The One Where I Say Everything is “So Good”: My March Wrap-Up

I WROTE ANOTHER BLOG POST. Two posts in two months? Who am I? Queen of productivity? Master of words?

Really I just liked a lot of stuff this month, so I felt compelled to keep the streak going. Also, I had a lot to do school-wise this month, so working on this blog post was a fun way to procrastinate, I’m not going to lie. So, without further ado, here’s what got me through grad school in the month of March (and if you want to read last month’s post, click here).

My Alma Mater’s Women’s Basketball Team’s Run in the National Tournament

Holy COW. This is at the top of the list because it’s the most recent development and one of the MOST EXCITING DEVELOPMENTS.

I attended undergrad at a little university in western Oklahoma: Southwestern Oklahoma State University (SWOSU for short). I was lucky enough to play four years of college volleyball, earn a fantastic education, and deeply immerse myself in all things Bulldog pride during my time at SWOSU. Since I’ve graduated, I’ve remained a fiercely proud alumna. I’m a bulldog forever, and if you ask I’ll sing the fight song loud and proud. Heck, I’ll sing the fight song no matter what; it’s my jam.

ANYWAY. The SWOSU women’s basketball team made it all the way to the NCAA Division II championship game. The game went into DOUBLE overtime. (DOUBLE.) (!!!) In the end, our Dawgs were not victorious, but watching those girls play their hearts out for SWOSU and their teammates made me so proud. SO PROUD. My heart goes out to those athletes. Even though the team ultimately came up a little short, there’s no denying how incredible their season was and how much they brought the entire SWOSU community together. My heart was so full for a solid week while they were competing in the Elite Eight–there was so much Dawg support and pride flooding my social media, and I was reminded that this little school in the middle of western Oklahoma is full of the best people; there’s no place like it. I miss it sometimes; I really do.

SWOSU women’s basketball, I’m so dang proud; all of Bulldog Nation is proud. Thanks for the wild ride.

My Dog, Because She Turned Two

Ellie is TWO YEARS OLD. Just thought y’all should know. Her birthday was on the 24th. She’s my little Aries girl, my fiesty little thing.

Ellie Kevin Lancaster, you have my entire heart and I’m so thankful you’re my little pal.

MY MOM, BECAUSE SHE ALSO HAD A BIRTHDAY (AND BECAUSE SHE’S THE BEST)

My Mom’s birthday is March 22, and my sister and I were lucky enough to be home for spring break to celebrate. She’s the best. The BEST. Here’s a picture of all three of us.


Love you, Mom. I’m so lucky to have you.

Red Clocks by Leni Zumas

I read the book Red Clocks early this month when snow days seemed to pile up one after the other, and it was such a wonderful break from required reading, even though the required reading has been awesome (more on that later).

This book was so addicting and so horrifying (in a good way). It’s feminist dystopian fiction that feels contemporary and very real. While the story sucked me in, what kept me captivated was the prose–beautiful and strange (again, in the best way) and suprising. I also really loved the characters, but I especially connected to Ro. I read a library copy, so I don’t have the book to quote, but Ro’s attitude toward life is something I can relate to. She’s doing life on her own terms (or at least trying to), resisting expectations and the norm, and there were moments in her narrative I wish I could have highlighted, but, alas, I had to be a good citizen and return the copy in tip-top shape. All in all, I highly recommend this book.

Better World Books

HAVE I GOT THE BEST ONLINE BOOKSELLER FOR YOU! (At least in my humble opinion.) My friend Nataly introduced me to this website, and I’m hooked.

Better World Books is an online new and used bookseller that has a mission to give back. They’ve raised over 28 million dollars for literacy programs, and they’re doing other cool stuff. Here’s a link to their “impact” page on their website.

I’ve ordered two books (used but in fantastic condition) through Better World Books so far, and I’m hooked–shipping’s always free, and you can find such great copies for so little. Both of my copies were under FOUR BUCKS.

In short, Better World Books is incredible and I love them. I’m a loyal customer for life.

Performances Found on Youtube That Inspire Me Creatively : A [wordy] ramble, an ode to musical theatre

It’s no secret I love musicals. My eventual financial goal is to be able to afford two things:

  • An annual pass to Walt Disney World. (Duh.)
  • Season tickets to whatever theatre is closest to me so I can see all of the traveling Broadway productions that come my way. All. Of. Them.

