Lay it Fallow

5537491867_e7a15c2aea_zI think I need to put my memoir away for a while.

This is not an easy thing to do. When you write a book that you believe in, that you love, you want to do everything you can to see it thrive in the world.

There’s the writing itself, of course, first. The eight years of it, the many revisions, the several re-structurings.

There’s the giving it over to eyes other than yours. Trusted eyes. Smart ones. There’s that feedback. The cutting, the enlarging. The sense that others might love it too. Continue reading

Just Ducky

It’s almost November. We have yet to “fall back,” so the world is dark and quiet still outside of the windows in my dining room, where I have set up to write each morning before the family rumbles to life on the floors above me. This time has become increasingly important, as life here in Pittsburgh proceeds at a much faster pace for me than it used to. We’re just shy of four months into this new adventure, and I’m finally ready to start reflecting on it.

The abridged version (abridged like my email and text messages to faraway friends; like the phone calls to my mother; the narratives of “how was your day” that Paul and I share between running off to tend to the next thing) is that we are happy and Pittsburgh is good! Continue reading

What Bloomed

Oh my. This hurts more than even I expected it would.

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The movers come tomorrow.

Tomorrow.

Here we are, at the very edge of it. The house is a chaos of boxes. The children are over-screened while the parents move endlessly from basement to curb to Goodwill with bags of refuse or donation; climb endlessly up and down stairs, sort piles of stuff into proper containers; label things efficiently, appropriately. Try to contain it.

But it overspills and so do I.

My home. Saying goodbye is poignant, painful. We have lived in this duplex for almost ten years. Much has taken place. Children were conceived, gestated, brought home from the hospital to sleep in basinettes, to be rocked in the same green glider, to crawl in the grass of the (glorious) backyard, to swing and slide under the perfect shade of the maple tree.

This is what they know. This is where all of their firsts happened and so many of mine. First (successful!) co-habitation: six months before we got married. Our home decor tastes seemed to match from the start and we both liked eating chocolate ice cream out of mugs, in bed while watching Iron Chef (the original!). First positive pregnancy test: after an argument with Paul, who claimed to know I was already pregnant, over who knew my body better, me or him? (In this one case, him.) First flutter of life: upstairs on the green futon, with the cat lying on my belly. It roused her from a nap. First (of many) sleep-deprived nights of nursing: though they both did, this memory belongs mostly to my ravenous, no-artificial-nipple-thank you- girl. First:

rolling/sitting/standing/crawling/walking/running/talking/eating/arguing/realizing the cats are not furniture: both of them. Everything. Bike riding. Tree climbing. Flower picking. Bug looking. Garden planting. Yes.

I have lived on Thomas Street for almost ten years. In those years, because we had a lovely landlord who let us, I planted many things. I made a vegetable garden that gave me decent tomatoes and terrible cucumbers. I made an herb garden that could not make enough basil, parsley and thyme. A bird donated lavender when the stuff I planted wouldn’t take, and now it has taken over the back tire garden with its long purple tufts. I cut some to dry and take with me the other day.

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Thank you, birds!

But with all the gardening, all the planting I’ve done, I never planted my favorite flower, the one I carried at my wedding and the one I wait every spring to see.

I never planted irises. And every single spring I’ve lived here, I’ve kicked myself for it. Here’s the thing: every time I thought–oh, I should really plant irises this year–some voice inside me said, What for? You won’t be here in the spring to see them!

I thought State College was going to be a temporary place for me. I didn’t expect to stay past my graduate degree. And then, when I did, I didn’t expect to stay past the kids’ first years. Or Paul getting his PhD. Or, or, or…

And then, suddenly, almost 14 years had gone by and I was still here.

Still here.

And last year, our babysitter gave me irises to plant–”Mother’s Blue Flags”–and I thought, Yes, it’s time. And I planted them. Irises!

And then, I took a new job. And now, we are leaving.

And the irises…they sent up gorgeous, sharp green leaves and I waited expectantly to see them burst open.

But they didn’t.

They didn’t bloom. Maybe they need a year to get settled. (I understand, irises.) Maybe they’re not getting enough light? I don’t know. I’m kind of a crappy gardener if you want to know the truth. And I’m sad. So sad that they didn’t bloom for me after all these years. But you know what did bloom?

The scylla…

photo (70)And the forsythia…

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And the tulips…

photo (71)And the lilies…

photo (74)photo (76)And the trees in the gorgeous back yard…

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And these two perfect flowers…photo (37)And also, definitely, these two…

IMG_0474It ended up that I have lived in State College longer than I have lived anywhere else–even my “home” state of Connecticut. And I’ve lived in the grey & white duplex on Thomas Street longer than any other house.

