August 2017 News

calendar crossed offAugust all but slipped away, and now, it’s half-way into September. I’m just now coming up for air after the major transition between summer and the full-throttle school year. My wife and I are both teachers, so the change in rhythm for our whole family challenges us.

Our son, J, transitioned from a small, in-home daycare to a public preschool this year. He’s digging school, but sometimes I have to bribe him to get out the door by 7:45am. He wants more time in his pajamas. (Don’t we all!)

I’m teaching four online classes at CU Denver, 94 students in all. When the first round of major papers comes in, I will be holed up in my office for weeks. For now, at least, I’m finding time to write and revise a little every day and am being patient with my work—trusting that good things will happen if I stay engaged in the writing process.

To truly disorient myself in the name of creativity, I’m taking an 8-week poetry workshop at Lighthouse Writers Workshop. I’m learning that I have a lot to learn about reading and writing poetry and am so thankful for the chance to expand my knowledge and experiment with form.

This week, I was tasked with writing a poem that hands one word down from each previous line. I wrote a 10-line lyric poem about infertility.  I was so surprised by the nine words that repeated in the final poem: loaded, white, set, body, hands, count, time, wait, and gun. Since I’m accustomed to writing narrative, constraint helps me think outside the prose box and into a more poetic, surprise-filled space. It’s exhilarating to write something so starkly different from anything that came before.

Even with all of fall’s demands, the constant rush of life–shuttling J to school, swimming, and gymnastics; taking writing workshops; and teaching, I feel happy and lucky to get to pursue a creative life & be a mom.

Thanks for reading.

With Gratitude–

Nicole

 

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July 2017 News

Summer is not for writing.

At least that is how it feels now that I am a mother. Summer is for spending time with my family. All of us are together, all day, every day from June 1st through August, and it’s difficult to carve out much time for my solitary work. The tension is always there between wanting to be with them and wanting to separate myself for blocks of time to write.

I am lousy at saying, hey family, I need an hour all by myself to write every day. I don’t know why this is so difficult. I’m a much more disciplined writer during the school year, when my wife and child are both at school, and I know that I will have alone time to get my work done, all while they are thoroughly engaged in living their lives away from me.

At the very beginning of June, when I was still under contract at work, I taught a short writing workshop for the Denver Writing Project. I was able to write along with the workshop participants and managed, in about 10 minutes, to draft the beginning of a new CNF/lyric piece. I love that “holding my breath” feeling that happens when something urgent hits the paper, as if it was waiting by the door for me to sit down and let it out. I want to get it polished up and sent off to a few magazines during the fall submission period to test the waters with it. But this 700-word piece is pretty much my only real writing accomplishment from June and July.

I’ve heard writers say that they set up three submission waves per year to send work into the world. That seems like a great goal. This year, I’ve sent work out in January and March. Two of those pieces got picked up and ended up being paid publications. I also got some encouraging rejections. (Of course, I want to be real here. I also got some pretty blah form rejections. I have started to learn not to get discouraged.) I’m hoping by October or November I will be ready to send at least one or two pieces out for consideration.

I’ve signed up to take an 8-week intermediate poetry workshop at Lighthouse Writers Workshop that begins on August 15th. As an essayist and CNF writer, this will push me out of my comfort zone. I’ve never taken a multi-week poetry workshop, though I’m in love with the work of so many contemporary poets (Ocean Vuong, Mark DotyNatalie Diaz, Li Young Lee, just to name a few). My hope is that this poetry class will prime my focus on the aesthetics of language for the sake of improving my prose and learning a couple of the “secret handshakes” that poets use. I may even end up with some finished poems to send out in October.

Cheers to August and beyond and finding more time to read and write.

N

June 2017 News

Making Art Public

In June 2017, the piece of writing that “made me a writer” got published in an online literary magazine that I love called Hippocampus Magazine. What I mean by that is that I simply had to find a way to write this essay.