Anyways. I’ve always been a fan of going down YouTube rabbit holes, especially when it comes to musicals and other performances by my favorite artists. Whilst tumbling down these rabbit holes, I discover new performers I love, new songs I can’t get enough of, and new musicals I swear one day I’ll see. When I find performances/artists I admire, I keep coming back to those videos, and I’ll have them playing as I write. It’s almost like listening to a well-worn playlist, but instead of strict audio, I can look up every once in a while and see a person doing their thing, making their art.

As a writer of fiction, good performances can be the most inspiring. There’s something about the way an actor can say so much in the portrayal of their character without explicitly saying anything at all. Sure, explicit stuff is getting said (well, sung). But it’s that unsaid stuff–a look in the actor’s eyes, their body language, etc.–that’s so powerful. As I write, listening to and watching performances inspires me to uncover and write the nuanced stuff in my stories: the interiority of the protagonist, unspoken tension between characters, and all the other subtleties. Watching a good performance, for me, can make me want to craft a human, whole, complex character with messy emotions, makes me want to capture a human experience in the most effective and creative linguistic way possible.

Long story short (can I ramble or what?!), I love musical theatre, and holy cow do I get inspired to create after watching performers do their thing!

Here are some of my favorite online performances as of late from rehearsals or concerts and special events. These and other performances (I usually pick a video on YouTube and go with the suggested playlist) have played in the background as I started my last workshop piece of the semester, which is due pretty darn soon. (Oy. I need to write. Anyway.)

  • Jessie Mueller in a rehearsal for Waitress, “She Used to be Mine. This is my favorite song of all time (it’s so specific to the story but also so universal for so many?!? It’s marvelous), and I love how Jessie Mueller portrays the heart of the song. So HEARTBREAKINGLY BEAUTIFUL. The Tony performance is beautiful too, but there’s something about this performance that gets me every time.
  • Rachel Bay Jones singing “So Big, So Small” from Dear Evan Hansen. This song and this performance gets me every time. Also, for my writing personally (in terms of themes and who my protagonists are as people), this is the perfect performance to set the mood for a night of drafting. The last few lines get to me in so many different ways emotionally–I think of my own mom and our history, and I feel an overwhelming amount of love and a smidge of sadness but mostly pride and gratitude. Ugh. So good. Everything about this is so good.
  • Abby Mueller singing her Broadway Bucket List, but especially the last performance of the video when Abby sings “I Miss the Mountains.” What can I say? I love the Mueller sisters’ voices, the ways they convey the story of a song. I have never seen a production of Next to Normal, and I’ve only recently listened to the entire album (thanks to my friend Drake; hi Drake!), but I feel like Abby captures the complexity of Diana so distinctly and beautifully. I was so emotionally moved after watching this performance for the first time (even before knowing the context in which the song exists), and I think that’s a testament to Abby’s acting. Also, another gem is this video of Abby singing “Will You Love Me Tomorrow.” So, so good.
  • (How many times can I say *so good* in a post? Does the limit not exist?)
  • Keala Settle in workshop for The Greatest Showman. If this doesn’t bring a tear to your eye, do you even have a heart? (Kidding, but only slightly. Hehe.) But seriously, I love the joyful, raw energy of this whole video, and when I watch it, my heart swells and I get all sorts of inspired.

Ok, this section could grow and grow, but if you’re a writer who likes musical theatre, I encourage you to glean inspiration from talented artists like these. YouTube is your best friend. Listening/watching before and during drafting gets my brain a-goin’ and my fingers a-typin’, so why not give it a try?

My Required Reading This Semester: a 10/10

I just want to give a shout out to my professors this semester–the required reading, for the most part, has been SO GOOD. I am especially thankful for my New Voices in Native American Literature class. It’s my last literature class in my MFA, and we are reading ALL CONTEMPORARY WORKS. All of the authors are alive and kickin’! Do you know how rare this is in a literature class???? As an aspiring author, I appreciate that scholarship is being done on contemporary work. It’s awesome.

