Hello friends and family!
We are going through a time. I believe we will come out stronger and more aware on the other side. It's been hard to think or even concentrate on small, day-to-day or feel grateful as we watch these terrible growing pains wrack our country. If you can donate or you're interested in books, articles, and art you can engage with on the subject, feel free to leave a comment or message me. A lot of writers have been posting resources and getting involved in ways besides just sending money or protesting.
When the coronavirus hit, I already knew it was about to happen from watching the news about China and talking to students there. Staying at home more often underlined how limited my life can be as a freelancer with a variable schedule. However, I was able to be productive. I worked a ton in April and May since my students became more available, forced to quarantine, work from home, or cease activities that gave meaning to their lives. The last week+ has been very difficult for me. Sometimes, all I want to do is cry when I see the news. I've felt deep rage in my bones, deep sadness in my gut. Sometimes, I've been on the verge of cancelling commitments or getting a migraine.
I'm trying to help in any way I can and practice self care. I hope that you are too. That's why I'm writing this post: to give some good news (and hopefully entertainment) in these dark times.
Last night, I had an informal interview/call with the editor-in-chief of a literary magazine. She wants me to be their art editor, taking point on visual submissions, giving some direction to the magazine, and contributing to reading all regular submissions and deciding which pieces to publish. I'm thrilled to do this exciting work for them and I hope that it will help me learn and grow a lot along with them. Right now, I need to send a bio and photo for their masthead and then choose the right time to announce everything on social media. One big perk for me is that they have weekly video meetings to discuss submissions and other stuff. I'm looking forward to being part of a small community and making friends.
Last month, I also began volunteering as a fiction reader for Longleaf. You can see me on the masthead here. They are a bigger group and they have four submission windows each year. My task is to read and assign scores to about twenty submissions per week! I've already read some fantastic stories that I hope we will publish.
As far as my own writing and publications, there has been a lot since the quarantine. I went from a place where I was barely publishing at all to a place where I can't fit all my 2020 publications on my one-page CVs. I have new publications forthcoming in Serotonin, Moonchild Magazine, Ayaskala, Cypress, Ligeia, *82, and the Mark Literary Review (along with some older acceptances I'm still waiting on)! I have new work that I'm proud of that I hope will be picked up quickly.
If you missed it, Vox Viola published three of my poems in their spring issue. I'm especially proud of 'To my cat, who loves pens' and 'What Is, Enough.' You can read them here.
Good news on the 'Maria is taking classes' front: I've received several scholarships and awards to attend workshops this summer. I'm taking a one-day translation workshop from GrubStreet Programs that I'm very excited for, a lot of one- and two-hour craft seminars at Lighthouse Writers Workshop, and even a workshop for free through my literary magazine, Longleaf (a great perk for the staff and current contributors to the magazine). I also received bigger grants to attend two poetry workshops through the Speakeasy Project. In one, we will generate about twenty-five pages of work. In the other, we will hone about eight poems and make them as strong as possible. I expect to emerge from the summer with more confidence, knowledge, and work (and probably exhausted and weeping haha). The last workshop (I promise) is a four-week hybrid and multimedia workshop to learn to create visual art, poetry, and writing projects. I will finally be able to achieve my ultimate goal, wrapping cat text around an image of Minwu!
If you've ever been a 'hey I've always wanted to learn to write' kind of person, a lot of venues are offering free or very cheap workshops and events at the moment that you can participate in remotely. I'd be happy to recommend some options to you if you ask and tell me what it is you want to write. A lot of courses are geared towards beginners, so no worries if you are new-ish. I've even met a lot of people who are writing in their second language! Finally, I would, of course, be thrilled to help you with any writing- or editing-based projects you are working on.
In Minwu news: the other day, I was eating lunch and I had to work. I ate the outside part (around the crust) of a salami sandwich and put it on my desk next to my mouse, figuring I'd finish it after the class ended forty minutes later. I began class as normal. Minwu had left to go in the other room (I assumed to watch the bird or be with Cody). Twenty minutes later, a piece of bread hit me in the chest and bounced onto the floor behind me. I said some not-so-safe-for-work words and picked up the bread. The other part of my sandwich was gone and Minwu was half-cowering under the bed. I told my student I needed a minute, muted myself (thank God), got up and started pursuing him. He went to Cat Jail for a long time!
He had dragged the other half of the sandwich, salami, mustard, and all, under the bed to eat. I hadn't even noticed that he had come back! But yes, he is still alive and doing well. I don't think he ate any of the sandwich because he was too busy hunting the other half. Usually he's not very aggressive when it comes to food and he is also not very good at stealth. So it was a huge surprise when he hunted that sandwich! He does love popcorn, chips of any kind (we caught him once with his entire body in a Doritos bag), dairy products (I think something about the milk drives him nuts) and noodles. He is the curator of noodles when I make spicy noodles, with thin spaghetti/angel hair being his second favorite.
