The reality of it already (somehow! how!?) being November was the catalyst for writing this small testimony, think piece, whatever you’d like to call it. In other words, my first semester in an MFA program is a blur—one great, big, ginormous blur that’s stretched and yanked and shouted at and taught me things I thought I’d already learned—but actually hadn’t. Not the right way, at least.
I came to my program with all of the excitement and uncertainty and the strange partially-pompous-partially-humble mind-state that us writers seem to have an affinity for convincing ourselves into. I’m sure everyone before me and after me has felt and will feel this similar peculiarity, too. And that whole “imposter” syndrome you hear about? Yeah—that’s really real. There are days when I’m nearly convinced I was let into my program by accident. There are also days I’m so damn grateful to be here—usually after a high-energy, bright-spots-of-flushed-cheeks-and-points-being-made discussion in my workshop where there’s this amiable discord, the sharing of ideas, completely done for the sake of a story, that makes me want to curl my arms around all of these talented people in the room, caring, with such swift intensity, about their—and my—words (along with the stray misplaced modifier). Sometimes, it’s like that, where it’s almost too good to be true.
So sure, I love it, but it’s hard. I’ve learned that the program environment is something that forces you to adjust, to make sacrifices for things. It isn’t just sitting around and smoking pipes, adopting ponderous faces, out-witting one another with lengthy texts we’ve memorized by heart. Thank God it isn’t. It’s just a reality one shade away from my previous life, in which I’m surrounded by a small group of living, breathing, if-you-prick-us-do-we-not-bleed people who love the complexities of language, and the magic that can be made with a sentence.
But there’ve been nights where I’ve felt incredibly lonely, and also, separately, alone. I’d never distinguished between the two before. I’ve pulled all nighters—twice, so far—and gone to class with that sort of slap-stick mentality that only lack of sleep—or a dentist’s happy gas—can provide you. Both of those nights, I watched dawn break over the sloping trees of my condominium and felt a confusing pudding of weariness and elation and pride for being there, past my bedtime. And yeah, I could’ve gone to bed both of those nights, but I didn’t, because the story wasn’t all the way there or to my liking, and for the first time in quite some time, I’ve consciously put my writing before my own needs. In other words, I’ve grown up about the way I treat my writing. Just because it’s a rough first draft doesn’t mean it doesn’t matter. It means everything, actually. In essence, I’ve realized just how necessary writing is for me to know I’m alive and relevant and, despite all the rest, very lucky.
There have also been a handful of times where the mean little critic in my head’s convinced me that I’m a fraud, and somehow unworthy of the chance I’ve been given. That my stories are small and meaningless, and that I’m doing this entire thing all wrong. That I don’t have anything real to say, but buck up anyways, girl, and get over yourself, get real, stop pretending. I’ll tell you, she’s a real bitch. But just as I’m reaching that lowness of mind where there’s really nothing else to do but despise myself, throw my phone against a wall, break a dish just so something else is cracked, I have an idea of an idea, or I write something that I think might have a splinter of good in it, or I have three other women in my program surround me with their arms, let me cry about a something that I tend to bottle up during the daytime, have convinced myself to ignore (almost) successfully.
And when we finally break the hug, I pull away from them and recognize something new about this strange, lovely place: we’re just a bunch of crazy humans—our flaws running deep as fault lines—with surreal dreams we’ve been laughed at for and called naive far too many times to care about counting. But that doesn’t mean we aren’t a community and that we don’t recognize this on some level that’s buried deep and under the rest. We aren’t without a basic, human kindness that allows us to hug a fellow peer in the rain, our minds buzzing a bit from the alcohol, and in that moment, appreciating the intimacy our program’s given us.
Because if nothing else, we’re all writers, and we know how to feel things, and get through this whole feeling process with only minimal, dime-shine scars.
That’s what we do best.
Mary B. Sellers is a first year MFA fiction student at Louisiana State University. She also wants to be a mermaid. Sellers also really likes fairy tales–especially the creepy kind. After graduating and during a two-year gap period, she worked as an intern and later associate publisher for indie publishing company, Blooming Twig Books, which published her collection of short stories, Shoulder Bones, last December. She’s a dog mom to her puppy, Daisy Buchanan, appreciates the art of drinking good (and cheap) wine, and is easily distracted by all things sparkly.
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