I’m a Pushcart Prize Nominee (!?!)

So. My first published short story (“When the World Goes Dark” published by Glassworks literary magazine in their Spring 2018 issue) was recently nominated for a Pushcart Prize

WHAT?! 

To say I’m excited is an understatement. I’m so grateful for the editors at Glassworks for giving my words a home, and for choosing my story for the nomination. I know a lot of writers receive a Pushcart nomination, but this feels special to me personally. (And to other writers who have been nominated: be proud, gosh darn it!) “When the World Goes Dark” was the first story I was truly proud of, my first publication, and now it will always be my first prize nomination. I’m so happy. 

Again, thank you Glassworks editors! I’m so thrilled and honored. 

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End-of-Semester Chat

HOW DID I ALMOST GO AN ENTIRE SEMESTER WITHOUT WRITING? HOW?!?

I’ll tell you how. Grad school is BUSY. And I don’t prioritize well.

So. I thought I’d hop on the blog and chat a little, provide a casual update of my life, and maybe offer some sage advice. The advice thing probably won’t happen, but we’ll see. This space is not a space in which I plan my content. I have all of graduate school and my fiction writing for that. This space is my space to write what comes to mind as I go. It’s my free space. My happy place. 

So. What’s new? Or what’s not new? Here’s a list of what comes to mind:

  • I’ve got my adviser, my committee, and my plan of study APPROVED! I’m on track to graduate with my master’s in the spring of 2020 (my program is a three-year program). 
  • I think I have an idea of what I want to do after my master’s, but that’s not important now. 
  • I’ve given up eating bread for the most part, and for some weird reason, I feel like this has changed my life for the better. I haven’t given bread up completely (I love pizza and cheeseburgers too much), but I’ve cut back on the stuff quite a bit. 
  • I’ve started running again. I’ve been keeping track of my workouts on Instagram. It’s fun! I feel better! 
  • I’ve been planning/writing my thesis. It’s going to be a collection of short stories, and the thought of putting it all together before approximately February 2020 both thrills and terrifies me. 
  • I’ve almost read 50 total books this year! I’m hoping to get to 50 by the time 2019 rolls around. 
  • Teaching this semester has been a total dream. My students are FANTASTIC. I’m also more comfortable with myself as an instructor. I put stickers on their rough drafts and, I don’t know, I feel like myself when I lecture. It’s fun.  
  • I’m gonna end this list because I’m rambling. 

In short, things are good.

Now for the advice, maybe. I’m not going to go into detail, but if you’re feeling down or unhappy about yourself (any aspect of yourself), make the conscious decision to do something about it. I’ve tried to do this over the semester, and I feel it’s working. I just feel good. It’s hard to explain, but really it’s simple. I’m doing good, feeling good. 

Now that we’ve chatted briefly, I should get back to doing something about my to-do list. I have some stuff to get done by the end of the semester (obviously), so I need to actually go and do that stuff. T-minus two weeks until winter break, however. Ah. So excited. 

I hope everyone and anyone reading this is having a lovely day. You’re great, I believe in you, and December is going to be your month. And, if it’s not, the next month will be your month. And the next. And so on. 

You get the idea. 

Okay. Bye! 

“There’s a great big beautiful tomorrow shining at the end of every day.” 

-From Disney’s Carousel of Progress

Manifesto-of-Sorts

The semester starts in a week! THANK GOODNESS! I LOVE GRAD SCHOOL!

(I really, really do.)

I’ve been lesson planning, writing, reading recreationally, and getting my life together. It’s always a fun time when “getting your life together” is on the agenda.

Getting my life together involves errand-running and goal-setting. In this post, I’d thought I’d write down a few goals, even though some aren’t really concrete. Some are super vague, and most you can’t check off a list.

So this reads more like a little manifesto, I think. Unless I’m getting the definition of “manifesto” confused with something else. Oh well.

