Wednesday, December 19, 2012

a semester in the life

Perhaps you'd be interested in what I've been doing all season. If you're not, move along, because that's what's going to follow.

I worked three jobs, which fortunately mostly totaled about 35 hours per week.

OTS: I have a cubicle with mostly no natural light. It's not my favorite thing, but at least the overhead lights aren't fluorescent. I do web page edits and updates, plus a fair bit of technical writing and editing. Occasionally I get to design flyers, brochures, and once, a bookmark. I've spent the end of the semester revamping the pages for online safety and security. I also get a fair bit of free time to do homework etc. and my boss is really cool.

The theater: The schedule for this is completely irregular, but the time goes by the fastest because we're all over the place (and I get to do some work from home). We had events every two weeks or so during Fall semester, and I assisted my boss with a playwriting section she taught in a creative writing course. I help manage events in the theater and do pretty basic tech work in the booth -- I got to (sort of) learn the light board, which is cool. I also get to design the poster for the Spring play (a fair bit of my job is marketing -- I wrote a couple press releases, hung up flyers, put out posters, and designed a couple ads). There's a lot of free food and drink involved, and theater people (and my boss) are generally fun.

The library: This is my work-study job, and despite the fact that I don't need it, I'm still there because 1) it's easy -- I've just been working a few hours on Sundays, which mostly entails sitting at the circulation desk doing homework or reading while the main staffer gets work done elsewhere -- and 2) I feel a sort of loyalty to the place because they hired me when I first moved to Baltimore (after an interview and subsequent rejection by the housing office) and have been incredibly accomodating to my crazy schedule. Something will probably have to give in order to preserve my sanity next semester though, and this will probably be that something.

Then there's the school newspaper. I used to count it as a job, but despite the fact that I get paid a stipend, it's technically a Student Organization. We published issues once a month, and when everything's going smoothly I enjoy the whole process quite a bit, but we had several issues this semester, which stemmed largely from being under-staffed. I'm currently the Editor-in-Chief, which has upped my popularity (I use the term loosely) on campus even more than my high-profile library job. After this year though, I plan to step down to a less labor-intensive position because 1) two years of experience in the top spot is enough padding for my résumé, I think, and 2) there's at least one other person who would love the experience.

I also took two classes -- a fiction workshop, which was in my top 3 favorite classes taken in the program thus far (and in which I met some cool people) and an Electronic Publishing workshop which, despite my reluctance to take, I did learn a few things in (and broadened my thinking of how to use the web as a writer).

So, there you have it. Today's my last day of work (all jobs) until January and my classes ended two weeks ago, so I finally have some time for my own projects (like reading six more books before Dec. 31 to meet my Goodreads goal). And maybe some relaxation, if I can figure out how to not feel guilty about it. :P

Thursday, November 1, 2012

here I am...

Well, I've survived my second hurricane in Baltimore -- not that there was much to survive, as we didn't lose power or even internet -- but I can't say the apartment came through unscathed. The last hurricane (which was back in August 2011) basically just meant two days and nights of rain and wind; at the end of the second day, the cupboard ceiling above one of my closets sprung a leak, which I discovered via a trail of water on my bedroom floor (which is, thankfully, hardwood). I put a pot under the drippy part and the rain stopped sometime during the second night. Through the rain and even the snow we got the rest of the year and beyond, there was no more leaking.

Then came Sandy. Again, more rain and wind, but the closet cupboard leak started only a few hours in, this time with a vengence. Where a pot had sat before, a Rubbermaid tote was placed, and a bucket, and a plastic tupperware dish... then it came through the closet. Then in by my bedroom window. Then in the ceiling outside the closet/cupboard. Then in the bathroom above the tub. Then by the bathroom radiator pipe that runs up into the apartment above us. We scurried to strategically place plastic tubs under the drips, but they don't really make dishes that wrap around metal pipes. "I feel like we're bailing water out of a sinking ship," Jake said. The paint on the bathroom wall started to bubble as water seeped in behind it, and the ceiling above the tub -- which was already slightly damaged -- began to bow. Later that evening, it broke open and bits of plaster and other random junk crashed down into the bath tub.

The bathroom ceiling after it broke open. I don't know if you can tell from this photo, but there's a can of Ajax in there. How'd it get there?
Jake had the clever idea of taping plastic over the drippy areas in our room and cutting a hole so that the water would all drip out of one spot (and thus straight into the plastic tub, instead of all over the floor around it). Sometime Monday night the rain slowed, the wind died down, and all the dripping stopped. Tuesday morning, we covered the hole in the bathroom ceiling with duct tape and plastic so that we wouldn't get rained on by bits of debris as we shower.

Baltimore City was definitely lucky -- it could have been a lot worse. But I'm not sure how many more hurricanes my building is going to withstand. Hopefully we'll have moved on by the time the next one hits.

