Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

2018 Milestones

c7ed24d8-1b1b-4364-9f31-7d483de36f04-1211-000001348bf41cf6_fileThe year is winding down, so I thought it would be fun to post a few highlights of 2018. Some I’ve written about, and some I’ve let pass without posting on the blog until now.

Personal Milestones

Kim and I have reached that big milestone of graduating our son, Aidan from high school at the Mississippi School for Math and Sciences, where he got one of the top educations in the country, and sending him off to Williams College for more of the same. He’s had a great first semester, becoming involved in campus life, making great friends, performing with the Berkshire Symphony, and even keeping up his grades. We’re very proud of him in so many ways.

img_2284Between his high school and college, we had a chance to take a family trip (with W honors students) to Peru. The picture is by the floating islands of Lake Titicaca. We also spent time in Lima, Cuzco, and Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley. Thanks to our friends at Perú Vivo for being our guides and taking us to two villages on Lake Titicaca and to the people we met there who were so welcoming!

Back stateside, our travels have taken us to see family in Alabama and Iowa, including a chance to meet my mother’s newest great-grandchild, Ira Hillman. We’ve also been to Williams twice: once to move Aidan in, and once for Family Days.

Writing Milestones

The biggest milestone this year for me has been finishing my fourth collection of poems. “Finishing” may need to be in quotes, as I keep tinkering with it, but I’ve been sending it out to publishers and had a copy printed for my mother. By finished, I mean that I have enough poems for a collection, and they work together well as a book, even though I’ve done dome rearranging and even added a poem or two since I printed the manuscript. Maybe next year, I’ll be able to announce a publisher, but don’t hold your breath—it can be a long process!

I’ve also published poems in Haiku Page, Asahi Haikuist Network, Tar Rive Poetry, and Ekphrastic Review. Naturally, many other publications have sent poems back to me, and I’m nearly as proud of the places I’ve submitted that didn’t accept my work as those that did. As I tell my students, you have to keep at it until the right poem reaches the right reader at the right time. There are so many variables and so much competition for space in journals that “rejection” (a word I prefer not to use) can’t be taken personally. I’ve had some good comments come back on my poems recently, even when they haven’t been selected, and that keeps you going.

Professional Milestones

The biggest change in my teaching career this year had been moving into a more administrative role. For the past 3 years, I’ve been directing our low-residency MFA program in creative writing. This year, I added department chair to my titles. I’ve taken on the role of chair for the Department of Languages, Literature, and Philosophy, scheduling classes and managing the budget for our English, Spanish, Women’s Studies majors and Philosophy and Religious Studies minors. It also involves more committee meetings and mentoring more faculty. In the transition to this new role, we were also given permission to hire two new tenure-track faculty who will teach in both our MFA and undergraduate English programs. We’ve also started a search for a new Spanish professor, and I hired adjuncts in Latin and English and worked with dual-enrollment instructors in English and Spanish at three high schools. As a result of these changes in duties, I’ve passed the main responsibilities for Ponder Review on to my new colleague Brandy Wilson and for The Dilettanti on to Kris Lee, and I’m trying to cut back some on my advising and other duties wherever I can.

I was also happy to teach a couple of new graduate courses this year. In the spring, I developed the Translation Workshop, which was a lot of fun. We read some translations together and read essays on translation theory and practice. Students translated from German, Polish, Latin, and Spanish. This fall, I taught a new course on Feminist Poetry, starting with H.D. and Muriel Rukeyser (among other Modernist feminists) and covering second-wave and third-wave feminist poets. Response from students on both of these classes was good, and I hope to be able to teach them again soon.

I also led another successful Eudora Welty Writers’ Symposium and Short Residency classs for our MFA program. This was the symposium’s 30th year and my 25th (as participant; 11th as director). It was great to bring Steve Yarbrough to campus again after several years and to work with many new and returning writers. Discussing their works with our students in the days leading up to the symposium adds a lot to the experience. Making connections with Southern writers and introducing our students to them is one way I combine the two sides of my professional life — teaching and writing.

