Thursday, September 22, 2016

20 Days Later

It's been 20 days since I posted here. What have I been doing?

  • Running
  • Not running
  • Teaching
  • More teaching
  • Watching my hair creep back
  • Designing, drawing, making things
  • Selling things I made
  • Going to scout meetings
  • Helping Greyson with reading and homework
Stuff. The stuff of every day. 

The most profound things I've been doing are making things. Putting my creativity to use. Sure, there's the sticker shop. It is so much fun...but in other ways I've been creative, too. 

This semester I'm teaching two university on-ground courses. For many years I taught the majority of my classes online. It's good to be back in the classroom more than I'm teaching digitally. 

One of my classes, my last one of the day on Monday, Wednesday, Friday, is full of athletes. FULL. A majority of those students are boisterous young men.They deliver on some of the things I expected when the class started: they talk over me and each other, they spit canned answers and tell me what they think I want to hear, and it is hard to get to the meat of a reading or a class discussion. Then they surprise me with what they divulge. The things they write. I'm not quite sure they know what to do with me, and me with them. 

More than anything, they challenge me. They make me turn inward. They make me read harder, annotate more, dig for material that we can sink our teeth into. Yesterday, in the middle of a discussion of literacy, sponsors of literacy, discourse, and discourse communities--a convo that wasn't really going anywhere--I pulled up a page full of Jeff Koons' work and asked the most eye-rollingly obvious thing, "IS IT ART?" And that was the thing that did it. We got past some of the canned answers. We rolled around in uncertainty. We were honest. They started to discuss the fact that there are big conversations going on everywhere, and unless we are curious and diligent, we will never know. We will never even know they exist...much less be a part of those conversations.

Friday, September 02, 2016

#30Authors: Sarai Walker on LADIVINE

Sarai Walker on LADIVINE by Marie NDiaye

#30Authors is an event started by The Book Wheel that connects readers, bloggers, and authors. In it, 30 authors review their favorite recent reads on 30 blogs in 30 days. It takes place annually during the month of September and has been met with incredible support from and success in the literary community. It has also been turned into an anthology, which is currently available on Amazon and all author proceeds go to charity. Previous #30Authors contributors include Celeste Ng, Cynthia Bond, Brian Panowich, and M.O. Walsh. To see this year’s full line-up, visit or follow along on Twitter @30Authors.

I love to read literature in translation, particularly from France, but over the past several years I’ve been remiss in keeping up with the latest books. Ladivine, the new novel by French author Marie NDiaye, makes me realize what I’ve been missing.

The best way to read Ladivine is to know very little about it in advance, which makes reviewing it tricky. Part of the pleasure of the novel comes in the unexpected and sometimes shocking ways it unfolds. Without giving too much away, the novel focuses on three generations of women: Ladivine, an immigrant to France from an unnamed, presumably African country; Ladivine’s daughter Malinka, who changes her name to Clarisse; and Clarisse’s daughter, also named Ladivine. The story begins with Clarisse, who grows up embarrassed by her mother, a kind-hearted woman who works as a maid. The novel is in part a meditation on race and colonialism, but these issues are never addressed explicitly. We learn that Clarisse’s mother is black, that her unknown father is probably white, and that Clarisse is able to pass as white, but the reader is left to figure out all this on her own.

Clarisse derisively refers to her mother as “the servant,” and she does her best to escape her mother and reinvent herself with a new identity. She marries and has a daughter; both her husband and child think she was orphaned when she was young. Clarisse secretly visits her mother once a month and helps financially support her, treating her in an outwardly cold and cruel way, but inside feeling tortured over her feelings for the sad, abandoned woman who raised her.

No one in Clarisse’s new life really knows who she is, and when she finally decides to reveal her true self, the consequences change the lives of everyone around her. In the most compelling part of the book, we meet Clarisse’s daughter, now an adult, who doesn’t even know she has a grandmother for whom she is named. While on vacation in an unnamed, tropical country — presumably the one from which her grandmother came — she finds herself in bizarre, dream-like, sometimes violent circumstances that she doesn’t understand, which threaten to consume her.

This novel is strange, and it will likely be a struggle for anyone who can’t embrace its dark, beautiful, mesmerizing strangeness. It incorporates elements of magical realism, and can be disorienting, which is part of its power. The first part of the novel is written in a cold, abstract style, which mirrors Clarisse’s personality, but one of my favorite things about this book is the way it shifts to different characters’ points of view and immerses the reader in each of their worlds. The novel starts off as one kind of book, and ends up as something far different.

Ladivine is my introduction to NDiaye’s work, and I’ll certainly be reading through her backlist now, beginning with her previous novel, Three Strong Women, which won the Prix Goncourt, France’s most prestigious literary prize.

