popping up right in front of me will be tough to resist. I need to try and stay on task.

As if on queue it happened just now. I started thinking about a person I got to know a little better yesterday who introduced me to some new music and I spent at least 74 seconds on that thread of thought. I just can’t do that and I have to resist the impulse that that is EXACTLY what I should be doing. Following those thoughts off Into the woods. “Isn’t that why we are here!”, my right brain insists.

When I got to the workout room this morning Bob was on the treadmill already. There is only one. I was here on the start of the first full day which feels like about 25 days ago now, and he asked me how long I would be. I had just started and selfishly replied “about 50 more minutes.” He left.

The second encounter was the following day when he sat behind me in lecture and asked me, as I was scanning the room before the start of it, “What time are you going to walk tomorrow?”.

I still felt guilty for presumably bursting his bubble previously and looked at the schedule and said “I’m not going tomorrow because the nature walk is that day and I don’t need to.” I shied away from explaining that I can’t predict what might happen over 12 hours in the future here. I can neither predict or commit to anything as concrete as a time of day. I just can’t. Ask me what I’m doing for the next 4 hours, sure, but tomorrow? Forget it.

I could tell a lot about Bob by the simple detail that he never formally introduced himself to me in those two encounters (I didn’t either). I thought about it after the fact so this morning I made a point to do it before he left the room. So that’s Bob.

He left less than 5 minutes after I arrived. He said I had good timing and I smiled and replied that that was the first time anyone had ever said that to me. I withheld a wink.

That’s it for now. As I said I need to focus and stay on task today. Get back to crossing necessary things of the mental list I’ve composed for the next 4 hours. After that. All bets are off.

Wandering Back,

~Miss SugarCookie

2019-07-16 MFA Res Day 3 – The Floodgates are Open

Yes, the floodgates are open now and it’s serious. They mean serious business. I’m seriously serious and afraid for my safety and sanity. I’m not being overly dramatic, I’m being… serious.

Typically I would try to provide a brief synopsis of thought and feeling about the prior day, wrapping It with some overarching theme and providing some highlights that seemed especially vivid and moving for me personally, but I can’t do that this time because there is much to much and frankly, I’m dealing with the situation where it feels like day 3 has not actually ended yet.

The lack of sleep is STARTING to get to me. It’s got me. Now, just the facts ma’am, please. Ive been here five nights and in chronological order here are the stats…

Friday – 5 hours and 4 minutes

Saturday – 6 hours and 1 minute

Sunday – 4 hours and 46 minutes

Monday – 4 hours and 54 minutes

Tuesday (today) – 3 hours and 20 minutes.

It’s a problem I am not sure how to solve it. I’m self medicating but it’s not helping. A bit of foreshadowing here, I’m planning to drive home tonight and sleep in my own bed and before that (as of this moment), praying for rain so our morning outdoor group activity today will be cancelled. I need a break and I suspect I am not the only one. I need to take care of myself, and be selfish, and I suspect I am not the only one.

On the opposite side of that coin is the wealth of ideas and musings that I have been able to capture thus far. Yesterday was the best day for that yet, generatively speaking. I came into residency somewhat terrified of my 3rd term craft paper and now, I’m genuinely excited about it and enthusiastic to get that party going. I have tons of thoughts and they just keep coming. A very real flood of words. The waters are rising as I type this.

Yesterday our mentor preference forms were due and the outcome of the pairings was revealed before the evening faculty readings. I had to try very hard to not flaunt my enthusiasm about the result. I’m living that charmed life right now and the universe is giving me exactly what I want and need at the same time. I’m very much looking forward to see how this story unfolds and, in a way, all of that was akin to storm clouds brewing preparing to provide the downpour that is now occurring.

(Both literally and figuratively now. My foreshadowing of actual rain has already begin and I can hear the beating of tiny drums on the roof above me. I’m on the 4th and top floor of the lodge).

After the “big reveal” last night, we went right into the reading, which was a line up of four incredibly talented faculty members. These readings are always one of my favorite parts. You get to sit and listen to brilliance and let go of any self-expectations and responsibilities. We had a play-write, a poet, a short story guru (who read poetry), and a visiting faculty member who I had not met until workshop today and didn’t actually get to listen to because of the 3rd reader.

His subject matter and content hit me so hard, I wept openly during the reading and had to leave the room directly after to try and compose myself for the thing I had going on after the readings (volunteering to help in the bookstore). It came over me like a freight train and I didn’t try to stop it. I felt gross with all the stuff pouring out of my nose and eyes and managed as well as I could without a tissue. I can’t elaborate on the subject matter of the reading. Not right now anyway.

After that I got my act together and did the bookstore thing. That was followed by a walk to the basketball court with an enthusiastic group of folks hungry for a game. For me, this meant standing around talking with some other folks and cheering when someone made a basket or jeering some foul play. There was an issue with the lights and the game was much abbreviated.

