Friday, August 29, 2014

Restless

The restless writer: a girl with ants in her pants who wants to learn how to sit her butt down and write. 

Let me explain.

I was born a bundle of nerves. My mother said I came out of the womb with eyes wide open, ready to take on the world around me. From that moment, I haven't stopped careening through life like a whirling dervish. A die-hard social butterfly, I'm quite hard to pin down. Over the past few years, I have worked for myself as a language tutor. Even though I only worked a few hours each afternoon, my schedule was packed with volunteer hours, dinner engagements, wilderness escapades, and a plethora of dance classes. I don't know how to turn down offers for brunch, ballet, or an afternoon paddle. I am also to blame, as I meticulously keep track of events happening around the city – festivals,  art shows, free promotional events – and invite everyone I know. I simply cannot bear to miss a single moment.
And it doesn't stop there. Having spent the first few years of my life living on a sailboat, I caught the wanderlust bug very early in life. Since then, I have spent most of my money and free time on travelling. When I was 20, I embarked on a journey that took me to five continents in 12 months. Much of my traveling has been by sea and foot, as well as the usual suspects - trains, planes, random strangers giving me rides. There's something about traveling that makes me feel alive, when I'm so out of my comfort zone that all I can do is drop the reins and let serendipity do her job. She always comes through.
But I realize that this hyper-extroverted lifestyle, while much fun, is not necessarily sustainable for a writer. I have friends of mine who are artists, fully capable of shutting themselves off from the world and turning themselves on to their work. I can't help but feel jealous of them. Recently, I read an interview with Barbara Kingsolver in the Sun in which she admits that she finds it hard to do readings, meet fans, and engage in the social side of being a writer. She prefers to be home, holed up in her study for much of the day, churning out book after book of gorgeous prose. Again, I am green with envy at her easy introversion. My body fights it with every ounce of my being.
But I have hope! This summer, I read a few books and did some background research on becoming an introvert. I learned that I do harbor some introverted tendencies, but they are deep, deep, deep inside of myself. But hear this, quiet Carmella, this is your time! Come forth and …. sit in a chair for many long hours... Reading. Writing. What’s so scary about that?
Oh, just everything. Only facing the fear of rejection of your very being as an artist. No big deal.

Don't get me wrong! I will never stop exploring the world and all of her wonders. But I think that in order to get good at my craft, it’s time to hide away from the rest of the world – at least for a little while! Perhaps one day I will be capable of balancing a life of crazy extroversion with the hard work of creating art on the page, but I haven't gotten there yet. That is the goal! 
Thank you so much for being with me on this journey. In the future, expect to see more posts about the writing process, my experience in graduate school, and the challenges of teaching Freshman composition.

Yours truly, this hopeless vagabond

Friday, August 22, 2014

Coming Out

            I guess you could say I've always been a writer. As a kid, I tried my hand at penning songs, melodramatic love stories, and middle school mysteries. As an adult, there hasn't been a time when I haven't kept a journal. These spiral bound notebooks record every quotidian detail, from conversations I'd like to remember to the dreams I had last night. The margins are decorated with notes about stories I want to tell, books I want to read. But even so, I never identified myself as such. I was an environmentalist, a student, a farmer, a traveler, a sailor, a dancer... but never a writer.
            I remember the first time I said the words, “I'm a writer,”  my voice thick with false bravado. My declaration hung in the air, taunting me. “Oh yeah? Says who?” I don't have a business card with the word “writer” written under my name and most of my bylines come from my middle school journalism days. Being a writer was something I liked to think about while scrubbing the deck of my dad's sailboat, or washing the dishes late at night. Sure, I had a stack of notebooks filled with my swirly handwriting. But writing wasn't a part of my life in any real world way.
            Still, as scary and uncomfortable as it felt to say the words, it also felt liberating, as if I were coming out of the closet after years of hiding. Being a writer wasn't a secret pipe dream anymore. In alcoholics anonymous, they say that identifying the disease in yourself is the first step to recovery. In the same way, announcing myself as a writer was the first step I took in becoming one. But also, saying the words immediately gave weight to the claim. I had put it out into the world, and now the world had expectations.
            That was about two years ago. Since then, I have been more proactive about my writing life than ever before. I started a small writing group, and when that wasn't enough, I signed up for classes and workshops around town. Over the summer, the idea of attending an MFA program for creative writing hit me like a lighting strike. I set out to make it happen.
            After months of filling out applications, tweaking my personal statement, workshopping my submission piece, and chasing recommendations, I accepted an offer from the University of South Florida in Tampa. The program seems like a great fit for me, and I am so excited to work with their stellar faculty. While sitting in on a workshop class during a school visit, it hit me: I am going to spend the next three years writing, reading, and discussing the craft of storytelling with my peers. Glory Halleluiah!
            But the hard part is far from over. I feel as though I am at the base of a monstrous mountain, staring up at towards a summit hidden in thick fog. I've been out of school for five years and the thought of sunny Sundays spent in the library terrify me. My life post college, and even during college, has been light on the scholarly side and heavy on the experiential side. Now comes the challenge of a lifetime – getting Carmella to sit her ass down in a chair and write.
            For a long time, my excuse with writing has been that I simply cannot work on something so abstract – words on a page?? – for hours on end. I'm a girl who spent several backbreaking seasons as an apprentice on organic farms – and loved every minute of it. I'm also a girl who has traveled solo all over the world, never afraid to throw myself into the fray. I've been lost in the mountains and sailed through electric storms, but nothing brings me more fear that sitting down in front of the blank page.
              As the first day of classes nears, I see doors closing around me and I can feel myself start to panic. Didn't I always want to be a yoga teacher in southeast Asia? What of my dream of living on a commune in Brazil? I know how to live a loud existence, one that is fiercely physical and constantly in flux.
            But the life of the writer is quieter than what I'm used to, and much more stationary. Frankly, I'm not sure I have it in me. But in the fog of fear and uncertainty, I must remind myself that I've been called to this path for a reason, and I must make my way, one scary step at a time.

             And as my hero Barbara Kingsolver says, “You can do hard things!”