2017, Archives, March 2017, The MFA Years

Cross-Genre Work

Image: Bruce Guenter

I’m afraid I’ve been stepping out on fiction. I’ve been out with Poetry twice, two lovely workshops. Non-fiction, also twice, sorry. Screenwriting broke my heart and dumped me to the curb (once). Now Playwriting.

Halfway through my fourth term, when I need to propose a dissertation and stick by her through thick and thin, sickness and health, and pray she doesn’t laugh in my face. I’m surreptitiously measuring ring fingers. Poetry’s fingers are fast and oily and constantly moving. Non-fiction’s ring finger is stout and strong and loyal. Drama’s digits are gripping. Screenwriting is off the list. Fiction’s fingers are so familiar I feel they are my own.

Last term, I took a screenwriting course with a professor with an impressive list of IMDB credits. A hell of a comic, full of life and inspiration, he would stand on the table at least once a week and yell ridiculous prompts. The classroom felt like a TV writer’s room for a real Netflix series. We pitched ideas and shot them down. There were fights and barrels of belly-laughs. We wrote communally and individually. The goal was to shoot a pilot and have a series-bible ready to pitch for Hollywood money folks. While I imagine the screen-writing majors learned and produced much, I stood on the sidelines, enjoying each session but more watching than creating. Although I loved the practicality and energy, I elected to not spread myself too thin, too busy elsewhere.

I’ve always loved poetry. I visit her everyday, read her, review her, write her, pray to her. She is the first one I turn to in the morning. I publish a lot of her because we have such a, historically, long relationship. Nevertheless, I want to slow down. See her less. She wants more.

Non-Fiction is new. She’s very academic and intelligent. She turns head on the street. She walks a lot like fiction. The only thing I can’t stand is when she goes all confessional, blurting out personal details in public at the wrong time, or passing off falsities as truths. I know little about her past, although I’m reading and listening to her as much as I can. She demands a lot of my time. I feel like I’m not worthy of her. “It’s me, not you” I want to tell her, then chicken out. More than a few predecessors in our program jumped-genre-ship and sailed away with non-fiction. Short-story writers often marry novels. Poets do well marrying memoirs. Heart-breaking decisions.

Playwriting, also an elective, has reared her head. Before MFA-land, I was a professional actor, wrote plays, produced films, worked more techie jobs than I can count. I know her well. I’m acting in a play now. Whenever ideas dry, I snap into dialogue. The playwriting cohort are super fun and friendly. The department head works professionally a lot and runs an inspiring workshop. A play a week keeps the doctor away. The week after AWP, I get an email: Hey, we have an extra place for a trip to The New Plays Festival in Denver, would you like to come? Free ride. Sweet hotel. Twelve plays. Four days. Colorado. Of course. And here I am cheating again, happy as hell, in the back of a van rockies-bound, radio ablare:

If you’re down and confused
And you don’t remember who you’re talking to
Concentration slips away
Because your baby is so far away

Well there’s a rose in a fisted glove
And the eagle flies with the dove
And if you can’t be with the one you love, honey
Love the one you’re with

You gotta love the one you’re with…

But seriously, I can’t express the gratitude. Being exposed to cross-genre work can only strengthen the one you choose.


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