August 20, 2022

Buckle Up

When opening the Blogger interface, I am struck by how much things have changed. Hello, hello out there. Is this thing on? I think, as well, about my footprint of "SBeasley" and "SandraBeasley" across the web. If the internet is around in a hundred years (assuming civilization as we recognize it is around in a hundred years), generations that come after us may consider it wildly shortsighted that we were allowed to claim whole internet domains and social media spaces simply by way of being the first person, with a particular name, to think of seeking 

Or maybe the point is that there will always be newer platforms that create space for the next generation to stake their unique claim. 

I try to be reasonably tidy in terms of my internet presence in terms of website, Facebook, and Twitter. The two outliers are Instagram--newest platform for me, and I'm not sure how I want to use it--and this blog, oldest platform for me, and I'm not sure how I want to use it. (In this respect, Janet Fitch is a kindred spirit.) Today, I'm just bulletin-boarding my 2022. 

In order to explain 2022, I have to rewind and explain the years prior, specifically the academic years. The simple version of the story is that I got to serve as American University's Visiting Writer in Residence for AY 2020-2021, and 2021-2022. What I loved about my time was leading the graduate workshops in creative nonfiction, advising MFA students on their thesis work, teaching a LIT 215 undergraduate course called "Writers in Print and Person" (a class I've had an adjunct relationship with going back to 2014), and learning to teach LIT 107, the "Intro to Creative Writing" class that spans all genres. 

I have never had the security of a multi-year contract in teaching, much less a tenure-track job, which makes it harder to measure pedagogical growth. But I used this sustained appointment to adopt a contract grading policy for undergraduate teaching, with an emphasis on equity; to re-invent my workshop technique with graduate students, abolishing any "cone of silence" tradition; and to conceptualize a 300-level literature class, "The Ethics of Writing Creatively," which was ultimately approved to fulfill AU CORE's Ethical Reasoning requirement. 

Wait; I came here for a chick who digs poetry, not a chick who digs teaching. 

Teaching fuels the poetry, I promise. But it's also true that publishing a book of poetry during a pandemic is really hard! I haven't gotten to do many readings for Made to Explode since it was published in February 2021. The paperback edition of Made to Explode will be out in December of this year, and I hope that gives the collection a second chance to make it into reader's hands, and maybe even people's classrooms. In the meantime, my spirits were considerably lifted by learning that the Library of Virginia has named the book one of three finalists for the 25th Annual Literary Awards, in the poetry category. Alongside books by Tina Parker and Rita Dove (mentor & hero, no pressure). 

The pandemic has made it difficult to think expansively over these past few years. Our emphasis has been on hunkering down and surviving. But I came into the summer with something like Big Hope, in part because a next nonfiction book (a collection of essays in unconventional forms) has been coming into focus. After the brief spring "tests" of driving first to AWP in Philadelphia back in March, then a literary festival at Clemson University, I lined up substantive summer travel in the form of two residencies--first ten days at A.I.R. Studio in Paducah, Kentucky, and then all of June at the Storyknife Writers Retreat in Homer, Alaska. Both offered responsible options for quarantining (if needed) and staying safe, while also furnishing the community I've craved.

Those residencies were amazing. Full stop. Storyknife, in particular--we were on the Ring of Fire, with volcanos on the horizon! in the solstice season, meaning, 20 hours of light a day! six women writers, gathering around a dinner table!--took my breath away. 

Wooden rail in foreground, as part of back patio view; Alaska landscape with waterline and pine trees, bright sun mid-sky.
8 PM Sky in Homer, Alaska (July)

Office view, showing a small desk pulled to a window--vase with flowers on the sill. Window view shows Alaskan landscape at mid-day, water and pines. Office decor includes roller chair, lamps, and purple comfy chair..
Evangeline Cabin Studio Desk

View of a back patio to main cabin, with six green adirondack chairs and empty planter boxes. Two green cabins with white trim and brown roofs in mid-background. Landscape of pines in distant background.
Residents' Deck of the Main Cabin

