Monday, September 1, 2014

On the move again

Without much advance notice, I have relocated from Baltimore to Champaign, IL, for a graduate program in Stage Management. I'm getting a crash course in what it means to be going to school for theater (and realizing how much I still have to learn). I'm also re-acclimating myself to life in the Midwest after a four-year absence. I'm not sure how I feel about that yet, besides a little conflicted. It's refreshing to be somewhere a bit more peaceful, where I can smell the trees and the hints of the coming fall instead of just cement and traffic and the fried smell emanating from nearby restaurants, but readjusting to a slower pace of life may prove to be a challenge. School may help distract me from that though. I have 17 credits this semester plus an assistantship to catch up on hours-wise. Since I was admitted to the program so late, I missed most of the first week of classes while I packed and moved, but I feel like I'm getting a clearer picture of what I need to be doing and when. After this week, the picture should be clearer still.

I had no intention of returning to school so immediately (though I assumed I'd go back eventually), but this was an opportunity I didn't want to pass up. In a lot of ways, this program is the answer to my prayers in terms of wanting to avoid the 9-5 desk job, but a part of me wonders whether I wouldn't be better off just looking for some kind of job to start earning a regular income instead of diving into another degree. I think it's the same part of me that remembers the student loan debt looming from my last degree (though I don't plan to take out any more money, thanks to a fully-funded position with a living wage included). Some of my apprehension is definitely just a result of not taking a more "conventional" path, but I've always tried to avoid doing that anyway. My family and friends have been incredibly supportive, and in fact some of my Baltimore colleagues and friends most of all. I didn't get the residency in South Carolina that I mentioned previously, and the few writing/publishing-related job applications I did send in received no response, . 

I am admittedly a bit worried that maybe I won't like stage management; I don't have an incredibly large amount of experience in that area, after all, and don't yet know what all it involves. But it's a risk you take in any new endeavor, I suppose. And I will get access to some of the other elements of theater, including directing, design, and even play-writing, if I choose. I stand by what I've said elsewhere about theater being a powerful medium for telling a story, and one I want to explore. And I've had the feeling -- a premonition, even, perhaps -- over the last few months that my time in Baltimore was drawing to an end. I never imagined that I'd end up in Illinois (or at least, if I did, I would have assumed Chicago) but I feel like I'm settling in well, at least on campus, where things are already becoming familiar. My new apartment and neighborhood can only follow suit; if nothing else, I will find it continually delighting and comforting that the library -- a tie to my literary life and pursuits -- is less than two blocks away from my new home. 

Monday, July 21, 2014

Update on the In-Between

The summer is sailing by and it feels a little odd not to be mentally preparing for classes in the fall, but I suppose it's the good kind of odd.

My TEFL seminar has come and gone, and I now have a 60-hour TEFL/TESOL certification. I have an online portion to complete but the most intense part is over. After the first weekend of class (which went from 9-6 both Saturday and Sunday) I was totally exhausted, but I seemed to build up a bit of a tolerance for the second and thirdweekends. My lesson plan on present perfect tense went over surprisingly well (part of the course included an hour-long practicum, half of which we presented to the class) and I feel like I could teach if I found the right group of students (university level or adult, probably).

I'm now a little over halfway into my Ireland trip with Armagh Project 2014 (a separate post about that coming soon) and it's starting to dawn on me that I'll have to face the "real world" again soon. Though the good news is, Jake has bought his airline ticket to join me on August 3 for an additional week of travel; with that added on I've actually still got 3 weeks until real-world re-immersion. There have been weekend trips to Belfast, Dublin, and the Antrim Coast, and I'm trying to figure out what to do with the last free weekend of the program. I've also written a 10-minute play, a poem, and part of a story. Not as prolific as I was hoping to be, but it's not too late...

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Now what?

Well, winter has come and gone and with it my last semester of grad school. So that's it; I officially have my MFA in creative writing & publishing; the diploma's in the mail.

Someone asked me yesterday how graduation was; I said the first thing that popped into my head: "anti-climactic." Some friends talked me into walking in the ceremony, and another who graduated last year lent me his cap, gown, and hood. I sat in the audience next to a fellow MFA'er and listened to a few speeches, walked across the stage when my name was called, got hooded and got my picture taken a couple times by the photographers and then returned to my seat. And so I guess that's the culmination of my last four years. I don't want to downplay all the work I did or the challenges I faced during that time, but now that it's over, it already feels distant. I don't feel any different now that I have a master's degree than I did before -- though I'm sure some of that is because the change was gradual and happened in increments, not all at once like the ceremony. But I'm not sure how much of an advantage it really gives me now that the experience is over. I mean, the experience was worth it, and I don't regret the last four years at all, but I'm not sure if the degree itself is going to give me an advantage in the "real world."