Here’s a complete list of what we’re reading in both of my classes, in case you’re curious and/or are looking for some new reads. I haven’t read all of them (we still have a little bit in the semester), but I’ve read a lot:

Native American Literature

  • Heart Berries by Terese Marie Mailhot (soooooooooo good; heartbreaking but beautiful. READ THIS.)
  • Where the Dead Sit Talking by Brandon Hobson
  • Some of Tommy Pico’s poems
  • Selections from When My Brother Was an Aztec by Natalie Diaz
  • There There by Tommy Orange (sooooooo good. Highly, highly recommend. I’m writing about this text for my seminar paper).
  • Buckskin Cocaine by Erika T. Wurth (also really loved this one).
  • Trail of Lightening by Rebecca Roanhorse
  • Selections from Moonshot
  • Mapping the Interior by Stephen Graham Jones (this was SO GOOD. Read this.)

Seminar in Fiction: Writing the Short Story Cycle

  • Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson (ok, this one I didn’t particularly care for, but it was written in 1919, so I’ll cut it some slack).
  • Florida by Lauren Groff (the queen of atmospheric prose).
  • This is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz (problematic and I don’t know how I feel about it… except mostly not great. Diaz can write, though? All-in-all mixed feelings, but it was a quick read).
  • Bad Kansas by Becky Mandelbaum
  • Wait Till You See Me Dance by Deb Olin Unferth (very, very good)
  • Olive Kitterage by Elizabeth Strout (one of my favorites; rereading now and I love this book so, so much)
  • A Vist From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
Isn’t this cover beautiful?

This Song

Behold, one of the best feel-good, “let’s get sh*t” done songs ever:

Here’s the link to this gloriously joyful song.

I “discovered” this song while on a walk after a week of stress and rampant imposter syndrome. The sun was shining, the weather was warm for the first time in so long, and I was feeling optimistic. This song put me in the best mood. The best. If you need a tune to help you get goin’ and productive, this is perfect for you.

PLANNER STICKERS…BECAUSE

I’m not talkin’ about those cutesy stickers that say DON’T FORGET or REMINDER or BIRTHDAY or whatever. No. I’m talking about these stickers:

Food. With. Googly eyes. The best. (Also, wow, is my handwriting something.)

Ok, I’m done

Thanks for reading, friends. Maybe you’ll see another post next month? Maybe? I know April’s going to be a doozy for me, so send some good thoughts and pixie dust.

(And I’m sending you some good thoughts and pixie dust. Thanks for reading!)

This Month of Grad School Was Brought to You By…

So I had an idea to get me posting on this blog again. Something that might not take the normal amount of effort, but might end up being something fun for you guys to read and for me to look back on.

So the grand idea is this: at the end of every month of grad school (starting in February 2019), I’ll post a list of what’s been getting me through the grind–the writing, the reading, the research, the prepping to teach, the teaching, the grading, the tutoring, all the “ings.” Grad school, so far, is one of the hardest, weirdest, most joyful things I’ve ever done. I’ve never felt so unsure of myself. I’ve never felt so confident in my abilities as a writer. I’ve never felt smarter. I’ve never felt so…not smart. I’ve never felt more inexperienced. I’ve never felt surer of my career.

You get the idea.

In short, grad school is a hot mess, but it’s the best hot mess I’ve ever stumbled into. I want to start documenting it properly, and what better way to document my life at this moment than with a list of the things I’m loving right now?

Let’s start! This should be fun.

My Desk At School 

My office/desk at school is the best. I’ve dubbed the space my Little Corner of Happiness, and my Little Corner of Happiness is growing and growing with trinkets from friends, postcards from travels, and piles of readings and sticky notes. Here’s a picture:

I look forward to getting my life together in this office every morning before I teach. I also love when students come to my office for conferences or to chat. We almost always have a conversation about Chip, my pencil mug, and the conversation sets a great tone for the meeting.

I love you, Little Corner of Happiness.

Maggie Rogers

Oh my word, I’m loving Maggie Rogers’ music. I “discovered” her this month when her newest album came out and it was all over my Twitter/Instagram feed. I gave the album a listen and I was hooked. The album, Heard it in a Past Life, is so, so good. She’s got a folksy quality to her voice, but the music she sings to is so upbeat and “dancey.” It’s perfect running music, perfect writing music.