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This turned out to be a wonderful place to root myself. And now, I’ll go plant myself in Pittsburgh. It might take me a year to settle before I bloom, but bloom indeed I shall do.

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Irises at the Arboretum. Oh, I’ll miss that place!

In Between Days

go on go on
just walk away
go on go on
your choice is made
go on go on
and disappear
go on go on
away from here

The moving truck arrives in 34 days.

In 35 days, I will wake up in the same bed, but in a new room, in a new house, in a new city.

Almost 14 years ago, another moving truck, one driven by my then-boyfriend (who we’ll call Mr. Lame Ass, because, yep.) delivered me and my scant belongings (pastel floral 1980′s hand-me-down couch that would be soon devoured by my roommate’s wonderful but chewy chocolate lab puppy) to my first apartment here in town. He somehow backed the truck over a traffic sign on Atherton Street. I drove my Honda Civic hatchback, packed to the roof with crap, behind him, my driving arm burned beyond lobster from hanging out the window on the 6 hour drive from New Haven to central PA (How the hell big *is* this state? Are we there yet? Are we there yet?).

I brought all kinds of expectations with me. Graduate school fellowship (both kinds: financial and interpersonal) Poetry. New love post-divorce. New life. I left behind a city I loved desperately and friends who had, I felt, found the raw material of me and shaped me into the person I was becoming.

I still feel that way about the city and about all those people, my creators.

My years here changed me in even more profound ways than I could have imagined. The love that drove my moving truck did not last, but the next one–the one I found on the internet!– stuck fast and true. We will be married nine years next week. We made two fantastic humans together. They shaped me more than anything ever has. My two best poems. My Pulitzers.

More friends, more shaping. More desperate loving all over the place. So much of it, so many beautiful people and moments that I can’t even count them up anymore. I have–you’ll forgive the sentimentality, please–lived awash in love here.

And it’s time, now, to go.

Just over a month left, and my days are built around my Google Moving Calendar, which tells me each day which task I have to complete in order to not become completely overwhelmed. I have been smart this time, in scheduling “off” mornings (like this one) so I have some space to breathe and think and ponder and remember. I’ve also got time to sit with my friends over coffee and wine and just look at their gorgeous faces and try not to cry and also to cry and cry.

I’m a crier from way back and there are many tears coming, people. But not all of them are for sadness. Some of them are for excitement and relief.

I’m excited about my new job and my new city.  I’m relieved that I’m only moving 2.5 hours away.

These are my in between days.

I may be going, but I promise I’m not going to disappear.

To My Students

Today I taught my last classes for Penn State. I say “taught” but really these final sessions were less about curriculum and more about celebration and reflection, as last classes always are for me. We gathered at a coffee house today. They handed me their papers and handed each other their Gifts of Words–little pieces of paper on which they had scrawled poems and song lyrics and compliments and counsel for each other. I fed them some saltine toffee. Little mementos from English class. Some of them have become friends here. It all felt good and also sad and wholly surreal.

last class

They give me their rough drafts and I give them chocolate deliciousness. Seems like an equitable transaction.

I’ve taught at Penn State for 14 years. That’s 28 semesters. After those hard numbers, things get a little fuzzy. Some semesters I taught one class, some three classes. Some classes had 25 students, some had 5. But if I were to make an estimated guess, I’ve probably taught upwards of 1300 students. Wow.

There was a time, a long time ago, when I could claim to remember each one of them by face if not name. That is no longer true. How could it be? No, while several handfuls of them still remain clear and present and as tangible as they were when they sat in rows in front of me, most of their names and faces blur together now.

Still, I find myself thinking back over my rosters, recalling them individually and en masse, and now I want to say thank you:

to my first students, the ones I taught when I was still a student myself:  you were completely terrifying because I was sure you could see right through green, know-nothing me.

to my last students, the ones who just devoured the saltine toffee and played us the didgeridoo: thank you for being cheerful and patient with your super-flaky, easily-distracted teacher, and for making my final semester at Penn State so pleasant and memorable. Yinz (trying out my Pittsburghese!) rock!

to the students who came to office hours to talk about your assignments and the ones who came just because you wanted to talk: I needed that conversation just as much as you did.

to the freshman boys who broke down because you missed your mothers: I was happy to listen and hug you hard.

to the girls who told me your boyfriends made you feel small: you are NOT small; you are sky-scraper and monument and continent and mountain and I hope I showed you some kind of strength.

to the ones who brought me bars and bars of (dark only, please!) chocolate: you have earned infinite extra credit in my heart.

