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?
Two months ago, I moved from Delray Beach to Orlando, FL to start the MFA Program in Fiction at the University of Central Florida. It was only a three-hour drive, but it feels like it’s taken me a lifetime to get here.
I finished my B.A. in English at FAU in 2004. In 2005 I thought I’d start the MFA program there, but after a few fun workshops I got distracted by something shiny and ran off. I was in my early twenties and I had no idea what it meant to be a writer. Or more precisely, what it meant to work hard at trying to be a writer.
So, I got married. A lot of shit went down. I got divorced. In 2007, I went back to my good ole in-progress MFA. They welcomed me back with open arms. They let me teach two English Comp classes! But I was floundering, trying to find my feet. I was in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Everywhere I went, people would gather around me in a football style huddle and whisper confidential things in my ear, super big secrets about how a writing degree wouldn’t make me any money. I was single for Christ’s sake! I needed a real job. I was young, vulnerable, human, (a little bit smart, maybe?), I listened.
I spent the next three years getting my Master’s degree in Occupational Therapy. Medicine! Helping people! Good karma!
Well, it was probably the best thing I ever did. Except for the massive student loan debt, but that’s a topic for another blog. Though I didn’t realize it at the time, walking away from my then-MFA was actually my first big step toward re-focusing on my writing. OT school – the discipline, the mistakes, the sleepless nights, the pressure . . . they were all prerequisites for the writer’s life. That training gave me something I never had before: an idea about structure, disappointment, exhaustion, and the satisfaction of not giving up, even when it felt like defeat just kept coming and coming.
So I did it, and I worked for a few years, and I met and married my husband Jake (who thank God appreciates my writerly whims), and then one day I felt ready to try the MFA again. And this time around is different, because I am different. I am truly a completely different person, and my writing is completely different, and that is a good great thing. Of course, it took a few years, and a few rounds of applications, and lots of persistence and rejection and tears, but here I am. And the really hard work (and hard rejection) is just beginning.
But just being here at the start, a mere four-weeks in, I can say that it’s all been worth it. I feel like I’ve come home again, and even though my lit-talk is rusty, and my writing muscles are out of shape, and I haven’t sat in a classroom in years, I love it. I love the crazy busy insanity, full of talk of books, and words, and art, and community. It’s a little piece of heaven right smack dab in the middle of Florida, even over here on the east side where Mickey Mouse is no where in sight. I think they keep him away from us, for fear that we’ll put him in a story and let him get eaten by a cat or something.
Actually, that’s not a bad idea . . .
My neck and shoulders and hands are killing me from all the hours of sitting, and typing, and writing, and reading. I think I’ve gained five, maybe ten pounds. The other day, I lost my keys for hours, only to find them buried under a cascading pile of books topped off by Raymond Carver’s Cathedral and Yasunari Kawabata’s Palm-of-the-Hand Stories. I didn’t have time to watch the True Blood series finale until an entire month after it aired. I live and die by my planner, and some days I can’t even remember if I showered or not. But damn, I’m so freaking happy right now.