All posts by dianaknj

The Intersection of Life and Art

This week was all about junctions, intersections, and overlays. My creative piece is so heavily informed by actual events I am processing in my life, that I cannot help but to see so much, standing here at the corner of Life and Art.

It’s an intersection, really. And I feel the pull to either go down the Art path, and throw myself into my creative writing, or to keep it moving down the path of my Life. But with any intersection, one must make a decision. It’s a timeless question, very “Robert Frost,” almost, but it’s totally how I feel. Choosing one path is exclusive of the other. I cannot walk my Life road and my Art road, as much as I try. And it’s part of my guilt as a working mother who’s also attending graduate school.

The only solution, then, is to pull a Hamlet, and not decide anything at all! To stand here, at the intersection of Life and Art, and not make a decision yet, about my time, and how I am going to allocate it.

From here, I can see a little ways down each road: my looking Literature Review for this course, my final project for my elective; and down the other path: work obligations, family functions, dentist appointments for the kids, all the holiday crap I still have to do! The view is okay, but I can’t just sit here all week.

I did actually finish about a two page Research Proposal (not sure how long those are supposed to be?) so that’s progress.

But I find so many similarities right now between my life and my creative piece that it’s hard to choose one. I’m teaching the Pardoner’s Tale at work, and the kids actually like it. Thinking about forgiveness for sins, while also preparing my daughter for her First Reconciliation was a nice overlap. And it also made me think of all the things that would happen in the future.

Speaking of which, this blog is supposed to be about planning for the future (another intersection) by looking forward break. The thing is, for me, it’s not much of a “break” at all. Be cause I teach, I only have a week off, and that is usually spent dealing with Christmas Eve (huge in my family), Christmas Day (having my in-laws over), seeing family and friends I never have the time to during the school year, and then getting the house put back in order before going back to work, which is a one-day turnaround for me this year. So, unfortunately, I think most of my time is going to be spent doing all that on my week off. And before class starts up again in January, hopefully, I’ll have some more content generated so I can really focus on the more technical aspect of this project in Thesis II.

Busy, Busy, Busy…And Nary a Word to Write!

This week, I was on “divert status.” Holiday weeks are always rough for me, as far as getting an appreciable amount of work done. First, I’m so grateful that we were able to meet remotely for our last class. While listening to my peers’ presentations (very interesting, as always, Sun, and OMG, you’re an amazing memoirist, Susan), I was able to multi-task, in true mom fashion. I whipped up a Mac and Cheese from scratch (heavy creme, shredded sharp cheddar and gruyere), a pumpkin pie (which I made from the pumpkin guts of my jack o’ lanterns), AND cook dinner for my little creatures.

And all for what I thought was going to be a horrible Thanksgiving. See, in my mind, I was being dragged up a mountain to some hall by a lake, which my husband’s cousin swears has a “beach.” (Yes, they are the kind of people who swim in lakes, which I… am not! To me, the “beach” is, as a necessary component of its definition, connected to the OCEAN!) But I digress…

So I was dragged up the side of a mountain, and arrived at what was a surprisingly wonderful little structure. Part log cabin (yes, with actual logs) and part catering hall, it was truly quaint, whimsical, and picturesque. We had a great time (minus the mashed potatoes- a tale for another blog) and I was actually very happy I went.

From there, my weekend was mostly spent Christmas-ifying my house, outside and in. Lights. Tree. Decorations. You name it. I love decorating for the holidays, and Christmas is the grand-daddy of them all! I also went to our town’s (FREEZING) tree-lighting ceremony, complete with ice-skating rink, and horse-drawn carriage rides. It was a little “Pleasantville,” but it was really nice for the kids.

I did a lot. I didn’t stop all weekend. I honestly felt like a needed a weekend after this holiday weekend! But what did I write? About five paragraphs. A short vignette about the consequences of neglecting things, in this case, around the house that is the setting of my story. (Dealing with my father’s broken radiator pipes was the time-consuming “inspiration” for that one!) And a short vignette about losing the essence of oneself. While they are not lengthy, I like them, and I’m trying to find a place to work them into the narrative.

