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#WIM Summer ’21 | Week… 2? 3?: i can explain–

Firstly of all. Hello I missed a week. Long story. Busy week. Then another busy week. And now here I am, having finally clawed my way to google docs to spew out… This. Below is actually my self-edit. Or. Self-finally-finished-draft. I kid you not I just sent my CPs this draft 10 minutes ago. Biggest apologies to them. Because wow, yikes.

I mentioned this on Twitter, but my draft ended up coming to around 2469 words (heheh nice) but then I shaved it to 2400. Not unlike me, as my last WIM story came to 1.3k I think? I’m very sorry, lol.

For now, I’ll leave you with this. Because I once again have to run. I’ll update this later, hopefully, with more thoughts. But! As I mentioned to my CPs, there was a point around the 1k mark that actually made for a decent pause, whereas the whole draft would become a part 1 and part 2 type deal. So I’ll mark that, and no pressure to suffer through the whole thing, considering the second half is pretty rushed and there’s some illogical bits that I would equate to human error of my characters but yadda yadda yadda, here you go–


{title tbd}

There’s days when memories form like mist, even as you’re presently living them. You know this is a time that will stay with you, whether you would have it or not.

Sometimes it’s a forgotten tattoo that peeks out of your sleeve and makes you jump.

Sometimes its presence lingers, cloying, weighted–a thick salve along your skin you can’t ignore.

Altogether, regardless, it’s there.

In whatever form it chooses, outside of your control.

Fog rolled in on the first day of my new job. My car crawled through the buzzing gate of the research center, headlights switched off in the dim midmorning haze. 

I’d found the listing online, a shining ad of white marble and walking lab coats tucked between forager haul clips and indie band announcements. Needless to say, it wasn’t my schtick, but it paid well. Plus, it was a botanical research center, and I liked plants well enough.

“You seem to have the desired level of knowledge for this position,” the head researcher, Dr. Kent had said over the phone. Odd phrasing, but alright, I recalled thinking. “Report on the fifth at ten o’clock for training.”

And I did. It wasn’t much change from my past reception positions–less books on the wall, no wafted scent of brewing artisanal coffees, an unfortunate lack of tattoo flash sheets littering the desk. Overall, the expanse of my work area–a carbon copy of the ad I’d seen–was remarkably unstimulating. 

I let out a long sigh. 

“Something on your mind?” 

I turned, eying the intern also stationed at the desk with me. Shaggy dark hair, lab coat, tap tap tapping away at an email.

“Truthfully, nothing at all,” I supplied. “It’s like my brain’s been wiped clean along with the rest of this place.”

The intern huffed a laugh, short through the nose with a twitch of the shoulders. 

“Thought this was a botany place, too. Where are the plants?”

The intern gave me a pitying smile. “Well, they’re all inside being peeled apart and put back together again.”

The tap tap tapping resumed, and I sat back in my office chair that suddenly felt a few shades less than comfortable.

There was a mug in front of my face, steaming into the air where it sat on the partition sill between the desk and the spotless lobby. I blinked, focusing on the chipped toadstool pattern along the bottom, the handle resembling a gnarled branch, then to its owner.

The intern, who I learned leveled up to full time lab assistant the previous week, beamed bright, tapping a knuckle on the sill. “Let’s not lose you now.”

I hung my head for a moment. “Am I that obvious, lab rat?”

The click of a tongue and a pinched brow. “You look about half dead behind that desk. Don’t let Kent catch you sleeping.”

I straightened up in my chair, peeking around for the doctor theatrically. It drew a chuckle out of the lab assistant. I called that a win.

Taking the mug in hand–it was decent-smelling, and actually hot–I smirked. “I like to think I’m actually on Dr. Kent’s good side.”

Lab Rat snorts, waving a hand and walking off. “If you say so.”

I shook my head and took a sip, wincing at the lack of sugar. 

It was as I was driving home that I realized the mug was exactly something I’d buy for myself, chipped shrooms and all.

“You’re not stalking me, are you?”

Lab Rat paused chewing and squinted. “We literally eat together every day, what’s the problem?”

I sat up from where I was crouched over my untouched sandwich, coming back to myself in a way. I shook my head. “Yeah, sorry. I don’t know where that came from. I was just– Remember the mug?”

