Goodbye Little Brother

This is a very long post. I’m a writer. This is how we writers process. I’m putting it on my blog because sometimes you lose things on Facebook. If you are sitting down to read this, thank you.

We are hanging in here. I have amazing support around me. Emma is home for the day. Her heart hurts. Her Uncle Billy was the world to her. She has moments of sadness and moments of seeking distraction. I think this is how adults cope too. Like walking through a fog and bumping into things, but being both numb and grateful for the human contact. An odd feeling.

This is the second time I’ve had to tell her that someone has passed (my mother being the first). I don’t think I’ve ever known such whole and complete helplessness as when you look at your child and know that the next words you say to them will hurt them. But, I held her and we cried together. I told her that it will hurt a lot when she thinks of him at first, then… over time… it will hurt a little less until one day, when she thinks about her Uncle Billy, it will only hurt a little bit. It is okay to hurt. There is no wrong or right way and that we should remember good things too.

I left the hospital close to 5A.M. I needed to see him and tell him goodbye. Goodbye from me and from all the others who were grieving. I’ve never seen a dead body so soon after death before. I chose not to see my mother after she passed. I guess I thought she would look the way they do in a funeral viewing: not quite right after the embalming–waxy and still. Empty. And I didn’t want that memory. But, over the years, I regretted not seeing her directly after. So, I had to see Billy. I just had to. And I am glad that I did. He looked . . . like Billy. It was him with his brown hair and scruffy beard and hairy arms. He was cold but it was his skin. And I touched his face and smoothed his hair back and cried for a little bit. I touched his arms. I even lifted one of his closed eyelids. I don’t know why. Maybe it was because I knew that he was a donor and someone might get a part of his eyes and I wanted to see them. And his eye was there, looking into nothing. He was gone. I whispered to him goodbyes from everyone I could think of. I told him how much he meant to me, how much he meant to Emma and to so many countless others.

(By the way, his corneas were donated. I learned that today. Billy would have given every part of himself. That’s why he was a donor.)

When Billy was 18 months, maybe a little older, we were on vacation in Arizona. My folks and the adults were out to dinner and the teens and kids were left behind to watch T.V. and rent some movies. (Ghostbusters if I remember.) At some point, I couldn’t find Billy in the vacation house we were staying in. He did that sometimes, just wandered off. My gut feeling told me to go check the  pool. I did and he had fallen in. I think he had tried to reach a ball that was floating near the edge. I scooped him out and held him to me. He cried and I cried too. All I could think about was, “What if I hadn’t gone out to check the pool?” I told him many years later about that. How that fear followed me, haunted me. “What if I hadn’t been there?”

I never thought, “Wow, I’m amazing, look at me. I saved a life.” It was a genuine fear of “What if?” When you have a moment like that, it’s quiet. It’s intimate. I did not tell anyone about that moment for a very long time. And even then only a handful knew. Most of you won’t know anything about this. I carried it with me. That is the kind of love and fear you just don’t talk about, I guess. Maybe I was afraid if I did talk about it, death would change his mind and come back? You think about weird things like that when faced with the possibility of losing someone. I tell you all this now not to brag. I don’t want to share it. I’m telling you because when it was he and I alone after he died, I told him that I was sorry for not being able to save him from drowning again. That as a big sister, I wanted to be everywhere, to always protect him, and I just couldn’t get there fast enough this time. Nobody could.

I told him Jessie (his dog) would be okay. We would all see to it. I told him I was going to work my ass off to finish school. And to finish my books. And to do something with his writing too. I hope to get it in nice format, find a great cover, and publish those online for him. He was discovering a lot about himself when he started writing. He was onto something.

I told him to say hi to Mom for me in the afterlife. I told him I was going to be happy. I made that promise to him. He was one of my biggest cheerleaders. If anyone can find a way to kick my ass from the afterlife, it’s him.

I kissed his face. I touched his hair again. I left and took his things with me. It was important that I had his tablet. His writing is there. I touched and kissed him for all of his friends and family and told him how much he would be missed. I said goodbye.

