Archive for the ‘Iowa Writer’s Workshop’ Category

One year left. In a scant five days I’ll be back down to Ioway. Am I excited? In some ways. I’m ready for the structure of my teaching and learning, ready for the deadlines of Workshop and for the peculiar atmosphere of Ioway City where all my friends and colleagues are all interested in literature and poetry, all trying to figure things out. I’m not excited about another year away from Regina and Henry. Or another year of driving six hundred miles a week. I feel very fortunate that I never had any accdients last year and I’m hoping that my luck holds out for another year.

I’ve had some great weekends of late. Visited my Grandpa in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and was able to spend some quality time with him and also my brother Alex. We took a sauna, had a nice bonfire, took some good walks, and observed more birds than I can remember in recent years. Just this last weekend we returned to Eau Claire and met my uncles there for a tour of the Leinenkugal’s brewery. Also had a nice dinner with my Mom and Dad.

I’m presently reading Josh Weil’s “The New Valley.” It is such a stupendously beautiful book that I read it with equal parts envy and wonder. His style is akin to a young Cormac McCarthy, with elements of Breece DJ Pancake thrown in for good measure. The blurbs on the jacket of the book are the kinds of compliments that any young writer would kill for. Here’s to hoping that my debut book is even half as well received – if and when it comes out.

Which reminds me… In recent months I’ve become reticent to talk about my upcoming publications either on this blog or through Facebook, but I guess I’m doing a disservice to the very publications that believe in my work by neglecting to mention them. In that spirit: the newest issue of “Ploughshares” features my first published short story entitled “Apples” which is loosely based on someone in my life that many of you who might read the story will recognize. I also have a poem forthcoming in the journal “Alimentum” and another short story appearing on “The Kenyon Review Online.” I’m excited about all of these publications and thankful to their editors and readers.


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On Saturday night Regina was fortunate enough to attend the U2 concert at TCF Stadium. Her ticket was in a luxury box with great food and easy parking and she experienced the concert with other attorneys from her firm. It was a stormy night in the Twin Cities and despite the rain U2 played a two and half hour set in a steady downpour. Regina said the show was incredible, that the band sounded fantastic, their use of technology was astounding, the stage was great – she came back from the show fairly glowing. I was/am happy for her. Would I like to have gone too? Would I potentially injure another human being for such tickets? Would I sell a lung or perhaps agree to have a toe amputated for the pleasure of seeing U2? To all the above questions I whole-heartedly say, YES. Yes. Yes, yes, yes. NO!!!

But Saturday was great, really. It was great. Allow me to give you a little report:

Regina left the house at about 5:15pm. I set Henry in his chair at the kitchen table and served him a bowl of honey-flavored yogurt. I then turned my back on him to perform other household chores. When I looked back at him, perhaps only moments later, he was lathering his hair and face with white yogurt, apparently under the presumption that yogurt has “lotion-like” therapeutic value. I cleaned him off with a rag but needless to say, there was still yogurt everywhere. We went into the bathroom to take a bath together.

Henry has been doing very well of late with his potty-training. He has been peeing in the toilet about 2-3 times a day. But Saturday night was the first attempt at a trained poop. He sat on his orange duck-themed potty/stool and I sat on our toilet and we watched each other attempt to move our bowels. After some time had elapsed, he said, “Dad. Poop.”

I glanced in his toilet. There to see a nugget of feces not unlike what I would expect from a rabbit. And yet, I was elated. This was success, very clearly. We high-fived and then I moved him into the bath-tub for our daily shower/bath, or what I grew up calling “a shath.” Again, I turned my back on him for no less than twenty seconds. When I looked back at him he was saying, “Daddy. Big poop.”

I looked at the bottom of the bathtub, near his feet where a giant log of crap sat deterioting in the shower water. “No problem,” I said to him. “Next time sit on the toilet longer.”

While Regina was watching Bono and The Edge prance around TCF in the rain, I picked up a fecal brick with my bare hand and tossed it into the toilet. Then we washed up.

This, is fatherhood.

In other news I can’t sleep at all and have been working on my novel in longhand, which prevents me from wasting time on the Internet. I’m still working my way through Louise Erdrich’s The Bingo Palace and looking forward to Moby-Dick, which I will be studying in the fall (a James Galvin led seminar – Yes!)

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This summer has flown by. Even with the withering heat and humidity, the days seem to race by. Everything has been easy and fluid – no forced sorties down to Ioway. No grading papers. No requisite workshop letter-writing. No emails to answer from students. Just pleasant mornings with Henry. Cereal and milk and oatmeal and peanut-butter toast (pop-up). Long neighborhood walks to playgrounds or trips to the pool. Lunches in downtown Minneapolis with Regina. Weekends in Eau Claire. Things are idyllic.

Today my friend Marcus Burke called and he asked whether or not I was dreading the return to Iowa. “Dread” is a strong word. There aren’t many times in your adult life when you get the opportunity to return to school. To meet new friends, learn from great professors, and have all the access to great writing resources that we have at Iowa. And I do miss my friends and my routine down there. But I think the driving will be more difficult this year. The novelty of it (driving) will be gone, and that scares me. I never felt tired behind the wheel last year and I was lucky with the road conditions. By all rights, I should have slid into the ditch about a half dozen different trips – but I never did. I’ve never had a speeding ticket or an accident, and I feel like I’ve been fortunate with those odds too. Above all, I’m looking forward to my next workshop, and pressure to produce on a regular basis. I’m looking forward to reading my friends’ newest works.

