Tuesday, March 31, 2009

To Post in March

Before the month is over, I thought I should at least get one note in here so it doesn't look like I totally neglect my blog.  

Briefly, the biggest news is that I was accepted at Fairfield University's low-residency MFA program.  The first residency is in July, if I choose to go there.  Right now I'm still waiting to hear back from two more schools.  If I do go to Fairfield, I'm looking forward to the retreat-like setting on an island near Mystic, Connecticut (remember Mystic Pizza, anyone?--great movie).

I did not get accepted to the program I thought would be my saving grace.  It's a Christian university with high academic standards like Taylor, and I thought for sure it would be the perfect fit for me, and I for it.  After I got the small-envelope letter, I started thinking that maybe I was counting on it too much.  Maybe it's too close to my comfort zone.  Maybe it's my opportunity to be in a different environment--the kind of change I've been anxious for.  The chance to grow in a way I've never had to before.

I hope this is making some sense.

Other than that, Andrew got a PS3, and, though I haven't played it much recently, I really like Portal and Little Big Planet.  We got Rock Band, but we only just set it up.  It'll be a party game. We did experiment a little with the guitar and drum kit, only I was on the drums and Andrew on the guitar.  We were playing an easy version of E-Pro, and I said, "Hey, we're just like the White Stripes."  I kicked Andrew's butt.

Soon to come: More updates on MFA status, a possible "real" post (like this one), or I forget about blogger for another month.  We'll see! (You're on the edge of your seat, aren't you?)

Sunday, February 22, 2009

What better to do on a rainy day?

So this is the first day in a while that I've had time to sit down and think through what we've done so far. Two weeks makes for a long vacation! I won't try to summarize every day since San Diego, but the gist of it is this:

We spent a wonderfully relaxing weekend with my brother Steve in Santa Barbara, touring SB County wine country and celebrating Valentine's Day with him and Alicia.

Sunday night we went to an Anaheim Ducks game together, and they took us to our hotel in Long Beach where Chick-fil-A's seminar was. Our activity afternoon involved a ferry over to Catalina Island, an enjoyable under-sea tour there, and a stroll around the touristy side of the island. We saw dolphins both there and back.

Thursday morning we got up early with our friends Jay and Abby and set off in a rental car to Sonoma County. We stayed in the "Secret Cottages" in Glen Ellen, and spent a day leisurely touring three wineries and a restaurant where they paired seven aphrodisiacal foods each with its own wine.

Yesterday we drove to San Francisco and did our touristy duty. We walked around Pier 39 and ate at In-and-Out Burger, visited Ghirardelli Square, walked up Lombard Street, and rode the cable cars.

Jay and Abby left this morning and Andrew and I have been inside all day due to the rain. I'm getting cabin fever big time. But there's not much we had planned on that won't be miserable in the rain. I think we'll ride a cable car down to the cable car museum, see what there is to see there, and then to a Borders to hang out. At least a change of scenery.

In other news, please pray for my family. My aunt Shirley died yesterday after a massive stroke. It's never easy to lose a loved one.

Friday, February 13, 2009

A Day of Sightings

We got up early to borrow bikes (free from our hotel!) and ride down to the bay. Our whale-watching tour left at 9:30 for the great blue sea. Once we cleared the harbor, the captain had to navigate around a forest of sea kelp, which meant he had to go parallel to the ocean swells, which meant if you were at all sensitive to motion sickness, this was not the trip for you. Andrew and I did fine, though we pretty much just tried to stay seated. Once we cleared the kelp forest and started sailing into the waves, it didn't improve all that much. Instead of side to side rolling, we were up and down front to back, as you can see in the video above. He could hardly keep the camera steady. The wind was especially strong that morning, and the swells were fairly large. For about 2 hours we drove out into the ocean, until the captain decided it would be more pleasant for everybody if we drove back in with the swells and closer to the shore. That did improve things a great deal, and we were able to enjoy the calmer breeze on the outside decks, too. It was a beautiful sunny day, just a bit chilly with the wind. We didn't see any whales, but we got free vouchers for another trip. On the way back they took us by a little pier in the harbor where some sea lions were sunning themselves, so at least we got to see some marine wildlife. It was still a great experience: Andrew and I loved being on the ocean.