Sarai Walker is author of the novel Dietland. Her articles have appeared in national publications, including the New York Times. She earned her MFA in creative writing from Bennington College and her PhD in English from the University of London. She is currently a visiting professor of creative writing at the University of Memphis.

Follow Sarai Walker on social media including Facebook, Twitter, and her website

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Time to Play

Doodles and more doodles. Books of them.
There is a sketchbook under the lamp on my nightstand--just one of many, many sketchbooks I filled up over the years. I haven't looked at them in a long time, but I remember what's in them...attempts at perfection. When I was young and in art school, drawing photorealistic portraits was my thing. It was the style of drawing and painting that came easiest to me, but it also felt restrained and stuffy. I wanted to draw and paint looser, more fun, whimsical pieces, but I didn't know how.

Somehow I had it in my mind that really good artists could jump in and JUST DO IT. Draw or paint something perfect from their mind the very first time.

That's stupid. 35-year-old me realizes there were a lot of failed attempts and studies along the way...even for the best artists.

I never played with art.

I didn't doodle much. I didn't put brush strokes on a canvas just to see how the paint would behave or try to find new techniques. I thought I should just know. I never tried to copy the styles I admired just to give them a go and twist them to make them my own. I never indulged in fantastical, frivolous images even though I loved them.

Life teaches us over and over that we never "just know" anything. There are gut feelings and instincts that are a big part of everything we do, but everything is also worth questioning an examining.

Play makes us better. I'm 35 and I'm taking time to play.

For the past couple of weeks I've drawn kawaii on my computer, painted with watercolors, sketched with pen and ink. I'm watching tutorials and videos from artists I admire who do the things I love really really well, and I'll certainly jump in and try my hand.

We talk a lot at the university where I teach about asking our students to adopt a growth mindset. People with a growth mindset believe their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work. I've always lived with a growth mindset. I do have that pesky perfectionistic streak that can hold me back at times, but there aren't many things (aside from the way I used to feel about running) that I assume I can't do. I know I can do it better. I can do it my way.

Drawing, painting, and making art is a thing I've done since I was old enough to hold a pencil. I could spend hours at a desk at my grandparents' house drawing page after page. I could spend hours and hours and hours in a half-dark studio in college lost in a canvas and paint. And I let that die. I gave it up almost completely--aside from the very random drawing--for 14 years.

It feels good to play. It feels good to try.

Monday, August 15, 2016

I've Been Planning, Y'all!

Many, many moons, 1999...I was an art major. I took art in middle and high school, and I was pretty sure I wanted to be a graphic designer. As a teen, I loooooved designing stuff. I spent hours and hours on my home computer designing avatars for this new CHAT thing you could do online, and I also started teaching myself web design. Sadly, when I got into college, got into my courses, and got an internship, I realized that corporate design is a life-sucking drag, stopped designing, and changed my major to English.

I had lunch with Anita from Anita Loves Books a couple of weeks ago, and we always have a wonderful time chatting about family and makeup and this time...planners! She brought her Erin Condren Life Planner, and while I've always loved planners and paper goods, it was the first moment that I thought to myself, "STICKERS....PRETTY!" I bought myself a Happy Planner the next day and started my sticker and washi tape stash at Michael's and Hobby Lobby.

Last week's planner layout. A brain explosion...with stickers. 
In true Andi-is-over-the-top-about-new-hobbies style, I also purchased a Silhouette Cameo cutting machine, and I'm making my own stickers. So...many...stickers. Functional ones, pretty full boxes, groovy patterned half boxes, wee tiny mini icons. AND I LOVE IT.

A sheet of wee tiny miniature icons for my planner. One of the first really challenging sheets I've put together. It worked!
That old designery spark is back, thanks to the I CAN DO ANY DAMN THING I WANT'ness of it. I've been watching tutorials, downloading images, drawing, and practicing my hand lettering. I borrowed a Wacom tablet so I can draw freely in my design program, and it is ON!

It's a good feeling to have this creative juice since books just haven't been providing that outlet lately.

30 doodles every day! It's hard work getting back into the swing of drawing and thinking outside the box.
In a short time, I've found that I'm a "white space planner," I prefer a "plan as you go" style, and I really admire planners who are super creative with their layouts, style, design, and approach to planning. I'm linking a video from Jenny of StickWithMeShop, the first shop I've ordered stickers from, since I really love her style.

So as not to overwhelm you all, I've started a separate planning Instagram account at @estellaplans. I also have a Twitter, but it's a pain in the ass, so I'll probably just bug you all via my regular Twitter account.

Images by Freepik