Year: 2014

Looking Over My Shoulder: Ars Poetica

The intersection between my personal and professional goals has long since been marked by the presence of a notepad and pencil nub tucked away in an overall pocket. I grew up on a farm as the youngest child and the only boy (in a family full of wonderful women and a few lucky, leathery old men). All of these folks encouraged me to read and write voraciously. “Bedtime” really meant “spelling-bee-with-the-sisters-on-our-shared-bunk-beds.” My father would pick words from the few books on dragons, cowboys, astronauts, etc. we had until a sister would request something “more age appropriate” to up the ante. From a very early age, I didn’t mind that we lacked cable television, because we did have a VHS player and a few tapes. I can still recite the Clueless script by heart. When I wasn’t reading or partaking in bedtime spelling bees, I was working. I would stop the tractor at the end of a row, fish out my writing tackle, and scribble down everything that had happened to me on any particular day. …

Somebody Handed Me a Microphone…

Image: Photo Cindy A call went out via email for UC Riverside’s first MFA reading in partnership with the Calstate San Bernardino MFA program and a local bookstore. I didn’t not heed the call, because I’ve got fairly raspy voice (ongoing issues with a strained vocal cord) and was concerned no one would be able to understand what I was saying should I get nervous and my throat tense up. Then another email went out to a few more of us, they were still looking for readers and would really like someone to represent nonfiction, so I volunteered. I had never participated in a reading before. I immediately started panicking about what I would read, convinced nothing was good enough. And things got real when the flyer for the event went out: I finally decided I would read an excerpt from the first chapter of my memoir. I had just begun my first draft of this chapter the week before, so it was really rough. I reached out to a couple of friends in my cohort, …

Semester 1: Reflections

As the end of the year approaches, I find myself looking back on my first semester at Stony Brook University. What strikes me most is how much I enjoyed it. It never occurred to me that I wouldn’t, but I know of several other MFA students who have experienced moments of questioning their decision to pursue the degree. And understandably so, it is a big undertaking. But, for me, it still feels like both the right choice and possibly the most luxurious gift I’ve ever afforded myself. In undergrad, I was an okay student: not the best, not the worst. I excelled in the classes I loved and just got by in the ones I didn’t. I’m sure I learned something from each experience, but I didn’t always want to be there. I was also half the age I am now and not very focused, working at least two jobs at any given point, on top of a full course load. I also spent a lot more time socializing than I do these days. A lot. …

Fall Course Schedules

Ever wonder what a typical MFA student’s semester looks like? We hope the variety of answers below will give you some idea of the classes we’ve taken this fall, and how our time is divided between teaching/working and being a student. Fiction J.R. Dawson University of Southern Maine – Stonecoast Mine works a tad different because I’m at a low-res. This semester, I’m working on a steampunk YA novel with David Anthony Durham. I have a reading list and 25 pages due every month. Sarah Abbott University of Kentucky Tuesdays 2:00-3:15 pm Intro to Imaginative Writing (TA grading assignment) 5:00-7:30 pm Workshop Thursdays 2:00-3:15 pm Intro to Imaginative Writing (TA grading assignment) 3:30-4:45 pm Modern Irish Poetry Jennifer Obi Northern Arizona University Mondays 3:00-5:30 pm Fiction Writing Workshop 7:00-9:30 pm Graduate Literary Studies Thursdays 12:45-3:15 pm Workshop in Creative Nonfiction Poetry Caitlin Neely University of Virginia Mondays 2:00-4:30 pm Poetry workshop Tuesdays 1:00-3:15 pm The Poetics of Ecstasy Gillian Douple Columbia College Chicago Mondays Work in the Writing Center Tuesdays Work in the Writing Center …

From Week 11 to Week 14: Battling Melancholia and End of Term

This coming week marks the last official week of my classes. Do I have class next week? Yes, one class. Leave it to my lit class to be the one class that actually is going to the absolute last week when most of my classes, like every English class should, is ending the week before the university’s official finals week, but such is life, as they say. I’m coming off of Thanksgiving and I have a lot to be thankful for. I’m thankful that after next week I will never have to take another lit theory class again. I’m thankful that this horrible cold I’ve been suffering under for a little over a week now is slowly, but surely, dissipating into the aether. I’m thankful that this week I should hear news back for the spring GAship I applied for last week and the job I applied for  before the holiday, and no mater what the outcome, thankfully by the end of the month my money for next semester will drop in. I’m thankful that …

