Gaw Gaw: fairytale or real?

My short story, “Gaw Gaw, ” was recently published by Mud Season Review, a magazine run by the people behind the Burlington Writers Workshop in Vermont. I can’t thank them enough for accepting my piece and revising it with such care. Also, I love the artwork they decided to use for my story. Please read and enjoy.

Mud Season Review

Why You Write

A short manifesto I wrote for Causeway Lit, a literary magazine run by Fairfield University’s MFA Program.

causewaylit

Written by: Loan Le – Fiction Section Editor

So, here you are. You have turned down invitations to parties and happy hours, because you cannot socialize when you have a character in your mind, her voice echoing like a message over a PA system in an empty hallway. You have endured strangers’ tilted heads, the sardonic curl of their lips, the upspeak “Oh, really?” when you explain that you are a writer. Your worth has been challenged and measured against already established writers. Your work is “not the right fit” for this journal or that magazine. All of this has left you despairing, wondering why you have chosen this particular way of being, which lately brings much more pain than reward.

5765352856_11ba0095ff_zCredit: John Liu

Step back. Somewhere, find a pocket of peace where your thoughts are your own, where you hear only yourself. Recognize, first, that by writing, you have…

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I didn’t know how much I needed this . . .

I didn’t know how much I needed my MFA retreat until I arrived on Ender’s Island on July 15, sat down under the gazebo facing the Long Island Sound, and heard only this:

Last winter was cold on the island. We had spent most nights lounging in the common rooms, dressed in layers of sweatpants and hooded sweatshirts. Outside, the water encasing this little island crashed against the boulders and stone walls, threatening to pull down anyone who came close. I remember reading one of my stories out loud by the Seaside Chapel, letting the water’s assault drown out any quiver in my voice.

The months in-between the winter retreat and the summer retreat were challenging. I made a lateral move within my workplace, threw myself into my writing, and helped form a new writing group. So much to do, all the time. I began to feel burnt out. My vision became a little more cloudy, it was harder to get up in the morning, it was difficult to read anything for fun because I had work to do. And this all happened because of . . .

Because of what?

I’m not going to say depression because I think that word sounds far too serious for what I feel sometimes (which I think most creatives also experience). I also don’t believe there’s any need for alarm. And maybe I was feeling down because it seems like the world is crashing, burning, coming to an end—and at our own hands . . .

So I’ll settle for melancholy, because that word has always been beautiful to me, and something beautiful always pulls me out of this state.

This time, that “something beautiful” was surely the summer retreat. God, there was so much light. Birds (including an elusive red cardinal). Lapping water. Somewhere, a wind chime. Beauty is hidden in the city, but at Ender’s Island, the restorative spirit manifested everywhere.

I was glad to be around people sharing the same goal, which is to write, to externalize what’s been inside them for the longest time. We writers come from all different walks of life. I met a new student, a recently retired Wall Street guy who had always loved writing. I’m always fascinated by these people who had walked different paths, knew so much of a certain life, then turned around to make a new path. While I consider my journey as a writer a nearly straight one, others’ journeys are looped and scattered, but hey, we ended up at Ender’s Island. Imagine that.

Of course, the retreat was not completely a vacation, even though my social media posts certainly suggested it. We had workshops and seminars every day—taught by amazing, brilliant professors/writers/spirit animals—where we closely analyzed different writers’ works. We learned to shift and reconsider some of our writing habits. Now, I love workshops. I no longer feel self-conscious about my mistakes; instead I anticipate for them to be spotted. I have blind spots and count on my fellow writers to recognize them. And they do, believe me.

I especially love when I, as the writer, cease to exist, and the writers discuss my characters like they’re real. Would she do thisNo, she doesn’t seem like the type. During one of my workshops, for a flash moment, I imagined myself cloaked and invisible to my writers. I thought my character was simple, but my classmates had so many interpretations of her. At the end of a workshop, the professor asked, “What do you want from us as readers?” To which, as usual, I shrugged. It seemed less about my wants, and more about my characters’ needs. Since enrolling into this program, I’ve become more aware of that.

