Tag Archives: time

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 Time

My grandma taught me to volunteer from a young age. Every Monday, we did Meals on Wheels together. We would go to the assisted living center, take the service elevator to kitchen lugging an enormous cooler and a rolling cart, and load ourselves up with meals for people who couldn’t leave their home for whatever reason. We put the hot meals into the cooler so that they could stay warm, and the cold meals went into the cart. I put the cooler in the backseat with me, along with a stack of hand towels so I could handle the hot containers pain free. Grandma would drive to each house, and then we would both pop out with our respective parts of the meal and deliver it to its intended recipient.

There was one particular man on our route that still sticks out to me even now. I can’t remember his name now, so I’ll call him Herman. Herman was very old, at least, old to my eleven or twelve year old self, but he was always incredibly nice to me. His apartment reminded me a lot of my mom’s—there was stuff everywhere. Giant stacks of newspaper taller than I was lined the walls. In order to give Herman his meal, we had to open the door, holler up the stairs, wait for him to holler back, and then wind our way up and through the maze to where he was always sitting at the kitchen table. Every Monday at 12:30pm, he was always in the same spot, the same chair, reading his newspaper. As a kid, I used to wonder if he ever left the house.

One Monday, Grandma and I were slightly late getting to Herman’s. The meals hadn’t come to the kitchen on time, and they’d made us late. She opened the door, and we slipped inside. “Hello??” she yelled from the bottom of the stairs. “Meals on Wheels!”

For the first time, there was no answer. She tried again, and then a third time. By this point, my hands were burning through the towels I had wrapped the container. “Maybe he’s not home,” I suggested, desperate to put the food down.

“He might have had a doctor’s appointment and forgotten to mention it,” she agreed. We decided to go upstairs and leave his food in the kitchen where he would see it right away when he came back.

Herman’s staircase was only big enough to go up single file, and it was barely even big enough for that. This meant that when Grandma stopped short at the top of the stairs, I couldn’t see the reason why. She very quietly told me to go back to the car, and she turned to place the cold food on top of the hot stuff I was still clutching. Herman was sleeping, she said, and I had to be careful not to wake him up. I did what she said and went back to the car, where I sat quietly with the food in my lap wondering why Grandma wasn’t coming down. I got so bored, I pulled out my book and started reading. Eventually other people showed up, and Grandma got in the car and started the engine again.

“Did you wake him up? Should we bring him his food?”

“No, sweetheart.” She clipped her sunglasses on over her glasses. “He doesn’t need the food today.”

I took the sleeping idea at face value, and only later as I thought back did it occur to me that Herman was not sleeping at all. Herman was dead. I thought about that day a lot, about how we never know how much time we have left. I wonder how long he would have sat there if we hadn’t come that day to deliver the food. We would never know the exact circumstances of his death, the mark that he had left on the world. We would never know anything other than the fact that he hated the juice that came with his meal and that he liked to horde all of the newspapers.

My grandma died on her living room sofa at approximately 8:45 the morning of September 14th, 2015—over 20 years after that day with Herman. She had just made a phone call to a friend, leaving a message that detailed her excitement for the beautiful day and the bridge club she would be attending that afternoon. Her morning pills were resting next to her on the arm of the couch, and a plate of toast was in her lap with one bite missing from the piece on top. The medical examiner told the people who found Grandma that her face was peaceful, that deaths like these were her favorite because she knew the person didn’t feel any pain. I like to think that this was the case; I also like to think that all deaths are this way, even though I know they aren’t.

My grandma taught me a lot of lessons growing up, but it’s the ones like this that really mean something. The idea that everyone is a person who deserves care, who deserves to be loved. I didn’t really think about these things before, all of these random things that I learned. But I’m a better person because of my grandma and the things that we did together.

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On Time (And How I Suddenly Have More of It)

Can we talk again about how I got fired? Because I got fired. And still don’t have a job. The last week has been filled with interviews, video games, writing, bath robes, a really fat cat, and five and a half seasons of Gilmore Girls. I talked more in class this week than I have to date, mostly because it was the only verbal conversation I had with human beings this entire week. I even stepped up my grad student game and went to tea in the writing program office for the first time. My cat and I have had innumerable conversations wherein she begs for something, anything, to watch but Gilmore Girls, and I stubbornly sit on the bed with my laptop and my joy on the screen. I think she’s ready to kick me out into the world. She regrets the days she ever told me I should stay home all day. She’s sick of me. I’m a bit sick of me. But I’ve been going about this “time” thing all wrong.

For kicks and giggles, I submitted a few pieces back into the world to keep my queue of submissions full. Three pieces, to be exact. To fifteen magazines. Two of those magazines I paid to submit to. That makes the score Life: $6.00, Me: $0.00. This is being a writer. Yay.

Don’t get me wrong. I like writing. And I want to teach writing. In addition to my other joy, I also wrote my first course proposal next week for a teaching fellowship for next year. And I know that this period is the getting to next year, a year when I will hopefully have that fellowship, be an instructor of record, and be using the experience teaching my first year nonfiction course to gain other jobs. And a name. And therefore more publications. But I am sick to death of being told I will never make it as a writer by literally EVERY SINGLE professional writer that I talk to:

“At the edge of the MFA, there’s nothing. No safety zone, no padding. No place for a fledgling writer to go to build up a repertoire. There’s a vicious, piranha filled zone where you have to go out and try to sell something, and you won’t succeed. We aren’t a culture anymore where money is what it once was. For things like writing, or, really, anything.”

Every writer we interview for my seminar tells us we won’t make any money. That writing is dangerous. That the public doesn’t know what it wants anymore. And all these things are true, but I’m still sick of it. Way to be disheartening to those of us just starting out. Way to scare us, to mess us up, to make us quit.

That’s what it’s all about here, you see. Weeding out the weak.

I’m not weak.

I’m a good writer. But I’m really only GREAT at one thing, and I know it. I know my book will be on the back shelf, at the very bottom, way off of eye level. Or at the bottom of the online book list. And that’s okay, because it’ll only be my first one. And there is no safety zone. The world is vicious and it’s going to eat me and my work. There is no place to build up a repertoire, sure. But no. That time is now. Maybe that’s why I got fired—to give me the time back that I came here for. To build up that repertoire. To gain my writer name, and prove that writer wrong. Sure, this is not a culture where money counts for much anymore, where writers get paid much. But I can still succeed. And I will still succeed.

So look forward to more. More blogs. More publications. More me. I have time. I’m going to use it.

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