So this is how I’m going about my posts. I figure that this year, I’ll be a student in three classes per semester. So I’ll do a post each month focused on my experience in a different class, and then in the final month of each semester I’ll do a wrap-up post. I’ll be honest that I was intimidated at the thought of taking a lit class. I once took one of these random quizzes on Facebook that measured your reading speed. Most of my friends read at the speed of a freshman or sophomore in college. I read at the pace of an eighth-grader. I didn’t see how on earth grad school was going to happen. But I knew I wanted this degree, so somehow I was going to suck it up and deal with it. And when I saw there was a lit class in American Realism and Modernism, with the topic of the role of money in literature, I knew I couldn’t turn it down. Modernism is my favorite era and has …
Five days before I left for residency, my friend died. We knew they were sick. But we didn’t know they were going to die. Only a week before they died, I sat online with them and talked about the different proposals we’d give our partners when we were ready and healthy and rich. We talked about our old freshman roommates back when we met in the weird, siphoned-off dormitory that we deemed “Fortress of Solitude.” We’d forgotten the names of people who used to make our lives hell. We only recalled snippets of that former life; a poster of all the Pink Floyd albums on girls’ backs (you know the one), the old Atari that was like a holy shrine to any college dorm, the awkward movie nights I put on in my gigantic apartment down the hall, and the girl who lived between us who lit up everyone’s world and then, upon graduation, disappeared into the hinterlands of another time zone and patch of dreams.
On September 3rd one of my best friends flatlined on her way to the hospital. Victoria had faced a blend of illnesses: diabetes, a heart condition for which she had to get a pacemaker, excessive water retention, and hypothyroidism. She was only 32. The last time I saw Vicki she had lost a lot of weight. She had been released with an oxygen machine from a long-term care facility, with a tube protruding from her throat. She didn’t like these changes. But the long hospitalizations wouldn’t outweigh Victoria’s positive outlook. Yes, she did have bouts of depression and anxiety, but she tried so hard to find love and energy in every moment. The extent of her influence can’t possibly be contained in a post this size. It will take years before I’m able to bring some justice to her story in my poetry, one of the countless stories that demonstrate how Americans slip through the cracks of a fractured health care system even after Obamacare. I’d like to think that through my work my friendship …
In the past month I have: Quit my job. Road tripped from Denver to Riverside. Found a home. Unpacked everything (and not just crammed things wherever). Figured out the bus system. Done the DMV. Setup my new laptop. Met members of my cohort. Ordered my books for class. In the past month I have not: Started school.
So now it’s late September. The beginning of autumn—or, if you’re here in Los Angeles, of a bizarre season where 90-degree days mock us alongside nonsensical ads for pumpkin lattes and calf-high boots and chunky knit sweaters. For MFA applicants, it’s also the start of “high season:” summer is over, leaves are falling fast and application deadlines are suddenly as little as two months away. In other words, it’s crunch time. So naturally, amidst the sea of to-do lists, GRE score reports, transcript request forms, multiple SOP drafts and resumes littering my desk and haunting my dreams, I wake up on a sunny Saturday totally preoccupied with the issue of long distance. That’s right. The dreaded “LDR:” long distance relationship.
I wanted to finish this post sooner, but I’ve been reading a novel a week for the past month. The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt, was 771 pages. Tall pages. I was hoping to get this blog post done much sooner, but I’ve been trying (during my free time) to write a page of fiction a day. There’s been a close reading paper every week, a syllabus to write, a teaching schedule to drum up, fiction to workshop (of my local MFAers and MFAers across the ocean in Australia crikey), censorship in the creative writing classroom to think about, two oral presentations to give, one welcome BBQ, two brunches, three readings, thirty new writing friends, fifteen co-workers, ten teachers . . . And a partridge in a pear tree. Did I mention I’ve only been in school for four weeks?
If bad luck comes in threes, I’ll be glad to see the end of September. Between Car Scare Tuesday (what is this mystery light that’s suddenly blinking on my dash, and why will no one let me over so I can stop the car?), Internet Fail Friday (what do you mean, there are no appointments for two weeks?), and Laptop Crash Monday (why why why did I not use an external hard drive, please have mercy on all my non-backed-up drafts and pictures of getting lost in Romania), it has been an interesting week and a half. Particularly for my grad-student-sized savings account. Still, everything that does not involve me touching machinery and technology feels like it’s clicking into place. All the different compartments of life in Lexington: writing, homeworking, socializing, grading, church-ing, cooking for myself for the first time.
Lisa Summe was born and raised in Cincinnati, Ohio and earned her BA and MA in English at the University of Cincinnati. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in RHINO, Word Riot, Sundog Lit, Revolution House, Fourth River, Mead, and elsewhere. In 2013, she was the recipient of the Atlantis Award from The Poet’s Billow for her poem, “Pilot You.” Currently an MFA candidate in poetry at Virginia Tech, she lives in Blacksburg, Virginia where she teaches writing, and works as the poetry editor of the minnesota review and the associate editor of Toad. What is it like living in Blacksburg? How far does your stipend go there living wise?
Jake Russell has a chapbook titled “Great Conversations, Greater Wasps” released through the Emerge Literary Journal. He also has poems published in the Open Window Review and The Weekenders Magazine. He studies poetry at Wichita State University and serves as poetry editor for Mojo and Mikrokosmos journals. What is it like living in Wichita? How far does your stipend go there living wise?
Image: Siebuhr Once a month we’ll be answering any questions you have about the first year MFA experience and the application process. Please send your questions in by October 6th. You can email us through our contact page, leave a comment below, message us on Facebook, or tweet us. Questions will be answered by our first year contributors on this blog and through Twitter in mid to late October. Your questions can be general or tailored to a specific program.