Here’s a link to my favorite song, “Fallingwater.”

Exploring

A friend recently came to visit (hi, Allyssa!), and when company comes to town, you take ’em places! Exploring for a weekend made me realize how much my region has to offer–and how much I haven’t seen of it. So–exploring renewed my soul, exhausted my body/mind in the best way, and made me hungry for more.

Also, I got a new mug during our travels; I’m always pumped about a new mug. I got it from an art museum, and it has a quote by Mary Cassatt, an impressionist painter, printed on the side. The quote reads, “A woman should be someone, not something.”

Heck yes. Sipping my morning cup of coffee from that mug feels like consuming a warm cup of empowerment.

Sparkly Folders

I’m all about cute school supplies. I know plain stuff works just as well–often better–but, heck, I need some sparkle in my life, so I picked up two sparkly folders at Walmart on a shopping trip last month. One of the best decisions of my MFA, let me tell ya.

I love how the sparkles catch the light when I pull them out for class. I love how they glitter under the yellow glow of my lightbulbs in my apartment, in my living room as they sit on my desk. Can they hold a lot? No. Do they hold what I need? Yes.

Do they enrich my life? One hundred percent.

Astrology Chats & Charts

One of my friends (hi, Courtney!) and I have been into chatting about our astrology charts (is that the terminology?) lately, and I’m having so much fun with it. She’s my personal astrologer (AKA, she knows a lot more than me so she helps me out when it comes to figuring out what means what), and we have learned so much. I’m a Taurus sun, an Aquarius moon, and a Scorpio rising. Neat stuff.

Amazon Fire TV Stick

I recently bought an Amazon Fire TV Stick to convert an old TV into a smart TV, and holy cow it’s one of the best investments I’ve made. I love, love, love, love how I can play Spotify on my TV now. With that nifty little Fire Stick, I can transform my living room into the ideal writing space soundtracked by a perfect playlist–usually instrumental music, Broadway playlists, a few country artists (really just Kacey Musgraves or the Dixie Chicks at the moment), or the Waitress musical soundtrack, because I’m forever and ever obsessed.

Also, the Fire Stick is Alexa-enabled. I’ve recently discovered I’m obsessed with having conversations with Alexa, and that’s probably a bad thing. We’re pals. We like to catch up.

I promise I’m not crazy.

Ellie, My Dog, Especially When She’s Sleepy & Super Cute

Ellie’s always getting me through, but lately she’s been super extra cute, especially when it’s late-ish at night and I’m still reading or typing away and she curls up beside me on the couch and sleeps and smells all sleepy. That sounds weird–“smells all sleepy.” Ellie has a sleepy smell, and I love her sleepy smell.

Ok, I promise I’m not super weird. I’m just weird enough to go to grad school…

😉

I also love Ellie when she first wakes up in the morning. We’re kindred spirits–we don’t dislike mornings, but we’re definitely slow starters, a little pokey when it comes to attacking the day. She waddles (her gait’s naturally waddle-y) to eat her food, and then she cuddles up and sleeps in her bed for the rest of the morning while I get ready.

I could write a whole lot more about the other cute things Ellie does, but I’ll stop before I write an entire book.

That’s all for now, friends. Maybe I’ll be back next month! We’ll see.

I hope you’re finding fun stuff to get you through the grind. I hope you have a happy March–let’s hope spring will soon be bloomin’.

My Ellie.


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.

Twentysomething Thoughts

The following post contains twentysomething thoughts unique to my own experience, inspired by a real-life middle-of-the-night existential crisis. 

Enjoy!

***

Does anyone still feel like they’re perpetually sixteen? Or is it just me?

Should I know how to do [insert random thing you don’t know how to do] by now? (For me, personally? I don’t know how to change a tire. Or the oil. Or fix a toilet or a toaster. Or anything.  Isn’t that what AAA is for? And management? Or am I pathetic?)

Do I look “old?” Or could I pass for a college junior/senior? I mean, I am in grad school… it’s still school, am I right?

I think I look old. I spot crow’s feet. I need moisturizer, stat!

