Friday, August 16, 2013

Show & Tell Friday: The Pick-Me-Up Edition

* Part II of my Artist-in-Residency recap will come early next week!

I'm wearing a sweatshirt this morning. It's morning, it's 57 degrees, it's August 16, and I'm wearing a sweatshirt.

It's weird.

Actually, it feels amazing. Does this mean we'll finally get snow again this winter after two years without it?

But I digress:

On this fine chilly August morning, I have some good stuff to share!

1.) Coffee-mate's new Girl Scouts Thin Mints Coffee Creamer

Oh, buddy. This stuff is delicious. I'm drinking it now. It really does taste like a big dollop of liquid thin mint in your coffee. And since we all know that Thin Mints are THE best Girl Scout cookie, you can imagine how good it is.

Yes, it's probably not the healthiest thing to put in your coffee. But life is short. You could do as I do--rabidly health-conscious woman that I am (oops, sorry, laughed too hard and choked on my Thin Mints coffee) and save it for the weekends.
2.) The Newsroom on HBO

Aaron Sorkin, the creator of The Newsroom and of my other favorite TV show of all time, The West Wing, is one of my favorite living writers. The West Wing aired its final season years ago, but my husband and I, when faced with the mediocrity of average television, watch all seven seasons all over again. We do this just about every year or two. So when The Newsroom was announced we decided to order HBO to see what it was all about.

In the beginning, I wasn't a fan. I appreciated the language, the dialogue, the drama (I'm a nut for politics and world news and journalism), but I couldn't get into the characters. They seemed stilted, over-the-top. And yes, some critics would say that "over the top" is par for the course for Sorkin. But as we've continued to watch, I've come to like it more--mainly because of Jeff Daniels and his portrayal of Will McAvoy, who's a big-time news anchor for a big-time news network. He makes it fun.

If you get a chance to see this show, I think it's worth it. It's no West Wing. But if you're a writer, especially, listen quick to the dialogue. It's easy to miss the brilliant asides. But when you catch them, they sing.

3.) A new haircut

Most of you don't know this about me, but I'm a haircut chicken. I've had the same hairstyle since the 8th grade, when my one and only perm finally grew completely out and the mocking laughter stopped. Long, straight hair, no bangs. It's been my go-to for, well, a long time.

I tend to only have my hair cut once per year, and twice over the last 9 years I've chopped quite a bit and donated it to various charities. It's a big deal for a haircut chicken like me.
7 inches of my hair. The coffee cup's there for perspective.
Yesterday, I had 7 inches cut off my hair. The very cute and sweet girl in the salon who my regular stylist--and it's really important that I use the word stylist since I'm so stylish ... why are you laughing?--recommended did a great job. I had stalked my regular stylist (quit laughing!) while she was on vacation in Mexico, and she made the appointment for me. I, the haircut chicken (bwok bwok) really do like it. I don't necessarily feel like a new woman. It's hard to feel that way when you've still got a second-child post-pregnancy body and are tired much of the time. But it does feel freeing and light. I feel refreshed.

And it'll grow out.

I couldn't have done it without my amazing
New haircut. Little baby.
parents, one of whom took the 4 year-old to swim at the neighborhood pool while the other took care of an unusually fussy infant, who watched my girls for two whole hours so I could get it done. Yes, I still drive to my hometown to get my hair done. It only happens once a year, after all. No, I am not 70 years old.

My advice: if you need a pick-me-up, go get a haircut. It helps. Seriously.

4.) A few quotes from my "Wild Words from Wild Women" tear-off calendar.

The new haircut has me feeling feisty. And check it out: the "newest" of these was written in the 1800s, and they're still absolutely relevant. Ah, the cyclical nature of history.

"I enjoy vast delight in the folly of mankind; and, God be praised, that is an inexhaustible source of entertainment."
~ Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, letter writer of the 1700s (and so much more)

"One wants to be something very great, very heroic; or if not that, then at least very stylish and very fashionable. It is this everlasting mediocrity that bores me."
~ Harriet Beecher Stowe, abolitionist author (Uncle Tom's Cabin)

"I was admonished to adopt feminine clothes; I refused, and still refuse. As for other avocations of women, there are plenty of other women to perform them."
~ Joan of Arc, medieval martyr

Have a great weekend, everyone!

