Katia Raina

The Magic Mirror

Been Too Long!

I can’t believe how long it’s been! Ayayayayay! 

Part of this is…summer is precious now for a teacher, going, going, gone, which is fine, it’s all good, I’ve always been that girl who loved all the seasons, and even to the Ms. Raina version of me, September is just as exciting as June. But the summer does go fast, and it’s filled with so much to do: first sleep off the exhaustion accumulated during the year, and then cook and bake and swim and read and write and travel and just be, breathing in the sweet breeze, doing nothing when possible.

summer-beach-pix

Okay, so underneath all the breezy summer excuses is another reason I haven’t been blogging.

I think I am becoming more private as a writer. I think I need that.

When I went to VCFA, I was happy to put my learning on display to my very appreciative writing community. I found it helpful to me, too. It was like college notes for all of us! But now…college is over. Now it’s just me and my work. I am still learning, still discovering something about myself and my craft, maybe even every day. Maybe that’s just the way it goes. But now I think I need to stay in a dark hidden space: just me and my discoveries.

So, why even have this blog then? Yes, I asked myself that very relevant question. I even started writing a good-bye post. But I haven’t quite made that decision, either.  So that’s where I am. That’s why the long, indecisive silence.

Blogging takes commitment. Energy. Long silences are getting weird. Nothing we do in life should be a maybe.

On the other hand, I do love the small community I’ve built here. Would I be able to find you all again if I started another blog on another site when the time is right God-knows-when?

Enjoy the rest of your summer, friends. Whatever I decide, I am grateful to you all for being here all these years — seven years to be exact, at least for some of you, wow! ❤

xoxoxo 

KR

August 28, 2016 Posted by | Personal Mirror | 10 Comments

Lessons from Mama

states 09 012When I was little, my mama was my treasure. Maybe this was true for me more than it was for other children, because we lived apart and I missed her. My mama was my princess, my hero, my sparkling sorceress, she was the queen of beauty, she was my dream, she really was my everything. At 11 years old my dream came true and I moved in with her, and continued to worship her well into my adolescence. Of course over the years I’ve had to learn that my mama  was human; I’ve learned that she made mistakes, and that she couldn’t always rescue me; I’ve learned that she wasn’t always right and that there were more important things than her approval.

But looking back today at the things I do and the way my life states 09 020is turning out, I realize that I have learned so much from my extraordinary mama. She made me fall in love with art and music. When I was little, she played Vivaldi to me and made me identify the four seasons; she showed me Salvador Dali’s paintings and dared me to write school essays that flip the topic on its head. She encouraged me always to be “free.” With an in-your-face mama like mine, you soak it in: that being different is a good thing and being brave matters. Maybe she didn’t mean to, or maybe she did, but when she told me stories of seeing me in a magic mirror from afar, she also taught me to believe in magic. She taught me to be happy, to seek the joy and beauty in whatever life throws at you. My students say to me sometimes that I am like no other teacher they’ve ever had. They don’t know it, but I do: it was my mama who taught me to be extraordinary.

One of the most important things she also taught me is to try again. And again. And again. And then, to keep trying.

states 09 022You see, my mama is killer at chess. I never quite inherited her passion and patience for it. But one bit of chess wisdom managed to stick: even when you’ve lost most of your pieces, even when the king is cornered and all seems bleak, you keep fighting, you keep playing, you keep dancing, you keep smiling. A check is not the same as a check mate. And even after a check mate, there is always another round. She applied to college seven times before she was accepted into the most prestigious performing art school in the nation. At various times in her life she dealt with poverty, anti-Semitism, KGB threats and more; and yet she found a way around every block she’s ever faced.

With a mama like that, you soak it in: you only lose when you decide you lose.

Today I live her lessons as a teacher, as a writer, as a human being, as a mama, myself. Life is beautiful and crazy. I am bold and brave  (and crazy, at times). I am teaching and learning, sometimes flying, often falling, always getting back up again. I am writing and plotting, submitting, dreaming on, moving on. I am trying. I am smiling. I am dancing. Because I know, when one song is over, another one will come on. There is always another round.

