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All content copyright 2010 by Chelsea Biondolillo. Seriously.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

365 days of being a writer: day 15

Today was a weird day: on the surface, some good things happened. But I was mostly frustrated. Good thing this is my writing journal and not my psychoanalysis journal! Ha ha!

Alrighty. Today I spent much of my workday writing up pithy social media snippets. I also put together a blog post about spices. It made me really want to sit down to some finger food and belly dancing in Washington DC (even though the dancers were shit, according to my pal, Lara). And I finalized my column submission for McSweeney's. Part of me wants to sit on it for a few more days, but part of me wants it in the wind and out of the endless pick-pick-pick.

Monday, August 30, 2010

365 days of being a writer: day 14

Two weeks in, and this is the first day of zero writerly activities. All I did was work and study astronomy.

OK, that's not all I did. I woke up and did pilates, THEN studied. I worked (and studied on all my breaks) then came home and went to the coffee shop to knit for one and a half hours. I was really hoping for other knitters, and on any other night, would have knit until 9:30, but I came home and had dinner and studied. Now I am going to collapse and dream of electron degeneracy pressure, ever expanding chains of galaxy clusters, the Chandrasekhar limit, and ozone spectral lines as a sign of life on some distant planet or moon. The final is tomorrow after work. I'm praying for a C on the test, which will give me a high B in the class. Fingers crossed.

There have to be days off, I guess. But maybe the next one I take, I will plan to enjoy a bit more.

The star cluster, NGC 602, near the outskirts of the Smaller Magellanic Cloud. It is full of young, hot, blue stars. In this picture, the objects with crossed lines through the center are stars, while the smeary blobs are galaxies, which are hundreds of millions of lightyears more distant than the stars. Image courtesy NASA, ESA, and Hubble Heritage Team

Sunday, August 29, 2010

365 days of being a writer: day 13

Astronomy. Astronomy. Astronomy. Commas. Astronomy. (Astronomy final is on Tuesday.)

I also managed, first thing in the morning, to add a much needed segue to my column draft. I kept opening the draft and poking at it when I was supposed to be studying. I hate this last minute Hail Mary pass at a passing grade, but it is something I always do in this kind of class.

>NOTE TO SELF: You will not be taking any random science classes in the fall, as you need to spend more time on the couple of essays on your mental list.

Maybe I should keep a list in the sidebar? Or maybe that is TMI. I'll sleep on it and dream of collapsing galaxies and bee colonies.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

365 days of being a writer: day 12

It is my Friday, and I have spent it watching videologs of strippers and studying astronomy. I was supposed to be JUST studying astronomy, but the distractor-mouse force is strong in this one. The videologs were part of a wonderful essay over at The Rumpus.

It really is all about astronomy, my final is in days and I am behind.

Friday, August 27, 2010

365 days of being a writer: day 11

Right. So today was all about running in place, and getting nowhere.

I got no writing done. No studying (astronomy final is next week). In an effort to BE a writer today, I did send my rough rough draft of the column submission off to a trusted pair of eyes. Not a formal edit or anything, just a plea for feedback.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

365 days of being a writer: day 10

When I quit smoking, I joined a forum-based site called The site had an extremely lively main message board, and the community had established little "rewards" based on how many days quit you were. On day 3, for example, you got your "quit socks." On that day, you would be given shoutouts and little message post parties and other sorts of things that were charming back then because of the relative newness of the online community, and then one of the den mother types would ask you to tell the rest of us about your socks. Along with a little speech letting everyone know how hard and also easy but mostly hard the last three days had been, you would describe your socks.

I remember one woman said her socks had healthy pink lungs stitched on them, while another's were striped monstrosities--but she'd stand out because of her crazy ugly socks from now on, not the cloud of nasty smoke she used to carry around her.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

365 days of being a writer: day 9

I heard from my former thesis advisor. He will write me a graduate letter of recommendation if he has to, but doesn't think it's a good idea. A letter to writers from a painter would be "damning with faint praise," he feels.