The landlords, meanwhile, didn't seem concerned about the leak during the 2011 hurricane, and after an unanswered email this time around, I texted the building manager to let him know about the ceiling, to which he replied that he was without power and dealing with "an array of issues," and that they would hopefully start working as normal on Wednesday (yesterday). Haven't heard anything yet.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Jake learns to fly; I ride along

My silence here has been due in part to another site I've had to build for class. It's at (I'll link it in the sidebar too) and, as you may guess by the url, it's a blog focused on my writing and reading endeavors. I realized more fully today that, despite the fact that writing is my major and ultimately my career goal, it often ends up taking a backseat to other things that "have" to be done and, in many cases, my other hobbies. This isn't exactly the recipe for success. But it's a topic I explore a little more on the writing blog, so I'll leave it at that.

This last weekend I took a break from all my "have to do" stuff and actually did a few fun things. Way back in December I bought Jake a one-hour flight lesson from an airport in Bowie, and this past Friday he finally redeemed it. I got to ride along in the airplane, which was a little 4-seater Cessna -- the inside wasn't all that different from climbing inside the cab of one of my dad's old trucks, except for all the fancy dials and screens on the dashboard (and the steering, and the wings sticking off the top... anyway). The plane's "driver's seat" was on the wrong side, like a European car, and Jake got to sit in it. The instructor handled the take off and landing and otherwise took over only to show Jake maneuvers (turning, ascending, descending, etc.). We flew over Prince George's county and past Annapolis to the bay; it was a clear day and we could see the roller coasters of Six Flags nearby and the Washington Monument in D.C. in the distance.

Somewhere over the bay -- in fact, the bridge in the back right corner is aptly called the Bay Bridge.

Toward the end of the flight, my stomach started to get upset, which I really hope was the result of breakfast and not the flight itself (I never have problems in commercial airplanes, and don't usually get motion sickness unless I'm trying to read). Either way, Jake loved it (I think he told me "thank you" like 86 times throughout the rest of the day) and is seriously considering taking more lessons to get his pilot's license. He has about 1% of his required flying time logged now.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Hello, World

My schedule is pure insanity lately. I work three jobs and run the campus newspaper, all of which I enjoy (when everything's going right). I'm discovering a knack for organizing people; now if they would just do what I say, everything would be great. Living in such a fast-paced, communication-intensive world makes me even more frustrated when people don't stay on the ball... I think I'm going to have to slow down just because no one else can seem to keep up with me. Plus all this switching gears is starting to mess with my head.

Anyway, if you're so inclined, I'm keeping a blog for a class I'm taking this semester, which by assignment must be updated at least once a week. It's here. I'm also taking a fiction workshop this semester which I love but which has also caused some self-doubt on the whole "I'm a Writer" front. My first story was generally well-received and I got a lot of good feedback, but I sort of feel like fixing the problems in the story is beyond my ability. The real problem is just that I need to practice more, and it's a challenge I'm going to attempt, as soon as I find the time... I have the next two days off, finally, but at least one of them will probably be spent cleaning the apartment, because while my roommates seem to have infinte tolerance for filth, I can't really stand it.

Plus there are flies. Like five of them. I don't know where they came from but they've started hanging out in the bathroom over the last day or two. THEY MUST GO. (I'd say "DIE," but stupid as it is, I'd rather chase them out the window than kill them, regardless of how annoying they are. Though I realize they may not cooperate.) How long is a friggin' fly's life span, anyway?

Google says 15-30 days.

So anyway, that's my life currently.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Armagh at last

Well with all the hype leading up to my trip to Ireland, I'm sure my lack of posting now that I'm actually here has severely disappointed my five whole followers. So, be disappointed no longer: here's the post.

It's amazing here. Just like everyone said it would be. I officially reached the halfway point of my stay yesterday; the first week seemed to last forever (not in a bad way -- just an overload of sensory stimuli) and the second flew by. The city of Armagh has more hills than Baltimore and more trees than Saginaw. It's rained almost every day and I have yet to see a sunrise, but the sunset illuminates the clouds in colors I didn't know were possible -- electric reds and pinks. It's light here until after 11pm which still messes with my jet-lagged head. I don't know if I'll ever fully adjust to the five-hour time difference -- that morning on the plane fast-forwarded to sunrise at what would've been my 3am and made everything seem sort of surreal. Customs was easy to get through at the Dublin airport and everything from there went smoothly too. That first day after being assigned my room I was woken from a nap and sent out into the city by the program director; strange currency in hand, I found lunch at a restaurant called Fat Sams and was sure they could tell I didn't belong even before they heard me speak. Speaking of which, the lilting Irish accent is lovely but I've heard so many others here as well -- Scottish, English, Belgian, and others I can't place. 