Happy Mother’s Day! What has your mama taught you?

May 8, 2016 Posted by | Personal Mirror | 8 Comments

Underneath Your Daily Dance Clothes

What do you do when you are too busy to breathe? When student notebooks compete   with certification studies compete with long commutes compete with meetings compete with lesson plans compete with my own kids compete with oil change compete with laundry compete with PowerPoints compete with sleep…?

You do the best you can, of course, because you have to and because you want to, you smile through it all, so your students ask you, over and over, “Miss, why you always so happy?” and you love it some days and others you fake it, some days you’re a flying bull breaking through barriers, some days you dance through (sometimes literally!), sometimes you take a chance, sometimes you take off, lift off to space, then more often than not you crash back to reality, then you dust yourself off, begin again.

You just do it, right? We all do. I bet most of you have your own manic daily music to dance to.

So you do it. Each morning you wake up at 5, you dress up and you do your daily dance.

But what if underneath your daily dance clothes, you are also a writer?

How are you supposed to handle that? If you cannot spare your sleep? If your feet cannot afford to run marathons while dancing?

So here is what you do. You tiptoe back to your deeper truth: step by tiny step, you make your way back to writing.

That is what I have been doing lately: taking tiny writing steps every day.

Five minutes one day. Fifteen minutes the next. Then ten. Every day.  It’s like a bathroom break or a quick surf through Facebook, only better. A little sip of writing here, a little gulp there. I don’t care about quantity. I don’t have time to obsess over quality. Just a few ticks of a timer, just a couple of daily beats of a writer’s heart, ten minutes at lunch, fifteen on Sunday evening.

And you know what? I like it. I like it a lot.

Even today, on a blissful break of a snow day, I could have kept going, I wasn’t stuck or anything, there was more to write, but after maybe 20-25 minutes, I felt good, I was complete for the moment. I was no longer thirsty, and so I stopped.

It may sound a little strange and maybe not very “writerly,” but a stolen writing moment to me is a lot more fun than a wide-open afternoon pressuring me for thousands of words. I don’t know if I ever had the stamina for it, really. Of course I tried it, and I did it; I did it for years, I did it plenty of times. But I remember after many a long writing session, I felt depleted and disoriented, out of breath, out of juice.

Maybe it’s a cosmic joke: that inside my workaholic body lives a very delicate, very laid back, do-not-disturb-me muse.

Sure, one day I hope to build back up to maybe Hemingway’s 500 words a day. Yeah, that sounds nice. Five hundred words, that’s, like, half an hour of drafting, okay, one hour max. Five hundred is really not a lot of words at all. I am not in a hurry. But I don’t see why I can’t get there. One step, one sip, one lungful of writing magic at a time.

Thinking about Hemingway, with his quick morning writing sessions and his leisurely afternoon visits with friends and Parisian cafes, maybe I am not the first writer who is not interested in heavy weight-lifting. Don’t get me wrong, if you are that 5k a day writer, bravo, truly, I applaud you. I used to be jealous of you; I used to try to turn myself into you.

Now writing’s simple, almost like back when I was 11 years old, just doodling and telling myself stories. A moment here, a breath there. How delicious. How re-freshening.  Stealing back a few minutes of each day. Spoiling myself. A tiny daily victory.

So, this is what I have been up to lately.

What do you do when you are too busy to breathe?

January 26, 2016 Posted by | Personal Mirror | 4 Comments

Happy New Year! Here is to Continuing!

DSCN3102Yes, it’s been a while. My new life has swept me in, in the craziest and most wonderful of ways because yes, I love being a teacher, and it is a job that demands your all and then some.

Still, I wanted to take a quick minute to wish you all a happy 2016.

The year 2015 has been that turning point year I have been wishing for. It was the year of an important ending, as I graduated with that dream MFA degree. And it was the year of a huge beginning, as I embarked on a brand new dream job and career.

