Tuesday, April 01, 2014

End of the First Quarter


Today was a rough writing day. I opened three different word documents and tried to make sense of things I typed up in October. I opened my notebook and wrote for all of six minutes before writing "This is shit," closing the notebook, and going to the kitchen for tea and Oreos. Then I took a nap. It happens. I expect there to be more rough writing days as I figure out my rhythm in this new life. I also expect there to be plenty of good writing days.

Armed with tea and Oreos, I opened my notebook to the first entry of the year. Here's what it said. 
 
January 1, 2014

Resolutions? No. Affirmations? Maybe. More like promises to myself. Gifts to my own heart and soul. A vision for the next twelve months.This is hard because while I am great at planning for others, I find it challenging to put myself first. But I need to try for my own happiness and strength and security. What are these things I can do for myself in the second half of my 41st year? 

Push my own limits emotionally and mentally. Find a new place in the world. Make room for myself in it. Learn new things. Be braver, be gentler, be more open, be more protective of myself, trust myself more. Love more deeply – not just others but myself. Find my center. Protect it. Make it count.

What about tangible things? What will I do?
Get paid for writing
Make good contacts with other writers
Apply for writing jobs and get one
Write in a notebook a minimum of three times a week (it’s a start)
Have more solo dance parties
Purge the unnecessary physical items
Write more letters, put more love into the world.
Read more of the unread books on my bookshelf
Up yoga to two times a week

Be: brave, scrupulous, fearless, loving, calm, centered, active, considerate, animated, balanced, generous, thoughtful, kind, intense, ambitious, understanding, patient, fabulous, chic, empowered, enriched, enamored, fruitful, voracious, prolific, unencumbered, believing, rhythmic, engaged, rapt, ridiculous, game, open, cautious, concerned, discerning, romantic, free, freeing, freed, subtle, outrageous, enigmatic, enthusiastic. Be. 

So, yeah. That's a lot. But, you know what? I'm getting some of it done (especially the yoga and the solo dance parties). And I'll keep working on the rest.

Saturday, January 04, 2014

Reflections on a month at the Vermont Studio Center

I received a grant to spend the month of October living and working alongside fifty international artists at the Vermont Studio Center, an artists’ residency and retreat in Johnson, Vermont. Here is my take on my time there. (originally published in the January/February 2014 issue of the Arts Council of Greater New Haven's Arts Paper)

_____________________________________
Everything is still outside the studio buildings. The Guhon River gurgles outside my studio window and an occasional car drives down Pearl Street, but the town is quiet. Inside the studios, painters, sculptors, and writers from all over the world are working on drawings, paintings, installations, essays, and stories. The Vermont Studio Center provides artists with the opportunity to work in residence for two to twelve weeks at a time. We live together, eat all of our meals together and share our work, whether it is in the casual setting of the Red Mill Dining Hall, during open studios events, slide talks and readings, or over a drink at one of the two pubs on Main Street. We have everything we need to be productive—time, space in which to work and live, plenty of coffee, meals, and a community to support and encourage us. We also have access to visiting artists who meet with and mentor us in one on one sessions. I am amazed to have four weeks to work in a studio of my own, as free from the distractions of my “regular” life as I want to be, and that I get to share the experience with a group of people with a similar goal: to create.

Maverick Studio
I go to my studio in the Maverick Building every morning after breakfast with a thermos of coffee and some fruit. It is warm for October in Vermont, so I open my window and set up my easy chair close enough to set my bare feet on the windowsill. I write a prompt at the top of the blank notebook page, set a timer, put my headphones in, and write in longhand for sixty minutes, unedited and uncensored. My intention is to expand on some of the themes I began working on in my graduate thesis, but the free writing exercises take me in a different direction.  I follow. When the timer goes off, I unfold myself from the chair, reach for one of the books I brought with me, and read for another hour. I take a walk to get more coffee around 11:30am and sit on my favorite bench by the river before lunch.

I find my friends in the dining hall, some of whom have come to the Vermont Studio Center from as near as Boston and as far as Alaska, and we debrief about our mornings. There is excitement for the painter who has sold three paintings from her MFA show at Johnson State College up the road. I ask a fellow writer about the progress she is making on an essay she asked me to look at the day before.  She says she’s figured out how to finish it. I hear snippets of conversation in English, Spanish, French, and Chinese coming from nearby tables as I clear my dishes away.

I return to the studio to type up the morning’s work after lunch. I don’t look at what I’ve written too closely in an effort to keep myself from editing as I go. I wait until the end of the week to print out pages and mark them up with notes and rewrites. I am able to get my routine and rhythm to a place where I am averaging fifteen hundred to two thousand words per day. Is it all great work? Only in the sense that for the first time since I completed graduate school in January I am writing every day. I was afraid when I arrived at Vermont Studio Center that I wouldn’t have anything to write about. I realize during these weeks away from my life in New Haven that what is most important is to write every day; to create a habit and maintain it every day no matter where I am.


Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Enough.


To the men I encountered on my way to and from work today:


I assume you think you are complimenting me when you share your opinions about my hair, clothes, legs, etc.; I assure you that you are only succeeding in making me angry. Twice today, men not only referred to me as “delicious” as I walked by, but they followed me for a few steps. How is that supposed to make me feel anything other than objectified, unsafe, and more than a little creeped out?  Gentlemen, I PROMISE you that the approach you seem to be so fond of will NEVER result in my saying, “and that’s how I met your father.” 

If you heard a man speaking this way toward your wife, girlfriend, sister, mother, niece, or daughter, you would want to take action, right? This is my action, my response to your disrespecting me and all the women in your life with your catcalls, leering,muttering and following. It’s not even WHAT you are saying at this point, it is HOW. The power is in the tone you use when you speak to me—at me—as I walk by.  When you use that tone to say I look "delicious," I am no longer a woman; I am a thing.