The group of students I'm here with is fantastic and the words are flowing from my pencils (in various forms). I'm journaling as often as possible and satisfying my wanderlust with weekend trips to Belfast and Londonderry, the latter of which was chosen completely at the last minute, with no prior arrangements made.  We wandered into town, checked into the first hostel we came to, and walked down which ever street looked the most interesting at the time. These are my first experiences with hostels and so far they've been great for meeting interesting wanderers from all over the world. It also makes the first time I've slept in a room with 8 other people -- some of whom I'd known for only a week; some I didn't know at all. I've met Irish off-duty cops, a couple of English journalism students and an American backpacker named Adam who's finishing up a three-month tour of Europe; they all had great stories.

Armagh is a ghost town after about 6pm with the exception of a couple of pubs, but it almost seems like the Irish drinking stereotype is a myth -- the pubs are more empty than full on weeknights. Even in Belfast and Derry the stores are all closed by 7pm, though the nightlife is definitely more prominent there. I've had whiskey and cider and some weird fluorescent mixed drink called Mad Frog. I've hosted a party in my hostel room and wandered off by myself to sit amidst the ruins of a 13th-century Franciscan Friary. I've stood on the hills of Giant's Causeway and listened to the crash of the ocean waves; I've sat in a room or on a bus and read poetry and plays by Irish writers. I've gone shopping and discovered new music and hunted down gargoyle statues. And of course learned so much about a history and culture other than my own.

I don't know if I would want to live here simply because I wouldn't want to become desensitized to it all. But even being here for two weeks makes me seriously doubt whether I want to go home.

This is what I see out my window every morning.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

In which I ramble about Ireland again (and some other things too)

Our trip has its own official wordpress site, which you can find here and which I'll also be linking under "Sites of Note." Part of my assignment is to post there semi-regularly, so if you don't see many updates here, you can find me there (I will warn you now though, there may be some duplicate posting between sites). I've also finally got a (somewhat vague) syllabus and free registration for a poetry workshop at the John Hewitt Festival (though whether the coordinator put me in Adam O'Riordan's class or Nessa O'Mahony's class I've yet to find out. One poet's English, one's Irish; one seems a little more contemporary but the other's had a longer career and thus more experience... so I guess I'm not too concerned either way).

At the beginning of June I started an Etsy site, on which I'm attempting to sell various items that I've made. There are a few hardcover books and a few wire tree pendants up for sale currently and more on the way. Last summer while I was in Michigan, there was a man who made these wonderful wire trees on display at the coffee shop I frequented. Later on I was in a store with my mom and we saw small trees, also wire (intended to be the Tree of Life) on metal rings with small stones twisted in as leaves. They were $20 apiece so I didn't buy one (though I later bought one without stones at a festival in Baltimore for $18) and have since learned how to make the pendants myself. And now I sell them for half the price, even with the stones. I've learned how to make the regular wire trees as well, but don't currently have any completed. I have a lot of other craft/art project ideas too, but it seems like my free time is decreasing exponentially as my trip gets closer. Word got out that I was making another run of pianos, and the two I intended to make became four. I'm making good progress; the goal is to also have those completed (and shipped, in a couple of cases) before I leave.

Several weeks ago I started reading Infinite Jest, the ambitious 1079-pg novel by David Foster Wallace. My original goal was also to complete that before Ireland, but I'm on approximately page 425 and, with 18 days to go, it's just not going to happen. It's a great book so far; the connections between the plethora of characters it asks you to become familiar with are starting to become clearer, and as that happens the whole thing becomes more interesting. The explorations of addiction and entertainment (and the notion of Subsidized Time) are intriguing and the relationships between the Incandenza brothers (and their resulting conversations) are in themselves almost enough reason to read the whole book (or at least through pg 425 where I am. I suppose it could take a dramatic downturn from here. I'll let know know once I finish). So it may end up being the one prose book I drag along with me. Though I think we all know I won't be able to bring just one book. That will be another item on my to-do list: determining my overseas reading list (note to self: You'll only be there for FOUR weeks, doing lots of OTHER THINGS, and carrying around a ton of books gets CUMBERSOME). We'll see how that goes.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

There are about five four weeks left until I go to Ireland. My flight is booked, along with a hotel in Dublin for two nights after the program ends (because staying the two extra days, even with the cost of a room, saves me about $150 vs. flying back to the US on a Saturday). I've checked my electronic devices for compatibility with the 220-volt UK/Europe electrical system (turns out that most devices these days -- laptop, cell phone, and camera chargers, specifically -- are rated for use around the world) and bought a funky little multi-way outlet adaptor. I've checked out a couple different travel guides for the UK/Ireland and did some reading online about Armagh and the history of Ireland in general. The prospect of going to a nation with some actual, real capital-H History is really exciting in itself (because the U.S. is really just a baby, or at most an adolescent, in comparison). Every single person who's been to Ireland has told us how much they enjoyed it and we're going to like it, and I'm inclined to believe them. So yes, it's safe to say, I'm really looking forward to this trip.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

An Interlude About Real Life

The first weekend in May, I flew home to MI to attend a graduation ceremony and party for Jake's younger brother Caleb. Jake had decided, somewhat reluctantly, to push back his original move date from April 28 so he could attend; I told him that I wanted to as well. I've known Caleb almost as long as I have Jake (a little over 5 years now) and probably saw him almost as often, considering we worked together for close to three of those years. I pretty much love him like my own brother -- he can be both a pain in the butt like a brother and a great friend/confidante. (Am I the only one who thinks of the Golden Girls theme song when I hear the word "confidante"?)

