My Co-Editor at Spry: Linsey Jayne

Today, I want to introduce you to Linsey Jayne. While I cannot link to her online (we should all rally so that she will start her own blog), I can tell you a bit about her…

Linsey and I met while both attending Fairfield University’s incredible MFA program. We started in the same cohort and by fortune of circumstance found out that we only lived a town away from each other in Massachusetts. Linsey is a kick-ass poet who also studies/writes flash fiction as well. Her third-semester critical project studied the line between a prose poem and flash fiction. It was incredible. Her thesis blew me away. I still remember some of her poems so well, because they just stay with you once you’re done reading them. (Seriously though, they ARE that good).

I can’t begin to describe how fantastic of an editor Linsey is. She has a sharp eye, but not just for poetry. She will point out so many incredible things in the fiction, creative nonfiction and flash genres as well. She also has the kindest heart, and will make it a point to personally reject submissions that she was fond of, even if we decide not to use it for this issue.

I couldn’t do this without Linsey. She is creative, driven, energetic, kind, and just a great business partner. Thank you, Linsey.

Acknowledgements

Y’all know that I am finishing my graduate school thesis. That’s all I seem to talk about on here.

At this point, I’m about 90% done with the thesis and 90% done the preface for the thesis.

I am 0% done with the abstract, 0% done with the acknowledgements page and 0% done with the bibliography. I do think the abstract and bibliography will be relatively easy though.

The acknowledgements though? It scares me. Why? Because I am too grateful. I don’t know where to start. I don’t even know if there is a limit to the amount of pages I can include for this section. I’m thankful for every moment I wrote about in my thesis. I’m thankful for ever person who influenced the manuscript. I’m thankful for all the schools that denied my fiction application when I applied as an undergraduate even though it broke my heart. I’m grateful for the nonfiction graduate class I signed up for at Umass Dartmouth even though I wasn’t a student, just to get my writing juices flowing. I’m grateful for Christina McCarroll who taught the class and all the amazing students who read and helped me hone my nonfiction craft (I’d never written a lick on nonfiction before this!). The two main stories I wrote in this class became my application for the seven graduate schools I applied to. I’m beyond grateful for being accepted to every one of those graduate schools. That is by far one of my favorite life moments. I was so proud of myself. I’m so thankful for Michael White, my program director. Fairfield was tied for first place on my wish list with two other schools. I’m grateful that Michael recognized my talent and was the first school to accept me (only a few days after receiving my application). I’m fortunate for all the students I met in my graduate school career. I couldn’t begin to thank them for their encouragement, their suggestions on my stories. I’m beyond thankful to the MFA gods for giving me Phil as a big brother and Daisy as a little sister in the program. I’m still thankful for earning the Trueblood Award my first residency (now called the Truben Award) and also for being voted the graduation speaker this last residency. I am eternally grateful to all of my mentors: Lary Bloom, Joan Connor, Porochista Khakpour and Kim Dana Kupperman who worked one on one with me over my four semesters. For the teachers who guided my workshops: Kim, Lary, Da Chen, Leila Philip, Baron Wormser, and Marita Golden- their guidance unearthed some of my best impromptu writing, all of which made it into my final thesis. I’m grateful that Baron will be my second reader for my thesis, and I cannot wait to hear him read my words as I walk across the stage to accept my diploma. I’m thankful that Fairfield led me to Phil (my big bro), Trueblood (yep, the award was named after him) and Linsey, as we formed the Masshole Writers Group. The stories I’ve written have changed sometimes very dramatically with their suggestions. Plus, we go out to eat when we critique each other’s work and I love food. I’m grateful for GChat, which allowed me to brainstorm with my school friends at times I might not have been able to easily communicate. I’m grateful for everything Ender’s Island. That place is the perfect place to study creative writing. That island will always be one of my favorite places and it as a place has truly opened me up. I’m actually thankful that I broke my foot on the island during my third residency. It taught me to rely on others, something I don’t know I ever really knew how to do. I am so glad to have worked on Mason’s Road, Fairfield MFA’s literary journal since my first semester. I was a nonfiction reader for three issues and this semester I am serving as the co-editor with my incredible MFA little sis, Daisy. Mason’s Road has greatly impacted my writing. Reading other people’s work is a great way to expand your knowledge and to see first hand what works and what doesn’t work. It has helped me critique and edit my own work. I am eternally grateful to the people outside of the program who have supported or assisted me in any way. I have to thank Kate for editing assistance. I’m thankful for all my friends who encouraged me, or scheduled plans around my busy schedule. I’m grateful for my family for not only encouraging me, but also being characters in my manuscript. I’m thankful for Mr. O’s family and friends who understood if I wasn’t able to go to dinners or get-togethers because I was too busy writing. I’m grateful for Wolverine’s excitement about graduation and the amount of homework we both have to do. He graduates Kindergarten in June (and he still is quite shocked that he graduates before me!) and my graduation is in July. Not only that, but I have to thank Wolverine for completely changing my life. The combination of school and Wolverine in my life has taught me more than I ever could learn about forgiveness and parenting. He has opened me up to selfless unconditional love. He’s helped me learn and grow, and I love him so much for that. I couldn’t end here without acknowledging the person who has probably been my main support throughout this whole experience: Mr. O. I’m thankful for all the times he cooked dinner or cleaned up the apartment or went places without me all so that I could write. I’m grateful for the times he sternly told me to do my homework– he’s the best dad. I’m thankful for the suggestions and perspective he gave me on my writing. I’m thankful that he’s honest and willing to tell me something doesn’t work, or he doesn’t get the point I’m going for. I’m glad he doesn’t judge what I say as he’s probably the only non-school person to read the stories. But besides the actual work, I’m so grateful that he supported me emotionally as well. He pushed me when I wanted to give up, he held and kissed me when it all felt too overwhelming (and then he made me stop crying and start writing.) The biggest thing he did was always keep put things into perspective for me.

