Month: November 2014

A Day in the Life…

Well y’all, the holidays are upon us. As my friend Grant keeps saying, this semester isn’t so much winding down and it’s coming to a screeching halt. The less time I have, the more I think about time, how it can work for us or against us, how some people thrive under the pressure of a million things bearing down on them, and how others need a whole day, a whole week, a whole lifetime, just to get their minds in working order. How does the concept (and existence) of time affect the life of an MFA student? How much time is enough? How much is too much? What are the ideal circumstances under which to write, to read, to learn, to create? In other words, what effect does the structure of our days, of our lives, have on the version of ourselves that we are now, and the version that we are (or want) to become? Unfortunately, I don’t have the time or space to answer any of these questions (sorry), so in true …

The Imagination Lives On: The Challenges of Teaching (Genre) Fiction

By the middle of the fiction unit it was clear some of my students understood that fiction is not just about randomly inventing but also about deliberately constructing worlds and sharing those worlds in an appealing way. For one, students were not ready to produce so much material. Poetry had been a challenging unit for them, but some were getting by with just writing a poem that fit within a page—nothing more. Obviously, poetry asked that they put more attention to how they write about an incident and what the poetic form can do for the incident they chose (this was one poetry exercise, for instance). Therefore, the transition between poetry and fiction was not only abrupt for them, I could also sense the same sentiment as we went over the elements of fiction and they had to apply them to their stories. Me being me—and always wanting to challenge them while challenging myself—I assigned them a nontraditional assignment: I had them write a modern fairy tale and gave them the option of debunking or …

Adventures in MFA Applications

It’s that time of year, isn’t it? You’re frantically searching Google for any advice when it comes to applying for programs. MFA Draft is picking up, you start writing those letters to your recommenders asking them as kindly as you can to please send that letter (because you have been stalking them on Facebook, and it seems they have time to upload pictures of their new puppy in a bumblebee costume but no time to upload your recommendation). So I decided this month, I would tell you in more detail how I’d toiled for three years finding an MFA program that worked for me. How, if you don’t find the program right away, it’s okay. How, if you completely screw the pooch this time around, it’s also okay. You will eventually find the program that fits you. You will make it happen, if you want it bad enough. I remember the moment I realized I was going to an MFA program. I was twenty. I was a junior in undergrad, majoring in Playwriting and English. …

First semester wrap up

Now that Thanksgiving has come and gone, my fall semester is almost over. I only have one workshop left which I hate thinking about because it makes me sad. But now is not the time to feel down, it’s the time to celebrate getting through my first semester at UVA! Here’s a quick wrap up: Road trips I travelled to VCU to see Natasha Trethewey read, and to Hollins to attend a Q&A with Li-Young Lee. The Hollins trip ended up being even more exciting than I anticipated because the creative writing faculty invited us along to lunch with Li-Young Lee and the MFA students at Hollins. Everyone in the program was kind and welcoming. I can’t say enough good things about the people we talked to there. Li-Young Lee is ten times cooler than I ever could have imagined him to be. He talked about his love/hate for Wallace Stevens, breath and poetry, and tons of other amazing stuff. I can’t find the notes I wrote down or I’d include more. Intramural sports I played intramural softball and …

November

This month I finished my pedagogy course. As I’ve stated previously, we began this class online over the summer so that we’d be better grounded in our teaching when we began. Once we got here, we continued meeting weekly for 1 ½ hours (rather than the standard 3 hours). Each class opened with a discussion of how our teaching was going, what was working and what wasn’t, and we were able to give each other feedback and advice. Then we would discuss our week’s readings and explore how they applied to the classroom. The class is taught by Sarah Stanley, who oversees writing instruction at Alaska-Fairbanks. She is brilliant when it comes to rhetoric and theory, and is incredibly supportive in our teaching efforts. Her assignments are well suited to professional development. For instance, our final project was a roundtable discussion open to the public on the various ideas we studied over the course of the semester. My group discussed the relationship between the composition classroom and the notion of global citizenship, while the other …

Crafting a Beautiful Statement of Purpose

My own Statement of Purpose for my MFA applications was groomed better than my own hair, and it was all structured around a conversation with one of my undergrad professors. “Gillian,” my professor told me, “The SOP does not solely determine if you’re accepted to a program or not—we put far more emphasis on the writing sample and the letters of rec. The SOP is used to determine if the candidate is a jerk.” I thought about this for days. How could I write a strong SOP that told the world that I wasn’t a jerk? What did I want my SOP to stand for? (Also, what did I stand for?)

Connective Tissues

Writers are strange in that they reverberate off one another. We are all types of whales and it is influence and drama and jealousy and love and admiration that keep our worlds going round. In this way, language becomes cyclical in motion. And it’s something I haven’t given much thought to, until taking classes here at Columbia. Sure the beginning my undergraduate experience was a mess but growing through the years not only made me a better procrastinator, but a better academic and critic. Ok fine, I’m a terrible procrastinator on occasions like now but that’s not the point! Reading the western (white) cannon over and over again bored me to the point of returning back to biochemistry. But the class readings didn’t end there. It was only when I immersed myself in poetry that I finally “got it.” The “it” I’m referring to is community, is continuity, is inspiration through life and death.