Guess What? After eleven months of joblessness in Philadelphia, I’m celebrating starting two college teaching positions this fall!
The first is adjunct Instructor of English at Eastern University, which is a bit outside of Philadelphia (my commute involves a walk, a bus, a train, and another walk). The campus is beautiful– stone buildings and two ponds clogged with water lilies. Maybe being in such a lovely, collegiate environment will convince me I know what I’m doing in the classroom.
(Hey students, if you’re reading this, that was just a joke. I know exactly what I’m doing. Why are you even reading this? Am I not giving you enough homework? Go read Moby Dick. Seriously.)
The second position is teaching online College Writing at The King’s College, which is located in NYC. I am also super-excited about this course! Bonus points that I can do it from home or, even better, the road, where I’ve logged more hours than at my official address this summer.
Because I haven’t begun yet, I don’t have any snazzy “Dyana teaching” photos for my About Me page. I’m sure you were all wondering about that. But I can at least give you some kind of visual. For my TKC position, just imagine me sitting in my pajamas with my laptop. Got it? For the Eastern position, I’m not quite sure yet, but I’m shooting for this:
Awesome, right? Don’t you wish you were in my class? What amazing things am I about to fill my chalkboard with? Perhaps a lecture about how one should never end a sentence with a preposition such as “with”? The name of the department store where I bought that amazing pencil skirt on sale? Who knows? But it’ll be wonderful, that’s for sure.
Here’s another thing. I promise I won’t alert you to every time I have a Good Letters post up. I wouldn’t do that to you. Today’s, however, is special to me, and is dedicated to my very dearest dear ones. You can read it here.
But wait, I’ve saved the best for last! This past week my friend and fellow SPU MFA grad Dan Bowman (refer to side menu for link to his website)– who recently released his first (excellent) volume of poems, A Plum Tree in Leatherstocking Country— has published two essays online that are longish for blog posts or whatever, but more than worth the reading time.
DON’T BE LAME. READ THEM. AND THEN, IF YOU’RE STILL COMPLAINING ABOUT LENGTHY TEXT, GO READ MOBY DICK WITH MY STUDENTS.
Read this one first. It’s called “A True Name,” and was posted on the Art House America blog, which is consistently publishing interesting reflections from lots of different types of folks.
Then read this one, titled “Risking Delight,” published on Dan’s personal blog.
Seriously, folks, these are fine companion pieces. Don’t miss ’em.
Also: Dan is active on Twitter, and you can follow him at @danielbowmanjr. Also you should follow the Twitter account he updates for the Taylor University English Dept (where he teaches), because there’s good stuff there @TaylorU_English.
Hell, I’ve already written so much about Dan here, I should just show you what he looks like. Here’s a photo of him reading from his poetry volume (recently blurbed at ImageUpdate, by the way):
Okay, that’s enough for today. I’ll leave you with a few words from ee cummings, and please, don’t be all cool and pretend like you think he’s lame or whatever. You know you love that capitalization-less dude. So read this final portion of “[i carry your heart with me (i carry it in]”, then go read “my father moved through dooms of love.” No need for thanks. But you owe me one.
Time for a few announcements, folks!
1. Starting today, I am returning as a contributor to Image Journal’s omniblog Good Letters, which has a new home at Patheos, an umbrella site for lots of faith-oriented blogs. I wrote for Good Letters for roughly two years when I lived in Seattle and worked for Image, but retired after I moved to Philadelphia because I knew I’d need all my time and strength to make that big life adjustment. But now that I’m settled, and as long-time and most excellent contributor Kelly Foster has retired to focus on her own work and life transitions, I’m back. You can read my first post back here. It’ll also give you some info on where I’ve been and what I’ve been doing the past few weeks. I’m happy to be back as part of the team.
