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.

missing robert

I’m trying to convince myself that writing a blog post is productive, because at least I’m writing. I’ve yet to write anything of substance for this semester. Don’t get me wrong, I probably have about eight or nine or ten single spaced pages of nonsense, but nonsense just won’t cut it.

It’s just that I have this problem: every time I sit down to write lately, all I can think about is Robert. You don’t need to analyze me; I’ll do it for you. If I’m sitting down to write and all I can think about is one person, then that probably means there is an important story to be told.

So why not tell it? Good question. Because it hurts too much? Maybe I’m afraid? It makes me feel too vulnerable? Because I don’t even know what I have to say about him? The story isn’t just about him; its about me, it’s about people who are here and safe and out of harm’s way… people who I worried about for years. It’s about how I didn’t worry enough for Robert.

If I were to start my story, here is what I would say: “Robert was killed on Jeremy’s birthday.”

That is as far as I can get. I can’t write about sitting on my parent’s couch and getting a call from my brother telling me that he heard that Robert had been killed in Afghanistan. How Jeremy asked me to find out if it was true, to look on facebook, to make some calls. I can’t write about how I searched the internet  for hours like I was some kind of cyber detective looking for clues, even though my good friend John spoke with Robert’s mother and called to let me know. I don’t want to talk about how angry I was that the newspapers and tv stations weren’t announcing his death. Where was his picture? I don’t want to talk about how physically sick I felt and still feel when I actually saw his photo on tv, next to the words “Soldier Killed in Afghanistan.” I don’t want to write about how I still haven’t talked to his sister Becky since the funeral. How I don’t know how she is doing. How I don’t know how his two- maybe even three- year old daughter is doing.

I don’t want to write about how for years I made deals with God, crying and pleading, “If you bring Nicholas home safely I will never ever in my life smoke a cigarette again; I’ll go back to church. If you bring him home, I don’t care if he and I never even speak again, as long as he’s safe” or how I bargained with powers I don’t know for sure exisit to keep Gene and Stephan alive too. How even now, the USS Enterprise holds a special place in my heart. How that for years I was so terrified that something would happen to my friends. How I obsessed about it. How I was convinced that one day I would be forced to stand in front of a flag draped casket, to see their uniforms, empty boots on the side, to hear someone play Taps. I don’t want to write about how years later, when they were all safe and finished their tours of duty, there I was looking at a young boy’s empty boots, uniform, gun. I don’t want to write about how I didn’t even consider this being an option. How I didn’t obsess over Robert.

No, I don’t want to write about that. I don’t want to write about how the day before Robert shipped out, I told him he’d be fine “because I know everything.” My signature line. “Trust me; I know everything.” I hate those words. I hate myself for ever speaking those words. I don’t want to write about how we’d instant message each other at 3:00am because we both couldn’t sleep. How we’d always talk about my grad school applications, and how much work it all was. How he’d send me messages just to check in and make sure I wasn’t overdoing it; that I was taking care of myself. I don’t want to write about how he was a much better friend to me than I was to him. I don’t want to remember those conversations, even though they are all that’s really left.

I was looking through pictures of my oldest brother’s wedding a few weeks ago, when all of a sudden I saw Robert. I had looked at this picture many times before, but never did I notice him in the pew as Mike and I walked down the aisle. He looked so happy. He was always such a good friend to Jeremy; he looked up to him. Robert was still in high school then. He hadn’t yet enlisted. I remember how at Jeremy’s wedding he was talking about what a great time he was having, how he said he would have done the whole night over again when it was over.

Wouldn’t that be nice? To have the chance to do the whole night over….

intention

So, I’ve got this thing… It’s called: A GREAT LIFE.

I feel the most myself here on little Ender’s Island during my graduate school residency. I’m surrounded by brilliance in so many shapes and colors and sizes.

There are the teachers who have published remarkable books and memoirs and poetry. The teachers who are passionate about sharing what they know of the craft. The teachers who not only want to help you grow as a student writer, but as an individual- someone who will influence the world in small and large ways. The teachers who are cheerleaders, motivating us whether or not we’ve ever stepped foot in their classroom or their seminars. The teachers, who might write in a different genre than us, but are devoted to our survival and success and honestly invested in our writing and goals for this program and beyond. The teachers you get to know on a personal level. They ask how my dog Fenway is, congratulate me on the birth of my nieces, inquire about my new job.

And the beauty. The beauty of the river as the sun sets in the morning, the snow, the sand, the rocks, the waves, the buildings, the chapels. Pictures will follow for sure.

My peers are remarkable individuals from all walks of life- accountants, teachers, psychiatrists, waiters, census employees, nurses, recent college graduates, people who got their first degree 50 years before, CEOs of large corporations, travel writers, stay at home dads, drummers…. I was blessed with the best FU MFA family. My “big bro” and “little sis” feel real to me, like we share the same cells. I love them. I admire them. I want to emulate their goodness and intelligence.

The biggest lesson this school has taught me and I have absorbed in every cell of my body is to trust in the process. Kind of like a whatever is meant to be will be kind of thing. I don’t questions things here on the island. I don’t worry about who I will get as a mentor or what I will do over the semester for example, because I know that I will get exactly what I need…and I am sure of that. I feel it and know it deep down.

