Update from the Duke City

I’ve put together this fascinating email newsletter / blog post to update everyone in one fell swoop. It’s much easier on my tired little digits than sending individualized emails to each of you.

Morning Coffee2008 was a year of change for me as you all know.

Big changes.

After much soul searching during my Christmas in Hawaii (picture, right) I decided to apply for graduate schools.

It was all Greg Martin’s fault.

(you can skip this part if you know it already)

In 2007 I attended the Taos Summer Writers Conference, a master class taught by the aforementioned Greg Martin. During my one-on-one conference, Greg said to me, “You know, you make a lot of self-deprecating remarks about not having a masters degree [like some of the others in the class], why don’t you get one?”

It was sort of a DOH! moment. (Oprah calls them Aha! Moments). It was so simple. Why had I not thought of it before? And so, I decided to go for it. But that was back in July…

By the beginning of 2008, having not taken the GRE limited my choices, and then my procrastination (and January 1 deadlines) limited even more choices, until there was only one school left on my list: University of New Mexico where Greg Martin teaches creative non-fiction. Perhaps the universe was trying to tell me something? So I busted my butt getting my application in order, which is no easy task and includes a Letter of Intent and a sample of my writing. Twenty pages of my writing to be exact. Writing that is supposed to show the admissions committee that I am worthy. Oh, and transcripts from every college I ever attended…. Even Grossmont College where I took one class that I couldn’t get into at San Diego State. And three letters of recommendation (thank you Judy Reeves, Amy Wallen, and Jill Badonsky!).

I got the call on March 5, 2008, that I was accepted into the MFA program in Creative Writing at UNM. I was stunned. And afraid. This meant leaving a job I loved, a great roommate, lots of friends and family — and moving to Albuquerque. For three years. At least.

And so I did. Except I didn’t have to leave my job. My boss at Arc-Zone.com is incredibly supportive and has allowed me to telecommute and work part-time.

My house in snowDuring my first trip to Albuquerque in June, I bought a house (pictured left)   Crazy. I was thinking I would wait six months or so before buying, but when looking at rentals that would allow me to have a separate office, the rental expense would be pretty close to a mortgage payment… I found a house, walked in and said, “This is me.”

Buying the house was the easy part. Transitioning back into school after 20 (ahem) years has been challenging. And remembering that I am here to write. And making the time to write.

I took two classes for the Fall semester: Contemporary Literature and Film of the Southwest and a Creative Writing (creative non-fiction) Workshop.

The Literature class was a terrific way to learn about New Mexico. We read an interesting collection of books: All the Pretty Horses, We Fed them Cactus, The Real Billy the Kid, Black Widow, Eye Killers… we talked about guns on the frontier and the ever changing economies of the southwest, the landscape, legends and myths, vampires and skin walkers…. and we read many essays on literature covering topics like reproduction of art in the mechanical age, and reification and the cultural work of literature… All a reminder of why I don’t like literature classes… I would prefer to de-construct a piece of literature to see how the writer created it rather than trying to analyze what the piece means given its soci—cultural context… but regardless the class was informative and the most important part was that I learned about the Southwest and the literature and history of my new state. I even wrote a 10 page paper, submitted it to a conference, and it was accepted… I’ll be presenting my paper in February, “DukeCityFix.com: Albuquerque on the Internet Frontier” where I examine ways in which the Albuquerque based social networking website, reproduces and redefines regionalism online. Yes, I know it’s quite esoteric.

For my Creative Writing Workshop, we had to submit two drafts of two different essays we were working on. And of course offer responses (written) to our fellow students regarding their work. In other words I was reading 4-5 essays each week, in addition to a few assigned readings from the instructor on craft and examples of published essays. Oh yeah, and writing.

For the “final exam” we were required to complete one of the essays and submit it to six literary journals. And I did it. I took a piece that started out at 20 pages, expanded it to 34 then cut it back down to size (going from 9500 words at its peak to 7461 words upon submission) I looked at each and every scene, and cut what did not need to be there. Then I looked at each paragraph, and cut what did not need to be there. And then I went sentence by sentence and word by word, slicing, trimming and razoring out what did not belong…. It was painful. Not sure I’m entirely happy with what I submitted (I’m kind of afraid to look at it for fear I’ll see one more glaring error or a chunk missing). But the bottom line is that I completed it and sent it out into the world. I won’t be surprised if I get six rejection letters and am looking forward to it as a badge of honor. But don’t be surprised if I call you up and want to cry on your shoulder when those letters start coming in….