In my ever-evolving and exciting life, I have moved around in every way; I have started and ended many things: friendships, manuscripts and yes, jobs and careers. Now though I find myself in a different place.

I declare this year 2016 to be the year of continuing.

My top wish/goal/hope and resolution for 2016 is to continue strong and stronger on the teaching journey I have begun, to become a true and real professional in every way and to bring my students toward real, life-changing gains.

My other resolutions:

to continue to honor every part of what it means to be human, which includes keeping my body in shape and taking joy in my family;

to continue the new novel I started this summer;

to continue this blog, even if that means incredibly patchy and sporadic postings;

to continue to be honestly, messily, goofily, unabashedly myself. NYC 2016 Katia better

Endings are bitter-sweet; beginnings are exciting. But continuation is what allows us the time, the space and the strength to make great things happen. So, here is to a great new year of…continuing!

Love and best wishes to all,

KR

January 4, 2016 Posted by | Personal Mirror | 6 Comments

What’s Your Story?

“Life is a narrative we have a hand in writing.” Henriette Anne Klauser 

The reason I love life is because it’s  a series of adventures. Almost eight months ago I graduated with my dream MFA degree from the Vermont College of Fine Arts. Now I am starting another one. This adventure feels just as important, if not more so.

Oh, I am a writer, and I always will be. That’s how I see the world, through a writer’s lens; that’s how I feel it too, through a writer’s heart. I have attempted things, made messes; I’ve started and finished and not finished; I’ve tried and played and failed and failed and failed and failed and failed. I will keep up with this, at least eventually, because isn’t that what writers do?

But, ironically, in the last two years especially, during the intense period of delving deep into the world of writing at VCFA, I discovered that my writer’s heart has many other chambers. (Lots of hallways and stairs, a basement and an attic, too.) And so I embarked on a quest to find more meaning still, to build a new career I could love. And now I am pretty sure — God I hope so! — that I found it.

What's your story?Tomorrow, I’ll be stepping across a threshold of a High School English classroom in a high-needs district in my state, as a brand new 11th grade teacher. I feel honored to work beside my dedicated colleagues who have so much heart and knowledge to give.

Most importantly, tomorrow, I’ll be talking to my students about how in many ways we write our own life stories. Tomorrow, I will ask them what theirs is going to be.

Tomorrow: what a big day it is going to be. Huge. This month is going to be a big month, too. Tomorrow, this week, next month loom vast and enormous and important. This means that as a new teacher I might not be able to carve out the time for writing. (Of course this is going to affect my blogging schedule. In truth, it might not be much of a schedule. 🙂 Just don’t be surprised if once in a beautiful moon, you’ll get a little “hey guys!” post in your mailbox. But don’t be surprised if you don’t get one for a while, either). Of course, as my wise classmate and fellow Darling Assassin Monica Roe said here on this blog, there are always excuses to put the writing off, and all we really have is the “cumulative power of now.”  So I hope to find my footing as a teacher soon, so that I can find a way to sneak the writing into my daily schedule once again. In the meantime though, I’ll still be writing — I’ll be filling new exciting pages in my own life’s story.

Love,

KR

September 7, 2015 Posted by | Personal Mirror | 4 Comments

Building A Meaningful Writing Life

People think that writers enroll in an MFA program on a quest for publication, the shiniest treasure of all. hobbit

And maybe some writers do. Okay, many do. Most.

I guess I did, too.

I enrolled in the program with that shiny goal in mind.

And then, after intense writing and reading and studying, one of the biggest lessons I got out of Vermont College of Fine Arts is the importance of … life.

Yes, life.

The writing life. But also, the life outside of writing.

As I started to pay closer attention to the ebb and flow of my process and my creative habits, I discovered that the busier I was with other things, the more often I took time to step away from the keyboard, the more passionately I lived, the more productive became my writing output.

The less tightly I clutched my work in progress, the easier the words came.

The less the writing mattered in the big scheme of my life, the more I wrote, and the happier I felt about doing it.

