Tag Archives: publishing

Welcome to After the MFA

Honestly? I never thought about life after the MFA. It was a means to an end, and getting in was a goal to get me through a time in my life that I didn’t know how to muddle through on my own.

I remember the first conversation I had about graduate school:

  • Me: Tell me what to do to get into grad school.
  • T: Well, start by looking up programs. Figure out what you need, what you want, who will pay you. Don’t go if they don’t pay you.

I started looking in an almost passive manner. And then, after everything went to hell, I became more manic about it.

  • Me: (paraphrased) I need a thing. I have a hole and I need to fill it.
  • T: You can take time off if you want; the choice is yours. I’m behind you whatever you decide.
  • Me: (paraphrased) I need a thing.
  • T: Research graduate schools, and report back what you find.

So I did. Her advice worked. I was rejected by some schools; I was accepted by others. I read the books of all of the advisors of my possible programs, and I settled on The New School. I had all of these grand plans of what it would be like to be a writer after the MFA.

  1. write book
  2. publish book
  3. have glamorous writer job

After the MFA is none of these things.

  1. I’m a dog walker/trainer. As previously established, I love this and I’m great at it, but it’s not what I thought I’d do. I’m okay with it, and I’ll keep doing it, because it works great with writing. But, again. Not what I thought I’d do.
  2. I wrote a book. It’s being read by people. But, as my past endeavors have taught me, it’s not good enough. And it’s not ready. It will be soon though. Actually, I lied; it’s pretty great.
  3. Publish? Under my real name? Say WHAT? Publishing has the following issues:
    1. The book is all true.
    2. I still haven’t settled on the pen name issue.
    3. He’s out there, today.

It’s here, this thing in my life I never accounted for, this thing I knew would happen someday but I didn’t let myself think about. Grad school was a means to an end, but now it’s done.

Getting my MFA bought me time. Question is, was it enough to break away? Did I buy myself enough time; have I become the person that I want to be apart from him? I am 32 years old. Do I know who I am now, at least enough to be that person? My person?

Are my words enough? My book? Am I invisible? I want to be. Do I want to be?

Question: Am I enough?

Answer: Who we are is what comes out when things go bad. You can’t tell anything about a person when things are great. You only really know someone when everything’s gone to hell.

Answer: I have to be.

Welcome to after the MFA.

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On Seeing

I had to write an author’s note this week for my best piece ever as I prepare for its publication. No, really, it is the best thing I will ever write. I needed an author’s note that would do it justice, but I’ve never written an author’s note before. I convinced myself I didn’t know how. I asked a friend for help, but she pointed out to me that she can’t always answer my questions. I’ve been thinking about this since our text conversation, and I still can’t reconcile myself with the person that she sees me to be. A successful writer? What?? Funny, because one of my responses to her was to “see the person I see in her.” That’s me though; I can’t see the me that other people see. So I get it when I see it in someone else. No matter how many times I publish, no matter how much I write, I’m not going to see myself as a writer. I’m always going to doubt myself, always going to see the times I’m not writing and not successful before I see the times I am.

I don’t think I see me.

So who do I see?

I see round cheeks that my short hair accentuates. I see chubby thighs. I see more declined publications than accepted. A bottom shelf book, a tiny room, zero friends, a job I can’t keep up with, and a sick cat I can’t afford to pay for.

I see a girl who’s scared to try a good school and scared to apply to phD programs because no matter what happens, she is certain they will not work out. Or, more accurately, that she will not work out. A girl who does not know what she is doing.

The people in my life don’t see these things in me, which makes me feel like I’m missing something.

So what don’t I see? I mean, if I was a observer coming in blind, with no knowledge of me at all?

My hair is pretty damn cute. I have calf muscles like nobody’s business. I have more publications than others who have been writing longer. I’m moving soon to a larger place. I’m good at my job, and I like puppies. And my cat is doing well.

