Year: 2017

Greetings from HZWP

  Hello! I’m R. Cross and I’m currently in my first semester as an MFA candidate in Fiction at the Helen Zell Writers’ Program at The University of Michigan. I’ve applied to MFA programs on four separate occasions (in ‘13, ‘14, ‘16, and ‘17) and attended the MFA program at Southern Illinois University for the ‘14 – ‘15 school year until state budget cuts led to a university-wide funding crisis that ended up sending me back to the application gauntlet for two more rounds (NOTE: the funding crisis at SIU has since been resolved with a state budget settlement that will make for stable funding for the program for the foreseeable future; they’ve also recently added MFA fellowships that reduce the teaching load, funded by a private donor to the program). My experience as an MFA applicant and program attendee is thus long and winding, and covers the span of five years. A LITTLE BIT ABOUT ME: I’m from Columbus, Ohio. While it took me eight years of academic meandering, I eventually obtained my BA …

On Reading Poetry and Poetry Readings

Do you read poetry out loud or in your head? Do you read so slowly you lose interest or so quickly you have motions sickness by the end of the poem? Is it okay to space-out during a reading? Are boredom and confusion acceptable experiences to have when, say, you read a poem that doesn’t stick, that slides right off your mind back onto the page? This semester, in Lisa Olstein’s seminar class on sixties poets, we’ve been reading a poetry collection weekly and discussing the effects they have on us as readers. Two poets we’ve read recently have taught me one thing: No one can tell you how to have an experience. My gratitude for this lesson goes out to John Ashbery and W.S. Merwin, and to their books, Rivers and Mountains and The Lice. Ashbery is notoriously difficult and polarizing in certain ways—a divide usually opening up between “I don’t get it” or “I don’t get why it matters.” I’ve loved Ashbery for years but also always felt myself space-out during his longer …

Abandoning the ROI – From the Corporate World to the MFA Program

Photo credit: Neil Hall, Glass Office Building London I’ve been a graduate student for three weeks, and have cried in my professor’s office once. I haven’t been here long enough to determine if this ratio is a success or not, but am continuing my market research nonetheless. Let me back up – Before I started the MFA program in Creative Nonfiction at UC Riverside, I spent ten years working the corporate world in online marketing. Six of those years were at the same job, a small gaming company in Austin, Texas. That company was a place where I knew how to succeed. I knew my coworker’s various quirks and how to approach the right person to get what I needed. I knew the promotion calendar like the back of my hand, and had code and graphics and all the nitty gritty details down to a science. Life at that company was very comfortable for me and although I was sad for my tenure there to end, I left optimistic in the pursuit of dreams with …

At What Point is Self-Care Toxic?

Image: Photo by Abby Breaking News: I figured out that graduate school is hard. At the point when this happened, I was facing around eleven of my classmates. I was to present an essay we read in my Contemporary African Lit. class. I had read this article maybe five times before I had a speech ready, and I was going to do this. But there was a block, and I started stumbling, and I turned red, and people jumped in to help me, and I was spiraling. Two people gave presentations after and killed it, too, so when I left I was ready to go home and eat leftovers and cry. As my friend drove me home I expressed how humiliated I had looked, and she promised it would get better. In fact, everyone has said that the first semester is very hard. They say: The first semester of graduate school is the hardest, and that’s not to say it gets easier. It doesn’t. You’ll just adjust to how difficult it is. So here I was, …

On applying

Photo: Bryan Jones I was going to write a post about my first month at Michener, but since I’ve been getting a bunch of application-related questions from people on Draft, I thought it might be helpful to do an ‘applying to MFAs’ post. A version of this post appeared previously on my own blog, so feel free to ignore it if you’ve seen it before. If not, I hope it’s helpful for you as you put your applications together! There are a wealth of resources on Creative Writing MFAs online, plus if you’re reading The MFA Years, I’m guessing you’re already well aware of the basics (e.g. don’t go into debt for an MFA, admission rates to top programs are <1% so apply to 10-13 schools if you can, it’s all about the writing sample, start early, etc). So I’ll focus more on my own thought process and subjective experience. Major caveat that anyone reading this should take it as just another datapoint. I’m not purporting to preach the truth / tell you whether you …

