Saturday, August 7, 2010

The Quiet Days

August 7, 2010, 17:38:04

Day 2: Madison NJ

There is something about being here that reminds me of the carefree, idyllic summers of childhood.  It is not so much being around other writers, as it is being around nature and silence - which is so centering and restorative.   I spent a good deal of the afternoon today lounging in the shade of a tree, reading all the workshop writing I needed to catch up on.  The weather is a dream - not too warm, with an intermittent breeze.  I've fallen back into the rhythm of life here easily.  Sometimes I wish it could always be like this.

During the day, there are workshops and writing exercises and breaks for solitude.  At night, we party with the best of them (albeit often frugally).  I often get the feeling while in the moment, that I am making memories to last a lifetime.  Last night, we went to the hotel bar for drinks after having a few glasses of wine and beer at the Reception dinner and then Becky, Drew, David G., Jeff and I lazed about the fountain for a while - laughing and telling stories.  David G. has a fantastic talent for describing different people's walks.  Mine was aptly described as "lazy flouncing" or "sensual, knuckle-dragging" (haha!)

I've promised myself to spend tonight in, trying to frantically gather the mish-mosh of chapters of my book to submit to my fiction class and to write up a draft for my non-fiction elective.  I'm having a great time, but missing the boy of course, as everything without him seems to pale next to everything with him.  Today was a relatively easy day - individual meetings with David Grand and Walt Cummins in the morning to discuss my projects and one afternoon Prose workshop by Tom Kennedy on Recognizing the Details.  Dinner's at six, followed by a directed reading (Lost in the Funhouse) with Martin Donoff and Ellen Akins.

Today's piece of harsh, but honest wisdom provided by David G.:  "Do you want to be a Barista forever?  It seems a considerable waste of talent."

Those words are truly resonating with me.  I feel like I wasted a lot of my time this summer, which I could have spent writing.  Going to be more dedicated and disciplined in the fall.  Swear it.

Friday, August 6, 2010

And so we came to the end...

August 6, 2010, 16:01:00

Day 1: Madison NJ

I realize my blogging stopped abruptly in London and I'm hard-pressed to find an excuse, except a general one.  Life!  What I will say is that England gave me a lot of time to work on writing and blogging; the atmosphere (dreary) lent itself to many long, toasty evenings shuttered inside the library, typing away. Needless to say, I had a wonderful time in good 'ole GB and returned State-side in one piece.

I'm back in Madison, NJ now for my final residency and I'm greeting it with a mix of excitement and trepidation.  I feel like each residency has lent itself to a significantly different version of me - last August I was single, bubbly and excited to meet new people.  It was right before my trip to Peru and several months after a devastating breakup.  I didn't turn down a beer or a smoke or a even a dip in the campus fountain.  In January, I was more reserved - missing home and the boyfriend, slightly out of my element - I spent a lot of time alone in contemplation or with only one or two other people and did a great deal of writing.  I'm not quite sure who I'll be this time.

I'm sad it will be my last time with all these wonderful people, as the residencies have left a lasting impression on me.  I'm also scared of the fact that this is my last year - to do some serious work on my novel, to get my thesis together and to prepare myself for a new career in teaching.  So many changes are ahead and I feel like I've just gotten the hang of this whole thing.

Ran errands like crazy this morning - finished packing, fed the cats, took out the trash, returned library books, filled a prescription, got some groceries for the dorm...Settled in completely around 3:00 (it's surprising how fast you can build a life!) and read some of the workshop pieces in my room.  Waiting now to go pick up Drew and Becky from the train station.

Thinking of our first night together last August; how we went into town and had slices of pizza and beer outside a local pie shop together.  How everything seemed full of there was the feeling of creating a new tentative and exciting it all was. Will try not to think of this as an ending.  Good friends last a lifetime.