A Series of Questions

Is it the end of November already? Without seasons to guide you, it’s ridiculously easy to lose track of time in Southern California. While Whittier lives in a Winter Wonderland, I’m left wondering, “What winter?” On Thanksgiving it was 90 degrees. I wrote with my window open. Everyday I say I’m going to retire my flip-flops for the season and everyday I’m greeted with warm weather and another excuse not to. Is unemployed guilt a thing? Even though I’m sticking to my budget closely and should be fine financially, I sometimes get the urge to get a part-time job, because I feel guilty that I’m not earning an income. I feel guilty that I’m not juggling multiple things and that my only focus is school and writing. I usually silence the voice by reminding myself that this is a once in a lifetime opportunity and that there will be plenty of time to spread myself thin next year when I’m TAing. Really, getting a job would just be a way to find an excuse to …

A Day in the Life…

Well y’all, the holidays are upon us. As my friend Grant keeps saying, this semester isn’t so much winding down and it’s coming to a screeching halt. The less time I have, the more I think about time, how it can work for us or against us, how some people thrive under the pressure of a million things bearing down on them, and how others need a whole day, a whole week, a whole lifetime, just to get their minds in working order. How does the concept (and existence) of time affect the life of an MFA student? How much time is enough? How much is too much? What are the ideal circumstances under which to write, to read, to learn, to create? In other words, what effect does the structure of our days, of our lives, have on the version of ourselves that we are now, and the version that we are (or want) to become? Unfortunately, I don’t have the time or space to answer any of these questions (sorry), so in true …

The Imagination Lives On: The Challenges of Teaching (Genre) Fiction

By the middle of the fiction unit it was clear some of my students understood that fiction is not just about randomly inventing but also about deliberately constructing worlds and sharing those worlds in an appealing way. For one, students were not ready to produce so much material. Poetry had been a challenging unit for them, but some were getting by with just writing a poem that fit within a page—nothing more. Obviously, poetry asked that they put more attention to how they write about an incident and what the poetic form can do for the incident they chose (this was one poetry exercise, for instance). Therefore, the transition between poetry and fiction was not only abrupt for them, I could also sense the same sentiment as we went over the elements of fiction and they had to apply them to their stories. Me being me—and always wanting to challenge them while challenging myself—I assigned them a nontraditional assignment: I had them write a modern fairy tale and gave them the option of debunking or …

Adventures in MFA Applications

It’s that time of year, isn’t it? You’re frantically searching Google for any advice when it comes to applying for programs. MFA Draft is picking up, you start writing those letters to your recommenders asking them as kindly as you can to please send that letter (because you have been stalking them on Facebook, and it seems they have time to upload pictures of their new puppy in a bumblebee costume but no time to upload your recommendation). So I decided this month, I would tell you in more detail how I’d toiled for three years finding an MFA program that worked for me. How, if you don’t find the program right away, it’s okay. How, if you completely screw the pooch this time around, it’s also okay. You will eventually find the program that fits you. You will make it happen, if you want it bad enough. I remember the moment I realized I was going to an MFA program. I was twenty. I was a junior in undergrad, majoring in Playwriting and English. …

First semester wrap up

Now that Thanksgiving has come and gone, my fall semester is almost over. I only have one workshop left which I hate thinking about because it makes me sad. But now is not the time to feel down, it’s the time to celebrate getting through my first semester at UVA! Here’s a quick wrap up: Road trips I travelled to VCU to see Natasha Trethewey read, and to Hollins to attend a Q&A with Li-Young Lee. The Hollins trip ended up being even more exciting than I anticipated because the creative writing faculty invited us along to lunch with Li-Young Lee and the MFA students at Hollins. Everyone in the program was kind and welcoming. I can’t say enough good things about the people we talked to there. Li-Young Lee is ten times cooler than I ever could have imagined him to be. He talked about his love/hate for Wallace Stevens, breath and poetry, and tons of other amazing stuff. I can’t find the notes I wrote down or I’d include more. Intramural sports I played intramural softball and …