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Artist-in-Residence: The Reserve at Lake Keowee (Part I)

I've enjoyed a few artist residencies during my short time as a published writer, and they've all been different: located in different parts of the country, with varying lengths of stay, accommodations, perks, and expectations of the artist. Certainly, my own creative output during each has varied. During one artists' residency, I began a new novel; at another, I researched that novel and wrote poetry; at yet a different residency, I wrote an essay that actually won an award that ended up covering the cost of a rental car and plane fare to and from that residency.

At my most recent gig as the very lucky Artist-in-Residence at The Reserve at Lake Keowee in Sunset, South Carolina, where I stayed for a week, I wrote five pages of what I imagine will be the sequel to Keowee Valley.

I know what you're thinking. Five pages--only five pages--in a week's time? Let me explain: my family was there with me. Yep, the husband, the (newly-turned) 4 year-old, and the 12 week-old. Only one absent was the dog.

I know there are writers out there who can write amid professional and familial chaos, but I am not one of them. My brain spins in overdrive and my imagination is as fickle and mercurial as an afternoon thunderstorm over the Southern Appalachians. And if you know nothing about the storms we get around here, they're moody, fast-moving, completely random, and often violent.
the Guest House (or, as my 4 year-old says, the "castle house")
So what I'm saying is, five pages is miraculous! Especially since the 3rd trimester of pregnancy and these first few months of my infant's life have been energy-sucking. Wonderful, wouldn't-trade-it-for-the-world wild, and exhausting. To feel inspired to write again was a blessing. And the impetus for the inspiration was entirely because of our gorgeous and peaceful accommodations at the guest house of a pair of incredibly generous members. (Who also happen to be HUGE Clemson fans. Go Tigers!)

The guest house was set away from the main house across a lovely bridge spanning a little
"our" bridge (my husband's got the infant carseat; my 4 year-old's the
tiny figure sprinting ahead)
mountain cove. Bubbling and gurgling (and full-on rushing, as it was after several days in a row of rain) down the back of that tree-filled cove was a series of small waterfalls. The creek rushed beneath the bridge just below the house, emptying into the lake nearby. Inside, the home was elegant, warm and comfortable--a combination I think can be sometimes difficult to find. Designed with rich wood, stunning stone and completely outfitted with anything a guest could need, it was the perfect place to get my groove back.

Yes, I just said that. Forgive me, Stella.

For most of the days we were there, if the baby and the 4 year-old let me, I would wake at 5 a.m., brew my coffee and head out to the screened-in porch on the second story. The porch overlooked the aforementioned bridge and creek, and so when I looked out all I saw were green trees--all I heard the rush of water through the woods. Heaven.

Kathryn Gravely, the Director of the The Community Foundation, had pretty much the absolute perfect week planned for me: one book talk to members of a couple different book clubs in The Reserve, two informal meet-and-greets with members outside The Reserve's Market, and one history talk at Orchard House, a beautiful room with a huge fireplace located at the Clubhouse. Orchard House reminded my husband and me of an inn we'd stayed in when we'd traveled in Scotland several years ago. With a kick of Southern style, of course.

The rest of the week, Kathryn told me, I was to relax with my family at the lake and by the community's fabulous pools (let me just say that there was a grotto), enjoy the natural beauty of The Reserve (the lake, hiking trails, orchard, views, etc), and to WRITE. What a gift!

As a bonus, I met some fantastic people during the week, at the informal gatherings, by the pool, at the Market, and at both my talks. Kathryn--who is as genuine, classy, cool, and savvy as they come (not to mention very, very good at her job)--had assured me at the beginning of the week that The Reserve was home to some of the friendliest people I'd ever meet, and she was right. In addition--and she'd told me this, too--the folks there were welcoming, very casual, inclusive, and fun. This was something I'd not necessarily expected from a place as "exclusive" as The Reserve. Meeting and talking with people from all walks of life is probably, besides the actually crafting of the story, my favorite thing to do as a writer.

In addition to all the good fellowship, let me just say that this was an incredibly generous artist residencies in so many other ways. And I'm truly grateful to have received it.

** Next time, I'll talk about some of the other things I got to do at The Reserve, including exploring a couple of early 19th century graveyards, hiking around an "Indian cave," and answering questions about local Cherokee history and culture. I'll also share my thoughts about how to best enjoy and utilize an artists' residency like this one.