“The mug.”

“With the toadstools.”

“Ah.” A nod. “The one you broke.”

I winced. “I am once again very sorry.”

Gentle kicks to my shin under the rickety breakroom table. “What about the mug?”

“How’d you know to give me that one?”

Long, drawn-out blinks. “‘How’?”

“Yeah,” I accused, holding up and shaking my sandwich half-threateningly. “How, ya stalker?”

Lab Rat went cross-eyed watching the sandwich, then nudged it away with a frown. “I’m observant.”

“That’s something a serial killer says.”

A snort, blocked by a hand with far too many rings. “Oh my god, you have frog pins on your bag. It’s 1+1. What is the problem?”

“Oh.” I shifted in my chair. “Oh, right.”

“Seriously, are you good?”

“Yeah, just… brain fog.”

“Ah. Mm.”

Moments passed. A coworker stepped in, warning of a Kent rampage, to which Lab Rat groaned.

“That’s my cue. We still good for tonight? Sorry I cancelled last week, Kent was up my ass about a deadline.”

“Yep. It’s chill. What was the movie again?”

A plaintive stare from the doorway. “Please don’t look it up and spoil yourself.”

“Come on, I know it was like… Paramore-something.”

“It wasn’t, but okay.” Lab Rat steps out, only to step back in again. “About before… If you ever need to–”

“–talk about anything–I know, I know,” I interrupted, bobbing my head dramatically. I stopped, made eye contact. “Thanks, though.”

Lab Rat tapped the door frame. “Anytime.”

The soil-smudged papers littering my kitchen table were getting far less legible lately, not that I could ever really understand them to begin with. It didn’t help that a whole Lab Rat was collapsed over half of them, crumpling them beyond saving. Light snores and the ceiling fan above rustled the pages. Dinner sat cold on the kitchen island where I’d left it hours prior. Wisps of smoke trailed from the wicks of the aromatherapy candles I’d just snuffed out. The hall clock read 3 AM.

I sighed and reached down to tuck a tangle of hair away. “C’mon, babe. You’ve been at this for days. Sleep in a real bed, yeah?”

Lab Rat sat up slowly, head lolling back. “But–”

I leaned close, peering under bangs and half-hooded eyes. “Breakthroughs come to those who knock out when their girlfriends tell them to.”

The light, jerky twitches of a sleep-drunk giggle. “That’s not a thing.”

“I’m making it a thing.” I tried for a smile, but it fell too soon. I drummed a little beat on the table to wake us both up. “Come on, baby, you’re all peeled apart. Let’s put you back together again.”

[Author’s note: here’s where the 1k mark is!]

I’d heard of the term haunted for an expression on a person’s face before, but I’d never seen it. 

When Lab Rat met me in the back stairwell–the place we’d been rendezvousing for our shared lunches for months now–the only word I could use for that face was haunted.

We sat and ate in silence. I waited, because it worked like that between us sometimes. 

I cleared my throat. Lab Rat jumped, a container of grapes tumbling down the stairs with a rhythmic clatter. We stared after it, but when I looked back–

“Oh my god, babe, you’re crying.”

Bare, ringless fingers prodded at wet cheeks. “Am I?” 

And just like that, we broke together. I’d always been a sympathetic crier.

Our lunches stopped after that. Our messages and sleepovers stopped after that. Our overall togetherness stopped after that.

I counted the days since we saw each other, but quit that quick after the mere glance at a calendar made my eyes mist and blur.

Lab Rat had a car, and it never left the parking lot. It was there when I arrived early mornings and there when I left late nights.

I did my desk work because I needed to, even though it felt useless in the grand scheme of things. All the while I waited for a chipped mug to be put in front of my nose, its contents equal parts sweet and bitter now.

Don’t you remember? a small voice in my head sneered. It’s broken now. 

And you have no idea why.

“Hello sweetheart. Don’t worry about me, and don’t wait up for me,” the note left on my desk read.

“Everything’s fine. Kent has me on a project that’s more than I’m used to, but I’ll manage,” read the next line.

“Let’s get lunch one day soon, alright?” requested the next.

“Please take care,” it finished, signed with a heart.

I took the next week off with the PTO I had saved, under the guise of visiting family out west. 