Billy battled many demons. He struggled with severe depression and alcoholism. Not a good mix. I know he was in pain at times. Many of you know this too. I don’t want to say, “He’s in a better place,” or some trite garbage like that, but I do know he is not hurting anymore. I know that. He looked so much at peace.

I am soul-sick over this, and sometimes I’m not very strong—but I am strong enough for this. I know how to grieve. Losing my grandmother, mother, and uncle within a 4 month period a few years ago gave me some unpleasant practice. But I learned HOW I grieve and what I need. Trust me when I say that I will take and ask for what I need, when I need it. It might be looking at funny cat memes. It might be asking you how you are or how your day is. It might be asking you what you are watching on Netflix. Those things please me. I like those things. Know that I know what I’m doing.

I want to end this entry with lighter things. I have a memory of Billy that I love to share. When I was 20 or 21, my stepdad and mom took me and Billy to Hawaii. It was amazing, like going to Fantasy Island. Our hotel was on the beach. There were penguins swimming in clear pools in the hotel and birds of paradise quorking in tall trees. The night of the big luau came. Who wouldn’t want to go to that?

Billy didn’t want to go. I guess he must have been 6 or 7, but he threw quite a fit because the luau was taking place at the same time as the David Copperfield special on T.V.. It was the big event where he going to “fly” and Billy really wanted to watch that show. So, I stayed in the hotel room with him and we ordered room service. (What kid doesn’t love ordering room service?) Sure, the luau sounded amazing, but my little brother wanted to see David Copperfield and back then there were no DVRs or streaming services.

We watched the hell of that special. It was as awful and tasteless as you would expect, but we loved it. And I swear, we saw him fly together, little brother. We really really did.

04

02 2017

Safe Spaces

Sharing this post I made from Facebook:

I hear this phrase from some Trump supporters. It usually looks like this: “Awww, this too much for you? Sounds like you need a safe space.”

Let me explain to you what “safe space” means in my professional and academic experience. Then, let me challenge anyone who uses this phrase in a flippant, shitty way to rethink their strategies.

JAIL SPACE: I worked directly with inmates for a couple of years. I co-facilitated creative writing workshops where inmates would meet weekly and write poetry, fiction and nonfiction. Here are some things I’ve learned about that experience. First, that the majority of inmates, both male and female, have been physically abused. Many sexually abused. Around 35% of those males have experienced what they describe as “very severe violence.” Most of my inmates wrote nonfiction. We never asked them questions about abuse specifically, or about their crimes, or about past mistakes and incidents. But these were common themes they chose to bring into the writing workshop. The number of men and women who shared violence in their writing is pretty on point with national statistics.

During my work, one of the biggest challenges that I personally faced was proving to the inmates that they were, in fact, in a safe space. What this meant in my experience was that they were out of the “pod,” and could avoid harassment or unwelcome company. That they could write and share their work without judgment. This meant proving to them that I wasn’t there to mark up their words with my red pen, to tell them they are “stupid,” to tell them they are “awful writers.” (Which is what many experienced in school, having shared those experiences with the group as well.)

In one session, a young woman wrote a poem about her abuse. Her father leaving welts meant she had to wear turtleneck sweaters in 80-degree weather. The belt. Her father’s friends sexually abusing her. The verbal abuse. I remember this woman being afraid to read this poem during the workshop. Her hands were shaking. But she did and by the end of that poem, a heavy quiet fell over the room. I cried. Many cried. Then, one after another, the other woman began to share their stories—all similar, all speaking to the untold violence they’d experienced. It was one of the most remarkable moments I’ve witnessed. Later, that same woman who spoke of her father’s belt would read that poem in front of an audience. As she sat waiting, before the reading, she started to cry, rocking back and forth in her chair. “I can’t believe I really get to read this. That I get to say these things out loud. I can’t believe it….”

