Tagged travel

My first AWP at 12,000 writers deep

I can’t believe I’m here.

During my years of undergrad and graduate school, AWP—Association of Writers & Writing Programs—was the definition of cool, was the thing the cool students did. Yes, even in grad and undergrad there is cool. It’s not a concept reserved solely for the untouchables at the middle-school lunch table or the hunky highschool football team. On the other hand, the very lack of cool is a disease, uncool. It follows you. It’s on you. You wear it like a bad style. In adulthood, cool exists with a different name: elitist, bougie, yuppie, pretentious, hipster, etc.

You think I’m being dramatic, don’t you? Sensitive? Maybe. But it’s there and it’s been instilled in me, drawn-out and awkward as the “growing out” phase of a bad haircut. Cool is now ironic. It’s not for those of us that grew up in an age where sweaters, cat shirts, stretchy pants, thunder thighs and glasses were considered severely uncool. I was never cool, and so I can never be.

“I just never want to be the type to take myself too seriously, you know? I hate that,” I explained to Laura during one of my anti-academic rants.

“You just don’t like pretentiousness,” she clarified.

“Yeah, I guess. I just don’t want to be that movie. The one you hear all the hype about, and then you go to see it, and it sucks.”

Who knows? Maybe the movie wouldn’t suck so bad if expectations weren’t so high. All that hype.

I’ll admit that most of my adulthood accomplishments and sense of self has come from a heavy dose of “fake it ’til you make it”—a (clichéd) mantra I learned early. I mean, let’s face it: self-deprecation is embarrassing and uncomfortable for everyone. We can’t all be Alanis with her $10 words. We can’t all turn our insecurities and hyperawareness into some moody and attractive Canadian twenty-something with a record deal.

Ok, so this appears to have nothing to do with AWP at all… but I swear it does!

Just as I learned in school early on (again and again), doing something cool doesn’t necessarily make one cool. Sure, I wore men’s JNCO Jeans and Airwalks and memorized all the words to Puff Daddy’s album, No Way Out. (Clearly the definition of cool. Ha!) But even this didn’t affect my position on the highschool popularity chart. Likewise, attending AWP didn’t suddenly transform me into some poised, self-assured and impervious academic writer. Instead, it made me feel small and unimportant and squash-able: a feeling I wasn’t ready for, to be honest. But maybe that is the lesson too, a reminder of the lesson.

You can’t just put on the JNCO Jeans. You have to be the kind of person that wears the JNCO Jeans, you know?

Being uncool and remaining uncool kept me at a distance back then. I was overweight, reactive and super insecure. I might as well have worn a sign on my head. And if I am truly the alien that I say I am and I never fit into any community, I don’t have to live up to the expectations and definitions of success defined by that community, right? So maybe I’m just afraid of not achieving those successes. What if I am not more than this? (How many years of trying does it take? Have I even tried? …this could easily turn into the Question Game.)

That is what AWP was for me. Reflective. Figuring out my place. It was a trip away with sun. It was a chance to learn more about writing, about people and life. I got to see and experience so many things and people in just a few days, and yes, this was all very overwhelming at times (see: ugly-crying alone in my hotel room like a lost pup), but it felt worth it and necessary. And while it was hard to connect to anything too much, it was still a time of connections. These moments made an impact, even if they were brief. So thank you for them.

At the end of the day, it’s not really about cool, is it? I’m sure cool would help. I will always be an alien, though—whether I came to it by fear or innately—but I cannot navigate my life or my writing career on those feelings of inadequacy. Maybe that has worked in other aspects of my life, like kicking my ass at the gym, but I cannot allow the shame of Not Enough to stifle me. I don’t think I’ll ever get rid of her—the chubby four-eyed, freckled-faced president of Poetry Club— but maybe that’s ok. I

If I could wrap up that “freedom to be” like a gift, I’d give it to us all.

mt

Moving and not moving

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So it goes.

A and I packed up our shit, piled into our friends’ car and hit the road for Asheville last Thursday morning. Doped up on Dramamine and too little sleep, my heart was fluttering and flying. Despite the excitement, I fell asleep over and over again in A’s lap, waking to a new state each time I opened my eyes. I felt like I was small again, curled up in the backseat completely dependent on the grown ups manning the ship. You know. I wasn’t worried about the music choice, taking the wrong exit, weather conditions, traffic… just at peace, swaying to the hum of the tires rounding below.

We were moving to Asheville. I did it all. I talked to my workplace. That was step one. A scary step one that seemed to go over well. Relief.