All in All

2018 has been a great year in every way, and I’m looking forward to how all the things that have gotten started this year will play out in 2019.

A Beautiful Day on the Capitol Lawn

Yesterday was another beautiful day at the #msbookfest! I spent the day, from 7am to 4pm on the lawn of the Mississippi capitol, talking with people who had been to the many panels of the book festival, and ran into a number of old friends, including authors Katie Pierce, Becky Hagenston, and Mike Smith and alumni Katrina Byrd, Amber King, Trey Harper, and Rei Lott. I also talked to a lot of people and handed out flyers for The Eudora Welty Writers’ Symposium, The Ephemera Prize, our undgraduate programs, our Low-Res MFA, Ponder Review, and Poetry South. It was a fine day. with cloud cover most of the day (though we were in the shade), a little breeze (which felt great, though it threatened to blow our flyers away — pens helped hold them down). It was great to meet Mississippi high school students and teachers, as well as writers who are considering an MFA deegree or who are looking for places to submit their work. And it was nice to hand out sample copies of our magazines. One of our most common comments was “I didn’t know The W was doing all this!” Worth the price of admission right there.

And for anyone who has thought about attending the Mississippi Book Festival or a book festival in your state, I highly recommend it. Everyone was having a good time, and only us poor exhibitors, booksellers, and the authors in Author’s Alley had to stay outside all day. All of the sessions were in the capitol building or nearby, so attendees could visit our tables and wander around outside between sessions, but could also escape the heat whenever they felt the need. And those of us outdoors had shade, a welcome breeze, and only one shower of rain to cool us down!

What’s fun in Peru?

Okay, the answer to that question is probably just about everything. Peru is a fabulous country with excellent food. I don’t think we had a bad meal — and we’re vegetarians. Peru’s cuisine is fairly meat-heavy, but there were a lot of vegetarian choices at regular restaurants and even vegan or vegetarian places in most places. (We were careful to eat in restaurants where we knew the hygiene would be good, which was most restaurants, but not much street food. And we were careful about the water we drank.) There are lots of things to do, from the musical fountain park in Lima, to museums, to natural beauty. We barely touched the surface, but we felt like we saw a lot.

Naturally, one of the high points was Machu Picchu. For me it was great to see the place I’ve often taught about when I cover Pablo Neruda’s poem. We went with a guide in the morning, and he gave us a lot of cultural background about the history of the city and of the Incas. Since we were traveling with a group of students from our university, our guide was affiliated with International Studies Abroad, who organized the trip. We were with him for a couple of days and had a great relationship. He even led some of us on a hike up to Machu Picchu from the valley in the morning, and in the afternoon, we were free to hike around on our own, so Aidan and I went to the Sun Gate and the Inca Bridge.

Nonetheless, as impressive as Machu Picchu is, it still feels a bit touristy. There were a lot of other tourists around, in other words, and it’s the main site most people going to Peru see. I wouldn’t miss it, but if you can, you should go further afield.

DSCN8955We toured the Sacred Valley on the way to and from Machu Picchu, which was also great. And we got to stay a Sunday in Cuzco, where we witnessed the local festival. There were many groups marching either in military uniforms, school uniforms, or traditional costumes. There were marching bands and traditional musicians. And the festival seemed to go on most of the morning and well into the afternoon, even in the rain. We also went to the local market and a couple of museums, and though there were tourists, we felt the locals outnumbered us by a lot, instead of the other way around.

After Cuzco, our group took a charter bus down to Puno province, where we had three nights in two home stays in local villages. There we were treated to fabulous local cooking, hikes with the president of the village to see vistas of Lake Titicaca, traditional fishing (both setting out the nets in the evening and hauling them in in the morning). And we got to experience cold nights and an incredible view of winter the night sky, and sleeping in an unheated farmhouse with enough alpaca blankets to keep us warm. Oh yes, and no hot water for most of our stay, but a cold shower was okay for Aidan and I (and some of our group did take advantage of one shower with a solar water heater).