I need to start bringing this feeling and acceptance and intention into other areas of my life.

Today has been a beautiful day. Starting last night: I ate a scrumptious dinner with great friends, listened to three amazing faculty readings (one of which my my mentor from last semester whom I admire more and more and more every single time I listen to him), and then partied the night away with faculty and students on a gorgeous island. We counted down the seconds until 2011 (one of my favorite moments every year) and then I followed my MFA little sister’s Cuban heritage by having 12 red grapes and taking a moment to reflect and think of a goal, well less a goal and more of an intention. I stood up until 5am, woke up early  and then ran into the water with a bunch of other crazy writers for the Polar Bear Plunge. I felt alive. I had lively discussions at lunch, came back to my room and relaxed and landed in a conversation with the wonderful girl across the hall who’s determination and dedication to her writing I admire. I didn’t leave the island to go get a coffee or photograph the Mystic bridge or get some more floss like I had planned. I didn’t nap like I really should have.

I also didn’t complain or worry about everything I didn’t do like I normally would have. Why? Because I was present in every moment of this day. I am alive and experiencing everything- an unexpected conversation, tea instead of coffee, pretzel M&Ms, the rush and burn of the ice cold water- the ache in my shoulders and back mostly because I need some more rest. I didn’t do everything I wanted to do, but I did do everything I should be doing. Trust….in the process….

I have very mixed feelings about resolutions. I’ve mentioned here before that I really like new beginnings in all forms. The first of the month makes me happy. My birthday and new years start my life fresh for me. Weddings, babies, graduations, etc= all fresh starts. But resolutions always feel empty to me.

So…my intent? I intend to be a more dedicated student and writer. I intend to “trust in the process” in all areas of my life. I intend to love my friends and family deeply. I intend to remember to also love myself deeply and treat myself kindly. But most of all… I intend to be brave.

If I had to sum up 2010 in one word, I’d probably choose Change or Opportunity or something in that regards.

For 2011? In 2011, I want my word to be Brave.

empty space

I received my critiqued second writing packet back from my mentor today.

Its is always so interesting what someone has to say about your writing. Especially a person who knows a lot about the craft and who’s opinion you trust and admire.

I wrote an essay about what it is like to have an A.D.D. brain, yet be a student- the struggle between making sure I take the notes I need on the lessons I am being taught, and writing down everything else floating around in my psyche. The basis of the story can be summed up in these few sentences:

  • Burn my notebooks when I die.
  • I spend about 40% of my time in class making lists of chores I need to do or errands I need to run or tattoos I would like to one day get.
  • “Need to make the decision before you start writing: Am I willing to bare myself? If the answer is no, then pack up your shit and go home.”

That last bullet is an actual quotation from my writing notebook during this past residency. The best part of that essay are the excerpts I included from my notebook. Problem is that I’m not quite sure how to structure the piece and where to include these awesome statements.

Lary suggested I read the following poem, as the topic is somewhat similar, and like most good poems, the word choice is precise. I liked it so much I thought I would share it with you all.

Marginalia” – Billy Collins

Sometimes the notes are ferocious,
skirmishes against the author
raging along the borders of every page
in tiny black script.
If I could just get my hands on you,
Kierkegaard, or Conor Cruise O’Brien,
they seem to say,
I would bolt the door and beat some logic into your head.

Other comments are more offhand, dismissive –
“Nonsense.” “Please!” “HA!!” –
that kind of thing.
I remember once looking up from my reading,
my thumb as a bookmark,
trying to imagine what the person must look like
why wrote “Don’t be a ninny”
alongside a paragraph in The Life of Emily Dickinson.

Students are more modest
needing to leave only their splayed footprints
along the shore of the page.
One scrawls “Metaphor” next to a stanza of Eliot’s.
Another notes the presence of “Irony”
fifty times outside the paragraphs of A Modest Proposal.

Or they are fans who cheer from the empty bleachers,
Hands cupped around their mouths.
“Absolutely,” they shout
to Duns Scotus and James Baldwin.
“Yes.” “Bull’s-eye.” “My man!”
Check marks, asterisks, and exclamation points
rain down along the sidelines.

And if you have managed to graduate from college
without ever having written “Man vs. Nature”
in a margin, perhaps now
is the time to take one step forward.

We have all seized the white perimeter as our own
and reached for a pen if only to show
we did not just laze in an armchair turning pages;
we pressed a thought into the wayside,
planted an impression along the verge.

Even Irish monks in their cold scriptoria
jotted along the borders of the Gospels
brief asides about the pains of copying,
a bird signing near their window,
or the sunlight that illuminated their page-
anonymous men catching a ride into the future
on a vessel more lasting than themselves.

And you have not read Joshua Reynolds,
they say, until you have read him
enwreathed with Blake’s furious scribbling.

Yet the one I think of most often,
the one that dangles from me like a locket,
was written in the copy of Catcher in the Rye
I borrowed from the local library
one slow, hot summer.
I was just beginning high school then,
reading books on a davenport in my parents’ living room,
and I cannot tell you
how vastly my loneliness was deepened,
how poignant and amplified the world before me seemed,
when I found on one page

A few greasy looking smears
and next to them, written in soft pencil-
by a beautiful girl, I could tell,
whom I would never meet-
“Pardon the egg salad stains, but I’m in love.”