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dreaming of calamity kim

I told my boss a few weeks ago that I am thinking of a career change. I’m not trying to leverage a raise or anything like that; I want to do something different. I want to pursue something that’s more closely aligned with where my heart is now: writing.

I love my job. It truly is the best job I can imagine, but the thing is I’ve been doing it for going on 8 years, and I’ve been a part of this institution for almost 14 years. I’m ready to do something else somewhere else. I’m ready to focus on my biggest love. Ready to teach creative writing to younger students. Ready to influence students in the way I wish I’d been influenced. And I’m ready to move into a job that will give me the time, space, and momentum to be a better writer, a more consistent writer.

It’s time.

And yet.

It’s a frightening idea. There is, of course, the fear of loss of security. I have a pretty good situation: a decent salary, terrific benefits, and a job that I know isn’t going to go away. So there’s this part of me screaming that it doesn’t make sense to leave.

For a while I thought it’s the fact that 40 is bearing down on me.

I think of all the options out there, all the things I could do. It’s pretty amazing to recognize the possibilities. That I am capable and qualified to do many things. The world feels really big right now.

The other night on the drive home I had this epiphany:  I’ve settled down, my life is secure and still. I have a wonderful love, a good home, a good job, a good set of routines. I am physically and emotially stable. There much rhythm to my life, perhaps too much. I need a little (self-created) chaos.

I need the chaos that creativity brings.

I spent a few (all too short) days at the ocean with my friend Ant a couple weeks ago—our annual writing retreat. I didn’t accomplish nearly as much as I’d hoped. I mostly blame the weather. It was sunny and clear, and too warm for November. Ant and I craved rain and wind. We wanted to watch the storms come in. Instead we walked the dogs on the quiet beach. It was perfect for reflecting, horrible for writing.

But I did get a few things done, and, more importantly, I came home fired up, ready to write more. I’ve spent more the past two hours in this chair in my favorite coffee shop, working on three haibun I started last year. They’re nearly done. I think.

And now it’s on to the next thing. More writing. Figuring out where this project is going. Polishing some short stories and readying them for submission.

But I need a spark. I need chaos and mess. I need something that will keep me going. I need to be around more writers. I need to be further from administration and management and closer to craft and process and storms. I don’t know if I can sustain this on my own. It’s scary. I’ve started and stopped far too many times. I’ve written about starting and stopping too many times.

So I posted three haibun today, my show of commitment to Acceptance and proof that I’ve been doing something other than poking around on Facebook on this dark, dreary evening. The sky looked heavy earlier. I’m waiting for the storm, for the wind and rain and words to fly wildly, dangerously


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how good a memory can smell

I saw something really cool today.

This quarter I have been working closely with a community based practice class at UWB called Teaching Youth Journalism. Throughout the quarter the six students in this class have been learning the fundamentals of journalism writing and the fundamentals of peer tutoring. I’ve given a couple workshops on the theory and practice of peer tutoring, and I’ve introduced the students to the philosophies and methods we follow in the Writing Center I manage.

But that’s not the cool part.

The students have put these skills to use in a very good way. For the past three weeks they’ve gone to 826 Seattle to give journalism writing workshops to kids ages 9 through 14. The kids have gone through the entire phase of putting together a newspaper. They started by learning the basics of journalism writing, then they started conducting interviews and writing articles.

Today I got to see the end result.

Take a look at this: 826seattle.tumblr.com (Actually, it looks like the issue that this particular group of kids put together isn’t online yet, so I’m posting this link prematurely. I’m sure Issue 3 will be up soon.)

Here is the culmination of a ton of work. I was there to see the design editor put the final touches on the newspaper and “send it to press.” (Which, in this case, means he hit print and then went into another room to grab the pages of the printer, but it was still cool to watch). I was there to see the students hand out copies to the kids. I watched them read their pieces, and though they’re a shy, quiet bunch, it wasn’t hard at all to see how happy they were. But it didn’t stop there. They gathered up small handfuls of the 12 page paper and marched out to distribute it to coffee shops around Greenwood. A little while later they came back, beaming.

And I thought of myself as a kid.

I thought of the first time I was published. I was in fourth grade and I’d written a poem about Lynch’s Woods. The poem was published in the Newberry Observer and that, to me, felt like a really big deal. I knew that lots of people would read my poem. And I remember thinking about that days after it was published. I remember thinking that there were people who’d never met me and probably never would meet me that had read something I wrote. And how cool was that?