That is what “safe space” meant to her and to the hundreds and hundreds of other inmates I was able to work with. Safe space meant they could say what happened. They could talk about the beatings, being burnt with cigarettes, being kicked and punched. And worse. Much worse. Writing is cathartic. I know many writers on my FB feed will understand this. They will understand it deep inside of them. They know. I don’t have to explain this to them.

DOMESTIC ABUSE: This is one of the first things that comes to mind when I think of “safe space.” I’ve known women in my life who have had to flee their homes, finally reaching a breaking point where they can’t take it anymore. Sneaking out in the middle of the night, during the day, hell, some have even planned their escape for weeks. Where do they go? Where do you go at 3 a.m. when you are carrying a toddler in your arms (or two), and you grab whatever you can on the way out. The doll. The plushy toy. Something to normalize what’s happening. Where DO you go? You go to a safe space. You go to a shelter, to a friend or family’s house. You go somewhere that you know is safe. And for many, they can’t imagine being in this situation. They can’t imagine what “safe space” means to a mother who wants to protect herself and her kids from violence. To a teen child who fears abuse from parents or family. They cannot imagine. But I’m asking you to try. I’m asking you to imagine. Say it out loud. “Safe Space.”

VETERANS: I don’t need to articulate how many men and women who have served in the military suffer from PTSD. Stop and consider what “safe space” means to them. Beyond a safe place to sleep without fear of gunfire.

I once had a student in my creative writing class who was a Navy Seal. He never outwardly spoke about what he experienced in Iraq, in Afghanistan. He was clean cut, sharp, smartest student I’ve ever had. For an exercise in class, I was teaching my students about writing a “fight scene.” Seems simple, right? It’s actually difficult. It’s one of the most difficult things to do well in fiction.

So, I had them write a “fight scene.” They wrote for 10 minutes. Many struggled, realizing that it wasn’t as easy as they imagined. Some write about verbal arguments. Some about martial arts encounters. My veteran wrote about being pinned down behind a half blown-up vehicle as bullets whizzed past his head.

Part 2 of the exercise went like this: “Write for another 10 minutes. Now, I want you to start with, “What most people don’t know about being in a martial arts/fist/sword/fire fight is _____.” I wanted them to dig deeper, to get to what is often unsaid during these huge, dramatic, physical, overt scenes.

My veteran read his out loud. I wish I still had it. I wish I had asked for a copy. But, in short he described these things that people don’t know about being in a fire fight in Iraq: that when people die, it’s not like in the movies. It’s a POP POP and they’re gone. That he’d wished he “closed his friend’s eyes sooner because later, the eyelids wouldn’t stay shut.” That when he’d taken a bullet in the thigh, he didn’t even know he’d been shot until he felt the blood soaking his fatigues. That during that fire fight, he thought he was going to die. That he shit his pants and pissed himself. That he tried to remember what his wife’s face looked like, or that he wished more than anything that he could remember what fresh cut grass smelled like out in the middle of dust and rock and smoke and sweat. That the driver of the jeep had been cut in two and it took him a few minutes to figure out that the two “leg like” camo-covered lumps on the ground about 10 feet in front of him weren’t leg-like; they were actual legs. One was missing a boot.

The class fell silent. This man was quiet in his reading of it and looked around. He said, “I couldn’t write about this if I hadn’t gotten help when I got home. I had good people who helped me.”

Imagine what “safe space” meant to him. To many veterans who come back in need of help: counseling, group work. To the men and women who put their lives on the line for their country, for MY country. Think about that. Think about “safe space.”

Now that you’ve thought about it, is it really a “cute” way of mocking others? Do you still think it’s “cool” to tag that phrase (safe space) onto what you may perceive as someone being weak? Because they are voicing their worries over the president elect and the questionable decisions he’s already made since being voted in? Is that what you equate with the female inmate who spoke about her abuse? The woman fleeing from violence? Rape victims? Soldiers with PTSD?

Or are you being purposely hyperbolic in hopes of taking a jab at people who give a shit about non-whites, folks from the LGBT community, non-Christians, women, children, and anyone who has been placed on the “hit list” of the president elect and his more radical followers?

