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Chapters, Papers, and Grading (Oh My!)

When I started thinking about writing my November blog post, it felt unreal. (And I’m not just using that adjective because I’ve been reading The Waste Land. Nope. Okay, maybe a little…) Folks, I am almost finished with my first semester at the University of Kentucky. I’m almost 25% finished with my MFA program (I think in fractions and percentages a lot, don’t know why). I’ve lived in Lexington for nearly four months, and my goodness, what a great four months it has been!

I’ve had the chance to speak and work with established writers, whether they are on faculty–Gurney Norman, Manuel Gonzales, Hannah Pittard–or just visiting campus, like yesterday’s Q&A lunch with Denise Giardina. I’ve gotten to know a diverse and friendly cohort. I’ve drafted half of a novel in workshop this semester, and the more I write, the more I love the story and the characters. I’ve also had near-immediate feedback on the first two chapters of my novel from workshop, feedback that has guided me for writing the next chapters. One thing that has impressed me is UK’s openness to various kinds of writing. I’m in workshop with both poets and fiction writers this semester, and there is a real range of writing interests, from very traditional to surreal or experimental work. My novel verges into speculative/genre fiction, but it doesn’t faze my cohort. I think Gurney Norman has done a great job of cultivating a workshop where we try to see what the author wants to write–not what we ourselves might write–and identifying places where he or she could do it more clearly.

We registered for classes a couple of weeks ago, and I’m looking forward to next semester. Manuel Gonzales, who is leading our spring fiction workshop, has already sent out a list of books, stories, and essays that I can’t wait to read over Christmas break. I’m also signed up to take my outside-department elective: Sociology of Appalachia.

Oh, plus I recently got to teach again in the class I grade for. I’ve never thought seriously about pursuing teaching, but this is at least opening my mind to the idea. When I’m through teaching, I have this ridiculous amount of energy–I feel like doing a few dozen jumping jacks, but I usually just smile a lot.

Lots of happy things have happened since August. Has it been perfect all the time? Definitely not. I’m part of a brand-new program, and that comes with some growing pains.  From faculty to students, we’re still figuring things out at UK, charting a course. I’ve appreciated the freedom and encouraging atmosphere of my first workshop–it has helped me produce work and enjoy doing so–but I’m also looking forward to having more structure and rigor next semester. I’ve spent far more time than I expected on my modernist poetry seminar, and grading is often intense (although it’s tapering off now, as the students work on final projects). But I’ve also learned to find time to write no matter what, and strangely, I think I’ve produced more because I’m so busy. The days where I just sit around watching Netflix and cuddling with my cat are few and far between, and most of the time I like it that way.

I know it sounds/is cheesy, but it’s almost Thanskgiving, and I am thankful for this (funded) time to write and be surrounded by a community of writers. For perspective, back in October, I received a phone call from my dentist’s office in West Virginia, reminding me that I had my biannual appointment coming up on Thursday. I sat back in my chair and thought, Why on earth would I have made that appointment when I knew I’d be three hours away?

On the phone with my mother, I told her about my mistake with a chuckle. She pointed out to me that six months ago, I didn’t think I would be in graduate school in the fall. I was on a waitlist at a program that doesn’t notify students of their rank, which meant I had no idea where I stood. I had submitted my application to UK, but hadn’t heard back yet.

I was floored. Had all of this really happened in six months? I looked back over the calendar, counting, and realized she was right.

El tiempo pasa volando

Yes, that is a clock on a paper airplane. No regrets.

There are nights I’ve wanted more sleep and days I’ve wanted to work on a chapter, not a paper. But even then, I’m glad to be here. It’s the right place. I’m focusing on finishing out this semester strong and moving on to the next. (Oh, and keeping my cat off the keyboard. Okay, Arrow, we can play now.)

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