Can I acknowledge myself? I’ve written what is now a 114 page manuscript (that could change a bit before May 1st). Wow. That my friends doesn’t account for all the other numerous pages I’ve written and revised in the past two years. It doesn’t account for my preface, for my craft essays, for my graduation speech. It doesn’t account for my class I’ll teach. It doesn’t account for the notes I’ve taken, the stories I’ve started but never finished. I’ve completed (almost) a manuscript, and I need to pat myself on the back as well. Good job, Erin.  I’m proud of you.

Well, I guess acknowledging wasn’t as scary as I thought it could be. Now all I need to do is edit, remove the zillion adverbs and it looks like I might be at least 90% done on my acknowledgment section as well.

two years

Two years ago, Michael C. White sent me an email. It came to me via Blackberry, and upon reading the words on the miniature 2 inch screen, I  threw my phone at my boss; jumped around in the air, yet didn’t answer any of my coworkers’ questions as to why I was jumping; drove home quickly, though safely; and then hit my brother’s car while parallel parking.

He was writing to let me know that I had gotten into Fairfield University, which was the leader of my top three MFA programs.

An hour later, I got accepted to another graduate school. In the next two weeks I was accepted to all of the five other schools I applied to. I’m sure I mentioned this previously on the blog, but the first time I applied to graduate school I got denied by all five colleges. I was an undergraduate at the time, and I threw a bunch of recently written fiction together and applied to some of the most prestigious writing programs. The completed application was half-assed. I just didn’t expect to not get in to graduate school. I don’t write about all my acceptances to boast or brag (but I must admit, I consider getting into every grad school I applied to as one of my greatest accomplishments); I write about it to showcase that if you fall down, you need to brush yourself off and try again. I waited longer than I should have to reapply (out of fear), and I applied in nonfiction (after only writing two nonfiction “essays” in my entire life), but I did apply. I did my research and put in a lot of time, stress, tears and effort into my graduate school search.

I highly doubt Michael White knew just how much of a gift he gave me. I’m sure he knows that an applicant will be thrilled to learn of his or her acceptance. I certainly was. It is just that the past two years of my life have been the best two years of my life. My experience in Fairfield’s MFA has challenged me, changed me and pushed me to be not only a better writer, but a better person.

Thank you for taking a chance on me, Michael White. I won’t let you down.

randoms

  • I’m not a big fan of waiting. I’m an action girl. I like to make things happen, not sit and wait for them to happen.
  • I am a very positive person, and believe in the power of intention.
  • I really need to type up and post my new 101 in 1001 list that went live 10/2/11.
  • Even more than that, I need to post all the updates for my original 101 challenge that ended 10/1/11.
  • I need to organize my entire life… because it isn’t.
  • I also need to see Michaela soon, because it has been ages since we have been together, and that, well that just doesn’t feel right.
  • I am addicted to Pinterest. It’s true. I can’t stop pinning. I just want to do it all the time.
  • I’m getting a coffee this weekend with Kristen, the fantastic Season 5 Statejoy blogger who happens to live near me. This will be epic.
  • I’ve cooked a whole lot since I started the new 101 challenge. At least once a week. So I need to get those blog posts written and posted.
  • My graduate school project is coming to a quick end, and I’m already wishing I had more time to develop it. I loved studying social media and its relation to writing. I definitely want to do more with this project in the future.
  • Speaking of school, my kick ass mentor Porochista won a NEA Grant! And so did two other amazing teachers in my program. Great job ladies!
  • Oh, and the Director of my MFA program won the Best Fiction Connecticut Book Award for his novel Beautiful Assassin.

