Category Archives: tango

My end of 2015 homework

This end of the year assessment is an interesting one for me. I started doing this six years ago, at Jamey’s prompting and now it’s one of my favorite ways to wrap up each year.

In the past, I often haven’t wanted the year to end and I’ve been anxious about the coming year.  The last few years have been really tricky and challenging, so I’ve been eager to start fresh. I feel really calm about 2016, even though my upcoming birthday is almost simultaneous with the beginning of both a month of Mercury Retrograde and a Jupiter Retrograde (which is going to be interesting, I understand from reading my horoscope).

All that is to say that while I haven’t achieved everything I’d hoped to achieve this year (see: the last item on the list), I’m still satisfied with my year. A friend asked me tonight what my resolutions are for 2016 and I realized that my only resolution is to continue doing what I’m doing and, in some cases, more of it.

1) I learned a lot about blogging and even met a lot of amazing bloggers. I just didn’t blog. If you count *this* post, I only updated three times this year, which is the total number of posts I published in December 2014. It wasn’t intentional and I felt really bad about it at first. And then I just stopped, posting and feeling bad. I decided to do it again when it felt right, when I had a better sense of what I wanted the blog to be in the future. And, in the meantime, I Tweeted a ton. It started to feel like poetry to me, the opportunity to quickly be creative within a rigid structure (limited characters). I hope to use Goodreads more regularly in 2016, because I would like to continue writing my fun, crazy subjective book reviews. I read a lot of great books this year.

2) My once-temporary apartment became permanent. At the beginning of 2015, I thought I’d be moving for the 3rd time since 2013 and I was pretty miserable about it. I’d fallen in love with my place and my neighborhood.

I’ve made a cozy, impermanent, perfect little home here for myself and while I’ll probably have to move again soon, I know now that I absolutely love Mid City…

I went so far as to look at a ton of apartments and while none of them was right, I thought I’d have to pick one. And then, on my birthday, a reprieve. It was pretty amazing timing. Since then, I’ve finally settled in completely, hanging mirrors, hooks and cork boards, buying a bookcase and filling it up with books that had been in storage for a year. I downsized to a smaller storage unit and while the majority of my books are still there, I’m now “all in” on my place.

3) My mission to cook more and eat healthier continued. If you need proof, my Twitter feed is evidence. It’s filled with food photos, love letters to cast iron skillets, longing notes about breadboxes. I became ravenous for avocados and beets, two foods almost unknown to my diet previously. Cooking and preparing meals became my main form of entertainment as well as a resolution for better health. A good friend moved last year and gave me a bunch of her kitchen stuff and I endeavored to use it. When the sweet amazing couple who I bought bread from every week at the market left town, the baker taught me how to make bread. Suddenly, I was baking my own bread every week, bringing a loaf (pic below) to every gathering of friends and taking serious pleasure from feeding the people I care about. There’s nothing like it.

Another friend visited early in the year, scoped the contents of my fridge and said, kinda judgey and suspicious, “What’s up with all the green stuff in your fridge?” I was thrilled. And so here you go, a pic of my fridge from a few days ago, way more green than earlier in the year. To round out the photos, a  “skinny cheesecake parfait” (mine is made with minced cranberries instead of strawberries) I just made with the mixer I got for Christmas.

4) I jettisoned broken things or any experience or relationship that didn’t work for me anymore. Including a job that was making me miserable. A grudge that kept me from walking into a place I’d once loved. I lovingly laid to rest painful “what-ifs” about past relationships. And the real biggie – I worked on giving up habits that weren’t serving me or were actively hurting me.

5) I challenged myself to do things that made me anxious or uncomfortable. Liiike, a friend gave me a VIP pass for Jazz Fest and I used it to go see Lenny Kravitz by myself – which is terrifying because I have trouble with crowds. Gotta say, the VIP access was huge in making it possible, but it was definitely still a challenge.

An editor of an amazing publication expressed interest in my writing and I sent work not once, but twice. I talked myself through a mid-flight panic attack. I binged the first 5 seasons of The Walking Dead and then read the comics and started watching every week, even though I’m a total wuss and almost never watch scary stuff. After years of being intrigued by this show, I just dove in and became a huge fan. Instead of letting panic or anxiety control my decisions, I let the things I loved, or wanted to love, guide me.

6) I focused on the people I was with and/or what I was doing at any given time. Meaning, my cell phone was in my bag or turned screen-down when I was hanging out or taking a meeting. I left the phone in the other room a lot. I gave myself permission not to answer if I was writing or decompressing. But I also returned calls more regularly and enjoyed Skype sessions with folks I love who are far away. I was thoughtful about how I spent my time, and with whom. And I was lucky enough to witness so many of my friends and colleagues achieve wonderful success this year, to be fully present when it happened.

7) I traveled even more this year. A 36-hour whirlwind of a trip to Portland for ValenTango (where I also got to visit with my brother). Atlanta for work and for dancing. Then, New York kept coming up (Anne and Hiro’s joint gallery show, their NYC debut!, a new tango friend who offered to host me). I haven’t been for years and in the past, I would’ve been practical and skipped it, but this year, I gave myself a trip to NYC as a present. I had an amazing time dancing and catching up with Anne and basically living at Google’s offices for the first day and a half (the cafeteria exceeds every legend you might’ve heard). I made new friends while I was there and had a random adventure going to see Karl Ove Knausgard at The Strand with one of them. I longed to go to NYC, so I made it happen. And it was fantastic.

8) (cont’d) Travel Pt II. I made a pilgrimage to a Tennessee mountaintop with Peauxdunque and on the way, stopped by Memphis to catch up with Jamey.

And then another whirlwind tango trip – this one 23 hours in Dallas to dance, catch up with great friends and celebrate the holidays.

9) Speaking of tango. For the second year, I assisted with the New Orleans Tango Festival, which has become, for me personally, a tango family reunion every year. More and more, I appreciate catching up with friends I might not get to see but once a year (if that) and to measure my growth against the last time we danced together. Check out this recap video (you can even see me about 27 seconds in):

And this year was even more special because of the time I got to spend with the ladies of La Bailonga Tango (+ Giovanni Parra), a Colombian tango band that came to Nola for the Festival. We had so much behind-the-scenes fun: getting them to their radio and tv appearances and trying to communicate in both English and Spanish (and oddly, French, which kept popping out when I tried to speak Spanish). I will treasure the experience!

We started working on 2016 very soon after this year’s festival was finished and I’m excited to do it again.

10) I threw myself into a new job, a new career. One that I really, really love. No matter how exhausting and challenging the day is, I end each one entirely satisfied by the opportunity to use my exceptionally diverse job history and my creativity while learning new things, every day. This job is bringing me balance and stability, but even so it’s also forcing me to face my struggle with change head-on. What is this job, you ask? I work at the library. It kinda seems like the obvious path for me, in hindsight.

11) (cont’d – this is worth 2 spots) So obvious that I was probably running from it. I realized that I was afraid of at least two things: a stable 9-5 career and also doing something I loved for a living. What if working at the library ruined what has always been my safe haven, my happy place? (This is the “don’t work at your favorite restaurant” theory). And, the biggie, what if career satisfaction removed all of my motivation to write? Luckily…

12) I wrote with more dedication and playfulness than ever before. For most of the year, I woke up a few hours early in order to write before work! I’d estimate that 2/3rds of the year, I went out of my way and made time for writing. Thanks to several months playing around with a novel about zombies (during the miserable job) and once again to NaNoWriMo in November, I looked forward to my writing sessions. I was light-hearted in a way I haven’t been in a long, long time.

13) I published. A short short story in Like a Girl pre-show supplement. A short piece of advice. More author profiles and book pieces for 225 Magazine. Several small business profiles for Gambit Weekly. An essay in the Scars Anthology. This last one is closely tied to #14 below…

14) I “appeared” more times this year than in the previous three years combined. I hadn’t read my work publicly for about 5 years before that, so this was huge.

A lot of the opportunities I had this year were because Maurice and I were promoting Scars locally. I’ve been so thrilled to share the experience with him and to be included in such a fabulous anthology. It was inspiring to get a tiny taste of what it’s like to publish and promote your work.

I got to have a book release at Garden District Bookshop, where I used to work, to share a stage with authors Jami Attenberg and MO Walsh at the Louisiana Book Festival and then to “work” at Octavia Books alongside authors Claudia Gray and Wayne Curtis for Small Business Saturday

After these experiences – I’m even more determined now.

15) I didn’t finish the novel by the end of the year, like I hoped I would. But I will finish it. After years of working on this novel and trying to put it aside and move on, I finally *know* that I will finish it, soon.

The best analogy I’ve ever heard about writing a novel is that it’s like building a boat in the middle of the ocean, no land in sight. I’ve spent more than 10 years with mirages of land or no hope of ever seeing it again. And now, there, not too far away, I see land ahead. I know where I’m going and that the journey is almost over.

A friend posted today about “done lists,” vs. “to-do lists.” I like that idea a lot. It immediately resonated. I think that’s what I’ve been doing these last few years. A list to remind myself of everything I’ve done, since it can be so easy to forget the sea of never-ending to-dos.

Can you see why I’m satisfied with 2015? It’s been pretty amazing. 2016 is gonna be even more so, I can feel it. Happy New Year, y’all.