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We visited floating reed islands on Lake Titicaca, and a couple of our students took part in a traditional ‘wedding’ (they played bride and groom, and I got to be father of the bride at one point).

Back in Lima, our family said goodbye to the students and stayed on for another week to explore on our own. We experienced more museums, long walks in the city, and even braving the private bus system. (It helped that Aidan is confident enough in his Spanish that he could help figure out some of the routes.) We even got to watch Peru in their first World Cup Soccer match since 1982, and we got to watch the celebrations (despite the fact that they lost that match).

If you’re headed to Peru (or anywhere), I highly recommend getting away from the main tourist areas if you can. We loved going to the neighborhood bakery (and finding a Belgian fry stand with vegetarian burger wraps) as much as we loved any of the sites. Wandering the streets was as much fun as any of the museums we went to (though I would highly recommend the art museum and the Larco Museum in Lima). And even the day we wanted to go to an archeological site in the city but found out it was closed turned out great: we visited a large public olive grove, got lunch (and watched some World Cup), and walked around Miraflores. Sightseeing can be great, and it’s good to have an agenda, but it’s also great to let go of the plan now and then, wander through a market or just walk around the neighborhoods.

What have I been up to?

Frequent readers of this blog will know that I sometimes go awhile without posting. There are periods when I get busy and don’t have time to write (here). So what is it that’s kept me away from blogging this spring and summer? Some pretty cool stuff, actually…

  1. This spring I applied for and was promoted to chair of my department. That won’t officially take effect until August 1, but planning and preparation took a good chunk of my time once the application process was over.
  2. Along those lines, I was chair of a search committee for a tenure-track position in creative writing in our low-res MFA program (and undergrad program). That process took all spring semester, and since we were given the go-ahead to hire a second tenure-track faculty member from the same search, even extended beyond the semester.
  3. Speaking of the MFA program, this spring I was director of 3 theses, 2 of which were defended in June. (1 will continue writing this fall.) This was in addition to my usual class load and an extra short-residency class at AWP.
  4. Besides directing 3 theses, I also served on 3 more thesis committees. That meant I had students who defended their theses in June, so one thing I’ve been doing was reading those amazing book manuscripts. We’re proud of our new MFAs!
  5. Outside of work, this spring was college audition and visit time for our son, so we had extra travel days to take him to prospective schools. We’re extremely happy with his final choice, and the visits to schools he didn’t decide to attend were all part of the decision process.
  6. Besides choosing a college, of course our son also had to work hard to finish his high school career, prepare a senior recital, and play in All-State orchestra and the North Mississippi Youth Symphony. And as proud parents, we wanted to be there for it all, only I had to miss All-State because…
  7. We discovered that our foster puppy had actually not been spayed, when she went into heat. That meant figuring out how to care for her and being at home a little more for a few weeks (no kennel stays for her!), then eventually taking her in to be spayed and staying with her as she recovered. Not labor intensive, but also a little out of the ordinary. Everything went well, and we even found her a permanent home!
  8. As summer approached and once our son had graduated (and family visited for the celebration), I welcomed 15 MFA students to campus for their Full Residency, an intense 9 days of workshops, readings, seminars, and thesis defenses.
  9. Once the residency was over, I joined my wife and son in Lima, Peru, where Kim was helping to lead a study-abroad trip. I got to join them as they journeyed to Machu Picchu and Lake Titicaca, and we stayed behind in Lima for a week on our own. All-in-all, a magical experience.
  10. After a few days back in the US, we traveled again to Iowa to see my mother, my niece, and her family (including her 2-month-old). That was a relaxing time, filled with family, good food, celebrations (it was July 4, after all), and World Cup soccer viewing.

Now that we are back and it is summer, I’m hoping to find a little more time and a few things to write about to revive this blog. Though serving as chair will mean I’ll likely stay very busy in the fall, I hope it will also give me plenty of ideas to write about. And I’m hoping to find a few spare moments here and there to work on the blog. Let’s see how I do with that! Certainly, I can make some time this summer, and maybe come back wtih more details on a few of the things mentioned above.

