2016, Archives, January 2016, The MFA Years


The Spanish and Portuguese word garra translates literally into English as claw, paw or talon. Figuratively is it used as courage, guts, gumption, determination, hustle, spirit or energetic optimism. If you follow football, the sport where you kick the ball with your feet, not the college social event with all the rules and tactics and special teams, you will hear the word often. The Brazilian right-backs Dani Alves and Marcelo have mas garra que talento. Spark, fire, gall, nerve, cheek–chutzpa is a good translation. Tenacity works. Get-up-and-go, if you want to be super clear. Writers need garra and god bless the five week winter break that is creeping nostalgically into a flowery and premature denouement. Christmas and New Year’s, seeing friends and family, meeting new and old folk, drinking and sleeping late, flying and reading buckets, have all filled me with an incredible amount of garra—I am ready to return. I am ready to get back at the helm. I am ready to write and MFA like the wind.

Before the break, I had planned to write at least 2000 words a day, just power through, perhaps a personal novel-writing month. After a few days, I realized this was not going to happen. I tried to plod along with a steady 1000 words a day, as I had been all autumn. Just keep your head down and type, I whispered. But I am not an unshakable Murakami, an immovable Ernest, an unwavering Waugh.

So I decided to try the opposite and entered my unreliable-Rimbaud phase, my capricious Capote chapter, my undependable Dylan Thomas system; basically, to write as little as possible whenever the wind blew to my fancy and drink and talk and walk as much as possible. Get out into the world. I wrote 36 first-drafts-poems and hope to scribble another four before classes commence. I can’t say they are any good, but I felt like a tot in a sandbox hunched over a coloring book. I embraced what I was before the university halls, rediscovering why I had returned. And this is why we break: to get back to where we were or go in another direction.

Although I consciously destroyed my daily writing habit, I set a reading goal for the first time in my life. One short story a day. No more, no less. Some days I read seven, some days just one. Discovering writers such as Kevin Barry, Lauren Groff and Craig Davidson; while revisiting old favorites such as Colum McCann, Richard Ford and Joyce—was a magnificent holiday gift. To be able to delve into another world in a single sitting, and then go out into the world and consider, recharged my battery. My lack of urgency created a timelessness, which confirmed my choice to pursue this life.

So whether you were cooped up in your parent’s basement penniless and swearing, or scootering through the bliss-filled rice paddies of Bali, I hope your inspiration jug was filled. If you were, as I was this time last year, staring at the phone and checking the inbox obsessively praying for an acceptance letter, I hope you took the time to read and write at whatever pace made you happy. Some of the most productive periods of my life have been surrounded and propelled by insecurity. Not knowing your future, keeps you in the present, which helps production. On the other hand, if your future is clear, perhaps you have been accepted into your dream-program, then plod away, but take a gracious moment daily to check the map and confirm you have chosen the correct trail.

Yes, I have some goals for the term. Prepare more for my classes. Tighten more nuts and bolts before submitting. Read the fine print twice. Do more sport. Eat better. Cook more. Drink less. Figure out how to make more money. Use my time better. Focus on the sentence level. I hope to reach these targets but then again I might not. Regardless, I am not going to shoot my foot off to spite my heart.

Another thing I learned over the break: there are a million way to peel a dragon fruit. So if you know the what, the how is secondary. It will come. Vision plus attitude brings results. So keep your jar of garra stocked, mine is bubbling and spilling all over the kitchen ready to be whipped and placed in the oven.

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