All posts filed under: Guest post

On Snow and Fiction

Image: Nick Ford When I travel north from the South, the South in the winter, the South that is grey-and-brown bleary and blurred with a sleepy, grungy sort of winter, the snow is captivating. The similes have all been written: snow like glitter, snow like a blanket, soft snow, white as snow, pure and sparkling. And it is enchanting, it is, this soft, unadulterated substance that dusts the earth. Over winter break, we drove the 14 hours north (from my school, in South Carolina, to home in Chicago). We slowly progressed towards the cold. I let myself be enchanted by the snow this year. It’s been a while. As we neared the Chicago suburbs, I pressed my face against the glass of my passenger seat window. I giggled involuntarily at the scene. It is magical, mystical, and that, I think, is in the soft covering. The suppression, the gentle blanketing. Overnight, in a few hours of tufts drifting down, the world is clean and new. It’s pure and sublime. It’s not us. While watching the …

For Want of Time: The University of Arizona’s Shift from 2 to 3 Years

Image: JR P About a year a half ago, when I first started talking to my undergraduate writing teachers about applying to MFAs, I recall saying: “I’ll go to a two year program, because that’ll mean less time out of the job market.” The professor smiled, from the corner of his mouth, like he was prone to do when someone wasn’t quite right, but he liked their efforts. He said, “What’s three years, if you’re already going to be there for three years?” I was younger then, more focused on five-year plans than realizing what kind of growth I needed to make as a writer. Maybe I didn’t realize the value of time until I actually started my MFA, when I saw the changes in my writing, just from being in a program for a few months. But time is really what so many writers are chasing after, hoping for just an hour between responsibilities to jot down the ideas from last night’s dream, this morning’s shower. For many of us, this is why the …

An Imperfect Guide to Balancing Work and the MFA

Image: Farid Iqbal Ibrahim My decision to pursue my MFA in creative writing was an easy one. I was working full-time and making use of my bachelor’s degree, but it felt like some key aspect of my life was missing. My creative writing skills had stagnated and I hadn’t written anything new in months. The low residency model was an obvious choice, since it would allow me to continue to work full-time while earning my MFA. I’m still glad that I made this decision, but I must admit that I wasn’t fully prepared for what was to come. I did learn that working and going to grad school online is doable, though, and I’d like to share my experience. When I started my first class of the low residency MFA program at Mississippi University for Women back in June, I was starry eyed. I worked my full-time job by day and contributed to my one online class by night and on weekends. I got an A in the class, solidifying my belief that this MFA …

On Proving I Exist

Image: Kevin Dooley Note: The author asked for this piece to be published anonymously. All names and locations have been removed. Recently I attended my first real writing workshop. I had a great time. Generally. There was this incredible generative vibe, this real feeling that we were all in it together, working on our best stories. I adored my instructor and my classmates, most of them, except for one. They were a former lawyer writing about their clients. Noble on the face of it, until you read the parts of their thinly veiled life account in which they called those clients “pieces of shit” or explained that one had been diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, “meaning they were an asshole.” When they didn’t openly hate them, they wrote about them in a way that came across, mostly, as trauma porn. They revelled in the torture of an old person in prison, and I should mention that the story also included enough information about this particular prisoner and their case that I was able to discover their real name within five minutes of opening up …

On Anxiety & Writing in the MFA

Image: Porsche Brosseau “Well, it seems to me, based on what I’m hearing, that you have what’s called general anxiety.” This comes as no surprise, but the psychologist looks at me with expectation, searching for some kind of reaction to the news. I nod and look away, already crystallized with this information, a thing lived every day for my whole life. Of course I have anxiety—I have been anxious always, always worrying about how I am perceived, always brought to tears when someone dislikes me, always fixated on illnesses to the point of hypochondria. My anxiety can be cruel and self-torturing, a thing that drains me, that pulls me away from the good things that have entered my life. I collapse at a single “bad” thought—a thought that is unreasonable, hyperbolic, “crazy.” I get obsessed, my brain compelling me to go online and look at WebMD, to look at images of gore, to search the internet for any unkind opinion of myself. I indulge in my fears about death, my health, my self-perception, I see …

Goodbye to the MFA Program, Not to Writing

Image: Kevin O’Mara   I am graduating in less than a month from my MFA program. I am awestruck that the two years are over. I’ve met so many lively characters and have been mentored in my writing. All I can say now is I will take what I need and leave the rest.  What does that even mean? It means I integrated into my mental scripts some extra things: doubt about whether what I’m writing is realistic or will be well received. Things like that I will leave behind. Learning that my stories are worth telling, that I will take with me. I have to say I am leaving my MFA program with a heavy suitcase full of positive life-affirming skills. I learned skills that go beyond writing; I learned skills that make me a better listener and a better person. I was hospitalized twice during my MFA years. I learned through those experiences I was determined to finish. I also learned I was a harder worker than I gave myself credit for. I showed up …

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 …