So, I arrived in Saginaw around 9:30am Friday morning and spent the day with Jake; we joined my parents and sister Janessa for lunch then spent a couple of hours at our old hangout spot, the Red Eye. I have to say, Saginaw is getting quieter and quieter. I still run into plenty of people I know but their numbers are dwindling. Not long after I moved (and even shortly before) people started leaving -- for other cities and other states -- and a good portion of those that remain are talking about doing the same, at least idly. It occured to me over the summer how strange it is that, while unfamiliar places can become familiar, the opposite is also true. That night I drove Jake and myself home from The Scottish Inn and quickly became all turned around in the roads near there. Granted, Saginaw city's roads have always been somewhat of a cluster; they aren't gridded properly because of the river and a great number of them curve sharply or stop and start or end altogether. But I used to know my way around pretty well. Fortunately Jake wasn't actually in bad shape and played navigator for me.

At our Scottish Inn party that night (for which the event page on facebook was titled, "Rachel's Visit/Jake's Exodus") I was reminded of just how good a friend group I've left behind. The number of people who continue to attend these events when I visit home has certainly dwindled over the past couple years (as people have moved away and/or on with their lives), but the ones that do show up are quality people.

But they didn't just come for me; Jake's not much of a party planner but despite the last minute announcement, several of his friends, co-workers, and 2/3 of his brothers came out for the evening. I got some great pictures.

Saturday's graduation ceremony and resulting party were both well-attended; delicious ribs were eaten (at the party, not the ceremony), bocce ball was played (not by me, sadly, though by watching I now understand the premise of the game) and more pictures were taken.  We had a fairly quiet evening, expecting to be on the road sort of early Sunday morning; in true Jake fashion though, the car wasn't cleaned out until then and it took a couple tries to pack everything in tight enough to fit all of it (including a cat box for our reluctant feline traveler). He did it, though (2000 Ford Focus = surprisingly high capacity for stuff-holding) and after one last stop for coffee and a bagel at the Red Eye, we hit the road around one pm.

A little over 10 hours later, after a relatively uneventful trip, we arrived in Baltimore, unloaded the cat, and unpacked the car. And thus, I have acquired a Jake. At a week and a half in, we're still working out some logistics but have otherwise been successful at co-habitating. We've even managed to explore a couple of places in the city together that I hadn't been to on my own yet.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The Finished Product

 (or, the Last Post I Make About the Pianos Already, I Promise)

The night before my pianos were due, I posted a picture on Facebook of what I thought then was the finished product. They were bound, glued, painted, and glazed; in a written reflection which was to accompany them, I predicted that I'd spent about 40 hours collectively on them. This was not counting drying/setting time or computer time (for laying out the inside pages). Looking back, this might be a little high, but for about two weeks I spent a few hours nearly every day on them, so I'm probably not far off.

The posted picture garnered over 40 comments, about half of which came within hours of posting and a couple which expressed interest in buying a piano. I was a little dumbfounded by this -- people actually wanted to pay money to have one of these? I'd been thinking a little about price anyway, as part of the assignment, and was thinking somewhere in the $25 range. This seemed low to me, but I couldn't imagine people would pay more than that for one -- being handmade, they weren't without flaws: small gaps between the covers and the piano body; the black keys cut to different sizes, etc. But Jake convinced me that, based on the amount of effort alone, I should price them higher than that (plus, he said, they were "really awesome," which I guess I mostly agreed with). So I offered them at $40. And my prospective buyers still wanted them.

The "finished" pianos

Now that purchasers were involved, I started looking at them a little more critically (despite my goal to finish them Wednesday night). As I was handling the books, I noticed that in one of them, the wire binding was... broken. I repaired it that night, replacing the wire with some thin elastic (which was really a much more suitable material) but didn't rebind the pages to the back book cover, figuring I could use the broken wire to hold the elastic in. I called it a night and went to sleep.

The next day I ended up rebinding the other two books, which had the same issue (you'd think I'd have known better than to use a slightly-discolored wire spool that had spent an unknown number of years in a box). I also rebound the first book yet again, taking apart the book cover so I could assemble it properly (attaching the elastic to the remaining wire still left too much stretchiness). Fortunately the end result was worth it, despite the fact that I had to re-cut, repaint and reglaze the spine. And while touching up one of the covers, I ended up dumping glaze on one of my favorite pairs of work pants (again, you'd think I'd have known better). At that point I quit while I was mostly ahead, only to realize that in my haste to get the glaze upright and on the table, I'd spilled a string of it onto one of the other pianos. SO, I had to sand it off and reglaze it after the presentation that night. I was really tired of them all by then.