The headline of this post is “To Be Two.” Henry celebrated his second birthday in style with pile of loot, some cupcakes, pizza, and a trip to the Children’s Museum in Saint Paul. It was a great day. And I’m pleased to report that as each day passes, he seems to be more and more of a boy. Eagerly listening to books being read, joking, teasing, curious about the world, playing, speaking more, and just generally honing who he seems to be. How miraculous! As a little family, I can’t say that we’ve ever been happier.

Presently reading Louise Erdrich’s “The Bingo Palace.” Just finished John Grisham’s “The Testament.”

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Last week, settling down in front of my laptop, trying to think of some kind of Facebook status update, I thought I know these roads like the back of my hands. But I’m becoming tired of Facebook, so I didn’t write anything at all. Then, on Friday, back in the car and driving north to Minnesota, the highway stretched out before me like a spool of black tape, I thought What a perfect expression! That’s my new favorite expression!

Because ALL I DO IS LOOK AT THE BACKS OF MY HANDS. For ten hours a week, driving, the road so familiar I could draw you a map from Arden Hills, Minnesota to Iowa City, Iowa – every little hill, farm, rest stop, river, casino, truck stop, pasture, forest, grain silo… Also, as a writer, you’re always staring at your hands. Waiting for them to move, to create something.

Today marks the last time I need to drive south for several months. We visit Iowa City in June for the big reunion, but otherwise, I wouldn’t have to come back at all until August.

In other news:

Completed William Maxwell’s “So Long, See You Tomorrow” – incredible. Presently reading Anthony Doerr’s “The Shell Collector.”

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Alright, I’ve been away from Light Travels Faster Downhill for a period now approaching two months. I have some good reasons:

1.) I’ve been thinking about my stories. A lot. As in, staying up at night, laying in bed, wrestling with imaginary characters and invisible plot lines, etc. In the last three weeks and specifically in four very trying days I completed my longest short story/novella yet; another story about a wedding in the Upper Midwest that presently spans about 57 pages.

This is very good news for me as a writer because to me it indicates that I’m stretching out ideas, developing characters more and settling into scene. The new story is rough (it debuts in Workshop next Tuesday), but I’m very proud of it. It combines elements of a story that my brother-in-law Reidar told me about, the wedding of my friends Chuck & Shannon, and remembrances of my childhood and my father.

2.) I’m beat. I’m exhausted. I’m tired of driving, tired of being away from Henry and Regina. Tired of spending ten hours behind the wheel when I could, when I ought to be doing SOMETHING, anything, productive. I’m really just dog-tired. About two weeks ago I left Minnesota on Monday afternoon and Henry began SOBBING, clinging to me like a little koala bear. It was heartbreaking. I had to wonder if it was borderline traumatic, how much he understands about my current schedule and our lives. I have so much to be thankful for in terms of the Writer’s Workshop, but at the same time, I’m also ready to be coming down the home stretch.

3.) I began wondering about this blog, its pertinence. WHY (?) am I writing blog and who am I writing it for? For myself? For friends and family? I just began rolling those questions around in my head. The truth is, I’m not sure questioning a project like this is really worthwhile. Some of my friends and relatives seem to get a kick out of it, so I’m going to keep maintaining it (this blog.) At the very least, it keeps me writing something.

4.) I’ve received dozens of rejections in the last few months and that has become a little depressing. I’ve also had some nice successes, but I think I’m the kind of person/writer who dwells on the failures to fuel his successes. If that makes sense.

So anyway, I’ll try to be more diligent.

Went to the doctor today. He seemed satisfied with my health though, they’re going to remove a mole from my back next week. So there’s that. Also, today in class, we read a poem written in 1993. I said to my students, “That doesn’t seem like so long ago to me, but I suppose its been eighteen years of pretty interesting American history. A lot has changed.”

To which one of my students said, “I was born in 1993.”

I began laughing hysterically and pulling at my thinning hair.

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Tomorrow (Tuesday March 1st) PBS will be filming our workshop. That is to say, Sam Chang’s workshop; twelve students including myself.

The class is always conducted in the most dramatic of the Workshop’s spaces: a room with a great circular table and expansive views of the Iowa River. In the early evenings crows gather by the hundreds or thousands and blacken out the crowns of nearby trees. Their noises are loud, even through the windows. Other nights, hawks and bald eagles wheel past our classroom.

PBS was also recently filming my friend Marcus Burke. His apartment, how he writes and where, his walk home. I’m so happy for him – you couldn’t BUY that kind of exposure – and he deserves it all. Mark my words: you will know the name of Marcus Burke in the coming years. He’s well on his way.

So, we’ll have to see how things go. Will cameras affect how we deal with one another? Will the two writers who “are up” get an honest shake? What will happen will people stop being polite and start getting real?

Ha. No, tomorrow will be cool. No where else in the world would this happen but at the Iowa Writer’s Workshop.

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Come Monday, I’ll be back on the road. Driving south down to Ioway. What a terrific month it has been. I am ready to get back to my studies, my teaching, my writing, my reading, my friends, and my academic routine. But a month at home with Henry has been amazing. I am already excited for the summer when the weather will obviously be more hospitable and we can take long walks, go swimming, etc.

Netflix has certainly disrupted my nightly writing patterns, but after a month of watching at least a movie a day (and sometimes two or three), I’ve gotten back into my groove. I finished (or lengthened) a novella the other night and I’ve been cranking out some poems that I really like. Now I just need to find some homes for these writings.

In any case, Saturday night we’re headed to a dinner party and I’ll be rooting on the Green Bay Packers. Hopefully, Sunday morning won’t be a bad comedown.

PS – Over the break I read “This Is Just Exactly Like You” by Drew Perry, and I’m giving that novel my endorsement here. For me, it was akin to reading a more youthful Richard Russo. I also just finished reading the short story “We Have A Pope!” by Christopher Buckley – excellent.

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