 

Edit: I never finished this post yesterday morning. I had plans of finishing it when I got home, but instead I watched some X Factor and fell asleep. This morning I woke up to a comment from the aforementioned Michaela, and it made me feel all warm and fuzzy, because we were both thinking of each other yesterday. I really miss her.

he makes me lists

So last week I planned on blogging more often. When I was a child, I planned on being a famous recording artist when I grew up. Sometimes things just don’t turn out the way you plan. I mean, it has only been 6 days since my last post. It’s not like its a whole month.

Today I told someone, “We are all flexible humans, and our opinions about ourselves need to be flexible as well.” I thought that was pretty solid advice. I’m just trying to be flexible now with myself and not beat myself up for not posting every 37 seconds.

So let’s talk about Mr. O for a second. Last night he did something pretty darn sweet, and I just couldn’t keep it to myself. I have my first packet of the semester due for graduate school next Monday. I’m not even close to being as prepared as I would like. When this happens I tend to do a bit of whining, and I also beg other people to do my homework for me. Unfortunately, no one ever takes me up on that. Anyway, I was laying in bed and typing away. Oh, and I was also bugging Mr. O.

“Who do you think I should be speaking to in this monologue?” I’d ask him, after explaining the story. “I don’t know what to write about,” I’d grumble. “Ugh, can’t I just help you clean instead?” Let’s just say I wasn’t very invested in writing at that moment.

Mr. O is quite the tough cookie. He’s pretty insistant that I actually do my homework, instead of just talk about how I could be doing my homework. (Totally unfair, I know, I know, I know…) I think because he’s a father, he picks up on things like me trying to weasel out of my homework. I really thought offering to help him clean would be a way I could stop writing, but nope! Mr. Tough Guy saw right through me. So, being the super sweet boyfriend that he is, he sat down on the bed and talked with me about the monologues I was working on. He asked me some questions and gave me some suggestions, and it really helped. I was ready to jump back into that monologue from a perspective I wasn’t considering before our chat.

I bet you thought the story would end there.

I probably thanked Mr. O and reiterated that he was the best boyfriend in the whole wide world. He probably told me to quit talking and start typing. But, before he left, I said, “Alright, buddy. I’m going to do my homework in here, and YOUUUU can do my homework out there.” I told him to think of ideas I could write about, because I was stuck. I think he laughed at me when he was opening the door to leave.

So I wrote and I wrote and I wrote. Then I got annoyed with my writing. Then I signed on to Facebook and felt pretty guilty that I was goofing around. Then I wrote. Then I got annoyed again. So I got up and went into the the living room to cuddle up to Mr. O, but he wasn’t there. Then I got all mopey and went back to my writing. A little while later, Mr. O opened the bedroom door. “Alright,” he said, throwing a notebook down on the bed. “Here’s your list.”

THAT CRAZY FOOL HAD BEEN THINKING OF THINGS I COULD WRITE ABOUT!!! And all the ideas were really fantastic!

Aren’t I the luckiest?

just thinking…

  • So last week I wrote about a horrible man, whom I thought was a pretty evil character. Mr. O was kind enough to send me this article about an even more horrible human being, so I figured I would share it with you.
  • My MFA Big Brother Phil has put me to shame. When he first started blogging, he asked me if I had any suggestions. My advice was: Write often. Who cares if you think that you have nothing to say, just say anything…eventually you’ll have a lot to say. Well, folks. At this point, Phil’s blog has evolved into what I’d like to call a Rock Star Blog. He’s posting pretty much every day, and people get upset with him when he doesn’t say anything. I think I have to take some of my own advice.
  • Two nights ago I had three wonderful humans come to my house for a writing group. We’re called the Masshole Writers, and I’m so grateful to be part of such a rad team. When we get together we chow down; this time we had a Chinese and Lebanese food buffet. Then we settle into workshop mode and go over each other’s submissions. There are two fiction writers, a poet, and me- the nonfiction writer. It is refreshing to workshop with writers out of your own genre.
  • Woah, I don’t think I made a super amazing announcement on my blog yet! (What the hell is wrong with me?) Porochista Khakpour will be my new faculty mentor for this semester. (Cue the parade and confetti and balloons!) I am F-ing PUMPED, folks. I’ve always admired Porochista, but assumed that because she was hired as a faculty member for the fiction genre, I wouldn’t get the chance to have her as a mentor. Well, this is just another lesson that nothing is impossible. I’m fortunate to be in my 3rd semester now for graduate school, and we spend the majority of the next few months working on a “project.” I needed a spunky, funny, enthusiastic teacher to advise me this semester and Porochista is my gal. I’ll give you details about the project in a future post, because I might even need your help!
  • Mr. O and I want to go on a mini vacation in September, but our choices are very limited. Both of our birthdays are next month, which also happens to be Hurricane Season. So cancel almost all southern states and Caribbean locations. Any suggestions?
  • On Friday, I’ll be attending my last wedding of 2011. I am pretty excited because I have a dark purple dress I have been DYING to wear somewhere. One of my close friends from high school is getting married to a fabulous guy. I’ve heard this is going to be a good time. Can’t wait to find out.