Back at the lodge, a round of drinks and waters was secured and we gathered around the lobby area for conversation. Also great. I returned to my room close to 11:30 pm completely exhausted thinking I was going to fall into a deep sleep. I was wrong. I had taken a Tylenol for a slight headache earlier and seriously thought I had taken the wrong thing or something else because I had this giddy, medicine-head thing going on. I wondered enough about it that I googled it and as it turns out, it was just Tylenol and nothing else. That’s just how tired I was/am.

I could not fall asleep. I took a half a Xanax at 12:30. I woke up at 3:30M and thought and wrote and tossed and turned and through and wrote some more. I took another half and still did not sleep. It had zero affect. In short, I’m fucked up for doing anything today. That is why I am praying that this rain continues long enough our morning excursion is cancelled. Please, please, please. That’s selfish. I hope it stops raining and I muster the guts to just bow out even though I’m supposed to one of the carpool drivers.

I need to eat breakfast soon. I skipped dinner last night, trying to get some rest and avoiding the dining room experience (ordering from the menu takes an eternity to play out). I may be full of words and inspiration but the physical me is empty now. That requires a solution before anything else.

When it Rains.. it Sometimes Pours,

~Miss SugarCookie

2019-07-15 MFA Res Day 2 – Life is Wonderful

The day yesterday was certainly less action packed than the first and there were several sessions when I had the opportunity to sit, listen, and think without the expectation for something in return. There were also several noteworthy highlights that made the day so, so wonderful.

In chronological order, the workshop where my writing was discussed in detail, dinner with a fantastic group of people, frisbee in the park with a different group of folks, and a long evening walk through the town to the river and back.

I co-conspired with one of the faculty to organize the frisbee event and it felt great to get outside and be physical and release myself from all the heavy mental contemplation that immersion brings. It was also a great lead in for our walk where we got to spend time getting to know new people a little better outside the confines of the lodge. Oh my but it was a hot one.

Rewinding a bit, Part of the responsibility I assumed when I agreed to help organize was to secure a second frisbee for the toss. I had a brief break after workshop which I used to make a wal-Mart run. That’s when it happened, in the car on the way. That first outburst of tears. Impossibly unpredicted, a familiar feeling rose from somewhere deep inside, my stomach and heart conspiring to push it up through my throat to the top of my head. I wept openly in the car because of the catch and release effect that being workshoped has on me. It’s that satisfaction and doubt and confidence and vulnerability mashed together that does it. I should have anticipated it but I didn’t. No matter.

I secured the frisbee and continued about my day, holding a piece of that feeling inside the rest of the day. It was wonderful.

I sacrificed the sunset for the walk through town and it’s not lost on me that I also sacrificed missing something that happens far less frequently too. The MRAZ concert at the Stir Cove. I missed him singing “Life is Wonderdul” in order to actually live the words. The polar opposites in life that occur and that we can’t really know “it takes some bad for satisfaction”. That song is brilliant and is the essence of so much truth that I can’t even describe. I don’t need to, he’s already done it.

It also, of course, reminds me of another time in my life with a very special person. If there was a measure of a man, and that measure was poetry, he sits on the top of that list. That was my “Simply Vera” era, for which, now that it’s far in the past, I’m immeasurably greatful for. Yes, I’m talking to you Vis. How can I not think about you when I think about MRAZ and the music you introduced me to. I hope you went to the concert and I hope it was .. Wonderdul!!

I have more to say, but time is short today and I’m already running late. Such a tragedy.

Wishing you peace and love,

~Miss SugarCookie

2019-07-14 MFA Res Day 1 – Four, Three, Two, One.. Go!

The train has officially left the station and no time has been wasted getting up to full speed. The short story on what happened yesterday includes 4 lectures, 3 orientation/training sessions, 2 trips to the dining room, and 1 workshop. As an added bonus there was a faculty reading in the evening which is always one of my favorite events to attend.

The longer story includes my decision to switch things up with regard to the dining room to alleviate some anxiety about any awkward situations. In the morning I skipped breakfast and then had a quick bite in my room later in the morning (it’s not my first rodeo and I came prepared). At lunch I waited until lunch was almost over and then snuck in the dining room to eat alone. That felt a little strange but also just comforting somehow, being able to eat at my own pace without having to make small talk. I was planning to do a similar thing for dinner and hit the room super early when most people would still be in a mentor intro session. What I found when I arrived was one of my favorite mentors milling about and we grabbed a 4 top. Two other students joined us and it was a really great conversation! I left feeling like “if it was always like that, the dining room would not be a thing of dread”. Life!

Workshop was a generative session which was something new they added on for just this session for the poets, to balance with the record number of fiction and CNF crew in attendance this go round. The workshop was an open dialogue with the faculty about writing and risk it was superb.

The lectures were all top-notch as is typical and I took gobbs of notes. There’s far too much to consume and internalize but this I already expect and have let go of really trying. If I had a dollar for every author and book and article and poem and short story that are referenced as a “must read”, I would be able to buy a bookstore and committing to read them would mean reserving the rest of my life; doing nothing but reading. Not humanly possible.

At the end of the day, as is my way, I took my leave of all the people and found a quiet spot on the back deck, this time with a nice glass of red wine, to watch the sunset. Sunsets in Nebraska can be amazing and I don’t want to miss any opportunity to witness the plunge of light as the sun is swallowed by a canopy of trees, turning the sky to sherrbert for just an instant before darkness takes another turn at the helm.

