Posts Tagged ‘New Starts’

And So Begins the Balancing Act…

The first week of school is over, and I’m always surprised about the weight that has lifted from me once I meet all my new students for the semester.  It’s a good type of stress, really, but stress nevertheless, and I’m always relieved to get that first week under my belt.

Now, comes the hard part.  A question that is always discussed on blogs and in columns is how to find the time to write.  I admit that I don’t have kids, but I still have a heavy teaching load at a community college, so my full-time job does take a lot of time and energy.  This is not a complaint: I love my job and feel very lucky.  Still, during the school year, I have to make time to write in a busy schedule and that is not always easy.  This semester is going to be especially challenging, because I have a mixed schedule — I’m teaching morning, afternoon, and evening classes and thus my free time is a bit different every day.  I used to write early in the mornings, but on some days, I won’t be able to do that.  However, this semester, I’m not teaching on Fridays, so I will have my Friday mornings free — which is the first time in all my years of college teaching including my years as an adjunct.

Looking at my schedule, I don’t believe having a set time each day is going to work for me.  Instead, I’ve been thinking a lot about my Newswriting and Editing course and its syllabus.  In my life before a college professor (sometime in there between retail and factory work), I was a reporter for a small town newspaper.   As a reporter, I didn’t live by finding time to write — writing was my job.  Instead, I lived by deadlines.

I’m thinking that may be the way I should approach my writing life in the next few months.  Many submission periods and contests have deadlines, and making those deadlines should be a goal for me.  Better yet, in my notebook, I plan on setting five writing goals (attainable goals — sometimes I have very lofty goals and then I get upset with myself when I don’t complete them) for each month, and working towards those goals or “making the deadline” a phrase I’m going to use in my Newswriting and Editing course.

So, what is my first deadline?  Proofread a set of galleys and email an editor about a wayward review.  Sounds easy enough, right?


Back to School

Classes start tomorrow, and I’m excited for the new semester to begin!  Of course, this week will bring the stress of the usual first days of the semester including copier breakdowns, lost students, and class roster anxieties (between advising and teaching, I will meet over 200 students this week, and by the end of the week it will seem that most of my students are named Ashley, Brittany, or Michael).  Once this week is over, the semester will fall into a somewhat settled routine, where I can find my office computer beneath the stray registration slips and copies of syllabi, and I can catch up on emails and course lecture material.

Today, Anthony and I are going out and about to enjoy a beautiful Sunday (And yes, the weather always gets beautiful, once school begins!)

Hello September!

Saying hello to September means also saying goodbye to the summer.  I won’t dwell on what got done and what didn’t get done in the last few months.  Instead, I want to reset my goal of trying to submit to 10 journals per month.  I know that will be a bit tricky, but I’m going to try.  I also have a few books left over from the summer that I want to read as soon as the start-of-the-new-school-year craziness stops.

I am  leaving the summer behind while laughing a bit about the writing life.  I often go weeks without hearing anything — no acceptances, no rejections, no notes from writing friends.   And yep, one day this past week, I left my email account for three hours, and when I came back and logged on, I had a request for my chapbook, a thanks for my chapbook, an acceptance and a nice rejection.  Go figure.

In other news, the AWP panel I was on didn’t get accepted, so now I have to make a decision about AWP.  I’ve never been.  And I love Boston.   But it’s an expensive trip and while I do get some travel funding from the school, a trip to AWP will wipe out that funding.  And I will be traveling during the weird winter/slushy/icy time of the year, which can be problematic.

Still, I love Boston.

Back to School

Tomorrow, I’m back in the classroom.  It’s been a bit crazy the last few days — I’ve been preparing for my regular classes plus working on a new course I have never taught before.  Furthermore, I’ve been trying to finish up some summer projects, including writing two book reviews.  (Why, when I have the whole summer, do I wait until the last-minute to finish things? Could it be that I really do work best under pressure?) I’m ready to settle into a schedule, both a classroom and a writing schedule. I’m ready to get back into the groove.


I always find the first week of classes exhausting — not because I enter new classes underprepared, but because of the number of new faces I see and the number of new people I meet.  This past week, I probably met over 200 people (between classes and advising).  I can understand why new students often look a bit dazed at the end of their first week.

Still, I’m looking forward to finding the semester’s routine again.  Somehow, this week, I managed to revise three poems and write a brand new poem! I’m trying to keep a target goal of submitting to at least ten journals a month, and so far, I have only submitted to five, so I know I have a lot of work to do before the end of January.

Finding Routine

I can not believe that tomorrow is September 1! Yes, summer flew by.  And yes, the start of the semester has been crazy, but I’m into the second week of classes so I should be well into my routine.  But I’m not quite there yet.

I have had a few poets come into my life (at readings, through workshops) who have told me that I couldn’t possibly be a poet and keep up the heavy teaching load expected at a community college.  These poets have nice jobs at big name universities with a teaching load of maybe one or two classes (upper level) a semester.  I didn’t get mad at their observations — I was only a bit dumbfounded.  I still am.  Have they looked at the local job market?  Do they know what their students will do for future jobs (especially if they are teaching future poets?)?  Have they looked at past poetry history where poets did many types of “jobs”? 

