What I Write on Random Tuesdays

I’ve got nothin’. It’s not that I don’t want to provide you with humiliating tales about my children or a ghost story or, I don’t know… something more than what I’m about to give you, but I can’t. I’m gearing up for the first residency of my master’s program. From July 8th through July 18th I will immersed in readings, workshops and classes and all at a location away from home. Yes, that’s right. I’ll be completing my residency on the gorgeous coast of Maine. Right about now you’re probably saying to yourself, Uh…doesn’t she live in Maine? Yes, I do and I’ll only be about a half an hour from my house. Nonetheless, I won’t be home and I have so much work to do before July 8th. Despite the fact that I’ll be working really hard, I can’t help but kind of look forward to ten full days away from children. Does that sound awful?

Let me put it this way, before children I had a career and now I don’t. Sure, that career wasn’t my dream but it was stimulating. There were grown ups there and while it’s true that some acted like children, I still sometimes miss getting in my car and driving down 684 into White Plains and entering the corporate headquarters of Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide, Inc. Yes, I actually said that, I miss it. The company cafe served things like bagels with smoked salmon and, for lunch, soft shell crabs. Thanks to vendor contracts with Starbucks, the coffee was free and, at that mid-afternoon witching hour – the one where you want to crawl under your desk and take a snooze – a man came around with a cart filled with drinks and candy and other delicious snacks aimed at pumping us full of caffeine and sugar to push us through ’til quitting time. You knew he was coming because someone (usually me) announced his arrival by yelling, “SNACK CART!” I loved watching all those people do the prairie dog from their cubicles. The image still cracks me up.

I miss the travel and the employee ‘Hot Rate’ that provided us with discounted rates at Starwood Hotels around the world. Everyone traveled. People would stand around the proverbial water cooler on Mondays and talk about who jetted to where over the weekend. Cheap flights out of Newark and that Hot Rate were the biggest perk of all. Thanks to that job, I dressed in my beautiful clothes purchased during post-work shopping sprees at The Westchester and in Manhattan. My feet were wrapped in the finest of shoes and my hair was always perfectly highlighted and cut. I even enjoyed monthly facials. The world was my oyster. Actually, I like Oscar Wilde’s version of that quote, “The world was my oyster but I used the wrong fork.” I did use the wrong fork. My job ended up being a casualty after I divorced my ex-life and ran away. I don’t regret the run, but I have at times, missed the Heavenly Bed by Westin.

So the long-winded point that I am attempting to make is that I didn’t love my old job, but I did love the perks and glamour that came with it. Working in the legal department of a hotel company was about as far from my dream of writing as I could have strayed. So last winter I applied to Stonecoast at the University of Southern Maine. I sent in my writing samples, transcripts and recommendations and half expected to be declined. I wasn’t. Step one toward making my dream come true has been completed.

The funny thing about going to graduate school to earn a master’s of fine arts in creative writing is that a lot of people have opinions. There were the people who asked why I was “bothering when I already have a kick ass blog” or the people who politely tried to suggest that perhaps a master’s in something more practical would make sense, thus allowing me to write on the side. Then there those who seemed reluctantly supportive, wrapping their encouragement in thinly veiled negativity. I was stopped in my tracks by a few of those people. I wondered why in the world my goal to fulfill a lifelong dream was so bothersome. Was it that they didn’t think I could do it? Did they think I wasn’t talented enough? Did they think that I didn’t deserve to follow the path I veered from all those years ago? Then I mentally gave them the finger and moved on. I’m a grown-up and I applied with the full support and encouragement of my amazing husband. Thanks to his confidence in me, I’m going to earn that master’s degree in creative writing. I’m going to do what I love and isn’t that what life should be about?

So on that note faithful readers, I leave you with this delicious summer salad recipe. Before I got all wordy and self-righteous back there, my plan was to post a picture and some ingredients before I hit the beach with the kids. Instead, you got an earful plus a healthy and scrumptious salad…because that’s how No. 7 rolls.

CUCUMBER & BLUEBERRY SALAD WITH FETA

3 english cucumbers halved and thinly sliced

1 pint of blueberries

salt & pepper to taste

white balsamic vinaigrette (I use Olde Cap Cod brand)

3 tbs fresh mint leaves, sliced into a chiffonade

1 cup crumbled feta cheese

1. combine the blueberries and cucumbers in a bowl and season with salt and pepper.

2. add the white balsamic vinaigrette, mint and feta and gently toss to combine.