See, I can beat up on myself all I want. But that doesn’t make me the person that I think I am. It doesn’t make me underqualified for a phD program or unable to survive a dissertation committee.

When I was back in Wisconsin, I wrote every day. I was a writing then. I was an English major, but, for all intents and purposes, I was English literature. Now I am a creative writing graduate student, and I am lucky to find moments like these at the very end of my day where I can scribble a few incredibly lame words down. I carry around a notebook in the backpack I bring dog walking, but I rarely have time to remember to pull it out. My day is dog dog maybe eat dog dog dog dog dog etc.

I do not feel like a writer. That’s a running theme this week, but it’s the truth. I do not feel like a writer, but it doesn’t mean I’m not one.

After two rounds of heavy struggle bus edits, contract renegotiations, and a myriad of things I don’t understand or know that I did correctly, and I’ll have a shiny new large publication next week. I have survived criticism, rewrites, and editing sadness. Whether I think I know what I’m doing, whether I legitimately know what I’m doing, I’m probably a writer. I might see the bad, but there’s a lot of good there too.

I wrote an author’s note. It’s probably not the best author’s note to ever grace this magazine’s pages, but I did do it. There you have it.

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On Rejection

I have come to the conclusion that one is never as adept at handling rejection as one thinks they are.  Case and point: after a year of waiting and building up and getting excited and then frustrated, the piece I consider to be my best piece, the one that I feel really shows who I am as a writer, was declined today.  I think that, after this long, I really thought it would be accepted.  I thought I was actually a writer.   

They liked my piece, but there wasn’t a fit for it—at least that’s what they told me.  It was the most glorious soft rejection of a work that I have ever read, but it would have felt better had they declined it outright.  Saying how close I came makes it all the worse.  The piece is me.  So therefore, in my head, there is no fit for me.  This rejection makes me wonder about everything, about whether there is a niche for writing like mine.  Writing that opens life up wide and bares the soul and displays the darkness for everyone to see.  Writing that is honest.  Memoir.  This is what I want to write.  I like to think that I’m good at this.  But I wasn’t good enough this time.  I wasn’t good enough to find a home.   

I want to do this with the rest of my life, write.  But if this is all I can write, if there is no place for this kind of writing, if I can’t figure out how to make it work, then I am wasting time.  I have screwed up.  I have made the wrong choices.  People tell me rejection will make stronger, and yes, while that may be true, it also sucks.  It especially sucks for this piece. 

This is the piece that helped me sort out my head, that gave life to the lifeless.  

This is the piece that got me into grad school. 

This is the piece that really made me a writer

So I thought. 

But it wasn’t good enough.  Right now, it doesn’t matter to me that I can write well.  It doesn’t matter that I’m smart; it doesn’t matter that I got into grad school.  What matters is that this one piece, this piece I love, this piece that means everything to me, didn’t make the cut.  And I, who thought I was getting skilled at handling rejection, don’t even know how to handle that.  This rejection feels deeply, deeply personal where other rejections of my work have not.  Like I will never even get out of the gate, because my best work is not enough to help me fly.  Like I will always fall.  

I got to hear Cheryl Strayed speak last week, and I would consider that to be one of the greater defining moments of my life.  One of the things she said that really stuck with me was: “I was me in a hard time of my life and the I was me learning how to be in a new time of my life.  You can fuck up your life and then be okay again, to accept into your heart the real thing you don’t want to accept.  To live.  To thrive.”  Writing has been my way of accepting, of living.  And I wonder, a lot lately, if I’m making the right choice.  If I’m good enough.  If I can hack it; if I can handle.  I wonder if I will ever get my moment, that moment where I know, or if it will always be this way.

Do I want to be a writer?  Do I want to take this risk?  Do I want to be on this path for the rest of my life?

More over, CAN I be a writer?  Not just a writer on paper, a person who writes, but a WRITER?  Today, I don’t know how to answer that question.

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