2. Did you all hear about the new fiction imprint Slant Books that editor (and my former boss) Gregory Wolfe is launching with Wipf and Stock books? Very exciting news. I can tell you from experience that Greg likes things done the right way, so I’m sure we can look for quality titles, plus beautiful book design– Slant Books is committed to publishing hard cover editions. For now they’re keeping their lips sealed about to-be-released titles, but you can find out more at www.slantbooks.com.
3. You might notice some design changes here on the blog. The new header you see is courtesy of a photograph taken by my friend (and extremely talented videographer) David Rither. The photograph, taken at Seattle’s Gas Works Park, is so beautiful that I almost felt guilty using it here– like I was slicing it up like the part of Einstein’s brain now on display at Philadelphia’s Mutter Museum. It just doesn’t seem right. So here I will post the entire image for you. You are welcome!
Well, friends, guess who is back in Philadelphia after two weeks of travel to Glen Workshop East and beyond? This girl, that’s who!
The trip was amazing. I’ll tell you more about that later.
But right now I have a specific goal, which is to ask if you are familiar with Christianity Today’s project This Is Our City, and if you are, to ask you to spread the word, and if you are not, to introduce you to it.
I love this project, which is a multi-year endeavor that posts essays and videos which highlight Christian cultural goings-on in six American cities: Richmond, Portland, Detroit, New York, Phoenix, and Paolo Alto, as well as the “Seventh City”– many other cities around the nation.
Here’s the overview, lifted from their website:
A new generation of Christians believes God calls them to seek shalom in their cities. These Christians are using their gifts and energies in all sectors of public life—commerce, government, technology, the arts, media, and education—to bring systemic renewal to the cultural “upstream” and to bless their neighbors in the process. No longer on the sidelines of influence, emboldened by the belief that Jesus loves cities, they model a distinctly evangelical civic engagement for the 21st century.
This Is Our City, a multiyear project of Christianity Today, seeks to spotlight in reporting, essays, and documentary video how these Christians are responding to their cities’ particular challenges with excellence, biblical faith, and hope. The six cities we are profiling differ dramatically from one another in size, economic climate, ethnic and racial composition, and in their history of Christian presence, leadership or abdication, at crucial moments. But they all have stories worth telling. Wherever we live, we can learn something from these cities about faithfulness to our own place.
Sounds pretty cool, right? It is!
As someone who grew up in a small rural town and then moved to four different large cities (Atlanta, Boston, Seattle, and Philadelphia), I find this project, which delves into good things happening in major urban populations, super appealing. And I think everyone can, as really these are stories of individuals and groups pulling together within larger communities to change the world for the better.
Soon I plan to start a weekly round-up series where I link to articles, videos, etc. I think are share-worthy, and I’m sure I’ll include posts from TIOC along the way. But for now I’ll leave you with this video of a woodworker from Richmond— a meditation on craft and our responsibility to the natural world. Just one of many great stories you’ll find on this site.
Tomorrow I leave for two weeks in Massachusetts, mostly at the Glen Workshop (eastern edition!).
I expect I’ll have plenty of cool stuff to talk about when I get back.
But until then, I leave you with this video. I figure it will take at least two weeks to fully process its brilliance.
My friend Ross Gale is awesome. I’m not the only one who thinks so. Here he is with Oprah. She looks like she thinks he’s awesome too.
Ross is a graduate of Seattle Pacific University’s MFA program. He writes fiction, and has a beautiful wife, and makes funny videos, and also keeps a fantastic blog. If you’re into writing or other creative endeavors (and especially if you’re interested in the intersection of creativity and faith), you should check it out. It is rcgale.com.
Because I am feeling bossy today I will also say: do not miss the 13-part series on creativity that Ross is running on his site. It is called The Bereshit Bara Creativity Series.
“Bereshit Bara,” which sounds slightly scandalous, means “In the beginning.” In this series, 13 creatives will share insights on what the initial act of creation is like for them. The posts will be as unique as the authors, and I should reveal that yours truly will be featured at some point. I think this is going to be an enlightening, challenging, and inspiring series.
You can read the first meditation, written by poet Elizabeth Myhr, here.
