So Anyway, Des Moines

So as I was saying a moment ago (ahem), Des Moines. The Creative Capital workshop. The way I was cruelly forced to write down an artistic goal. I did, under extreme duress. “Nest,” I wrote, as my entire being shouted “How dare you think you could write a grocery list, much less a book?”

But I had no choice. I had to write down a goal, even if I had made it up that second because I had no experience in having goals. And then, bam, by January I had a chapbook manuscript that I was submitting to contests. By June it was the finalist in a contest. And by October it had won.

Yes I put in hours of labor, but in retrospect it feels like it just happened. Less drama than most of my life, and more ease. As the Creative Capital workbook states, “The act of recording goals…informs thoughts and actions and almost inexplicably [my emphasis] affects outcomes dramatically.” As the other workshop participants and I would put it when I’d run into them later: “Everything we talked about at that workshop magically came true.”

A couple of us got together to write more goals a few months ago. That hour has given me a sense of purpose for 2020. All I can figure about what works about this process is that the big hurdle in art is making something that doesn’t exist a tangible reality. And it’s not the artistic labor that does that–at last not at first. Setting a goal is what makes it a reality. All the rest, to some extent, is execution.


Have you been in suspense in the nearly full year since my last blog post about how my trip to Des Moines went?

Well, it was one of those days that has shaped the entire year to follow and perhaps more. I meant to give a full report of the Creative Capital workshop, reviewing my notes and everything, but instead I’ll just say that one of the exercises was to draft a proposal for an artistic project.

Sweating, I wrote “Nest” at the top of my paper and then “Nest is a book of essays exploring the meaning of home…”

Since then I’ve put together a manuscript and submitted it to five chapbook contests. It includes pieces that have been published, but I also wrote additional essays.

The other day I learned the manuscript is a semifinalist in one of the contests.

Thanks, Universe!

This summer I had literally been thinking, “Wouldn’t it be nice if something professionally exciting happened to me that required no effort on my part to make come about,” when BAM, my uber-talented friend Lauren Haldeman won an Iowa Artist Fellowship, which involves a free professional development workshop in Des Moines run by Creative Capital and, in the most Iowa turn of events ever (up there with one’s UPS man giving one a watermelon he’s grown), you can bring a friend. 

She asked me, citing my artistic potential but also the fact that I’m “not annoying,” and I accepted, of course. Thanks, universe! And Lauren (who is often in cahoots with the universe).

The workshop is not until this weekend, but I feel like it’s already changed my life. For one thing, I had to fill out a self-assessment in which I estimated how much time I spend doing art. Here’s my current breakdown of my waking hours:

Family responsibilities: 64%
Job/earning money: 27%
Maintenance (chores) [which I took to mean separately from at home/with kids, like getting the oil changed, going to Costco, etc]: 4%
Leisure [like working out, date nights, etc]: 3%
Creative practice: 2%
Art administration (promotion, grants, career maintenance): 1%
Rest: 0% (LOL, what’s that?)

I’ve never quantified it before. But numbers are power; I feel that now I know I spend, for example, two hours a week writing, I could try to nudge it higher. And I also can recognize that there isn’t a lot of give in my schedule right now and lay off the self-criticism!

The same questionnaire asked me to write down three specific goals for the next three years. I came up with two: 1) write regularly, and 2) start a book project. Even just writing those down on a piece of paper, all alone with my green pen, before even discussing it with anyone, is empowering. It helps me think of myself differently.

And lastly, I had to write an artist statement. I’ve never had to do that before. I liked it so much that I’m going to share it here:

For many years now, when the moment for self-introduction in an interaction has arrived, I’ve said, “I work for a literary magazine.” If they already know that, or more is needed, I add, “I also write short essays…about my feelings.” I say this with a self-deprecating pause before “about my feelings” to acknowledge the common critique of creative nonfiction that it’s more self-indulgence or therapy than literature, but also to subvert that critique in a way, to admit and assert the importance of feelings. I’ve written about my father’s death, my husband’s medical condition, the double-sided coin of parental love and fear. Right now, holding down a job and raising two small children, my main task is finding the time and mental space and self-permission to write, but many projects large and small beckon from the horizon: a personal, literary, and cultural exploration of breastfeeding; an ethnography of clutter; an account of starting to learn Korean (my mother’s first language) at the age of 44, concurrently with my toddler son speaking his first words. I’m currently feeling my way through these situations and will hope to find connection with readers’ own feelings, especially the more complex and less easily expressed ones.

Off to Des Moines at 6 a.m. Saturday morning, then! I hope the workshop doesn’t involve role-playing, and I hope things at home aren’t too chaotic without me. (First overnight away from the two-year-old, eep!)

Added Content!

I added my 2017 writing to the “My Writing” page—one print publication, in Mid-American Review, and three essays published online, by Full Grown People, River Teeth, and Tin House. 

Also some older pieces, from waaaaaay back in 2005 and 2006 (which, honestly, doesn’t seem that long ago to me).