There was a cafe we frequented, and I set up camp–aka a busted laptop armed with bootleg anime sites and adblock–at one of the shaded tables every day. Lab Rat may be the smart one, but I could read between the lines once in a while.

Thursday came and almost went before that old Prius finally rolled up, and out came my walking labcoat. 

At the side entrance closest to my table, I pounced, pulling us to the alley beside the cafe before any shocked yelp could be made.

“Oh, thank god,” Lab Rat exhaled, all but deflating in my arms. “You can read.”

I squeezed tight, giving a watery chuckle. I would’ve bantered back, but– “What the fuck is going on? Where have you been?”

Shuffling feet and stricken gaze. “It’s… It’s a lot. I don’t know how much I can tell you so you’ll be safe. And I can’t stay long, Kent–”

“Cunt, more like,” I hissed.

“Shush… but correct. He’s pretty much timing how long I can go out. He trusts me, but not enough.”

I clasped our hands together. “Tell me. Everything.”

Lab Rat’s sigh was all-encompassing. I felt it in my own lungs. “You know my cross-pollination project?”

I nodded.

“I was going for allergy-reduction or mental health relaxants… I got bio-weapon.”

I blinked. “Excuse me?”

“Like, straight-to-your-brain fucks you up. I’m still not sure how bad it can get. TL;DR, babydoll, Kent wants me to sell to the military. Either I do that, or he’s outing me as some kind of… spy? I don’t know. The preliminary published research–all that shit I had in your kitchen–it’s already under my name. He has to go through me. Remember that day in the stairwell?” I nodded again. “That was the day he… proposed this ultimatum. After testing on mice.”

I sputtered. “Botanical research center? Animal testing? For real?”

“I know, I–” Lab Rat’s–Ah, what irony, I thought.–watch beeped. “I don’t have time. I have to go.”

My grip tightens. “But–”

“He’s trusting me more. Be patient. I’ll be home soon.” The confidence melts to hesitation. “I… I don’t know what else to do other than play along.”

“We’ll figure it out. We will.”

A smile. Fingers tangled in the hair at the nape of my neck, tapped a rhythm against my skull. 

“I hope so.”

Kent, it seemed, didn’t trust easy. Three weeks passed before Lab Rat slept at my place again. Well. Not much sleep, but that’s besides the point.

“So what do we do?” said to my bedroom ceiling in the humid haze of Sunday morning.

The shift of sheets in a shrug. “Nothing to do, I think.”

I sat up. “You want to let this happen?”

“Of course not.”

“Then…?”

Silence thickened the air. It was visible. Dense. Choking.

Lab Rat rolled over, facing the wall practically wallpapered with little cards of KPOP idols. A shrine built up over the months we’d been together. It started as a joke. 

Nothing felt funny anymore.

The first mistake was bringing the research home again. 

For a smart person, Lab Rat sure had dumbass moments. 

No wonder it took Kent months to trust. He never thought of having to trust me, though.

The second mistake–though I would call it a saving grace–was the development of a counteractive. An antidote. 

The third mistake–I was good at following directions, better at defying them.

Flashes, then. Of Lab Rat asleep for the first time in days. Of driving to the center at dawn. Of rows of plants I’d never seen before. Of masks. Of Kent’s face twisted in wrinkled confusion. “You wanted to test it, right, sir?” Of flowers. Of smoke. “How’s my level of knowledge now?” Of burning. Burning soil. Burning labcoats. Burning roses. Peeled apart and back together. Was that it? Was that all? What else was this made of? I’d barely read, only followed. Flames lick at my boots. I’d started that, hadn’t I? Poppies? What did they do? What was the chemical makeup of chrysanthemum pollen–? My Lab Rat would know– My–

“What are you doing?!”

My head floats around on its own, and I smile through the smoke. There you are. But I frown, then. “I wanted you to sleep more…”

“What?!” Wild, watering eyes and sudden, hacking coughs. “Fuck. I never tested with people, babe, get out of there!” 

There was the crackling of plaster, of marble, of everything. Of course I wouldn’t be heard. 

I reach up, unhitch the clasp of the mask I’d made. Smoke–mist–fog billowed; I couldn’t tell in or out, which way any of it went. Only that my Lab Rat was barrelling towards me, and I couldn’t be happier. I reached out my arms–

And it all came crashing down.

