A NaNo Rebel

I am participating in NaNoWriMo this year, but not as a novelist–I am what they call a NaNo Rebel. Someone who is breaking the rules. In this case, someone who is writing short stories rather than a novel; because I need to finish a draft of this dang thesis by sometime in December, and I’m about 60 pages away from the minimum.


My problem is that I have several short stories in the works–three or four or five–and haven’t been able to settle down to finish any one of them. I’ve moved between them in a shiftless sort of way, dropping one for another whenever I got stuck, and not making much progress on any of them.


And I’ve been discouraged. About the amount of writing I’m getting done, and about its overall quality. It’s a vicious sort of cycle, feeling discouraged because you’re not getting anything done, and not getting anything done because you’re feeling discouraged.


Well, NaNo has a way of kicking writers in the butt, and I guess that’s what I need.


The story I’m determined to finish first is mostly there. I have most of the pieces–fragments of scenes half- or three-quarters finished–and the general shape of the story, but now I’m figuring out how exactly they all fit together. Which is slow work. Not exactly NaNo-paced, but there you go.


And here I go.


The latest issue of Dappled Things arrived in my mailbox late last week–complete with my new name in the table of contents and on page one.


I am so thrilled to be a part of this publication, and in particular to have this little story appear in it–the first that I ever wrote and workshopped in grad school. And what is more, my story is also up on their website!

There are some pretty nifty things in this issue, including a great story by Arthur Powers and (as usual) some amazing poetry. So I highly recommend you buy the issue–your money won’t go to waste.


What with summer courses and now weddings (well, mostly one wedding), I haven’t been writing much. A little, yes, and I have a half-finished post about that typed up somewhere.

But that post has been eclipsed by some wonderful news: I am to be published!

This is the first story I’ve had accepted since college, and I am, needless to say, pretty thrilled. The literary journal is called Dappled Things, and I highly recommend them. Their poetry, especially, blows me away with each issue. (They’ve rejected several of my poor poems, though they accepted one of my talented cousin’s works.)


The journal is named for Gerard Manley Hopkin’s poem “Pied Beauty,” and the editors describe the relationship of this poem to their journal much better than I can. But I am both humbled and excited to be published here, since this journal is one dear to my heart.


Of equal awesomeness in this whole matter is the fact that because this is my first publication since my undergrad days, and since it will be printed after my wedding … I can publish it under my married name without any worries about inconsistency. So whatever happens with my writing in the future will happen under the name of “Rosemary Callenberg.”


Now that I have shared my news, we may return to our regularly scheduled blogging indolence.

Thirty Days

It is my second to last real day in this apartment before I pack up some things and move back with my parents to await the wedding. When I come back—save, maybe, a night here and there if I need to be in the city for some reason—it will be with Keith, and it will not be to this corner bedroom, with its sunny windows and desk in the corner. I am both glad of that, and a little nostalgic.

Right now I am knitting nupps for my bridal shawl, and it isn’t the horrid struggle so many knitters complain of, but a peaceful process. I sit here, all the blinds drawn open, surrounded by trees that wave through the windows, as though I myself am sitting in their branches. There are passing cars and muffled voices, but those tend to fade into the background of my awareness. There is also a chiming from someone’s windcatcher, a series of high, melancholy notes that follow one another sometimes at a distance, sometimes on each other’s heels, and I think I should like to write the story they are telling, the one that pulls at something in my chest and the corners of my eyes.

Somehow, I am listed in Pitt’s course catalog as teaching not one, but two sections of Intro to Fiction next semester. One of them is a Tuesday night class, the other is a Tuesday-Thursday afternoon class.

I’m pretty sure this is not for real, because I’m pretty sure that Pitt does not want to pay me more than they already do.

The night class is the “real” one, I believe, because it is listed on the piece of paper posted outside of the grad secretary’s office. But both classes are chock full of students, and the afternoon one has three names I recognize: two former students, and one student who was in my summer class but dropped out due to health issues. I’m pretty sure that these three students are signed up in this particular class because I’m teaching it. (At the very least they’re not avoiding it because I’m teaching it, and that’s something, right?)

So while I don’t particularly want to teach two classes … I’ll be sad if I don’t teach that one. There’s something affirming in those three names.


In the meantime: the first week of the summer course went well. Last time we talked about detail and imagery; tomorrow we talk about dialogue. The first short story was originally due tomorrow, but I shifted it to Thursday. Partly for their schedules; and partly, I’ll admit, for my own, as I’ll be gone this weekend at a wedding and won’t have much time for grading. Hard to believe that after tomorrow’s class we’ll be a fourth of the way through.* Summer courses make time pass so quickly.

*I think of everything in fractions and percentages: time, amount of work completed or to be done, etc. When I was in undergrad I would calculate what fraction of the way I was through college after finals <em>and</em> midterms. Does this make me OCD?