So. During this school year, this semester, and this life, I vow to…

  1. Stand taller, speak louder, and cut I’m sorry and I don’t know from my vocabulary. Or at least limit those phrases to situations that actually call for them.
  2. Take failure as it comes and handle it with grace. Accept that it’s a part of the ‘biz and life and everything.
  3. Celebrate every victory, big or small. Maybe with some cake (but not too much).
  4. Work my you-know-what off every single day.
  5. Rest and relax and do what I love every single day.
  6. Read for my craft.
  7. Read for my enjoyment.
  8. Send snail mail to people, because I’ve realized I love writing letters and I want to spread more ink-smeared magic.
  9. Smile more.
  10. Say, “Yes!” more.
  11. Say, “No!” when it’s best for me.
  12. Find so much joy in the opportunity I’ve been given to learn and teach and write.
  13. Go to [restaurant that is famous in college town], because I feel like it’s essential to the whole experience of living in [college town].
  14. Maybe exercise some. (Really, Kaila. EXERCISE SOME.)
  15. Take pride in my work, take pride in the process, and take pride in the ideas that pop into my head. Because sometimes I have some good ones.

I hope everyone is having a happy day. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to watch Kids Baking Championship. Baked goods and cute kids = a winning combo for television.

Ha. Okay. Goodbye now.

When I Think of Summer 2018…

My summer’s almost come to an end–it’s almost time for workshops, writing, lesson planning, grading, meetings, readings, etc. It’s almost time for my second year of grad school to commence.

Oh man. I’m so excited for the upcoming semester.

And while I’m excited for what’s ahead, I wanted to write a little post about this summer, about the little moments that have become memories.

So. When I think of the summer of 2018–

I’ll think of purchasing bubbles for a dollar and sitting in the backyard nightly, blowing bubbles for Ellie (my pup) to chase.

I’ll think of reading so much and learning so much for my craft. This summer I truly discovered the complex joy that is literary fiction.

I’ll think of large Diet Cokes with vanilla from Sonic, purchased almost every single day during happy hour.

I’ll think of the week I spent with my best friend up in South Dakota and Iowa, in which we talked and drove and talked and bid on pies and ate s’mores and went on a wagon ride to which I said, “It’s like Kilimanjaro Safaris of South Dakota!”

I’ll also think of the soundtrack Joseph & The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and miles and miles of corn fields.

I’ll think of finally seeing Waitress after more than a year of obsessing over the soundtrack and the story. Sweet smells (that lobby, though!), sweet pie, sweet experience.

Side note: when can I see another musical?!

I’ll think of trekking to the local library almost every day to write fiction (hopefully the start of my thesis…ahh!) among the books, huge wireless pink headphones spitting the newest Carousel revival soundtrack into my ears, the songs “Mister Snow” and “If I Loved You” always on repeat. So soothing. So nuanced. So great.

I’ll think of finally writing more for this blog after months of being stuck.

I’ll think of The Handmaid’s Tale and Mad Men, the two shows I watched religiously over the summer. Elisabeth Moss is a master, and the characters she portrays are incredible.

Side note: from now on, whenever I’m feeling a little glum/not confident when it comes to my work, I’ll ask myself, “What would Peggy Olson do?” She’s amazing. 

I’ll think of the sleep I lost because I stayed up late watching The Handmaid’s Tale and Mad Men. 

(Ha. I love television, don’t you?)

I’ll think of my re-discovering the gloriousness that is Ben & Jerry’s Phish Food (is that how you spell it?!) ice cream.

I’ll think of barn swallow nests and bird watching.

And, finally, I’ll think of spending time with the people I love most.

It was a good summer, indeed.

The End is Near

The end of the semester, that is.

GUYS. I’m almost done with my first year of graduate school. What the heck? This time last year I was searching for apartments online, and now I’m published (just once, but it’s a start!), have a semester teaching under my belt, and I’ve made such great friends with people in my cohort.

I also don’t feel as clueless–I felt so clueless at the beginning of all of this. I had no idea what I was doing (and I still don’t sometimes), but gosh darn it, I’m DOING this grad school thing. That’s something!

I think I have a handle on things? I think?

And while the end of the semester is certainly near, I have so much to do in such a short period of time. But it’s all good–really. Sure, I’m stressed, but who isn’t? I’m so lucky to be in graduate school, to be learning so much. And I mean SO much.

My brain has grown three sizes at least.

(And, yes, I know that’s not how the acquisition of knowledge works.)