welcome new friends!

49 go on a cruise (9)Ola, amigos. Have you recently found your way over here from Kyla’s blog? If so, welcome! Make yourself at home. I bet you’re wondering, “Who is this Erin character?” That’s a good question. The easiest way to get a brief overview of who I am is to check out the “About the Girl” tab at the top of this page. However, I’ve provided a short list below cause I like to make things nice and simple for you.

  • I’m afraid of bees. However, alligators are my favorite animals.
  • I am a graduate student studying creative nonfiction and I do a lot of whining about how I procrastinate too much. (I also don’t have good grammar on this blog, beware!)
  • Besides my day job, I have a part time gig as a relief worker for adults with mental illnesses, and I also coordinate and plan events such as weddings and concerts.
  • If I told you that I was a great cook then I’d be lying to you, and I really am an honest person. I can however tell you that I want to be a good cook one day. My boyfriend makes fantastic meals; he’s teaching me what he knows, and the rest we plan on learning together.
  • I think everyone really should have a lucky number and a favorite color.
  • I also really want to know people’s middle names.
  • If it wasn’t for 20 Something Bloggers, I don’t know if I would have continued to blog since I first started in 2008. I also owe a lot of my blogging gratitide to my 101 in 1001 goals list and NaBloPoMo and NaNoWriMo and Grace in Small Things as well.
  • I love everything about home improvement. However, I do not own my own home. Still, I fantasize about home design projects and knocking down walls and painting and everything that could have to do with houses.
  • I love to travel. Anywhere.

And here are some of the key players on this blog:

  • Mr. O: The most wonderful man in the world (at least in my eyes). As corny as it may sound, Mr. O is my boyfriend and my best friend. I tend to profess my love for him on here. Sorry, folks.
  • Fairfield University MFA Program: I write a LOT about my grad school experiences, and on top of that, you have the chance to get to know some of my classmates, like Phil and AJ and Reuben and Brooke.
  • Fenway: My Chihuahua/Terrier mix. She’s a rescue dog I adopted while living in Virginia. She definitely keeps me on my toes.

Oh…and these things happen often around these parts.

  • The Defining Moments Guest Series: So far Amanda, AJ, Phil, Brooke, Reuben, Heidi and Kat have all posted about moments of reinvention or inspiration. This series has been a big hit for my readers, and I am always looking for more people to write a guest blog on this topic. You don’t have to be a regular blogger to do this. Kat wasn’t a blogger when she first wrote her post for me… now she has a Tumblr. There are two more guest bloggers that will be coming up this week. One of them has never blogged before, and probably won’t again (unless I can convince her to write another guest post!).
  • My Lessons- The Thoughts on Love Series:  Now, I’m not an expert, but I’ve been thinking a lot about love this year…what it takes to be in a relationship, choices people make, how other people can affect your relationships, etc. I started this series to share my observations, thoughts and feelings.

finding a “real” job

Hope you guys are enjoying the guest blogger series. Here is the next installment from yet again another fellow writer and MFA Candidate from Fairfield University:

Brooke Law is pursuing her MFA degree through Fairfield University’s low residency program and is currently working on a novel.  She writes about her favorite books at Books Distilled, which is a TLC Book Tour featured blog.  She lives with her husband in Long Island, NY.

I got married last June and two weeks later my husband and I moved (from each of our parents’ houses and our apartments in Durham, NC) to Long Island, where he had been appointed head pastor of a small church.  I had never set foot on Long Island until the day we moved into our house.