One of the most common things I’d heard from the newest cohort was that the environment here was not as cutthroat as expected. Once I thought about it, I had to agree. I don’t think we’re encouraged to compete against one another. I actually thought about what happened when one of our own had passed away in-between retreats. We had a formal ceremony for him during the retreat—it was a Catholic ceremony attended by not just us but his family and other friends, but some MFAers thought there was so much more to be said, more of his story to share. Later that night, the stories and tributes about him were sad, funny, beautiful, and I just thought, “I hope he knew how much people had cared for him.” So no, we’re not pitted against each other, and I like that. This particular program emphasizes the journey of learning about yourself first, which inevitably allows you to share your strength with others.

I could go on about how much this summer retreat has helped me, but I don’t want anyone to think that I’m getting paid to write this 😉

To conclude, I’ll leave this with you.

 

More from Me:

What I Do

Posts about Writing

Posts about Life

 

 

College and Change

lol snacks from Costco: staples of my freshman year.

What I brought to Fairfield! So many snacks from Costco. Not included: my Capri Sun, which was a staple in my freshman year.

It’s that time again. College students bid farewell to a care-free summer with “Throwback Thursday” Instagrams of beaches and late-night beer debauchery. They express their excitement for the new school year with Facebook statuses littered with exclamation marks and emojis. Recent graduates now stuck at work tweet nostalgic memories of their first days at school.

A small part of me wishes that I can go back. I sit here, marveling that it’s been more than three months since I became a Fairfield University alumna. Three months ago, I was in class, staring at the blackboard, and desperately waiting for a nap. I was so tired by the end of my senior year. Waiting to be finished with homework. Waiting to relieve some burden that came with working at the school newspaper. Waiting to have more freedom. And now I’ll never get to go back to this time—that is, unless I decide to continue my education.

As a student I was sometimes naïve when it came down to simple tasks, sometimes wild-eyed after many sleepless nights—the result of writing essays the night before—and sometimes firmly rooted to the ground in bouts of striking certainty. Like a sculptor with a block of clay, my years at school had chipped away at my being, molding me into the person I am today. I loved my college experience, and don’t regret much, but there are still a few things that I wish I’d known from the beginning.

  1. It’s impossible to be perfect.

Like many peers, I’ve learned from plenty mistakes. I evaluate each school year by measuring my mistakes. Freshman year? I made plenty of mistakes, so it was a bit rough. Senior year? I made just enough to help me learn. My biggest mistake, however, had to do with trying to be perfect, and for a few months in freshman year, I didn’t understand what it meant to learn.

Dr. Sonya Huber, one of my favorite English professors, recently posted a shadow syllabus with her thoughts on what students should take away from her courses. She writes, “Those who aim for A’s don’t get as many A’s as those who abandon the quest for A’s and seek knowledge or at least curiosity.” You might attend a university with students raised in a certain culture of expectations. Take this many AP classes. Get involved in as imany extracurricular activities as possible. Volunteer just about anywhere. Guilty. Guilty. Guilty. These experiences padded your resume and got you into the school, but they have no true worth unless you value what you learn. Fixating on that A sucks the fun out of learning! In freshman year, I received a C on a journalism assignment, a grade that pretty much slapped my A-slaving side right out of me. I didn’t deserve a better grade because I didn’t actually understand my assignment. When you pay attention to what you do have and what you do know, you live and breathe the process. Remember that it’s the process that matters. The end result is your reward.

  1. Similarly, show professors that you’re responsible and willing to learn.

I’ve often heard my classmates complain about professors. She’s such a hard grader. I don’t understand him at all! He doesn’t understand us. If these complaints are true, and the professor’s behavior persists, I would suggest dropping out of the course and finding another professor, if possible. But thankfully in most of my experiences, professors have been brilliant and compassionate, and it’s the students who need to adjust their attitude. Professors actually want to help you, so let them see that you’re willing to strive, not just achieve. After graduating, I think about the professors who not only taught me, but also inspired me, and I wish that all students could find professors like them, people whom I truly respect.