I decided to try and build a new and meaningful professional career. In preparation, I committed to a one-year-long in-office literary agency internship, smack in the middle of my studies.

Did that new commitment affect my writing? Yes it did, in the best possible way!

Turned out, I had more to give to myself — and by extension, to my writing efforts — when I gave more to the world.

With this discovery, my real writing goal became not chasing publication, but building a meaningful and sustainable writing life.

Did that mean I’d stop submitting my work?

Not at all.

It’s simply about the shifting of the emphasis.

For me, building a meaningful writing life includes having: under construction

1. A regular writing routine

2. A story to work on

3. The next story waiting in the wings (this one’s maybe not a strict requirement, more of a nice bonus).

4. Setting aside some time for reading fiction

5. Being able to help support my family

6. Taking one day a week and/or occasional vacation time to just decompress and breathe and luxuriate in the life part of the equation

7. Giving something to the world, something else, something other than writing

daily ritualsAs part of my studies, I read up on habits of writers, artists, thinkers and scientists, from Pablo Picasso to Jane Austen, from Ingrid Bergman to Sigmund Freud in a super fun collection of biographical sketches that deals specifically with the working habits of composers, choreographers, sculptors, filmmakers, poets and lots and lots of novelists. The book, which I highly recommend, is called Daily Rituals: How Artists Work by Mason Currey. What I saw in these entertaining sketches reassured me that there is no ONE right way to build a meaningful artistic life. Some of the greats wrote in bed for 12 to 14-hour stretches. I know I couldn’t do that — in bed or otherwise. Others (sadly) could not work without the help of some powerful chemicals. I choose not to do that. 🙂 Some wrote 500 words and called it a day. (Hemingway, anyone?) Many had low-paying day jobs. Some built meaningful careers alongside but separated from their art.

What did all the greats have in common? A meaningful, consistent and productive artistic life. So, okay, maybe the #1 thing on my list is a must: a regular writing routine. Honestly, I’d say #4 also. Ask Stephen King, if you don’t believe me.

Everything else, though? You tell me.

What are the most important components of your meaningful writing lives? I’d love to know. But whether or not you share them here, I hope you take the time to answer that question for yourselves. And then follow through!

Happy building!

March 22, 2015 Posted by | Personal Mirror, VCFA Adventures, What I've Learned Series, Writing Mirror | , | 10 Comments

Happy New Year! Off to Graduate!

A page from my plannerHappy 2015 my dear readers! May it bring you love and joy and beauty (not to mention, lots and lots of writing, of course)!

The year 2014 has been pretty exciting. I completed the second half of my studies at the Vermont College of Fine Arts. Learned up to my ears. Wrote a critical thesis delving into novels in verse. Finished a draft of a manuscript I’d been trying to figure out for years. Then finished it all over again.

Through all this, I reconnected with New York, the city of my American beginnings, happily commuting, blending right in with the the crowd as I walked the streets and the avenues with my bright orange briefcase (sometimes writing on the go!). As agency intern at Serendipity Literary and assistant to the amazing Regina Brooks, I worked with authors from “the other side of the desk.” The internship concluded just yesterday, but all the learning I have done will stay with me for a long time, as will all the wonderful new friends I’ve made, Regina included. She has been the best mentor anyone could wish for, and she, along with her colleagues, always made me feel positively brilliant!

What will 2015 bring?

Graduation, for one thing!

Tomorrow I am flying to Vermont for my final residency, during which I will present a lecture of my own (!) The following weekend my family will come to town, braving the crazy cold to watch me perform a reading of my own work. And of course through it all I will watch my classmates,  my brothers and sisters-in-writing, my Darling Assassins, the class of January 2015, graduate with me. I am still in disbelief that this is happening. Two years just whizzed by, in one great big whirlwind of learning, reading and writing (and laughing and crying, and friendship and fear and love).

Do you make resolutions? Wishes? Goals? I do a combination of all three.

For 2015, my biggest aim will be to channel all my passion and education and knowledge into a start of a wonderful career. When I return from the final residency, I plan to network and job-hunt my head off.

