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Want to talk writing? Join me in my latest project...

The Postmasters Podcast: Writing & Life After the MFA

I will be co-hosting this monthly podcast with my good friend and fellow writer, Lacy Mayberry. We met at Lesley University and graduated together with our MFAs in Creative Writing exactly one year ago. Our short Prologue introducing ourselves and the program is already up. Episode 01, The Road to Lesley, will "air" July 1, 2013. Along with being able to listen to each full episode on our website, you can find us and subscribe for free downloads on iTunes!

Together, and in our energetic, enthusiastic style, Lacy and I will:

  • Share our experience as writers who opted to complete a master's program in our field
  • Discuss the practicalities of an active, productive writing life, both before and after obtaining a master's degree
  • Offer our perspective on the low residency experience
  • Research the offerings of classic, full-residency university writing programs
  • Utilize our growing literary network by interviewing colleagues, mentors, role models, and legends, then share those conversations with a wider audience
  • Collect and share information about literary journals, writing retreats and conferences
  • Encourage one another, as well as other aspiring writers
  • Help maintain a positive outlook on an industry which, due to publishing company mergers and the self-publication trend, can sometimes seem daunting and cutthroat
  • Laugh a lot (as we usually do!)

We hope you'll subscribe to the blog for updates. Visit writingpostmasters.com to subscribe via email. You can also Like the Postmasters Facebook page and Follow Postmasters on Twitter. Along with helpful information, encouragement, and interviews with writers at every level of personal success, we'll be doing fun giveaways and other activities which will keep our audience both informed and entertained!

If you're at all interested in the ins and outs of the true writing life, we hope our podcast will be a good resource for you. Check out The Postmasters Podcast today!

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Opening with one of the eternal sunsets for which Scandinavia is so well known, just behind Gustav Vigeland's infamously Angry Baby, this video from Kristian Larsen captures the true, modern personality of Oslo. 

Oslo in Motion from Kristian Larsen on Vimeo.

All the city's landmarks are here, from the Opera House to the Royal Palace to the City Hall. And there are some finer points, too, like the dandelion fountain at National Theater (my favorite) and the spinning iceberg sculpture in the water near Operahuset. These photos were captured over a two-week period in May of this year. When you see the city erupt in a flurry of flags and native costumes, you're seeing this year's 17 May celebration and parade. Jonathan and I are somewhere in that crowd, along with Madolyn Yuen, our guest that weekend.

Someday, when I leave this place, I will be glad to have this video as a souvenir. It bottles up some of Oslo's magic: colorful, clean, full of light, speed, and efficiency, but with time and space enough to stretch out and consider the ever-and-quickly-changing sky.

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Moving to Europe, I expected some downsizing. The average private vehicle size, for instance, is far more compact here than in the U.S. When we see big trucks on the road, they are a novelty. We take notice and assume a wealthy American decided he couldn't transfer to the Norwegian branch of his oil company without his trusty Dodge. Cars here are just smaller. Ditto city apartments, meal portions, playgrounds, and storage spaces of all kinds. 

This last is best demonstrated by the average size of refrigerators in apartments across Oslo.

On the left, you can see our kitchen the week I moved in, back in April 2011. The poor, little guy had been retrieved from the bowels of our building's basement by our landlord. Who knows how long he'd been decommissioned before that. To say we've crammed him full of food is something of an understatement. As a car-free couple, the grocery haul must be restricted to what we can fit into a backpack and reusable bags. Even then, if both of us went to the market, we were able to bring back enough food to make that tiny fridge bulge at its aging seams. There isn't enough room to hold all (or even most!) of the beer cans Jonathan's friends bring over on game nights, either.

Plastic drawers were cracked. The door bleated in protest each time we swung it open. The freezer wouldn't close all the way without effort. The temperature inside the fridge swung wildly from just cold enough to keep the milk good to so cold I couldn't pour soda past the iceberg that had formed within the bottle.

And then last week, as we sat in the living room minding our own business, Jonathan and I heard an enormous crack! One of the glass shelves had split right down the middle. And there was almost nothing on this shelf, so we knew it wasn't our fault. Little Fridgy had simply given up.