You know what would be better (and by better I mean, more respectful)? If you acknowledged me as a person, and not as an object, by smiling or nodding in my direction, then I would reply in kind.  If you feel compelled to speak to me, then try wishing me a good morning, good afternoon, or good evening.  Again, I will respond in kind. I don’t find it amusing, charming, or endearing when you say and do the things you said and did today. You like my haircut? I don’t care. You think I have nice legs? Keep it to yourself. You think I should smile? You don’t know me, you don’t know what kind of day I’m having, but you should know that your encouragement is not going to turn my frown upside down.


Let’s review:

1.     You don’t know me.

2.     Your behavior is not going to create a situation in which you get to know me.

3.     Next time you are tempted to engage me, think of the women in your life  

4.     Stop it.

5.     These are the most words you are ever going to receive in response to your behavior toward me.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Oscars 2013

Three-peat!
That's out of the way...

Yes, I'm still excited about it. I'll have more later in the week, once I've processed everything.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

DCA/MFA


Daisy Christina Abreu, MFA
On January 4, 2013, I graduated from Fairfield University's MFA in creative writing program and was honored to be chosen by my fellow graduates to deliver the student address. The  text from my speech is below. 

Dr. White, Dr. Crabtree, fellow students, faculty, family, friends, and my beloved Cohort 5.  It is an honor to be here speaking on behalf of my fellow graduates as we celebrate this huge accomplishment.


December 2010. It was a dark and snowy night. We arrived on Enders island, OUR island, not knowing what to expect of the program or of each other. The only thing we knew was that we wanted to be writers. Better writers.

Every six months we gather in this sacred place to commune with words and with each other. Summer and winter, we come together to check in, to encourage, to workshop, to be around other writers. We ask the hard questions:

“What the hell is a craft essay?” “Do I have time for a nap before the next seminar?”
“Has anyone seen Chuck Johnson?” 


Enders Island in Winter
We commiserate over a lack of sleep and an abundance of salad. Most importantly we talk
about writing. Not just in workshops and in seminars, but in this chapel and in the gazebo, and over those ever-present salads and over more than one glass of Crane Lake.
Fiction…nonfiction…poetry…screenplays. Fitzgerald…Hemingway…Didion…Baldwin…Neruda… Whitman.

We cannot get enough.

Second semester reading
We learn the craft from the best professors we could ever hope for; teachers who give us pages of notes, direct us to readings that inform our own work, and reassure us when we think we are the WORST writers in the world. They urge us onward, reminding us that the only way to get better is to keep reading. And keep writing.

There were times when we thought: I’m not here to make friends. I’m here to do the work, to be better than I was last semester…last residency…last year. There were times when we thought: What am I doing here? This is crazy. I don’t think I can do this.

I admit that there was a night or two…or ten…that first residency when I sat in my room and wept. I was nervous and I was scared, but I was also excited. I knew I was where I belonged. Nothing scarier than the first few days of a new life, acknowledging that it is all I ever wanted, and realizing that this is only the beginning. 


The fear passed, then returned and stayed for a while…looking at you, third semester projects…but we knew it was all going to be fine. Tough, but fine. Whether sitting under a tent talking about literary heartthrobs, or standing up in a chapel in front of what is probably the most receptive audience any of us may ever have, we realized: We are here to make friends.


Friends and writers forever
This is not a competition. While we are competing with ourselves to be better, we are not necessarily competing with each other. That is evident on our Facebook page, where every new student is welcomed to the family, every success is cheered, and every setback is received with support and words of encouragement. And that support is not limited to Enders Island or the Internet. And it does not end when we graduate. We will continue to show up for each other at readings whether at the Fairfield University bookstore, the public library, or some random coffee shop. We will return to Enders for alumni day and support the new cohorts of students. And we will break sales records on amazon.com whenever one of us publishes a book.
 
Ten years ago, my dear friend and mentor, Clayton Hudnall, gave me this advice when I asked what I should do with my life: “Know what you want. Do not go anywhere for creative writing, unless you are obsessed by it.
   
It wasn’t until recently that I understood what he meant. Everyone in this chapel knows how obsessed my fellow classmates and I are with this program and with writing. On behalf of my fellow graduates, I want to thank all of you for supporting and allowing us to indulge in our obsession for two solid years. The good news is, we did it. The bad news is, we’re still obsessed. That’s not going to change. Ever.
  
We are writers. Writers who teach, who parent, who care for ailing parents, who work for nonprofits, who freelance, who search for Bigfoot. We were writers when we arrived on that snowy night and we are better writers as we prepare to leave this place.

No matter what we do, we write. We can’t help it. In the shower, in the car, at our desks, as we drift off to sleep. Writing…always writing. We. Can’t. Help it. It makes our loved ones crazy. It distracts us during the day. It keeps us up at night. We are constantly searching for the right word, the right line, the best way to express ourselves. 

Poems…novels…essays…messays. We make lists and outlines, on notecards and on napkins. They are in our pockets and in our pocketbooks.

This is a messy business. But we won’t stop. We can’t stop. This isn’t the end of our work; it is the beginning, the next chapter. We are prepared, even when we feel unprepared. Don’t misunderstand me. We are scared to death, but we are at our most fearless when we are writing.  Don’t try and stop us. We’re writers.

Maybe I’m sentimental, basking in the glow of graduation, enjoying a last wistful lap around the Island.  December does bring much reflection; there is a lot of flipping through the old notebooks and reviewing first, second and third drafts.  But January. January is a clean sheet of paper, a new page. White as the snow that fell on this island the night we arrived.
My friends, this—tonight—this is our new year.  Let us go forth and write up a storm.  

Blizzard Cohort for life.  
 
Blizzard Cohort for life