As far as goal-setting, this upcoming week, I really want to knuckle down and work on finalizing my literature review/ annotated bibliography up to this point, since I know it’s coming up. I was a little bogged-down with the Critical Controversy paper for my elective class, and thinking about the final project for that, which is due next week. Since I hadn’t even started that, it was the more time-sensitive and pressing assignment, and I really threw my extra time into that. But I have a draft I’m proud of ready for that, so now I can refocus my attention back on this lit review.

I feel like so much of multi-tasking is to triage a situation, and to divert resources (time, attention, effort) to where it’s needed the most then and there, and to just try to keep any pieces from falling to the floor.

Living the Research

This weekend, I was living some “research,” phenomenologically speaking. I’ve actually been taking notes on some of what’s going on, basing it off my experiences with my dad. He was with us this weekend, and it was an emotional roller-coaster. At one point, he watched my daughter dance, and just cried. Like, balled his eyes out. And I know what he was thinking, even though he had a hard time expressing it. She’s so beautiful. She reminds me of Diana and Stefanie. I hope I get better, so I can keep seeing her growing up. I love her so much. He could articulate very little of this, but it was written all over his face. It was frustrating for me, to see him that frustrated, so unable to say what was going through his mind.

We also had a little incident regarding his boiler. Aside from the dread of having to pony up potentially thousands of dollars to replace a boiler (in the age of COVID- when everything is “delayed”) was the sobering realization that my dad might not be capable of independent living in the not-so-distant future. We finally got a technician over at the house around 11 at night. My husband called me, and said there was good news and bad news: The boiler is fine. Your dad’s messed up. He was hitting the wrong buttons, which is why the boiler wasn’t lighting up. My dad. The man who can fix anything. Couldn’t turn his heat on. Lord, help me. And just when we got it working, and he spent the night at home, the next day, he told us it went off again. Leaking steam pipe. Great.

“Why didn’t you tell us?”

“I was planning on getting around to it, fixing it this week.”

“Dad, do you think that’s the best idea?”

[Dramatic pause.]

“Well, no.”

“Let’s call the furnace guy back. Get a plumber down to fix it right, and quickly.”

“I guess so…”

“I know so. There are times when it’s okay to call in a professional to do the job, Dad.”

“Alright…”

But I knew what he was thinking, behind that “Alright”: It’s not alright. I should be able to fix my own damn pipe. I hate having to pay someone to do something I should be perfectly capable of doing myself. I don’t want to feel like a useless old man, like a burden. God, I hope I get better soon.

“I know, Dad. I know.”

But this is why I’m writing what I’m writing. I haven’t addressed whether or not the Daddy character in my thesis project goes into an assisted living situation, but maybe he should. Or maybe it can be another source of conflict between my narrator and her sister. (This would make sense, since Lynn is cash-strapped, and would maybe advocate for keeping Daddy in the home, even if it’s unsafe, because she can’t afford to chip in for a home…) This is just a thought, but it’s tied into my reasons for this project, personally: to test-out possible scenarios, and process them in advance, so if (or when) that day actually comes, I’ll have already thought it through. Speculative memoir as a means of addressing anticipated trauma. And taking notes, in real-time, is helping me to generate ideas for possible material to add in at a later date.

So, just to hedge a bit, maybe, as part of my Lit Review and Research process, I should add information on assisted living into my “Estate Planning” section. Not sure if this will ever make it into the fiction, but it’s certainly part of my process of living the research.