You twitch awake, and it’s all there in a flash–everything you ever wanted to know. You reach out, on reflex, to clasp the remains of the dream. But it’s gone as soon as it was there. Popped like a bubble with the lightest touch and tension.

You stare at the blank dark in wordless frustration. Everything. All of it. Gone. Nothing. Again.

Again.

A gentle snuffle sounds beside you. Dim stripes of moonlight fall through slatted shutters and rest quietly across your bed. That’s right. She’s begun to stay more often in your little shack in the wilderness. She stays nights, but leaves early mornings for work, so it’s rare to wake up beside her. 

“Wha’s wrong?” she says, groggy, fingers prodding searchingly across the bed. Her eyes are barely open. “‘vrythin’ okay?”

Moments pass, hanging still while you dig and search and try to remember it all. Try to remember her. It’s useless, as usual, no matter how many times this happens. 

You sigh and let her find your hand where it’s tangled under the sheets. She squeezes with languid sleep-muddled strength, then goes lax.

“Yeah,” you say to her. “Yeah,” you say to yourself. “It’s just warm in here.”

On instinct, you tap at her palm a few times, before allowing yourself to drift away once again.


And bing bang boom, there she is.

What a monster.

Despite how this draft is turning out, I kinda love my characters (who I have names for but affectionately call CottageCore and Science/LabRat) and I’m going to definitely keep working on expanding this world. Anyway.

Hope you enjoyed!

–CM

#WIM Summer ’21 | Week 1: it’s gonna go somewhere i promise

Oh wow I forgot writing was fun.

Hello all! So basically, I’m writing the prequel to the story I wrote last #WIM. I think it was called [basis] or something. No idea what this one is gonna be called, but I do love a good double/triple meaning title, even if one or more of the meanings is convoluted and only makes sense in my head. Shrug.

But yes! My shack dweller and visitor are back. I love these idiots a normal amount. I wasn’t able to get through much, but I was able to churn out like 600 words, and that’s far more than I’ve been writing over the course of several months, so… Progress!

Here goes somethin’.


{title TBD}

There’s days when memories form like mist, even as you’re presently living them. You know this is a time that will stay with you, whether you would have it or not.

Sometimes it’s a forgotten tattoo that peeks out of your sleeve and makes you jump.

Sometimes its presence lingers, cloying, weighted–a thick salve along your skin you can’t ignore.

Altogether, regardless, it’s there.

In whatever form it chooses, outside of your control.

She thought nothing of it when fog rolled in on the first day of her new job. (Front desk receptionist work meant to pay the bills that never seemed to stay paid for long.) Her car crawled through the buzzing gate of the research center, headlights switched off in the dim midmorning haze. 

She’d found the listing online, a shining ad of white marble and chrome and walking lab coats with chicklet teeth midway between the forager haul clips and indie band posts that frequented her timeline. Needless to say, it wasn’t her schtick, but it paid well. Plus it was a botanical research center, and she liked plants well enough.

“You seem to have the desired level of knowledge for this position,” the head researcher tasked with hiring her–Kent, she recalled was his name–had said over the phone. Odd phrasing, but alright, she recalled thinking. “Report on the fifth at ten o’clock for training.”

And she did. It wasn’t much change from past reception positions she’d had–less books on the wall, no wafted scent of brewing artisanal coffees, an unfortunate lack of tattoo flash sheets littering the desk. Overall, the expanse of her work area–a carbon copy of the ad she’d seen–was remarkably unstimulating. 

She let out a long sigh. 

“Something on your mind?” 

She turned, eying the intern also stationed at the desk with her. Shaggy dark hair, lab coat, tap tap tapping away at an email, it seemed.

“Truthfully, nothing at all,” she supplied. “It’s like my brain was wiped clean with the rest of this place.”

The intern huffed a laugh, short through the nose with a twitch in the shoulders. “Ain’t that how it is…”

“Thought this was a botany place. Where are the plants?”

The intern turned and made eye contact with her, and smiled. “Well, they’re all inside being peeled apart and put back together again.”

The tap tap tapping resumed, and she sat back in her office chair that was a few shades less than comfortable.

There was a mug in front of her face, steaming into the air where it sat on the partition sill between the desk and the spotless lobby. She blinked, focusing on the chipped toadstool pattern along the bottom, the handle resembling a gnarled branch, then to its owner.