There are now a couple of people who will write me letters that in their own estimation will do me no good. Still ISO of someone who will speak on my behalf with just the slightest authority. Perhaps the fact that I can't find anyone is cosmic foreshadowing. The universe is trying to scare me out of going into the dark cellar of applications. Since these sorts of letdowns seem to come in anywhere from threes to sevens, I'm going to try to let go the dread for tonight.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

365 days of being a writer: day 8

"Well, they can't all be winners, kid."

How many times can a piece be rejected (before you call him a man)? Sorry. I just can't ask that question without humming the rest of the line.

My Starlings essay failed to win, place, or show in it's third competition. (To be fair, it got honorable mention the first time out.) It was a bummer of a way to start the day--and technically they emailed me late last night, so the day was shot before it started.

Monday, August 23, 2010

365 days of being a writer: day 7

It's been a week!

What have I learned?

Mostly that it takes a real effort to get writing done every day. Also that I am the Queen at Distractor Mousing on the computer. I hate knuckling down even ten minutes before the last minute. That's one good thing about this experiment: it makes every hour my last chance to get some work done.

I managed to submit one DS article (which means I made some money writing today). I also spent several hours working out the directions and maths for a knitting pattern that I am hoping to publish soon.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

365 days of being a writer: day 6

A friend emailed me about this project and asked for a bit more clarification. Rather than be all friendly and write a letter back, I decided to answer him here.

Why the project, and in a blog?
The year I got laid off started a year of writing and submitting my writing. Most of it was rejected, but I sent off a ton of stuff to editors. The next year (last year) I put almost everything into getting into school for over six months. When they all said no, I was crushed, disheartened, full of raging self-doubt. And, to top it all off, too bummed out to write for several months.

I wasn't totally sure of the purpose of this project when I started--and really, at less than a week in, I'm just taking my first guesses. But here they are:
  • Accountability - putting it up here where my three readers, all of my Twitter followers, and everyone from high school and jr high (a.k.a. Facebook) can see it will make it just a little bit more real. Hopefully.
  • Perspective - I don't want a repeat of last year. If all ten of the schools say no in 6 months I want to appreciate all of the other work I have done, every day, toward being a writer--being paid to write. I want to be able to see day after day of effort and success in carrying out the process.
What are the rules?
I have to write down what I did toward furthering my long term goal of being a professional writer. Ideally, this is mostly "write," but some days it may be about studying my genre, applying for jobs, or putting together submissions packets. I have had a big hang-up for awhile that goes something like "if you really wanted to be a writer, you'd be sitting down every day for an hour and writing." Since I don't, I feel like I have failed before I've started. This is not helpful, and is not true. It is true that I need to establish a better routine and hopefully this project will help with that, too.

Am I worried that I will spend more time talking about writing than actually writing?
Yes. All I can do is my best. With any luck, my best will improve.
How did today go?
Ok, this wasn't in the letter, but it does need to be addressed before I publish this baby and go to bed. This was my first weekend day and I had very high expectations. I ended up being rather crushed with oversleeping, an involved Indian food breakfast, and astronomy homework. My to-do list was tackled, but items were only started, not finished. I managed to outline and partially draft my McSweeney's column submission, and I finished half of a Demand Studios article. Tomorrow, I want to finish the DS piece, (and possibly a second), plus write up a draft for a knitting pattern, and take a stab at a rough draft of my column. That also seems overly ambitious, but maybe my expectations will adjust along with my writing practice throughout this process.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

365 days of being a writer: day 5

Today was disappointing for me writing-wise, because this project encourages me to set unrealistic expectations for myself. I won't write pages of stuff every day. That has to be ok, without becoming a habit.

It was a long "day job" day today, and my Friday. I did some social media work--specifically tweeting and facebooking, corporately. Additionally, I poked around Demand Studios on my break, where I (rarely) write articles on project management for a few bucks a piece. I grabbed a couple of topics to potentially write up over the next few days. For today, that will have to do.

But this idea of "being a writer" is that I am thinking about writing, trying to make a living as a writer, and actually writing. I think it is ok that all three of those things don't always happen each day, as long as I am still keeping the goal in mind.