The hardest part is that I miss my San Diego friends. The ones who’ve known me for a long time. The ones it’s easy to be around, don’t have to give them the background information because they were there:

  • The office people (it’s not the same via instant message and email)
  • The San Diego Writers Ink people, Dime Stories (nee First Fridays) at The Grove
  • My Read and Critique group (Judy Reeves rocks!)
  • Third Thursday Writers at Bookworks in Del Mar (Jill Badonsky always sparks my creativity)
  • Karin and Karen who walk Blacks Beach with me (oh how I miss the ocean, and Karin who’s known me since college the first time around)
  • My dear friend Ralph
  • Kim aka Mikki aka Parker who I’ve known since college… and even though we don’t get together often I know she’s there…
  • My roommate Susann who makes awesome pasta
  • Chico the Chihuahua (who knew I liked dogs?!)
  • My neighbor Kevin (and no it’s not because he mowed the lawn and was available to lift heavy items or do shots of tequila)
  • Most of all, my sister Debby (I even miss her neighbors– Scott and Beth and Don, and Patrice….)

And it’s not just my San Diego friends, it’s my LA friends like Julie and Mirna (thank god I was able to fly in for their wedding). And my central valley friends, like Gina who lost her husband to cancer and I wasn’t able to fly out last minute to attend the funeral. It made me feel so very far away to realize it would take me 10 hours and 800+ dollars to get there…

I’ve been exploring my new environment–  New Mexico is really a beautiful state, and Albuquerque is nothing like Phoenix:


I’ve been trying to fit in and make friends here in Albuquerque. It was so much easier as a child. To go out onto the street and ask some kid, “you like play chalk?” and next thing you knew you were drawing on the sidewalk together.

Now everyone is busy. Already friends with others. Don’t always remember to include. I don’t think it’s deliberate, but it hurts just the same to feel like the last kid picked for the kickball team, to feel like I’m just outside the window with my nose pressed up against the glass.

And so I keep trying to get involved. I started a UNM /MFA Creative Writing blog (go figure) and have gotten a few fellow students to join in. I also record the readings for Works in Progress, a spoken word program to showcase graduate students’ work (in progress) to the community. I’ve signed on as a volunteer for the Children’s Grief Center where I hope to put my own experience to use helping kids suffering the loss of a loved one. I’ve been attending the Treehouse Open Mic (even though they bill it for poetry, I read prose– 3 minutes worth to keep my chops up) and I attend the DukeCityFix.com Web Geeks happy hour when possible, though it seems to be permanently scheduled for Wednesdays– and I seem to again have a class scheduled for Wednesday nights… oh well.

I got A’s in both my classes, so I must be doing something write…. And for next semester, I have three classes on my schedule: Intro to the Profession of Writing, a Creative Non Fiction Genre Studies class with Greg Martin (which means we have a lot of reading to do, and we’ll look at how things are constructed) and a writing workshop with a visiting writer… so I’m looking forward to learning more and getting a lot more writing done.

I’ll keep you posted!

8 thoughts on “Update from the Duke City

  1. Come home when you can.

    I like to play chalk.

    Cormac McCarthy lives near Santa Fe. Could you chloroform him and stuff him in a burlap sack and bring him home so I can talk to him and stuff?

    Happy Ano Nuevo

    I fully expect that with your marketing skills, your adopted state will soon be called “New and Improved Mexico, with 20% more modernity.”


  2. I’m reading this on Wednesday night after group has gone, and remembering all our Wednesday nights together. And, in fact, referenced you and “Reconstruction My Mother” in tonight’s group. You’re still here!

    Miss you, and, I’m so glad the Universe created this chili-sprinkled path for you. Love to hear your stories.


  3. Jen:
    I’m so proud of you. I always wanted to get my master degree but doesn’t look promising. Actually doing it & enjoy it, you are the one.
    You are my reason would want to visit New Mexico. See you soon there.
    All the best,
    Amy from Hong Kong


  4. Oh, thanks for the details! I only knew the vague generalities. Next semester sounds like its gonna be a blast for you!

    You are SO doing the right thing. I’m reminded of a song lyric that always got me: “I’m standing exactly where I’m supposed to be!” -Poi Dog Pondering


  5. You are absoluely AMAZING and go for it all.
    I hope we can have another Christmas together as I feel like you and Debby are my daughters.
    Love and Aloha


  6. Wow! A gripping post. I have been frustrated not knowing these deets, and finally, you delivered. With all that’s on your plate, you amaze that a nanosecond was available, and that the will to put even two more words together. Your honesty on friends… missing ones you know and love, and trying to make new ones in a short time where it feels everyone is taken already. I know I know I know from my experience making a life in Israel when I’m only there a couple months a year and I’ve only started this hopping eight years ago. You have such an engaging, original way that you can cut corners and shave years off the process. Hey, we met in a brief conversation years ago, and I have cared a lot about you since! Oh, and that house. If it is a billionth as adorable inside as outside, you scored.

    Am I proud of you. And so pleased to call myself your friend;-) xoxo

    PS Can’t wait for your next newsletter!


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