The intern, who she learned had leveled up to full time lab assistant the previous week, beamed bright. “Let’s not lose you now.”

She hangs her head for a moment. “That obvious, lab rat?”

The click of a tongue and a pinched brow. “Easy now, you look about half dead behind that desk. Don’t let Kent catch you sleeping.”

She straightened up in her chair, peeking around for the doctor dramatically. It draws out a chuckle. She’s satisfied with that.

Taking the mug in hand–it was actually decent, and actually hot–she smirked. “Y’know, I like to think I’m actually on Dr. Kent’s good side.”

Lab Rat snorts, waving a hand and walking off. “If you say so!”

She shook her head and took a sip, wincing at the lack of sugar. 

It was as she was driving home that she realized the mug was exactly her favorite aesthetic–something she’d see in her own home.


Yeah so uhhhh that’s all I got this week. Nothing has happened, but don’t worry!! I have things lined up in my brain and on the notes app on my phone. It’ll come together… at some point…

I’m not a fan of the opening bit and might cut it for a more cold opening, but who knows! Maybe it’ll grow on me.

See you next week!

CM

#WIM Summer ’21 | Week 0: Prompt

We’re back, baby.

And by we I mean me and my fractured, pandemic-addled psyche. That’s right, friends, we’re neck deep in identity crises and financial irresponsibility.

What a perfect time for spooky angst vibes, then. 

Pause. If you’re new here: Hi, I’m Christina Masucci. 26 y.o. she/her. Libra. I like to write stuff, but rarely do. Consuming content >>> Creating content, know what I mean? I’m still figuring out my genre(s) and style(s) of choice, but I tend to lean towards modern fantasy/supernatural with thinly veiled contemplative reflections of gender, sexuality, and human nature. Anyway, my twitter is @chrismasucci, which I need to start being more active on instead of just rising from the grave for Writer In Motion.

Alrighty.

Without further ado, Writer In Motion Summer 2021’s picture prompt:

Courtesy of Jaroslav Devia.

>:]

I almost don’t want to say anything because I don’t want to spoil the idea I have. I’ll explain at the end of this week, I promise.

I’ll just say… my first attempt at sci-fi, flowers, and I’m excited to be working backwards. 

Those who read my piece from last WIM… this is for u. [eyes emoji] if u know u know

See you next week >;3c

-CM

Day 8: Plans for a Productive Summer

As the retreat comes to a close, I want to express what a productive and inspiring experience these past two weeks have been. Hearing everyone share their work during “author’s chair” (both today and yesterday) was the perfect way to end this course, and I’m amazed by everyone’s phenomenal talent and unique perspectives. I look forward to getting to work with some of this group again in the fall, but for everyone who is moving onto new adventures, I wish you all the best of luck and look forward to seeing what you all accomplish as writers! 

As we move into the summer, I’m starting to think about how I want to move forward as a writer. I definitely want to continue writing this memoir by adding more vignettes and expanding on the ones I already have. I also hope to develop a loose summer writing schedule so that I can hold myself accountable for getting some words onto the page; I have the summer off from work, so I should have plenty of time to write. Of course, I also want the chance to relax after a year of teaching full time while attending grad school, so I’m not going to be too hard on myself if I don’t end up writing as much as I’d planned. 

My (very loose) plan is to set aside at least two days a week specifically dedicated to continuing this memoir. However, I also have some poetry in my drafts folder that I’d like to dust off and perfect, so I want to set aside some time for writing, editing, and seeking publication of my poems. In addition, I’ve really enjoyed the practice of freewriting to answer “write into the day” prompts, so I’m going to take at least one day out of the week to do some freewriting in order to reflect on my creative writing, to ponder possible thesis topics, and to work through my ideas and emotions. Finally, I want to keep up the practice of taking daily writer’s walks to get those creative juices flowing, so every morning before lunchtime I plan to take a walk around the neighborhood or find some nice nature trails to explore. 