I would have felt sentimental about the whole thing had our landlord not acted so quickly to replace it. I worried about having enough time to say goodbye... and then the new hunk showed up. Gleaming. A foot taller, inches deeper. With baskets that could accommodate frozen pizzas. With shelves in the door that could hold soda bottles... get this... standing up!

I stripped Little Fridgy of his magnets and sent him on his way. Because magnets, in my world, are the way I show love to my kitchen appliance. And it was time to magnetize the new guy. Tenderly. One bit of memory at a time.

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I could smell smoke. Cigarettes, wood fires, weed. The music and rhythm of parties echoed up and down our street. A group of twenty young people gathered across the street. I leaned over the railing from my apartment balcony to see them. Smart phones twinkled in their hands. Their voices were animated, full of potential energy. Beers popped open. A boy tugged gently on the long, blond hair of a female companion. After a minute, they paired off and started snapping photos of themselves. I could imagine Facebook timelines refreshing all over the city, all over the world. Midsommers party-time!

Today, the sun rose at 3:54 a.m. Sunset won't come until 10:44 p.m. The summer solstice is the longest day of the year. Here in Oslo, that adds up to 18 hours, 50 minutes, and 1 second of daylight. For the sake of comparison, my old hometown of Livermore will see a mere 14 hours, 51 minutes and 47 seconds of daylight today. This is one of the delights of living at the top of the world.

Last summer, Jonathan and I celebrated the solstice by hiking in the Oslomarka. We took the train out to Movatn station, an unmanned on the shores of a small lake. We disembarked at 10:15 p.m.; the train eased-then-flew off into the night. And we walked home.

(PHOTO: A nameless pond in the Oslomarka at 23:15 on 20 June 2012)

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I'm just old enough to remember the enthusiastic robot's voice AOL employed to announce, You've got mail!

The computer always took so long to power up. At thirteen, I could hardly contain myself. Hand on the mouse, waiting. I could see the little gray mailbox before anything else: an icon which a world on the cusp of the Internet Age understood as a receptacle for letters and packages. It was something familiar and tangible to cling to as we tried to wrap our heads around the advent of electronic mail. No need to comprehend the sequence of ones and zeroes. Just mail on a screen. The how didn't matter.

And just as we'd always loved seeing the mailman in his blue shorts and eagle-patched shirtsleeves stop at our house to leave real letters, we were suddenly excited to see the little red flag on the digital mailbox tick up. To see the door pop upon to reveal a stack of little white e-letters inside.

You've got mail. Oh, those words were a thrill. 

Now, email is rote. A burden, an addiction. It has worn down our pioneer patience to a nub of ADHD. My email tab is open all day, everyday. (It's open now. Checked it. Nothing new.)

But the beautiful irony of two decades of instant gratification is that, for me, it's only enhanced how much I enjoy receiving real mail. Snail mail. The stamped kind. From all over the world. 

That's why I signed up for the Postcrossing project. Send postcards to strangers; receive postcards from strangers. I've sent and received about 57 over the last three years. I recommend it to everyone! Learn about culture and geography and the exquisite similarities of human nature. Collect stamps. Get inspired to travel to new destinations. All and easily with Postcrossing.

You never know when one will arrive, either. A treat. A treasure.

But yesterday, I got something better. 

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Next weekend, Lesley University will open its doors to another 10-day residency for students in its Low Residency MFA Program.

Fifth semester students will be presenting seminars and public readings at the end of the week before they graduate, and before all that happens, they'll stride across the campus and camp out under the trees like gods and goddesses in their own universe. Fourth semester students will be moving quickly from place to place, equally eager and anxious about this being their last set of workshops. Third semester students will be outwardly confident, walking slowly because they've given themselves enough time for everything, rooted securely in the knowledge that they have a full year left to enjoy all this magic. Second semester students will be resolute, relieved to know where classrooms are, excited to work with a mentor they actually got to choose this time around, thrilled to see their writing friends again.

And first semester students?