I would also like some combat points for finishing an essay of David Foster Wallace's in New Kings of Nonfiction (Ira Glass, ed.) The essay was on a talk radio DJ who is part of the Rush Limbaugh school of caustic conservatism. My favorite part of the whole thing was DFW crystallizing the notion that just because these "personalities" can capture and hold the interest of the public, that does not mean that the conversation they promote is in the public's interest. My least favorite part was the endless parentheticals and self-conscious "editorial comments" --as though the rest of the piece was objective. He was clearly a remarkably intelligent man, and a skilled writer. But sometimes his writing is exhausting work to read, rather than being something that carries me away.

Friday, August 20, 2010

365 days of being a writer: day 4

Some days, it feels like the universe is maybe teasing me. The day, I mean THE DAY after I wax poetic about wanting to write about space (and rocks, and bugs, and birds--I was thinking it, even if I didn't say it), McSweeney's Internet Tendency posts a contest for new columnists.

Now, I don't know if questionable science essays from a total backseat science nerd are what they are looking for, but I spent most of the bus ride brainstorming column ideas. I came up with 20 off the top of my head. I will be spending the rest of the week (that isn't spent studying for my astronomy final) on a column draft and titles. David Quammen's collected essays from his Outside magazine pieces is some of the consistently funniest AND smart biology (and botany) writing I've read, and a huge inspiration. Suggestions for a title are welcome.

I was also able to finish up the draft of my print piece and send it off to my editor--all after an 8 hour day, and a chapter on the recycling of galactic gas through stars to nebulas and supernovas back to stars (and, ok fine, one episode of the Office UK on I am officially beat.

Still no word from my former advisor. Trying not to read anything into that, so that my sleep can be easy. Novenas and crossed fingers are all welcome.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

365 days of being a writer: day 3

I read a lot today. Does that count? Specifically, I read Dear Sugar's advice to a writer, which boils down to 'write like a motherfucker.' It got me thinking most about the idea of being too high and too low. Like the letter-writer, I am both "potential incarnate" and also, "too lacking in direction or discipline" in my own mind, too.

It's very convenient, this idea of having a lot of potential, right? Because it allows me to stay in a state of trying rather than doing. "If only I had the time/money/macbook I would be the best writer EVER." Or, "if only I could do some more traveling, I'd have something REALLY worth writing." Sugar says, just get off your high-horse, and out of your own navel. Get grounded, on the floor, and write.

The writing today was for a magazine piece that will hopefully be out in the winter. It took an hour to come up with 50 words. At that rate... mumble mumble. Can I call it a commission if there's no money involved? At least, it's writing and it will be published. This is about getting my words out into the world, not making a million dollars. Unless you have a million dollars and would like to be the wealthy patron to my tortured artist, in which case, you know. Holla.

The rest of the day was spent freaking out about the uncertainty of my job (AGAIN) and studying astronomy homework.

I really enjoy the visuals that my brain makes when contemplating the birth, life, and death of stars. Spinning clouds of colorful, ionized gasses, coalescing, igniting, then exploding out past the reaches of the knowable galaxy. There are bubbles of star strata and helium flashes and gamma bursts and x-ray pulsars. It's very sci-fi, but also real. That is ultimately what catches my attention. I want to be able to write about the lighthouse-like beacon of an unimaginably dense neutron star flashing on-off-on-off out in the middle of thousands of millions of miles of cold, empty, quiet nowhere and make it matter.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

365 days of being a writer: day 2

I managed to get a scribbly 30 minutes of writing on the bus today. There were a lot of issues with the busride, so I can't call the work focused. I am however, considering it a success because I did it. 

There's this essay in my mind, about this glacier hike I did and a codependant relationship I was ending at the same time, and I am struggling with how much confession vs. how much science I want to include. Today's notes were definitely of the confessional variety, and read like a diary entry. But that's good, I need to get that stuff out so I can move past it.

In MFA news, I have my schools narrowed down. Let's just say that my former professor agrees to write me a letter of recommendation. Let's just hope and pray, and also presume it is so. Then, I will be applying to the following Creative Writing programs for next year:
  1. Chatham University
  2. Portland State University
  3. University of Washington at Seattle
  4. University of Arizona
  5. University of Minnesota at Minneapolis
  6. Penn State University
  7. University of New Mexico
  8. University of Notre Dame
  9. University of Wyoming at Laramie
  10. University of Colorado at Boulder
I went through my original list of 14 and winnowed out the ones that were only on the list because of reputation, and not because of what they would offer me.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

365 days of being a writer: day 1

I was going to call this experiment "365 days of trying to get into grad school" but another Spring's worth of rejections and suddenly my conceit falls flat on it's conceited ass before May.

