2016, Archives, August 2016, The MFA Years

Cara Summerfield Introduction (Regis University ’17)

Image credit: Prayitno

I am a Southerner. I was born in New Orleans and raised by two strong Southern women who loved the letters I wrote to them from the time I was 5 years old. When living with my birth family, I experienced a high level of trauma. Life’s experiences have directed me down paths that I had never thought I would travel. For instance, in my early teens, 20s and 30s, I was strung out on drugs and alcohol. Who would have thought the tears that fell most nights would turn into the ink that dripped out of the fountain pen I used to write down my thoughts in my composition journal. I have two pens now.  One was not enough to hold all my tears. The words that scrawled across the paper would follow one another until a memoir had been written.  I have discovered that my favorite genre for writing and reading is nonfiction. Or my grandmother standing on the front porch watching me as I played with the neighborhood children, laughing and then later that night, telling me in her gravelly voice, “My dawlin. You would be a wonderful teacher.” I became a teacher of  writing. When combining it all together with my love for the South, you have a book of Southern Gothic literature hibernating within me.

The application process into my MFA program was not as difficult as I thought it might be. I had already done an M.A. in the English Department in prior years so I was known by one of the program directors. I still felt quite anxious because of all the things I was hearing about MFA programs. “Only the best of the best are accepted, Your writing has to be unusually good, and/or don’t get depressed if you’re not accepted. There are other schools you can apply to.” Having such overwhelming positive support began to wear on me! A few friends tried to assure me, as much as they could, that my writing was just as good or better than most.  The week or two I waited for an answer were the longest weeks in my entire life. I couldn’t get it out of my head and no matter how often I told myself that it would be okay if I wasn’t accepted, I knew in my heart, it would not be acceptable. The phone rang one afternoon. I looked at the caller ID and held my breath. It took forever to hear what I had waited for—you have been accepted into the program.  That day became one of my favorite  days in my life.

One reason I wanted to get into a program like the MFA was so that I would have some structure in my life that would force me to write. It’s sad that I can be such a go getter in all other areas in my life, but when it comes to a passion, I truly exhibit all of the signs of procrastination.  With all of my teaching experience, one would think that I would have all of the tools necessary that would help me prevent procrastinating. However, they work for others, just not for me! I’ve often thought I would try and get a job that requires daily writing; however, when starting the application process, my stomach begins to tighten and my thinking gets blurry. I’m not ready yet. I question if I ever will be.

WRITING IS HARD!  How often do we hear this?  How often have we said it?  Most of us believe that writing is a natural process that keeps us alive.  That is, until I’m being asked to try something new, to begin again, or to change the direction I am working in. Sometimes, I wonder if my mind has decided to just shut down and not allow me to say anything new to the world. But then, there is a stirring in my heart that squeaks out desire and I must continue forward. At this point, my philosopher self explains that it is not the writing that is difficult, but my thinking.  So then, I ask my philosopher self, “How then, do I stop my thinking?”  It says, ” You don’t. You just work with it rather than against it.” I suppose there is truth to that. I only wish I could force it to stop when I’m ready to sit down and  begin to write.

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