Here’s my bottom line; if you use the term, “safe space” as a jab toward people discussing (DISCUSSING) the things that are worrisome to them in an online forum, on social media, in the comment sections of news sites, then consider what you have read above. (If you have actually gotten through it all.) Consider all the damage you can potentially do to those who really do need a safe space.

Reappropriation: the process by which a group reclaims terms or artifacts that were previously used…… in a way disparaging of that group (or used against that group).

The “groups” in which you are disparaging contain people you know and love: veterans, rape survivors, abuse survivors, survivors of hate crimes. You know at least one person from one of these groups. Statistics say you do. You may be one of these people yourself.

My friend, Lahoma (who suggested I turn this into a blog), also posted something that I want to address. She said that as a sociology professor, she makes it known that her classroom is a safe space. She doesn’t do this to shield college students from the “horrors of the world,” but to give them a place to discuss all the terrible things they have been through without fearing judgment, or being called a “pussy,” or being told that they are lesser, weaker, stupid, or unworthy. These college kids have been through more than people realize. Millennials are not the “coddled, entitled” individuals that so many paint them to be. Take time to understand them.

20

11 2016

DeCluttering Finds

27

11 2015

CD List (Take Me Home!)

Soundtracks/Film Scores

Chronicles of Narnia
Lion, Witch & Wardrobe (Harry Gregson-Williams)
Excerpt: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OXrI-ridCSg

Ghost in the Darkness (Jerry Goldsmith)
*Another great score – love the opening song (multi-layered) – Troy Lee will testify to it’s awesomeness
Excerpt: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LTC56wpNwYg

Gladiator (Hans Zimmer and Lisa Gerrard)
*a little beat up, but still good – and hello… Lisa Gerrard!
Excerpt: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gsvqd2QkrTA

Glory (James Horner)
*One of my all time favorite scores. <3
Charging Fort Wagner still gives me chills
Excerpt: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9-G4xAijMq4

Heat
My all-time favorite soundtrack (with score pieces by various artists). Stunning. Amazing. I remember playing this song (Mystery Man) for my husband because I loved the guitar in it. 2:00 on gets me every time. Amazingly sexy, romantic and beautiful. If I could sum my own feelings of what love sounds like, it’s this.

*Case is VERY beat up. I’ll likely switch it with something else. Disk is good.

Excerpt: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-EILNvJ2y2I

Contributors

Last of the Mohicans (Trevor Jones & Randy Edelman)
*excellent soundtrack. Many an RPG sessions were had with this playing in the background.
Excerpt: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2pCv7k_Hzvg

Lord of the Rings
Return of the King and Fellowship of the Ring
(I think most people know this music)

Ned Kelly (Klaus Badelt)
Excerpt: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-YIVqbLwzYk
*This is a solid film, btw. One of my favorite Heath Ledger performances

Starship Troopers (Basil Poledouris)
Who doesn’t love this guy? Great D&D RPG music!

Excerpt: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CIGHCoVzqtk


 

Symphonic
Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9
The Philadelphia Orchestra
Ricardo Muti conductor (I’m a huge fan of Muti, especially his conducting of the Pines of Rome)


MISC.
Lisa Gerrard
The Silver Tree
Excerpt: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tX0SeygboFo

Immortal Memory (with Patrick Cassidy)
Excerpt: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0-IFpa-PpRI

It’s Lisa Gerrard, yo. I need not say anything more.

 

 

27

11 2015

Brief Update

 

I’m nearing the end of my 2nd year in the Ph.D. program.  This means I’m finishing up what I hope is the last of my course work.  I still need to get my committee sorted out and obtain a reading list for the summer to prepare for comprehensive exams.

I have 6 chapters of THE BOOK to finish on draft 2.  But, I’ll need another big revision on draft 3.  That’s the problem with learning how to write a novel WHILE you are writing the very first one. You screw up a lot.  But, I’m cool with that. I want this sucker to be as close to awesome as I can get it.  In no rush!