Dispatch from the #MSBookfest

MS Book Festival with capitol dome
This past Saturday, I spent almost 10 hours outside on the capitol grounds in Jackson, Mississippi. Under normal circumstance, you might have to be crazy to do that in August, but this was no ordinary Saturday. It was the 3rd annual Mississippi Book Festival, and I was there in my third role.

The first year of the festival, I came down as a volunteer, and spent my morning in the Information tent, telling people where to go and how to get there: questions I quickly learned how to answer, even though I hadn’t been there myself. Fortunately, by afternoon, I was relieved from my post and went inside. I even managed to get into a few of the panels (attendance was high that first year, and you had to get in line early — attendance is still high, but there are more sessions in bigger rooms, which helps).

My second year, I was on the poetry panel, so I spent much of my time indoors waiting for my panel, reading, and listening to other panels. I did go outside to sign books and then to browse the bookstores and exhibitor booths.

This year, I opted to be an exhibitor myself, getting a booth for our low-residency MFA program. I also brought along brochures for our undergraduate concentration, the Eudora Welty Writers’ Symposium, the Ephemera Prize for High School Writers, Poetry South, and Ponder Review. I even brought my books and a brochure for A Writer’s Craft.

One thing I learned was that if you arrive at 7am and stay outdoors all day, it doesn’t seem as hot as it does when you come back from a midday break indoors and experience the heat full strength. The shade helped enormously, of course, as did the occasional downdraft of cooler air from one of the pop-up thunderstorms that went over, but didn’t drop much rain (thank goodness, though I had a tarp, just in case). And naturally, it’s good to bring plenty of water and dress appropriately for the weather. I kept my water bottle filled, and I wore a new quick dry, W Owls polo.

View from our table at MS Bookfest

It was also fun to meet the other exhibitors, and to talk to all the attendees who stopped by. It was great to meet prospective students, writers, high school students who were excited about the Ephemera prize, and W alumni who wanted to reminisce about the good old days.

Thanks to Carol Ruth Silver and Michael Farris Smith for stopping by, as well as to current MFA students Sally Lyon and Katrina Byrd. It was also great to see all the young kids who were enjoying the book festival: one barely old enough to read, but very excited to be there.

I gave away nearly all my brochures, and even ran out the one for the Eudora Welty Writers’ Symposium. I passed out copies of Poetry South, along with bookmarks, calls for submissions, pens, stickers, and the ever popular W mints. Though I didn’t get to go inside to catch any readings (next year, I need some helpers), when I did go in for my break, I could tell the crowd seemed every bit as big as in years past, and every bit as satisfied with the event. And when I was outside at the table, I was entertained by live music, people watching,  butterflies, and a gorgeous day.

If you haven’t been to the Mississippi Book Festival, you owe it to yourself to go next year. If you’re a writer, you might get on a panel (or set up your own booth for self-published and small press authors). If you are with a literary or arts organization, then you might want to have your own exhibitor’s table. And if you’re in the general public, then you can just go and enjoy all the free readings and entertainment, and maybe even buy a book or two. There are also plenty of food trucks with po’boys, catfish, popsicles, and other summer delicacies.

It is billed as the “hottest book festival in the country,” but don’t let the fact that it’s in August hold you back — if my fellow exhibitors and I can handle staying outside all day in 90+ degrees with a heat index over 100, then you can handle trips to the outdoor tents sandwiched in between readings in the Capitol and neighboring venues.

Where Have I Been?

It’s been just over a month since my last post to this blog. Before that, I had been on a roll, posting frequently about creative writing pedagogy issues and my new textbook. So what happened?