  1. My next advice is to forge supportive, drama-free friendships.

Going to college means finding your social group. Yes, it’s one of the most nerve-wracking feelings. At first you might feel like reinventing yourself. Here’s where people won’t know that you peed in your pants in sixth grade! They haven’t seen your glasses and braces phase! This is your chance to be cool! Chances are you’ll find a nice group of people and you’ll go everywhere with them: to dorm parties, late-night Starbucks runs, campus excursions. There’s a chance that you’ll stay friends with these people (that’s me!). But just like the teddy bear that you carried around everywhere as a toddler, you might find yourself outgrowing these friends. Know that this happens all the time. It just means you’re changing and you can’t have people holding you back.

When you have your friends, and you know them as well as you know yourself, then that’s the group to have. Challenge each other, but also be each other’s biggest supporters. Now that’s lifelong friends.

  1. In the grand scheme of things, your physical existence is small, but your decisions and your actions can make a great impact.

It’s easy to get stuck in a bubble of oblivion when you’re stuck on a small campus. But these days, schools encourage their students to have a global viewpoint and to be leaders. How will you become this person who’s set to change parts of the world? Do your own work. Listen to your mentors. Go out of your comfort zone.

I suggest keeping one foot on campus and another foot somewhere in the outside world. Internships are invaluable ways to do just that—places where you learn and also save connections for later. You can also find an extracurricular activity that aligns with your career goal (Mirror, FTW!)

College students, this is your chance to become who you’re meant to be. Don’t waste your time. Embrace yourself and embrace the life that you’re creating in college.

Someday, what we did will matter.

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Eric, Liz, Michaela, Spencer, Clara, Stephen and Ali: Some fine friends right there. In defense of my misdirected gaze, there was a crowd of parents taking pictures at the same time, and I got confused…

Someday,
what we did
will matter.

During one of Fairfield University’s Senior Week events, I was asked to write a six-word story to summarize my experience at Fairfield University. So I harnessed my budding poetic powers, which I acquired after taking a class with Professor Carol Ann Davis, and this was the result. I wonder what Hemingway would think of my story!

What I was thinking: "Wow. Did that just happen?"

What I was thinking: “Wow. Did that just happen?”

It’s been two days since Sunday, but I hope that the euphoria we all felt at our graduation never goes away. We deserve to be happy because we’ve overcome so many struggles, and our accomplishments at Fairfield will lead to bigger and better things.

I would be lying if I said I always had such a positive outlook on life. See, there were times when I wanted to give up. In freshman year, as a stressed student who received a C on her first journalism assignment, I thought about switching majors. I thought I could fulfill a childhood dream by becoming a medical examiner (but one: I know I would have never survived the classes, and two: yes, that’s a morbid dream and no wonder I can never write “happy” stories). I questioned why I would spend my Tuesdays and early Wednesdays in The Mirror office when I could focus more on my studies. I wondered why I chose Fairfield, when I could have gone to a less expensive school, saved my parents some money, and also cut back on the loans I’d have to pay after school. Remember those panicked moments? I’m sure people have gone through similar experiences.

Despite the struggles, I couldn’t give up, because I knew I would be risking a chance at happiness. There has to be something in the end, I thought. There has to be. (It turns out that I was right.) If I gave up, then I’d disappoint my mom, the woman who has risked everything to see her three children get the life they deserve. Now, my parents can say that they raised three college graduates and almost-adults!

So when I overcame my obstacles (by having a friend talk some sense into me, suddenly realizing how foolish I was acting, and blah blah), it seemed so easy to see how misplaced my worries were. It is clear to me, now, that everything we did at Fairfield was worth it.

To some, my words might seem idealistic, but I’ve gotten this far by being an idealist, so why should I stop?