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Filed under art, book news, Community Events & Forums, freelance work, Friends, Louisiana, Media, music, musing, NaNoWriMo, New Orleans, tango, writing updates

My end of 2014 homework

This is the fifth time I’ve wrapped up the year with some homework, originally assigned by Jamey in 2010. This is my chance, as the year winds down, to reflect on the past and plot the future, to remind myself everything that’s happened and everything I’ve achieved. It’s become my favorite new year tradition.

The 14 Struggles and Successes of 2014

1. I re-read. This time last year, the Re-Reading Project was a scribbled note at the back of my journal. After deciding to re-read 12 influential titles (all originally read before the age of 16), I stuck with it and, throughout the year, I re-read 21 books and 10 friends joined me, writing essays about books that are important to them. I didn’t finish my planned book for December, the only title from the original 12 that wasn’t re-read this year. However, I consider the Project a smashing success because of all of the amazing experiences I’ve had re-reading and all of the tremendous guest essays. Plus, as I suspected, re-reading pushed me to read more. Last year, I read 67 books and this year, I’ve read over 100. And it looks like I’m going to continue it next year, with a different handful of titles.

2. I moved for the second time in six months. This time, I moved to a brand new part of town. I’d always said (and thought) that I hated Mid City, because I inevitably got lost around here and I have a great sense of direction. From day one living here, I stopped getting lost and started finding my way in multiple senses. I’ve made a cozy, impermanent, perfect little home here for myself and while I’ll probably have to move again soon, I know now that I absolutely love Mid City and it’s been an invaluable lesson.

3. I applied for writing residencies and submitted my work like it was a full time job. Because it was, for the first time, my main job. I even got all organized and efficient about it, too.  (I gave up my t.v. in this second move and hardly missed it, I was so busy reading and writing).

4. I ate and cooked healthier. This has been a slow process, several years in the making, but I had a few conversations last year with tango dancers about juicing and hypoglycemia that pretty much pulled everything together for me. I read a few books that blew my mind. And I started eliminating as much sugar and processed food from my diet as I could on a limited budget and without the energy and time to change everything completely. It started with small changes (no sugar in coffee, especially the sugary iced coffees I love) that grew into bigger changes (lots more veggies, mindful of “sugary” fruits, more nuts and grains). I’m now a regular at the closest farmer’s market to my house, I make most of my meals at home and I’ve noticed that cutting down my sugar intake has made me taste and enjoy food so much more. So when I do eat some sugar, it’s a real treat. Sometimes, it’s hard and I really have to make sure I eat small meals/snacks regularly or I crash badly (but this was always true, I just didn’t know how to manage it). The end result is I’m healthier than I’ve maybe ever been and I’m still working to be healthier.

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5. I read the first chapter of my memoir at Peauxdunque’s  second Yeah, You Write, alongside amazing writers.

6. I assisted with the organizing of the New Orleans Tango Festival, which was an exceptional, educational, entertaining experience. I got to meet, dance with and just hang out with so many incredibly talented dancers. Next year’s festival is already gearing up and I am so excited, even though it’s still six months away! Opportunities like this one really helped make me a better dancer this year.

7. I traveled a lot this year. I went twice to D.C. and got to dance at two different milongas. I spent more time in Atlanta and got to take lessons with teachers there. I danced in Philadelphia and in the middle of nowhere on a airfield. I even spent more time in Baton Rouge. While all of the trips weren’t necessarily motivated by tango, I managed to dance wherever I went. All of this travel, while related to the turmoil of this year in many ways, reminded me how much I really love visiting different cities, the openness it brings to my life. I want to make travel a priority in the future. Until D.C., I hadn’t flown in a few years and I haven’t been out of the country since 2007, so I think that’s gotta change soon.

8. I attended an artists residency, Soaring Gardens. I wrote about this quite a bit on the blog, so I’ll keep this one short. Except to say that my month staying at Soaring Gardens with the artist Anne Canfield was everything I needed and utterly transformative.

9. I “lost” NaNoWriMo. This year’s novel was a silly and fun murder mystery that came to me while I was in Pennsylvania. I was excited to write it, but it never came together. I only wrote a few thousand words on that project, but I’ll never consider this NaNoWriMo (or any other) a failure. I always learn something trying to write 50,000 words in a single month. This is why I totally won this year: during November, I started waking up at 6 or 6:30 a.m. to write for a half hour, 40 minutes, an hour, before work. I wrote over 10,000 new words on the memoir. I kicked ass during those early morning writing sessions, getting more done in an hour than I’ve gotten done in whole days set aside to write. What’s even better is that I’m still writing for an hour most mornings.

10. I finally got meditation. Meditation has always been something I understand would be good for me, but it’s been a recipe to fail in the past. I meditated a little, though not formally, while at the residency. Mostly, I journaled like crazy and spent a lot of time in my own head, sitting still outside. In November, while I was *not writing* my murder mystery for NaNoWriMo, I also completed a meditation challenge. It finally clicked for me this go-round and I had a breakthrough about what meditation looks/feels like and how it can help me.

11. I worked on my novel again and while it’s still unfinished (those pesky last 30 pages of the third draft are killer), it’s in very good shape. Meanwhile, I’ve made some great progress with the memoir this year. I blogged more than I have in a long time and published a few reviews and interviews. And, a short essay I wrote will be published in an anthology. I’m looking forward to seeing all of my work in a tangible form that can be shared.

12. I asked for help. I’m not good at this or, I haven’t been in the past. It was very, very hard, but when it looked like I wouldn’t be able to go to the residency, instead of giving up, I launched a GoFundMe campaign. I was utterly blown away by the generosity and support I received. Even when people couldn’t donate anything or much, their notes of encouragement bolstered me. Beyond the fundraising campaign, I’ve received so much help this year (financial, emotional, physical) and after I decided to stop being a basket case about it, I started to accept it as graciously as I could, because everything this year would have been harder or impossible without the help I received.

13. I survived. Historically, I have not managed change well. 2014 was full of transitions, a constantly shifting field. Most of it was positive. Several changes were incredibly sad. Good, bad, positive, sad, it was a lot. I moved for the second time in six months and spent the whole year uncertain how long I’d stay, not just in my apartment, but in New Orleans itself. I fell in love and while the relationship didn’t work out, it changed everything. I wrote my first poem in almost a decade and started journaling hardcore again. I attended two funerals, the first of my life, and I worked hard to support people I cared about through their grief. I freelanced and took on a new role as a salesperson, but I didn’t work on a single movie, though I considered positions on two huge films. My sister’s second son was born, as were the children of friends in the tango community. Three of my friends’ 12 year old sons are now taller than me (no matter how much I grow as a person, I’m just not physically getting any taller). Friends graduated, got married, changed jobs, left town. This year, I struggled to survive all of the changes. Next year, I look forward to thriving. I have ideas and dreams and I’m working on making them plans and realities.

14. I put my writing first. While I’ve never actually given up my writing or stopped completely, I’ve let jobs, relationships, living situations, etc. structure my life and then I fit my writing in between whatever else seemed like a bigger priority at the time. This was the year, for better or for worse, that I decided that my writing, my own goals and plans, had to establish the structure of my life and everything else needs to support my writing. It was really messy and difficult, but I know it was a lesson worth learning. Where I live, who I love and spend time with, what I do to make money, none of this can change who I am: a writer. So all my decisions from now on are going to be made with that in the forefront.

2013 was a rough year and 2014 was, if anything, even rougher. But in the midst of the struggle, as Maurice recently reminded me, is the sublime. I’m ending 2014 stronger than I started it, confident and determined. I’m ready to let go of 2014 and very excited for 2015.

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Filed under Atlanta, Baton Rouge, family, food, freelance work, Friends, musing, NaNoWriMo, New Orleans, tango, The Re-Reading Project, The Residency Road Trip, travel

The Residency Road Trip: Atlanta and the road home

There was a bustle of activity as Anne, Hiro and I all got ready for our various days. And then I set off for Atlanta. It’s about a twelve hour drive, but it took me waaaay longer. First, there was rush hour traffic. Then, I had to stop regularly to stretch and charge my phone and eat. Trips like this are definitely marathons, not sprints. On the way, I listened to a very long audiobook which was thankfully very engrossing. Still, I was pretty wrecked by the time I arrived in Atlanta and I felt like I’d sleep for two days straight (minimum).

But I only slept for maybe 10 hours. That’s all. When I woke up, one of my first stops was to the local library, the one I’ve been going to since I was a kid. It’s kind of a tradition to go by during most visits. Over the next few days I worked, ran errands with my mom, read and watched a lot of t.v. A lot. The fall season started while I was away at the residency and I don’t have a t.v. at home, so I took full advantage of the fancy On Demand. Mums and I went by two great bookshops we love and at one of them, I saw the books of not one but two friends of mine from Louisiana:

Amy Connor's The Right Thing

Amy Conner’s The Right Thing

Ronlyn Domingue's The Mercy of Thin Air

Ronlyn Domingue’s The Mercy of Thin Air

 

 

 

 

 

I made the apples in whiskey over ice cream dessert and I’d brought some of the two pies Anne and I had made. Other than that, I enjoyed my mom’s great meals and didn’t cook at all.

Emilie + Ricardo

Milonga La Portena ATL And I went to tango, of course. At this point, I feel like I have many friends in the ATL tango community, but when I first started dancing there, I sought out a friend who’d moved there from Baton Rouge and I still enjoy dancing with him whenever I’m in town. Ricardo knows Kristin, the friend I ran into in Philadelphia (really, tango is a small world), so we took a photo together to send her (and technology makes it even smaller). Then, we were tagged in a photo dancing together (not sure to credit for the photo, but it was likely one of the organizers of Milonga La Portena, the event).

