2016, Archives, September 2016, The MFA Years

Autumn Approaches Albuquerque (Cada día Cuenta)

From the List-server into my inbox:

Greetings all,
We are nearing the midpoint already … 2nd Half begins 10/17, right after the end of Fall Break on the 13th and 14th!

Approaching Autumn in Albuquerque and the end of a third semester in a six semester degree, tick tock goes the outer clock and wow much has changed. Basically, I’m out of workshop-landia, I can take more if I want, and there are dissertation hours and optional independent studies, but I’m focused on getting my literature (James Joyce and D.H. Lawrence) and professional development credits (Grant and Proposal Writing and Job Seeking) out of the way so the third year can be write write, and done so right. Do I know what my dissertation will be? Of course, he slaps his knee guffawingly, of course, I know, who doesn’t? I have a thousand ideas and can only marry one. Isn’t life just a simple process of narrowing choices?

So what have I learned by coming back?

I’ve taken over as Fiction Editor at The Blue Mesa Review and sifted bubbling vats of contest slush over the laborious Labor Day Weekend. Read a lot of stories about guns. Read a lot of stories with men popping beers. A lot of long cover-letters went un-skimmed. It’s tremendous and great, really great, tremendous, that you’re a retired whatever or have three Ph.ds or were an ex-producer of ABC after-school mini-series specials, yes I’d love to go on a hike with your two beagles and I’m sure the story is tremendous and unbelievable and great!

There were good writers with no stories. There were bad stories from good writers.

Very few experimented, very few approached difficult topics, most entertained and ego-massaged, too many afraid-to-be-funny sit-coms, but who am I but an interim filter, as addicted to subjectivity as the next. It’s not easy to point a finger and say this is good and that is not. It’s not easy to rank without numerical data. It’s a learning process as deadlines loom, tick tock, that damned clock.

I’m getting better at reading and answering emails. Yes, in second year, the bureaucratic stuff gets easier, probably because you know who is sending the information and where to go to get more and how to de-select the automatic clutter box filter and what needs action and how much.

I’ve become a better teacher. Not because I know or care more, just because. Hours, hours.

Plus I received this inspiring back-pat email(no child-left behind, right?):

Dear Professor O’Connor,

I’m not sure if you remember me, I was in your English 110 class in the fall semester of 2015, but I distinctly remember you and have been meaning to thank you for a long time.

You have played a very influential role in my young career without realizing it, as I struggled through personal issues. Your introduction of David Foster Wallace has been nothing short of a blessing, and after almost a year since my first introduction to him, today I spent the day visiting the University of Texas at Austin, to read and write my own research from his handwritten papers for “Infinite Jest” and the experience was breathtaking. He’s become someone to push and challenge me to become such a critical thinker and I feel incredible about this newfound ability to analyze through rhetoric.  I now spend my free time writing extensive papers about his novels for no particular reason other than my own personal interest in becoming proficient in my writings.

One point for the TA.

Also,my writing is changing. Getting slower, more thoughtful, less belching rant, more calligraphic. I’m thinking things through rather than jumping off the diving board into media res. Sometimes I worry, I’m losing that auto-amorous spark that used to ring alarm bells each morning, but I have a vague faith that an underpinning logic is creeping under each line and paragraph. My sentences are getting longer. I no longer loathe adverbs. I still despise pronouns and prepositions, especially the unessential. I’m reading theory and non-fiction and poets, who are not only beautiful but have important things to say in new urgent ways.

I’m less worried about money than last year. Because I have less. I inherited a Instana-Pot and crock-pot my way through the weeks on rice and beans and potatoes and onions and generous fistfuls of malt-vinegar-ed paprika. Cheap, honest ingredients, cooked for marathons with a centre-piece spice—the blurb I want on my first book jacket.

My personal life is in utter shambles. But it’s personal and deadline-less, so I’ll deal when I can, if I can. Back-burner, back-seat, is that clock’s minute-hand on crystal-speed?

I’m sending out proposals for grants and residencies and even summer jobs already. Trying to work backwards. Playing the Lotto. Where do I want to be next? I’m too old to flip burgers. How will I afford not to? And I wonder, is this digging into my writing time? Irons in the fire or wasted words? Is this whole MFA thingy just a side-track from where I want to go? Am I being seduced by college comfort? Would a Ph.D. extend this glorious limbo? How can I continue to be surrounded by these inspiring book-driven people? Bubble or career? Will I be back in barista-landia the moment I defend my dissertation? Is adjunct a curse word?

And swirl tumbles the weeds. Leaves threaten to colour change. Fall. Inevitable. The tumbleweeds are a gathering. Circle the wagons. There will be frost.

On one hand, second-year is easier because it’s not new. On the other, the joy of newness has evaporated, and in the stillness of buckling down, the eerie door-scratchings of melancholia reverberate. Order the sonnets? Re-proof the plot? Start-over or push-through? Novel or collection? Maybe just interlink them. Maybe this is all a screen-play? Is the protagonist likeable? Do they have the necessary faith to face the blank screen daily? Will they be sucked under by the barking ignorance of ego and hate?

Obtrusive buzzer. Cue sappy music. Roll credits. Roll.

Tune in next time, we’ll discuss the contradictions, smoke-screens and faulty-logic in the above text, until then, keep your nose clean and get your shit done on time.

Cause Time is all we have.



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