2015, Archives, October 2015, The MFA Years

The Lowdown, Five Weeks In

Image: Ignacio B. Peña

I am losing track of time.

For me, class has now been in full swing for about five weeks and I feel at this point like I’m spinning around faster every day, trying to keep track of every element that surrounds my life, to varying degrees of success. I’ll try and organize this here as best as I can, but this might get messy.

I have no context for masters programs outside of what my fellow contributors in their respective courses have described, but for a look, here is how my semester is breaking down. There are approximately close to thirty masters writing students in my group (something like twenty-four in prose, three in poetry.) The prose students are divided into three workshop groups where we submit a written piece of fiction every two weeks, so that half the workshop class submits a piece of writing one week, followed by the other half the next week. That’s every Tuesday.

Wednesday’s we have a class dedicated to reading novels at the program director’s discretion, where we explore different styles of prose and technique while discussing how successfully (or unsuccessfully) we feel the text worked as readers ourselves. We’re reading a novel a week, and the first few weeks they were relatively not too time consuming (Heart of Darkness, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie.) As the year stretches on we’ve been told this changes, and I’m starting to feel it, although I also wonder if it’s an accumulation of many things. I’ll come back to that point shortly.

Thursdays are our seminar days. Each week we focus on a different element of fiction and discuss how this plays into our writing in different ways. Depending on which professor is giving the seminar that week, we do various forms of writing exercises in class dealing with the focus of the week. There are varying amounts of reading and writing that needs to be done in preparation for the seminars as well.

I was also accepted into a separate workshop that is held by the current writer-in-residence at the university. That workshop meets every fortnight on Wednesdays, and the focus in these sessions seem to be exploring more specific modes of storytelling; how an event in our lives can be communicated through evolving means in our world today, exploring ideas of internal and external storytelling through stories, poems, social media, etc. We’ve been discussing the idea of the unfiltered self versus what a writer (any writer, anyone with access to words) ultimately chooses to tell, and why. It’s fascinating.

Outside of this, there are really important moments that are keeping me level. Every odd Monday or so, one of my flatmates gets me out to a dance class. I sit in on the local film society’s committee meetings right before. Wednesdays I spend an hour and a half with a student-run magazine during their own workshop at a local cafe, where we discuss other student pieces. The Literature Society puts on discussions on specific genres in fiction, as well as other neat events, like slam poetry or outings to the movies and such (a trip to see Macbeth was absolutely justified.) There’s the odd night out with my own post-graduate workshop group. I still don’t have a part time job, though I’m trying to find one as soon as I can.

All told, I’m only in class anywhere from six-to-eight hours each week. Compared to my past life as an animator where I was in the office anywhere from 70 to 80 hours a week during the most stressful of times, this doesn’t sound too bad. So why is it I’m still getting to bed at 2 or 3 in the morning most nights?

I’ve stopped and thought about it. I am definitely writing more now than I ever have. Maybe not specifically on the fiction that I had set out to do when I left my job (though I am getting there, little by little), but I’m finding myself sitting at my laptop all over the city and typing out something throughout most of the day. When I’m not doing that, and I’m waiting for class, or I’m on my bicycle and I’ve agreed to meet someone for a drink or something, I get anxious thinking about the writing that I should get back to when I return to my flat in the evening.

Yes, I live in a flat now, although in reality, I am actually living in the library, in the postgrad room in George Square, at Cult Cafe, at Southern Cross Cafe. So actually, I should say that so far, I have only been sleeping in my flat. Days keep slipping away and I don’t know if I’m not reading fast enough or writing fast enough but somehow I get to the empty hours of the evening wondering how the hell I ran out of time again. I wake up, I shower, and I go; I have a coffee at a favorite cafe, and I sit and read or write for hours. I’ve written two revisions on a new short story, on top of finally getting to writing a piece for what I hope will end up being a novel; I managed to push out a short piece of fiction for the student mag; when I can, I sit down and write for this blog; I continue to write long emails to New Zealand that, once I start, continue to run away from me.

As far as summaries go, I haven’t left anything out. This is my life. There has been no television, no frequent movie watching or anything like that (although there’s so many good movies coming out, I’m forcing myself to fix this.) There’s no romantic interest to lose whole evenings to, no part time job yet. I feel like maybe others around me have certainly figured out a way to balance out their weeks, schedule things out in a way that doesn’t quite feel so breathless. I wonder a lot if it’s just me who feels slightly overwhelmed at not just how much I want to write, but also how much time I have to write it. In my head, I am constantly thinking to myself, “I have a year,” except that, shit, it’s almost November, and I actually don’t quite have a year anymore, do I? I wonder if this expiration date is applying an extra level of pressure that I can’t seem to shake. Or it could just be that over the years I’ve simply just become far too addicted at feeling busy all the time.

I wake up every morning an hour after all four of my alarms take turns ringing into my face, and when I finally pull myself out of bed, I always tell myself how lucky I am that I don’t have class in the mornings.

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