I thoroughly enjoyed my time in ATL and while I would’ve loved to keep dancing and relaxing there, it was beyond time to get home. All told, I’ve been gone about 6 weeks, which may be the longest I’ve been away from New Orleans since I moved here in 2007.

Luckily for me, the 8 hour drive felt like nothing after the extended 12+ drive to Atlanta. I left pretty early and listened to another audiobook on the way, so I was back in New Orleans in the afternoon. After unpacking the car, I ran a few errands and guess what one of my first stops was? If you thought, “the library,” you know me so well. As I unpacked all my bags and boxes from my journey, I watched a movie and settled back into my lovely apartment, so very glad to be back.

My first full day back in New Orleans, I was back at work and tango, and my first weekend home was spent attending intensive tango workshops with Carolina del Rivero and Donato Juarez. And, I’m settling into my kitchen, making some of my favorite meals from the residency:

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I’m getting caught up with everything and everyone, slowly but surely, while also trying to hold onto the writing and meditating habits I developed during my time away. It will take some time to find the right balance, but it feels good to be home. Looking forward to seeing what the rest of the year brings!

 

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Filed under Atlanta, musing, New Orleans, tango, The Residency Road Trip, travel

The Residency Road Trip Leg Three: Soaring Gardens to Philly

In my last update from Soaring Gardens, it was Day 28 and I was trying to both enjoy my last bit of time there and get on the road. I’d planned on being in Philadelphia by about 3 and I didn’t leave the house till after 3! I was running so late. There was so much to do and I ended up talking with Joanne when she arrived to work on the alle. Here’s a picture I took after locking up the house, just as I was about to get in the car and take off.

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I stopped to take some pictures on my way out, leaving by a different way than I’d come home from tango the night before, so I could say goodbye to all the sights. Swung by the post office to drop off some last postcards and then I was officially on my way.

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My drive through Meshoppen was enjoyable, but just as I was arriving on the outskirts of Tunkhannock, there was a long line of eighteen wheelers that were forced to go less than 20 mph because we were going down a steep incline. The rest of the trip went downhill from there, emotionally as well as geographically. After the logjam outside Tunkhannock, I was funneled through the wrong lane in a toll passage and many miles later, when I exited the interstate outside Philadelphia, I was asked for my ticket at a toll stand. But, I didn’t have one, so I had to pay the flat rate. I’m mostly over it by now, but I was pretty pissed at the time. All told, it definitely could’ve gone worse, but it wasn’t how I wanted my exit from idyllic, peaceful Soaring Gardens to go. It wasn’t an easy transition back to the real world.

However, I had a safe and welcoming place to land in Philadelphia. Returning to Anne’s house after our weeks together in creative isolation felt very comfortable and I enjoyed catching up with her husband Hiro, seeing how his month had gone since I’d last passed through town. We had a great dinner together, polished off a bottle of Malbec and then Anne and I decided to have a bake off. 🙂 Sort of. We’d meant to make apple pies while at Soaring Gardens, since we had all those apples, but there was never enough time. I make a mean apple pie and Anne has a killer family recipe, so we had a collaborative think tank night of apple pie making. Anne taught me how to make spectacular homemade pie crust, as well as a butter crumble top (ah-mayyy-zing) and I shared my secret apple pie ingredient. We both signed nondisclosure agreements first, of course.

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While the pies were baking there was, naturally, a cutthroat game of rummy. Which Anne won, of course. But I couldn’t be too sad because then there was pie.

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The next day, I had an early morning coffee meeting with photographer JJ Tiziou. Last year, around this time, JJ’s Kickstarter campaign, Everyone is Photogenic, was winding down. I heard about it via Upworthy and for me, JJ’s project was a perfect storm, distilling many of the personal and universal issues that were coming up as I began work on the dance memoir. I responded as both a writer working on a parallel project and as a human being who needed to hear this philosophy. I pledged support to the project and received backer updates from JJ that would drag feelings and thoughts straight out of my soul (any single one of these feelings and thoughts could’ve sparked a full-out essay). I started emails to JJ several times, but never sent them, feeling too shy. Unfortunately, the project didn’t get fully funded, but it was a game changer for me (and you can read on JJ’s blog all the things he’s learned and what’s happened since the project “failed”). I couldn’t stop talking about it and I would get occasional backer updates from JJ about his work.

Another project of his called How Philly Moves is about showcasing dancers in Philadelphia. A while back, I started to plot a tango-inspired road trip and one of the cities I had on my list was Philadelphia. If it all panned out, I thought I should visit with Damian Lobato and JJ. The road trip as I envisioned it didn’t work out, but the Residency Road Trip did and, coincidentally enough, I was going to spend time in Philly. So when Anne asked me if there was anything I wanted to do or see there, I said, “Dance tango, of course, and you know, there’s this photographer who lives there named JJ T–” She laughed and said, “I know JJ. You should definitely reach out.” There just wasn’t enough time on the way up and there was too many unknowns (I was driving for 12+ hours to get there). But knowing I’d come through Philly again and stay for a few days, Anne encouraged me to stop being shy. So, I did.

We met at an awesome spot called Milk & Honey Market where we had coffee and talked, about my time at Soaring Gardens with Anne, photography and writing, my dance memoir, tango and the gaze (in photography and dance). After all those unsent messages, I got to tell him, finally, how awesome I think Everyone is Photogenic is, both the project and the philosophy. JJ had a gift for me, some swag from the How Philly Moves project, which he’s doing a new iteration of (in case any of you live in Philly). And before he left for another appointment, JJ and I took a selfie together (technically, two):

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Later, JJ shared the second photo with the backers of the Everybody is Photogenic campaign and when we talked about the picture, I told him: “In the past, I might’ve cringed at it being made public, because my eyes are shut or any other reason I’d find to hate it. But, now…this is what I saw instead: I used to laugh just like that in photos when I was a kid all the time. That kind of laugh, for me, translates to being completely relaxed and in the moment and *not* thinking about how I look or how I should look, etc. So, I love the photo.”

I stayed behind at Milk & Honey to do some work for a few hours. And, enchanted with this vending machine, I bought a chapbook (“The Art of Destruction” by M. Elias Keller):

Book vending machine + self portrait

Book vending machine + self portrait

Day 29 late lunch

Day 29 late lunch

Back at the house, Anne and I made another meal together before we dispersed for the evening, one that’s become a favorite of mine. I’d decided to check out a class and practica with Lesley Mitchell and Kelly Ray. It was a serendipitous choice, made initially because Damian Lobato (who has taught several times in New Orleans) didn’t have a class on the night I was in town. I’d heard good things about Lesley and Kelly and I wanted to dance in the city, so I went for it. I couldn’t initially find the studio and was walked to the door by a woman I passed on the street and then I arrived at the same time as a tanguero, who led me upstairs and back into the studio. Like Blanche Dubois I, too, depend on the kindness of strangers. And I’ve always found that they are, generally, kind. Once I arrived in the class with the stranger who would soon be no stranger, but a dancer partner, I realized that the lady assisting Lesley was a friend of mine named Kristin, who I hadn’t realized had moved to Philadelphia. Small world, this global tango community. When the class was over, we squealed and hugged and it was wonderful to find a friendly face in a new place. She, Lesley and Kelly, as well as all the dancers at the class and practica, made me feel so very welcome. My dance stamina has been *ruined* by the last few weeks away from regular dancing, but they wouldn’t let me sit down! And they were such wonderful dancers that I just had to keep going. It was one of those lovely, satisfying tango evenings dancers live for.

I made my way back to Anne’s, thoroughly exhausted. And even though we were both tired and I had a long drive ahead the next day, we stayed up talking about our respective nights and played one last game of rummy (do I even need to tell you who won?). It was so nice and also a little sad. For the time being at least, our late night chats over a nightcap and rummy have come to an end. It was a nice ritual while it lasted and helped make the residency at Soaring Gardens everything that it was.

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The Residency Road Trip: Soaring Gardens Week Four

This is the last week at Soaring Gardens – at least this time around! I’m determined that I’ll come back at some point and work in this space again.

Day 22

Woke late and lingered with a book over breakfast. It was a mild, beautiful day, so I decided to spend time with the four Barnum & Bailey Ringling Brothers programs that I found here. Since I can’t take them with me, I took 100+ photos of each one, trying to archive the text and photos for my research down the line. They really are the perfect programs for my story, from 1977 and 1980-1982, giving me a good window into the circus that my characters inhabit, which I wasn’t alive yet to witness. Here’s the 1977 cover, to give you an idea:

1977 cover

I spent the afternoon re-reading an essay from my graduate school days, as part of prep for a fellowship application I’m finalizing. To take advantage of the last of the afternoon light, I took the nonfiction book I’m reading out to the hammock. The squirrels and chipmunks were jostling walnuts and apples from the trees and they were landing with loud plops all over the lawn, so I held the book over my head as I read, just in case.

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We’d agreed earlier to work through dinner again, so I had leftover beef stew and kept working on the fellowship application into the late evening (lots of pieces to puzzle out!). Around midnight, Anne and I had a whiskey nightcap and a meal of leftovers (the chicken curry and coconut rice, some cucumber and sauerkraut, raita).