Here’s a little list of some of the things I’ve learned during my first year of my MFA:

  1. Grad school is a lot of work and requires a TON of multitasking. My time management skills have DEFINITELY come in handy! I know this seems like a “You think, Kaila?” kind of point, but there is truly a difference in the workload between undergrad and graduate school, at least in my experience. If you happen to be thinking of pursuing your MFA in creative writing, it’s a good thing to know you will be doing lots and lots and lots and lots of work. (Which is awesome.)
  2. I know very little about fiction writing, but I’m learning so much every single day.
  3. Teaching is so much more than the time spent in the classroom. I knew this before coming in, but you really don’t know to what extent this is true until you actually teach.
  4. Teaching is great and I love it. It’s also stressful, but the great stuff outweighs the stress stuff.
  5. Cooking at home is such a stress reliever AND a money saver. Oh my goodness, I have learned the greatness that is eating more meals at home!
  6. “No homework days” should not be spent feeling guilty about not doing your homework. Savor it. Rest up. (I’m still working on this one.)
  7. Library book sales are an incredible thing and they happen once a semester. Buy all of the books!
  8. Taking your dog on long, long walks helps you destress, helps your dog release some energy, and makes for a productive evening of work.
  9. Making friends with your colleagues means that classes are fun, offices are fun, everything’s fun. 
  10. I love school. I knew that, but now I’m pretty sure I want to stay in school for as long as possible–teaching or otherwise.

As I finish up my last bit of writing and grading for the semester, I can’t help but be so grateful for this opportunity to learn and work on my craft. I can’t wait to see what the next couple of years bring.

 

 

 

Grad School Update and the Disney Stuff That Gets Me Through it All

Geez. Long title.

If y’all don’t know, I’m pursing my MFA in creative writing (fiction concentration).

It’s crazy. I’m crazy. You’re crazy. Wait, what?

Grad school is tough, but I’m learning so much. I know, know, you guys are probably like:   “Kaila, you’re at school, of course you’re learning a lot.” But learning is not always a given, I’ve found.

But I am. I’m learning. AND I LOVE LEARNING!

As a budding fiction writer, I’m learning that not all I write can be about sunshine and rainbows and happy happy happy. Of course, there could be moments of happiness, or there could happy(ish) undertones to literary fiction. But happy doesn’t always make a good story, and I’m finally finding my groove when it comes to the themes I want to tackle. (You’d think I’d know this by now, but hey. I’m admittedly a novice when it comes to making up stories.)

BUT. I feel like my writing is already improving by leaps and bounds. I’m constantly working on my stories–before class, after class, at home, in the student union, in bed, while Ellie chews on my feet. I’m either thinking about writing, actually writing, or editing writing. I read, too. Not much for fun, but I still make time for a bit of recreational reading. Workshopping is scary/tough/disheartening/empowering. But I’m learning to love the process.

My blog’s taken a backseat, I know, but I’m changing that right now. I miss talking about Disney on the daily–okay, I actually haven’t stopped talking about it, but the subject isn’t as much of a priority anymore. At least in my daily life. I gots school and work and stuffs. Sometimes I tell the students I tutor in the writing center that I worked for Disney (they see my stickers on my laptop), and that’s always a fun icebreaker.

Anyways. Here’s a list Disney things helping me get through my first year of my MFA:

  • Music. Always. Currently been loving the new Duck Tales theme song–Donald’s my favorite, so listening to this while I put my makeup on is a way to start the day, let me tell ya.
  • Club Mickey Mouse! Those kids make me smile! It’s sad that I’m so old that I call 16-18 year-olds kids. Ha.
  • My apartment is so cute, and it’s filled with mostly Disney crap. I’m just now figuring out where to display my Tsum Tsums. Once my living room is sort of decorated, I need to take some pics and show you guys. I love it.
  • I bought Bambi recentlyso that was nice.
  • The anticipation of Coco and The Last Jedi. Goodness I can’t WAIT for both!
  • Ellie. She’s my dog, but she’s got a Disney name, so it works. She got fixed the other day, poor baby, but she’s doing great.
  • My backpack. My Vera Bradley Disney print backpack actually broke (darn zipper), but my student union carries the JanSport DISNEY COLLECTION! I died of happiness inside. I bought the print with Mickey and Donald climbing up a mountain; I’ll insert a link to a photo here.  (Ignore the horrid price tag, I was desperate and it was cute, okay?!) Donald’s face cracks me up and makes my heart happy.

There you have it. A quick list of Disney stuff I’m loving.

I’ve missed you, blog. I’ll try to write more often, because you make me happy.

See ya real soon!

Encouragement

Today, around 10:00 a.m.

Hi, blog! Long time no write. Well, I have been writing, just not for you. Which is dumb, but I’m remedying this problem right this very second! Yay!