Dining table, modern, with six chairs. Flowers on the table, persian rug beneath. Windows behind chairs show view of Alaska landscape, with pines, at mid-day.
Communal Meal Table in the Main Cabin

Evening sky, sunset colors ranging from pinks to blues, Alaskan landscape with pines and mowed grass in foreground.
8 PM Sky in Homer, Alaska (July)

I used my time at these two residencies to read, write, and refresh. So there's no easy way to segue to what came next: on my last full day in Alaska, I got the call that my husband was in the hospital back in our home of Washington, D.C. He spent most of July in the ICU. Now we're wrapping our heads around what comes next. I had to resign my Visiting Writer-in-Residence position at American University for Fall 2022. I had to defer a plan to join the faculty of the University of Nebraska's low-res MFA. I have no choice but to slow down, to be present in the moment, and to be grateful for the company I'm keeping. (And, in a brief nod to the fickle cruelties of the American medical system: to remember, money isn't real.) 

That's the thing about life--it keeps changing, right out from under us. 

January 11, 2022

January Jump

When I opened my laptop at the end of December, determined to post to this blog once more before the close of the year--well, that's how I found out Betty White had died. I thought, Nope, see you in 2022. I closed the laptop's cover. If you've struggled with social media for this past year, I get it. I've needed to go silent for long periods. That's particularly painful when the pandemic hasn't given us a chance to connect in other ways, because it can feel like damned-if-you-do, erased-if-you-don't. But I'm grateful because when I look back at the second half of 2021, I spot bright glimmers of living, of pleasures taken, seized in a time that felt dark. 

I went to Nationals games, mostly with my dad, and we cheered when the team was good and hung on even when they were terrible, having traded away almost all our star power. The cactus in our bedroom bloomed a half-dozen times. Sal the Wonder Cat kept us amused, though for a stretch we had to refocus on his critical care--a crisis he came through thanks to Marshall Veterinary Clinic and VCA SouthPaws. 

We took advantage of the post-vaccine, pre-variant lull to visit friends in Maine; one of them, Maureen Thorson (pictured distantly on the shore), has a great poetry collection coming out next month called Share the Wealth. We went sailing and ate many oysters. Their house backs up against a stunning Audobon preserve. 

The day before fall classes started at American University, my husband and I day-tripped down to the Annmarie Sculpture Garden & Arts Center--the planned part--and added on a dusk hike to Calvert Cliffs--the unplanned part. My semester was good but busy. I instituted contract grading, which is a larger conversation I'd like to have; not sure if this blog is the place to do it. I had very few chances to gather in-person with writers, which is usually a big part of why I teach, but we did have a lovely reading at GoodWood on U Street. That doubled as a chance to say goodbye to longtime local fiction writer Leslie Pietrzyk, who moved down to North Carolina. Fortunately I think she'll be back to visit because her new story collection, Admit This to No One, is all about DC.

My one bit of book-travel was for Lit Youngstown, and poet Teri Ellen Cross Davis was a much-needed passenger for the long drive to Ohio. I got to give a lecture on the golden shovel as a form, and introduce Jan Beatty for the closing night reading. The unexpected gift was a painting by Kelly Bancroft inspired by my prose poem, "Cherry Tree Rebellion."

Our neighborhood is right by the water, and I've tried to take advantage of that--there's no quicker lift to my spirits than a walk along Hains Point, and for many months a free jitney ran back and forth across the Potomac Channel for the sake of the neighborhood. The Wharf restaurants are too expensive to visit regularly, but one quiet afternoon I treated myself a a Vesper and worked on an essay collection. 

I'm very ready for the new year. Let's be honest, that exactly what I said at the end of 2020. 2021 did right by me in many ways. I put out my fourth collection of poems, Made to Explode, and had work appear in three anthologies. My family got to celebrate my sister's wedding in October at Glen Echo, and we managed to safely host my husband's family for Thanksgiving; these are immeasurable gifts. And yet I'm ready, I'm ready, and daring to be optimistic. I hope you are too.