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Day 22 late snack

Afterwards, we played my family’s rummy (I won) and regular rummy (Anne won, much closer game this time around). Tomorrow’s a big day, so we tried not to stay up too late.

Day 23

After breakfast, Anne and I headed off for our big day of adventure. You see, it’s her last day here at the house, so we decided we’d go visit some of our favorite places, take lots of pictures and eat lunch at a restaurant halfway to Tunkhannock. So, we got fully dressed, put makeup on and everything. Not exactly the first time this month, but a pretty rare occurrence lately. It was a beautiful day and as we drove to the orchard first, we both noticed that all of the leaves are changing colors! It’s like we were visited by Bob Ross in the night because it was suddenly Autumn! Riding shotgun, I was taking pictures like mad, but of course none of them do the day justice. However, you might enjoy this short video of what Anne and I encountered when we stopped the car to admire a herd of cows (I don’t know what made me start a video right then, but it ended up being perfect timing).

We had a field day at the orchard. I bought two half bushels of different kinds of apples (I’d bought a half peck last time and it hadn’t been nearly enough), plus gourds and peppers.  I might’ve only bought one kind of apple, but the savvy ladies at the orchard handed me an apple of a different type to try and after walking around eating it, I had to take some home with me. Anne spent time inspecting the pumpkins before getting a few to take home with her for Halloween decorations.

Pick one, before they turn into pumpkins! Um, wait...

Pick one, before they turn into pumpkins! Um, wait…

Afterwards, we went by Four Seasons again and had a grand conversation with Tina and the lady we’d met the last time we were in, about a fire we’d passed last time and the neighbors. Gossiping at the farm stand, just like we live here all the time! I scooped up some produce and meat for my last few meals here and we headed out.

Black and tan

Black and tan

Ginger cider

Ginger cider

So, after picking up postcards at The Fireplace last week, I just knew we had to come back for a meal. It’s like a German pub, all dark wood, fireplaces, curio decorations and, of course, beer. It was so strange to order food and let someone else cook it, after the last month of meals. Nice, but also weird. The food was good, as was the dessert we shared, a British toffee pie. Very, very rich. We were both incredibly sleepy by the time we got back and even a short nap didn’t help much. So, I went on a walk down the road, to capture some of the new red foliage. Compare this next picture to Day 11‘s and you’ll get an idea how much new red we’ve gotten lately.

Autumn has arrived!

Autumn has arrived!

During my walk, I heard gunfire, shotguns firing up over the ridge. Joanne said she suspected the neighbors were practicing, now that the season’s about the start. I assume she means deer. I told a friend recently that I wasn’t sure how I felt about guns, but I’m pretty sure that the people firing these guns have every intention of eating what they kill, or giving/selling it to people who will eat it, so that seems far less offensive than the gunfire I might hear in the city. It was very loud, though! The shots echoed back  down the ridge. It was quiet again, and getting dark as I headed back to the house.

After the walk, I was much more awake and went into the studio to get some work done. I finished my fellowship application and did a bunch of research for the next part of the book I’m writing, discovering something about my tango journey that I hadn’t realized before: I began dancing September 6th, 2011 (not in August, like I’d previously thought). So it’s been my tango anniversary month while I’ve been here at Soaring Gardens.

Our evening game of rummy was pretty wacky, with both of us getting weird hands and odd scores. She still won, though! Since it was our last night together here, we made a party of it and played pretty late.

Day 24

So, the morning was spent talking to Anne as she packed to leave and once I finally woke all the way up, I started cooking lunch for us. I grabbed green tomatoes from the garden and cooked them up with some greens and cooked some quinoa as well. Finally, I cooked an egg for myself since I knew Anne planned on eating the rest of the smoked herring (blech). It turned out to be a nice last meal together, here at the house.

Day 22 lunch

Day 24 lunch

After lunch, Anne hit the road. I puttered around and did some work for my job back home. Then, I went into the studio. At first, it was very sad to see it empty of all of Anne’s paintings and supplies. But the light was beautiful, so I decided to move all the furniture and make myself a bit more room to dance. I just had a blast dancing in the studio pretty much all afternoon. I also wrote and read a bit, soaking up the sun as it filled the space with light.

I went back to the house and made myself a meal of the last of the beef stew. I went outside to enjoy it and just then, started to feel lonely that Anne wasn’t there to share the meal. But as I contemplated my aloneness, the mower fired up on the other side of the house and I wasn’t alone anymore, as Dalton had arrived to mow all the lawns.

Day 24 solo dinner

Day 24 solo dinner

The last few nights, I’ve been trying to capture how beautiful the sunsets have been, mostly in vain. I think I might’ve finally managed to get one that conveys something of how gorgeous they are:

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In the evening, I watched the first episodes of Dancing with the Stars while I finished preparing the last round of “tokens of my thanks” that I’m sending out to the fundraiser contributors. And then it was time for solitaire!

Day 25 

Today, something very upsetting happened. I was upstairs getting ready for my day when there was suddenly a tremendous crash. It sounded like half the house was collapsing. I dashed downstairs to see what caused the sound, but nothing seemed amiss. And then, I realized what happened when I stepped out onto the back patio and saw a very large, very beautiful, very dead bird curled up under the window box by the table where we’ve eaten most of our meals this month. I spoke briefly with Burton, the jack of all trades around here, and he said he’d come later in the day to take the bird away. After asking how he would handle it, I told him I’d take care of it. After all, I’ve been pretty good at critter disposal in the past. I got the large shovel out of the garage and was completely undone by the process of getting the bird onto it. I burst into tears and sobbed the entire way down the alle and to the apple tree beyond it. But I was glad I had done it, once it was over. Such a shame and, weirdly reminiscent of one of the sections of the book in the dinner picture last night.

I spent the rest of the day in the studio: dancing, writing and reading. I finished two books today, both of which I’ve been reading for a while (I’ve been keeping a different book in most rooms of the house).

In the evening, I spent some time cooking my go-to comfort food: spaghetti. This was the second time I made my own meatballs this month and I think I’m never going back to pre-made meatballs again. The spaghetti I’ve made here has been the best I’ve ever made. It was, like most things I’ve cooked this month, very spicy (cherry peppers, Crystal).  I suppose that cooking spicy food has been my way of answering my homesickness.

Day 26 dinner

Day 25 dinner

After dinner, I had a Skype conversation with a friend, which I’d scheduled so I wouldn’t feel lonely after a full day and a half on my own. Then, I watched the second week’s episodes of Dancing with the Stars and played more solitaire (I lost some and I won some).

Day 26

Today, I danced, read and wrote in the studio. I also worked on a few things to smooth my transition back home.

Three colors of tomatoes

Three colors of tomatoes

Day 25 dinner

Day 26 dinner

In the evening, I used up the last of the orange tomato, most of the green tomatoes I’d picked from the vine on the patio and a red tomato and together with a cherry pepper and a jalapeno, part of a red onion and some cilantro, I made another salsa. This is now one of my favorite things to prepare. I seared the last pieces of salmon and made some quinoa and had a very tasty, spicy meal.

For dessert, I made one of my favorites from the month. I certainly have enough apples for it.

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I spent the evening reading and plotting one last surprise for the contributors of my GoFundMe campaign. To be revealed soon…

Day 27

As you can probably tell, the days are going a little faster here because there’s less to distinguish them from each other. Even more so because I’m eating leftovers and haven’t had a conversation with another person for about 48 hours straight.

Today is my last full day at Soaring Gardens, so I spent most of the morning and early afternoon walking around, taking pictures of everything. Including, this photo shoot for my “syllabus” of my residency reading. The picture below features every single book/magazine/program I’ve read this month. While I didn’t read them all cover to cover, this is all of the reading material I’ve encountered during my stay. The painting is a self-portrait by Ora Lerman, who left her house, this house in trust for other artists to enjoy. And what a gift it has been.

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After lunch (finished the spaghetti), I worked in the studio until late afternoon. Then, it was time to get ready for tango!

I suppose this is what’s called Indian Summer, because though all the leaves have been changing colors drastically, the last few days have been so mild, even warm! I’ve been in heaven, strolling around in t-shirts. Very glad I could wear a light dress and not worry about all those layers like last time. I even took a selfie:

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At first, I was a little sad that I would miss magic hour at the house on my last full day, but as I drove down, I realized this was the best experience. The drive is beautiful, most especially at this time of day, after 4:30 as the blazing sun was hitting all the changing leaves. Plus, this time I could really admire the view the whole way because I knew where I was going. Here are two pictures that I pulled over to take, before I reached the highway:

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Once again, I have been super lucky because the tango group in Factoryville is hosting another phenomenal couple of instructors: Anton Gazenbeek and Jody Person. Anton and Jody’s class was incredible, their performance even more so. This time around, I knew more of the dancers, which was nice, and it was the last Tango in the Tent for the season! How serendipitous that I could experience it.

I didn’t need GPS on the way back (except for the super-dark section around the airport, before you reach the highway). Because I was more familiar with the road at night, I was able to spot a rabbit that almost ran into the road and watch him decide to turn around and hop back into the woods.

There were so many bad radio options that I found myself listening to bad 90s pop for a few minutes, before the signal became too thready (thankfully). Then, (more serendipity), I caught the Saints-Cowboys game. I was instantly homesick. And yelling at the top of my lungs when Jimmy Graham fumbled. Last season, I couldn’t watch the games because I figured out we lost whenever I did. This season, I suspect I need to start watching because I think they’re not doing so well without my attention. That’s all gonna change as soon as I can get back and start watching the games at Pelican Bay again.

