2016, Archives, August 2016, The MFA Years

Wrapping Up: It’s A Start

Image: Ignacio B. Peña

I wish I had more time.

Invariably, this is the one consistent thought that creeps into my thoughts, time and time again. It always comes at the end of things: deadlines, holidays, relationships, courses. Times in a city you’re about to leave. I left Wellington this time last year, ready to move on and begin a new journey as a writer. But it wasn’t until I was sitting on that plane, as it started to move and the white houses set in lush green hills began to drift behind me, the plane rushing along the runway and lifting into the air, that I felt suddenly and horribly sick.

As the plane took off I thought: I’m not ready to leave.

At the time I thought that maybe it was some too-late epiphany dawning on me, that I was making a mistake leaving a city that had become home for me over the course of those few years; a realization in itself that hadn’t come until long after I had made the decision to leave. Now I’m beginning to understand something that should have been self-evident: it wasn’t a feeling that was unique to just Wellington. Each place I have come to know has left a piece of itself embedded in me, through its own local culture; through the relationships fostered in each place; through time itself spent in wherever has been home, regardless of how long or short a time. I’m reminded of this now because I am once again facing the same horrible sick feeling when I lie awake at night and I count how many nights I have left here in Edinburgh. I think to myself again these nights that same thought, like a mantra. I’m not ready to leave.

And I realize now that I never will be. I’m sitting writing this in my favorite café, stopping every few moments to look up at the brick and faded patches in the walls. I think back to how new it all felt last year, how strange it was. The excitement I felt at sitting in my first workshop, each new piece presented by my fellow classmates as something wondrous, a new writer to discover with each first encounter, and thinking to myself, often, how impressive their work was even at the start. Every day I learn something new about Edinburgh, a city which guards its secrets, unfurling itself slowly over time to those who settle into its old nooks and crannies. I can spend the rest of my life here and I’d continue to be surprised to the very end of it.

But most surprising to me has been to see how much I’ve changed. I handed in my final dissertation this time last week, an act which itself marked the official end of my creative writing course. It was a quiet end, because classes ended months ago. I have had the whole summer to work independently, seeking a few people to read drafts as I went along. It wasn’t an entirely lonely and isolated experience, which writing can most often be. Inherently, though, I’ve come to the conclusion that writing was never meant to be such a lonely existence. A piece of writing is an exchange, between the author and the reader, about any number of memories and experiences that have coalesced to form the words written on the page; experiences that have themselves emerged from the writer’s own moments of community in the world around them. Fiction becomes the manifested echoes of our place in the world, and transform into new memories; for the author writing their story, to the reader reading the words before them, words leaving their own quiet or searing mark upon the reader as they turn the page.

When I started my year here in Edinburgh, I was legitimately scared that I didn’t have any business being here. I didn’t have any confidence that what I was writing was worth anyone’s time, and I wasn’t altogether sure I could help anyone else make their own writing better. But over time, I have been exposed to so many wonderful people within the course and without that have helped me understand how baseless that fear was. My tutor, Allyson Stack, firmly believes that writing is reading and reading is writing, and throughout the year I decided to read as much as I possibly found the time to do so. This meant reading every page of the literature assigned in class, along with anyone seeking a reader for their own works-in-progress (from within my course and without), to everyone contributing to The MFA Years, to as many essays online about the writing community at large across the globe. And I have learned that there are many voices, each with something just as equally important that need to be read, oftentimes at odds with one another, but always a true reflection of the writer authoring those words. I think that has been the most essential thing I have learned, and it has led me to be constantly critical of my own self; but no longer to a point of self-hindrance.

In the past year as I continued to write and explore what it is I really wanted from my time as a creative writing student, I have been thinking about moments that have never left me from my time in Wellington. My past in Los Angeles has fueled me further. My longing for Edinburgh is now seeping in, and I have yet to leave. And as I think about all the places I have seen, and the people I now have the great fortune to call friends, I have made a home in all of them, in some way.

As for my own writing, I have been immensely fortunate. The first story I wrote for my workshop at the beginning of the year has just been recently published in Gutter, a magazine that is home for “New Scottish Writing” and writing from afar; another three have been published through online literary journals and outlets, along with another two having appeared in student publications, in editions that I am very proud to have appeared in. And last week, I was invited to read at the Edinburgh International Book Festival as part of their emerging writers platform. And I have more stories to tell.

Which is why, even though my course is now over and my time in Edinburgh coming to a close, I know it’s not an end. It’s a beginning for me. Ironically enough, I return to Wellington soon, because real life is real life and I need to go back to work and support myself. But now my heart is split in two, across two hemispheres. I want to return someday, and soon, in the same way I wanted to return to Wellington when I last left it. Both have been home to me in a way that will never fade. I started writing again when I was in New Zealand, and it is here in Scotland where I’ve committed to it. There’s that old saying, “home is where the heart is,” and now more than ever, my heart is all over the place.

When I set out at the beginning of this last academic year, I was scared. I was walking away from a career I was doing well in, diving headfirst into something new I wasn’t sure I had any right to be in. Back then I would never tell anyone that I was a writer. To say it felt absurd. But now that I’ve come to the end of it, and I start looking to pack my bags again and to return to work, I realize this isn’t the end of something. It’s a start.

So long as there are days ahead, I’ll keep on writing. It doesn’t scare me anymore. It fills me with a greater joy than I’ve ever felt, for days and for stories to come.

And that’s because I’m a writer.

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