Month: May 2016

Achievement Unlocked: An MFA Year in Review

I’ve struggled with how to approach what should be a fairly straightforward overview post of my first year in an MFA program. I considered starting with an anecdote that would be both amusing and slightly self-deprecating, because if writers are good at anything other than, well, writing, it’s self-deprecation. I considered starting completely off-topic—say, my love for biscuits—and turning the whole post into a convoluted but apt metaphor for writing. Neither approach felt quite right. I started over from scratch so many times, each attempt more frustrating than the last, until I began to realize that my inability to hold the arc of my first-year narrative in my writer’s eye was a symptom of an issue I have dealt with all year (for many years, actually): my battle with plot, organization, and continuity. Though “plot” is usually relegated to fiction writers, nonfiction writers—especially narrative nonfiction writers—have to work with it as well to some extent. The difference is, of course, that we essayists avail ourselves to a different set of key words, so to speak. …

Writing from the Outskirts

Image: matryosha I grew up in the town of Tujunga, on the outskirts of Los Angeles, nestled right up against the San Gabriel Mountains. It’s about 30 minutes by car from Downtown Los Angeles and about hour from the airport. Between Tujunga and the San Fernando Valley lies a series of hills called the Verdugo Mountains. It’s about as secluded as you can get and still be in Los Angeles, though it doesn’t feel like the city of surfers and starlets. No, if someone drugged and abandoned you there, you’d awaken thinking you’d landed in east Texas. There isn’t much going on. Along Foothill Blvd, the main drag, you’ll find some fast food chains and grocery stores, a dozen auto body shops, a run of boarded up storefronts, and a trio of biker bars, one of which opens at 6am.  There used to be an enormous K-Mart, but that’s gone. We got a Starbucks about ten years ago. That was big. There’s a small library but no bookstores. The closest one is in Glendale, about …

And Thus Concludes…

…the classroom portion of our MFA entertainment package. Last Thursday I attended the last session of my last class for my MFA. It hasn’t quite sunk in yet, but I’m done with my classes. Forever. My mind cannot fully comprehend how quickly two years can fly past. That does not, however, mean I’m ready to graduate because I still have to finish my thesis. I had hoped to have that done by now, as well, but this semester turned out differently than I had planned. Don’t they always?

Elation (And Everything That Came After)

Image: Wonderlane In my introductory post, I called this entire MFA process my first pancake. It was supposed to be the try that didn’t end in success, my testing of the waters. Except I got into two of my top choices and wait-listed at another two. Clearly I was happy, right? Not exactly. Although I did experience great joy when I got those wonderful phone calls and emails, it quickly turned into overwhelming grief. Because I had psyched myself up for disappointment, I didn’t know how to take my acceptances. I had planned ways to make my 2017 applications better and drafted a new list of schools to apply to. Starting school now means I will never apply to Michigan, Wisconsin, Austin or many of the other schools people rave about. I will never know if a SOP that reflected more of my personality would have won more programs over. I will never need to send out the stack of transcripts I have sealed in a box marked “for 2017 applications.” I will never use my dogeared, well-worn …

What I Learned in Year One of an MFA Program

In this post I’m supposed to be wrapping up my academic year, only I’m in the odd situation of having no year to discuss. Which isn’t to say I haven’t, you know, been alive and attending an MFA since August. It’s just that I’ve used my platform here to give out advice about publishing and applying, because probably that’s the most helpful thing I can do for anybody reading this blog. And I don’t like to mention the inner workings of my program, the glory and the drama, because I’m trying to be discrete. Chill. Classy. As the great Amy Poehler once wrote, “I don’t want people to know my shit!” But fine, let’s discuss what I’ve been doing, and if y’all glean any lessons from it, then good for you. *** First, the boring professional stuff. The application story from my undergrad writing workshop at UMass Boston, which I submitted in order to get into this MFA, won a contest at New Letters. The first story I wrote in Ohio was a huge floop …

Leaving the Smears

Image: Workshop Window by Graeme Tozer At my program here in Mizzou, we have two large offices where we all have been assigned desks and nice chairs on wheels. We have card-swipe access to the building after hours and we have large keys for these offices downstairs. The place is normally a montage of clipped fingernails around travel coffee mugs, blazers thrown off and flats slipped on between classes, conferences with students, the occasional collapse of a stack of books and trip over a power cord. In the break room you will always find someone in front of the fridge, vying for space for another $8 Wal-mart zippered lunchbag among the wall of $8 Wal-mart zippered lunchbags. But on the weekends, the offices are empty, quiet, still. Somehow, I lucked into having a desk in front of a window that looks out behind the university’s flagship building and the flowers that spill over large ceramic urns. It is from here that I wrote this post. I’m not sure where I’m headed and perhaps that is …