Also, just when you thought it couldn’t get any better: Ross is also running this series as a podcast! You will love it. You can listen to his introduction to the series here. You can listen to Myhr’s piece here.
Ross is also asking other bloggers to write about the issues covered in the Bereshit Bara series and email him the links, which he will share. You can get more details on that here. Like I said: he’s awesome!
But whether you contribute in this way or not, you won’t want to miss following along with what’s happening on the site. An easy way to make sure you don’t miss anything is to sign up for email alerts of new posts– that’s what I did.
Join me there?
All writers are familiar with rejection. And let’s face it, rejection stinks.
You think that over time it will get easier. That you’ll get used to it. And maybe you do, a little, like diabetics who take insulin shots each day. But that doesn’t mean the needle doesn’t sting when it breaks the skin.
Recently I got a really nice rejection note from McSweeney’s Internet Tendency. Those folks are great: they respond in 1-2 weeks, and cheerfully.
I sent a piece to be considered for their “Open Letters to People or Entities Who Are Unlikely To Respond” column. I imagine they receive, like, a gazillion submissions each day, so I didn’t have my hopes very high. But it was still nice when the editor wrote back, “Thanks for letting us have a crack at it!” As if he were saying, “It’s our loss, not yours.”
My open letter was to My Future Best Self. I had the idea after reading about a writing course designed to help one find his or her Future Best Self. I started wondering what my Future Best Self was like, and what she thought about my Current Non-best Self. I wondered what she looked like. I wondered what she could do, like if she could whistle or juggle or dive. I wondered about all the ways she was better than I am.
I thought I would start a Tumblr where I could ask her questions, and send her reminders for things never to do again. But eventually I decided to write her a letter instead.
In case you’re wondering, here’s what my Current Non-best Self looks like. I am on my couch wearing a face mask, which is one of many ways I try to move toward my Future Best Self.
Although I can’t be sure, I think my Future Best Self looks like this. I know what you’re thinking: she looks a lot like Eva Longoria. But that’s not Eva Longoria. That’s my Future Best Self. That face mask really paid off! And my Current Non-best Self could never pull off those teeny white shorts! Isn’t my Future Best Self awesome?!
My Future Best Self tells me: don’t worry if McSweeney’s doesn’t want your Open Letter! You should just post it here.
She’s the best, so I try to listen to her. Here goes. Please read this and remember that Your Future Best Self wants you to be proud of what you’re working on, no matter what anyone else says. Enjoy!
Dear Future Best Self,
I’m so glad we can finally talk like this. I always knew you existed, but I haven’t been sure how to reach you. Then last month I saw an ad for a five-week writing class titled “Future Best Self” and decided to give it a shot. The course description says it will help me find you.
The only prerequisite is that students come excited to explore their hopes and dreams. I feel more “somewhat interested in” than “excited about” exploring my hopes and dreams, but I figure it’s easier to fake than a solid grasp of conversational Spanish or proficiency in Photoshop.
I just realized that maybe you are a master of both those areas now. That just blew my mind! Honestly, I have a lot of burning questions about you. Like, do you have bangs? Have you won American Idol? Do you ever sit by an open window in the fading light of evening and think about me? And do you still talk to mom? How often?
Also the description says a desire to have fun in the process is strongly recommended. I am already having fun. This is the best new class the YMHA has offered since Jewmba!
Don’t worry, though. I don’t actually want to hunt you down and try to start a relationship and then pressure you into inviting me for Thanksgiving dinner or anything. Like I’m some guilt-stricken birth mother who gave you up for adoption in the 80’s after she lost her job at the tanning salon and got hooked on smack. I know you have a real family now who loves you. I just want to chat. Maybe we could meet up for coffee. Do you still drink that? Do you still think tanning salons are trashy?
Of course you do. I need to give my Future Best Self more credit than that! But seriously, have you found a good sunless tanner? One that doesn’t leave orange streaks around the rough parts on your ankles? Or maybe you don’t have rough parts on your ankles anymore. This is so crazy!