So, my summer schedule should look something like this:

  • Mondays: Memoir writing and editing 
  • Tuesdays: Poetry writing, editing, and (hopefully) publishing
  • Wednesdays: Memoir 
  • Thursdays: Poetry 
  • Fridays: Freewriting

I expect I won’t be able to stick to this schedule every single week; this summer, I have plans to move into a new house, to celebrate my first wedding anniversary, and to drink orange crushes on the beach, so I’ll probably miss a few days of writing here and there. I also expect that I might get randomly inspired to write something totally different—such as a fictional short story—so if that happens, I’m just going to go with the flow and write whenever inspiration strikes. But my hope is that having outlined the above schedule will help me be productive even when inspiration isn’t striking. 

I want to end by again saying how amazing it has been to work with such a talented group of writers during this retreat. I hope everyone has a great summer, and I wish you all the best of luck in your future writing endeavors!

Day 7: Decisions and Self-Discipline

As we wrap up our Writer’s Retreat, I’m also trying to wrap my head around the thesis I’ll be starting in the fall. As I discussed in this afternoon’s author’s chair, I’m still struggling to determine whether I want to continue writing this memoir about my first year of teaching, or if I want to conduct a phenomenological study by interviewing other teachers about their experiences with hybrid and remote learning. I’m a little wary of using the memoir as my thesis because I’m not sure I’m capable of completing such a significant piece of creative writing. I’ve written some poetry and even had some short stories published, but the longest pieces of writing I’ve ever composed have been academic. I’m not sure I’ll be able to produce enough creative content to fill out my eventual thesis. 

I’m also worried about my ability to continue with this project in a structured way. For these past two weeks, I’ve been focusing on specific moments that speak to me and that I actually wanted to explore through writing, but if I decide to pursue this memoir as my thesis, I’ll obviously need to expand on what I’ve written so far. I’m not sure how ready I am to dig into some of my less pleasant feelings and experiences that relate to my first year as a teacher or whether I’ll be able to keep the inspiration I have now. I don’t usually have a huge problem with composing academic essays for a deadline, but I like to take my time with creative pieces, and I often ignore them until the right mood strikes. 

I’m therefore sincerely hoping that the right mood strikes this summer. I really want to continue with the routines I’ve built during this retreat—the writer’s walks, the freewriting, and the daily composing and editing time—because they’ve allowed me to produce a lot more content than I normally would have in just two weeks. The structure of this retreat has pushed me to write, but once those training wheels fall away, I kind of expect to topple over because I’m not all that self-disciplined. Hopefully, though, by the time fall rolls around, I’ll at least have a few more vignettes written, and I’ll maybe have a better idea of where I want to go with my thesis.

Day 6: Short Term Goals and Future Plans

I’ve only got two more days left in this retreat to realize my goals, so this morning’s “Write into the Day” prompts were a good way to organize my thoughts on how to make progress both in the short and long term. I’ve identified three major goals I’d like to accomplish by Thursday. First, I’d like to finish up a vignette about the first few days of teaching from home in March of 2020. My original plan was to complete it by the end of today, but I wasn’t as productive as I would’ve liked to be, and I also kept thinking of new ideas and elements to add and expand on in my writing. I’ve already started adding some artifacts to this vignette, such as students’ comments on Google Classroom, and I’m still brainstorming ways to incorporate more of them into the rest of my stories. 

My second goal is to go back through my other vignettes and make some minor edits and revisions. I made some good progress toward that today and even added a bit of depth to one of my short stories. Hopefully tomorrow’s author’s chair will give me more ideas for how to enhance what I’ve already written. Finally, by the end of this retreat, I’d like to write (or at least start writing) a fourth vignette about teaching pre-pandemic. Like I said, I didn’t get quite as much writing done as I would’ve liked to, so I’m not sure I’ll be able to finish an entirely new piece, but I’d at least like to get a basic outline or rough draft completed so that I can continue working on it on my own time during the summer. 

Once this retreat is over, I definitely don’t want to abandon this project. I’m not sure yet whether I’ll continue this memoir as my thesis; in Dr. Nelson’s class, I started making vague plans for conducting a phenomenological study to see how hybrid learning affected teachers, so I’m debating whether I should go the more “creative” route and finish this memoir or if I should stick with the more traditionally “academic” project of conducting a structured, rigorous study. I’d love to continue to flesh out my memoir and give it a plot and some direction, but I’m worried I won’t be able to consistently write creatively for two semesters to finish such a huge undertaking. 