--to the ones who came out to me in person and on page, who shared your most private, most essential selves: I am still and always honored by your confidence.

to the ones who were SO much smarter than your teacher, who were steeped in Comp Lit or Anthropology or Foreign Policy or Physics: you absolutely thrilled me.  You have my always-awe.

to the Business Writing boys who pampered me in my first pregnancy, buying baby gifts and offering your own names (and also “Beowulf”!?) when it was time to choose a name for our son:  you made me reconsider so many of my assumptions. You were a pure delight!

to the student who took over my class when I was clearly ill, saying, “I got this Ms. S., you just sit down and rest:” you saved the day and taught the hell out of that chapter!

and to the one, who, years after graduation, and after hearing about one of my publications, phoned my department head to ask about me, saying, “I heard Ms. Squillante blew up,” which sent said head, who did not recognize this as a colloquialism, into a frantic, terrified tizzy: I am still laughing!

to the ones who rose like cream to the top with your excellent papers and ambitious attempts, and also to you who failed spectacularly but stayed in it, tried to mine it for something of use: I have equal faith in your success.

to the ones in the vast academic middle: you taught me resilience, efficiency, continuance. You got just what you needed and got out. There is something useful and elegant in that.

--to the grad students I had the privilege of facilitating during a semester in which two beloved family members died: you taught me more–about writing and teaching, about writing about teaching, about compassion and empathy and care–than I can say.

to the returning adults who found themselves surrounded by teenagers: your wisdom and experience soothed our nerves and calmed our minds during national tragedy, broadened our poetry discussions on Tuesday nights, increased our empathy and sense of the larger context in every class class you took with us. I call you co-teachers and real friends.

to the truly terrible ones, the three or four of you who made me wish I was a chain smoker, who threw epithets and desks at me, who wrote snuff pornography and claimed you didn’t realize it: you taught me how to teach to conflict. You made me re-direct anger and rise to the occasion.

to the ones who found me on Facebook, who “like” my writing posts and my feminist rants, who follow my blog and send cards and emails from your lives far beyond me: your attention and affirmation feels good and it is never a bother–on the contrary, it’s a joy!–to hear from you. I really meant it when I said “stay in touch!”

to the ones who grew up and got: PhDs, incredible jobs, wonderful partnerships and babies, babies, babies: I’m not your mother (though now I am old enough to be), but damn do I feel proud!

to the ones who bounced my own babies when they were hysterical or sleepy, who bought them ice cream, bathed them, played paper dolls and taught them chess: you are family.

The truth is, my darlings, whether or not I can remember your name or your face, or the year or the section or the class, or the memoir or the memo or the poem you wrote for me, if you were ever my student, you are part of me.

My life at Penn State, my teacherly self, my very on-my-sleeve heart.

Thank you. Thank you.

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My Last Class: English 15, Section 60. T/R 2:30-3:45. A bunch of good eggs!

 

There’s No Place Like…Pittsburgh!

photo (58)These are my red shoes.

These are my magical red shoes.

These are my magical red shoes that I bought to wear with my boring grey suit.

These are my magical red shoes that I bought to wear with my boring grey suit on the job interview I had at the end of January.

These are the magical red shoes that I wore with my boring grey suit on the interview that I killed dead in January at the sweet little liberal arts college. The ones that made someone on the search committee remark, “Red shoes for luck?”

To which I replied, “Red shoes for FUN!”

These are the magical red shoes whose heels I clicked together and which will soon spirit me and my whole family to our new home…in Pittsburgh!

I am thrilled to announce that I’ve accepted a position as Associate Director of the MFA Program and Assistant Professor of Creative Writing at Chatham University in Pittsburgh!

I will be teaching poetry and creative nonfiction to the residency and low-res MFA students and helping to run Chatham’s innovative programs, including their summer residency period. I could not be more thrilled. I get to do the two things I love most: teaching and arts administration!

I’ll reflect here more in the coming months about the new job, leaving Penn State (which will be sad in many ways), and the stress adventure of moving our whole life to a new city, but today I just have one thing to say:

Professor Squillante.

Has a nice ring to it, don’t you think?

Assiduous Me

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I have wonderful news to announce: Tiny Hardcore Press has accepted my full-length poetry collection for publication in 2014!

If ever there were a place to abuse the “You get ONE exclamation point in your life” rule, this is it!

Oh, people! I am so happy! I am so affirmed! I am so relieved!

Y’all know how long I’ve been working on this thing. Some of the poems originate as far back as my MFA thesis, which feels like an eon ago. It’s been through–oh, I don’t know–eleventy billion iterations since then, during which many more poems got written.

It has had at least two distinct POVs. It has been sectioned and un-sectioned, and sectioned again.