As for the writing, this year will mark an important beginning (that’s how I prefer to think of graduation, anyway). After two years of working under the guidance of powerful advisors, I am going to be on my own again. My writing life this year will answer an important question: with all that you’ve learned, what can you do, Katia Raina? A few months ago, this question terrified me. Now, it seems more like a friendly taunt from the Universe, a challenge I am excited to embrace.

My writing plans for this year include concluding a revision of the novel that is my creative thesis, getting it off to beta readers, finally, then polishing it into submit-able shape. But also, I already have three new-ish story ideas I am excited about. This year I hope to get started on at least one of those. I am not going to worry about finishing it, of course. With these new projects, I only aim  to play, play, play, to try things, and to write bravely and honestly and with joy. Another page from my planner

Finally, in 2015, I want to continue to be there for my family. To make time for love and goofiness. To treat time like it’s no big deal. Occasionally, at least. To take some grown-up time, too, once in a while. But also, to be a good listening ear to my two kids who are growing up way too fast. I want to give them support and understanding, always, while having the courage to tell them the truth, too, even when they might not want always to hear it. Oh, and I want to remember to call my mom every week with some good stories 😉

So, how about you? What’s your biggest goal for this year?

May your 2015 be a great and shiny one! See you on the other side of graduation! [gulp]

xoxo

KR

January 8, 2015 Posted by | From the Other Side of the Desk: Adventures in Publishing, Personal Mirror, Updates, VCFA Adventures, Writing Mirror | , , | 13 Comments

In Honor of Breaks: A Totally Rambling Summertime Post

Me, at age 16, shortly after arrival to America“Summertime, and the living is ea-ea-ea-zy, fish are jumpin’ and the cotton is high….”

Fun fact: Once upon a time, at age 14, I sang this song,  silly accent and all, and played it on the piano, on national Russian television. 🙂

Since then both the video and the audio of this little milestone had been lost in the craziness of emigration and moving and growing up and  living. But sadder than that, when I sit at the piano now, all that comes to me are the song’s first two chords. (It was a unique arrangement, nothing I can find in sheet music, or re-create by ear).  As far as the rest of it goes, beyond the two first chords, nothing comes or ever will again. It’s been too long. My fingers have lost the memory. I have no nostalgia for performing on TV ever again. But my fingers miss the song. I wish I could let my voice loose to those chords again, wish I could let my kids hear it.

This is what happens when you let go of something for too long — be it a song or a story. Right? You face the danger of losing it forever. Sometimes that’s just all right. Some stories deserve to be lost. But once in a while, you risk losing a treasure.

But there is another side to this “practice, practice, practice” coin. Once in a while, I believe we need to stop working on our craft so damn hard, stop completely. At least, I do.

It’s not easy either. Now that the semester is through, and I have finished writing and revising a novel I have been working on for (ahem) years, I am under strict orders from Shelley, my last semester’s advisor, to rest. I tried to resist at first. I kept going with some poetry, even though I could sort of feel it, my zeal and creativity grinding slowly to a halt. Now, before I go off to my next residency at the Vermont College of Fine Arts (next week!, OMG!) I am not writing. I am enjoying my family more. I am even becoming somewhat competent at our own crazy version of pool volleyball! (a HUGE surprise, trust me). Still, it’s hard. After the months of living my story, of my fingers flying over keyboard letters like they knew where they were going better than I did, not writing leaves a hole, an emptiness. Where had my super productivity and focus from the last six months go? My desk is a mess, I am waay behind on laundry, and I can barely go grocery shopping anymore without forgetting the sour cream and the hot dogs!

Look at this post, even, what am I saying here?

summer sky

All of this only proves, of course, that I need this break, don’t I?

I am doing the best I can. Taking in the lazy-making  swelter of summer, I try to just be, in the softest possible way, even if not writing makes me feel a little helpless, a little blind, a little lost.

This is all good, I know that. Seven days from  now, I will be flying to Vermont. Before loading up with new inspiration, meeting my (last!) VCFA advisor and charging up with new ideas, I need to be as empty as possible.