Day 28 

I woke up early, at least early considering how late I’ve been sleeping here at Soaring Gardens. So much to do! Laundry, packing and cleaning. Yoga and writing in the studio, just to spend a tiny bit more time there. I’m already running late for when I’d hoped to be on the road, so I’ll leave you with that. The rest of Day 28 will be included in a traveling post and there will also be one last surprise for the contributors to the GoFundMe campaign. More soon!

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Filed under musing, tango, The Residency Road Trip, travel, writing updates

The Residency Road Trip: Soaring Gardens Week Two and Three

After my Week One post, it turns out, I’m addicted to chronicling our stay here at Soaring Gardens, so I kept photographing our meals and other miscellany of note. Here’s a recap of Week Two and Three of our stay. Enjoy!

 

~Week Two~

Day 8

Today, I spent most of the morning reading and doing some housekeeping for my job back home, just so it won’t be a complete mess when I get back. It was chilly in the house, but warmer outside because the sun was out, so I read outside to warm up. I’m reading a book about tango and it got me thinking about the book I’m here to work on, so I was taking notes and underlining like a madwoman (in a hammock). I wrote a bit on the bench by the studio (the office from Day 7) and a car kept going by on the street up the hill, slowing down near the house. I went up to find out what was going on. The driver was looking for the neighbors and I was able to direct him there, but just before he drove off, he looked at the studio and said, “That’s a weird house.” He was already gone when I rebutted, “It’s a studio, actually.” Very strange. 🙂 In the afternoon, I walked on the front lawn, listening to music and still pondering the book’s structure. It was a very contemplative day. Anne rehashed her chicken and red sauce dish with some eggplant and linguine and that made a nice dinner.

Day 8 dinner

Day 9

Woke up from a very strange dream this morning. That’s happened a bit while I’ve been here. I told Anne about the dream while we ate breakfast and she suggested it might’ve been related to our conversation over dinner last night, which made sense when she said so. After breakfast, I had an errand to run at the neighbors’ house. Mrs. Neighbor had come over and introduced herself on Day 2, our first full day, but I’d only seen Mr. Neighbor from afar as he walked their dogs. I walked up to their house (which used to be the barn for the house where we’re staying, when it was all one big farm) and introduced myself and he said, “Are you the writer, or the painter?” and then he asked me how my work was going and we had a lovely conversation about books, their dogs and Korean movies. Afterwards, I went back and got some work done. In the afternoon, Anne and I went into Meshoppen, following Joanne (the gardener)’s directions to Marty’s Market, which she said has a nice meat selection. We got a nice big steak and some fat chicken breasts, for meals we’re planning later in the week, as well as some sauerkraut and mushroom pieroges, and other necessary items. For dinner, I cooked the chicken, mozzarella and spinach sausages Anne brought with some kale and purple sauerkraut and Anne made the pieroges.

Day 9 dinner

Day 9 dinner

Every day, it’s been getting colder and I’d been feeling worn down. By the end of the day, when Anne and I watched Wall-E (instead of our usual evening rummy game), I was full-out sneezing.

Day 10

I slept pretty late and when I finally got up, it was a rainy, rotten day. But I felt a bit more energetic than yesterday and Anne had left me a get-better treat:

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Because it was cold and wet and I was sick, I set up in the studio (very warm and beautiful), making a nest for myself and my notebooks on the floor in front of a window. I wrote and read there in the late morning and afternoon and when Anne went on a hike, I spent a half hour or so dancing on the great wood floors in the studio. The sun came out in the late afternoon, so I read on the studio’s porch and admired the view.

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I worked at the table in the kitchen while Anne made dinner. My work was administrative, mostly correspondence, and I found out the identity of the mystery apple baker. It was Suzanne, one of the residents at the house last month. For dinner, Anne grilled the steak, made some sweet potato fries (with aioli) and veggies. It was very, very good and the wine on the table was one of the best so far, a Malbec. I put together a simple sweet treat for us after dinner.

Day 10 dinner

Day 10 dinner

Vanilla bean ice cream with toffee milk chocolate bits

Vanilla bean ice cream with toffee milk chocolate bits

 

 

 

 

That evening, I vegged out, watching tango videos, in anticipation of taking a class I found in a nearby town. More on that later. I went to bed early-ish and Anne worked late in the studio. No rummy this evening.

Day 11

I was feeling more energetic in the morning, so I decided to walk down the road a ways (passing no traffic, except for threIMG_3900e guys on two 4-wheelers). Instead of taking the road back, I cut through a meadow (seen in the pic) and then walked through the woods alongside the road, trying to stay close to it. But I couldn’t actually see the road (or hear it, without traffic) and winding through fallen trees and underbrush, I was further away than I’d thought by the time I decided to hike up to the road.

This fallen tree looks like a sea serpent!

Doesn’t this fallen tree look like a sea serpent?

And it was a hike because the road climbs up. But, I have a good sense of direction and I’d been careful to always keep the road on my left, so I came out  of the trees just one property over from the house. I was exhausted, though. And thirsty! I’d overestimated my energy level after being sick the last two days. So, I recovered on the swing in the mudroom and read some more of the book about tango, then ate lunch.

After lunch, Anne and I went by Four Seasons to pick up some fresh produce and we had a very interesting exchange with Tina, who runs the farm stand. First, I told her that Diane said hello. Diane was originally supposed to be my housemate and we were both scheduled to be here in August. I ended up here in September with Anne and Diane stayed at the church, a second property nearby that’s also part of Soaring Gardens. Tina said hi back to Diane and then asked if we’d gone by the church yet and met the couple staying there. We hadn’t known anyone was there, but she said they’d just been in, saying they hadn’t found the house yet. So, after dropping Anne back off at the house, I grabbed a bread pan (Tina mentioned they needed one) and the directions to the church and I headed off on an adventure. The church is just a few miles away and I was finding my way fine, except that the dirt road that the church is on apparently changed names recently. So I passed it twice and went almost all the way to Meshoppen looking for another likely white church on a dirt road. Finally, I called ahead and confirmed that was the church alright, so I headed back and had tea with Janet and Greg. They followed me back to the house so they could check it out and meet Anne.

Farm stand haul: purpley-green tomato, black raspberry jam, Amish butter and cherry peppers

Farm stand haul: purpley-green tomato, black raspberry jam, Amish butter and cherry peppers

After they left, I wrote for a little while in the studio with Anne and then went into the house to make dinner. This meal was inspired by a conversation with Joanne in the garden earlier in the week when she told me about making chicken breasts stuffed with ricotta cheese and veggies. I couldn’t stop thinking about putting this decadent dish together and our trip to Marty’s Market was partially inspired by my wanting to cook it.

Day 11 dinner

Day 11 dinner

I stuffed the chicken breasts with ricotta, mushrooms, basil, slices of tomato and cherry peppers (both seen in the pic above). I sauteed the rest of the mushrooms and Anne made a tomato/cucumber salad to go with it. Please note that the chicken is garnished with some of the cherry pepper and the pieces baked inside made the whole breast nice and spicy. Since it was pretty cold, we opted to dine inside tonight. Our dessert was sinful: a chopped local red pear over the last of the ice cream, with melted dark chili chocolate. 

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After dinner, we both worked very late in the studio. I think I’ve figured out the structure for my tango memoir, after some tailoring the past few days and I researched and made notes for the timeline of the first section of the book. I worked till about midnight, then read for a bit while Anne finished up. Then, we met for a super late and long game of rummy. And, I won for the first time! It was pretty exciting. Here’s the proof, our score sheet, which Anne illustrated:

Emilie's 1st rummy win

Day 12

Today was a rainy, dark, cold day! I ended up working in a new space: the corner of the dining room where there’s a little table and a comfy chair. I spent the morning and early afternoon there, breaking for a tasty lunch, which consisted of a thick slice of the purpley-green spicy tomato (stuffed in the chicken last night) on cheese and a peanut butter and black raspberry jam sandwich, utilizing the last two pieces of the pumpernickel.

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Jayne’s Orchard opened today and we’d been planning on going by, so even though it was a gross day, we went. I was a bit melodramatic and put on four layers: a thin turtleneck, a thermal with a hood, a thin sweater and then my raincoat. My excuse is that I just got over being sick, but really I’m just a wuss when it comes to being cold. It was worth going out in the chilly, rainy day. We scooped up some corn, honey and the most amazing apples at the orchard. We bit into them the second we were in the car – they just begged to be eaten.

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The sun actually came out a bit after we’d gotten back from the orchards, so I took my tango book out to the studio patio and soaked up what sun I could. After about an hour, I went back to the house to make dinner, something easy that would use up some of our leftovers and some of last bits of everything. So, I made a pico de gallo (most of our remaining grape tomatoes, the last cherry pepper, a jalapeno, cilantro, red onions and fresh raw corn), cooked the last chicken breast (marinated in Crystal and pepper, with some cilantro) and heated up the last of the steak from two nights ago. As I was cooking, Janet and Greg popped by to return the bread pan and before they left, I gave them some of the McIntosh apples and directions to the orchards. When Anne came in from the studio, she cooked some spinach and heated up the corn tortillas. The sun had made a full appearance by this point, so we took it all outside.