I do have my name on an academic journal article that’s making the rounds right now.  Crossing my fingers that it can find a home.  It would be my first break into that arena.

No pics.  Sorry.

Okay, I lied… here’s a gif.

myxquxs6fy16nbfbahcb

LOLZ !

06

05 2015

I Suck at Blogging

The internet can always use more cat gifs.

As for an update on me:

 

The Bad

  • I lost my mom. She had Marfan Syndrome which they think led to her sudden death.
  • My daughter and I both tested positive for it as well.
  • I lost my grandma.
  • And my uncle.
  • And my husband lost his cousin and two very close friends.  We were averaging a funeral a month for a while there.

 

The Good

  • 2nd year into my Ph.D. program. Hanging in there. Studying new media performance and social capital.
  • Still working for the video game research project. Our little team did very well during the last phase.
  • My kid is 7. She rocks.
  • My husband has a better job. He’s amazing. He fixes my car, too. I like that.
  • Still going with the novel. It’s just a matter of making it perfect. Making it shine.
  • Love my writing group.

 

The Random

  • I poked my ear too hard and it hurts. Don’t do that.
  • The 100 is an awesome show.
  • I wish we had more snow in Colorado this year.

 

Anyway, that’s it. Just making it through school. Doing a lot of reading and writing. Will begin studying for my comps soon. I’m happy.  Stressed and worried half the time, but happy.  Can’t ask for more.

23

03 2015

Epistolary Goodness in “Dearest Akeem” by Patrick Lawler

Patrick Lawler WRC Head and Teacher

I had the pleasure of hearing Patrick Lawler read this piece at the Copper Nickel post-(Denver) AWP shindig. It was one of the highlights of my trip to the convention. Lawler’s prose poem, “Dearest Akeem,” is written as a first person epistolary. It begins as such:

Dearest Akeem,

Thank you for your email explaining your dire situation:
The death of your father. The 9.5 million dollars.
Your request for my private bank account information
In order to transfer the funds to my account.
And your generous offer of 5% for being the guardian
Of the bank account. Thank you for trusting me (53).

According to Lawler, he had, in fact, received an email from a Nigerian scammer a few years back. Most of us have had the pleasure of reading such emails: My father has passed away, I’m a Christian missionary in Nigeria; I can sell you a car but still need to “mail” it to you. What is the internet good for if not bringing people together? In this case, Lawler exploits the potential exploiter and does so in a way that is as entertaining as it is meaningful.

The narrator responds to Akeem (as seen in the example above). But, instead of falling victim to a scam-artist, he uses Akeem as an virtual/international therapist of sorts. What the narrator reveals to Akeem through the emails helps Lawler develop a fully round character. We know nothing of Akeem, we never will. We read no replies by Akeem. It’s assumed that Akeem stopped responding to our narrator after the third or fourth email, that he possibly asked the narrator to please stop hitting the reply button. It’s clever, certainly, but Lawler never takes that cleverness too far. Instead, he evokes a kind of pathetic sympathy as his emails to Akeem become more and more personal. Below are two passages that show how Lawler utilizes the epistolary format (albeit a modern version of) to reveal character:

I sought the psychotic student out for conversations
He asked me, “Do you ever feel you are turning into a bee?”
Afterwards, a person from Continuing Ed at the college asked me,
“Do you think he is paranoid schizophrenic?” I said, “Well, he didn’t used to be” (53)

Here, we learned that the narrator is a professor and that he has a psychotic student. We also learn that he has a sense of humor (“he didn’t used to be [schizophrenic]). Lawler continues to develop the character:

Now I must solicit your deepest confidence.
This is by virtue of its nature as being utterly confidential.

When I was following the psychotic student home,
I wasn’t sure it was still him.
For all I knew he could have been my father—
And now even yours (56).