Mouths open. Eyes spinning in opposite directions. Carrying far too many books. Confounded by the simultaneous urge to laugh and to cry.

Prepping for a low residency masters program in advance might seem overwhelming, but arriving on campus to experience one is more so. First semester students will be wandering the lovely, compact Lesley campus, almost perpetually lost. They'll be early for the wrong classes. Late for the wrong meals. Their pens will run out of ink mid-seminar. They'll find themselves sitting on stairs in violation of the fire code during readings at Marran Theater because the place is unexpectedly packed! Before their first set of workshops, they'll be fighting nervous nausea. After their first set of workshops, somebody will cry. (It was me. That's how I know.) 

That's the important thing for all first-timers to remember. Every single Lesley student, even the ones glowing with effortless ease, have been in your place.

You can't actually prepare for the heavenly, chaotic boot camp that is the first residency. But few people are willing to accept that. So, in case you're gearing up to spend your first 10 days at Lesley (or Goddard, or Bennington, or Palm Desert, or any of the other numerous and prestigious Low Residency Creative Writing MFA programs), allow me to give you what little insight I can.

The following is my response to a wonderful email I received yesterday from a student about to start at Lesley. I hope it helps!

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Four and a half days. That was all. And some of that time must be spent sleeping. Sleeping instead of laughing, embracing, catching-up. Three times Audrey counted it. Four and a half days. And tomorrow her guests would arrive.

I'm being dramatic, and I'm cheating a little, too. There's nothing terrible about having one's best friends in Oslo for four and a half days, except that it's less than five and a half or six and a half days. I'm stealing O. Henry's drama to make you understand, dear reader, how much I worried that four and a half days wouldn't be enough. One hundred and eight hours. Selfishly, I wanted a full week, but four and a half days would have to do.

There was clearly nothing left to do but flop down on the shabby little couch and howl.

Or suck it up.

I did the latter. And then planned, planned, planned all the stuff we would do, the places we would go, and the people we would see during those 108 hours. As it turned out, I needn't have worried. Life may well be made up of "sobs, sniffles, and smiles, with sniffles predominating," but smiles certainly held their own while Cindy and Brad were in Oslo with us.

At left, you'll see what we wound up doing for the majority of that time. Besiding. Morning, noon, night (or what passes for night during summer in Norway), we were beside one another. At meals. Playing games. Exploring the city. I could reach out and touch my friend's elbow, feel her wrap her arm around my waist. Nothing went according to anybody's real plan. Brad and Cin were nursing colds. Jonathan ordered fish on his pizza. The tourist info office moved since last summer, so I had my guests break the law by riding public transportation before we actually bought the passes to do it! But all of it was done besiding. Which made it perfect.

Don't overplan your next visit to Oslo with friends. I've got a recipe for one Basically Epic Week in Oslo:

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"I have learned that if you must leave a place that you have lived in and loved and where all your yesteryears are buried deep, leave it any way except a slow way, leave it the fastest way you can. Never turn back and never believe that an hour you remember is a better hour because it is dead. Passed years seem safe ones, vanquished ones, while the future lives in a cloud, formidable from a distance." 

-- Beryl Markham (West with the Night)

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Rodeo Weekend 2007: Audrey kicked back at Panama Red (then Panama Bay) in downtown Livermore, CA, USA

I've been dreaming of greasy In-n-Out wrappers and 100-degree summer days and rounding small town corners to encounter the smiling faces of old friends. I wake to the smell of manure and sawdust. Garth Brooks croons to me in the perpetual twilight of each Norwegian summer night. I am haunted... because I missed Livermore's rodeo for the third year in a row. It leaves me aching. Between the rodeo, the Alameda County Fair, and my church's Fourth of July picnic, June and July are just about the toughest months for me to be a world away. The remnants of those wholesome traditions, so very, keenly American, cling to me.

The expatriate lifestyle is one to which I still count myself as new. Not only do I remember the questions which run through the anxious mind of someone making the decision to leave home, to make a new home somewhere else... I still have those questions. Doubts are only natural. Sometimes, Jonathan and I will talk about our future in terms of a life spent here in Norway. Years upon years. This isn't something I would have guessed before we came. I might even have denied it vehemently for the sake of my parents and friends. But it comes up. Then fades away again. Unresolved. Left to simmer.