As I looked over my class roster for my summer Intro to Fiction course, I noted two things.

First, ten of the twelve students were male.

Second, seven of those twelve students were seniors, and thus at most three years younger than me.

I was not intimidated.

I was a bit intimidated to face a classroom one third full of grown men.

Now, I am not all that good at judging ages, I’ll admit. But I’m fairly certain that four of these guys are my age or older. (Two I am definitely certain.) And while I don’t tend to have anxiety about maintaining authority in the classroom, I am nonetheless aware that I am a somewhat diminutive female with a dorky sense of humor. (Cool doesn’t work. I’ve tried it. Embrace the dorkiness, that’s what teaching’s taught me.)

I mentally evaluated my opening statements. Those precious ten minutes you have to grab the attention, interest, and enthusiasm of a new class.

They were not geared towards these guys.

I did something I never had before. I put myself forward as a student among students. I acknowledged that yes, I am choosing the material and giving the grades; but I am not a Writing Goddess. I am, myself, a student of writing, and am here to learn with them more than dispense wisdom from on high.

(I don’t remember exactly how I said this, although I do remember I did say I wasn’t a Writing Goddess. Really. Dorky sense of humor.)

And you know what? Tonight went really well. I’m a bit concerned about filling three hours twice a week, but these guys talk, and they respond and build off of each other. And those who didn’t talk were still mentally checked in, which is enough to make me happy, for now.

Going to be thinking a lot about authority in the classroom (particularly the writing classroom) and what it looks like this session. Sometimes I perform weird verbal double-takes, folding my sentences back on themselves as I realize that as the teacher, when I contradict something someone’s said, it carries a LOT of weight, a heft that I didn’t anticipate. Even in a room of guys my age. Like when someone disagrees with something Flannery O’Connor said, and I say that I think they’ve misinterpreted her, and then say something else to reassure them they don’t have to hold Flannery O’Connor in the same high esteem as I do and that they can think she’s wrong if they want to … I wonder what that’s like from the student side of things, if it’s as obvious on the other side of the words what awkward acrobatics are going on.

Either way, though, I am looking forward to this session.

Here are a few of the things I did yesterday evening instead of finishing the syllabus for my summer course:

–Loaded 1/3 of the bridal shower gifts into my car so I can transport them to the apartment tomorrow or Tuesday.

–Sorted through the old (bordering on ancient) AWP Chronicle mags and throwing out 15 of them. (I kept four because they had articles that looked interesting, but the probability is I will never read them.)

–Thrown away some ratty clothes, put away some nice clothes in a bag for Goodwill. Probably more will end up in this bag. But it seems I have to consider giving clothes away a couple times before I decide to actually do it. (Except for that hoodie in the back of my closet that an ex-boyfriend gave me. I could’ve sworn I’d already gotten rid of that. Into the bag.)

–Sorted through half a shelf of paper junk, including: my writing from when I was 15 and under; printed out emails; printed out recipes; printed out directions for polymer clay projects; my “I’m famous” folder of all my publications, newspaper appearances, etc; pictures people have drawn for me; etc. The recipes, polymer clay projects, etc have all been tossed. My writing and “famous” stuff is still around, but condensed into fewer folders.

–Made a half-hearted attempt to go through the letter drawer in the desk before realizing this was a project for another day. (Note that in addition to this drawer, I have six shoe-boxes full of handwritten letters.)

–Wrote this blog post.

Getting rid of stuff is always cathartic and satisfying. But there’s a real element of difficulty to some of it. Those letters, for example. There’s no question of throwing away the ones written by my cousins over the years … especially now that both of those cousins are in the convent. But there’s a box of letters, too, from a bunch of girls I met on a trip to Rome and kept in touch with for a few months … and who are now completely absent from my life. They all went to a boarding school in Rhode Island, a beautiful place I once went to on retreat–a school run by an organization I was very involved with as a girl but which I would be isolated from as a teenager.

I could throw away those letters.

But the thing is those letters–tangible objects–are really the only things that remind me of that part of my life. That those girls existed, that for a short time I was emotionally invested in them, and they (to varying degrees) in me. My trip to Rome; the school in Rhode Island; the organization and the good and bad memories I have of it … That particular letter-writing phase was a small, distinct chapter in my life, one which carries meaning, but isn’t something I carry around consciously. And I forget about it, even though it is, in some way, a part of me. It’ll be in my psyche somewhere if I throw away the letters, sure. But will I ever remember it? Won’t I be throwing away some tangible part of myself?

(This is probably how people become horders, isn’t it?)

Most of the boxes in the new place are unpacked, except for the books. I don’t want to bring boxes of baggage with me into a marriage, or leave (too many) of them behind for my parents to keep. But my tossing will be thoughtful. Maybe too much so. Maybe not.

(PS: The syllabus did, in fact, get done. Yay.)