Day 12 dinner

Day 12 dinner

Day 12 dinner (also)

Day 12 dinner (also)

Afterwards, Anne and I jointly concocted what is probably one of the most decadent (and still somewhat healthy) desserts ever. Using some of the maple syrup Anne brought and a little of the whiskey I’d brought, not to mention some of the Amish butter, we cooked one of the McIntosh apples from the orchards, along with some blueberries from Blueberry Haven. Then, Anne took the leftover ricotta cheese, mixed in some half and half and a tiny bit more syrup and we combined the two for this amazing dessert:

IMG_3940After putting everything away and cleaning the kitchen, we went back for the second shift. Me, back to the dining room corner and Anne back to the studio.

new spot

We played another late game of rummy and I won again! I think the secret to beating Anne is playing when I’m hyper late at night and Anne is exhausted. 🙂

Day 13

I stayed up very late finishing a book, but still woke up fairly early because the sun was shining brightly through my windows. After breakfast, I set up in the office and worked on my Jurassic Park Re-Reading post most of the morning. I’d told Anne that I thought I’d have a big late lunch since I would be at the tango workshop around the time we’d normally be cooking and eating dinner. She said she’d join me and cooked some salmon, made a tzatziki sauce for it and served it with corn on the cob. It was delicious. In the picture below, you can’t really see the salmon on the front plate, so look at the plate in the background.

Day 13 dinner

Day 13 lunch

After lunch, it was hard to pick an outfit that would be warm and give me the freedom of movement I need to dance. It was a chilly day and I knew it’d get colder once the sun set. Finally, I settled on dance pants under a dress with a pashmina and a coat. No picture of that, unfortunately for y’all. 🙂

I left early because I wasn’t sure if I’d get lost on the way, plus I had some errands to run in Tunkhannock, since I was passing through. I guess I should say that I was aiming for a place called Factoryville. When I’d been pining for tango a few nights ago, I did an Internet search and found out there is an event every Sunday in September called Tango in the Tent. Factoryville is only about 45 minutes away, and the dancing takes place on the grounds of a small airport, of all places. I was extremely lucky because I found out that the class today was being taught by Johana Copes and Joaquin Besga. So, of course I had to go!

My errands went quickly and I didn’t get lost at all, so I was a bit early to the class. Mike, one of the organizers, showed me and another early bird around the house and the property behind it. It was the magic hour around these parts: the sun starts going down and gets very hot and everything just blazes up in color. Here’s a photo, to show you what I mean:

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It was just ridiculously beautiful. There were small planes landing on a runway on the right side of the photo above, as well as tangueros and tangueras arriving, all dolled up for dancing. Pretty much the instant I arrived, the hosts (Mike and Karen) found out I’m from New Orleans and told me about hosting Alberto and Valorie here a few years ago. The world really is very small and the tango world is even smaller. Thousands of miles from home, in an entirely new tango community, there are connections to home through this dance I love so much.

The night was fabulous: a good class, new friends, live tango music and tasty food. It was so good to dance again – it’s been weeks since I danced last, in Atlanta, and even longer since I’ve danced with my home community in Nola.

It was so dark when I headed back to the house! Earlier in the week, knowing that I was going to be coming back in the dark tonight, Anne and I drove back from Marty’s Market via the route I’d take and noted landmarks I could still use in the dark. And when I headed down to Factoryville, I was very careful to note the landmarks and mile markers again. Anne was on standby to come rescue me if I needed it, but I had absolutely no trouble making it back. All of our advance scheming paid off!

I was buzzing after my wonderful evening, so Anne made us a late, light snack and listened patiently as I talked all about tango, tango, tango!

Day 14

Slept in a bit today and then spent the day working in the office and reading. I finished the book about tango I’ve been reading the past week or so. I’d gotten a late start and got caught up in my day, then realized that Anne and I had decided to keep doing a big, late lunch instead of our dinner feasts. I didn’t have anything defrosted or planned for the meal, so while Anne headed off the the farm stand, I made a big egg and veggie scramble. When she got back, she cooked the greens and made a salad.

Day 14 lunch

Day 14 lunch

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I redeemed myself a little bit by cutting up the last of the peaches and putting it on some ice cream for us. Great dessert. After the late lunch, I joined Anne in the studio and worked there the rest of the day.

~Week Three ~

Day 15 

Spent the morning working in the office. Janet and Greg came by again and brought dark chocolate nonpareils with them (kind and evil, all at once). Since I haven’t included a photo of the office yet, here’s what I see on the desk as I work:

This coffee mug is becoming a bit like the gnome in Amelie, isn't it?

This coffee mug has become a bit like the gnome in Amelie, hasn’t it? 🙂

For the big, late lunch, Anne made BLTs with some bacon she got at the farm stand yesterday, and a cabbage and apple salad. For dessert, we had ice cream with some nonpareils sprinkled on top.

Day 15 lunch

Day 15 lunch

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After our meal, I spent the rest of the day working in the studio again: basking in the sun on the porch off the studio as I wrote in the afternoon and enjoying the quiet companionship of a shared workspace in the evening. After our work was paused for the day, my short rummy winning streak came to an end. I played well, but still somehow managed to get some pretty low scores.

Day 16

Felt pretty sick again today. Anne asked me earlier if I had a cold or allergies and I said, “Honestly, I think it’s a bit of both.” But it’s very strange how I’ll have full-out cold symptoms and no energy one day and then next, I’ll be a bit better, and then feel sick again the day after. I’m definitely dealing with some allergies, though. And it’s tough for me to stay warm, unless the sun comes out and then I just try to soak it all up. My cheeks have been pink for the last few days because of the sun bathing (and maybe the cold, too).

Anyways, I did some work for my job back home early in the morning and then read a bit, finishing one of the nonfiction books I’ve been reading. In the afternoon, I wrote on the bench underneath the studio’s porch (see Day 7), enjoying the sun. Then, I went put together today’s big late lunch, making meatballs and using the spinach and mozzarella ravioli again, cooking them both in a cream of artichoke. We finished off the cabbage and apple salad with it.

Day 16 lunch

Day 16 lunch

Maybe I’ve got tango on the brain, but doesn’t that salt and pepper shaker set look like a couple dancing?

Climbing the hill

Climbing the hill

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At the top of the hill

In the late afternoon, I went on a walk down the road a ways and up a hill. I wondered what I would see from the top. By the time I reached the bottom of the hill and started back to the house, the sun had lost a lot of this brilliance and it was starting to getting dark.

I spent the evening watching tango videos and writing some correspondence. Then, I went to the studio and did a bit more work there. Anne slaughtered me, again, in our evening rummy game.

Day 17

First thing, I drove into Tunkhannock to run some errands I hadn’t been able to do on Sunday (post office, liquor store). Even though this was only the third time I’ve driven “to town,” it’s starting to feel familiar, so I can really enjoy the scenery as I go. On the way back, I stopped at the Welcome Center for maps and postcards and the lady there told me to go by the Fireplace Restaurant for more postcards. It was a bit after noon and the smells in there were amazing, but I couldn’t stay for lunch, sadly. Had ice cream melting in the car and a big late lunch to get to. I did take a different route back to the house, though and pulled over to get a picture of the amazing view.

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I suspect that the hill towards the right of the picture, in the background and all lit up, is the hill I climbed yesterday.

Day 17 lunch

Day 17 lunch

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Back at the house, Anne made BLTs again with the awesome bacon from the farm stand. She made a spicy aioli this time, since I don’t like straight mayo, and it was really, really good. The tomatoes are orange ones, also from the farm stand, that look like apricots when sliced up like that. We cut up the biggest of the McIntosh apples, cooked it with some maple syrup, butter and whiskey, and added it to some ice cream. Maybe the best dessert ever.

I’d gotten mail! One of my good friends in Nola had retrieved my Poets & Writers, which got waylaid before my mail forward went through, and he sent it to me with a sweet card. I have felt so bereft without it all month! Here’s a photo of me enjoying the magazine on the studio porch. It’s turned to the page that announces this same friend’s contest win.

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I spent the evening working in the studio. I have to admit, I was a bit worried about the Scottish Independence vote tomorrow. I have some friends who live there and I enjoyed my time in St. Andrews seven years ago. I’ve always wanted to go back. So, I wondered how this vote would affect the lives of my friends in Scotland, as well as my ability to visit them and travel in the country. Anyway, as has become ritual, we worked pretty late and then settled in for a game of rummy. Anne won, once more.

Day 18

In the morning, Anne and I planned the big meal and a visit to the farm stand over breakfast. She set off, running the two miles to the farm stand (using a more direct route that I’d suggested might cut through near the house and sure enough, it did). I left a while later and scooped her up on the road close to Four Seasons, where we encountered not Tina, but a new lady. We had a great time visiting with her, scooping up some mint and seeing what is definitely the largest potato I’ve ever encountered. In the picture below, you can get a sense of the size of this thing by the scale and tomato (pretty large itself) in the background.

Award winner?

Prize winner?

Back at the house, I decided to go ahead and cook the big meal. I’ve discovered during this month that I really am naturally more alert in the evenings, so I tend to get more creative work done in the studio after the main meal, in the warmer late afternoons and quiet nights. I’m generally more distractable during the mornings, less focused. I always knew myself to be a night owl, but I wondered if it was still true. Guess so.

