2015, Archives, January 2015, The MFA Years

The Writer of Color’s Agenda & How to Champion Your Otherness

  1. You will get accepted into an MFA program. You might get accepted into several MFA programs. You have spent a lot of money on applications. It’s time you decide how to make this transition possible.
  2. With no money, so much is possible in the sphere of dreams.
  3. But you’re a writer of color. It has taken you so much effort to get here. You’re in debt. You’ve spent weeks, months, or years explaining to people in your community why you’ve decided to pursue this route.
  4. You have translated what an MFA means into Spanish, Haitian Creole, Portuguese, Mandarin, Bengali, Arabic, Somali, Yoruba, and Private Language.
  5. The future will often appear bleak, like a crow that has to dream before it can fly.
  6. How many synonyms can you come up with to describe race politics, linguistic diversity, heteronormativity, public aid, or “I, too, have the right to be here”?
  7. You will either own a car or take public transportation. On the bus, you might learn more about yourself than if you spend that much time in the bathroom, taking the longest shower.
  8. In the bathroom you will remember everything from “kinky” to “straight,” from “fat” to “single.” People in your community and people in your MFA program will unwaveringly ask you why you’re single. To be single, for many, sounds like an ear infection. To be single, for many, is to cook your own meals, head to the movies by yourself, spend an incalculable amount of hours on social media, Netflix, or Gmail—clicking Refresh. Refresh.
  9. Who’s behind all this thirst to write? I used to be good at math. Tonight I’ll read about sea mammals; tomorrow I’ll have a poem where sea mammals make cameos à la Guy in Your MFA.
  10. Guys in your MFA will be your main support group. Or they will be your main source of criticism. They’ll greet you by saying, “I took Spanish in high school.” “I like Mexican food.” “If you have a Spanish word in this story, it can’t be the only Spanish word you incorporate because it stands out.” “We’re having a gathering this Friday at my place. You’re welcome to come.”
  11. You attend the gathering because:
    1. You don’t want to come off as someone who is antisocial.
    2. You don’t want to imply you’re “better” than a Friday night social gathering.
    3. You don’t want to sit at home and imagine what your peers might be saying about anything. Anything.
    4. You miss home. You figure others will be as warm as the people you grew up hugging.
  12. A hug is an extinct animal that might come out of its extinct habitat just so you can believe in friendship.
  13. A hug can sometimes win you an ally. A hug can often be a Judas kiss, without the kiss.
  14. “Why do you keep preaching to the liberal choir?” you will be told.
  15. “You don’t have to make everything about race,” you will be told.
  16. “Not everything is about race these days,” the liberal choir will tell you.
  17. A liberal choir will often be blind to its deafness.
  18. Between books, in which white characters are often grieving over #firstworldproblems, you may consider dropping out of your MFA program.
  19. Let’s get this straight: You—celestial writer of color—WILL consider dropping out of your MFA program.
  20. You read about Junot Díaz’s experiences in his MFA program and you memorize everything he says about writers of color in MFA programs because hardly any writer phrases his frustration the way Díaz expresses his.
  21. You say to yourself, I can’t go on; I’ll go on, because it’s a fun pronouncement to repeat, and because Samuel Beckett is a writer the writers around you praise.
  22. But your peers are starting to think you have an agenda. You—yes, you—are trying to convert them to your agenda. People will smile at you because, you never know, in the future they may write a book and you might be the person responsible for getting it sold. Or vice versa.
  23. Why burn more bridges when the temples of your mothers sway in blood?
  24. The otherness in you begins to affect your work. Every word you write down is looking for a way out. Even the word “race” sometimes wants to take a break. It wants to visit invisible mountains. Milk the cloudy sheep.
  25. Some will think I’m ungrateful for writing down these words. I’m privileged because I’m in an MFA program.
  26. But I think grace comes from humility. Grace comes from yelling at the top of your lungs, “NO. YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND ME. ALL YOU END UP DOING IS MISPLACING MY WORDS.”
  27. Depending on whom you ask, you might be a planet’s terribly sole moon.
  28. Depending on whom you ask, you are better off doing things in fields where people don’t have to excruciatingly or blissfully question your presence or your right to voice your frustrations.
  29. Before you, others like you died journeying over the mountain. Remember them. Light candles to their spirits. Tomorrow, you will know how to climb this mountain, but the ice may summon you to stare at the mouthful of sky behind you.
  30. If you feel misunderstood in your MFA program, or in your everyday existence as a writer of color, don’t give up. What you’re writing will speak more clearly than your sharp tears ever will.
  31. Dream. You’re here.

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