Friday, January 8, 2010


January 8th, 2010, 22:42:00

Day 7: London, England, UK

 London, the culminating point of all our travel here.  Because of all the snow and the Britons inability to deal with said snow, we weren't sure how it would all come together.  There was a possibility we would not be able to go or a possibility that we would be significantly delayed going, leaving us less time to tour.  I woke up early and had a hearty breakfast in the Carriage-house, prepared for anything.  Those who were traveling to London met in the lobby of the Abbey after breakfast.  Altogether, our group was comprised of: Helen, Rachel, Hilary, Raquel, Pam, Marquita, Kara, Kandy, Lynette and I. 

Trevor (our English host) was kind enough to take us all to Banbury in the school's van, despite the horrible road conditions, at around 9:30.  From Banbury, we were able to buy group discounted rail passes, which included a departing train to London, returning trip to Banbury and unlimited use of "the Tube" - London's railway system (similar to our subway system here).  Helen, who had previously lived in London for a number of years, was great about knowing where all the sights were and how to get to them which was a great time-saver. When we first arrived, we took the Tube to view Parliament, The London Eye and Big Ben (all within walking distance of each other).  My camera, unfortunately chose this moment to die and the spare battery I had packed was not charged either...leaving me no camera for...the entire day.  I took it in stride and bought two throwaway cameras, but cursed myself most of the day for not having the foresight to think of charging my batteries the night before.  London was still beautiful, with or without my camera.

We then went to Westminster Abbey, the burial place of Kings and Queens, Statesmen and soldiers, poets and priests and a modern-day place of worship. Only a handful of us wanted to pay the 12 pounds to go inside, but in my eyes, it was well worth it.  The inside was simply breath-taking - with high, arched ceilings, marble statues of men and Angels, a towering organ, burial shrouds and tombs...all with startling attention to detail.  My favorite was Henry VII's 'Lady Chapel'. Along both walls, it held seated stalls with banners above them for the Knights of the Order of Bath.  The back boasted burial places for Kings and Queens and ornately carved funerary statues.  Beautiful stain-glassed floor to ceiling windows bathed everything in multicolored swathes of light.  It hit you right in the chest - that's how devastating it was. At the end of the tour, we were given the opportunity to light a candle in prayer, so I made a small donation to do so (one of my favorite parts of the day).

From Westminster Abbey, we went to Harrod's, one of England's largest retailers (akin to the Western Macy's).  After a brief walk through some of their departments - lingering longer at some departments (hello, chocolate department!) than others, we went across the street to eat at a quaint French restaurant.  For lunch, I had Mozzarella and Tomato on a Baguette and a Diet coke.  Once refueled, we resumed our touring.  Our next stop was Buckingham Palace.  They were doing the changing of the guard when we arrived, but it was behind the gates and not in front like the movies, so we didn't get to view it in much detail.  The nearby fountain was beautiful, although the Palace architecture paled in the face of some London's other buildings.

After Buckingham Palace, we stopped at the Tower of London and the Tower Bridge.  We walked partway over the bridge, but the Tower was closed after five, so we made do with a few pictures.  At this point, it was sufficiently dark and cold and we were all looking forward to resting our feet.  We took the Tube over to Covent Gardens to do some last-minute shopping and get dinner before calling it a day.  Covent Gardens was one of my favorite places in London.  It had more of the quaint, old-worldish charm and less tourist attractions and more closely resembled Oxford than anything else we'd been to.  We didn't make it to Knotting Hill, but I imagine I would have like that as much, if not more than Covent Gardens.  After shopping, we ate dinner at a family-style seating, modern Italian restaurant, where I had a mouth-watering Pumpkin Gnocci and a Citrus iced tea.  Several of us picked up dessert or candy at Marks and Spencers, an English grocery.

After dinner, around eight-thirty, we made our way back to Marylebone station, where we got our train back to Banbury.  All in all, it was a very successful trip and we were able to see quite a lot despite the time constraints.  It killed me not to have my camera, but I enjoyed London just the same and hopefully I can go back one day (and remember to charge my battery).

Things to do in the future:
Visit the Tate Museum, see the Royal Treasure exhibition at the Tower of London, go to the London Aquarium & ride the London Eye.