I'm now unemployed, for one thing. I had envisioned, during the final couple of hectic weeks, that this free time I have would be spent immersed in writing and visual art, but in reality it's been a struggle. I've managed to write something every day since the ceremony (which I realize was less than a week ago, May 22) and even pushed myself to work on a couple of artistic/crafty projects I started long ago, but I've also spent a lot of time on the couch watching TV or reading (I'll never view reading as a waste of time, but it's all amounted to a lot of sitting still). I'd also told everyone that the first several days of my break would be spent vegging and doing nothing, but... it turns out there's a lot of time in the day when you have no obligations, and my days have had room for both vegging and productivity. I know, I KNOW there's merit in sitting and being inactive, letting the mind reflect, leaving time for introspection, and it's through that introspection that I know myself well enough to understand the "problem": I need a new challenge.

Well, the challenges are coming. For three weekends in June, I'll be taking a course in Teaching English as a Foreign Language, with the goal of eventually being employed abroad, in Eastern Europe, Asia, or South America. The company I'm taking the class through, Oxford Seminars, guarantees job placement after I complete my certificate, so it will just be a matter of time before I'm off to see the world -- if I like the workshop enough to spend six months or more teaching. I've always been really ambivalent about teaching; I think the conditions would have to be just right for me to enjoy it (I don't think I'd do too well with young children, for example, or people who aren't interested in learning). But I do love English, and language in general, and I'm discovering a passion for promoting education and literacy. At the very least, this course will let me find out (perhaps once and for all) whether I can teach.

July 3, I'm returning to Ireland with most of my expenses paid this time, which is an incredible opportunity; Kimberley, my supervisor at the theater and one of the core faculty members for the Armagh Project, has arranged for me to attend again this year as a Teacher's Assistant (thus, a chance to experience teaching in a different environment). I'm a little nervous about what this will entail, since I haven't been given any formal instruction yet, but I'm really excited to get back overseas, especially since one of my best friends, Maureen, is taking the residency this time. I'm looking forward to exploring with her, to revisiting Armagh and Belfast and Dublin and also seeing some places I didn't have time to visit before. I gave myself an extra week abroad once the program is over to visit other parts of Great Britain and to return to France for a night or two (Jake is supposed to be joining me for this final week, which is also exciting -- he's never been abroad).

Then the search for a "real" job will begin (though that actually should start much sooner so that I can potentially have something lined up when I get back). I'm incredibly averse to the 9-5 corporate environment, and am really dreading the prospect of a desk job, but my resume will doubtless be sent to a few of those places. However, I've also applied for a nine-month writer's residency in South Carolina and would like to look for other similar opportunities. I don't know how much longer I'll be able to indulge this long-term wanderlust before the feeling of obligation to "settle down" takes over, but for now I'm going to keep it up. And continue trying to find a satisfying balance between productivity and relaxation in the meantime.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

progress report

In just under three weeks, I'll be presenting my thesis collection of poems -- in book form, with design and layout entirely by me -- at a reading alongside other MFA candidates. In just over a month, I'll be graduating -- and actually participating in the ceremony, after some persuasion by my Baltimore friends (since my family won't be able to attend, thanks to the fact that it's occuring at 10:30 on a Thursday morning).

Yes, people have started asking me what I'll be doing next. The short answer: I'm not sure. The long answer: I have some ideas.

All of my current employment is contingent on the fact that I'm a student. Thus, come May 22, I will be completely UNemployed. I wonder if I should be more anxious about this fact than I am. I've been exploring some opportunities; one that particularly appeals to me is finding a job within the University System of Maryland so that, after a little time off, I can continue taking classes for free and maybe get another Bachelor's degree (or just continue my education without a set degree goal). I'm still also very interested in book editing, layout, and design. More than that, though, I'm interested in opportunities that allow me to travel, especially internationally. I've been looking into TESOL certification; there's a course being offered nearby over three weekends in June.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

More about France (aka "Return to Baltimore Part II")

Somehow I’ve failed to write about Paris at all, anywhere (I fell behind in my journal keeping pretty quickly) so I figure I better do it now and also fulfill Part II.  