Then, I started mentally preparing myself. When I woke up in the mornings, I began to log all that I would say goodbye to soon. Goodbye, room. Goodbye, cat. Goodbye, mornings stumbling out of the house and to the gym. Goodbye, Oakland Avenue. I got myself pretty sad just by doing it. But it needed to be done. Preparation. A lot of things that make you sad need to be done. True story.

Next, I told my friends. Most everyone close to me (and even those in my periphery) probably know how I long to move, leave this dot on the map. It’s not because I hate everyone or that I have fallen out of love with my buddies or even that I don’t enjoy where I am. It’s mostly because the world is so large, so full, and we all get stuck in these little grooves. I want to unstick myself. I want to explore a little, gain some experience points. Everyone I know has moved or left, left and come back, picked up and never returned to their home base. I just want that freedom, even if for a little while. I don’t think my declaration was much of a surprise to anyone, really. Maybe only in that I was serious this time. I was taking all the right steps. Hell, I even threw up an elusive Instagram photo that seemed to trigger an online hullabaloo of goodbyes I wasn’t equipped for. Damn.

I saved this part for last, because it was what I dreaded most: I told my mom. Sure, it was a flighty text message. Of course, she misunderstood it the first time and I had to retell her days later. You bet I used plenty of good emojis and made sure to keep things light. It’s all I know how to do. But all was well. I was a grown up, doing grown up things, about to thrust myself into a new world. Good, grown up.

But then the actual trip came. A and I planned to scope out neighborhoods, look up places to live (which we’d already been doing on Craigslist). We started our journey jazzed up, ready to take on the Asheville rental community. But this gusto quickly fizzled. The prices were high, the waitlists were long, the competition was nearly impossible.

“Yeah, we put something up on Craigslist and get about 14 calls in the first hour. It’s hard to keep up with,” a prospective landlord divulged.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m no dumb-bum. I know a salesperson when I see one, but this was the story from everyone we spoke with—from property management companies to Asheville newcomers to old-head Asheville folk. It is competitive.

“About 1 in every 10 people that come to see my places,” another prospective landlord estimated, “is actually from North Carolina. The rest are from out of state. Everyone wants to move here!”

Ok, so it’s difficult. I know difficult. I work so hard. I am not afraid of work. But it wasn’t the work that had us waving our white flag. We made posters, hung them up in coffeeshops. We made calls, met up with people. Drove around looking for lawn signs (not an Asheville thing, by the way). We went out of our way to converse with strangers in grocery stores, in restaurants, on the streets. If there’s one thing I’m good at, it’s networking. Because why not? I’m always willing to help someone out. That’s how the world works. We’re here for each other.

So why no move? It was that the magic that seemed lost. Maybe it was the hustle and bustle of competition, the way a prize is hyped up to be more than it is. Sure, the mountains are beautiful, the hippie liberal swag of the city, the artist vibe of every indie shop, the temperate weather and influx of sunshine… it’s a great place, it really is. And everyone knows it. Jobs are scarce, housing is rare and overpriced, every corner we turned (both literally and figuratively) seemed flooded. Asheville is the trend and we were hopping on board—but perhaps too late. Maybe it was that we both got our periods and were overwhelmed with hormones and paranoia and doubt. Is it worth it? Giving up our friends and home and connections and A’s career. Loads of questions and in it unfamiliarity.

I’m not saying it won’t happen ever, that I won’t ever unstick myself from this groove. But maybe it’s not the worst groove to be stuck in, you know? And before jumping ship, I want to make sure I’m diving into the right sea. It might not be Asheville. It might not be now. And as embarrassed as I am to redact my former verdict of leaving, I’m glad that we discovered this before it was too late.

Now we’re looking in Pittsburgh, Regent Square being a hopeful possibility.

And to be honest, I’m eager to throw myself into Pittsburgh: a place I already know and love and court on the weekends like some fulfilling affair. Hey, I’m excited again, feeling rejuvenated, thinking about all the lovely, lovely people I’ve gotten to know there. The writers, the Biddle’s crew, the Bayardstown folk… if you’ll have me. <3

So the bottom line? Appreciate the now, where you are, the present dance. It’s a hymn I’ve sung to many, even lately. But one that I struggle with myself.

I accept the challenge.
mt

Summa-summa-time & a visit to the supposed city of my dreams

Hey y’all…

Yep. Being in the south for a week definitely does something to one’s dialect. I mean, it’s not like I’m really toting some raspy drawl or anything, but there have been some slipups. Don’t worry: I came home and said “hey yinz guys” in front of the mirror like 147 times to make sure.