Thursday, January 7, 2010


January 7th, 2010, 16:25:00

Day 6: Wroxton College, Wroxton, England, UK

Had a very opaque panel this morning about "The Transparent, the Translucent and the Opaque".  It got overly philosophical and I had difficulty applying it to my own work, but it was somewhat helpful when it comes to literary analysis.  After the panel, Kandy and I were going to hitch into Banbury with Jin and Lou, but Jin wasn't feeling well so Kandy and I ended up meeting with David Grand and Renee Steinke at the North Arms pub instead.  Nick and Gary, the pub owners are really fantastic; even though they weren't technically open when we arrived, they lit a fire and let us warm up while the kitchen crew arrived.

The hospitality here is really a thing unto itself.  Everyone and everything is unfailingly polite.  The signage on the trains for example says, "Mind the gap", which is much less commanding than "Watch Your Step".  Had an interesting conversation with Trevor about the policeman, who don't carry weapons, other than a truncheon.  There seems to be a good deal of red tape and the police here have to be polite to the criminals/citizens.  Lou, Jin's husband, watched an episode of a television show similar to the American show "Cops" and after pursuing some criminals in a chase, the cops let them off with a warning.  Chases in the US, of course, end with resisting arrest charges at the very least and handcuffing and tazering at worst.

I was meant to have an individual meeting with David Grand in the afternoon, but he still has to plow through my now about 75 pages of novel before we speak, so instead, I headed back to the Abbey where I took a nap and read some of Neal Shusterman's new YA  book "Everwild".  After my nap, there was dinner and after dinner, Becky, Hilary, Jin, Lou, Rich, Eric(?) and I watched "Tropic Thunder" downstairs in the game room.  I got to sleep around 1:30, all set (nearly) for my big day in London!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

A Snow Story or Let's Get Lost

January 6th, 2010, 16:34:00

Day 5: Wroxton College, Wroxton, England, UK

Today, we were back at the Abbey. I fell asleep early last night (around ten-thirty) and when I woke up this morning, everything outside my window was blanketed in snow. We got about 14-16 inches in all and it continued to snow intermittently throughout the day. I slept through breakfast and workshop didn't start until eleven, so I had a brief walk around the school grounds before class. The woods were completely silent, hushed by the fallen snow, and there was only one pair of footprints on the ground when I left. On the way back, I walked in the shoe-prints I had left.

It's so peaceful here in the snow - besides the shush of snow falling from branches and the quiet babble of the waterfall and brook, there's nothing to hear. It reminds you of just how isolated you are. When I go hiking at home, you can usually hear voices or cars on nearby roads. It was nice to be alone with my thoughts. I got lots of great pictures. I wish that Angel could be here; he would love it.

Workshop went really well. I got a bit of a ego-boost as my professor said that my work was pretty much at a publishable level. I've actually gotten a lot of writing done since I've been here. It's such different pace than the Madison residence. I've spent less time drinking, playing pool and socializing and more time by myself reflecting and meditating and working on my book. Raquel even remarked upon it this morning - "you're so much calmer than last residency". And it's true - my heart feels so peaceful lately and I just feel really blessed for every little opportunity that comes my way.

After workshop, David Grand and I went for a walk in the snow off the beaten path. We came upon several badger holes, but didn't see any wildlife but birds and ducks. Again, it was peaceful, but it had a bit more of an adventuring spirit than when I went by myself. There was a really majestic viewpoint when we got to the crest of the hill across from the Abbey. Below us lay a field of untouched snow, bordered by the most beautiful sky I have seen since I've come here. It's one of those moments where you have to take a deep breath and let it all sink in. It reminded me of one of our resting places in Peru - at the precipice of a hill, overlooking a mountain intersected by the Urubamba River. I'm such a lucky girl in every way.

Going to try to write for a few hours before dinner. After dinner are faculty readings and then I will either go trek to the pub in all this snow or settle in and write some more.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Driving to Oxford

January 5th, 2010

Day 4: Oxford, England, UK

I'm writing this a day late, because there was no time to sit down and write yesterday. Tuesday started off with breakfast as usual, followed by a workshop on "Character Introduction" by Walt. This lasted until eleven and then we had a free afternoon to tour. Some people stayed on at the Abbey, but most decided to go to Oxford.