I know you’re “the best” and everything, so I don’t mean to step on your toes, but I think this will be beneficial to us both. I can remind you of a few things to keep in mind so you don’t become less than the best in the future-future. You know?
For instance, remember that perm you got in college in the 2000s? Or the year “Bohemian Rhapsody” was your drunken karaoke standard? Or all the times you asked, “Oh, when is your baby due?” and the answer was something like “ten weeks ago”? Or that time you dated the guy who made his living selling tiny wooden animals he made using a special whittling technique he learned from an apprenticeship at Dollywood? God, though, he gave a good back massage. Those big, strong, skillful hands.
Do you still have his number? I think his name was Gary.
I’m sure that reminders like these will help you hold onto your ranking. Because if there’s one thing I know lots about, it’s how to be less than my best self.
Let me know what you think about meeting up. At the very least, tell your abs and buttocks I said “you’re welcome” for getting up early on Saturdays for all those Jewmba sessions. Some things are more than worth the registration fee.
Past Inferior Self
[Author’s note: both the writing and Jewmba classes actually exist, although only the Jewmba class is offered through the YMHA.]
You know how sometimes when you like someone a lot– usually a celebrity you find physically attractive– you say you could watch them do anything?
Like, “I could watch Beyonce do nothing but eat cereal for hours.”
Or, “I would be happy watching Daniel Craig clip his toenails.”
Or, “I’d watch Kim Kardashian get a root canal.”
Actually, that last one is a bit creepy. I hope you’ve never said that. When you cross into the land of Watching Someone Who Is Unconscious Because They Are Drugged, it’s hard to find your way back.
But here’s a good one.
Talk about an inspired collaboration.
Poet Jennifer Maier once gave a craft lecture to the students in my MFA program and offered ten points of advice. The first was this: “Honor your gods.”
By “gods,” Maier meant rituals. “Turn down the lights,” she said. “Turn off all distractions, or turn on some music. Light candles.”
While this sounds like the recipe for another kind of fun night in, I understood what Maier was saying. Most writers I know have a (sometimes long) series of (sometimes bizarre) rituals they feel they must complete before they can begin their work.
Today The Tin House blog posted “Super Sad True Habits of Highly Effective Writers, Part One,” in which writers ‘fess up to their pre-work rituals.It made me happy to read these, because it’s too easy to worry that I am the only person out there who needs to wash her dishes before she starts working, or has a toy figure of Ax from the WWF tag team Demolition standing in support on her bookshelf (he also stood under my desk chair when I took the SATs).
But no! In fact, some of these reveals make me think that not only am I not in the minority, but I’m actually faring pretty well. Take this for example, from Sarah Rose Etter:
“I usually drink for about two weeks straight, and then right before I truly forget what it is to be a human being, I sober up, drink wheatgrass shots only for three days, and eventually the story comes to me as a sort of hallucination/miracle. That process has always worked for me. I believe it originated with the Mayans.”
When it comes down to it, the details aren’t important. Although it’s fun to hear about, I don’t care if an author feels they need to walk around the block five times, drink a certain flavor of tea out of a certain color mug, or watch an episode of Frasier before they can sit down to put pen to paper or fingertips to keyboard. What is helpful is to know that it’s rare that this comes naturally to anyone, and that even very successful writers have to psych themselves out sometimes to get going.
We know there’s really no magic formula, but because writing feels like magic– in that we seem to have no control over whether we’re producing good or crappy work on any given day– it’s okay to give in to a little to magical thinking.
WWF, The Mayans, whatever else…we all have our gods. What are yours? And what do they demand?
In January The New Yorker published an article by Jonah Lehrer titled Groupthink: The Brainstorming Myth. The title is a bit misleading. Although it opens with a discussion of how brainstorming as we often think of it (where members of a group generate as many ideas as possible in a given time without stopping to critique those ideas) isn’t as productive as we believe, the article moves on to explore what does work when groups of people come together to solve a problem or create something new.