Grad school has been a whirlwind so far. Truly. I’ve loved it, but it’s been an adjustment. Ellie and I are finally settling into a little routine (I think), and I’m really good at heating up Lean Cuisines and Stouffer’s French bread pizza.

Right now, my stomach is in knots and I’m just a nervous bundle of energy. Today, I turn in my first bit of fiction for one of my classes.

I’m so terrified, guys! I just hope my piece is sort of up to par with all the PhD and the second or third year MFA students in my class. I just hope that my school didn’t let me in by accident, and that my professor and my fellow students won’t read what I wrote and say, “Holy cow, where did this girl come from? How did she manage to get here?!” I know this is a common thought and fear among grad students–“imposter syndrome,” it’s called–but I hate it! I hate thinking I’m not good enough. I hate thinking that other people might think that I’m not good enough.

Isn’t that silly?!

Here’s where the title of this post comes in: encouragement. I’m going to write a bit of encouragement to me and to all of you.

Dear You,

Maybe you will be horrible. You might not be good enough. There’s always that chance that you won’t be good at something. There’s a chance  you’ll fall flat on your face. 

(Wow, strong start, am I right?)

BUT. Even if you are horrible, why is that such a big deal? If you want to be good at something, just put your head down, work like you’ve never worked before, and you’re bound to get better. You might never be the best, but gosh darn it, you can be your best!

(So much cheese; I cringe. But I’m a huge fan of all things cheesy.)

What you wrote is your very best at this moment in time. That’s all you can do. Take the criticism, take the feedback, and then run with. Get better. Work at it. Keep your optimism and grit and your stupid little Pollyanna smile. 

(I smile a lot. Former cast member probs, I suppose.)

You got this. Work! Know that you won’t always get gold stars, and embrace that feeling of uncertainty. You get to work at what you love to do, and you’re going to get better. 

Sincerely, 

Me.

annnnnnddddd….

Today, around 4:29 p.m. 

UPDATE: The class went well! I did a happy dance in my car before I drove home! I got some great notes and good feedback, and everyone was so nice. I’m happy to be here, and I’m so happy to be learning from such talented writers.

My anxiety has been lifted (for the moment, at least), but the bit of encouragement I wrote this morning is still relevant. I hope it helps you, because my little pep talk really helped me “buck up” and embrace my fears. If I acknowledge my anxieties, I can face them head on and accept them. Why stress about being good enough? What’s the worst thing that could happen?

I hope you have a great day, my friends. Do your best today and every day.

 

 

Adventures

I just want to share this photo of my pup, and I want to caption it with one of my favorite puppy (and adventurous people) quotes of all time:

Behold, the cutest photo in this world, taken by my sister (follow her at @klemsonphotographydesign on Instagram, people!):

untitled-7

And here’s the caption:

“There’s a great big hunk of world out there with no fence around it. Where two dogs can find adventure and excitement. And beyond those distant hills, who knows what wonderful experiences? And it’s all ours for the taking, Pige.” 

It’s from Lady and the Tramp, and I absolutely love it. And I love little Ellie’s face in the photo–it’s like she’s saying, “Oh! There it is! The biggest and prettiest world I’ll ever know…I’m just…kind of…frightened. Can I go? Will I go? Should I go?”

And, if you’re like me and Ellie, you might think these kinds of things right before you embark on new adventures. I’m about to begin grad school and a graduate teaching assistantship and a new life and in a brand new town and have to meet new people and do new things and shed fear of failure and experience apprehension and step out of my comfort zone all over again so…yes. These thoughts and feelings are quite relevant at the moment.

I’m human–of course I’m afraid of failure. I’ll be working on an MFA in creative writing and I’m already nervous–will I be horrible? Can I keep up with my fellow writers?

Will. I. Fail. Miserably?!?!?

I hope not. And if I do, hey. It’s cool. It’s fine. I’ll be okay. I’ll just work harder and find my way and my place in this big, fence-less world.

There is a great big hunk of world out there with no fence around it, so new adventures will always be limitless. I’m excited to try my hand at this new venture–let’s write stuff! Lots of it! Let it be horrible or wonderful or kind of okay! Either way, it’s a start and a new beginning, and I love those suckers.

You ready, Ellie?

 

 

Writer

I recently changed a few bullet points under the “about me” category.