I remember when I was in high school and my friends and I were just sittin’ around chattin’ during lunch about our futures, and I remember thinking, okay, by the time I’m 24/25 there will definitely be a guy I’ve either married or am about to marry, and I’ll have a real job, and maybe a little house and for sure a dog or two, and I’ll be thinking about kids by the time I’m thirty, for sure. 

Isn’t that hilarious?

I mean, if you do have that–good for you. Truly. That’s awesome.

I just can’t imagine that right now. For me, at least–it’s scary. So permanent.

I do have a dog. Ellie. That’s something. My goodness, I love her. Do you want to see a picture? You do? Okay, then! Here you go:

Back to this permanence thing–I think that’s what scares me most. As I’ve grown older, I’ve discovered I like things to change, I like to move around and mix it up. My dreams change, my address changes, my taste in clothes changes, etc.

So when it’s time to “settle down,” will I be ready for it? Could I live in one place forever and ever? Could I do the same thing every day forever?

Is anyone ever really ready for it?

Shouldn’t I be content with permanence? Shouldn’t routine be a comfort? A joy? Only some are lucky enough to have it, I guess.

Okay, this next one is serious:

Do I need a signature shade of lipstick?

The thing is, even though I’m mostly just a chapstick kind of gal, there’s a part of me that loves the idea of a signature lip shade, perfume, scarf, etc. Having a signature anything–now that’s something, isn’t it? Isn’t that the epitome of being a grown-up, a woman in charge?

Maybe I’ll look into it. The signature lip, I mean.

What if I always feel unsure of everything? Why do I always say, “I’m sorry,” or “I don’t know,” after every dang sentence? I’ve noticed I try to qualify everything that comes out of my mouth. I know what I think; why do I feel like I have to apologize for thinking it?

You know what’s sad/funny? I’m obsessed with presentability. I want every aspect of my life to be presentable. Acceptable.

It’s funny because I claim not to be.

I want to be acceptable. Normal. Me. My apartment. My clothes. My car. My bag. The stickers on my laptop.

Am I too old to have stickers on my laptop?

Is anyone ever really “too old?” I mean, whenever I say, “I feel so old,” to my mom, she just rolls her eyes and says, “Kaila. You are not old.”

And I don’t think she is either.

Don’t we all want to get super, super old? Isn’t that the goal, ultimately? So why do we worry about the whole age thing? Shouldn’t people just be people no matter the number of years they’ve lived?

So there’s no “too old,” or even a “too young,” right? Or is there?

I don’t know.

There I am, saying (typing), “I don’t know,” again. Oops.

One thing’s for sure: I am in my twenties, and I have no idea what I’m doing most of the time.

Except for quesadillas. I know how to make quesadillas. And pasta. And scrambled eggs.

And that’s something.

 

Goin’ For an MFA–Reflections from my First Year

This post also contains a sprinkling of advice–even though, you know, I still feel like a newbie at this whole grad school thing. Ha. Enjoy!

So! You’ve been accepted to pursue your MFA in creative writing. Woohoo! I’m proud of you, internet stranger!

Now, if you’re anything like me, you are scouring the internet for advice/experiences/blog posts/etc. by people like me, people actually in an MFA program doing the whole grad school thing. You’re nervous, excited, anxious, happy, free, confused, and lonely (thanks T-Swift), all at the same time!

I was in your shoes a year ago. I had no clue what I was doing, so I Googled incessantly and nightly trying to figure it all out.

That’s why I’m writing this post. I hope my reflections/ramblings can give you some insight before you start, especially if you are like me–let me tell you, I am not kidding when I say I had no flippin’ clue what an MFA entailed.

Here goes nothing! Please enjoy this list of things/feelings I experienced during my first year as an MFA candidate.

Imposter Syndrome

Every moment. Every day.

You’ll feel like you don’t belong. Like they let you in on accident. If you’re semi-fresh out of undergrad (me) and your classmates are older and more experienced, you’ll feel so naive and clueless during a workshop. Maybe you won’t know what to say, how to do the workshop thing. I didn’t. I had no experience prior to the MFA–I was a literature major, so I just analyzed the heck out of really old novels and poems and plays but never asked how/why a story worked.

So every workshop felt like a whole bunch of “What the heck am I doing here? Can I DO THIS? Can I say this? Will I sound stupid?!”