Two nights ago I met Patrick on the balcony for the first time and last night he appeared again, as if just on que with the darkness. He sat his glass of wine next to mine on the table and we chatted for a while. I’m not sure how long. It was another great conversation.

Despite it being a nice time, thinking about it when I came inside made me feel homesick for Jim and I called him when I got back to my room. It was a quick chat, about nothing important, which was comforting. I then did some final prep for workshop today and then fell into bed for, what I hoped would be, better than the first night. I don’t care about leaving that to chance and took a Xanax.

According to my Fitbit I got only 4 hours and 46 minutes but for some reason I feel more refreshed today than I did yesterday. I’m thinking that has to be about quality and not quantity and the fact that today promises to be less action packed.

My hour here is almost up and I’m in serious need of a long shower and possibly some eggs from the breakfast buffet. If I’m going to make all that happen before our 8:30 start, I’ve gotta Jam.

Stay Frosty My Friends,

~Miss SugarCookie

2019-07-13 MFA Res Day 0 – Stepping into the Familiar

Yesterday was a scramble to wrap up preparations and mid-afternoon I made the quick trip from my home-sweet-home to Nebraska City. Unlike a lot of the people in the program I live relatively close and don’t have far to go. Most traveling by car had a rough go because of all the flooding in the area. Those flying, well, had that nonsense to deal with of course. In truth, the drive was one of the best parts of my day. I would not have minded a detour that took me two hours off a regular route (as long as it was expected). I covet the time I’m the car to think about life.

My thoughts largely rotated around my expectations for the next ten days. I’ve got a week and a half of immersion in all things writing related and Lied Lodge Living. It’s an experience that truely does not compare to any other in my life. I can expect to laugh, and cry, and be filled with anxiety, doubt, confidence, and satisfaction. Sometimes all at the same time.

On my drive I was thinking about my first Res and how one of the people in the “upper class” said something about crying. At the time I’m sure the look in my face was screwed up with disbelief. What on earth is there to cry about? She just said “you’ll see”. Now that I’ve been here twice before, I know exactly what she’s talking about and was thinking about that in the car.

What will it be? How does one spiral into that frantic state. Is it the total immersion? The people? The overwhelming amount of thought my brain goes through? Probably a combination of all of it and the only other question will be “when”. Then again, life always has a way of surprising us so maybe something about this time will be different. So far though, that has not been the case.

Day 0 and I’ve already gone through the familiar first steps of coming together with the group, feeling awkward like I don’t belong, worrying about where to sit (there were not very many open seats when I came in the room and none next to any familiar faces), and then sitting alone in the front row.

Time slowed down to a snails pace and the next 15 minutes in that seat felt like 5 painful years creeping by. Why the hell would they say to be there at 6:15 if they were not going to start the welcome presentation until 6:30? Good grief.

And if that wasn’t bad enough, the dinner to follow was equally awkward. I went into the dining room with a friend from my weekly writing group and we selected a table and made a straight line for the buffet. When I returned I found someone else’s plate at my space at the table which left no open seat for me to sit and eat. My choices? Sitting at the adjacent table alone which would make me a stark center of attention, or sitting with people I didn’t know, or squeezing in – making that 4-top into a 5-top. I choose the latter. It was super awkward.

I fucking hate the dining room. Hate it.

Anyway, after a dinner of salad and chocolate cake I lingered a bit because Margret was telling a story and then i left at the same time as she did. I went to my room to recover. It sounds like no freaking big deal, any normal person would not batt an eyelash. But not yours truly. I wish I could get over myself. Good grief! 🤦🏼‍♀️

After that I went for a walk and that felt great. The sun was nearing the horizon and I knew I had about 45 minutes to go out and come back to the back patio of the lodge to watch it dip below the tree line. That’s exactly what I did. The walk was peaceful albeit not exactly refreshing as I could not relax my mind. I got a few nice snaps in of a tiny lake area that I had not visited before. Then, returning to my starting point, found a lovely inconspicuous spot on the patio.

The sunset was so-so. I’m sure there will be better ones in the future because I’ve seen it.

After the sunset I lingered again and a first year student came out solo for a view or a bit of fresh air. That’s when I did a thing I almost never do, which is approach and introduce myself. We chatted about the program for about a half an hour and it was good. A highlight of the night really. One on one is much more my speed.

When that conversation exhausted itself, I excused myself and went to the “bookstore” to help a few of my friends do inventory. That was it for my night. What would follow is the familiar return to the room for a night of tossing and turning and trouble falling asleep.

Fitbit says I got 6 hours, but it certainly does not feel like it.

Right about now I’m 54 minutes into a sesh with the treadmill in the exercise room at the lodge. Another familiar space, and a welcoming one. I only have a few more minutes before I need to scoot my booty to get dressed for the day, eat breakfast (sans dining room), and get to student orientation which starts at 8:30 (or will it be 8:45? 😉).

I’ve gotten some steps and now it’s time to dive in!

Peace,

~Miss SugarCookie