At school, the pianos were very well-received. People seemed to really enjoy the fact that they could actually touch them and pick them up (I worked to purposely make them nice and sturdy). After the reception, the professor collected a copy to grade, and asked me if she could keep it afterward. I told her that I'd already sold two of them (the second one was claimed that afternoon) and was planning to keep the third; she said that she was willing to outbid another buyer if necessary. I was amazed that she wanted one that much. So I told her she could have the one I'd planned to keep; I could just make another. And with that I'd sold all three pianos. So, the above picture, taken before they were rebound with elastic, is the most recent shot I have of them. But I fully do plan to make another, plus an extra that's just a box without book pages inside.

I really enjoyed having a project like this to work on (though I probably wouldn't have done three of them at once if given the choice). Someone joked that I should make other instruments now; I told them I actually was considering trying a cello that opened up or something. I might still. I just need some more cardboard boxes... time to eat a crapload of cereal.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

What are you doing here, anyway?

I don't know if I've actually said anywhere on here what it is I'm doing in school. I mean, I've stated that I'm working on an MFA (in creative writing and publishing) but nothing more detailed than that.

I was just wading through my archives, as I'm wont to do from time to time, and noticing some holes in my life-story coverage. So:

I'm just about done with my second year here. Since I've only been taking classes part-time, I'm finishing in four years instead of the anticipated three. And while I thoroughly enjoy the program, I feel like a lot of the experiences and opportunities I've had outside of my classes have been what really makes this whole adventure worthwhile (apparently this is common). I've also pretty much decided that anytime I move to a new city, I need to go to school there, because that seems to be the best way to meet people and get involved in the city.

Anyway, some statistics: there are about 30 students admitted to the program each year; 10 each for poetry, fiction, and creative non-fiction. In my year, we had people from Michigan (me!), Indiana, California, Florida, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and elsewhere. It's a 48-credit program which requires us to complete an internship as well (something I've started thinking about but haven't pursued yet).

So far I've taken a couple of poetry workshops, a creativity class (called "ways of seeing"), a literature seminar, a typography class and a class detailing the methods and processes of getting published (sadly, I've forgotten most of what I learned in that class because I didn't have anything ready to send out for publication).

This semester, I'm taking an Experimental Forms class and a Literary Publications (Lit Pub) class. The latter is the one I'm making the ridiculous(ly awesome) piano books for.

The assignment is to make an unconventional book whose form somehow fits the content. The less traditionally book-shaped, the better. I sat and pondered ways to make a book shaped like a tree for awhile, but then while laying in my bed, looking around my room for some other form of inspiration, I spotted my keyboard, leaning against the wall near my closet. Stream of consciousness led me to grand piano, and thus my final idea was born.

My first mock-up

The lid of the piano opens up, revealing the pages of the book. I've written various poems and musings that somehow relate to music, so I pulled a few of those together for the content. I also made this nifty music note thing for the cover page (yet another example of my astounding progress in Illustrator):

My first mock-up, which is now largely disassembled, consisted mainly of cardboard from a Cheez-It box. The newer, more presentable versions are cut from book board and use far-superior cereal box cardboard (actually, the only advantage of the cereal box is that it's longer and thus requires me to cut fewer separate pieces). I'm using wire to bind the pages and tacky glue to hold everything else together.

I'm pretty proud of how well the design is working out so far (and of how good I'm getting with my box cutter). The only real issue I've had to work out is how to attach the legs to the bottom of the piano: attempts to nail them down ended up spltting the wooden legs apart. But I think I've arrived at a solution for that involving wood glue.

My progress as of a couple days ago: pianos in the front, in varying stages of completion; covers in the back left and pages in the back right.

We're supposed to create some type of display for them and mark them for sale (or with a sign that says, "Not for sale"). I'm not sure how I'm going to approach that yet.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

I don't know what the heck happened to the template there (or whether any of you were around to witness its disintegration) but it's fixed now. So, on to more interesting things.

Firstly, I officially accepted the Ireland study-abroad opportunity (and paid the balance due). Now I'm just waiting for the go-ahead to buy my airline ticket. The more I thought about it, the more daunting the whole "travel abroad" concept was becoming. So I just said, "I'm going, dammit" and set the process in motion. It's a dream I've been waiting a long time (well, somewhere in the neighborhood of 5 years) to fulfil and I'm not going to talk myself out of it now.

Oh, and if anyone was interested, the literary society I referred to in the last post was the John Hewitt Society, and the Festival they're sponsoring is apparently called the International Summer School.

Secondly, I secured a Student Assistant position (read: an hourly wage) on campus for fall. I don't know any of the details yet, but I'll be returning to my position here at OTS.

Speaking of OTS, it's been awhile since I graced you with one of my beautiful artistic creations. Part of that is because I haven't got much to show. But here's a thing I did in Photoshop awhile back:
(the idea is that it's a magazine spread -- I was testing out a technique in one of the graphic design books I checked out).