“One cannot grow flowers in a thin soil”

(Reposted from my old blog site… 🤦🏻‍♀️)

In my elective course this week, we were reading a piece about wine writers, and part of it really stood out to me, because it so beautifully articulated how I’m feeling right now. In Minh-ha’s “Woman, Native, Other,” she writes that “…time…means a wage that admits leisure and living conditions that do not require that writing be incessantly interrupted, differed, denied, at any rate subordinated to family responsibilities.” And, before this week, that’s exactly how I was feeling. The reading also spoke to the phenomenon of women “letting themselves be consumed by a deep and pervasive sense of guilt. Guilt over the selfishness implied by [writing]…” And I thought to myself that this is exactly how I feel when I write, often, do do anything for myself. Whether it’s writing, or getting a massage, getting my hair done, or even doing my own laundry, I find myself deferring my needs to the needs of others. I feel subordinated. And selfish. And guilty.

But this week in class, and in the writing process, I finally feel like I found the time. The shift to building in writing time was HUGE for me, and it really carved out a much-needed corner of time for me. Richer soil! I feel so much less stressed! So much less guilty! I got a really substantial chunk of writing done, and this upcoming week, I actually think I may want to work on a few scenes from the ending chapters, since the material is fresh in my mind.

One thing I really want to focus on this week is scraping together my sources in a more organized way. I have a solid outline and major areas I’d like to focus on for the “research” end of this project, but I wanted to organize my sources in a more formal annotated bibliography before I lose track of them. And since a lot of my personal research for what’s going on in my real life overlaps the research I’m doing for this project, I know I need to organize them in a more effective way. But now I feel like I have the time to do that, so that’s a positive thing.

On other fronts, some space has also opened up, with my presentation for the other class out of the way, and this week’s readings already annotated. I have a little breathing room. A little rich soil, in which to grow.

Thank You!

It’s totally apropos, considering that we are right smack in the middle of the Thanksgiving season, so I’d like to thank all my classmates for the exceptional feedback you gave me! I found it really very useful to read excerpts of my work out loud, and I also thought it was super-productive to gain insights into your reactions as readers.

I also appreciated all the suggestions for improvement. I’ve already re-worked several sections, including shortening up dialogue, and reigning in some of the descriptive swaths. (I know I can tend to ramble and wander, so thanks for keeping me on the path!) Both your verbal comments, as well as the written feedback, were extremely valuable to me. Whether it was something small, like a space before a period, or something major, like a linguistic consideration of the character’s dialogue pattern, it was all very thoughtful. I truly appreciate the care you all took to give me such useful feedback.

I’ve also implemented quite a few suggestions and ideas for short scenes or vignettes, thanks to your inspiration! I have notes on lots of stuff, and I think I can lean into that and write some interesting snippets if I run out of steam on the main narrative. (Hopefully, one day this will be published, and I hope you can see the inspiration some of you have given me.)

In my research, I also finally got up off my butt and created the beginning of my annotated bibliography. I also requested a book on Inter-library Loan, so I’m excited to see if/when that comes in. I think it’s actually a blessing that there is not a whole lot on the angle I’m taking with regards to the genre, so that’s a plus for me, too. (One of the things I was struggling with was how was going actually make a contribution to the academic body of knowledge. It seems like such a big, ambitious undertaking!)

I’m also quite excited for our plans for the last night of class. I think that team-building and developing camaraderie are such integral parts of education (and work-life) that have been ignored for far too long (thanks, Covid). So I’m happy that we are planning to meet up in a different context (setting matters, right, writers!).

SO, yeah. I’m feeling good. I’m feeling productive. I’m feeling… thankful! 🙂

Work in Progress

Today, I’ll be sharing my Work in Progress with the class, which is what I’ve really been working on this week. I’ve put together a short PowerPoint, and a handout for you all, so I can gather your thoughts on what I’ve got so far. Although it’s not complete, I wanted to share one of the excerpts here:

Excerpt #4

There were plenty of things in there I wanted to keep, and plenty I wanted to discard myself, without Lynn or anyone seeing them.  I opened the door, breaking the gossamer cobwebs inside.  Nobody had been in this room for years.  Dutch ivy was creeping in through the window fins of the air conditioner, which had never been removed.  Their dry leaves collecting in a pile under the sill, from so many autumns and winters.  They must have grown in, thinking this was more space for them, but quickly realizing that nothing can grow in such dust and darkness.  It was no home for a green thing that needs the sun; it was only a place for spiders and other creatures of darkness.

