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Epilogue: Three Months After the MFA

So here I am. Three months after graduating from an MFA program in Creative Writing. What am I doing with my life? What are my hopes and dreams? What am I wearing?…Wait, what? Why are you asking what I’m wearing? If any of you read my last post some, oh, seven months ago, you’ll know that I was already thinking about PhD programs/jobs/etc. then The truth is, this has been the most challenging realm of my life to navigate, but I think it’s also important to share, because for every person who graduates from an MFA program and lands their ideal job or gets into their number one PhD program directly after the MFA, there are probably hundreds of others who don’t. Here’s my story. I knew I wanted to live in my hometown of Los Angeles after graduating. I applied to two PhD programs–the Creative Writing PhD at USC and the Literature PhD with a focus on Speculative Fiction at UC Riverside–and was rejected from both of them. While the idea of doing a …

On Grief, Publishing Your First Novel and Turning 30

I turn 30 this weekend! (I’m hoping the exclamation mark makes it less of a terrifying new phase of life) When I started the MFA Years I thought I’d blog a lot more; after years of writing fiction around the day job, I was finally headed to grad school and the full time writing life. I would have so much time! And so many things to say about the publication journey! If you’ve been following this blog, you’ll know that that hasn’t, um, been quite the case. Turns out there’s a strange law of productivity that dictates the more time you have, the less productive you are. Back in 2016, I was still working in finance, writing fiction in the wee hours of the morning, editing at night, planning a wedding, applying to 13 graduate programs and somehow managing to stay on top of life admin (tax returns, remortgaging our flat, organising family visits etc). Today, a mere email asking me for a single scanned document can send my day into a downward procrastination spiral (I will spare …

Lost at SAIC: A Mini-Memoir

And so 2018 was off to a bang. Three different bangs. Bang. Bang. Bang. I will enumerate them below. A poetry workshop (I know I claimed to be a poet when joining the MFA Years community, but I might’ve lied about that). A writing class with a focus on incorporating programming languages and electronic elements in poetics. A medium-format film photography class. The premise of these, individually, was initially exciting. I figured I was maximizing the interdisciplinary nature of my program and gearing it towards my needs, my very disparate and incoherent needs. My “texts” (I hid my “poems” of the past under the pretense of calling them “texts” to avoid the scrutiny that may have come with calling them poems) needed some maturing, as did I, and so I figured this diverse curriculum I’d set up for myself was going to help me do that and become an adult. Also to help me evolve into a mature artist, I thought I could cover the more experimental desires of my practice by taking a class …

My Two Cents

I’ve been hesitating with this post for a while because I don’t think I still quite know how to appropriately articulate what I’ve been feeling, but here it goes. Maybe it’s because these are the narratives I’ve been taught as a woman of color, even in my own household — stay quiet and be grateful. But I am grateful, and we’ve been shushed for too long. These are my very brief two cents. Cent 1: Having grown up in Miami — a minority-majority, strange placewhere Spanglish reigns as the official/unofficial language of the city — my experiences in predominantly white circles had been limited. Business signs are in Spanish. I speak to my parents in Spanish. For seven words, you toss in three in Spanish. It’s arguably fair to call Miami the capital of Latin America. But despite having grown up wishing Celia Cruz was my celebrity grandma, I’d spent most of my life reading predominantly white literature. I learned, early on, that names like my own were nowhere to be found in books. Much …

The Tax Bill and Graduate Students: What We Know as of December 2, 2017

I wish this post didn’t need to be written, but unfortunately, it’s a tumultuous time with regard to the future of funding for graduate students, including those pursuing an MFA. As many of you know, earlier this week, Republicans in the House passed a comprehensive tax bill, and last night, Republicans in the Senate passed a similar comprehensive tax bill in a 51-49 vote. The Senate and the House will now have to reconcile the differences in the two bills before creating a unified bill to pass on to President Trump, who will undoubtedly sign it into law. So how does this pertain to graduate students? Well, we’re not sure yet. The reason for this is because of a key difference between the tax bill passed by the House and that passed by the Senate. The provisions in the tax overhaul passed by the House would be detrimental for any graduate students in the United States receiving a tuition remission as part of their financial package (this is the case with most if not all …

Deadlines, Deadlines, Deadlines

Photo credit: Henrique Simplicio I’ve developed a complicated relationship with deadlines. On the one hand, I’m super thankful for them. It’s not every day people ask you to write, much less read your work closely and give thoughtful feedback. Also, deadlines give me structure and keep me productive. On the other hand, getting bogged down is inevitable. Since the beginning of the semester, I’ve gone through two workshops, and I have two more deadlines within the next month. I’m pretty sure I have writer’s fatigue. What is writer’s fatigue? Is it a real thing? Well, no. I sort of made it up, but I think many writers in programs can relate. Writer’s fatigue is as its name describes; it’s getting burnt out from back-to-back deadlines. I’m an incredibly slow writer. This probably has a lot to do with perfectionism and my terrible habit of editing as I write. I’ve also become accustomed to the short-and-sweet quarter system from my undergrad and MA days. Usually, a ten-week long workshop means only one or two writing deadlines. …

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 …

On Doing the Thing Again (An Introduction)

I start school in about a week, and I am feeling all sorts of things. Among these things is caution. It’s been a challenge trying to explain what I’ll be doing in the next few years, partially because the MFA is not necessarily common knowledge. People get the M and the A, but usually, they’ll tilt their heads and ask, “What does the F stand for?” This is a relatively easy question to answer, one I have an okay amount of patience for. What’s been difficult, however, is acknowledging that I’ve sort of done the MFA thing back when I did an MA in creative writing. “Why the hell are you doing this again?” No one’s asked me this yet, and I hope the question is much less abrasive and accusatory when the day comes. I’ve prepared answers. About a dozen of them, most of which only tangentially relate to one another. Here are a few: I was a very weak writer before and for most of my previous program, I absolutely hate working full …

First Year MFA Survival Guide

Photo Credit: Brenna Daughtery It’s the middle of summer and time is flashing before our very eyes. Let me the one to tell you that someone can constantly beat you over the head about how precious and short your time is during your MFA experience. Even after your entire first year you can still be blown away by this very fact. And yet, after being attending workshops and classes you can feel like you’re still at the tip of the iceberg in regards to the literary community as to what it has to offer. It’s a growing/learning process. When reflecting on my year, I have compiled a survival list that can be paired with the many other survival lists that will help those who are approaching their first year at an MFA program. It’s a crazy, but exciting literary world out there (almost as crazy as a zombie infested world). You can never have too many tips and trips to keep your body afloat. Read/Reread Past MFA Years Blog Posts Why? Or should I say, …

Finding My Discomfort Zone

Image: Trung Bui Viet In my first class on creative nonfiction this past April, I sat down in the workshop, excited, a little nervous, but fundamentally reassured by one thought: I wasn’t going to be any good at the class anyway, so I didn’t have to worry too much about mastering the finer points of the memoir or essay. I was taking nonfiction because in my MA program, we are required to take one class outside of our genre. Since I’m a fiction writer, that meant choosing between poetry and nonfiction.  When I was in undergrad, I took one fateful poetry workshop. It was actually my first workshop experience. I wasn’t much of a poet, or at least I didn’t consider myself to be one, but it was easier to get accepted into a poetry workshop than a fiction workshop, so I took the chance to be in it when it was offered, knowing that I wasn’t going to be the star of the class. I brought in my painful clichéd breakup poems every week and …