The Rain in Maine…

It’s been raining since Sunday. As I write, Tuesday is winding down and it’s been one heck of day. Not in a bad way. No, definitely not bad. But there’s something about days-long rain that evokes an odd disruption in my time-space continuum. By the way, I have no solid grasp on the real meaning of time-space continuum, but it sounded good when I typed it.

Under normal circumstances cloudy, drizzle-filled days bend me out shape. I become cranky and morose, but not this week. I’m waiting. Waiting for the mail to come. Waiting for that package of manuscripts from my fellow workshop attendees – complete strangers who are also waiting for the very same package. We will have one month to read and critique the work contained in those manuscripts then prepare a “thoughtful” two page response for each author in the creative non-fiction group.

Oh…my…God.

It began weeks ago. I’ve been fretting over the fact that my writing will seem glaringly amateurish in comparison to the others. I’ve imagined a group of faceless writers tearing into their manuscripts, enjoying the pieces submitted by fellow workshop members until, one by one, each will turn the page to the section holding my memoir and essay pieces. That’s when my imagination cruelly plays scene upon scene of faculty and authors laughing, perhaps even sneering, as they wonder about exactly how I was admitted. More than one will sit down and compose a scathing critique. That’s what my imagination tells me.

We are required to take a seminar dedicated to etiquette. Specifically, the etiquette of critiquing the work of other writers. In my Stonecoast materials, I have come across at least four reminders that we must be respectful and remember that not everyone shares the same writing style, religion, race or mental state. Okay, I lied a little back there – I added that mental state part because I truly feel the need to represent.

I’m dreading the residency workshops where we’ll engage in an open discussion about the good and the bad…and the bad…

Please don’t cry.

Nerves make me cry. The embarrassment of becoming emotional makes me cry harder and, eventually, I’m reduced to a sobbing mass of snot, red splotchy skin and swollen eyes.

Please, please, please, God…don’t let me turn into a blithering idiot in front of my MFA group.

Once, when I was about 9-years-old, I stood in front of an enormous audience in the 4H barn at the Washington County Fair. Of course, I’m exaggerating. The crowd was probably made up of about 25 people, but it seemed like I was opening at Madison Square Garden.

For some stupid reason, I agreed to perform a demonstration on the proper way to make a graham cracker strawberry Jell-O pie with Cool Whip topping. Fancy, right? Well, through the eyes of 9-year-old me, it was all very complicated indeed! Clearly, I had no real grasp on the situation because when I pushed through the curtains and spotted a room full of strangers gawking up at me, I wanted to cry. It was an odd reaction since, under normal circumstances, I was typically an overly-talkative kid. Yet, my voice was suddenly replaced with the shy whisper of another little girl.

With my head down, as if in deep concentration, I forged ahead and began to demonstrate my talent with graham cracker crusts, frozen strawberries and Jell-O. It was all fine until some old harpy in the front said, “We can’t hear you, dear.” That old harpy set the wheels of disaster in motion. My demonstration was paused while a 4H leader equipped me with a backpack-microphone contraption roughly the size of a Volkswagen and pushed me back toward the table.

I just knew that I looked like a freaky human/turtle hybrid. My face grew hot with embarrassment and washed with shame. The harpy sat looking at me expectantly and without any sign of friendly encouragement. My intention was to resume where I’d left off but, I was told to begin again.

As I drew air into my lungs to begin my spiel, the sound of my breath echoed back to me from the other side of the 4H barn. Despite growing increasingly flustered, I began speaking. My voice, sounding strangely alien and too young to belong to me, reverberated through the crowd and caught up with my ears. I was thrown off by that delayed echo of my voice. My throat tightened and I desperately attempted to swallow my way to safety. My pause, as brief as it was, gave me a moment to focus on the faces of strangers and their expectant gawks. Tears stung my eyes and it felt like an inferno was burning beneath my freckled skin. The old harpy shifted in her seat and huffily arranged her pocket book on her ample lap. Her tightly permed hair refused to move and her glasses threw sharp darts of light at my eyes.

Under her petulant gaze, tears began to flow and my frozen strawberries spilled onto the table in a gelatinous puddle. The unwieldy backpack-microphone loudly thumped the table as I turned, sending my body into an inelegant tail spin. Amplified by the microphone, my sobs echoed off the walls and danced in the air over the heads of strangers. My sobs mocked me.

I was nine.

Now I’m not.

Please, God, don’t let me cry. Send me a thicker skin.