So, cheers, guys. Here is  to summer and to rambling. To emptiness, and to just being. Here is to floating.  To memories of music. To making new memories.

Soon I will be writing my head off again, I sure hope so!

But today, I cheer for  just listening.

Happy summer, my dear friends!

I will post again in late July when I come back from residency.

xo

Katia

June 30, 2014 Posted by | Personal Mirror, VCFA Adventures, Writing Mirror | | 13 Comments

I’m Back!

My HogwartsThe latest residency expanded my mind, filled my writing soul with new color. I have learned so much once more, both about writing and about myself. Much of the residency dealt with the inner life of an artist. So, in a way, it wasn’t just Montpelier, VT that I have  traveled to. I visited my own inner landscape.

Some of the big highlights this residency:

— As per a great VCFA tradition, our class (January 2015) announced its name. We are the Darling Assassins!

— I finally had a roommate. And she had been worth waiting for. Despite our uncoordinated sleeping schedules, sharing a room with her gave the residency an extra sparkle. I hope never to inhabit a single dorm room again!

— I was enrolled in a special poetry workshop. We met on the highest floor of the College Hall building (see picture). Up there, at the top of our own “astronomy tower,” my fellow poets and I got to play and generate and go crazy with language, sound, line space, imagery, humor, nature…

— The VCFA sorting hat has done right by me once more. My new rock star advisor for the semester is Shelley Tanaka, a Canadian editor and author. I feel incredibly lucky for this chance to learn from her.

I have some great posts planned for you. Printz Award finalist  Lucy Christopher visited VCFA this residency and talked to us about how she uses landscape to construct her stories. Lucy gave me permission to write about that presentation for you guys here. Not to mention, my list of discoveries is long, once again, and I want to share! But I am going to need a little time. I totally didn’t consider this before — this third semester I have just embarked upon is different. In addition to my regular creative work, I must also work on my critical thesis, a long paper delving deep into an aspect of craft, which is a requirement for graduation and can be a great learning tool. It requires in-depth reading, thinking, planning, research. And guess what? Shelley is expecting the first draft on February 10th!

In addition to all that, I am getting started on a new career, which I am very excited about. (More on that soon, I promise). So, please bear with me.

It’s good to be back, sleeves rolled, ready to go.

One last note: some of the subscribers to this blog might remember my 31-minute challenge campaign last year, where I urged a group of writers to commit to writing every day for at least 31 minutes. I know the challenge worked great for a bunch of you and I am sorry I am just too busy to continue it this year. Obviously, right? 🙂 But one of last year’s participants Dori Stone picked up the campaign and is now trying to get people excited on her new blog. The best part? She is doing it in February instead of January, so there is still time to sign up right here. If the challenge worked well for you before, I hope you consider joining her. Take it away, Dori!

January 23, 2014 Posted by | Personal Mirror, VCFA Adventures | | 14 Comments

Off to Hogwarts!

Hey guys,

Just letting you know it’s almost time. Two days, to be precise. Time to launch the third semester. Time to pack up my wand — um, I mean pen — my numerous notebooks, my thickest of sweaters. (Brrrrr!!!) Time to take the plane to Vermont College of Fine Arts– the secret snowy north place, where they teach magic. I know what to expect from this Hogwarts by now: the tiny dorm, the dizzyingly small campus where I will walk in circles from lecture to workshop to reading to cafeteria to lecture to workshop and back again, where I will float on magic air among fellow Gryffindors. I know what to expect. And yet VCFA is like writing itself, it always surprises you. I can’t wait to see the dear faces, hear new exquisite words from classmates and grads and faculty, can’t wait to talk magic, can’t wait to get sorted with my next advisor assignment! And I can’t wait, once again, to be surprised.

As always, when I come back, I’ll try my best to share my discoveries.

my Hogwarts

See you in a few weeks!

Cheers, KR

January 7, 2014 Posted by | Personal Mirror, VCFA Adventures | | 19 Comments