Sunday, December 31, 2017

2017: YEAR IN REVIEW



JANUARY

January started, as it sometimes does, with a medley of films at the Sundance Film Festival with my childhood friend, Melanie, and teacher-buddy, Rachelle. We intended on going to the Women's March in Park City, but that night the snow collected on the earth like popcorn on the floor of a horror flick. We couldn't get up the canyon without chains--which our rental did not have--and we were forced to represent, instead, in SLC by wearing pink pussy hats and giving the finger to rape culture. (Thank you, Roni Jo, for the hat. 😘)

My favorite film of the weekend was Whose Streets?, a documentary about the events in Ferguson, Missouri following the murder of Mike Brown. It's powerful and heart-wrenching. If you haven't given to a cause this year, I recommend it.

Most of our films were at Sundance or various theaters through out the Salt Lake Valley. 

FEBRUARY

This was a bittersweet month for our family. My husband and I decided to get divorced. We signed papers and, after fifteen years, it was over by May.

My 2017 Valentines. 

Also, after three months of training, I ran my first ever half marathon with my buddy, Trevor. We'd only ever done 5Ks before (and one 10K), so it was a vast change for both of us. I mean, we went from 3 miles to 13! It was something like 45 laps around the Olympic Oval in Kearns, UT. We got to watch speed skaters glide around in circles for nearly 3 hours, and fortunately, because of the ice, we didn't get hot. My time was an embarrassing 2 hours and 46 min. Still...I did it. I ran a friggin' half marathon.


I had my first publication of the year come out in Bloody Key Society.
  • "Lamb," Bloody Key Society, issue 2, (Feb. 2017). 
    • At twelve, I was in a car accident that resulted in the decapitation of a man.


MARCH

Gavin turned 9.
I brought him the fondant head of a hedgehog! 
Shopping and chilling with my kid! Love her. 



APRIL

I went to Vegas with friends and Capitol Reef with my kids.



MAY

Mother's Day brought snuggles in bed and cute drawings and cards by my favorite bugs.



My grandmother passed away at 98 years old. Family came from all over to celebrate her long and fruitful life. She will be missed.

JUNE

When school let out, the kids and I packed up the car and took an impromptu trip to Canada to see Lisa, my bestie, in Okotoks. It took two days but we had fun visiting sites in Banff, Calgary, and Lake Louise.
Lake Louise
We rode a gondola up to Samson Peak.


A week after returning, we loaded the car again and headed to Colorado to visit my other bestie, Melissa. We went to the Rocky Mountain National Park and white water rafting. On one bend in the river, Gavin and I jumped off a 30 ft cliff into the ice cold water. Why? Because we're crazy!


JULY

Two pretty incredible things happened in July. 

First, I got my first article accepted in the Washington Post. The article bounced to two other publications before the week was over, and it landed me a freelance position with the WaPo Talent Network.  

My next one was published in autumn.

The second thing? 

I signed up for OK Cupid. There were a few duds to begin with--see this post--and then I came across a profile that made me laugh out loud...in a good way. (Any man who can make pop-culture and literary references in the same witty post is a man I wanna meet.) We went out a few times, and a month later he was "boyfriend." 

Meet Boyfriend, a talented photographer and NOC engineer with a penchant for marketing. 

AUGUST

I visited Melanie in Portland. We went to an art festival on the river, this book reading at Powell's, and hiked all over the area. I continued, even while on vacation, to train for my half marathon scheduled for the week after I returned. Melanie and I drove to Astoria and Seattle. We hiked on coastlines and through a smattering of waterfalls, and chowed on some amazing seafood. I also had a chance to meet up with two of my cohort peeps from grad school. Hi, Amy and Mark!




My second, but certainly not my last, half marathon. My time: 2:20:24!!! I killed it! 

 SEPTEMBER

I started another school year at SHHS and UVU. Sigh. I'm a single mom with two jobs. I don't need to describe how hard that is, but I do need to mention that I love life. Things may be hard at times; however, I am happy.


I took Gavin to Comic-Con. This is the light saber version of the GoT throne. 
Gavin is Scarlet Spider and I am Gwen Stacey. 
Had to see Faith (Eliza Dushku), and we took the train to avoid traffic. It's always fun this time of year. The train cars are full of hobbits and wonder women and batmen galore! Also, note that the host on the left is wearing something from my brother's t-shirt company, statelytype.com

Sharknado! 

OCTOBER

We spent the fall working and hiking whenever we had the chance.

Guess who loves hiking? 

Boyfriend! 