In this way, I fear I am committing one of the cardinal sins of the fully-embraced expat life; I am leaving the old place slowly.

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Photo: Jonathan and I had our best California buds in town with us this week, so they got to attend the launch party on Friday. A huge treat for me! See more photos from the party at the end of this post.

North of the Sun, South of the Moon: New Voices from Norway is the first anthology published by the Oslo International Writers' Group, and now you can own it in paperback! The following is the introduction to the book, which I was honored to co-author with OIWG's founder, ZoĆ« Harris

At sixty-six degrees north, there is an invisible line drawn around the globe. The line passes through only eight countries: Iceland, Greenland, Canada, the United States (Alaska), Russia, Finland, Sweden, and Norway. This is the Arctic Circle, a perforation between the Land of the Midnight Sun and everything below it, places where the sun will always set, at least for a breath. Such is the mysticism of the Far North. Polar bears lumber across the icescapes of Svalbard under endless daylight from April to August. More populated areas above the Arctic Circle also enjoy these "white nights", where a girl with a book can read the fine print from dusk to dawn without ever flipping a light switch. 

It is an exotic concept. But, as always, there's a dark side.

The Land of the Midnight Sun cannot escape the inevitable Noon Moon. Twenty-four hours of daylight in the summertime; twenty-four hours of darkness in the wintertime. To cope, residents of Norway put up black-out curtains just to fall asleep in July. In January, light box therapy helps some fend of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). We know two seasons: summer and winter; celebration and survival. These are things to which only people who have lived in-country year-round can attest, an invisible line which binds us together.

When the Oslo International Writers' Group (OIWG) formed in early 2012, the initial aim was camaraderie: to create a network of writers who could share and critique work, discuss writing as only writers can, and support one another in what can often be a rather lonely pursuit. Soon it became evident that the talent and ambition of this set of writers warranted a project, some kind of collective effort to showcase our work to the outside world.

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Before we moved, I made sure to read several expat blogs written by people residing in Oslo. Talking to people (or reading the writing of people) with boots on the ground is the best way to gain understanding of the day-to-day stuff in a faraway city. Since moving to Norway, I've been contacted several times by strangers with questions about our decision to expatriate, about our life here, and about Norwegian culture. I like getting those emails and messages, and I do my best to answer their questions succinctly and honestly. In case you, dear reader, have similar questions, I thought I'd post one such email exchange.

I received this one after my photo appeared on the NPR politics page just before the 2012 presidential election. Please be patient with the grammar and spelling issues. I thought it would be disingenuous of me to "clean" it up. The sincerity and curiosity are what matter.

Hello, my name is Chris [removed].  I currently live in South Carolina.  I was viewing inauguration postcards on NPR and came across yours.  I was very amazed at what you said, and it drew some interest in regards to you living in Norway.

The reason I am emailing you is because I was curious about the quality of life there compared to here in the US.  I have been trying hard to make changes in my life as far as living and in my daughter's life such as eating more organic foods, depending less on "medicine" and using herbal products, and breaking away from the "TV" hypnosis.  I am very concerned about the education in this state because every year it gets worse, and no one is held accountable.  If the schools make the required scores on the tests, then they are doing good, but when you ask some of the kids how to figure out what 2 x2 is and why is it 4, you get weird stares or "I don't know" responses.  After reading about how you said about the quality of education, it really got me interested.

Basically, I would like to know how to get information to research the possibilities to move to Norway or other countries that are like Norway.  Living here in the US lately is disheartening; many don't fight for change, they just go along with what mainstream media pumps into their minds.  I just want the best for my daughter, and not worry that she, too, will have to break her back and burn herself out just to live a peaceful life.

Thank you for taking the time to read this, and I appreciate any guidance or information you can provide.

After taking a few days to consider Chris's complex and comprehensive questions, I responded. 

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About this Archive

This page is an archive of entries from June 2013 listed from newest to oldest.

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