My advice to confront imposter syndrome? Just roll with it. Truly. After a full year, I still feel unsure of myself as an artist most of the time, but isn’t that with everything? As I enter my second year, I’m trying to embrace this uncertainty. And after talking with my cohort, I can almost guarantee you that almost everyone deals with this feeling. An MFA program can be an intimidating/competitive place, but just know even the best feel like imposters.

Solidarity!

Criticism–& Lots of It 

Oh, gosh. I was prepared for all the criticism, but, then again, I was in no way prepared for it all.

Ha. Haha. You and your stories will get torn to shreds at one point–even the most talented writers in our program have endured a horrible workshop. I’ve suffered a few, I admit. The worst is looking at written comments after the fact and reliving the humiliation.

Okay, okay. It’s not that bad. It just depends on your perspective.

Every bit of criticism helps you become better, helps your stories become stronger. We’re all just here to become our best (and maybe, I don’t know, get published and get tenure-track positions one day, yes?), so every little bit of constructive criticism helps.

As a class goes on, you learn to filter the comments–you almost know whose comments you can “trust,” and you cling to their advice, their margin comments.

A little piece of advice? Find friends you can commiserate with. If you have a bad workshop, it almost always helps to laugh about it afterward with a friend. Make fun of yourself. Don’t take yourself so seriously. We’re all in an MFA program to learn and get better–why stress so much when you come up short?

(P.S. I’m still trying to actively live my own advice–HA.)

Speaking of Friends

Find you some. Be social, at least a bit. Talk to people in your office, if you have an office. That’s an order.

During my first semester, I wasn’t so keen on being social. I felt too busy, too overwhelmed. Also, my dog had stomach problems and big vet bills, so that didn’t help.

My second semester, however, I did stuff. With people. Usually just dinner, and, toward the end of the semester, game nights, including a round of Dungeons and Dragons.

Side note: I had no idea how fun D&D could be. Holy cow.

Anyway.

My point: friends can help you feel not so alone in all of this. All of my friends are in the English department, creative writing or otherwise. We all share the fourth floor of the English building as TAs, we all teach sections of Comp, we all come from different walks of life and different parts of the country/world. It’s a wonderful feeling to talk to people who are going through the same things you are–you learn from your friends, you have fun with your friends.

My advice: just talk to people in your classes. Go to mixers. To pizza nights. To readings. Don’t be afraid to say “yes.” Know when you need to say “no,” but, man. Say “yes” every once in a while. It could lead to some awesome experiences.

Me Time: Take Some

Friends are essential, but so is a little thing called “me time.”

If you’re anything like me, you’ll feel like your whole life is consumed by the MFA–there is so much to do between writing, preparing to teach, teaching, office hours, obligations such as readings, meetings, etc., and writing center hours (at least if your program is like mine, with funding etc.). The MFA is a job, so it makes sense that I’m talking about a little work/life balance.

Find hobbies outside of your field. This is proving difficult for me–I love reading, I love writing, but I know I need something away from it all. Walking my dog and cooking dinner–in that order–have become my solace. I listen to music (mostly musical soundtracks because I can’t seem to break away from storytelling completely) and podcasts, and I tie up my shoes and strap in Ellie (dog) and we set off around the block. When we return home, I make something simple for dinner (all while listening to music or a Podcast still), and I either sing my heart out or laugh out loud to whatever Podcast I’m listening to (usually @GilmoreGuys, because I’m still obsessed with Gilmore Girls). This time away from the books, from students, from grading–from thinking–helps so much.

Find something outside of the MFA that you enjoy. The MFA is not your whole life–it’s what you do, not who you are.

Ha. I’m so cheesy.

Submit! Submit! Submit!

The MFA is your chance to spend 2-3 years on your craft with the guidance and help of your cohort and professors. Why not actively try to get published in the meantime?

When I say “submit,” I mean to submit to literary magazines, contests, journals, etc. I’m saying this because a year ago I definitely had no idea what this whole “submitting” process was like–I couldn’t tell you any small presses, magazines, etc. Remember: me = clueless.

Get a Submittable account–it’s free, and you can easily discover new opportunities and submit to places and keep track of your submissions all on one site! A ton of journals only operate through Submittable, so it’s almost essential. Also, if you want to invest a bit of money, get a Duotrope account–I believe it’s $50 for the entire year, and it is wonderful. You can search journals based on acceptance rates, etc. You can also search for individual magazines and check your chances of acceptance and see how long it takes on average to hear a response.

