I’ve driven through 13 states since the last day of my first year of graduate school. I’ve been busy roadtripping and visiting friends and family this summer.
One state my partner and I drove through was Wyoming. Though “Big Sky Country” is designated for Montana, I see why it could also apply to Wyoming. While driving, I listened to some old music on my fifth-generation iPod. As Mark Linkous came on, I thought about Elliott Smith, who died for his music and something more. As I looked up, the clouds gathering like the underbelly of a whale, I thought about spray painting my teeth silver and whispering, not shouting, “Valhalla,” a simple release of compressed air, letting go of the steering wheel, and considering this my last episode of daydreaming while driving.
“You couldn’t have picked between two more different places to choose from,” said my partner, alluding to the fact that I could’ve moved here to “Big Sky Country” rather than the South for my program.
I was romanticizing the landscape. I know that. And I know that no matter where I went, it would’ve taken me a year to get over being there, get used to living there, and leaving friends and family behind.
I think I made the right choice when I chose a three-year program. Instead of feeling pressure to produce a manuscript in just the next year, I get to think about my project for two. In a two-year program, I would’ve felt frazzled and that the time was going by too quickly. In this program, I get a small, but present sense of ease with the additional year.
After the first year, I feel like I’ve become a more contradictory person. I’ve let go of some of things I believed, but I’m still grappling with the beliefs I still hold. I am trying to be more open yet cautious at the same time. I am trying to be more exacting in my language.
There are days in this program where I am still uncertain. I keep telling myself that I belong here and that I have the right to be here, despite opposition. I’m also trying not to lose myself or my footing.
One practical tip I can give you for your first year: Write in the in-between moments. Even when you don’t think you have time, you do. When you can’t sleep at night, when you’re waiting in line at the bookstore, or walking to class. Either type or write that line that’s popped up at the moment or has been lingering in your head. It really takes no time at all. And when you do have time, keep writing. Without boundaries. Free-write. I’ve cobbled together some franken poems or kept whole pieces from this habit. You can learn more about how to do this in a blog post I wrote titled “The Notes App: ‘Writing’ a Poem on a Smartphone.”
I’ve been busy over the summer. I have an internship, a part-time job, and I get to spend time with my partner, friends, and family. Amid all this, it’s been harder to keep up with writing.
But I’m feeling this tug toward poetry. Being back in Minnesota, it makes me feel like my first year was a separate time with a separate person who had a separate life, which makes me realize how important graduate school is in terms of poetry and having the privilege to make time for it.
So, I’m trying to gravitate slowly back again to reading and writing. It’s easy for me to let life and busy work interfere with reading and writing. That person who lived in South Carolina for almost a year is still part of me, and I should let her drift where she wants, especially if it’s back to poetry.
Here’s to year two and all it has to offer.
PS-In other news, I got my first poem published this month at Nice Cage!