I thought of the first book I wrote: The Principal’s Desk that Could Talk. I wrote it in second grade, as part of a class project. We wrote and illustrated our own books and then bound the pages between cloth-wrapped pieces of cardboard. The book looked real to me, like something you could find on a shelf in the library.

I thought of the day my seventh grade teacher told me I should be a writer, and how I went home that day and wrote “Dear Diary, I want to be a writer!”

I thought of my first semester of college at the University of South Carolina. I was a journalism major and I was just as imaginative as I’d been as a kid. I had plans to become a journalist and move to NYC, work for a newspaper, live in a cool, low-rent studio or a loft, eke out a living doing the thing I loved most. (None of that happened, by the way.)

I saw each of these memories as a tick on the Timeline of Kim, and it was clear that this is what I set out to do a long time ago. Writing is the one thing in my life that has been a constant. I can’t remember, exactly, when it became a part of my identity. What I do know is that that identity solidified just a little more with each of these events.

I’m planning a short trip to North Carolina in October. There won’t be much time, but I hope—I really and truly hope—I get to sit by myself and sift through the innards of my mom’s cedar chest. Mom died last year, and I made my dad promise not to toss out anything in that chest. It holds a thousand family artifacts. Mom saved as much as she could cram into that chest—report cards, drawings, birthday cards.

I hope to find that poem I wrote. I hope to find my first book.

Toward the end of the workshop today, the kids were asked who they would give copies of the newspapers to. They all said they’d give one to their parents. I imagined the newspapers being tucked away in boxes or drawers. And I wished upon those kids the best wish I could give them: that one day far into their futures, they happen upon a copy of that newspaper they helped create. I hope they get a chance to sift through mounds of memories. I hope they get to happen upon this thing they’d created years ago. I hope they get to feel how the paper has withered. I hope they get to hold it close and smell it and breathe in memories of a time when they were encouraged to do something really, really cool.

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practicing with clay

Tomorrow I am going to give a workshop on revision and synthesis. Of course, this is for a nursing class and the type of writing they are doing is rigid and formulaic, so it’s tough for me to talk about flow and creativity and story as it relates to writing in general. I’ve given this workshop many times, and each time I find myself getting, as the students might say, “too creative.”

Here’s an example: Just a few minutes ago I put the finishing touches on a PowerPoint that breaks down a single paragraph. Tomorrow I will walk the students through the way that paragraph was built, how each sentence moves into the next and how the reader is easily able to discern the author’s pattern of thought and logic. I will talk to them about story, about the way the paragraph flows from beginning to end. I will use the language I know to explain what, to these students, is a pretty difficult concept.

So how does this relate to my writing? Well, for one it’s caused me to put off working on Acceptance tonight, and I don’t like that. But, as my friend John Paul once told me, “you have to steal the time” to write.

But what I said about the workshop applies in other ways, too. I have thought a lot about linearity and how it will not work with Acceptance—neither as a form nor a process. Yet I am teaching students to write linearly, to flow from one sentence to the next, one idea moving into the next. But the thing is, when you break that sample paragraph down, you see that the ideas were not created in that order. They weren’t even created by the same person. Within that one paragraph you have the ideas of the student, their evidence (which can date back as far as ten years), and a textbook (edited in 2010). Really, they’re just fitting puzzle pieces together.

I’m doing the same thing, but in a very different way.

I was telling someone about the process I am taking with this project, and how different it is from the way I approach short stories. Much of this project has already been written, and much of it was written over the course of the past seven years. I am using my old journal entries as found text, and many of those entries are more than five years old. But I don’t have pages to show for this. I can’t say, “look, see this? This is my book in progress.” Each journal entry is a separate file on my laptop and each one must be read and considered and processed. I rewrite, change the voice or point of view, condense, extract, add wherever necessary and then mold it into prose and haiku. It is not at all systematic, and once the prose is put together it can’t be pulled apart in such a way that you can see its original intentions. In fact, were one to pull the prose apart and examine it, I don’t think much, if any of the original intent would be visible. I like that.

I have spent much of tonight preparing to preach something I refuse to practice. Tomorrow morning I will lead a workshop on stacking bricks. Tomorrow night I will come home and I will sit at my desk and I will smash hunks of clay together and tear parts of them away, and bits of clay might fall away and stain my shirt or stick to my shoes or hair. But what remains on the desk, in whatever form it decides to take, that is the stuff I will keep.