I have other things to update on (like my day in NYC) but I don't have the pictures with me currently, so you'll have to wait.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Well, I guess I never promised that my updates would be FREQUENT. My semester officially ends in 29 days; the closer that date comes, the less free time I have. Part of it is my inability to avoid ambitious projects. For example, in my lit pub (a.k.a. book making) class, I am making three medium-sized books which are also miniature grand pianos (more on this later). Part of it is also my continued attempts at a social life (just last weekend I attended two different parties, a concert, and a park-cleaning volunteer event through the university). I've got a similar schedule for this weekend (except instead of park cleaning I'm going to NYC for the day). But, as I keep saying elsewhere, I really don't like to be bored.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Éirinn go brách

Back in January I got info regarding a summer study-abroad opportunity in Armagh, Ireland. One of the professors from UB will be teaching a screenwriting workshop during the month of July, and so they were seeking more UB students to join.

Well, also on the flyer was a creative writing poetry/memoir workshop in the same city. After some correspondance with my program director, we arranged it so that I could attend the creative writing workshop and get graduate credit for an independent study course. I submitted my application and $500 deposit (refundable only if I wasn't accepted or the trip was cancelled) and waited for a response.

The response didn't come in the email form I expected, but a meeting was held on campus for the prospective Armagh students. The program coordinator was there, along with the screenwriting professors, and we were informed that we were all accepted (about 7 of us total). But, it turned out, I was the only one who'd applied for the creative writing segment of the program. Not just at UB, but anywhere.

So, this put a bit of a stick in my spokes. The coordinator told me that I could still attend, and while they wouldn't be able to bring the poetry/memoir professors to Ireland, she could arrange for me to work with one or both of them remotely, as well as someone from a literary foundation in Ireland. I would still take the Irish culture and history classes with the screenwriting students, so I wouldn't be completely isolated. Additionally, it could lead to other opportunities, like the chance to return next year, all expenses paid, as a T.A. ("I wish I could take you along as a T.A. for this trip," the coordinator told me, but since I've never been to Ireland, she wants me to have the experience of taking the trip as a student first). It's the first year they've tried this creative program in Ireland, so we're all essentially "pioneers."

On the other hand, she said, if they could get even two more students to attend the memoir/poetry workshop segment, at least one of the professors could accompany us to Ireland.

So, I'm trying to figure out what to do now. The rest of the money for the trip is due April 15, so I need to make a decision by then. I can either accompany them on the trip, as a "pioneer," or I could take the money I'd be spending on the trip and finance my own trip to Europe.

My thoughts are this: I wanted to study abroad in undergrad but never pursued the opportunity with any real vigor. The cost of a graduate class at UB is about half what this trip will cost me (minus airfare and most of my food), so to get four weeks in Ireland AND one class paid for seems like a good deal to me. Also, the knowledge that it could open opportunities for future travel at reduced cost is a major factor. I've never travelled abroad before, so having experienced travellers along (the coordinators all have been abroad) for advice is also appealing. Plus there's the immersion into a different culture, which is also a rare opportunity.

However, if I travelled independently, I could visit places I want to see (like Paris and other cities/countries in mainland Europe). I would be able to see a lot more in the same span of time and could also bring Jake with me (since, years ago, we got our passports together for Christmas. Neither of us has any stamps yet). Also, odds are that it would cost me less overall even if I did stay there for four weeks (depending on what I did and where). Both of us are open to the idea of spending a couple years in another country someday, so the immersion experience might be available later.

So, I've got some pondering to do. If anyone else wants to weigh in on this, feel free. In fact, I encourage it.

Monday, March 19, 2012

the weekend in review

I've been trying to live a lifestyle that's a little more conducive to creativity lately, which mainly means wasting less time with all the technology in my life. I've done all right so far -- I've been reading more, and I wrote some things on Saturday (I say "things" because I'm not sure what they are. Essays? Stories? Musings?). I also printed up some flash cards with music notes on them to practice my sight reading. I'm going to need to laminate them somehow, I can already tell. I had them in my back pocket most of Saturday night (I took them with me to my St. Patrick's Day festivities to practice on the bus) and the edges have turned blue and rounded from my jeans. Hooray for clear packaging tape...

My St. Patrick's Day: I changed plans at sort of the last minute. I was going to catch a play that evening then meet up with my friend Jay and some other theater people afterward, but while trying to make dinner plans with my friend Regina, I was invited to join her, Maureen, and Chris for some festivities in Federal Hill. I'd never been partying down in Fed Hill before, and I decided I was more in the mood to talk with friends than watch a play by myself, so I ate some food at home then off I went.

It was a great night of drinking, Hawaiian BBQ pizza, talking, and dancing. Lots of dancing (it doesn't look like a place to dance, and who knows, maybe usually it isn't, but Saturday night it was an excellent venue). Perhaps a little-known fact about me: I would go every weekend if I had people to accompany me. That is not an exaggeration.