I’m guilty of checking Duotrope every day. It’s probably unhealthy, but hey.

Once you start submitting, be prepared to wait. And wait. And wait. Also, be prepared for rejections galore. Don’t worry–it’s normal. Although it can hurt, every rejection feels like a step towards an acceptance.

My philosophy? Submit without abandon, often and plenty. You never know what will come of it. In my first year, I have been published once, and I’m always hoping another acceptance is around the corner.

Enjoy

And, in true Kaila fashion, let’s end this post on an extra-cheesy note!

While pursuing an MFA can be stressful, intimidating, and competitive, it’s been such a great experience so far. I’m surrounded by ambitious people just like me, by people who love to discuss their art and books and other nerdy things. I’ve tried to soak up every minute of academic bliss–sometimes I pinch myself because I realize I’m still a student, one of my favorite things to be. I get to walk around on a campus that’s buzzing with potential and dreams not yet realized. I get to teach students just starting their own journeys, see them grow as college students and as writers. I get to become the best writer I can be, and I’m surrounded by accomplished faculty who are on my side. I get to write fiction; I get to be completely immersed in worlds and characters I create. I get to attend readings by accomplished authors and ask them my questions, pick their brains.

It’s fantastic.

Enjoy your MFA experience. Don’t stress. You got this, internet stranger.

Thanks for stopping by. Now go kick some you-know-what!

For more advice/posts from fellow MFA candidates, check out the blog “The MFA Years.” It’s a wonderful; I’m pretty sure I make up half of the traffic to the site. 

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!

Kids Grown Up

I was so happy and lucky to win a contest on Instagram–I enter a lot giveaways, so to actually win something was such a thrill!

But this wasn’t just any old contest–the prize was a copy of Sophie Jo’s (@sophiejowrites on Twitter and Instagram) Disney-inspired poetry book, kids grown up. 

POETRY. INSPIRED BY MY FAVORITE THING EVER. DISNEY. This literature-loving girl’s heart was SO happy to win an item I’ve been eyeing for months.

First of all, the aesthetic of the book is so simple and clean, and I can’t wait to get more furniture so I can get a little stand for it and display it forever. I have a small collection of Disney books, and this is the perfect addition to my menagerie of magic.

Second of all, the poems are wonderful. (I know I’m using a lot of italics for this post, but bear with me). She posts a lot of the poems on her social media, but there were a few I hadn’t seen before. One poem, “windows and doors,” left me teary-eyed. The persona of the poem captures the essence of visiting my favorite place–I think the poem refers to Disneyland Paris, but I can see my beloved Walt Disney World when I read it. There are some lines that really touched me and conveyed how feel about Disney parks:

“and four went strolling, hand in hand: / through pinks and golds and clouds and swells / of music.” (Such beautiful language that puts me right on Main Street.)

“for days inside my head was calmer.” (YES!)

“he waved at me! / he remembers me!” (Me with any character I’ve ever worked with/met.)

There’s so much more to this poem, but I should stop quoting. Go. Purchase this book to read this poem;  I love it so much. Whenever I get “homesick,” this will be my go-to.

The star of the show, in my opinion, is the title poem, “kids grown up.” This little poem completely describes my everyday existence in every way, and it’s full of humor that any adult Disney fanatic can understand. My favorite lines:

“…then i can / think happy thoughts / and fly, and fly, and / thank my second star that i / take joy in stuff like how to store / my cheese baguette and how to pour / my ~CHILDLIKE~ self into the day…” 

THAT LAST BIT…ISN’T THAT BEAUTIFUL?! I hope I pour my “childlike self” into each and every day.

To Sophie Jo: thank you for selecting me as one of the winners of your contest. I am over the moon about your precious book–it will act as a source of inspiration for me as I make my way through graduate school and work on achieving my own writing goals.

To my readers: CHECK THIS GIRL OUT! I hope she publishes more in the future, because I just love the language she uses to describe my favorite thing in the world.

As always, have a magical day, and please pour your own childlike self into every second of it. That’s an order.