Hi. I'm Jenna McGuiggan.
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Monday
Jun062016

Stalking Sweetness 

 

(Turn up your volume.)

I'm stalking sweetness by sound. The neighborhood ice-cream truck plays Calypso-styled music, which would normally annoy me, but which works as a surprisingly nice complement to the evening birdsong. I stand in my driveway, waiting to see if it will make its way to my street. The few times it drove by last year I was too shy to run out to it since I had no kids in tow. This summer I'm determined to get a photo and a treat. After all, what good is being an adult with your own money if you can't buy ice cream with it?

This was originally posted on Instagram. Find me over there or on Twitter for more images & words that tell little stories as #OneMomentMemoirs and #VerbalSnapshots.

 

Thursday
May052016

Conversation with Poet Rebecca Macijeski

Last month in The Word Cellar Writers Guild, I chatted with poet Rebecca Macijeski about how poetry can help us to record – and interact with –  the world around us. We also talked about the power of delight to reach people in our writing. Oh, and there's a sloth in a bathtub.

I met Rebecca during our time at Vermont College of Fine Arts. I like her poetry for many of the same reasons that I like Rebecca herself: both of them are smart, funny, musical, and genuine. 

The video above features a few clips from our longer conversation. In this excerpt, Rebecca shares how poetry can be a way of knowing beyond academic or linear thinking. She also reads one of her poems. (Hint: It's about a sloth in a bathtub, and you really need to hear it.)

The full 40-minute interview* includes much more conversaton, plus readings from her current project and from a few of her favorite poets. She also shares one of her favorite writing exercises that works for both poetry and prose.

I had a great time talking with Rebecca, and I'm so happy to share her – and her work – with you. (Rebecca was featured on this site previously as part of the "Loquacious" series.) 

Here's her official bio: Rebecca Macijeski is a Doctoral Candidate in Poetry at the University of Nebraska and holds an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts. She currently serves as an Assistant Editor in Poetry for Prairie Schooner and Hunger Mountain. She has attended artist residencies with The Ragdale Foundation and Art Farm Nebraska, worked for Ted Kooser’s American Life in Poetry newspaper column, and is the recipient of a 2012 Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Prize. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Poet Lore, Nimrod, Sycamore Review, Potomac Review, Painted Bride Quarterly, Storyscape, Rappahannock Review, Border Crossing, Gargoyle, Fourteen Hills, and many others. 

*The full interview is available in The Word Cellar Writers Guild, where we also have interviews with other inspiring writers, including Brené BrownSue William Silverman,Marianne Elliott, and more!


About The Word Cellar Writers Guild

The Word Cellar Writers Guild focuses on three aspects of the writing life: creativity, craft, and community.

The Writers Guild is a good fit for you if:

  • You want to write (and publish) more pages.
  • You crave more joy in the writing process.
  • You long to create deeper connections with other writers.

I'd love for you to join us for writing modules, community support, live events, and an ever-expanding resource library. 

Tuesday
May032016

Moving Pictures: Virginia & North Carolina

I'm back home after 10 days down south. I started out by spending a weekend in Arlington, VA, for Barrelhouse Magazine's Conversations & Connections writers' conference, where I presented my One-Moment Memoirs workshop. I drove south to Richmond to see a dear friend, and then I kept going south to the Outer Banks for a few days of the 3 R's: rest, relaxation, & 'riting. Along the way I shared some photos on Instagram and social media. Here are a few videos from my travels. They're short and unedited, but I love them for the little glimpses they offer of my time away. 

I could watch the waves for hours -- and I do, every time I am fortunate enough to be at the seashore. 


 

I saw these birds (pelicans, I think) coming from a distance, and they flew right overhead. 


Most of my drive home was cloudy, rainy, and foggy, but for a little while in the Shenandoah Valley in eastern Virginia, I broke through to the sunshine. As the camera pans to the side, you can see the clouds caught on the Blue Ridge Mountains. 

Tuesday
Apr192016

May You Be Rooted Like Rock

haystack rock, cannon beach, oregon (march 2010)

May you be rooted like rock
That reaches down beneath the constant tide
And pushes tall into the air.
May you shimmer like sun-skimmed sand
Along white, white waves.
May a line of footprints lead you
To adventure and home and back again.
May your perspective be one of compassion and beauty.
May you ruffle your wings in the water
And flutter them dry on the breeze,
Plump with the knowledge that you are as permanent
And as temporary
As this land.