It has had something like four different titles. (and will have another before publication, because my editor and I agree the current one is not the right one.)

It has been submitted to and rejected by something like 35 presses over the last three years, and very likely that tally is much higher given how old the thing is versus how long I’ve been keeping scrupulous track.

In short, nothing about this has been short.

But I realized this week in thinking about the seeming endlessness of this journey, that this is kind of how I roll, apparently. For instance, it took me 9 years from the time I first sent out a poem (I think it was to the New Yorker–aim high!) to get my first publication. (which was not in the New Yorker.) It took me 6 years of applications (interspersed with 1 marriage, 1 divorce and 1 MA in creative writing, earned part time at night) before I was accepted into a full-time MFA program. And anyone who follows this blog, knows it took me 8 years to write my memoir.

Now, we leave statistics for anecdote: did you all know that my first boyfriend was/is a poet? In high school, we were in the same Gifted & Talented program for writers. We would take turns winning the school writing contests and would appear on facing pages in the literary magazine. He was a much, much better poet than I was at the time and I was very aware of this fact. I continued to be aware of his talent as I watched him be accepted to his MFA program many years ahead of me. I watched him garner his first book publication (and then his second and third) before me. I watched him land a tenure-track job (that wasn’t easy for him, either, even with an MFA, a PhD and several books. The market is crap.) before me.

I don’t want it to sound like I’m harboring any bitterness here. (Well, maybe a little, but that’s because he was kind of a crappy boyfriend. But it’s okay! We’ve grown up, remained friends and moved past that stupid key chain he gave me in the band room the day he broke up with me: Never regret the things you have done. Only regret the things you have never tried. Whatever, sixteen-year-old poet dude. None of us had any moves in 1985.)

No, not bitterness, but a kind of curious awe. How did he do that? And why is my path so much different?

Different, but no worse. Longer, but not lesser.

And in the end, here I am. On the cusp of having the artifact for which I have longed, for which I have worked assiduously,if frustratedly, for years. And I’m here with a press I truly admire, in the smart company of a vibrancy of writers, and under the wing of an editor I respect and hold in wildly positive esteem. 

This is the good stuff, people. In every way worth waiting for.

photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/cameraslayer/721257509/

Snow Day Lazy

We woke to snow and ice this morning, so no school for the kids. As I write this, we are all still in our pajamas. I’m considering more coffee. The brownies just came out of the oven. Paul and Josie are engineering various marble run configurations on the living room floor and Rudy is working on his eye-hand coordination playing on the tablet.

In other words, we’re being lazy and kind of loving it.

Well, “lazy” is not entirely accurate. I did do a bunch of work for my class this morning, and I will do more later this evening. And I’m rather preoccupied with writing at the moment. Which is also work. I realized, finally, today that I am not going to be able to make the AWP conference in Boston in March. I’m sad about this, but it’s just not financially doable. I’ll miss seeing old friends and miss meeting so many new ones I’ve made this year through  online spaces. But I’ll raise a toast from my couch and honestly be (more than) a little relieved not to have to navigate the book fair. Continue reading

Prayer for Not Enough

Prayer for Not Enough

       –for my daughter, after Newtown

Today felt slow in a good way. I tried
to look around at the world,
its brittle and half-busted beauties,
burst milkweed pods and sumac gone
to ruddy seed on the trail. I tried
to catch fragments of passing conversations–

      Hi, pumpkin pie
      Honey do you mind if I
     Just tell me no already
     Please don’t do that to me

I tried to feel the breeze,
feet against gravel,
think of poetry,
breathe.

My daughter said, “If it’s not enough, it’s still enough,”

so we whisked that emulsion by hand
for a very long time,
our arms around it, our bodies inside of it.
It was just a small thing
I could do, a sweet, continuous release.

In the last week I have dreamed about drowning,
the house burning to the ground and losing
control of my car, driving it off of a bridge
and into the ocean.

I have no idea what any of this means,
but I know I cannot bear this news.

I cannot bear it.

O, Girl, deliver us from our stupidity,
our ugliness we don’t quite understand.

Help us if you can.

Be bold, Girl.
Everything around you is beautiful
and broken, something to slow down for.

C’mere, Girl, and let me kiss you

     yes, yes and yes

Remember kindness, touch
memory, hope hard for peace
and yielding—

That we may find a new beginning in your hands.