And what works is maybe different than you expect. Criticism. Dissenting voices. Answers and ideas that seem way off base. Casual conversation. Cross-pollination of fields or genres. Groups that mix friends and strangers.
It also helps to have the right work space, such as the famed Building 20 at MIT. Designed in an afternoon and constructed cheaply and quickly, the structure was meant to be temporary– a space in which to house the main radar research institute for the Allied War effort. After the war, the building was not demolished as planned, but rather used as office space for scientists MIT had no room for elsewhere. Because the layout of the building was wacky and both floors and offices improperly numbered, the scientists were constantly getting lost and running into one another unexpectedly. Also, because the building was in poor condition, they thought nothing of pulling down a wall or knocking a hole through the ceiling to build a three-story machine. The result was a space that produced so many scientific breakthroughs that it was referred to as “the magical incubator.”
Poor planning for Building 20 accidentally resulted in a structure similar to what Steve Jobs would intentionally design decades later for Apple– one in which habitants who wouldn’t normally cross paths or share tasks were forced to interact with one another, resulting in increased creativity and productivity.
Building 20 and brainstorming came into being at almost exactly the same time. In the sixty years since then, if the studies are right, brainstorming has achieved nothing—or, at least, less than would have been achieved by six decades’ worth of brainstormers working quietly on their own. Building 20, though, ranks as one of the most creative environments of all time, a space with an almost uncanny ability to extract the best from people.
The lesson of Building 20 is that when the composition of the group is right—enough people with different perspectives running into one another in unpredictable ways—the group dynamic will take care of itself. All these errant discussions add up. In fact, they may even be the most essential part of the creative process. Although such conversations will occasionally be unpleasant—not everyone is always in the mood for small talk or criticism—that doesn’t mean that they can be avoided. The most creative spaces are those which hurl us together. It is the human friction that makes the sparks.
I admit that sometimes, on days when I feel lonely and/or unproductive, and am neglecting a half-finished essay in favor of Googling “Bruce Springsteen Unicorn” or “Rainbow Spaghetti Recipe,” I daydream about having an office in a Building 20-esque environment.
In my mind it is very much like the dorm in the amazing 1985 Val Kilmer cult classic Real Genius, where reclusive math geniuses live in subbasement apartments reached through closet elevators, and someone has turned the hallways into a temporary ice skating rink, and a handful of kids in one makeshift laboratory are building a laser strong enough to shoot from space.
The truth, though, is that although now I mostly work from home or alone at a coffee shop, I belong to a pretty awesome community of people who challenge and inspire me every day. We’re not always running into each other on the way to the bathroom, but our thoughts and ideas having plenty of opportunities to bump against each other in ways that sharpen our own projects. I don’t take this for granted!
If creativity and group dynamics are topics that interest you, I recommend you take some time to read the full essay. And the next time you find yourself in a creative slump, call up some friends. Ask what they have in the works, or what they are reading or listening to or thinking about or making right now. Or have a friendly debate with someone whose views are different from your own. At the very least, it will help you get out of your own head for a while. And it may even lead to a creative breakthrough.
My name is Dyana. I’m a writer and editor currently living in Philadelphia, although I am originally from southeast Tennessee. You can find out more about my background by clicking the “About Me” tab above.
Because writing can be a pretty solitary business, I created this site to stay connected to friends and colleagues who are spread across the world, and to connect to others who have similar interests. If you’re here and you don’t know me but would like to say hello, I’d love to hear from you! Just click on the “Contact” tab above, or leave me a comment.
I plan to use this site to post articles, videos, and music I think are interesting– some that are about writing and the creative life in general, and some that are not. Sometimes I may post brief excerpts of my own work. I can’t promise that I will never post an image of Ryan Gosling. In short, this site is a hybrid of professional and personal.
I think it will probably be your favorite site now. Or at least be in the top five.