I wouldn’t have gotten this far in life without help, so thanks to:

  • My family. Truth: I wouldn’t be here without you.
  • My friends. I’ve met many passionate students at Fairfield who believed in a cause and worked to fulfill their goals. I’m glad to call some of these people my close friends. Most of us have been friends since freshman year, and it’s amazing to see how much we’ve changed, changed without compromising the best parts of ourselves. A special shout-out to Ali (also because I want to see if she reads this 😉 – this is the girl who didn’t read The Mirror until this year!!!) who will be working for Fairfield University’s Study Abroad in Florence, because she’s awesome.
  • The Mirror (favorite people: Danica, Luigi, Leigh, Sal, Tom, Shauna, Enxhi, Robby, Jen, and last but not least, Dr. Tommy Xie)
The amazing Mirror staff. Credit: Dr. Tommy Xie.

The amazing Mirror staff at this year’s College Media Convention. Credit: Dr. Tommy Xie.

  • The English Department faculty have inspired me and made me believe in my career choice. I won’t mention specific names, because I feel indebted to many professors there, despite never taking some of their courses!
The wonderful Advanced Portfolio Workshop class, taught by Professor Carol Ann Davis. Photo contributed by Amina Seyal.

The wonderful Advanced Portfolio Workshop class, taught by Professor Carol Ann Davis. Photo contributed by Amina Seyal.

It is powerful to know that we all matter. All of us have something to say and do that will impact the world for our generation and the next.

What’s in store for me now? I’ll be working as an Editorial Assistant to the Publisher at Simon & Schuster’s Gallery imprint. I’m looking for places to live in New York (call me!). I’ll need to learn how to adult … soonish. I’ll continue writing fiction and hope to finish my novel within the next two years.

But now, while writing this post, I am completely at peace, and I reflect on my time at Fairfield with only gratitude.

 

Learning to be a poet

We learned how to write tanka poetry a few weeks back. A tanka poem is a traditional Japanese form of poetry. It follows a 5-7-5-7-7 syllabic pattern and can go on for a long time. We only stop once we reach infinity – that is, until we feel like we can’t get anything else out of the poem. Each stanza must transition effortlessly from the previous stanza.

As an exercise, we participated in a round robin. One person had to write the 5-7-5 section, the next the 7-7 section, and so forth. The cool thing about this lesson was that the poem’s topic could change at any moment.

Here’s the final product (the title certainly gives you an idea of the poem’s tone):

DAMNED

The bus climbs uphill,

Doors exhaling a goodbye.

The child waves back.

Yellow halts a sudden stop.

It’s time for another day.

 

To wither away

On Grandpa’s dusty brown porch

My brain is emptied

I have become my grandpa

Old–losing touch with myself.

 

Same one must save me

I drown in memories of

The times we would laugh.

Your scent swirls all around me

Please just stop this misery.

 

There is no way out

This retched world you live in

Will soon out-live you

So therefore: damned if I do

And then: damned if I do not

 

I pace the world’s edge

Look down–a long way to go.

Do I leave now?

I am free-falling into sky

Never has death felt so free

 

And liberation

Is what we say to ourselves

When we have a voice

And I just don’t have a voice

And so there’s no salvation.

It’s such a happy poem, right? I intended to make the poem sound optimistic (I wrote the first three lines), because my friends usually say I’m a dark writer. It wasn’t my fault that this poem turned out differently than I expected!

Anyways, I feel like I’ve definitely grown as an amateur poet. It helps to read some fine poets from the past. I also enjoy reading my peers’ work in our workshops. My professor tells me that I need to use poetry to explore and to let go. I found that writing approach hard at first; as a fiction writer, I always sketch out the narrative arc of my stories. I want to feel like I’m in control of the plot, the characters, the setting, etc. Because my stories are fictional, I write to explore other people’s lives, and not my own. That’s not what you should do in poetry.

After taking this poetry course, I’m beginning to understand what it means to “let go.” If I write something and it doesn’t sound like it “fits” in a piece, I shouldn’t put it in the trash right away. Perhaps that word or phrase came out of my mind for a reason. Maybe it needs its own poem. Recently I’ve been writing a lot of poetry about memories of my childhood and my family. Though only a few people have seen my poetry – and I don’t intend to ever attempt publication – I still feel guilty about what I’m writing, but it’s therapeutic at the same time.