“Killing a spider is bad luck, y’hear?  They kill the bad bugs, and they won’t bother you much, Marie.  You better not kill no spiders in my house,” Daddy would say to me.

“What if it bites me in the night?  What if it crawls in my ear?  Or in my mouth while I’m sleeping?” I asked, terrified and staring at the milky white legs of my little invader, a house spider who’d made his way into my bedroom, and walked across my ceiling, defying gravity as he did, until he was directly over me in my bed and I screamed for my Daddy, “Come kill it!”

“So what if it crawls into your mouth?” he said.  “It’s protein.” 

I never understood why killing a spider was bad luck.  I never understood why we had to just leave these creepy and dangerous things in our midst.  I learned to kill them myself, whenever I saw them, whenever Daddy wasn’t looking.  To squish, twist, and wait for visual confirmation of their death before finally being able to rest easy.  And I learned how to hide the tissues deep down in the trash, which Daddy would poke through regularly, looking for evidence of one transgression or another when he thought Lynn and I were acting suspiciously.

A tiny black spider crept across the purple carpet, towards my closet.  I could see its long front legs grabbing greedily at the piles of carpet in its path.  I pressed the sole of my black pump into it, twisting on the ball of my foot as I did, smearing a little stain into the rug.  I expected to feel a twinge of guilt, or to hear my Daddy’s voice from beyond the grave, speaking to me, yelling at me, anything.  But instead, I heard nothing.  His voice did not manifest the way I thought it would, and I wondered if he was in Heaven, if he could see me killing this tiny spider, and if he was upset.  If he was, I certainly could not hear it.

I opened up the closet, and looked at the array of clothes that had not been worn in nearly twenty years.  Suit jackets and dated blouses, all in a size medium, which I had not been in over a decade.  I shut the closet door, and knelt down near the bed.  I pulled out a plastic shoebox full of old Playbills, graduation programs, class pictures, movie ticket stubs, even a dried corsage from my eighth grade dance.  Though I picked it up carefully, some tiny buds of baby’s breath broke off and crumbled to the carpet.  I was about to slip it on my wrist, but the elastic was brittle and crumbled, no longer possessing the capacity to expand and contract.  So I placed it back in the plastic shoebox gingerly.

Then my phone vibrated.  A text from Lynn: “Hows it going?”  And something about her missing apostrophe just set me off.  Maybe it was her carelessness, her lack of attention to details, which should matter.  I couldn’t be sure, couldn’t pinpoint the source of the rage bubbling up inside of me, raising my heart rate so perceptibly. 

Aware of the heat rising within, I began to type my response: “How’s it going? How do you think it’s going? I’m going through our childhood home and pulling out things I want to keep from our life, from our childhood! And I’m trying to find things of value for you to sell off before the dirt over our Daddy’s grave even settles!  And you have the nerve to…” 

My frantic texting was interrupted, mid-reply, by a second text from Lynn: “Sorry that was to someone else.”

I deleted the rant I had written, and instead, replied with: “Okay.”  But I was not okay.  Still shaking, I turned my attention back to the shoebox.  This is coming with me.

Questions:

-Thoughts so far? What did you like? What did you hate?

Life Happens

This week, I think, was a really strong reminder that, for good or for bad, life happens. Whether it’s an unexpected passing (condolences, Dr. Zamora) or a happy occasion, like a Halloween party (which we had this weekend), sometimes life gets in the way. And from a pandemic perspective, having moments together with family, whether to grieve, or to celebrate, is important. The relationships we live, and the lives we experience, matter. So, for one of the first weeks all semester, I feel like I’ve slacked (a little) with my writing for my project.