I’m lucky that I have many poets in my life who never question my career choices.  (Actually, most poets I have run into are supportive of my work).  And I’m also lucky that I have a job I enjoy and learn from everyday.  Yes, I do have a heavy schedule, but in today’s world,  I’m happy to have any schedule at all. 

As for writing?  A writer writes.  A writer finds time.  Hopefully, a writer finds routine.  And as soon as I can find my desk, which is cluttered with schedules, and syllabi and student rosters, I know I will find that routine.

Two More Days

I’m back to work this Thursday and I start classes on Monday (a week from today).  I’ve spent the day organizing my desk (how come offices don’t clean themselves over the summer?) and revising my syllabi and class plans for the new school year.  As I was reviewing my notes, I realized that I revise my work for class in the same way that I revise my poems.  I think I may be one of the last poets who still does a lot of her drafting/revising/editing on paper before moving to the computer screen.  I draft all my poems on notebook paper or in small Dollar Store Journals.  I draft my class plans and schedules on notebook paper.  In all cases, I use a lot of scribbles and arrows. I love colored pens (purple is my favorite).  Somehow, I like the messiness of it all!

This week, besides preparing for the new year, I will be enjoying the last days of summer.  I will most likely return to my regularly scheduled blogging by the weekend.

2011 Firsts

So school has started.  With the start of school comes new faces, new books, new syllabi…I have been teaching for over ten years now, and I still have trouble sleeping the night before I face a brand new class of students.  I’m glad that now I can settle into a life of routine — an imperfect routine, nevertheless, but a routine. 

Besides first days of new classes, I also faced other “firsts” this past week.  I got my first two rejections of the year.  I sent out a lot of submissions this past fall, and only heard back from four journals (two acceptances, two rejections).  So, I guess editors of a few poetry journals must have waited until after the holidays to clean off their desks.

However, I did get some good news in the mail this week.  Because of a mailing mishap, I received my contributor’s copy of Harpur Palate a bit late.  But I have to say that it was worth the wait.  My poem “Ways of Writing About Rust” joined other works by such fine poets as Sara Tracey, Doug Ramspeck (note to self: please pick up a collection by Ramspeck), and Stephanie Kartalopoulos.  While I have not read the prose pieces in this issue, I have to say that the poetry selection was wonderful.

Brit Lit & New Bookcases

For most of the week I have been back in the office — JCC has had advising days, assessment days, clean your office before classes start days (okay — that last day was not an “official” back to work day — but I need to go through the two big piles on my desk so I can at least find my textbooks for the new semester).  I have also put the finishing touches on my British Literature II course for the spring semester.  It has been years since I have taught this class (7 years — to be exact — I looked it up!) As many of you know, this kind of class is a survey class — a bit of everything from Romantic poetry to today’s British literature.  It’s almost impossible to fit everything in that I want to teach.  So goodbye, The Importance of Being Earnest (I just couldn’t fit it in…) and hello “The Goblin Market” by Christina Rossetti (good stuff here).  And of course, there’s so many others..Tennyson, Arnold, Woolf, the list goes on and on…

The other big news of the week?  I purchased two brand new furniture store bookcases.  For years, I always got my bookcases from Big Lots or Kmart , and I put them together myself.  The only problem is that no matter what I did — they always sort of leaned to one side.  So I finally splurged.  The new cases house my complete poetry collection, and although I don’t have any official count of how many poetry books I do have, it has to be over 500.

So now it’s back to the books — and not the bookcases.  Classes start Tuesday, and I still have some reading to do before the first day.

Of rainbows and butterflies

I saw a rainbow this morning as I was driving to work.  The first thing I thought was Wow, I haven’t seen a rainbow in a long time.  The second thing I thought was How can I get this image into a poem?

Well, as you all know, I probably won’t ever put this image into a poem — a rainbow is one of the dangerous, melodramatic, sentimental image that writers try to avoid.  It ranks up there with butterflies and sunsets.  And another image that I have added to my Do Not Use list for students: the full moon (inspired in part, probably, from the Twilight series).  These are words you want to avoid in your poetry, I tell my students.

Still, a few years ago, when I presented said list to my students, I had a young woman prove me wrong. She wrote a stunning poem about a butterfly collection, complete with thin tissue-like wings, stickpins, and cigar boxes.  Graphic and detailed, the poem reflected her relationship with her brother who had died at a young age. 

It was a beautiful poem.  And I was proved wrong.

As a teacher (and it seems that teachers get slammed in so many different ways today), I love it when my students break the rules of writing and it works.  (so many times, of course, it doesn’t exactly work)  Rules are supposed to be broken, my students sometimes tell me.  I respond that Yes, but you need to understand the rules before you break them.

This young woman understood the rules.  She understood the cliché of the beautiful butterfly.  And she turned the cliché upside down.

That is what I wish for my students: the strength to turn the world upside down, and the knowledge to understand when it is appropriate to do so.

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