NOVEMBER

Guess who likes to run?
Boyfriend!

Boyfriend ran two 5Ks with me this season! 

Actually, this one was a four-mile run. And he ran it with a 10 lbs. turkey that he won on the course! 

Boyfriend is handy. He made this for me in the mudroom.
We've been together for 6 months! I can't believe it's been half a year! Crazy how life is like that. Sigh. I love him. 


 DECEMBER

We spent part of the holiday break in Capitol Reef. It sure was nice to hang with family and to get outdoors. The weather was beautiful. A perfect winter break.
Hiking in Capitol Reef with the littlies.  

WHAT'S NEXT?

Eclipse Day.
And...looking to the future. Who knows what 2018 will bring? 
Hope you all had a wonderful year. I have a feeling that 2018 will be a big one. Lots of life changes. Maybe I'll start another grad program. Maybe I'll run another half marathon. Maybe something unexpected will flit across my horizon. Either way, I know I'll be writing, and the kids and I will be traveling.

Love your guts,

Rena, Layne, and Gavin.





Monday, July 24, 2017

No, I Don't Wanna See That! An Online Dating Story

I haven't talked much about this publicly, but I got divorced in May. It's been both good and bad, simple and complicated. Regardless, I'm dating again. I've made some incredible friends, and I'm exploring Utah's nightlife as a single woman. I've found online dating to be enjoyable and weird, exhilarating and heartbreaking. Not much has changed since the last time I was single, fifteen years ago. Well, one thing is different. [Shrugs.] I'm wittier now.


The inquiries are typically stale, and even the more inventive ones seem day-old bread-y. But I have fun.
Seriously, dude?! Worst pick up line yet.
(Let it be noted that I only cut out a couple lines between.)

Pro tip: When you hit on an English professor, know this basic rule...
You're = you are
Your = shows possession
Also,
Herd = group of animals
Heard = involves sound in ears
I wish those were the only two mistakes, but...no. SMH.


I'm NOT dating anyone who can't get at least one of these three lit references, or, at the very least, someone who hasn't mastered the art of Googling.


More to come, friends. There is some crazy stuff on my horizon, and I can't wait to share my latest publication credit. Let's just say it rhymes with the Blashington Toast.

Love your guts,

Rena


Monday, January 2, 2017

The one where pie invades my face.

Hi friends!

Here's the much anticipated pie-in-the-kisser video as a reward for reaching over 100 newsletter subscribers.



What should I do if I get 200? Lick a celebrity's arm? (I am going to the Sundance Film Festival in a few weeks.) Let my kids give me a peanut butter mohawk? Get a professional face painter to draw a picture of a kangaroo with the head of Jensen Ackles on my cheek? I'll entertain other ideas.

Much love,

Rena

Friday, November 18, 2016

How I got the reputation for being "blisteringly honest."



“Writing is like giving yourself homework, really hard homework, every day, for the rest of your life. You want glamorous? Throw glitter at the computer screen.”

--Katrina Monroe


It’s hard to imagine why  anyone would want to become a professional writer. It isn’t as if it is the best paying gig in the world. Most writers don’t make enough to buy health insurance. Nevertheless, writing is the marrow in my bones, it’s stitched into my soul.

In high school, I didn’t show an aptitude for much of anything. I liked certain classes, but I wasn’t exceptionally talented in any one area. My attentions were, sadly, too consumed with dating to bother with academia. However, in college, I was drawn to literature courses. Suddenly teachers spoke openly about the hush-hush topics that no one brought up in secondary school, and critical theory pushed the boundaries of my mind, forced me to see things differently, and challenged my beliefs. I loved every minute of it. 

As an emergent writer, I hunted for ways to shine around campus; first by contributing articles to The College Times, the college newspaper, and then publishing short stories in college magazines. Writing became a therapy and a drug. It was a creative outlet and a method for processing learning. But more than anything, it provided me with an unparalleled sense of fulfillment. Give me words or give me death. 

I published a lot in the years to follow (mostly in newspapers and blogs), and then I went on to get an MFA in Creative Nonfiction. The training in my Master's program helped shape my work and aim me in the direction of a genre I hadn't considered before. Narrative essays and memoirs became the bread to my butter. The Triskets to my cream cheese. 

This week, one of my essays was published in Pinball. "How We Die" captures the naked life of a family ravaged by depression. Yes, this is my family and our toe-to-toe, thrust-and-parry battle with depression. It's writing like this that gave me the reputation for being "blisteringly honest" by my writer mentor, Jake Lamar. Here's the link.