But I don’t think it was all for nought this week…

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking through it, and living through it, though. This is on many fronts, from my dad’s declining health, to my mother’s financial situation, and the estate planning elements that are bubbling up to the surface. So, I suppose, in an auto-ethnographical sort of way, it (kinda) counts as research (?)…

I’ve actually been looking into elder planning and estate planning, as well as dealing with some property maintenance of my dad’s house and yard, to ease the burden on him (and ultimately on me and my sister) as far as taking care of the home. He isn’t able to grip tightly with his hands, and he’s getting shaky. These scary new occurrences will eventually weave their way into my creative work, and while it’s awful to go through, I’m using all of these things, and taking my own notes for reference, as my own way of working through the emotional trauma of having to deal with all of this. I think it is helping to insulate me from the emotional aspects of living through it, which is another important angle of my project: speculative memoir as a form of emotional therapy to help cope with anticipated trauma. And I’m feeling like thinking about these issues in a “clinical” was, or as if it’s “research” is really helping me to hold my life together!

So, for me, even though “life happened” this week, it still, in a round-about way, kept me somewhat on track.

I Think I Found My Grooooove…

This week, my writing process was totally energized. I didn’t think I’d actually have the time to accomplish much, since I was throwing a birthday party for my son. (He’s 5!) But, surprisingly, I was able to get a good chunk of writing done. This, again, is mainly due to having a solid hour-long chunk to not only be productive, in a bubble. Rather, I think that writing in a supportive and nurturing environment, one rich with other literary peers to bounce ideas off of, and get feedback from, is really useful. Sometimes, I feel like when I write alone, I’m not sure if what I am writing is any good, and no offense to my husband, but he’s not the most “literary” person in the world, so I can’t ask him about it. Or other times I get carried away with too much narration… (This week, overhearing an excerpt from Jessie’s piece made my realize it was about dialogue time in what I was writing, so just hearing other word and conversations in the background, passively, was very helpful to me.) I generated a good 4 pages in class, plus another two when I got home. Momentum was built, and it was hard to stop. I was in a groove.

As for my Lit Review, I still have not put much on there, mainly because I have actually been quite swept up in the creative aspect of my project. I figure it isn’t going anywhere, and it might actually be better to generate content first, and then be able to double back and see which areas of the creative piece need bolstering. I’m not super worried about that, because I feel like I have a solid outline for it, and I know what I’m doing.

On other fronts, I feel like the semester is flying by. I am actually dedicating more than half my academic time right now to my elective course, which is fine, since the material is very interesting. But it is not what I expected this semester to look like, so it took some course adjustment to get me back onto a track that works for me and my schedule. I have a presentation this week for my piece in that class, so, happy with what I’ve already generated for my thesis project, I have to switch gears and write my short position paper for that class. This is what I mean. I just had to find a groove. And now I’m in it… (I hope!)

Time Crunch Leads to Crunch Time

That would be my headline this week, if I were a news article! I definitely felt energized, organized, and with a clear path after last week. However, this past week was a blur! I was totally crunched for time, between work obligations (SGOs, PDPs, observations, Back to School Night, professional development seminars, etc.), school obligations (there was a good chunk of reading for my other class…) and personal obligations (doctor’s appointments for dad, parent meetings for my daughter’s Reconciliation, actually attending church because now it “counts” for her upcoming Communion!) and the like. (Never mind the laundry! OH, the laundry!!) All these things were necessary, but they definitely ate up large swaths of my waking hours, and I feel like they detracted from my productivity. Even this blog is later (and shorter) than I like to write them!

Missing a beat has definitely thrown my rhythm off. Aside from missing Amber’s presentation, which I’m sure was wonderful, I also feel like I’m behind, and I need to play catch up.