The Sacre Coeur
I didn’t sleep very well in Montpellier; whoever was in the room next to me kept going in and out, and the doors to the rooms stuck which meant that he or she kept slamming it. I was also nervous about catching my train, I think, but I made it just fine. Once I arrived in Paris, I got a little lost relying on screenshots of Google Maps again, but I eventually found my hostel. I couldn’t check in yet as it was too early in the day, but the desk clerk spoke excellent English (which was less surprising in such a big city) and explained to me all the sites I could go see in the meantime. They stored my luggage for me and I wandered off to the Sacre Coeur, which was close enough to walk to.  It was huge and gorgeous, of course, a giant domed cathedral with marble everywhere. It kind of struck me as unfortunate how touristy it’d become (there was a gift shop inside, and coin pressing machines) but it was still beautiful. Plus it’s built on a hill with stairs and terraces which allow an amazing view of Paris. And, along the side streets, was Montemarte. I had some quiche and coffee on an outdoor terrace of a restaurant within view of the Sacre Coeur then wandered through the little tourist shops and into the square, where there were rows and rows of artists set up under tents, doing portraits of people and selling their art. The weather was lovely and sunny and it was… well, me in Paris, thrilled.

After a few hours, I went back to the hostel and checked in, then took the Metro to the 7th arrondissemont to fulfill a life goal: Le Tour Eiffel. After some debate I decided to only go to the second level (that way I have something to look forward to the next time I go, hopefully with a travel partner). It was strange to be touring it alone – and I felt silly doing the selfie thing, but didn’t want to ask a stranger to take my photo for me, despite being behind a pair of American girls in line. The views were amazing nonetheless and I even saw a hot air balloon floating over the Seine, which seems so postcardy. Also, unbeknownst to me, there’s a bar/club on the first level of the tower, and a super fancy expensive restaurant on the second (or maybe I have that backwards). There were gift shops too, of course, but I avoided buying anything.

Versailles from the front gates
After the tower I wandered a bit and found the Arc de Triomphe, then took the Metro back to the neighborhood of my hostel and had dinner. Back in my room, I discovered that, as a female travelling alone, booking a bed in a “mixed dorm” meant I’d be the only girl in the room. No matter; the three guys in the room, also all travelling alone, were perfectly respectful (though unfortunately the one in the bunk below mine was a crazy-loud snorer and I didn’t get much sleep that night. I did acquire some ear plugs the next day at a pharmacy, though it was a particular challenge trying to explain what I wanted to the shopkeeper). I also made a friend, a software engineer from California named Sunny who became my temporary travel buddy for Saturday and part of Sunday. We went to Versailles for the day and toured the castle, the grounds, and Louis and Marie Antoinette’s summer homes (yeah, they each had their own). And also Marie Antoinette’s custom-built English hamlet in the French countryside. Talk about opulence. Even the train to and from Versailles from Gare du Nord was lavishly decorated, and a man came through playing the accordion. Before we got back on the train for Paris that evening, we stopped at a McDonald’s where they had self-order kiosks and a separate pastry counter, and I ordered a coconut frappe that was incredible.
The Hall of Mirrors in Versailles

Sunny and I went our separate ways once back at the hostel (well, as separate as we could seeing as we shared a room).  I had intended to just eat at the hostel that night since I’d brought some food from Labastide, but Sunny talked me into eating at a restaurant (which I suppose makes sense since it was his last night there) so we walked over to the Moulin Rouge – also on my  to-do list, though in a weird part of the city with many sex shops around (I didn’t have any real desire to go inside; mostly I just wanted to see the windmill) – then wandered around for a while, trying to decide on a restaurant. Being a Saturday night, many of them were either full or expensive, but we found one with a table near the window that had a prix fixe menu. Montemarte is quite lovely at night and the food was delicious (I think I had salmon).

Sunday it rained ALL DAY. And of course I didn’t pack an umbrella. After breakfast Sunny and I walked over to an area rumored to have some amazing outdoor markets; part of it was rows of these sort of ragtag shacks lined up and part of it was just tents lined along the street (though a few vendors made good use of a wide sidewalk under an overpass). I searched a few book stands for the French language version of Harry Potter (I’d seen them in Montpellier but they’d been pretty pricey) but had no luck. We stopped at a bakery and got some pastries, then stood under the awning outside and ate them (I LOVE strawberry tarts).

Sunny and I parted ways on the Metro after exchanging email addresses, and I went to explore the Left Bank a bit more. I found Notre Dame but decided not to wait in the incredibly long line to take the interior tour; I bought an umbrella instead then circled a few blocks trying to find the Shakespeare and Co. bookstore. I was finally victorious, after my shoes were good and soaked. The bookstore is a famous English-language shop with used and new books; they were also incredibly pricey. Upstairs was a little library/reading room where I found a copy of the Paul Auster book I’d started at La Muse but had to leave behind. I read for a while, partly hoping the rain would stop and that my shoes would dry a bit, but no luck on either front.