Even if I decide on conducting a research study instead of continuing this memoir for my thesis, the project I’m working on now will still be valuable practice for writing the narrative portions of the phenomenology, and it’s also a good way for me to dump out my own feelings on teaching and get them out of the way so that my own bias doesn’t interfere with my research. Ultimately, whether I connect this project to my thesis or not, by the end of this retreat I’d like to have the beginnings of a memoir that I can return to during future summer breaks and perhaps someday publish.

Day 5: Finding Inspiration and Adding Artifacts

My daily writer’s walk this morning and checking in with our groups this afternoon gave me some great ideas for how to move forward with my project. The walk was shorter than I planned, since I couldn’t spend long outside during this muggy heatwave, but I still found some solace and inspiration in walking a familiar path through the woods near my apartment. 

It’s one I’ve walked many times, and today as I strolled across the trail dappled with sunlight and listened to the catbirds crying in the trees, I recalled the inspiration I drew from this path during March and April of last year. The pandemic was in its early stages, and I was still getting used to working from home and wearing a mask and ordering takeout instead of sitting in a restaurant. I went for walks on this trail with my then-fiancé (now husband) and wrote poetry that not only described the beauty of the nature around me, but also helped me work through my complicated feelings on the world getting shut down.

One particular poem, titled “Outlook during Quarantine,” included excerpts from the emails in my inbox. I reflected on the questions my students were asking me and the situations they were describing that made it difficult for them to complete their work from home. I’m bringing this up now because this afternoon in our groups, Dr. Zamora suggested I consider adding artifacts—such as lesson plans or emails—to my writing project to create a finished product similar to a scrapbook or a diary. I really liked this suggestion (especially since it’s something I’ve done in my creative writing before), so as I move forward with my project, I’m considering how to play with the genre of my piece and how to visually construct a coherent narrative that includes genuine artifacts from my first year of teaching. 

I’ve also developed some goals for the end of the retreat. This morning, I was able to finish up a second vignette that describes the week leading up to school closures in March; this afternoon, I got started on a third short story that explores teaching remotely for those supposed “two weeks” from home that stretched on indefinitely through 2021.

I’m going to follow Kate’s suggestion and go back to my first vignette, which details my first day of teaching, and draw out important elements that deserve to be expanded on. That way, there won’t be such a large gap between teaching pre-pandemic and mid-pandemic. As it stands now, I haven’t given the reader much context about what teaching looked like in “normal” times, so by the end of the retreat, I’m hoping to have a least one more pre-pandemic vignette that expands on the in-person elements of teaching.

Day 4: Reflections on Revision

Week one of the retreat ended with an inspiring and helpful “author’s chair” session that not only helped give my writing direction, but also allowed me to see the talents and rich stories my peers had to share. I’m glad I took the time to share what I’ve written so far, as I got a lot of valuable feedback and some reassurance that my piece is headed in the right direction. I’m going to do my best to incorporate everyone’s advice into my piece, focusing on continuing to develop my self-deprecating tone and my naïve, first-year teacher voice. 

This morning’s reflections in the spiral journal were productive for me, as well, as I articulated some of what I’ve been learning about my writing and expressed some of my hopes for my finished product. I’m realizing that, like Diana, I’m a writer who likes to get things right the first time; I can spend hours agonizing over choosing the perfect words and rearranging them into sentences with coherent, naturally flowing syntax. 

The freewriting exercises and the daily blog posts have been forcing me to practice quickly dumping my writing onto the page without spending too much time overthinking it; as a result, I’m producing substantially more text than I normally would, even though it may not quite reach my impossibly high standards. I’m doing my best to use this retreat as an opportunity to get into a flow of writing instead of stressing about deadlines and perfection; I’ll have plenty of time later to revisit my project and revise, but for now, I’m trying to just be happy with putting words on the page. 

I’ve been making decent progress toward that goal; this morning, I started another vignette that will serve as a snapshot of a moment in my first year of teaching. I’m taking an almost autoethnographical approach, marrying my bursts of creativity with meticulous review of old emails, calendars, and personal documents to get a sense of the timeline of my first year. All that review is giving me more inspiration as I remember key events and small moments that will be worth exploring in my writing. 