If I really want to be a writer--like, really--then every day needs to be reaching toward that goal. Some days it will be in small ways, other days it will be all I do all day.

Today, I heard back from the University of Washington. They would consider a non-fiction manuscript, if I wanted to enter the program in the fiction department. There are several reasons why I am considering this.

I have also decided to remove Hollins and UNC Wilmington from my application list. Hollins because I can't get past the smug self-satisfaction that is all over their website and UNC because I kept forgetting it every time I tried to remember all the schools I was applying to. It's a good program, but it clearly doesn't have a hook for me. Colorado may get axed as well, as I am not sure if they take non-English majors. I still need to call on that. And that leaves Ohio State at Columbus, U Minn at Minneapolis, and U Wyoming at Laramie all tied for "one of you has to go." My initial plan to apply to 12 schools this season has been curtailed by the economy fucking me over yet again. Plan B is to try to keep it to 10. Here's hoping ten is my lucky number.

Last week, I sent a packet of writing and an update on my life since my BFA to one of my former thesis advisors. The schools really want to hear from my former professors (which I think is kind of nuts) so I reached out to Jack. I only checked my email about eleventy-thousand times to see if he had responded yet.

I also poked around for a writerly job. It would be dumb to quit the one I have, but I'll be too poor to go to school if I don't. This is a major burden on my mind, so I check craigslist somewhat neurotically. But it's something that really needs to be set aside for a bit, so I am hereby doing that.

That was today: admin work, and no writing. Except for this. Tomorrow, I will commit to 30 minutes of brainstorming, with the condition it be on my glacier essay, and not on my Statement of Purpose. Here's to the year starting... now.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Slater's legacy: other people attempt to quit dramatically

Jason Brown attempted to quit his job at a Chicago Kia dealership after a customer slammed a car door on his hand and refused to apologize. Reports say he ran through the building, up the back stairs to the roof and grabbed at the giant inflatable "dancing guy" outside the showroom--in an attempt, as he described it later--"to slide down him like that dude did on the plane." Unfortunately, Jason got hung up on the "arms" and a gust of wind whipped the dancing guy around in what can only be described as a predictably random way, knocking Jason off and through the windshield of a Sorrento. No one was seriously injured, and the dealership has not pressed charges.

After a San Francisco Starbucks customer complained that his "no-froth quad-shot cappucino" was too strong and not frothy enough, he dumped it onto the counter, giving barista Sarah Nickleson a mild burn on her wrist. She responded by interrupting the adult contemporary Muzak station to tell the entire coffee shop via PA that they could all "Go straight to Hell" for all she cared. She then grabbed a bottle of Torani syrup (hazelnut) and two Odwalla juices and climbed out the drive through window and hopped across the hood of a light gray sedan before running to the BART station, completely forgetting that she drove to work that day.

Nathan Reems was an employee at a busy, natural foods grocery store in Manhattan when an unnamed customer began berating him for a number of reasons, including (according to witnesses who began to tweet about the event while it was happening) 'the cost of free trade mangoes, the illegibility of expiration date on the cage-free eggs, the lack of reusable cloth napkins in the eating area, the general deforestation issues made worse by American's insistence on using toilet paper, and the dine-in tax.' Once the customer began "assaulting" Nathan with his cloth shopping bags, Nathan took off his apron and threw it at the customer shouting at him, "You have no idea what a carbon footprint even IS! You're all nothing but a bunch of over-paid bored bourgeoisie! I hope you choke on your artisan pasta you, non-contributing pieces of yuppie scum" He then jumped onto one of the store's  industrial "U boat" carts and began riding it like a skateboard toward the front doors, tipping over displays of Tom's shoes, Sigg water bottles, gluten-free thumbprint cookies, and Putumayo CDs as he went, effectively preventing anyone from catching him. Unfortunately, he headed toward the entrance which doesn't automatically open and instead of making a getaway he crashed into the door giving himself a concussion and sprained wrist.