Two days ago, we had a huge bee scare. I had to teach and I came out into the sunroom for just a minute. One thing he is good at is finding bugs (usually small ones like silverfish). He will chirp at a silverfish on the ceiling until I notice and we Do Something about it. This time, he was very interested in something next to the window, so I came to expect. Now, this is a cat who jumps at birds and bees flying outside our windows, so I didn't have high expectations until I noticed that yes, there was an actual freaking bee on this side of the glass, and he was swatting at it with his paw. Visions of My Girl danced in my head and I had to run for a glass and trap the bee in between my water glass and a video game case that was sitting nearby. I didn't have time to do anything else so I rushed him into the bedroom and inspected him. He seemed fine, a bit curious as to why I was so crazy. I shut the door and taught my class since I didn't have time to deal with the bee.
Thankfully, Cody came home and dealt with the bee. He said Minwu had basically beat it up and it couldn't fly too well when he put it outside. Minwu was fine, too. If anything, he wanted to see where his new toy had gotten off to! I fear for this cat's life sometimes.
Okay, I don't think I can follow that one up with anything nearly as good. Just know that I'm thinking about you, wondering how you are, and hoping that we will come out of this moment stronger and wiser (and healthy!)
I'll be posting more in general as the days go on. If you'd like to support me, you can sign up on Patreon for just $1 a month. Today I'm spending quality time with Cody and Minwu and making art! I hope you have a good day, too.
There's no doubt that BeadforLife has been a great experience. I got to go to Uganda. I raised thousands of dollars to support the wonderful women whose voices and experiences became real during my time there. I bought and sold beautiful, handmade, fair trade pieces. I took a picture of my cat wearing a BeadforLife necklace.
The YP program was conceived as a program to reach out to young professionals. From the program announcement: "We want motivated, compassionate, movers, shakers, and difference-makers! In one word, we want LEADERS who want to use their time and talents for good! We need YPs who aren't scared to roll up their sleeves and get to work building a successful program. As a YP, you will contribute to the growth process of the program, participate in Think-Outside-The-Box fundraising to support BeadforLife programs, and participate in the Live Below the Line Challenge."
Now, I did all of that. I lead the Virtual Coffee Hours, which were meant to bring YPs together to converse about the topics that mattered to them. I became a member of the YP advisory board. I raised money, reached out to all of you and got a terrific response. To me, the program ending doesn't invalidate BeadforLife or the money you all contributed. Or, for that matter, the work we did to grow the program.
So, why, if I had a successful experience in the program, is it ending? The answer is a story about the tricky pathway to volunteer engagement, financial fiscal years, and program design. There are two ways to look at it: you could blame everyone, or no one. I think both are valid.
Although YPs had the option to continue in a different volunteer program, I thought it was a good opportunity for me to reassess my chosen commitments. I wish it had ended differently, but I want to say thank you to everyone who supported me and the program.
No one likes tax time. At best, it's yet another reminder of the grown-up world. At worst, it's the devil coming to take even more of your money than you already gave him during the year. I, however, have a bittersweet relationship with taxes.
My childhood had four seasons: summer, fall, winter, and tax season; my father is a licensed tax preparer. He built this small business while working full-time as a firefighter. It's true that a fire station has a lot of downtime, especially for the person manning the ladder truck, which typically responds to fewer calls than the standard engines or ambulances. Many firefighters do, and thrive on the long shift schedule, which is followed by several days off during which they can grow their other business. Their contacts and reputation as blue-collar heroes help. But that doesn't make it pleasant.
The increased income helped our family relax, pay for big ticket purchases, and make ends meet after the spendy holiday season. However, it also meant high tempers, overwork, stress, and reduced family time. My father worked (and continues to work!) so hard during tax season that he set a standard that seemed nigh unreachable. Many of us have had a ten or twelve-hour video gaming session at least once, or a binge-watch of a show that keeps us at our computer. My dad regularly worked ten or twelve hour days at his desk. We used to joke that the only thing that could get him out of his seat--besides dinner, which my mother insisted we eat as a family--was a fire!
Nowadays tax season is heralded by some wordsmithing of my father's business to client communications, fielding computer upgrade questions, and stealing all the new promotional pens for my personal use. I don't feel a January dread the way I used to, but I still understand that travel in either direction and quality time get eaten up by a business that could kick any standard, big-box tax firm's ass in turnaround time, quality, and price.
However, as I went to tally up my itemized deductions this year, I realized just how much time and money I had spent last year on charitable giving, volunteer work, and donations. I donated to eleven nonprofits, volunteered my time for four others, and assisted other crowdfunding and Patreon efforts that aren't tax-deductible. I also bought products from the nonprofit organizations I support, and used Amazon Smile to give to a nonprofit of my choice.
What I learned: if you keep giving and doing what you can throughout the year, you'll have something to feel good about when tax season comes. Reflecting on my contributions gave me a sense of purpose and direction for the yet-unused time and money in the year to come.
Even if you don't acknowledge tax season as a real season.
Seriously, my dad is awesome and he works with clients in any state. I am also available to hire as a freelance writer and simple web designer.