This first week has given me the tools I need to get started, and I’m hoping the momentum I’ve built in the past four days will carry on through the weekend and into our last week of the retreat. Hopefully, by Monday, I’ll have made even more progress on my project, and I’ll be ready to share my latest short stories at our next author’s chair.

Day 3: Processing by Walking and Writing

Day three of the Writer’s Retreat was one of discovery and reflection. This morning’s freewriting prompts, class discussion, and writer’s walk revealed some important truths about my writing process. As I wrote about “some of the most interesting discoveries I have made while working on this project thus far” and thought about our discussion of the therapeutic benefits of writing, I began to recognize my own writing process as a way for me to, well, process the events I’ve been through so far in my teaching career. While I was working through the daily grind of my first year of teaching, I had no desire to write about what I was experiencing, but now that I can look back with some distance on those events, I realize they’re worth exploring and sharing.

I’m also starting to realize that there’s a lot I haven’t been able to discover yet, both in my personal writing journey and in the logistical and technical aspects of this project. For example, if I’m going to craft a memoir, I’ll need to figure out how to handle the ethical concerns of writing about events that involve minors and that occurred at a school where I’m still currently employed. For this retreat, though, I think I’ll just stay focused on getting something down on paper; I’ll worry about the complications of publication later. I’m not in any rush to share my stories with the world just yet, so I’ll use whatever I write as more of a personal tool to allow me to explore my own emotions about the past two years and to discover new goals for my career.

This morning’s walk was another way I started to explore my emotions. As I walked, I thought a lot about the prompt: “What do our chosen paths say about our perspective?” My chosen path was originally going to be a shaded, secluded trail in the woods near my apartment, but it was a little chilly this morning, so I decided to stroll through my much sunnier apartment complex instead. Both paths are familiar territory that I’ve walked countless times; apparently, I prefer comfort and routine over trailblazing and adventure.

I also realized I enjoy being alone with my thoughts; I’d been looking forward to the walk through the woods because it would’ve meant avoiding that awkward smile and wave I give when I come across someone else on the sidewalk. The desires to be isolated and to stay within my comfort zone are ones that might limit my perspective as a writer, so over the course of the retreat I’m going to try to work on being more open and adventurous.

Of course, my main goal for this retreat is to actually write something, and I started making headway on my project this afternoon. So far, I’ve written a draft of a short vignette detailing parts of my first day of teaching pre-pandemic. In the coming days, I hope to write a few more of these short stories and to improve the prose and tone of the one I wrote today. 

Day 2: Using Memoirs as My Muse

Today’s #writreat Tweet prompt, which asked us to post a quote about writing, was actually a huge help in getting me inspired to start my project for this retreat. I chose to share this quote from Frank McCourt’s memoir ‘Tis because it speaks to how powerful each individual’s life stories are, even if they don’t always realize they have something worthwhile to share. 

I have to admit, I sometimes wonder whether my voice matters in academic conversations about the education system because I’m relatively inexperienced (both in my profession and in life in general), so the above passage was a good reminder that every person—even (or perhaps especially) those who aren’t traditional, established academics—has a wealth of unique, diverse experiences that is worth exploring through writing.

Finding this quote was also a useful exercise because it forced me to review two of my favorite memoirs: ‘Tis and Teacher Man by Frank McCourt (and, if you’re taking my memoir recommendations, you should check out Angela’s Ashes, too). As soon as I read today’s prompt, I knew the exact passage I wanted to share, so I flipped through both books, searching for this specific scene. As I skimmed the pages, I remembered why I fell in love with McCourt’s honest, poignant, and hilarious writing style, and I started to get a sense of what I want my own texts to look like.

My plan during the retreat is to write about my own teaching experiences during some very turbulent times, and, although I know that whatever I produce will never be able to match McCourt’s distinctive voice, I’ll definitely take inspiration from his brutally honest recollections of the frustration, uncertainty, and vulnerability that comes with teaching high schoolers. 

The discussion our group had in breakout rooms this afternoon also helped me start to solidify a plan for the rest of the retreat. I’m going to take Dr. Zamora’s advice and select a few specific moments from my (very long) list of challenging, surprising, funny, and uncomfortable teaching moments to expand on in short vignettes. Hopefully, writing a few distinct short stories will help me gain a better understanding of my feelings toward and my place in the education system.