Once we got our land legs back we walked down the shore to a restaurant called Anthony's Fish Grotto, supposedly the oldest seafood place on the harbor. I had a great fish taco with black beans and fresh salsa, and Andrew got trout and steamed veggies, and we shared a New England clam chowder. Everything was delicious, and after 3 1/2 hours at sea, a welcome relief to hungry and tired stomachs. Then we walked back down the harbor shore to where the U.S.S. Midway is parked, permanently open for audio tours. We spent 2 1/2 hours wandering the aircraft carrier with our headsets, learning all about what life was like on an aircraft carrier. It's a tough, utilitarian life, filled with danger. Veterans were scattered about to give a real-human touch to the tours. They were my favorite part. So many people passed them by, content to listen to their pre-recorded audio, but Andrew and I thought what they had to share was the most meaningful of all. Especially one guy on the flight deck, who was a pilot on an aircraft carrier and explained all about the relationship of intimate trust a pilot had with the LSO, the Landing Signals Officer, who had the final word on whether a plane should land or pull up and try again. If one of them gets it wrong, the plane either crashes into the ship, or plummets into the ocean. Scary business.
On our way back, we're riding our bikes slowly up the harbor, and I'm just in the middle of saying, "Andrew, don't forget to look back and check on me every once in a while," when someone reaches out toward my left arm and says, "Sarah!" After a second or two I registered that Linda, a friend from our church in Georgia was standing right next to me. Her husband Barry was there too. I said "Oh my gosh!" and called out for Andrew to stop. We hugged and laughed and shared our reasons for being in SanDiego. Weird, I still can't get over how weird that was. Neither of us knew the other would be there at the same time.
After making it back to our hotel just before dark, we relaxed with leftover Chinese and an old Robert Redford movie, Jeremiah Johnson. Great movie by Syndey Pollack, but after such a full day, Andrew couldn't keep awake through all the long gaps in dialogue and slow-moving scenic shots. I liked it, anyway, and I didn't fall asleep. We finished the day by watching The Office and 30 Rock. We managed to watch LOST Wednesday night, too. It's great we can keep up with our shows even on vacation! :) This has been a great city, and we're glad we came. On to Santa Barbara today!

By the way, I would like to wish a belated Happy Birthday to my college roommate, Alicia, whose birthday was on the 11th of February. You were a great friend and a perfect roommate for me. I also want to wish my nieces Faith and Nicole a Happy Birthday (it was on the 12th). I love you guys, and I hope you have a great year. I'm so proud to be your aunt. :) (You're still 4 months older than me).

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Sweet, Sad Day at the Zoo

Today we "slept in" until 7:30, had breakfast and hiked from our hotel to the SanDiego Zoo. We spent the whole day there, and saw some pretty cool animals.

The orangutan habitat was pretty cool, but in my memory it is a place of sad irony.

As I was watching through the glass, a hummingbird hit the glass from the orangutan side. I thought it was dying, but then it righted itself and began to get its wings back. As I watched this, the big mean orangutan strolled over on its knuckles to investigate. She picked it up, put it to her mouth, started playing with it, then took it away and faced the other direction. I can only assume she ate it. I was mad at that orangutan. There was a little girl in a stroller that started crying, and I knew exactly how she felt. I had a moment of silence for the poor, helpless hummingbird.

We saw pandas, polar bears, all kinds of cats, birds, and reptiles. We capped off the end of the day by sitting in the hummingbird exhibit to memorialize my little friend. It was actually a really cool, secluded place. Nobody else came through the little garden with a waterfall and lots of tiny birds, including other small birds that sang and flew right past our faces.

Tomorrow we're off for a whale-watching boat tour. Let's hope for some whales!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Hotel Occidental

We made it to California! We survived what seemed like a plane full of high school cheerleaders, and took a taxi to our hotel. It's pretty sweet. It's small, but very efficient. We ordered a pizza from a New York style restaurant, which was delicious, especially after eating only peanuts on a 5 1/2 hour flight. Tomorrow off to the zoo, more to come later.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009


I realized something today--this may be the only reason I am applying to Grad School.