I managed to land a job as a waitress a few weeks later so I had some income while I looked for a “real” job.  My background was in nonprofits, and specifically I wanted to work with a nonprofit focusing on education policy.  Opportunities were nonexistent, unless I was willing to make a 90-minute commute to and from NYC.  Being newly married and also fiercely protective of my personal time, I wasn’t.

So during my slow lunch shifts at the restaurant I daydreamed.  At first I wished we were still living in Durham (which surprised even me) and I wished I could go back to my old job.  I was bored.  I was resentful.

Slowly I accepted the fact that I couldn’t change where we were living. Instead of complaining in my head while I sat in the near-empty restaurant, I took a second order pad from the closet and began writing scenes for a novel I’d started after graduating from college but hadn’t touched in over a year.  Then I went home each afternoon and typed them up, trying to ignore the shouting in my mind that I was wasting my time.

That fall I read a book of short stories published by a kid I’d had a writing class with in college.  He had been a decent writer our sophomore year, but he had become an amazing writer in the intervening years.  I thought my usual thought when I read something beautiful: I will never be that good of a writer.  And there in the darkened, empty restaurant, something flared up inside me and I determined that I would work until I became that good of a writer.

A few days later I found an email I’d sent to myself the year before about a low-residency MFA program through Fairfield University.  I liked the structure of the program and I loved that the residency was based in Mystic, CT–I’d lived there for a semester during college and thought it was a beautiful town.

I emailed the director, Michael White, with a few questions, and he wrote back an hour later to tell me there were still spots open for the December residency.  I put together my application in two days, got recommendations, called Vassar for my transcript.  Four days after submitting my writing sample I received an email from Michael, noting that he was impressed with the first chapter of my novel and as long as all my other paperwork was in order, I could consider myself accepted.

I was thrilled.  I was going to be a writer! I signed the acceptance forms, quit my waitressing job, started looking for a full-time office job so I could pay for school.

And then panic set in.  I got my tuition bill in the mail and freaked out.  I was being foolish.  Following my dream in this way was much too expensive.  I was being selfish.  My husband and I already had a lot of school debt, and I was just adding to it for a profession that might never pay me a living wage.  I cried.

And then the storm passed.  I remembered that I’ve wanted to be a writer since I first learned to write my name. I had tried writing a novel on my own but knew I could do better if someone taught me. After facing the deluge of fear and standing firm, I felt at peace.

Now I wake up early each morning to spend an hour writing before I start my day.  Every morning I spend time getting to know my characters more deeply, learning more about setting and dialogue, and every morning that time is a blessing I never imagined I could have.  And once a month I get in-depth feedback from a wonderful faculty mentor, an accomplished writer in his own right.

I have always wanted to be a writer, and now I am.  That is the main thing that has changed: my mindset.  I’m not waiting around to become a writer, and I don’t have to get a book deal to become a writer.  I have become a writer already, in my sheer commitment to and love of this work.  I’m not published yet, but I will be someday. Sometimes it’s scary to spend so much time and energy on a process so deeply creative and vulnerable, but it’s a relief to be afraid I won’t make it as a writer–rather than being afraid of regretting my life because I never tried.

On being a fiction writer

Phil Lemos was the first person I “met” at my graduate school program. Why? Because I was fortunate enough to have him as my Big Brother. It was a match made by the writing gods, and I’m forever grateful to have been paired up with Phil. Don’t forget to find your way over to his blog after you’re done reading this. He’s quite the funny guy.

Phil and I at my first grad school residency

This week I finished the first draft of a novel. Also this week, somebody asked me what I do for a living. (I’ve been unemployed long enough to develop an intense aversion toward fielding that question.)

I paused for a minute and then said I’m a fiction writer. The logical next question was, “How long have you worked as a fiction writer?”

“My entire life,” I said.

And it’s true. Even when I was a gas station attendant, stockbroker or payroll supervisor, I was a fiction writer, even if I may not have realized it.

My career as a fiction writer began early in my childhood, when I wrote elaborate short stories in grade school that entertained and bewildered my teachers. The creative side of my mind invented a series of fictional universes and I pumped out stories in those universes. When my teacher asked us to write a 3-page story, I wrote a 12-page story. While the extra pages could easily have driven them batty, my teachers would always suggest to my parents that I pursue a career in writing.

Writing soon took a back seat, though. I didn’t major in creative writing or English at Syracuse, though I took three writing classes (two A’s and a B+). I graduated and the real world intervened.  I had to get a “job” that would “pay the bills.”  I spent eight years writing, but as a newspaper reporter, not a fiction writer. Then I got bored and also discovered that newspapers were slowly dying. So I left journalism and became a stock broker.