Notre Dame Cathedral
French Starbucks in the Champs Elysees
In the same area were two cafes made famous by such American writers as Hemingway and Fitzgerald; after some walking, I found them both but both had menus with prices a bit out of my budget. I found a restaurant on a little back street nearby and had more quiche and coffee (I also found a book store with Harry Potter #4 and #5 for €1 each, which led to some hard choices later about what to leave behind due to a lack of luggage space). After lunch I went back to the hostel for dry socks (it’d mostly stopped raining by then) before heading back to the Arc de Triomphe. Wandering the plazas nearby were several French military personnel, complete with berets and big guns, which was a little disconcerting. No one else paid them any mind though, so I assumed they were a regular presence.

The price of tickets to the top of the Arc de Triomphe was more than I wanted to pay, so I circled the outside then headed for the Champs Elysees. They were, in all honesty, a bit disappointing. I wandered through a French Gap and a French H&M (passing a French Starbucks along the way) before deciding I’d had enough. Plus the rain was starting again. So I went back to the hostel for my second-to-last night, packed up most of my stuff, and got ready to go to London the next day.

Monday, February 24, 2014

New Year, New Survey

So I promise that I started this around the time of the New Year, even though I'm only posting it now.

1.What did you do in 2013 that you'd never done before? France! And England. Spent a night in a hotel on U.S. Airways' dime and got a travel voucher (thanks to a cancelled flight). Swam in the Atlantic Ocean. Got an old-timey photo done with Regina and Maureen. Interviewed a professor for a magazine article. Recorded my singing voice to see how it sounded (it's not bad). Took a class in personal essay (and enjoyed it). 

2. Did you keep your new year's resolutions and will you make more for next year? I didn't make any solid resolutions last year. I think this year's only resolution will be to keep in better touch with my friends and family, especially as they start to scatter across the country. None of them are very good at keeping in touch either, so someone's got to step up. :P

3. What countries did you visit? France! And England, for a day.

4. What would you like to have in 2014 that you lacked in 2013? A yard (or at least a balcony). 

5. What was the most memorable moment of 2013? Anna's wedding and the surrounding days in MI. Rehoboth and Ocean City. Being in Labastide, and coming off the Metro into Paris for the first time (dragging way too much luggage with me). 

6. What were your biggest achievements of the year? Are you really going to make me say it again? FRANCE. Also, having the resolve to quit OTS even though it meant a pay cut.

7. What was your biggest failure? Several of my house plants died. I just can't seem to get the watering schedule right!

8. Did you suffer illness or injury? Some kind of respiratory thing after I got home from France (I believe because the air there is much cleaner than Baltimore's) and a flu of sorts in early December. No injuries, thankfully.

9. Whose behavior merited celebration? Jon's and especially Geena's, for having the resolve to run off to Chicago to better themselves (even though it means they left us here in Baltimore, sigh). 

10. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed? Oh, come on now. Why dwell in the negative?

11. Where did most of your money go? Either rent or travel.

12. What song will always remind you of 2013? Hm. Probably "Carry On" by Fun. and "Sunshine" by Matisyahu, among others.

13. Compared to last year, are you:
i. happier or sadder? I think I've pretty much leveled out.
ii. thinner or fatter? A bit thinner -- I've managed to lose some my Ireland weight.
iii. richer or poorer? Pretty much the same, though I quit one of my jobs and took a lesser position at the newspaper, so I have less income.

14. What do you wish you'd done more of? Getting rid of material possessions. As my trips to both Ireland and France taught me, life is much easier when there's less clutter.

15. What do you wish you'd done less of? Buying shoes? Okay, and wasting time on Facebook...

16. How did you spend Christmas? In Michigan with family, as per usual. With a bit of time stuck in my friend Jeff's driveway so that we could get our fill of snow and ice for the season.

17.  What was your favorite TV program? Doctor Who and Once Upon a Time.

18. What was the best book you read? Probably The Artist's Guide to Grant-Writing -- it's about the business side of making a living as an artist, basically. It's one I need to look at again.

19. What was your greatest musical discovery of 2013? My year was sort of lacking in the music department, actually. I made a couple of good Pandora stations, though.

20. What did you want and get? To go to France.

21. What did you want and not get? A yard or balcony.

22. What was your favorite film of this year? I honestly can't remember seeing anything in the theater other than "The Day of the Doctor," so I guess that wins by default.

23. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you? I turned 27; my friends Jon and Regina hosted a party for me at their house and then we all went out dancing at The Get Down. It was quite fun.

24. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying? That award once again goes to a reliable, accessible public transit system in Baltimore.

25. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2013? Stagnated -- I'm very indifferent about most of my current wardrobe. But, on the plus side (maybe) I think I managed to get rid of more clothing than I bought, for the first time in my adult life.

26. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most? The Doctor, haha.

27. Who was the best new person you met? Probably my fellow La Muse retreaters -- particularly Helena, Jenny, and Kate.

28. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2013: I'm starting to learn something about the balance between solo life goals and making time for friends and family, who really make life fulfilling in a different and necessary way.