Anyway, it was a good night, capstoned by Regina's failed attempt to steal a cement pig (it was too heavy and I was laughing too much to be any help even if I'd wanted to). So, we took our picture next to it instead. I wonder what the owners thought when they found it in the middle of the sidewalk the next day.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

the theater just won't leave me alone

People ask me all the time (based on my unusual height) whether I play basketball (or, occasionally, volleyball). My answer is, of course, no; I was (am) an art nerd. Back in high school I was in drama club. I was onstage a few times in various plays and dinner shows. I won best supporting actress in our Moscars. I helped build/paint sets and went with the rest of the club to acquire costume pieces from various thrift stores. Once or twice, I even dressed as a bobcat and played in a State Park.

In college, I took one theater class that required service hours in the department (which mostly involved cleaning out the warehouse-like costume/props/set room). I tried out for one play and didn't get a part. I was disappointed but not broken-hearted; I was starting to focus more on visual art and especially writing. In fact, my degree is in creative writing.

Then I got to Baltimore.

My friend Dave works as a G.A. in the theater here at UB doing tech stuff. My first semester in the program, he badgered me into taking on an Assistant Stage Manager position for the production of The Laramie Project. So I did. I enjoyed the experience; met some cool people and whatnot. It was fun to be part of the production without the stress of being on stage (I was mostly in charge of placing props/costumes and keeping track of the actors backstage).

Well, two more semesters go by. I have my hands in a little of just about everything: I'm working a retail job, doing work-study at the university library, running the student newspaper, and then being accepted for the G.A. position at OTS [see previous post]. I run into Kimberley, the theater coordinator, who tells me that they're looking for an ASM for The Exonerated, and that a few people involved in the production (who also were in Laramie) were asking about me. And I, like a crazy person, was like, "Send me the schedule! Maybe I can work it in!" Even she was surprised that I was actually considering it. But we talked back and forth, and she decided that she'd hire two ASMs so that I didn't have to be there for everything.

So I'm back in the theater. And the people involved with this show are incredible -- the ones I talked to seemed to have their hands in everything. The director's the daughter of a famous comedian and she's just taken over as artistic director for a local theater, plus she's got her own one-woman show (which she wrote) going to NYC next month and another she directed showing in Chicago. One of the actors I befriended studied musical theater at NYU then lived in Paris for six months and is now involved with at least three different shows simultaneously. Yet another is basically the quintessential performance artist: he plays piano and guitar, he sings in a band (which is apparently well-known locally) and is part of the decorating crew at Charm City Cakes. Others have TV acting credits and music and dancing and poetry and writing credits... it's exhausting. And inspiring.

Well, the play ran last weekend, and the cast party was Saturday night. So it's over, and while I love having my evenings free (well, some of them) I am bummed that I likely won't cross paths with most of them again (because who wants to be that pest on facebook going, "So, what's new?" all the time. I mean, I might anyway, but still).

But, Kimberley approached me during production and asked if I'd like to take over as her G.A. next year. After some pondering (the schedule likely won't be conducive to a social life, but my future at OTS is still sort of uncertain, and it wouldn't break my heart to get away from the desk job life) I accepted the position.

Her squeal of delight pretty much sealed it for me (who doesn't like to feel wanted? :P ). I don't know what I'm getting myself into, fully, but it looks like I'll be regularly involved with the theater for a couple more years now.

I'm feeling pretty excited about the possibilities, though.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Anybody out there?

Time to shake the dust off this here blog, I guess, largely because my new job leaves me a lot of time to kill.

Yes, I have joined the realm of the "grown-ups" and have acquired a real desk job. I have my own cubicle in an office and everything (I have my own phone extension! Wow!).

I've been here for three weeks now and have yet to decorate the cube at all. I only actually think about it while I'm here, staring at the blank walls hued in various shades of white and grey. The woman in the cubicle next to me has plants and a lamp and a little office supply organizer (pens and pencils and scissors, oh my) and photos of a cat, presumably hers. I don't know how long she or any of the other employees have been here; I just know it's longer than I have. I suppose I could spend some of my downtime shopping for office decorations and supplies on Amazon... but I digress.

So the new job is actually only part time, and is actually an assistantship. Which means although my average hourly wage (according to my time sheet) is $3.06, they're paying for six credits of graduate tuition this semester (which would bring the average up to -- well, I don't know, but a lot more than $3.06). I work for technology services, which sounds really fancy, but thus far has meant spending a lot of time in my cubicle, at my computer, waiting for assignments which involve making small changes to the university website. For example, I added a question mark to an FAQ entry which lacked one, and added the second "M" back into "commuter" at the top of a title page.