So, now I feel like the time crunch has created a “crunch time” feeling, and I want to produce. But I also don’t want to write garbage (maybe “fluff” is less harsh?), just for the sake of “writing something.” I don’t like editing, and I’ve spoken about it before, but I think, as a writer, I’m much more measured with my words. I like “getting it out, right” the first time, and that cuts down on the amount of editing I need to do afterwards.

It’s really just a matter of carving out the time, dedicating myself to the many different directions I’m being pulled in.

But sometimes, the universe has a way of creating that space and time for us. And this week, it has come in a most unlikely form: testing. Yes, state testing, which I usually bemoan, because, of course, testing is NOT teaching. Yet, it gives me quiet time, time I literally have to just sit, and read and write and think, with nothing to actually pull my attention, aside from the brief 30 second intervals to refresh the screen and monitor student progress, of course. It’s like somebody saying, “Slow down.” “Sit.” “Write.” “Read.”

And for that, I am grateful. Because if time can be “crunched,” it can also be elasticized, expanded, and opened up…

A little fall cleaning and organization…

It was such a beautiful, summer-like weekend, and I used the time to organize my house, decorate my front yard for Halloween, and do some much needed fall cleaning inside, before decorating that, too. I put out my witches, my pumpkins, my ghosts, and, of course, lots of black cats! I love arranging my decorations, just so. I try to place them in a way that has “composition” of sorts, symmetry and balance, not too many visual gaps. I truly enjoy making my home festive, and I think it’s super important for kids to associate the changing seasons with the changing holidays, and to have something to look forward to. There is peace in the predictability of that rhythm that speaks to me. It’s one of the few changes I actually find comforting.

Everything I did was in steps, and each step was necessary to do, to pave the way for the next task: dust the “twice a year” places, the ones I only really think about during spring and fall cleaning. Above the bathroom light fixtures, the top of the china cabinet. Move the couches, and really vacuum underneath. And with that “clean slate,” I was ready to decorate for Halloween (and to eventually switch out to Thanksgiving, then Christmas).

With the decorating all done, I tackled some other projects, too, like bringing in my 8 foot tall dragon palm, which I inherited with this house. It was left behind by the previous owners, and although I’ve always had a black thumb when it comes to houseplants, this one seems to like it here. (Hopefully, I didn’t just jinx it!) But even that had to be sprayed with insecticidal soap (we have a strict “no bugs in the house” rule!) and left to sit outside for a day before being hauled in, making sure carpets were rolled out of the way, to slide the heavy put across the floor and into its corner by the window. But since this project, I’ve been looking at this palm, and I can’t help thinking of it as something left behind for me to take care of, something I wasn’t expecting to be stuck with, and that I’m trying my best to keep alive nonetheless. It has taken on a new meaning for me, in light of my project.

This week for me was mostly about organization- not just with my home, but with my writing, too. I created a really useful outline for my Literature Review, and I refined it into 4 major categories: Genre/Speculative Memoir; Alzheimer’s disease; OCD and Hoarding disorders; and Estate Planning/Legal Issues. Once again, talking things through with my group was super helpful in narrowing these categories down, and creating sub-categories I won’t bore anyone with in this blog.

But that organization has already given me direction. I’ve already perused some articles, particularly about the estate planning and legal issues surrounding inheritances, which I think will help to inform and authenticate some of the conflicts that I want to incorporate in my plot. I’ve also taken an angle with regards to genre of the therapeutic benefits of speculative memoir in working through anticipated trauma. (And speaking of trauma- I’m also really bummed out that I’m going to miss Amber’s presentation! I was really looking forward to hearing more about her work, since I think it is so interesting!) It’s also helping to inform and even inspire some of the vignettes I’m writing to characterize the father in the work, whether it’s laying some breadcrumbs for my reader or delving in to the psychology of his character motivations.

But I think the organization is already helping me to be more aware of what I’m looking for, what I need to place where, to fill in any gaps, and what dusty corners of my emerging novel need some special attention…