Year: 2015

The Inevitable Stumblings of Beginnings

Image: finchlake2000 The reality of it already (somehow! how!?) being November was the catalyst for writing this small testimony, think piece, whatever you’d like to call it. In other words, my first semester in an MFA program is a blur—one great, big, ginormous blur that’s stretched and yanked and shouted at and taught me things I thought I’d already learned—but actually hadn’t. Not the right way, at least. I came to my program with all of the excitement and uncertainty and the strange partially-pompous-partially-humble mind-state that us writers seem to have an affinity for convincing ourselves into. I’m sure everyone before me and after me has felt and will feel this similar peculiarity, too. And that whole “imposter” syndrome you hear about? Yeah—that’s really real. There are days when I’m nearly convinced I was let into my program by accident. There are also days I’m so damn grateful to be here—usually after a high-energy, bright-spots-of-flushed-cheeks-and-points-being-made discussion in my workshop where there’s this amiable discord, the sharing of ideas, completely done for the sake of a story, …

Things I learned

Image: Chris Ford For the most part, my first semester at Stony Brook Southampton is over. After careful consideration, I’ve got to admit I learned more than I had given myself, or the program, credit for. But the most important thing I’ve learned is something I have to constantly remind myself of: this is a personal journey. There’s tons of bull shit in this world, and MFA programs are no exception. Who gets funding and who doesn’t, who cares and who slacks off, who writes like they mean it. I let myself get wrapped up in it. And the truth is, I was the only one who suffered for it. You’re not at an MFA program to write better than the person sitting next to you. You’re not at an MFA program to decide who should get funding and who should take out loans. You’re not at an MFA program to bitch about all the injustices of administrative bull shit. You’re at an MFA program to learn how to be the best writer you can …

Shakarean Hutchinson Introduction (Applicant ’16)

Image: Andrew Taylor I finished my first application today (December 8th) with the mailing of my writing sample. I expected to feel something when the USPS worker took the envelope from me—happiness, relief, nervousness. Instead I felt what can only be described as meh. A 5 on a scale of 10. Baked but lightly salted crackers. Water. And not the icy cold water you drink after being out in the hot sun for hours on end either. Just plain, room temperature, straight from the tap water. *** I didn’t know anything about MFA programs until about three years ago while reading the bio of a random writer who had a short story published in an online journal I enjoyed. And even after doing a casual Google search on MFA programs I didn’t give it all that much thought. My future plans included getting an advanced degree in…something (hadn’t decided at the time), become a professor, and spend the rest of my life teaching and paying off student loans. And should I write a story or …

Jess Silfa Introduction (Applicant ’16)

Image: Laura D’Alessandro Some say that when you’re making a stack of pancakes, you always throw out the first one. It’s a test to see if the batter holds together; if the griddle is hot enough; if your flipping technique is finally perfect after years of making stacks upon stacks upon stacks of pancakes. The first pancake is the first try, the freedom to make a mistake, and to be flawed. I thought about this when I showed a professor the first draft of my statement of purpose for an MFA program in fiction. I was apologizing for my draft’s shortcomings before my professor even said anything. “It’s just a first pancake!” I’m not sure if I meant the statement or the application process overall. In case it wasn’t obvious, this is my first year applying to MFA programs. I’m currently a psychology student at Columbia University—that probably makes me seem younger than I am. I was a high school dropout at 13, a GED earner at 23, and I applied to Columbia at the age of …

Sometimes the words don’t come

For much of November, I sat on my second-hand green sofa and stared out my living room window with my bowl of oatmeal perched in my lap. I sat this way for many hours on many mornings. Days three, four, five that a fellow graduate student was refusing to eat in protest. The day I heard that he signed a DNR. The day the University of Missouri system president resigned. The morning after I saw the online threats to members of our campus. The days of graduate student walk-outs. Most mornings, I would have a book in my lap, too. Brother, I’m Dying by Edwidge Danticat for my non-fiction workshop. New Age Capitalism and The Jesuit Relations for my lit seminars. But many times, I couldn’t focus on the text and would just drift off, the oatmeal half-eaten and growing cold; the pages of my book fluttering shut, unread. For hours, I watched the tree outside my window—the only one on the block that stands full of leaves. During the whole month of November, it …

Where are you applying?

Image: Angie Garrett It’s that time of year again! Where are you applying for the 2016 application season?

On Patience

One more workshop, a lit paper, and 30-something student portfolios: that’s everything that separates me from winter break. After a lazy Thanksgiving, I found it difficult to return and finish the final stretch of the semester. It was even more difficult to do without sighing heavily after every new email notification. Over winter break, I’ll see Joanna Newsom in concert. I’ll stroll through the Pittsburgh strip, watching men shuck oysters outside Wholey’s fish market. I’ll sleep in my childhood bedroom. I’ll live in sweatpants. I have a pile of books checked out from the campus library. I’ll spend my break reading, mostly books on West Virginia folklore, ghost stories, and history. After conducting some research, I’ll begin a new essay; I’ll revise some of the work I completed this semester. I’ll send pieces out to journals and wait. Earlier this year, I learned how to be patient as I waited to hear from the 10 MFA programs I applied to. A lot of that news was bad, or at least not what I wanted to …

Semester Countdown

This is the last weekend before the semester – my third in this MFA program – ends this coming Thursday. I still have a stack of reading to get through as well as to revise my final portfolio, so, of course, I thought I’d write this instead. Procrastination is a demon, but at least I’m writing.

MFA Application Q&A: Washington University in St. Louis (Nonfiction)

Photo Credit: Cassandra Leigh Gotto   I remember very well the stress of applying for MFA programs, both in 2012-2013 and last application season. The first time around, I stressed over factors like rankings, funding, etc. — info fairly easily gleaned from national charts and faculty pages. I ended up applying to something like ten or twelve schools. The second time around, I was more focused on applying for full-time jobs and only ended up applying to the two schools that seemed to “fit” me best, schools with small cohorts, generous support, and in locations where I’d either know someone or large enough that I could easily find a supportive community. If I didn’t get in, oh well. I didn’t have the money to apply to so many programs all over again (and really, I didn’t have it in 2012, either), and to be honest, the feeling of being rejected so many times in one season was too much. I found myself saying, “Oh, I didn’t want to go there anyway,” to make myself feel better. If I didn’t want to go …

First Years versus Second Years

Image: Daniel Orth In September, phones all over SoCal lit up with the same message, the bios for the new admits were up. By ourselves and in small groups, we plugged the link for our MFA program into our browsers. We held our faces close to our laptop screens to better see every freckle, smile line, and sun spot (or lack thereof) of the new recruit’s faces in the small photos next to their blurbs. We read the words they’d written about their selves in third person and wondered what they would be like IRL. As a Peer Mentor, I have more frequent contact with this year’s incoming cohort than most second years. Second years are busier than first years, because we’re taking classes, teaching classes, and trying to finish up our thesis. We have offices that we spend our spare time on campus in versus the sticky 10-chair conference table in the lobby of our department, so chance conversations are harder to encounter. I remember this same unintentional divide existing last year and not really …