I’m revising my poems for the final portfolio, and I might post a few on this blog! So stay tuned.

Catharsis through creativity

Dr. Bogusia Skud. Photo by Loan Le/The Mirror

Dr. Bogusia Skudrzyk, associate professor of counselor education, in a small group discussing the steps in acknowledging grief. December 4, 2013. Photo by Loan Le/The Mirror

After 26 people died in a senseless shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School on Dec. 14, community members started placing teddy bears, flowers and small gifts near the site to honor the victims. Bob and Josie Schmidt, town residents for 31 years, recalled visiting the makeshift memorial on a rainy, cold day.

“Everywhere we went in town, we were reminded of what happened; it was beautiful and touching, but it still reminded us of the pain and the loss,” said Bob Schmidt, an adjunct professor teaching Fairfield graduate classes for counseling education.

Deeply affected by the sorrows that couldn’t seem to go away, he and his wife, Josie, a retired teacher who once substituted at Sandy Hook, composed a song to express their grief. Yesterday, they performed “Rain, Rain, Rain” during a workshop at the Fairfield University Bookstore and discussed how creative outlets like literature and songs can heal people after devastations.

The Schmidts led the first storytelling workshop last year. Today, Newtown continues to heal. “We are starting to see the town as the beautiful place we love,” Bob Schmidt said.

As a member of the Sandy Hook Crisis Response Team, he volunteered at a crisis center and said that seeing people come together “helped me get my balance again.”

According to Dr. Bogusia Skudrzyk, who also spoke yesterday, the healing process after tragedies doesn’t always have to be personal. “We must allow ourselves to be around people who care for us.”

To start the healing process, the cause of the pain and sorrow must be confronted. Some people might believe that grief must be overcome immediately. “There is so much pressure around us that makes us pretend that nothing [bad] happened,” the associate professor of counselor education said. But grieving has no timetable.

Skudrzyk also disagrees with the myth that showing sadness is a sign of weakness; she encourages people to be open, like children “who are strong enough to admit their feelings.”

Josie Schmidt believes that acknowledging grief and its causes leads to “an appreciation of the beauty of everyday life.”

Catharsis can happen with words on paper, a brush against a blank canvas or notes strummed on a guitar – creativity opens the path to healing and people can choose whatever route they feel comfortable with.

Eventually, attendees were asked to draw four trees, each representing a different season, and then break up into smaller groups to discuss their drawings. The attendees – some strangers, some classmates from Skudrzyk’s course on multicultural issues in counseling and education – started exchanging stories about parents, siblings and friends who have passed away.

Jeff Burgdorfer, a Fairfield graduate student studying clinical mental health counseling, associated the seasons with the beginning of a healing process.

He said autumn represents acceptance of the “inevitability of death … which gets you into the state of mind to appreciate what you have in the moment.” Winter provides a time for reflection while spring means hope.

“Josie and Bob created a beautiful healing atmosphere through their generosity of themselves and their music,” said Kristen Baxter, who takes classes at the Graduate School of Education and Allied Professions.

Closing the workshop, Skudrzyk compared life to an ocean; a community helps others “go through the tides of an ocean that can take anyone off-balance.”

Attendees discovered they have gone through similar experiences and stages of grief. After the workshop ended, people stayed behind and continued their personal discussions. This, according to Skudrzyk, exemplifies how a community can overcome the clouds of grief and sorrow. And like the lyrics of the Schmidts’ song “Rain, Rain, Rain,” she too believes that “together we will chase away those clouds.”

A sweet startup

Snickerdoodle cookies. Photo: Esther Kum/Estie Cakes

Snickerdoodle cookies. Photo: Esther Kum/Estie Cakes

When Esther Kum was younger, she often baked with her mother. It was nothing special; they used pre-made cake mixes from the box, but she thought it was all fun.