The piece, called “Maybe We Can Make a Circle” is about, at its heart, the day my dad was murdered in a school shooting by a disgruntled teacher. My dad was a small district school superintendent and, therefore, a public figure. The high school population barely exceeded 600, and the town population in 1994 was just shy of 4000. What I didn’t realize during the many years that I spent writing this piece and grieving my dad’s death was that this wasn’t my family’s story alone. The shooting changed the lives of so many students, parents, school employees, first responders, doctors, extended family members, and anyone who read a newspaper and felt the horror of this tragedy bumping up against their own lives. The story is/was/will always be an intersection in all of our emotional landscapes. Publishing this work made it insanely clear to me that we are all part of an acute shared history.

When I posted a link to the story on my personal Facebook page, to my surprise, people started reading the story; sharing it; and writing comments publicly on Facebook threads and privately through Facebook messenger, and via my professional email account, which is easy to find if you Google me.

Thousands of people read the story. Thousands of people.

I can safely say that nothing I’ve written before has been read by thousands of strangers, acquaintances, writers, family members, townspeople, etc.  I will never know for sure just how many people read the piece, but I will say that I heard from dads whose kids I babysat when I was 12 and 13. I heard from my mom’s college roommate, the son of my high school basketball coach, a woman who was on the school board when my dad was hired, the boy I had a big crush on in middle and high school who never liked me back, my foreign exchange family in Spain, and the list goes on and on. The story even found its way to being featured on WordPress Reader. The lit mag’s website said it was shared over 2500 times just on Facebook alone.

At first, it felt really strange to know so many people were reading this intimate account of my life. I think all writers sometimes fantasize about being published, but the moment that happens the piece leaves the writer’s control and takes on a wild life of its own. I don’t think I was truly prepared for it. I was/am both grateful and terrified.

All of the messages that came in through various channels had one thing in common: Each sender told me a related story.

When I think about why I write and publish, this is the main reason. Because each story leads to another, and another. The stories that readers told me remind me that I am never all alone, even if I feel like I am at times.

It’s easy to forget that one person’s writing can shine a light into the darkest corners of others’ hearts and help them wrestle with grief, loss, uncertainty, shame, silence, and guilt or give them permission to speak by propping open the door with a related story.

So, if I ever wonder again why I write, then I must remember that I do this partly to be in community with other people. I do this to make another person less alone. I do this to help someone else feel understood. I do this because stories connect human beings, and they name the desire and fear that we all carry with us, and all the hope too.

In art, there is a “we,” and we need that community now more than ever to show that we are human beings composed of the same fibres and cells as the man or woman sitting next to us. We are all striving and scared as fuck.

Thanks to Hippocampus for publishing my story, and thanks to all the people who paused their lives to read and respond.

With Gratitude,

Nicole

May 2017 News

Writing

I learned this month that one of my personal essays will be published by a literary magazine that I like and respect. It seemed like a bit of a long shot when I first submitted it. After four months of waiting, I was starting to lose hope.

I found out that I got an acceptance during a staff meeting at work. I glanced down at my phone, and there it was. They said they loved it, and there was no “but” afterwards. They will publish it in June. I literally started crying with surprise and gratitude.

Anyone who has ever been in a writing workshop with me has probably read this piece in one form or another. I’ve worked on it for years. It has been the hardest piece to finish and the scariest to share. And now I can finally be done with it–let it fly out into the world.

Now I’ve moved on to working on some new essays. It seems the hardest essays to write end up being the best, so I’m holding onto hope that I’ll make some breakthroughs this summer with a couple pieces that have been keeping me up at night.

Spring has Sprung

The spring 2017 semester is coming to a close, and I’m buzzing with all the energy that the possibility of the summer brings–time to read, write, golf, hike, camp, attend music festivals, work out, travel, see my friends and family, and think, “what’s next?”

For the past seven years, I’ve been the director of a local arm of a national non-profit for educators, all while teaching 8-9 college writing courses per year. I loved the work of leading the Denver Writing Project and made some of my closest friends through that experience. I both wanted to give another colleague the chance to lead the organization and to create space for a new adventure in my creative/professional life.

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But as the semester ends, I have this intense feeling that I need to do everything right now–I need to write, freelance, and publish more, improve my classes for next fall, work out, fix everything that needs fixing at the house, go back to grad school for a second advanced degree, and so on. I always seem to want to conquer the world immediately, when I know I need to just take a few breaths and patiently wait for clarity about what comes next so that I can be certain I am making a rational decision.

Sometimes the hardest decision is to wait and see.