2017, Archives, December 2017, The MFA Years

On Goal Setting

When we were young, Pops’ promised my older brother and me that we’d go somewhere new as a family every year—if we had the money. With enough savings we could take a trip to the motherland (the Philippines) or a trip to Canada; maybe we’d even go across America in an RV. We thought we could go anywhere Pops would dream up, and we ate every word of it—but there was never enough money to do any of these things or the time.

There was always another overtime shift available to help pay off an overdue medical bill or credit card payment. We spent money as fast as we tried saving it. There was never enough of anything. That’s part of the beauty of growing up in the working, immigrant, poor: you’re always hopeful for shit to get better—if it doesn’t come, it doesn’t matter; what matters is that dream for a better existence, once.

All we thought about was money, work, and ways to make money in the future so we could live like the superstars we saw on the television. I was young then, like twelve or fourteen or some shit, and I started to figure out ways I could make money without having to ask Pops, anything to avoid him worrying about some long overdue bill. I’d steal from the cafeteria to save lunch money, sneak into packed theatres when the usher wasn’t looking and started to look for work as soon as I could.

Still, the three of us never really went anywhere.


During the past summer I wrote my MFA Years application with the following goals:

  1. Work on my essay writing
  2. Document my first year at Alabama as best as I can
  3. Keep to my deadlines

It is now the tail end of November, and my October essay is over a month late. The original article in mind was going to be a dialogue about Filipino history month. It came up short and half-written. A Filipino American who can’t write a small essay on Filipinos and Filipino culture in relation to creative writing and MFA programs. Ancestors be proud.

I’m finding it harder to write about myself. I’m writing on my own, submitting short works to magazines (and getting rejected by said magazines), working a part-time tutoring gig, and reading Filipino literature/science fiction/and short stories when I’m not reading a novel or two for classes. The days mold together. My nights are devoted to talking to Kalyse on the phone, one thousand miles away.


It’s one in the morning central time, and in New York City, my partner Kalyse talks about her latest show. She’s working on a musical that’s coming to Broadway—one way or another. The question is when. In-between that waiting period she’ll have worked as a director for a small theater on a black musical she created, a possible project with an opera, two or three shows she’ll assist on, and many observations and other theatre things that promote black theatre and wrap around my head. She’s barely 30.

I’m happy for her, and I say that I can’t wait to see her soon during the break. When she asks me about how things are in the MFA and what I’m working on, a slew of things come out.

A Filipino American story. A Filipino American science fiction story. A trope mash up. A story about veterans of color. A western. A story about a Get Out like scenario. A story about race. A story about family. A story about postcolonialism. A story about colonialism. A story about America. A story about. A story about. A story about.

I told her these things, every day something new and plotted out or half-written. She listens for a while, reflects on all of them and then asks if we could watch a film. We watch a Korean movie where the woman is a highly successful person in an artistic career she’s strived for since childhood while her husband works a stable income desk job. He seems happy. It sparks an idea for a story, but I forgot to write it down.


A tacked sheet of printer paper hangs on my basement wall next to the staircase leading up to the first floor.  It lists out the following goals for my FALL 2017 semester:

  1. Finish three of the short stories you wrote at Clarion West and send them out for submission
  2. Lose 15 lbs
  3. Re-do and finish that first novel you wrote before Thanksgiving
  4. Write five, new, short stories for critique

I’ve only managed to complete one of these things (the first one) and just two out of three stories. The novel has been pushed to Christmas break. The losing weight scenario is a no go.

I didn’t have such a hard time balancing writing with real life/work responsibilities before entering the MFA program, but I’ve been having a hard time adjusting my writing with school/work/life. The goals I set at the beginning of this semester could be manageable, with the right mindset, but acclimating to a new environment is what I forgot to factor in.

For every personal goal, you set, think about the workload you’ll have in the coming months. Look at the syllabus:

  • How many papers will you have in the class?
  • How much material will you have to read a week (most classes are a book a week. Sometimes a book a week plus supplementary reading material)
  • How much free time will you be allowed to hang out with your cohort, friends, significant other, events, whatever, without it getting in the way of your writing?

The difficulties I’ve had to keep up with my goals for this semester are a factor of over planning and not factoring in personal downtime. Too much personal downtime (free of writing) can be detrimental, while too little can be just as harmful. Balance (whatever’s reasonable for you) is important.

In planning for next semester, although I’ll be taking more courses than the usual three class workload, I’ll factor in less time working on my projects and more time reading and spending time on travel to see my partner and AWP in March. The only personal project I’ll be working on, in conjunction with my Clarion West style one story a week workshop class for next semester, will be my novel.

Overloading yourself can be dangerous, as I learned this past September when I woke up at three in the morning and my roommate drove me to the hospital for a cardiac arrest. I’ll explain in a moment…


Mark Galarrita is a McNair Fellow at the University of Alabama MFA Fiction Program. He is a graduate of the 2017 Clarion West Writers Workshop and received his B.A. from Marymount Manhattan College. His work has appeared in Bull Magazine and the Kelsey Review. He has also written for the “The Aethera Campaign Setting: a Pathfinder Compatible RPG” and narrative scripts for Global Gamer Jam events. Follow him on Twitter @MarkGalarrita or on his website.