I Am Not My Personal Statement

Image: Lidyanne Aquino While I was applying to MFA poetry programs in late 2016- early 2017, I was simultaneously figuring out how to come out as non-binary. I was writing personal letters, bios, anything that described me, and they were slowly morphing into queer testimonies. I found that I was taking the application process a little too seriously, a little too defensively. I was refreshing my Gmail App almost every thirty minutes. I was butterflied, I felt, by the interrogation of personal statements and essay responses. I was trying to impress someone, and I was trying to be myself, and I didn’t believe myself. The University of Mississippi’s Derrick Harriell called me to offer me a TAship in his program. I wanted to say, “Are you sure? I’m not my personal statement.” In fact, each school that accepted me got a version of Jennie on the phone who I can’t defend. I was scared and guilty of having changed dramatically since I sent my personal statement. Yeah, sure, my resume hadn’t changed, and sure, my …

Let’s Find You Some Help

You should show your actual writing to as many people as possible, getting all the advice you can wrangle out of them, before you spend hundreds of dollars applying for grad school. In this article I list specific venues for you to get critiques from other people. 

Strategizing for Second Year

Image: Shemsu.Hor The countdown has begun. After a summer of traveling in Europe, teaching ESL classes, seeing the utterly inspirational musical Hamilton, and generally avoiding writing despite my desire to get ahead, I’ve started my fall classes and I finally have the motivation to do what I came to grad school for: write. I’m in my second and final year of my MA in creative writing at UC Davis, which means between now and May I need to write a thesis. I’ve decided to make my thesis a collection of short stories. Compartmentalizing my thesis into smaller, doable tasks— writing one story at a time— will do wonders for my mental health. Or at least that’s what I’m hoping. When I was an undergraduate, I wrote a senior thesis for my English degree. It was an academic paper that ended up being 90 pages long and not very good, even though I worked on it for a whole year straight. My entire senior year I felt this looming sense of dread hovering over me, like …

Uprooting

I’m lying on my couch, an air mattress, adjusting my elbows, which every few minutes scrub a crumb—probably KIND-brand cinnamon oat cluster granola. I was accepted into the Michener Center for Writers (after being accidentally rejected) in March and moved to Austin on August 9th, floating around for a month before landing a spacious apartment close to campus. But, in Austin, unless you want to live in one of those industrial, small-town-sized apartment complexes (you know, with a pool and visitor parking that’s never open anyway) you’re getting an unfurnished spot, and now that I have a real bed and felt too lazy to deflate this mattress, which was eight dollars at Wal-Mart, I have a couch, too. I was born in Puerto Rico and raised, mostly, in Orlando, Florida. My family is pretty much all Nuyorican, and the other side is all Cuban, all living in Miami since 1966, when they won “the lottery”—which is not 300 million dollars taxed at 82% but more like a get-out-of-Cuba-free card. But that was a long time …

In Search of Lost Mojo (An introduction)

Image: Adeline Oka You applied to MFA programs last winter peddling your best traits: a voracious curiosity and an insatiable lust for soul-stirring prose. A year later, after a 17-day cross-country road trip originating in South Florida, after getting settled during one of those famed blissful Pacific Northwestern summers—the apex of which was witnessing a cosmically rare solar eclipse from smack dab in the path of totality—after briefly evacuating to New York City when those dreamy days combusted into a toxic haze fueled by catastrophic wildfires, you find yourself in rural Oregon the night before fall quarter starts, shivering in your Miami clothes, frozen before a white screen. Fraud, you scream in your head. It’s not that you knowingly deceived the ad-coms; what you’re realizing is, like the photo from eight years ago you still keep on your Tinder profile, that portrait of your writer self is outdated. That version was based on who you thought you were at 24, when you first seriously considered getting an MFA upon realizing, during your first graduate program, that you didn’t just want to read …