It wasn’t until the summer of 2012 that the junior, who’s studying mathematics and minoring in education, started baking from scratch out of pure curiosity.

“I’ve always been iffy about baking from scratch because I’ve heard from people that it can be tedious because baking is a science,” Kum said. “But I tried it out one time over the summer and it’s something that I’ve loved doing ever since.”

Now she makes mini moscato cupcakes, vanilla pudding chocolate chip cookies, cinnamon sugar-dusted French breakfast rolls – you know, the usual baked goods that college students make in their free time.

Kum’s love for the art of baking has morphed into a startup called Estie Cakes that runs out of her Mahan kitchen and occasionally out of her home in Huntington, N.Y. She calls it a “dream” and hopes to eventually own a “decent-sized” bakery business later in life.

Estie Cakes began in mid-February and Kum made an official Facebook page for it just two weeks ago. As of yesterday, she has received 104 likes.

She never expected to start such a thing in college, especially since baking is hobby for her.

“It was never about business for me, and it still isn’t,” Kum said.

Her baking decorations are often inspired by “Cupcake Wars,” a Food Network reality competition that challenges four bakers across the country to make their best cupcakes which are judged on taste, presentation and theme. The most recent episode afforded one lucky baker the chance to cater a party at the I Heart Radio Music Festival in Las Vegas.

Though Kum is passionate about baking and bakes three to four times a week, she maintains that school is her first priority. Kum aspires to be an elementary school teacher – possibly in special education. Once she gets settled, she hopes to juggle these two.

Right now, balancing Estie Cakes and her schoolwork is “easier than I thought,” Kum said. While students might relieve stress through writing, reading and/or exercising, Kum uses baking as an outlet. She bakes when she needs “to take a break from homework and studying.”

Kum hopes to learn more about business and management in the future and is considering taking classes if her schedule allows her it.

For some small start-ups, companies use guerilla tactics to get their name out there. But Kum doesn’t need an advertising team; she has her friends and family.

The whole idea of Estie Cakes actually started out as a way to share her baking with friends. She posted pictures on Instagram and Facebook.

In addition to using social media to show off her baked goods, she also uses Instagram and Facebook to represent a “baking journey” and her experiences of trial and error with recipes that she finds on the internet.

She is not sure how well this startup will be or in what direction it will go, but in the face of uncertain future, Kum remains optimistic about the task she is undertaking.

“Even if this [start-up] doesn’t take off in the future, at least it’s something that I can say that I tried to make happen, and it just happened to not work,” Kum said.

Article published on April 3, 2013 in The Mirror

Convention Craziness Part I

I’ve been waiting months for spring break to come. But don’t get me wrong: I wasn’t anticipating a vacation in some sunny resort or a cross-country road trip. No, I was looking forward to attending conventions!

Even though I’ve been so busy, I have no regrets. In just six days, I feel like I have grown exponentially and I cannot wait to apply what I learned to both my journalistic and creative writing. For the sake of my readers (if I even have readers), I’ll split my accounts into two posts. Here’s the first.

TableFrom March 7 to 8, as one of the managing editors of Dogwood: A Journal of Poetry and Prose, I attended my first Association of Writers and Writing Programs convention (AWP). The AWP Conference and Bookfair is the largest literary conference in America with more than 10,000 attendees and 600 bookfair exhibitions. This event is so important that the next four conference dates and locations have already been decided.

So, yes, this conference is like a mecca for young and established writers. I’m extremely ashamed to admit that I had just found out about it last semester. Dogwood has been preparing for AWP since then.

I have to say, we had an awesome table. I think that we were unique in our approach of luring in interested writers. We offered a spa treatment for the creatively inclined to decorate and to ‘glitterize’ (yes, I just did that) their badges. We had cute animal erasers that a lot of moms picked up for their kids (though I worried about the choking hazards). Then we let them choose between two inspirational quotes: “You are not your author’s bio,” and “You win the awesome award for this year.” I loved hearing the delightful laughs and seeing the smiles of all of the attendees who decided to partake in the treatment. We also had cool bookmarks that we handed out to everyone; I felt proud to see the new typeface that I had helped choose for the upcoming issue, and I cannot wait until the spring issue (April!) comes out.

