2015, Archives, October 2015, The MFA Years

An Outline In October

Image: Moominsean

Preface: The beauty of blogging on this platform is that it forces you to set aside the plethora of daily stimuli and take a monthly tally.

Chapter One: The routine has been established. The first, or second round for those who went early, of workshop is done. The end of first term is on the horizon. Handing in those portfolios, those lit paper, marking those compositions. The Spring course calendar is out. Funding grants have been submitted. The October gripes hang in the air with the Halloween paraphilia. The energy of summer and starting afresh has dissipated.

Chapter Two: What’s working? A voice in your poetry workshop loves your images, the chosen form, the topic of debate. A fiction cohort writes the characters were well rendered, the final paragraph a keeper, the punctuation an experimental gem. What are the opportunities for improvement? The same voice or another beside it claims there are too many images, the stanzas constrict, the topic cliché. Notes in the margin believes the ending is soft, the commas erroneously placed, the character wouldn’t do that. I want more. That voice in the morning before all the emails and meetings knows that same voice late at night or by the duck pond between classes is telling the truth: Just keep your head down and write. Just keep connected to your heart.Chapter Three: All the scribbling and traveling and odd jobs that you thought wasted time, actually, is what separates you from the slush. Those protected and unlived souls have nothing to write. Reality TV and YouTube have eaten a generation. Reading and writing are the same. Listening turns the page.

Chapter Four: You thank the wheel of fortune for all those ESL years. The classroom becomes a warm environment. You see progress. You are happy that there is no longer a right and wrong, that learning is more than recall, that tone and genre have many layers, and you catch them before they fall.

Chapter Five: You remember the first job you were given at a college you won’t name. You never know if you might have to return. The director hands you Norton’s Anthology of World Literature and a W4. It is a night class. You never see the director again. The checks arrive, the class goes well. You joke about putting a tip jar beside the podium. Pass the hat before finals. Now you have weekly meeting. Discuss best approaches. Attack theory and reflect. Although the paperwork pisses you off and you begrudge the time consumed, you know you are becoming a better teacher, closer to crossing the border into Adjunct Nation, a Ph.D., even publishing.

Chapter Six: A published author comes to read and fills you with horror, another with joy, envy, lust, ambition, hope. They all say the same thing. Don’t stop. You are closer today than yesterday.

Chapter Seven: That meeting, that class, that convocation, that seminar sucking those seconds, minutes, hours away. I could be… You slip onto Submittable and take pot-shots with an automatic return key. Attaching glory and pain and tears. Sending your words into the cosmos with a kiss and a slap. A lightness arrives. You skip home.

Chapter Eight: Done is good and showing up on time is 90% of success.

Chapter Nine: You worry you are telling the same story over and over again. A one-hit wonder. A one-note composer.

Chapter Ten: You fall in love with a second genre and feel you are cheating on the first.

Chapter Eleven: You wear the same thing five days in a row and no one comments. Your diet is burritos and coffee. On your futon is a pile of unfinished dog-ears and your are transcribing the neighbor’s nightly trials and tribulations. Workshop is wasted on that sex scene. You are saving quarters AWP, not laundry. You spend a Friday night alone in bed crying because you are not Zadie Smith or Teju Cole or writing. Netflix is the only affordable therapy.

Chapter Twelve: Your title has a typo.

Endnotes: Whining gets you nowhere. Getting off the computer is good. Routine is healthy. Don’t get attached. Kill your babies. Make the familiar strange and the strange familiar. Wake up early and smile. You could be digging coal.

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