First: “recent college graduate” transformed to “graduate student in creative writing.” Yes, you read that right! I’ll be heading back to school in the fall, and I am thrilled to continue my education. Who knows? Perhaps a doctorate is in my [distant] future?

I like school, okay? Let me stay forever.

Second: I changed “aspiring writer” to simply read “writer.”

Because I realized something.

I don’t have to wait until I’m a “grown-up” to fully realize my “grown-up” dream. And heck, I am a grown-up! Painfully so. I’ll be 24 in less than a month, and that’s scary. And kind of cool. But mostly terrifying.

You see, reader, I’m a writer because I write. I am not published in the sense that I have novels under my belt, but I write. A lot. At least I try to.

I do have a few articles published in a local magazine, and that’s cool. I’m so grateful for  the opportunity to contribute to a wonderful publication. But I still have a hard time considering myself a full-fledged writer.

But I am. And now that I’m realizing it, I’m so excited about my future and all the possibilities yet to be.

I write stories before bed! Fiction! And I love doing it! I’m using exclamation points because I think I found what I love to do! Making up stories to fill our dark little world with hero[ines] and characters that came to be because I used my brain muscles and created them out of nothing!

Now, yes, eventually I’d like to be semi-successful in this writing endeavor. But I can’t become successful or good at anything without a little elbow grease and a whole lot of doing.

And the doing–the writing, the doing the writing–makes me a writer. It’s the same concept as running. I’m currently training for a half marathon, and the act of running makes me a runner.

I’m slow as dirt, and it’s hard to wake up early before work to “pound the pavement.” (That’s runner’s speak.) But I run, so I am a runner.

I’m a writer, I’m a runner, I’m a dreamer. And I love and cherish all of those titles.

Have a magical day, my friends.

 

 

 

To Be Determined

You know. Things really don’t ever turn out just how you thought it was going to be.

I thought I was going to be bored to tears in my college town, home of the University of Itty Bitty.  Its  population is tiny; barely over 10,ooo when school is in session. Main Street is peppered with mom-and-pops and fast food. The school was “average,” “undistinguished.” I was a Division II athlete, “lesser” than the best of the best.

I thought Animal Kingdom was going to be so-so as a  home park. I wanted Magic Kingdom; everyone does.  Classic and magical and the best of the best in entertainment. Animal Kingdom, in contrast, is new, environmental. Slightly smelly to be quite honest. I loved Disney with all my heart, but I was never sure if I loved Disney’s Animal Kingdom before my college program.

Preconceptions are stupid, my friends. I know it’s a “bad” word in Kindergarten , but they are stupid. And sucky.

The University of Itty Bitty? It turned out to be the very best experience possible. I became an English major and fell in love with writing and reading and analyzing and academia. I excelled as a college athlete, even though my version of excelling did not involve a Division I national championship. I discovered my love for autumn and authentic blizzards. My heart belongs to the miles of miles of uninterrupted patchwork views, littered only by immense wind turbines and their blades that rhythmically beat against a brilliant, red dirt-dusted sunset.

Disney’s Animal Kingdom? My goodness. It’s my home. I will always remember walking through an empty park at 7:50 in the morning, marveling at how the sun glinted off of the Tree of Life’s  foliage, how the distinct morning shadows highlighted the tree’s animal carvings. The mouthwatering aroma of Flame Tree Barbecue would overpower the stench of the birds that make the Oasis their home. Multicolored macaws noislily squawked and beat their wings, stirring the sweet humid air that forced my hair into its signature braid for six months. When the nighttime offerings began, I would park myself in front of the Tree of Life to watch it awaken.

If you’ve never experienced these awakenings, I’m here to tell you that they create just as much magic as Tinker Bell’s pixie dust.

Now that I’m home, I’m working and applying to graduate schools. As I sit down to complete applications, I notice that I’m applying to big schools with big names and little schools with little names. I realize that I probably won’t get into every school I apply to. Once this whole process is over, I must choose the right place for me. I also know that there is a possibility that I won’t have the option to choose the “right” place–there might be an “only” place.

The “right” place might not be the biggest school with the most distinguished program. But it might be. I’m not sure yet.

What I must consider from past experiences? Preconceptions are stupid. I can’t wait to continue to add to my collection of homes:

My home town.

University of Itty Bitty.

Disney’s Animal Kingdom.

To be determined.