Lawler’s narrator is eccentric to be certain (perhaps a bit sinister), but is never too aware of himself as a fictional narrator. I was never distracted by the character’s ability to poke fun at a scam artist and found myself wavering between believing the narrator’s correspondence and going “all in” on the big joke. I wanted to believe the character was fooling around. I wanted to believe he was making dangerous confessions to a man in Africa who was only interested in his bank account. Both were as pleasant a thought as I could muster, especially given the convention of the form itself.

Though this is poetry, I found it extremely helpful in terms of illustrating how a writer can exploit a given form (epistolary letter format pushed into the modern internet era). It puts the “creative” back into “creative writing.” Inspiring and entertaining.

“Dearest Akeem” can be found in The Copper Nickel Vol. 12

15

01 2014

2nd Person POV in Junot Diaz’s “How to Date a Brown Girl”

junot

I’ll admit it now; I have a “thing” for the 2nd person. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that I’m always rooting for the underdog, or (probably closer to the truth) I enjoy reading what most other people avoid. Maybe I really am a contrarian at heart. It wouldn’t be a stretch. Let’s pretend it’s the former. 2nd person is arguably the grotesque sideshow of the POV world. Most craft books spit out a form paragraph that goes something like this: 2nd person. Don’t bother. I’m paraphrasing.

Not only is Junot Diaz’ short story, “How to Date a Brown Girl” written in 2nd person, but it takes the sideshow one step further. Diaz writes his story in the 2nd person directive, a “how-to” manual that should (according to the title) give us some insight on how to date a “brown girl.”

When I began reading this a few things immediately came to mind. First, would I be too “aware” of the point of view throughout the story? Would it distract me from the “heart” of the piece? More often than not, the 2nd person serves as a constant reminder that the author has chosen (for whatever reason) to use the “you” narrator instead of the “I” narrator. Some of my E210 students suggested that they “didn’t like being told what to do.” But, is the 2nd person narrative really so “bossy?” In most cases, no, unless you’re reading a Choose Your Own Adventure novel.

As I discussed in my annotation on Dennis LeHane’s “Until Gwen,” the second person narrative seems to be a method of drawing the reader in to the narrator’s mind, closer than the 1st person narrative in that the reader isn’t just reading about someone else’s life, but they (as implied by the “you”) are actually along for the ride. Imagine standing next to Connie in Joyce Carol Oates’ “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” Arnold Friend tells YOU not to pick up that phone, tells YOU to come to the screen door and let him inside.

Diaz’ “Brown Girl,” has the potential to draw you in, to allow you more intimacy (and sympathy) for the main character. Even with the directive voice, I didn’t feel “bossed around.”

Wait and after an hour go out to your corner. The neighborhood is full of traffic. Give one of your boys a shout and when he says, Are you still waiting on that bitch? say, Hell yeah (2).

The story (potentially) reads closer to a do-it-yourself book on building birdhouses, only the birdhouse is a small apartment you share with your family and the bird you’re bringing over for dinner is someone you’ll try to “put the moves on.”

But, “How to Date a Brown Girl” is more than a how-to book on dating girls of various races, it’s an in-your-face narrative about a young boy struggling with his social situation (shit-covered toilet paper in a basket in the bathroom and the “government cheese” in the fridge) and what this social situation does to his adolescent masculinity.

In short, it’s brilliant in terms of voice (and craft). We don’t feel sympathy for our young narrator, even when we’re sure he’ll get shot down before he lands that kiss. We see this narrator for what he is—a reluctant streetwise Romeo who has learned at a young age how to protect the fragility he hides within, a fragility that shines through from between the confident 2nd person lines.

15

01 2014

The Cat with No Friends

So, this is apparently one of my first big writing pieces.  I couldn’t have been older than 7 when I wrote this.

catwithnofriends

23

10 2013

M.F.A. and Creative Writing Degrees

writing

This has to pop up on the writing boards once a month.

“I’m applying to M.F.A. programs!”

“Should I get a B.A. in Creative Writing?”

“Do writing classes help you become a successful writer?