Day 18 big meal

Day 18 big meal

Yum

Yum

I chopped up a bunch of our veggies and peppers, many of which were on the verge of going bad, and made a spicy salsa. It looks a bit like a mango salsa in the picture below, because I used one of the orange tomatoes (seen behind the potato above). In addition to the tomato, I added some of the blueberries and corn for sweetness, to balance out the Crystal sauce, cherry peppers, cilantro and jalapenos. I seared some salmon and Anne cooked some spinach, which took on a lot of flavor from the salsa when we put it all together. It was very tasty. Anne cooked one of the Honeycrisp apples from the orchard, along with some blueberries, in whiskey and red wine. Here’s a picture before we’d even put it on the ice cream, because it was already so gorgeous (and delicious).

I had more mail, this time a care package from my mom, including a copy of Entertainment Weekly. It was two weeks old, from all the forwarding, but I was so glad to have it anyway! Of course, the cover story is on The Walking Dead and I already have a hard enough time not thinking about zombies while staying at here at the farmhouse, so I skipped that story.

The studio was nice and warm in the afternoon, so I got to work and stayed there the rest of the day, till just before midnight. Here’s a picture of what my workspace looks like in the afternoon – it’s a bit of a greenhouse right there in that corner, by all the windows. It gets downright hot, which is how I like it.

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During our evening rummy game (Anne’s on a winning streak), we had a great conversation about realism, magical realism and surrealism in both literature (my work) and visual art (hers), as well as the work of Haruki Murakami. Anne’s a big fan, but I’ve only read What I Talk About When I Talk About Running (and a ton of interviews), so she recommended a novel of his for me to read. We’ve had a ton of these interdisciplinary conversations the past few weeks and it’s all been very fun and useful.

Day 19

Had another slow morning: eating breakfast, reading and cleaning up a bit. Very Saturday-ish kind of activities. It was a nice day today, not cold at all, so we threw open the doors and windows to enjoy it. It was especially nice in the kitchen, between the open front and back doors. It was very breezy and just very pleasant.

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Day 19 big meal

Doesn't look like much, but was very good.

Doesn’t look like much, but was very good.

I spent some time with the big meal today, a variation of my beef stew recipe.  I played around with the gravy and it ended up being pretty thin, more broth-like, but it was very rich regardless. The veggies were all still pretty crisp, which I love. I used two different kinds of potatoes, which needed to be used up, as well as one of the cherry peppers and, of course, Crystal (couldn’t resist). Even so, the stew wasn’t spicy, just flavorful. Anne made a beet, cranberry and carrot salad. And afterwards, I made a variation of s’mores, with gingersnaps instead of graham crackers and some chocolate caramels that Anne picked up at the farm stand the yesterday. Surprisingly, this was spicy, plenty of ginger in the snaps.

If you follow me on Twitter, you know that I have a stalker out here, a chipmunk who likes to creep close and then dash away whenever I realize he’s there. There’s no reason to believe that this isn’t multiple chipmunks, but I feel pretty sure it’s the same darn one. I haven’t been able to get a photo of him. Till now. I came across him sunbathing in the backyard and though he knew I was there, he didn’t run away this time.

Alvin? Is that you?

Alvin? Is that you?

The sun came out and I spent the afternoon on the studio porch, writing and letting my hair dry after a shower. It was just absolutely beautiful and I enjoyed basking in it. After the sun set, I went back to the drafting desk in the studio and worked till midnight again. Neither of us was very tired, so we had a big Saturday night: a whiskey nightcap and a *very* close game of rummy (she still won), then Egyptian Rat Slap (I slaughtered her) and then I taught her a family variation of rummy I hadn’t played in years (she picked it up fast and almost beat me). What hooligans we are. 🙂

Day 20

We were hoping the orchard was open this morning, so we took a drive out there. Alas, it wasn’t, but it was a pretty drive regardless. We passed a total of two vehicles roundtrip (if you count a tractor in one of the fields).

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Once again, it’s not too cold, so it’s been a nice weekend to walk around and enjoy the sun, meditate and think. We decided to skip the big meal today and each eat leftovers as we worked. I spent the evening in the kitchen, brewing up a “detox tea” and doing some research for the memoir. The rainstorm that’s been brewing for two days finally started. Anne came in, made a Greek salad for a late light meal and we had some of the tea as well.

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Day 20 light snack. Anne’s with smoked herring on top…

...mine without smoked herring.

…mine without smoked herring.

After the snack, we both worked till pretty late, well after midnight. Our rummy game was very close tonight and I was in the lead every hand until Anne swooped in at the end and stole the game. But I won both of our very quick Egyptian Rat Slap games after that. One of these days, I’ll beat Anne at rummy again…

Day 21

It rained most of the night and was cold again in the morning. But what a mild, pretty weekend! Anne went into Tunkhannock today, so I spent the morning dancing in the studio. Can’t let my tango walk get rusty! It’s been good to have all this time to practice on my own, but I certainly miss dancing with and seeing my tango friends. The days were pretty slow for a while there, but now that we’re nearing the end of Week Three (and the residency), they seem to have picked up speed.

Day 21 big meal

Day 21 big meal

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After Anne returned from Tunkhannock, she used the cookbook she brought to make “Chicken Curry in a Hurry,” along with some cucumber raita. We opened up a Malbec. It was all delicious! Our dessert was two ripe bananas I’d frozen before they could go bad, chopped up with the chocolate sauce we made. Yum!

And then, into the studio we both went, to work on our respective art. We were there, working, most of the evening, till about midnight once more. It’s been a pleasure to share a workspace with Anne all these weeks, and to see her paintings develop and change every day. It’s remarkable how much the two art forms are similar, and all the ways in which they differ.

Tonight’s rummy battle was one of the most heated yet, with several hands that took us into negative scores. Well, me. Anne had to take points off her score one hand because I went out sooner than expected, but overall, it was the worst slaughter yet. Afterwards, we played a full game of my family’s variant of rummy. Well, I say my family’s because I played it growing up and my aunt taught me and my mom, but I haven’t discovered whether it’s an official version or not. Anyway, I beat Anne, but she got better with each hand, so it’s only a matter of time till she’s lethal in this rummy, too.

Hope you enjoyed reading about Week Two and Week Three here at Soaring Gardens. You can read about Week Four next Tuesday, so stay tuned!

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The Residency Road Trip Leg Two: Atlanta and the road to Soaring Gardens

So, at the end of the Leg One post, I had just arrived in Atlanta and was anticipating my time there, catching up with family, old friends and the ATL tango community. And just as I suspected (and hoped), it was a very full week.

I spent a lot of time with my parents, including the evening of their anniversary. Since I don’t have a t.v. in New Orleans, visiting my folks always includes lots of t.v. watching: my favorites like Falling Skies and So You Think You Can Dance, shows my parents love like Rizzoli and Isles and Who Do You Think You Are?, as well as new shows we checked out, like Legends. It was a lot of t.v., but we also prepped for my journey to Soaring Gardens. It almost felt like they were sending me off to camp, at times. When I was home, I also worked on a freelance story, wrapping that up and a few other tasks, before I left for the residency.

And I read. Fahrenheit 451 for the Re-Reading Project, which scarred me for a few days. It was hard not to look at everything around me through that lens. And when I was done, I picked up an ARC of a fat fantasy novel that doesn’t come out till next April. I thought, because it was such a dense story, that I’d sip at it slowly throughout my residency month. Instead, I gulped it down in about 36 hours, reading the first 100 pages in maybe about 24 hours and 300+ in less than 8 hours. It was so good – look for it in the 3rd Quarter Reading Report next month.

You're free, Rocco!

You’re free, Rocco!

I caught up with an old friend I hadn’t seen for ten years at one of my favorite hometown restaurants. He wanted to know all about the residency and the memoir and it was very cool talking about it with a friend from my young adulthood. I celebrated the 12th birthday of one of my oldest friend’s sons, to whom I’m bit of an auntie or godmother. I spoiled his dinner with ice cream, helped him set his pet turtle free at the neighborhood park, had dinner with his family and took him to see Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, a blast from my own past. It was quite a day.

And I tango’d three nights with the ATL community. When I first arrived, I saw that the *only* milonga during my stay was on my last night, which I’d planned to spend with my parents, so I reached out to folks I knew and got the skinny on classes and a house party, hosted by a friend who used to live in Baton Rouge. So I had the opportunity to take classes with two different sets of ATL instructors (Clint y Shelley on Monday and Angel y April on Wednesday), which was a phenomenal experience. And then I enjoyed a relaxed tango house party on Friday. It’s too bad I missed the milonga on Sunday, but I loved my week of ATL tango.

I set out for the next leg of my trip early in the morning on Labor Day, so early it was pretty much still night. Even so, it took me so long to get to Philadelphia! I had fine weather, but I stopped a lot and drove slowly most of the way, listening to a long audio book as I went. I’ve made this drive before, or at least most of it (I’ve gone as far as D.C., years ago), and it was pretty terrain, wildly different than my usual drives.

No rest stop adventures this time around, but I had a nice stop at a Cracker Barrel in Virginia for a late lunch and a long, good talk with a friend while I ate. And then I arrived at the home of my residency housemate, the artist Anne Canfield. This sweet lady and her husband fed me and put me up for the evening in their gorgeous home. I was swooning over the art and the books and the house itself most of the time I was there (even in my sleep). I could’ve stayed there a month!

The next day, Anne and I ran a few errands and set off for Soaring Gardens, a few hours from Philadelphia. On the way, we stopped for lunch at a super efficient and bizarre (to me) cross between a rest stop and convenience mall right off the highway. Where I had a Philly cheesesteak sandwich for lunch. I’d almost forgotten!

