2015, Archives, October 2015, The MFA Years

Beyond the Workshop

Image: Cranes by Laitche

“One day, the Doctor’s Wife comes home to find stickers on each phone that read, ‘No.’

‘What are these for?’ she asks the Doctor.

‘I want you to learn to say no to people.’

The Doctor’s Wife doesn’t think her husband has any idea how things work.”

“No,” from The Doctor’s Wife by Luis Jaramillo (2012)

Multitasking is a habit I haven’t been able to shake. When I started college, I told myself that I would take it easy, that I would not get too involved in too many activities. Not surprisingly, my pledge didn’t last long, and by the time I was a senior my CV looked like the efforts of four different people rather than one ridiculously overextended human being.

I have always been involved in many different projects and activities. Even as a child, I would be reading multiple books at once (well, not literally at once, because I’m not Dr. Reid a la Criminal Minds) while also working on a jigsaw puzzle, teaching myself to read music, writing songs and poems and stories, raising a goldfish, unsuccessfully raising a lizard, swimming laps, teaching my niece English, and spending too much time stressing over the fact that my 96% A in math class wasn’t at least a 98%.

Notice that the majority of these activities were solitary. I was not one to try out for a team sport, nor to join a band, though I did try choir once. On the second day, I burst into tears because the experience was too stressful and I missed art class.

Image: Mehdinom

Easy explanation? I was an overachiever, and a bit of a pretentious introvert. I thirsted for learning as much as I could about as many things as I could, as long as they didn’t involve much talking. Complicated explanation? Early on, I learned how to keep myself company, how to use my imagination to create and shape different realities. “Mindless” activities like cross-stitching and painting were actually quite mindful: they kept my hands busy while allowing my thoughts to wander into unexplored spaces of play.

I see my MFA years (ha! See what I did there!) as years to dedicate to my writing. Of course, right? However, I know myself. I can’t spend twenty hours per day in front of Microsoft Word or I’d start hallucinating. As a nonfiction writer, a lot of my content comes from observing the world around me. If I don’t get out and observe, if I don’t let myself be and do different sorts of things, I would end up writing in a bubble (and also napping too much). I know that I need to foster relationships outside my apartment, but more than that: I want to. Writing, to me, is more than the physical act. It’s a way of seeing the world as something to be interpreted. When I lift weights at the senior center down the street, I’m writing. When I shoo my dog around the dog park, I’m writing. When I fold paper cranes, I’m writing. When I call my parents, when I text my brother stupid memes, when I hold my fiancée and when I cook, I’m writing. When I play goofy word games with kids at a local after-school program, I’m writing. When I edit a literary magazine, I’m writing. When I pray, I’m writing.

Image: Katharine Monger

I do too much, I know, but I’m beginning to see that it works for me. For the first few weeks of my MFA, I tried the whole “eat, sleep, class, write” as much as I could, but I began to feel a little self-centered, a little like I was suspending my interactions with the outside world at a time when I needed them the most in order to create. Once I started finding my niches, allowing myself back into the groove of overdoing it, I started creating more than ever before. I’m producing the most I have ever produced in a relatively short amount of time: at this point in the semester, I’ve written well over 100 pages. Granted, probably only about 10 of those pages will be salvageable, but I’m trying not to undercut myself like that. Revision cannot come about before production. And I’m going to produce the shit out of this experience.

Once in a while, of course, I need to sit back and take the Doctor’s advice. And though I don’t claim to know what’s best for you, I know, as the Doctor’s Wife knows, what’s best for me.

As always, thanks for reading.




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