Four years ago, for a variety of reasons, I walked away from my career as a stockbroker (none of which involve any clairvoyance regarding the looming stock market crash). I sold my practice and tried to figure out what to do with the rest of my life. I began writing again – first in short, private bursts on my laptop and then in emailed short stories and mock newspaper articles to my friends, who frequently wrote back, “You should do this for a living.”

That’s when it clicked. Fiction writing was what I always wanted to do. I just never had the chance to do it.

I’ve spent the past couple of years pursuing my Master of Fine Arts in fiction. The novel whose first draft I just finished will be my thesis. I’ll spend my final semester revising it. Writing the novel has been fun, painful and exhausting all at once. Obviously, I hope to find a publisher and make some money.

There are long odds against that.

At times I ask myself, “Why am I doing this?” It’s counterintuitive to devote a lot of time to something in which the opportunity for financial success is minimal. Yet people do it all the time – athletes, musicians, actors, hoping for that opportunity to seize.

I guess writers are cut from the same cloth. For every Jonathan Franzen, Mary Karr, T. S.  Eliot or Diablo Cody there’s a struggling writer out there hoping to find the right hands to place their work. But even if it doesn’t work out for me, no matter what career path I land on, I can always say that I’m a fiction writer.

Of two names

Good Morning Folks! I want to give a warm welcome to my fellow FUMFAer, Ann/AJ. Don’t forget to stop by her blog after you’re done reading and check out some of the other great stuff she has to say…

This fake front page is a farewell gift from my co-workers at The Boston Herald. The staff knew me as both Ann and A.J., and as you can see, two of the three stories on the "front page" are name-related. (In case you're wondering, that unfortunate picture was taken for some chiropractor story I was working on at the time.)

In the summer of 2000, I sat down across from one of my best friends at Fire & Ice Grill and Bar in Cambridge, Mass. and made a decision.

“I’m changing my name,” I told her.  “Well not legally. But my pen name. I’m changing that.”

“What are you changing it to?” She dipped into her freshly grilled whatever-it-was-that-she’d ordered.

“A.J. O’Connell. I’m going to write under A.J. O’Connell. Doesn’t that sound neat?”

She agreed that it did. We raised our frosty beverages and toasted the new name. And then we forgot all about it and dug into dinner.

It didn’t feel like a major decision at the time. I was still the same old Ann. I had simply chosen a pen name, but that moment turned out to be a big one. That moment reinvented me, or rather, that moment invented A.J.

I was 22 years old at the time, an editorial assistant at The Boston Herald and starting out in journalism with the sort of starry-eyed idealism that only recent college grads can muster.

The name change had been on my mind for weeks. I liked the ambiguity of it. I felt that a set of initials would make readers more likely to focus on my work, rather than my gender. As a young reader of fiction, I’d always liked reading authors represented by initials – J.R.R. Tolkien, J.K. Rowling, C.S. Lewis  – because I didn’t make any assumptions about them based on their names. And besides, I liked the sound of “A.J. O’Connell.” It sounded newsy. It sounded tough. It was a cool name. But it was just a pen name. It was just a byline. People would still call me Ann. I’d just be A.J. to my readers.

A couple weeks later, my union rep called me A.J. in a room filled with colleagues. I wondered who A.J. was. When I realized he was talking to me, I corrected him: “Call me Ann.”

“But your name is A.J.,” he said.

He was right. It was on my union card.

At my next job, I gave up trying to go by two names and interviewed as A.J. I figured, fine. All the people I work with will call me A.J. and all my friends will call me Ann. Somehow I failed to account for the fact that co-workers tend to become friends. After a decade, I now have very close friends who know me as A.J. They’ve occasionally, at family functions, attempted to refer to me as Ann. It always sounds funny.

It’s a strange thing to go by two names. It makes you realize that Shakespeare had no idea what he was talking about when he wrote his famous lines about names and roses.

I found that people who called me A.J. treated me differently than the people who called me Ann, and I responded to them differently.

I got tougher, smarter, ruthless, ambitious. A.J. was the kind of person who liked to yell things like “I’m the one asking the questions.” A.J. was always wearing her game face. A.J. did some things that Ann could not have done.

Ann was a person to whom things happened. A.J. was a person who made things happen.

Maybe a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, but an A.J. by any other name would not be a very good reporter.