The week-long jaunt to and from Asheville was a much needed vacation. I still did work and fretted over such things as emails and edits, but I think the fresh air and the new surroundings did me good. It’s amazing how gorgeous those mountains are, and how they followed your every move: pumping gas, standing outside for a smoke, walking around town, everywhere. It was kind of like having a sky in your pockets. Or something like that. (I realized upon coming home that we have all those gorgeous mountains, just smaller.)

We ate BBQ, wrote postcards and walked around town (we stayed in Black Mountain), enjoying most of all, the people. What is it that makes us so frustrated, uptight and intolerant? We are so rushed and quick to move onto the next thing. What about right now? Time crept more slowly there and my eyes weren’t fixed to my phone’s clock.

What can I say? Asheville was everything I thought it would be.

Just bee

Well, if you haven’t heard… I’ll be Professor Chicken by the end of this month. Ok. I’m teaching one class at the University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg. (From where I graduated about… ugh… 4 years ago.) Wow. Anyhow, it has me working some serious tail feathers, along with my arty art projects and cooking and sweating (the humidity this way has been obnoxious) and and and still trying to keep up any sort of motivation to do normal things like grocery shop, clean Mr. Winston’s cage, or sleep. Summer-induced insomnia. Nice.

But fall is coming! Are you pumped? It’s my favorite, even if it is cliche. These last few days, the air just feels like fall, you know? To me, it is so much more fresh than spring. Spring is mud and melted snow and rain and mud. And while Tash finds it depressing, the upcoming leaf-falling season gives me this strange feeling in my tummy—like butterflies with dumbbells tied to their wings. And THEN this whole montage of flashbacks (haunted houses, sipping cider, carving pumpkins, etc.) plays in my head with the reflective yet raspy backdrop of “It’s a Wonderful World.” Ha. It’s not that serious, maybe, but it is that corny.

I took this little snap when Tash and I went to visit Amy in Lancaster (Lan-cus-ter: she’ll beat you if you don’t say it right). We were hiking somewhere crazy (up RT 81, I believe)… and the whole forest floor was covered like this. It was like a dream…

Speaking of dream. That’s one huge pumpkin. Note the text on the little white one (and squash). Totally didn’t see that.
What’s your favorite season? I find Winter-lovers interesting. I like Winter… for like a second.
Ahhh… I better crash.
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The Show Me State… Day 1

So far, so cool. The trek here wasn’t bad at all. Luckily, Mr. Casey K was all up on that driving for a bit. After 5 hours of straight driving, my brain wasn’t entertaining itself any longer with Meghan’s Top Tens (which consisted of me evaluating everything in my life—sorting and rating—in lists of 5 or 10) and my eyes were getting sleepy! We pulled over at a Flying J (makes me think of some sort of winged illegals)… anyhow, we crashed for like an hour and a half in the parking lot. We woke to some interesting sights when we ventured inside. “I need a shower and a pack of cigarettes.” Yep. Don’t we all.

Essentially, we rode 70 the whole way here, which was easy. And I really did overestimate my need for gummies and licorice, because I still have some for the way back! But I’ll tell you what… as much as I love the Starbucks, I sincerely warn you to never ever EVER have one of their energy drinks.

I’m sure that the concoction of the great Sheetz meatball sub I had, alongside one of THEIR coffee drinks wasn’t the best predecessor to this Starbucks beverage, but still. The taste was horrendous. Like Casey suggested, it’s like coffee and an energy drink had a baby… “and named it NASTY.” (That was my add-on there.) It had a smooth delivery, a chemically jarring flavor and an aftertaste reminiscent of something I’d like to refer to as “Robot Coffee.” I’m not talking Terminator here. Terminator had more realistic appeal than this beverage.
Besides my drink rant, I had a great day. We arrived with sun and blue skies, with a gorgeous skyline and a crazy feeling that I was driving into Pittsburgh. Strange how, thus far, St. Louis has been comforting—home-like. More on that later. All you need to know is I’ve encountered an awesome brewery, an affinity for riding bikes on a flat surface and a love-hate relationship with a cat named Prince. He’s like the cat version of me—complete with the attention span of a 6th-grader, 2 extreme functions (HYPER-ON or off) and an indecisive swagger. Sloan tells me if Taylor Swift and Adam Lambert had a baby… a cat baby, this would be Prince. You decide:

Oh, so there’s that. I plan on showering now. It’s been awhile since that’s happened. Ha… it’s what happens when you visit hippies.

Take care, all! <3