All posts filed under: First year contributor

Filling The Tank

Image: David Wright Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about this Joss Whedon quote: “The last piece of advice on that level is fill the tanks, fill the tanks, fill the tanks. Constantly watch things and things you don’t [normally watch]. Step outside your viewing zone, your reading zone. It’s all fodder but if you only take from one thing then it’ll show.” He’s talking about movies, but when I read this a couple of years ago it really resonated with me in terms of my writing practice. Back then I was in a pretty intense corporate job that involved lots of late nights, weekend work and business travel, so what I thought ‘filling the tank’ meant was making the time for creative consumption: reading books, watching movies, going to plays. It was about taking myself out of the spreadsheets and presentations that dominated my days and feeding my creative mind. Back then, all I wanted was more time to do this. 3 months into my MFA program, I have all the time I could …

Surviving Grad School & the “Me too” Campaign & Weinstein & Literally Everything Else

Image Credit: torbakhopper cw: sexual assault After the countless hours I spent last year on sexual assault prevention techniques and safe/consensual sex seminars, I felt confident in my victimhood. For me, fighting against the systemic powers that reinforce toxic masculinity has changed the way I see my place in it all. From being a struggling, suicidal victim of sexual assault in my undergraduate years to my time as a workshop leader in “Writing Survival,” I have gotten to know myself as someone who is healing through helping. That is, until this year, until my first semester in graduate school. At first, I was sure that most of my stress was coming from the twenty-five-page paper or the in-class discussions where I always feel like a prick, or even living so far from East Tennessee, but it became a bit more apparent over time that maybe I wasn’t only reacting to natural stressors. I found myself—and still do regularly—falling into deep depressions for weeks at a time, holding onto what little reality I could, usually in …

Your MFA is a Team Sport

Photo credit: Eric Wong, Basketball Hoop I’ve always been a highly competitive person. At five years old, I started figure skating. Adorned with pink sequins and doing my best bunny hops and swizzles to the tune of Captain Kangeroo, my mom had to teach me that it was not okay to cheer when my competitors fell down. Actually, that was generally frowned upon. A little older but still bloodthirsty, I played basketball in a youth league at my local YMCA. During the pre-game prayer, I spent more time sizing up the other team than asking Jesus for a safe game and flawless layups. Not gifted with any kind of decent dribbling skills, I relied on my height and strength to play. I gave defense my all… often to the point that I fouled out for throwing too many elbows. After the ref blew the whistle the fifth time, I gave my dad an enthusiastic thumbs up to celebrate my removal from the game while he looked at his brutish daughter with mild horror. I’ve spent …

Deadlines, Deadlines, Deadlines

Photo credit: Henrique Simplicio I’ve developed a complicated relationship with deadlines. On the one hand, I’m super thankful for them. It’s not every day people ask you to write, much less read your work closely and give thoughtful feedback. Also, deadlines give me structure and keep me productive. On the other hand, getting bogged down is inevitable. Since the beginning of the semester, I’ve gone through two workshops, and I have two more deadlines within the next month. I’m pretty sure I have writer’s fatigue. What is writer’s fatigue? Is it a real thing? Well, no. I sort of made it up, but I think many writers in programs can relate. Writer’s fatigue is as its name describes; it’s getting burnt out from back-to-back deadlines. I’m an incredibly slow writer. This probably has a lot to do with perfectionism and my terrible habit of editing as I write. I’ve also become accustomed to the short-and-sweet quarter system from my undergrad and MA days. Usually, a ten-week long workshop means only one or two writing deadlines. …

Greetings from HZWP

  Hello! I’m R. Cross and I’m currently in my first semester as an MFA candidate in Fiction at the Helen Zell Writers’ Program at The University of Michigan. I’ve applied to MFA programs on four separate occasions (in ‘13, ‘14, ‘16, and ‘17) and attended the MFA program at Southern Illinois University for the ‘14 – ‘15 school year until state budget cuts led to a university-wide funding crisis that ended up sending me back to the application gauntlet for two more rounds (NOTE: the funding crisis at SIU has since been resolved with a state budget settlement that will make for stable funding for the program for the foreseeable future; they’ve also recently added MFA fellowships that reduce the teaching load, funded by a private donor to the program). My experience as an MFA applicant and program attendee is thus long and winding, and covers the span of five years. A LITTLE BIT ABOUT ME: I’m from Columbus, Ohio. While it took me eight years of academic meandering, I eventually obtained my BA …

On Reading Poetry and Poetry Readings

Do you read poetry out loud or in your head? Do you read so slowly you lose interest or so quickly you have motions sickness by the end of the poem? Is it okay to space-out during a reading? Are boredom and confusion acceptable experiences to have when, say, you read a poem that doesn’t stick, that slides right off your mind back onto the page? This semester, in Lisa Olstein’s seminar class on sixties poets, we’ve been reading a poetry collection weekly and discussing the effects they have on us as readers. Two poets we’ve read recently have taught me one thing: No one can tell you how to have an experience. My gratitude for this lesson goes out to John Ashbery and W.S. Merwin, and to their books, Rivers and Mountains and The Lice. Ashbery is notoriously difficult and polarizing in certain ways—a divide usually opening up between “I don’t get it” or “I don’t get why it matters.” I’ve loved Ashbery for years but also always felt myself space-out during his longer …