My decision, 11 years ago, to assume a pen name has had all sorts of unintended consequences. When I was reporting, sometimes readers (obviously deeply unfamiliar with the state of the industry) assumed I was my own secretary: “Sweetheart, can you tell me if Mr. O’Connell is in? I tell ya, I’m gonna give that guy a piece of my mind about that story he wrote.”*

My pen name was also part of the reason I didn’t change my last name when I got married. If I kept my byline, but changed my last name, I’d have two completely different names: A.J. O’Connell and Ann Davis. That was a little too Superman/Clark Kent for me, so I kept my name. Things were confusing enough.

When I quit my job as a reporter last June to finish my MFA and write my novel, I didn’t know what to do with A.J. I didn’t know how to introduce myself to people at my MFA program’s residencies. Am I Ann? I’m not here as a reporter. Am I A.J.? I’m here as a writer.

It also took me some time to reconcile the two different parts of my personalities that I’d been thinking of as Ann and A.J. The schism between the two had gotten a little ridiculous. Each was turning into a way of evading responsibility for certain things. For example, Ann has a hard time being proactive. Compassion ain’t A.J.’s strong suit.

It took a few months of going through life without my reporting job, and with friends who both knew me as Ann and as A.J., to start bringing the two halves together.

The rift between the two may never be completely resolved. Recently I started freelancing for a local paper. When I got to my first assignment, pen and notebook in hand, I found myself in top A.J. form. It was like I’d let A.J. off a leash. I joyfully reported and photographed for two hours. Then I went home, called my mom and was calmly Ann.

*Although it was tempting, I never once pretended to be my own secretary.

 

this thing called happy…

The Elusive Happy. I think I’ve found it.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been very happy the past couple years. I’ve surrounded myself with good people, and in turn have been rewarded with so many incredible experiences. I’m fortunate to have deep bonds with the people I include in my life. Environment is key, and mine is healthy.

I’ve pushed myself to take chances in my career as well as my education. Leaving my former job was an extremely difficult decision. I had started working there when I was only 17 years old. The people there became my family. They surprised me out one night to watch me sing in a karaoke contest. They suggested I audition for American Idol- one of the ladies even went so far to offer me her father’s house (which was near the venue) for the evening! They were there for my high school graduation, college graduation and my acceptance into graduate school. Needless to say it isn’t easy to leave an environment where you have such history to start fresh in a completely different atmosphere. Yet, things turned out wonderfully. I’m still learning at my new job, but I work with a group of people who I truly care about. People I get, and who get me.

School? I can’t say enough about it. Obviously y’all know that since school is all I seem to talk about on here lately. I love my teachers, the administration, my peers, the reading, the writing, Ender’s Island. I love being able to call myself a student again. I love everything about it.

My family has grown so much in the past couple of years as well. I can’t claim any credit for that though. Since 2007, I now have three beautiful nieces and one handsome nephew. They (and Fenway) are the loves of my life. Watching them grow (even though I request almost daily that the oldest two stop growing… the youngest two don’t speak quite yet) has been probably the greatest joy I’ve ever experienced.

And now? Now I’ve got this guy in my life. A guy who loves his friends and family with all his heart. A guy who is kind. A guy who is relaxed, who doesn’t let little things bother him. A guy who will show up at my house with flowers for my grandmother’s birthday, even though we had only been dating for about a week. A guy who jumps out of his comfort level to try things like sushi just because I love it. A guy who makes lists with me (you all know how strongly I feel about lists) about all the things we want to do together. A guy who has made room for me in his life. A guy who I know will be in my life for quite some time.

So, The Elusive Happy?

I wonder if it just creeped up on me throughout the maze of these past two years. I feel like I’ve had this thing called happy all along. It’s just….It’s just that I’m taking a second to recognize it.

I am very, very blessed, folks. I’m at a place in my life where I know who I am, what I want, why I want these things, and where I belong. And all I can really say about it all? Life…is…good.

I wish you recognition of your own elusive happy.

it isn’t going to happen…

I’m in one of those moods where I feel like I’ve got so much to say.

  • I want to tell you all about the two books I read for my first packet.
  • I want to whine all about how I have barely been writing and how much that is bothering me.
  • I want to chat all about how I now have an air cast for my foot, and even though I’m still totally broken, I’m in love with my new contraption.
  • I want to write about crushes and a handsome man.
  • I want to complain about how tired I am and how I wish I didn’t leave my contacts in so long for.
  • I want to update y’all on a lot of things.

But unfortunately, I’m tired… and I’m just in one of those moods. One of those moods where you really want to share, but when its time to sit down and do so….it doesn’t seem like such a good idea anymore.

So goodnight friends. Sleep tight.

comfort

Good morning, folks. It’s 3:00am and I cannot quite get back to sleep.