Much love,

Rena



Friday, October 21, 2016

The Value of a Story



Every day I read someone else's work. A lot of someones. On Facebook and Instagram, I whine about how long it takes to grade essays; yesterday, I gave meaningful feedback on seven papers in an hour. Seven down, seventy to go. And those are just the ones who turned it on time. [Sigh.] Occasionally I resent the hours it takes because it laps up my writing time (or cooking, reading, parenting, and dog-snuggling time). But, friends, these essays? The stories are incredible.

I gave my students a simple prompt: Write about something or someone that evokes feelings of love or hate.


One student wrote a narrative about his two favorite uncles; one who taught him out to work hard and manage a farm and the other who taught him how to woo the ladies. Then, one morning my student found the former uncle dead in the barn. The uncle's skin was cold when he felt for a pulse.

Another student wrote about how during a basketball tournament in St. George, their team was snowed in and forced to stay the night at the bus driver's dilapidated cabin. She tried to sleep in a bunk bed, but bugs crawled all over the wood. Instead, she camped out on the floor of the common room. When she woke in the morning, the bus driver stood nearby, watching her. She pretended to sleep until he left the room.

One young woman wrote about leaving home for a summer to participate in a competitive veterinarian-internship two states away. She worried about being on her own and wondered if she'd get along with her mentor. Then, she met her. The mid-forties vet gave her a big hug, showed her to her quarters, and said, "Wanna come with me to check on a goat?"

In another narrative, a student's mother worried her daughter's boyfriend was too controlling. Convinced, the young woman broke up with him in the parking lot of a church. When she tried to walk away from his truck, he threw her to ground and stood over her, cursing.

One kid's father, who was a teacher, cheated on his mother with one of his students and ended up in prison. The young man's story was about having to live in his grandma's basement and saying goodbye to his dad.

I'd read these stories if I caught their blurbs in a Barnes and Noble. I'd buy 'em and read 'em on the treadmill, in the bath, or listen to the audiobook on my commute. I know I'm only one voice of encouragement, and some pupils probably think I have to say nice things about their work, because...teacher. But do they know the value of a story? That people read for the chance to connect with the author, the characters? To learn when to be compassionate and when to be cautious? To escape their anxieties, traumas, or crummy childhoods (or adulthoods)? Do they know that stories like theirs change the world? That stories shape policies, raise awareness, incite action, save lives?

And if they don't know, how do I teach that?


Thursday, October 6, 2016

My So-called Professor Life

Now that my MFA is complete, the paperwork all filed, the degree shipped my home address and framed in my office, I have this nice neat title. It's pretty and shiny and useful; it helped me get a job teaching college. I teach part time at UVU while continuing to teach part time at a local high school. Work load combined, it's exactly like having a full-time job. 

And I'm a parent. I have to help the kids get ready for school almost every day. When they get home, I make sure they have snacks. I make dinner, I help with homework and wash the dishes. I listen to them whine about their chores--feeding the dog or wiping down counters--and then I hold a dance party in the kitchen before we all lose our minds. 

This is my life. Teaching, grading, working out, sleeping, dancing, cleaning, bathing (on occasion), and more grading. Did you notice the missing piece? (Hint: You wouldn't have noticed if you're not a writer.) I HAVEN'T BEEN WRITING. There's been the sparse scribble in church. A frenzied typing before a scout meeting. Lunch break chicken scratches on a napkin. This is nothing. I went from about eighteen hours a week of WIP time to having a handful of minutes to type an essay. A short one. 

A writer who doesn't write feels lost. Distracted. Fogged by a feeling that something is missing. The memory goes wonky. Appointments are missed. Our office chairs forget the shape of our butts. Our hearts flicker out and fall like the ash of a cigarette. 

But I know the remedy. And so I type. 

BICHOK. Butt in chair. Hands on Keyboard. 


Love your guts, 

Rena

(P.S. An essay of mine will be published in Pinball this month. More to come.)

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

May the road rise up to meet you [in Dublin].

I'm in Dublin, ya'll! I'm studying creative writing at Trinity College (where Bram Stoker and Oscar Wilde, too, stayed for a time.)

Dublin Castle is a few blocks from Trinity College.


My schedule is hectic, and I don't have time blog all the wonderful things I've learned in lectures and on tours (and fun idioms I've picked up on the train to Holyhead Port). To sustain you, here are a few pics from my trip.

Feeding the birds in St. Stephen's Green. 



Hurling game. Galway lost. =(

Temple Bar and some street musicians. 



More to come later. I can't wait to tell you all about it. 

Love your guts, 

Rena


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