I also think this was a great opportunity to people-watch because writers and editors are just so interesting and eccentric (cue the jokes about writers straying from their natural habitats).

You could see the ones trying too hard with their Starbucks, Chuck Taylors, and plaid shirts.

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I got jealous of the brazen writers who went to every MFA program table and bragged about their working novels or collection. I hope to be as brave as them one day (but also wish for my ego to remain tame).

The bookfair had to be split between two floors because so many exhibitors had signed up. I learned that it was okay to get lost because you were bound to find something interesting no matter what. I walked around in awe, astonished to find mags that I absolutely love (Ploughshares, Bomb) and curious about the other mag (Mad Hatter’s Review, Guernica) that I’d never heard of. I packed my awesome AWP tote bag with notebooks, literary journals, magnets, and postcards – so much ‘swag’ that they were happy to give away. You have to know that some exhibitors had come from the West Coast and did not want to lug all of their leftovers back on the plane.

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Each table had its own personality. The people behind the table were even more fun to meet because some were students like me and others were volunteers or actual editors! I ran into one man from The Laurel Review twice and we started talking, and I found out that he was the fiction editor. He also gave me an issue for free even though I’m sure he wasn’t supposed to…

There were certain tables that looked empty just because the people running them chose to talk to one another instead of welcoming other attendees. When I approached a few, they’d turn to face me and stare me down as if I was disturbing  an important conversation about the weather. Yuck. I stayed away from those tables.

On to the nighttime activities. AWP actually sponsored a dance in the Sheraton Hotel and let me tell you: the dance was both awkward and magnificent. Writers usually don’t express themselves through dance; we mostly socialize in our heads (amIright?). I guess the free wine and beer selection encouraged people to come out of their caves. I enjoyed seeing older attendees test their dance moves by swaying their hips and laughing when they realize that they “still got it.” I liked watching the circle of young writers and editors jumping up and down (at times I thought we’d break the dance floor). The DJ played a mix of 90s and current songs, trying to appeal to both groups. I am normally shy when I start dancing but after awhile, I no longer cared. I figured no one would notice my arms failing if everyone else was doing the same thing. Anna, one of the managing editors, definitely had fun – she started the “dancing on the stage” trend and made friends with the DJ (getting his beer once in while). Thank god there was no grinding.

The conference had scheduled over 550 readings, lectures, panel discussions, and forums. One thing I wished I had done more was attend the seminars, but unfortunately (but in retrospect, fortunately) I had to leave early for another convention. One of the few sessions that I did attend was called “Crossing Boundaries: Landscapes of Childhood and Adolescence,” and the panel discussed the importance of setting in adolescent literature. The panelists argued that the setting is actually the basis for character development. Leading the panel were authors like Australian novelist Lucy Christopher (Stolen) and hilarious Midwestern writer Kerry Madden. I also got to hear them read excerpts from their published and working novels.

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Afterwards, I realize that Dogwood has a lot of competition and areas in need of improvement. I think that Dogwood needs to be more present online, because in reality that’s where a lot of magazines and journals are going. Perhaps we can update the site more regularly and interact with our readers through social media.

Right now, however, I am so proud of what we’ve done so far. We were both lucky and unlucky after the hiatus. We had clean slate and could have messed up, but we didn’t! With the help of willing writers and Dogwood‘s awesome staff from Sonya’s World of Publishing classes, we’ve grown so much.

After leaving the convention and on my way to New York, I texted my good friend Esther and said that I had finally found “my people” at this convention. That might sound weird, but honestly, I really felt like I belonged because everyone who attended frenetically pursued writing and reading. Everyone I met saw the importance of writing and the therapy that it could provide. I felt liberated – so much so that describing my feelings towards AWP goes beyond my breadth of vocabulary. In all, what a fantastic experience. I hope to attend another one in the future.