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M.F.A. (Master’s of Feedback Appreciation)

Yesterday I turn 44, more than half-way home, eh.

The day before I walked off campus knowing I won’t return for three months, which filled my heart with joy and pre-mature nostalgia. Although I love my office and would enjoy spending the whole summer there reading and writing, I’m not looking any gift horses in the mouth as the road and summer seductively beckons but eventually yes—back to Duke City…for year two.

I can’t believe I just wrote that sentence. Yes, I’m worried about money, but one of the best things about being a mature student is that you have been through abject poverty before, and probably will again, but you know how to keep a few shillings in the pocket. Plus, I’ll find work in Barcelona. I lived there for five years and know some people. If I don’t, I’ll Uber or wait tables on the weekends to pay off my debt upon return. Bugger it, you only live once.

Money comes and goes. If I wanted to make money, I would have worked in a bank.

Reflection is good. Our Core Writing program has instilled it into the curriculum, and like my students at the end of the term, I’m looking back. Some things that happened are so good, I almost can’t believe they happened but they did.

Highlights:

  • Being nominated for a Pushcart. God Bless The Great American Lit Mag!
  • Attending Non-Fiction Now In Flagstaff. See you in Reykjavik?
  • Reading for and becoming Fiction Editor for The Blue Mesa Review (Ocean Vuong, Debora Monroe and Jenson Beach are our judges this summer so submit away!)
  • Winning the Hillerman-McGarrity scholarship
  • Publishing 16 book reviews, 3 author interviews, 8 short stories, 11 poems, 1 essay and 13 blog posts.
  • Writing 179 034 first draft prose words and 185 first draft poems.
  • Reading 358 short stories, yes I counted. If you want the list, message me.
  • Learning to focus on a sentence.
  • Working under and beside a supremely focused and generous faculty.
  • Meeting some generous and honest folk.
  • Reading many mind-blowing writers.
  • Seeing Jamaal May read the poem “Shift.”
  • Giving my 1983 Mercedes with 320 000 miles to a tow-truck driver in Van Horn Texas in exchange for a 123-mile lift to the Greyhound Station in El Paso.
  • Getting back together with my wife.

Lowlights:

  • I can’t really think of any, except smoking and drinking too much and putting exercise on the back burner and feeling foreign all the time wondering if I will ever understand America or even be able to articulate what I don’t understand.
  • Feeling I was too harsh with my feedback. I just want to help, but I’m not naturally diplomatic.
  • Feeling like my students weren’t learning enough.
  • Feeling like an arrogant bastard.
  • Making very little money.
  • Receiving roughly 378 comforting rejection notes.
  • Feeling all my thoughts are superficial.
  • Having the worst slumlord on the planet and not head-butting him or calling him a racist prick to his face. Perhaps I’ll see him again, in small claims court.
  • Not having time to read all the books I borrowed from the library.
  • 96 carne adovada breakfast burritos, no I didn’t count, but green chile is more addictive than meth.

Interrogative-Lights:

  • Should I be so honest in public?
  • My jury is still out. The trip was amazing, but so many doing the same thing… and then I walked out of The Los Angeles Convention Centre down skid-row through tent city and all the panels and kind inspiring words on diversity and inclusion and writing and reaching out just became farts in the capitalistic wind.
  • How can I revise better?
  • How can I be more useful to my students and cohorts and friends?
  • How to balance the soul of a story with intention? When I look back at feedback, there are motif: slow down—I don’t understand—clarify—don’t avoid the conflict—make the reader hurt—it’s not all so smiley hunky-dory.
  • Sleeping with cockroaches. At least six made it into my bed. One sat on my face. I’ve never seen so many cockroaches, every morning writhing dead and naked on the floor. Albuquerque is the mecca of roaches. Big fat ugly evil desert roaches.
  • Who is my audience?

Ten months in; one-third done. I’m a completely different writer and human. Better, perhaps, more professional, certainly. I want to activate radical empathy. I want to write stories that illuminate the magic moments and comfort the lost. I want plots and characters and images that defeat hate and racism and inequality. I want to sail that ship that saves the marooned. Listening to the marooned will save us.

Packing my bags, I can only feel gratitude. Is there anything better than having time to write and so much to write about and an intelligent, insightful, intense and generous community within arm’s reach? There might be, but I can’t think of one. Not right now.

The summer and movement will recharge our batteries, but staring at the blank screen is where the real growth occurs.

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