Be Bold, Girl

262614_4831803000283_1468953425_nHappy almost New Year, everyone. I’ve missed this space, but needed a breather with all the chaos of ending the semester, followed by horrific national tragedy (about which I cannot yet write or reflect) and then the prosaic craziness of the holidays, which are still upon us. The kids are home, the snow is here and welcome, and the adults are trying to find just a little space in which to stretch their tension-coiled creative muscles. I sent Paul off on a walk in the marsh today with his camera, and I am stealing just two short hours at the over-bright Barnes & Noble in our town because the cute little coffee shop I prefer is closed until after New Years. We take what we can get.

“Stretch” is a good word for my frame of mind right now. I feel stretched thin domestically, the way I’m betting most parents do. I’m anticipating the mental stretching I’ll need to do to prepare for another semester of teaching. My 42 year old bod quite literally needs more stretching, as evidenced by the muscle fatigue I’ve got this morning after shoveling the driveway yesterday. And then there’s my writing life, which feels  like it’s made of a million strands of different length and tensile strength, all stretched in various directions.

This is not a bad thing, maybe.

But I remind myself here that stretching is supposed to be a gentle act, a pause between or before or after great exertion. So, here at year’s end, just four days shy of the new one, let me stretch and pause and reflect a moment on what has been and what could be in front of me in my writing life.

Dead Dad Day: A Memoir of Food and My Father

2012 saw the completion of my memoir chronicling my relationship to my father and his death, our life together made of meals. Since July, I’ve been actively seeking a publisher for the book, and have so far had a handful of “close but not quites” from reputable presses and a whole bunch of “no thank yous” from others. I’ve learned that the agent route is likely not the way for this project, and I’m learning that the book lives in a weird hinterland between “too edgy” for some presses and “not edgy enough” for others. Okay then! Of course the rejections sting, but oddly not as much as they do with my poetry projects. I have faith in this memoir and am as yet undaunted. It will find a home.

One Sparrow in a Flock of Sparrows

Speaking of sting. Here is my full-length poetry collection, so far unhomed. I did the maybe dumb thing of counting up rejections for this collection and was gobsmacked to find they total something like 35 in two years. But I don’t want to give up on it, either. Most of the poems inside of it have been published by good places, and readers have assured me it’s a solid manuscript. The full-length poetry book world is just almost impenetrable, I’ve learned. (and learned and learned) So we’ll see. It’s still out at a handful of places, but if it doesn’t hit next year, it may be time to put it into a drawer and move on.

Women Who Pawn Their Jewelry

My chapbook of “sad relationship poems” was published this year by Finishing Line Press. I have nothing but good feelings about this. People who have read it have said kind things, which is nice, but even if they had not, I’d be okay. These poems are part of another time of my life–a time so far removed from who I am today that the “me” in them is almost unrecognizable to me. Maybe this is the best circumstance under which to publish.

And I Ran

My Tumblr project celebrating the stories of women runners was one of my favorite initiatives of last year, partly because it was born from my own accomplishments in getting serious about running, but mostly because it felt like a gift back to the women who have inspired me along the way. The blog is still active and my hope is to reach a wider audience and increase submissions in 2013. And to keep running, of course.

Food You Don’t Know What to Do With

This cooking/essaying project was a lot of fun, but I admit that I burned out much more quickly on it than I imagined I would. I think I (pun alert!) bit off more than I could chew with too much posting early on  and then didn’t feel like I could let up once it got overwhelming. Before it got overwhelming, though, I created something like 40 recipe-essays over two months. That’s a good bit of writing (and cooking! and eating!), and I enjoyed feeling connected to everyone who participated. I learned a bunch of things, too. First and foremost, I don’t think I am a (notice the capitals here) Food Blogger. What I mean to say is that while I do write about food (and I imagine I always will), I don’t ONLY write about food and that’s the way I like it. I’m glad I didn’t reconfigure this blog into a home for just that project, as I was considering doing in the first place. I need a bigger space for my other interests, and what I lose in focus, I gain in inclusiveness.  I’m okay with that.

So, what will I write in the coming year? I have ideas, some more inchoate than others at the moment. Another cooking/writing project maybe. A research-based ekphrastic poetry project. Whatever I head into, though, I want to follow the advice of the birthday card our babysitter gave to my daughter this year. It said, simply,

Be bold every day of your life.

This is what I want for myself in the new writing year: to be a bold writer. There are things I want to say, things I need to say. Some of them may be uncomfortable (to me, to others) and some may be terrifying (to me, to others). Some may be humbling or humiliating, but some may even uplift.

I have spent a lot of my life–writing and otherwise–cloaked in timidity, carefuling around painful subjects, polishing rough edges and playing diplomat on the page and elsewhere. I’m not saying I’m moving against beauty or harmony, against healing through language. I believe in those things, maybe more now than I ever have before.

But I’ve got more in me. I’ve got a Bold Girl in me. And it’s time to let that girl out.