It doesn’t feel like the end of summer—it’s 80F outside and I have to keep moving desks at UNH library to avoid frying in the sun—but it’s September, and just in the last couple of days our neighbor’s tree has got the message and developed a core of red, while my neighbor himself spent Saturday cutting back his perennials, so as to give himself time for “three months of deer huntin’.” Today my daughter and I both go back to school: she to Kindergarten, me to my second year of my MFA at UNH. Here’s the one of us who is cute:
So it must be fall, or almost.
This summer has seemed very long to me: I’ve never had a four-month vacation before, since UK universities finish about a month later than UNH did, in May. The best aspect of all this time off has been the leisure to spend lots of time with my wife and kids. We took two trips away, one to England for the first time since we emigrated, and another to Montana to see friends. The trip “home” helped me in coming to terms with not living in Britain any more; it was hugely reassuring to see my family, meet my niece for the first time, and see again the places where I grew up and where we lived in Winchester for 8 years. What it boiled down to was: They’re all still there! Sometimes it was hard to hold onto that during my first year in America.
Other summer family activities included lots of swimming. I appreciate living close to so many beaches and rivers, and in a climate where it’s warm enough to want to get wet—in fact, where it’s sometimes too warm to be anything other than wet! As much as I love Britain, that is rarely the case over there… It’s been a pleasure to watch the kids growing more confident in the water: thanks to the lakes of Montana, our daughter now swims happily by herself (with PFD)—so much so that this weekend she nearly floated off down the river, when the current was stronger than I thought! Lesson learned.
—and he’s been learning words at a mile a minute. He keeps showing me how few words we actually need to communicate, which I could use to apply to my writing.
My main writing focus has been making submissions. This blog post by Jo Bell in January inspired me to make submissions a part of every month, and I used the summer to ramp it up and get my work under the noses of editors across the US. I made 9 submissions, including my first ever fiction submission; that seems a respectable number. And I’ve had my first American acceptance: my poem “The Internet Has Left Us” will be in the next edition of Stoneboat. It feels good to be getting into print again after a couple of years’ hiatus.
I’ve got back into teaching, too. As well as this workshop for adults at the Jewett House in South Berwick in June, I also ran a couple of sessions for children. The first was at South Berwick’s elementary school, and included creating a class poem with my daughter’s Pre-K class. That was quite an experience! Teaching a class with my own kid in it is definitely different… Then at South Berwick library I ran a session for 7-10 year olds, writing about super-heroes. That was particularly gratifying because some of the kids who came were not really into writing: they came for the superhero angle, but stayed for the stories, and in both cases created things that (so their parents told me) exceeded what they would usually manage, in different ways. I’ll teach writing to anyone, anytime, but I do especially enjoy being able to help people for whom writing does not come easily.
A new offer I’ve added to my work this summer has been one-to-one mentoring. It’s not actually that different from things I’ve taught in courses, but the dedicated time with just one student means I can cover a lot more. I’ve mentored three young people so far. One is a very talented girl who comes to the Quiet Hour writers’ group that I run at the Jewett House; I’ve worked with her on her poetry and on redrafting a novella. Another is a high-schooler who wants to be a novelist, while the third is one of the boys from my session at South Berwick library—with him I’m continuing the work of boosting his confidence through writing stories about things that interest him (superheroes and baseball). This work has been a highlight of my summer, and I’m hoping to find more students this fall. I’m also going to see if I can help some high-school seniors with on their college application essays: when I was a teacher back in Britain, I used to enjoy helping my students write these, and I know I can make the process less frightening and the results stronger. Applying to college can be a tough task for 17-18 year olds, and if I can help, I’d be happy.
And lastly, there’s my new semester at UNH. This afternoon will be my first workshop with David Rivard: his course on Poetic Influence last semester was really stunning, so I’m sure I’ll learn enormous amounts from workshopping with him. Then I’m taking a Form and Technique class with Mekeel McBride, which is bound to be a crazy ride! As well as those courses, I’ll also be expanding the MFA Writers-in-Schools project that I started last year: over the summer I’ve thought about new ways we writers could benefit students in local schools, and with the help of my faculty adviser Jaed Coffin and the example of Portland’s awesome The Telling Room, I hope to achieve a lot before May.
That’s all for now… Not for the first time, I’ve made a resolution to blog more often, so I hope to be back soon!