Yes, some (most) of my assignments have been more involved than this. But I still have a lot of downtime. I've invested some of that time into learning Adobe Illustrater (and by "learning," I mean "becoming frustrated by") from a book. So far, this is what I've made:

A priceless gem waiting to be discovered by the design world, I know (wow! A flower in the sky!?). The book itself is actually rather helpful, despite being two versions behind the 5.1 I've been given (I've also acquired a couple of new skills in Photoshop, but those were mostly by searching the "Help" box and wading through a lot of useless results).

So anyway, I'm at my own desk in my own cube with my own phone (which never rings) and I've met most of the other people here (thanks to my boss, who is actually pretty cool) but they're all roughly a decade older than I am, and they often have important meetings in the conference room nearby (which means I got to snag some of the leftover candy afterward) and I try not to spend too much time on Facebook since my computer screen is visible from the doorway.

So, you shall be privy to my time-killing activities via this blog.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The annual tradition continues.

1.What did you do in 2011 that you'd never done before? Took a train to Boston; visited Wisconsin (Milwaukee, mainly); went to AWP; worked three jobs; signed up for Netflix; did a research project at the Smithsonian archives (for my dad); learned how to knit.

2. Did you keep your new year's resolutions and will you make more for next year? I never remember my New Year's resolutions. Maybe I should start writing them here. This year I've so far resolved to read at least one poem per day. I guess I've already broken it though, since I came up with it on the 2nd. The other was to write something new every week -- a poem, short story, or piece of flash fiction. We'll see how it goes.

3. What countries did you visit? None. Just the one I live in.

4. What would you like to have in 2012 that you lacked in 2011? A "real" job.

5. What date from 2011 will remain etched upon your memory, and why? Rockabilly Fest in Vegas in April. Rum Rush on Hamilton St. in July. Caleb and Elaine's wedding. The narrow, winding roads and wonderful book stores all over Boston and the hot, hot heat in Milwaukee (along with their fantastic art museum). The chaos of AWP and the ridiculous happy hour parties at Mex. Not specific dates, just events/moments.

6. What was your biggest achievement of the year? My 4.0 GPA during a semester with two classes and three jobs. Somehow I still managed to sleep and have a social life in there too.

7. What was your biggest failure? Not being published anywhere (or really submitting anything).

8. Did you suffer illness or injury? Nothing a little antibiotic or cold medicine didn't cure.

9. Whose behavior merited celebration? Jake's, for sticking by me through the whole long-distance thing.
10. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed? Jake's, for not moving out here with me. :P

11. Where did most of your money go? Aside from rent, probably toward things I didn't need. Also, books.

12. What song will always remind you of 2011? Most of the songs on the first Florence + the Machine album. Also maybe "Lonely Boy" by the Black Keys. And "Heart Skips a Beat" by Olly Murs.

13. Compared to last year, are you:
i. happier or sadder?
I think happier, though the long-distance relationship isn't getting any easier.
ii. thinner or fatter? Thinner, by just a few pounds.
iii. richer or poorer? Well, I make more money.

14. What do you wish you'd done more of? Art. And travelling.

15. What do you wish you'd done less of? Wasting time on Facebook.

16. How did you spend Christmas? The day began at Jake's parent's and ended at my grandparent's with my mom. There was food and present-opening.

17. Did you fall in love in 2011? Not with anyone new.

18. What was your favorite TV program? I realize that I'll probably get some crap for this (as I already have), but Glee. It's such a fun show! I also watched/rewatched every episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

19. What was the best book you read? I couldn't name just one. I read a lot of books this year. Among the most memorable: The Help, The Kite Runner, The Bible (largely in part because it took me the whole year to read), The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Water for Elephants, and Firefly Lane.

20. What was your greatest musical discovery of 2011? Florence + the Machine. And Foster the People.

21. What did you want and get? Another job. A new computer and monitor, and a(nother) new camera.

22. What did you want and not get? A trip to NYC or New Orleans for New Year's Eve.

23. What was your favorite film of this year? Sticking solely to movies released in 2011, I really liked The Adjustment Bureau and The Help. The movie Water for Elephants was pretty good too. And, I liked the 8th Harry Potter, and the first part of Breaking Dawn was better than I expected.

24. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you? I spent the day in Washington D.C. with my friend/former roommate Maureen and a couple of her friends. We went to an Ethiopian restaurant for lunch and then to the Smithsonian. Also to a cupcake shop. I didn't do any real drinking/partying. I turned 25.

25. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying? Not having to take out thousands of dollars in student loans.

26. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2011? Unmonitored. I didn't really think too much about it until the end of the year.

27. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most? Hm. None, really.

28. Who was the best new person you met? Probably Kay, my new roommate, though I met some pretty cool kids through my friend Jon when he moved to Hampden.

29. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2011: I don't know that there's a single, standout lesson, but I did learn a lot about being alone vs. being lonely, and a lot more about how to be truly independent. I discovered that a lot of my opinions and worldviews are heavily influenced by my friends, and I've come a long way in discovering what I personally believe.

30. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year. "I must become, the lion-hearted girl..."