I'm working on my portfolio, with about 3-4 serious stories in the works. I need revision and critique and outside help like crazy, so I'm allowing anyone who is willing to step into my world to read a story or two. I know I need it, but it's the scariest thing I've ever done. I didn't feel this way so much in college, strangely. Maybe it's because there my classmates didn't know me before they knew my writer self. Maybe it's cause I feel like now I'm just swimming out there amongst thousands of people much more talented than I am, and I'm not in a safe little classroom of fellow vulnerable writers. Maybe it's because the stakes are higher now.

This is what I realized: If anything, this process of writing is a process of humility. I'm the type of writer who picks up a story I finished 4 years ago--a story that won awards and served as my senior project--and scowls and wants to revise it all over the place. I'm so self-editing that the minute I recruit someone to enter my writings, I'm immediately more self-conscious. I have to let people into a raw, unrefined, evolving part of my imagination that no one else ever sees. After I send a piece and keep editing, I'm almost ashamed at the vulgarity of the former draft. It's very humbling. Like telling a perfect stranger your most twisted, bizarre dreams. Like your mom telling your new girlfriend you used to wet the bed. Like having your suitcase fall open at the airport and everyone seeing your underwear.

Of course it's all delusion. What am I afraid of falling from in my readers' eyes? I am and will always be Sarah. I try not to be a different person to different people. I think I'm still learning what this humility of writing is going to be about.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Behind the Seen

If I've seemed distant in the past few months, it's because I'm realigning my priorities. Namely, am I going to apply to MFA programs, or not? I took the GRE in September, but that is such a minor factor in the application process--only one school out of the seven I'm applying to even asks for it. The bigger issue for me is writing, building a portfolio. The only completed story I have is what I wrote for my senior paper in 2005. It takes something more than once-a-month flashes of experimental writing to make a portfolio. And here's where my shift came in.

To me, writing is first about observing well, about seeing beneath the surface in people, places, and events. It is about seeing what can't be shown visually. My life consisted of a lot of "to-do's" and what little free time I had was spent in front of the TV or computer. If there's anything redeeming about that, it's that I used that time to observe and think about the stories and people I saw there. But it doesn't translate into written word--the stuff beneath the visual. I had stacks of books I wanted to someday read, and what I was reading wasn't anything I could study for the form and craft of my own persuasion. I needed to drastically cut away from the need to detox on my favorite shows, check email and facebook every day, (as well as the pressure to keep up my blog), and tune in to a book of short stories by Joyce Carol Oates, or Flannery O'Connor, or a blend of contemporary American short stories.

Also, I needed to reformat my social self. As a child I was more withdrawn, more sideline-ish, more observant, but somewhere along the line was told that that wasn't good enough. I should be more conversational, more entertaining, more in-the-moment. I don't regret coming out of my shell a bit, but I see in retrospect where that killed some of the imagination that was born from longer incubation. I lack memories from most of my formative years. Former middle- and high-school classmates recall pronoun songs we learned in English class or who got in trouble for what in 7th grade, and I smile thinking "Where was I?" I know I was there, but I wasn't taking it in; I was inside my own head, thinking of the next funny thing to say, or how I could avoid looking awkward. I'm sure everybody experiences this to some extent, but for me, it never seemed to completely go away. Up until recently I didn't realize I still felt the need to be entertaining, to say the right thing, to always have an answer, to never allow a lull in conversation. I'm learning again to pause, to observe, to incubate, to imagine what might be, to not be afraid of not having anything to say.

So here I am saying it all where anybody can read it. :)

But this is more for me than you.

I'm committing to things less and committing to people more, and not people for my sake--people for their sake. I think each person is wrapped in poetry if I have eyes to see it. I slow down, worry less about how they perceive me, and just watch them. Their eyes, their hands, their mouths. I don't think about offending or taking offense, but seeing into that other layer where dreams and reality mix, where vulnerability shines through. And I'm learning to be vulnerable too. My story characters recently haven't felt real to me, and that's bad for a writer. I learned it's because I keep many people--people that care about me even--at arm's length. I think to avoid pain, mine or theirs. But what is life, what is story, without pain--the contrast of which is the silver lining of grace? That's where I want to live.

So I've started filling out applications, finding references, requesting transcripts, creating new stories, and, most importantly, living behind "the seen."