(I originally wrote and posted this in 2010. I re-posted it again in 2011 and 2015. And here it is again, because it's been too long since I said "hello" in this space; because spring comes around every year; because April is National Poetry Month; and because I'm dreaming of the sea, always.)

Saturday
Feb202016

Invitation: Online Group Writing Studio (Feb. 27)

Each month in The Word Cellar Writers Guild we have at least one live, virtual event. This month, we're having Group Writing Studios. We gather via video chat for an hour to spend time writing "alone together." Each session includes a warm-up exercise, time to write quietly, and time to share (as you like). 

It was such fun that I thought I'd open up the next one to anyone who wants to join us. 

Group Writing Studio in The Word Cellar Writers Guild
Date: Saturday, February 27, 2016
Time: 3:00 - 4:00 p.m. (EST)
Online: Via Skype (include your Skype name in the "notes to seller")
Cost: $5 (or free for Guild members)  

Making time to actually write is one of my biggest challenges, and I know many of you share that struggle. These community writing sessions are an opportunity to come together and overcome our procrastination, fear, and excuses. We put our butts in our chairs, we put some words down on paper — and we feel better for having written! 

In today's session, our warm-up prompt came from Ursula K. LeGuin's book Steering the Craft: A 21st Century Guide to Sailing the Sea of Story. The first chapter of the book is all about the sound of your writing, and she calls this exercise "Being Gorgeous:" 

"Write a paragraph to a page of narrative that's meant to be read aloud. Use onomatopoeia, alliteration, repetition, rhythmic effects, made-up words or names, dialect -- any kind of sound effects you like -- but NOT rhyme or meter."

LeGuin emphasizes that the point of this exercise is to "write for pleasure -- to play. Just listen to the sounds and rhythms of the sentences you write and play with them, like a kid with a kazoo. This isn't 'free writing,' but it's similar in that you're relaxing control: you're encouraging the words themselves -- the sounds of them, the beats and echoes -- to lead you on."

I tend to do this naturally in my writing. I'm usually acutely aware of the sounds and rhythms of my sentences, if not in the first draft, at least by the first revision. But not everyone writes that way. Some people are more keenly aware of other parts of the craft, such as the narrative arc or plot. Every writer has her own strengths and natural inclinations. The goal, I suppose, is to bring it all together at some point. (And that point is almost never the first draft.) 

I wrote a few paragraphs using the "Being Gorgeous" exercise. It's not the most beautiful or profound thing I've ever written, and it's not even particularly playful. It ends up being rather dark, which is fine, becuase the last few months have been a bit dark and twisty for me. I didn't set out to write about that, though. I wasn't sure what to write, so I just started with what was in front of me: an English muffin. As you'll see, the topic immediately morphed into something else. I thought I'd share it here as an example of how one thing can lead to another, and how a writing exercise or first draft can just be what it is: practice. 



"Being Gorgeous" writing exercise, rough draft: 

Toast crunchy with chunky peanut butter -- all the texture you can handle before noon. Let's face it, you don't handle much before noon. No one else is quite the nightowl youa re. You weren't made for mornings with their shiny new-day-hope, their blank slate sunrises.no, you carry things with you into the dark, dragging everything along from the blue hour of twilight to the blanket of night. Other people sleep in soft beds. Your bed is soft. Your partner snores beside you. And there you are: too much of nerves and memory to fall asleep. It's not insomnia exactly, is it? You sleep eight hours or more you just do it in a time shift, always five to six hours behind the rest of your timezone. You shut down the West Coast from your home in the East. You watch New Zealanders post their after-work cocktails on Instagram. You wish you could join them for chips and salsa. You would happily join the Brits for breakfast tea. Anything to skip over the interminable wait to just fall asleep already. 

And yet even this run-of-the-mill not-quite-insomnia is preferable to the fear of sleep that gripped you in your darkest hours. Then, all day was dark. Your circadian rhythm and your nerves were shot. You existed in a haze of half light, not eating, not sleeping, not really even awake. Or maybe you were too awake, a tingling network of nerves, all fear and fear. Something had broken apart inside of you, as though your body and your spirit were disconnected, a breakdown of communication between the two, trapping you inside of yourself. Your body a wild horse. Your spirit-rider terrified to get back in the saddle. You lay down to sleep and you bucked yourself awake at any little sound, even of your own breathing. 


 

I hope you'll join us for the next Group Writing Studio on Saturday, Feb. 27. 

To be part of it, you can become a member of The Word Cellar Writers Guild, or just sign up for the event.