I know – two posts in two days? Why, that’s just crazy. What’s left is right and what’s right is left, top is bottom and bottom is top!
I find myself with some free time. Well, not FREE time. I’m at work, but I had intended to sneak out about now and write for a few hours in between the my commitment to La Science and an evening photo shoot of our upcoming ad campaign, but it turns out I can’t escape the office and I simply can’t stand working on my own work here except for copy-editing and the like, and then I thought, blog! I should blog, because I won’t have time tomorrow, and that way I’ll still make my goals for the week. And in case you are worried about not getting your everythinginbetween weekend fix, I have a guest blogger lined up – my friend, A. I have no idea what she’s going to write about. It might be television, it might be dating, it might be one big long vent on the apathy of people our age to volunteer in their communities (she has an axe to grind, this woman does) but check her out. She’s a better writer than she believes herself to be.
Let’s see, what to share – I am currently in the process of doing a final edit on my essay “The Last of the American Badasses.” I don’t know if other writers go through similar emotions with their work, but right now I HATE this essay – I think it’s because the essay is ready to set sail out into the big bad world of magazine pitching next week – I have promised myself this last revision is IT – no more. This particular essay was a joy to write – and, in fact, the only time I’ve ever written an ending before the beginning. I knew exactly where I wanted the work to end up. I’m taking out some of the longer sections of reflection to keep the narrative tighter, and I took out a lot of extraneous crap. Several months ago I thought this was one of the best pieces I’ve written, and even one month ago I found it clever…now that I set a deadline for it’s coming out I’m all the nervous parent, worried the popular magazines will be mean to it, make fun of it behind it’s back, thinking it’s not ready to ride in the car with boys who can drive, but hell, a promise is a promise so off it goes to some carefully chosen magazines where I’m pretty sure it will at least get read and let down easily.
I’ve had a ton of thoughts rumbling around in my head lately, many having to do with being a writer and a reader in this world right now. I received my MFA in creative nonfiction writing this year, something to be proud of since the university I attended has a dismal graduation rate. Many writers, in fact, give up before ever completing the program, so beaten down are they by our rather, um, critical faculty. Or they don’t complete their manuscripts. Or whatever.
I completed mine for the final time in March of this year, and I remember reading through it and being SO PROUD, in believing utterly in the pedagogy of the department, in reading from page 1 to 200 and thinking “Damn. This is so getting published.”
Why do I look at it now and loathe all but two essays? How is that even possible? When I read chapters, they embarrass me. My parents, my friends, they all want to read it in its entirely – since it’s a memoir, they all think they’re in it. I keep saying no. My words. My book. My time. I can see why relatives of famous authors grow so enraged when work is published posthumously. You really only want what you send out to be put in front of the world. I would rather die unknown, right now, than be judged by the content of my MFA manuscript.
I sort of hated graduate school. Not the people in it, for the most part, but the way the whole thing was set up. It seemed like you could go one of two ways with your writing career. You could either go the “New York” route, get internships at places like Elle and GQ, write in that fast-clipped, freakish way prevalent with NY writers, go to the right parties, force yourself on the right people, go into debt after graduation and move to NY, and dash around the department with the latest New Yorker under your arm, asking others if they’d read it.
Or you could go the literary/university route, which included writing a lot of personal essays about exile, cruel parents, nature, etc. and attempt to establish yourself in the literary journal world. Much more benign on the surface, it’s all discussion of Gilead and long nights drinking wine and complaining about apathetic freshman students, but this world is actually much more competitive than the New York nonfictioners…have you been to an Associated Writer’s Press Conference? My God. Writers will walk on your head to meet Stuart Dybeck. A friend of mine actually introduced me, at my first AWP conference, to a famous writer by saying “She’ll write for, like, the USA today Sunday magazine someday…”
I am not a New York writer but nor am I particularly cut out for the world of the academy. Foolishly, I thought an MFA program would mostly be made up of people who liked to read and write, and maybe in the fiction and poetry departments that holds true, but for our department it wasn’t so much about reading, as it was about reading the right thing. It wasn’t so much about studying for the joy of it, as it was to meet the people our professors knew.
One particular friend, C., probably saved me. Frustrated as I was with the binary set up in our department, he declared a moratorium on all magazine and literary journal reading. “All they do is promote a cult of writerly celebrity,” he said. “There’s no joy, there.” And together we went to the library and started checking out novels and books of poetry.
It’s probably about two years since C. and I stopped reading magazines and journals, but it’s become a necessity again for both of us since we do, well, want to sell our work. And on the other side of the academy, it isn’t quite so panic inducing to do so. I have years worth of New Yorkers, GQ’s, American Oxfords, Harpers and I don’t even know what else boxed up in my bedroom, not to mention the literary journals I ceased to read. It’s going to be interesting to start going through them again.
You know, I never fit well in either category at school – the lit kids or the NY kids. I really just wanted more time to read, and more time to write. And what I realize now that I’ve started blogging, and I’ve started meeting other readers and writers who I wish I could have gone to school with, well, I ‘ve learned there’s a difference between having something you want to write, and being a writer. It think being a writer is first hearing those magical lines of poetry, the ones that transported you beyond yourself when you were six or seven; or it was reading behind your parents back after they’d put you to bed, desperate for just one more chapter; or it’s buying books you love for others, even those who claim to hate reading…it’s the rhythm of language keeping beat with you as you walk down the street. I wrote my first short story when I was in kindergarten; my first novel in the sixth grade – I still have it – all 160 pages. I wrote poetry for a boyfriend, in high school. For me, all of this began with words – and all they were capable of doing.
My first novel, the one I wrote in sixth grade, i wrote from the point of view of a chubby Hispanic girl trying out for the junior high cheerleading squad, and getting rejected because of her race. I mean, what the hell? Now, to be fair, I was “writing what I knew” in that I had, just recently, been rejected from the Alpena Junior High Raider’s cheerleading squad, but I don’t know where the hispanic portion came from, except that I was taking Spanish at the time and got to pepper my novel with words like Hola and Tia Rosa. I wonder now what made me choose a race other than my own for a main character?
Of course, I never felt like I fit in, anywhere. But if you met me you’d never believe that. I have blonde hair and blue eyes and really white teeth and you would swear you met me somewhere before…people always do. I look like, that girl. The girl your friend knows. The girl who fits in anywhere.
You know, i don’t know where the hell all of this is going. I usually have an idea about what I’m goign to blog, but sense I’m not supposed to be here I’m all confused. I think most of this sprung up from the blogs I have been reading recently, which have given me a sense of community that I haven’t experienced before. A sense that nothing has to be this way or that way, and that it’s okay to be a writer without really knowing where that will take you, and it’s okay to read and just say “listen to this sentence – just listen to this sentence…” and also, it’s okay to define your life by words, written by others, and words, written by you, and words, shared between people, like they are something precious. Like water. Like food. Like love.