I read my first two books of the semester. I’m hoping to write the craft essays for them today. I want to get some creative writing done too. I know I still have a little while until my first packet is due to my mentor, but I joined a new writing group, and I also need material for that. I toyed with taking an extra semester in grad school- an option we have so that we can build our manuscript- but after thinking about it long and hard, I’d ideally like to graduate with my own class. I’m still open to staying for an extra semester, but as of right this second, my goal is to graduate in July of 2012. So soon! Didn’t I just start graduate school? Anyway, my original point was that I need some creative material for my mentor as well as my new writers group. Both are going to be due within a week of each other, so technically I could use the same stuff, but I think thats cheating myself a bit. I’d ideally like to submit some first drafts to my writing group and then have a month to revise and rework them before I send them out to my mentor. Which makes this time- the first submission for both entities- double the work. I think that is why I am a bit nervous. I just feel as if this is the semester where I should really constantly be pushing out new material. I don’t even care so much about whether its good or bad. I just want to have options. I’m concerned that my ideas for a third semester project are going to leave me little time to submit creative work to my mentor, and the fourth semester is going to really be about putting together a manuscript, not starting from scratch.

I haven’t decided yet whether or not I plan to write a collection of essays or a full memoir for my thesis. I don’t see a direction for a complete manuscript. I think I feel a little more comfortable writing a series of connected essays, but that is what makes me nervous. If there is anything I have aimed to do in graduate school it has been to shy away from my comfort level. And that has only brought me wonderful gifts: the Trueblood Award, becoming the Nonfiction Student Representative, amazing friends…. I think about that all the time sometimes, about these people I’ve met through school. It has only been about 6 months that I’ve known my classmates and teachers, yet I have some really strong connections with some of them and deeply care about many of them. Just six months. Isn’t that amazing?

When I broke my foot during this past residency so many people just swooped in to take care of me. Of course that left me feeling a bit uncomfortable. I mean, I have no problem being the center of attention, but I’m familiar with being the caretaker roll, not the person who needs to be taken care of. Again- the same issue- my comfort level. Yes, having everyone concerned about me made me a bit nervous. And yes, I did try to keep a “tough guy” act going. “I’m fine; no big deal” I’d tell them. But many of them saw right through that. My friends let me feel as independent as possible, and then always seemed to be waiting in the shadows and ready when I needed them. I’m in love with my friends. Its true. I’ve been blessed with some of the most kind, caring, funny, pain in the ass, sarcastic, open, talented, opinionated, free spirited, wonderful, fantastic friends in graduate school. When I was trying to figure out where to go to school, just one short year ago, I read a quote by Elizabeth Hilts on the Fairfield website. She said, “It’s like finding my tribe.” She is exactly right. It is just like finding my tribe. When I started the program, a friend commented that maybe I would “meet” my special someone at school. I don’t think this is exactly what she meant by that, but I did. I met many very special someones.

Like I was saying previously, I’m not sure whether I will choose to do my thesis in essays or attempt a full memoir, but I’m going to just “trust in the process.” I’ve always gotten exactly what I needed. More importantly, I’ve always made the best decisions for myself with school in mind.

polar bear plunge 2011

I thought y’all deserved to see a few pictures from my first ever Polar Bear Plunge. Will I do it again next year…probably! Can’t believe I didn’t hate it like I thought I would. Instead I actually enjoyed it (kind of).

and who will it be?

So…trust in the process, right?

My task of the afternoon is to interview the 2nd half faculty of my MFA program and then submit a request sheet of the top three professors I would like to work one on one with over the course of my semester. I’m real lucky in the sense that I’ve interviewed many of the teachers already or had classes with them or knew people who worked with them, so there is really only one or two people I need to speak with.

But who? Who out of all these fantastic individuals do I list as my top three? It is quite the decision to make. Last semester I worked with Lary Bloom who was kind and motivating and perceptive and encouraging and direct and funny and understanding and wonderful. But who do I choose this time? I have two front runners. One of which I wanted last time, the other surprises me a bit. I’m actually surprised as to who I won’t be requesting, because I’d like to work with some professors so badly, but I just don’t think that right now is the right time.

The funny thing? I’m not actually the one who makes the decision. Once I submit my requests, the program director needs to sort out ALL the student requests and then figure out who will work with who. I was immensely lucky last time to get Lary. But the point of this post… Even if I don’t get one of my choices… I need to trust in the process. Sometimes, as much as I believe it deep in my bones, I need to remind myself to “let it be”. I’m nervous to submit my choices, but excited to find out who I’ll be working with.

Keep your fingers crossed for me.