Yum!

Yum!

This last few hours of the journey felt a bit like a roller coaster, what with all the curvaceous, mountainous highway and all the other drivers going 15-20 miles over the speed limit and my super heavy car. It was some of the most breathtaking scenery I’ve ever seen, so that almost made up for the constant fear of driving off the road down the side of a mountain.

And then we were in farmland, traversing narrow drives through acres of corn and fruit trees and small ponds by the road. Until suddenly, we turned onto a drive and there was Soaring Gardens.

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Anniversary August and my GoFundMe campaign

August is ridiculous with birthdays (soooo many people I love!) and anniversaries–marriage anniversaries (my parents, my sister and her husband) as well as two of my personal milestone anniversaries.

Seven years ago (7!) I moved to New Orleans. I’ve now been in Nola as long as I lived in Baton Rouge. Maybe I suffer from the seven year itch, because I was desperate to leave BR in 2007 and with all of the shakeups in my life recently, I’ve been wondering if I need to be elsewhere for a little while. More on that in a minute.

Three years ago, I went to my first tango class and started my journey as a tango dancer. Because the community of tango dancers worldwide is fairly small and they tend to travel a lot, tango has actually increased my desire to travel to new and favorite places. To dance with new communities and return to those I enjoy: Chicago, Atlanta and now D.C.

Which brings me to my GoFundMe campaign, which I launched about a week ago. I’ve been offered a place at Soaring Gardens, an artists’ residency in rural Pennsylvania. I get to live and write in this house for a month and I’m raising money to fund the trip. I’ll be working on new chapters of my memoir, Tango Face, named after the essay I wrote about the cabaceo, which won the 2012 Faulkner-Wisdom Creative Writing Awards in the essay category. The memoir is about what learning tango has been teaching me about myself and my relationships. The way people have been responding to what I’ve written so far has been very gratifying and has pushed me to continue.

Every year, I make my best attempt at 50,000 words during the month of November for NaNoWriMo, so I know I can write lots of new material in a month, especially since I’ll be removed from the distractions of my everyday life. Including my tango community, which is bittersweet. While I’ll miss dancing with them, it’s been really cool how supportive and encouraging they’ve been.

In fact, all of my communities have been extremely supportive through this process. I’m very grateful and inspired by all of you!

Be on the lookout for a NolaFemmes post soon about New Orleans-specific places and things I’ll miss while I’m gone.

On Sunday the 17th, at the 2-week mark of the GoFundMe campaign, I’m having a goodbye party and fundraiser celebration. It will be at Pelican Bay on Elysian Fields, starting at 2 p.m.

And the GoFundMe campaign will officially wrap up on Wednesday the 20th, one week from today. So, if you have $5 or $10 to donate, please do. Every single contributor will be named in the acknowledgements of the memoir when it’s published *and* I have secret lagniappe gifts to thank everybody. Plus, I’m planning a special Bragging On post just for contributors to share how talented and wonderful all of you are.

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My end of 2013 homework

It occurred to me yesterday that 2013 has essentially been one long Friday the 13th, full of trials and trouble. However, it was also full of achievements. I’m so glad I’ve taken this opportunity to remember that. Jamey first suggested that I spend some time remembering what I accomplished back in 2010 and this year, she was instrumental in reminding me about most of this list. I’m grateful she did and I’m grateful I have her to make me do this homework every year. 🙂

Thirteen Amazing Things about 2013

1. I bragged on the wonderful, talented, hard-working people in my life, more than ever, and even had trouble keeping up with their achievements, there were so many.

2. I worked on my first t.v. show, which was an incredible education and a lot of fun. It premieres next month. Later in the year, I worked on a live, televised awards show, which was a short, crazy, enormously fun experience. I had the opportunity to work on my friends’ projects, which was very rewarding and inspiring. In the last of the year, I worked on a reality show pilot, another new t.v. experience.

3. I attended the weddings of dear friends, friends from the tango community and friends I’ve known for over a decade. I don’t talk a lot about my personal life on here, but I am so proud of my friends and families for all of the personal milestones they’ve achieved this year.

4. I co-wrote a feature-length script called Ostium, with writer Nick Cardinale, which was a Quarter Finalist in the Creative World Awards.

5. I organized and co-hosted a new tango series, Tango X. We had four installments this year, the last one was part of the incredible New Orleans Tango Weekend.

6. I moved for the first time in 6 years.

7. I was interviewed about my writing for the first time.

8. I performed my award-winning essay, “Tango Face,” for my tango community. It was an inspiring night of musical performances, readings and of course, dancing. Later, at Tango X, I had the opportunity to teach my first tango lesson, together with Casey Mills. And, “Tango Face” was published by the Double Dealer at the end of the year.

Orquesta Fleur Flyer, 2013-10-26 Cafe Instanbul(1)

9. I interviewed Josh Hanagarne in front of an audience and moderated Peauxdunque’s panel on writing groups, both at the Louisiana Book Festival.

10. I didn’t win NaNoWriMo, which ended up being its own awesome education.

11. I read almost as much nonfiction as fiction (27 to 34) this year, which is unusual for me. As I said in my last post, I became a student of the memoir in an effort to write a better one.

12. I took workshops and lessons from amazing professional tango dancers/instructors like: Damian Lobato, Rod Relucio & Jenny Teters, Silvina Valz, Tony Fan & Ilana Rubin, Ney Melo & Jennifer Bratt, and Homer & Cristina Ladas. I had the opportunity to study with these fantastic dancers and teachers because of the people in my tango community, who teach me every day. I’m taking all of the experiences and lessons I’ve had into my future in tango, looking forward to studying and dancing more.

David y Jessica Gentry (New Orleans Tango Weekend organizers), Homer Ladas and myself, Ney y Jennifer. Cristina Ladas took this great photo.

David and Jessica Gentry (New Orleans Tango Weekend organizers), Homer Ladas and myself, Ney Melo Jennifer Bratt. Cristina Ladas took this great photo.

13. I found my core. In tango (and dance), your core is what gives you balance and everyone’s is slightly different. It sounds like an easy thing, to find your core, but it isn’t. And even when you’ve found it, you have to continually work to access it, to use it to become a better dancer. I think I might’ve started on the road to finding my personal/emotional core this year, sorting through the junk to find the treasure. Now that I’ve found it, I look forward to working to access it, through my dance, my writing and my relationships.

I’m excited about 2014 and all that it promises to be.

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NaNoWriMo 2013 Days 22-29

Wow, I certainly haven’t updated in a while and NaNoWriMo will be wrapping up tomorrow, so it’s beyond time for me to tell you about the last week.

The last I updated, on Day 21, I was about to drive to GA to see my family, along with my friend, Nanci. Our reason for traveling before the holidays was to attend the last milonga at Callanwolde Fine Arts Center, a beautiful venue I had danced at once before while visiting my family. It was a wonderful evening, filled with so many great dances with fabulous tangueros and tangueras. That was Day 22.

On Day 23, Mamma Mia! and I went to see Catching Fire, which we both enjoyed quite a lot. I felt like it was a very good adaptation of the book, faithful to the spirit, which is a hard thing to do, even in two and a half hours. I was immediately filled with impatience at the end, sad that I have to wait another year for the next installment. Time to re-read the books, then. We spent the rest of the day creating a Thanksgiving feast, together with Papa Bear and Nanci. We have our special family traditions and it was nice to see Nanci experience them. Even more, it was a reminder that all holidays are just social constructions. It doesn’t really matter if you celebrate Thanksgiving on the official day, or a week early, or a day late. If you can celebrate Thanksgiving any day, you can also celebrate it every day, which I think is a good goal to strive for. That evening, Nanci and I went to two step/line dance with my childhood friend J., at a cowboy dance hall. It was a fun night, but basically meant I was suffering from a distinct lack of sleep when we woke up early on Sunday to drive home.

Day 24 was spent on the road. Once we were back home, I decided to go to the monthly milonga at Galvez, despite the long drive and the lack of sleep over the previous few days. It was nice dancing with my home community after the time away.

Days 25-27 were a flurry of work and getting back from the trip. Day 28 was Thanksgiving proper and, at Nanci’s suggestion, I spent the morning volunteering at the Sheriff’s Dinner at the Convention Center. It was an experience like I’ve never had, spending a holiday serving dozens of people I might never otherwise encounter. I don’t know if I’ll ever be the same and I really hope I won’t, because the feeling of being useful and of cherishing people stuck with me long after I left the Convention Center.

Which brings us to today, Day 29, and you may have noticed that I haven’t talked about words or writing yet in this update. This is what I’ve been doing this week: I’ve been reading my novel. I’ve thought for years that the first section was “done,” and it was the last two sections that needed the most work. Yet. Yet, this NaNoWriMo, all of the work I’ve done has been on that first section. As I was reading the later part of the novel, I was flying through it, instead of getting snagged on all the changes I needed to make. There’s still some work to be done, don’t get me wrong. But perhaps not as much as I thought.

I treasure NaNoWriMo for its spirit of reckless creation, for the feeling of community it instills, when it’s so easy to feel alone in these endeavors. I’m not going to “win” this year, but it’s been a valuable experience in dozens of unquantifiable ways. Plus, I’m a writer all year long and my work won’t be done at midnight tomorrow, just as it didn’t start on November 1st.

What about y’all? Are you going to “win”? Have you won in other ways? I’d love to know.

Expect a new bragging on post soon…

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