Life — Okay, Spring Break

That’s right. Once every semester, even professors get to take a break. Often this is productive time spent grading and cleaning house. Occasionally, we actually take trips to keep up with our students! This year, I took a college trip with our 16-year-old junior in high school (hard to believe it!), Aidan. For Spring Break, we left the South and headed to snowy Ohio to visit Oberlin and Cleveland Institute of Music. We also took a morning to drive through the Cuyahoga River Valley National Park, see some beautiful, if chilly, waterfalls, and learn the correct pronunciation of the river, which sounded more like “Cayoga.” We had a great time, learned a lot about these schools and his ideas about college, and enjoyed the snow (the locals seemed to be getting pretty tired of it by now).

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Book — Editing the MS

Shortly after Spring Break (thank goodness), I got the manuscript of A Writer’s Craft back from the copy editor. This meant going back over it with a fine-toothed comb, double-checking every comma and word. We didn’t always agree, and I will admit that she found some of my stray commas, though I corrected some of hers. The copy editor is in India, so there were some differences between American and International British usage we had to iron out, and a few places where she simply didn’t understand what I was trying to say (I doubt the copy editor is a creative writing instructor). And there were a few places where she called me out on potentially confusing or just awkward phrasings (not too many), and where her suggestions weren’t much better but did cause me to find another way to put it. And there were a few places where I simply put my foot down and said that’s what I really meant, darn it (or something to that affect). Then there was the task of checking the bibliography formatting and other mind-numbing but essential tasks. All in all, I’m glad to have had another set of eyes on the manuscript. It will be better for it. The final page proofs come back soon, and then I can create the index, which I’ve already been working on.

Southern Literary Festival

Yes, though I had a bad cold or possibly bronchitis, I hopped in the car and drove to Ft. Smith, Arkansas, for this annual meeting. I’m co-executive director and we’re desperately looking for a host for 2019, or I might have skipped it this time. The W won in the literary magazine category, but I couldn’t convince any of our students to take the 7-hour drive with me. The festival was great—I heard some great readings, had a chance to catch up with colleagues, and met some students from other schools—but I was still working on my edits and trying to recover from my cold, so it would have been a good year to stay home. Yet duty called.

Grading

Did I mention this traditional Spring Break activity? It didn’t happen this year, thanks to our travel, so after SLF, I had a fair amount of catching up to do. I’m now caught up to the point that all the grading I have left was turned in less than a week ago, so I’m pretty happy. Just in time to get serious about taxes…

Those are just a few of the things that kept me away from blogging, but I hope to get back to more entertaining or informative posts very soon!

AAA: Epic fail

Note: I posted the following comments on the AAA Facebook page, but the way they have it set up, those comment posts don’t get broadcast beyond their page, so all the complaints and some accounts of good service don’t have much effect in social media. So I decided to post my account of last night’s fun with AAA here.

Our faith in AAA is shaken after last night’s epic fail. Dead battery in parking garage at Huntsville airport, so I tried calling AAA. First I was on hold for 7 minutes until my cell phone cut out, then my wife was on hold with them almost as long, until my mother-in-law called and got through. The operator promised service within the hour (!?!), but the operator said she’d put a rush on it.

Half an hour later, they called to say it would be another 45 minutes, so I stayed on the line to talk to a person. On hold for another 10 minutes. The guy explained that they had called two companies, since the first declined the job (after ten minutes). Later, the second service guy called to say he couldn’t get to the 3rd level of the garage in his truck, WHICH WE HAD TOLD THE OPERATOR initially! Why they sent a truck that couldn’t get to us is beyond me. He was going to try to get someone in a vehicle that could reach us.

I finally went back into the deserted airport (it was late at night), found someone who helped me call security, and they were able to jump the car and get us on our way, no thanks to AAA!

One bright note: we were able to cancel the service call without sitting on hold. Now, will it be as easy to cancel our membership? The snafu with the service contractors might be a fluke, but the long hold times on a Saturday night are extremely disappointing. What’s the point in having roadside assistance if you’re stuck on the side of the road listening to some of the most annoying hold music and a recorded voice continually thanking me for my patience, which ran out long, long ago.