The majority of people took the train, but Jin and her husband, Lou, who have a car, offered to drive Kersten and I into Oxford. We left around eleven-thirty, taking the scenic route on the way. We saw several sheep and horses and lots of rural, rolling green hills that seem to typify this area of England. I slept most of the way on the bus from Heathrow when we arrived, so it was a bit unnerving experiencing driving on the left side of the road for the first time. In England, as most people know, cars drive on the opposite side of the road. However, they also pass on the right instead of the left, have the driver's seat on the right side and have stop lights that go from Red to blinking Yellow to Green instead of Green to Yellow to Red (making it more like a drag race). The English are also fond of their "round-a-bouts", which seem to serve as U-turns in most instances.

When we arrived in Oxford, we scouted out Blackwell's, UK's largest academic and professional book-seller. I bought a copy of "Everything is Illuminated" by Jonathan Safran Foer, which had a different cover than the US Version and Dave Eggers' book "Where the Wild Things Are". We also had lunch at the White Horse, a pub next door where I had a cheese, apple and sweet relish sandwich with chips and a salad. (I debated the fish and chips, but I'd already experienced them at a pub in Wroxton on Monday, where I went with Walt, David Grand and Becky for lunch.)

After we ate, I walked around with Jin and her husband, visiting the covered market and taking pictures of various buildings, including the Bodleain library. The architecture was simply breathtaking and for someone who comes from a relatively young country, it was amazing to look at landmarks that went back hundreds of years. For dinner, we met back at Blackwell's and Walt, Renee, Jin, Lou, Sean and I went for Thai food on George Street. I had Pad Thai, which I've been craving ever since my favorite local Thai place, Spring Grille, closed down. Right before dinner, it began to snow and it continued all through the night. Oxford was especially magical in the snow and people continued to ride their bicycles, even as it piled up.

We took it carefully on the way home - a truck in front of us ran off the road, but most of the locals drove even faster in the snow. On the way home, we stopped at Tesco, a large supermarket/department store here. All in all, it was a really great day and a good introduction to Oxford, although I'd like to go back and explore Christ Church and the Steampunk exhibit at the Museum of the History of Science.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Oxford Comma

January 4th, 2010, 09:24:00

Day 3: Wroxton College, Wroxton, England, UK

Faculty reading last night - Ellen Akins, Walt Cummins, David Daniels and Tom Kennedy. Had a pint following the reading at the North Arms pub with some of the professors and students. The pub was a quaint place, with a really lovely staff. I'm finding myself spending more time with the faculty than the students this residency. They have infinite wisdom and anecdotes to impart on the subject of writing and I'm finding myself more and more drawn to the idea of getting something published. For now, the term writer is only used loosely when applied to myself. I fancy myself a writer and I do write, but as far as sharing it with anyone else, I'm sorry to say I haven't. I think I've put all my stock in the idea of publishing a great novel, but in the mean-time, it might be nice to get some short stories in print and start establishing my name and presence in the writing community. If I have any New Year's resolutions, other than being happy and healthy, it's to get something out there.

Nothing much to report today. Got my bank issue resolved yesterday, had a big breakfast in the dining hall this morning and I'm headed to my first class of the day in about forty minutes. I wish I had more time to write, but the only significant periods of free-time are at night. Maybe it will mean sacrificing socializing at the pub and isolating myself up in my room for a night or two. The residencies always leave me energized and with a renewed zest for writing, but no actual time to write.

We have a half day tomorrow and some of us are headed to Oxford. Our first full day off, Friday, will be spent in London. I'd love to see the London Eye, Buckingham Palace and Big Ben, ride a double-decker bus...all the touristy things. I usually like to explore off the beaten path, but seeing as how we only have a day, I'd like to experience the parts of London most people associate with London.

Two anecdotes:

Last night at dinner yielded this gem: Tom Kennedy to Renee, after she gave him the cherry from her cake - "You gave me your cherry. I want to meet your mother."

Also, Sean finding notes inside his desk about sightings of a ghost, dated several years apart, in different hand-writing. "The ghost is by the dresser again. He is wearing the same thing as last time." And the final note: "Don't piss the ghost off."

More later...