“Will my college professor be excited to read my 400,000 word space opera that used to be Dr. Who slash fic?”

The truth is, people have some strong opinions about academia and creative writing.  Very strong.  Like, think of the strongest coffee you ever drank now leave it in the coffee pot all day and add a few tablespoons of instant coffee, let it simmer for another few hours then make it into a coffee reduction sauce.  Wait for it to get nice and thick.  Now drink it.  Or put it on your pancakes.

bitterbwcoffeecoffeehumordisgustdisgustedwomandrinkinghumorphotographyartssourfacesurprisesurprisedwoman-d97544b297124dbaad96ceff850d1306_m

Anyway, strong opinions.

I have an MFA, so I’ll do my best to answer some of these questions. Just please remember that you’re going to get some responses all over the place, ranging from, “Cool, go for it,” to “Don’t bother. Why do you need an MFA?”

Here’s my experience.

I worked freelance as a writer for years and realized I had no craft, just raw intuition that wasn’t evolving. I got my B.A. in literature/creative writing, then moved right into an M.F.A. (fiction). Here’s the thing, the academic route worked for me. I thrived under those conditions. Others will not. Others will get all of that information without paying for a degree. Others will be amazingly successful without stepping into a college. Ever. Forever-ever. The big question is: which one are you? If you’re certain that the M.F.A. is your way, then read on…..

Most traditional programs are not genre-friendly. If it’s on the top 50 list on Poets&Writers, it’s probably a traditional program that hates genre with the intensity of a thousand suns. It burns us, precious. BURRNNNSSSSSS. What does this mean for you? Well, I chose to step away from genre to learn craft at the literary (raw) level. No bells and whistles, no genre conventions. It worked for me. It was the best gift I ever gave myself as a writer. But that’s my way. We’re back to the, “What is YOUR way?” thing again.

If lit-fic’s not what you’re looking for, then you’ll probably need something like a low-res program. There are some great ones out there that focus on genre and commercial fiction.

Here’s the difference in my mind:
1. Traditional programs will have funding opportunities. (Not ALL, but most). That means you’ll become a GTA, teach comp. and lit courses to freshmen who haven’t read a book in their life and who don’t know where “those thingies around dialogue” go. You’ll teach 2-3 courses a semester. You’ll get your tuition covered. You’ll probably get health insurance too. And you’ll get a monthly stipend. (Mine was $1800/month). It means you’re more strapped for time.  Yes, your writing does suffer, and you might not have much of a social life. But you won’t be 100k in debt by the end of it all. I also had a LOT of internship opportunities (non-paid), but I worked for a lit-mag, did some typesetting, taught at a jail, and so forth. Looks great on the resume.

2. Low-Res programs probably have no funding opportunities. You pay for it out of pocket or you get a loan. You don’t have to teach so you can focus on writing and school work. You come out with a nice, hefty loan that will take you 20 years to pay off, but hey, people do it. AND, from what I’ve seen of low-res programs, many of them focus on the business side of things. They WANT you to get published. They help you meet agents and publishers. The more successful you are, the better the school looks.

One question to ask yourself might be: What do I want to do with my MFA? If you say, “I want to learn about creative writing,” then honestly? You can learn all of that by reading threads on net-forums such as Absolute Write. I’m not exaggerating.  Some online forums rock and you get to know other people who rock and the epic awesomeness makes you cry inside because it’s just THAT GOOD.  There is a downside, though.  Wherever you find the “perfect forum,” you will usually stumble upon its opposite: suck-board, hate-board, critique-make-you-cry-or-pee-your-pants board.  Be careful.  Some writers are dicks and when they fail, they want you to fail, too.

Having said all of the above, I (personally) needed academic structure to grow as fast/much as I did. Reading books and emulating helped, but I needed better one-on-one instruction. Just something to think about.

If you want to teach creative writing, then the best suggestion I can offer is to finish a book BEFORE YOU go into the program, turn that in (piece by piece) to workshop, and get it query-ready over the course of the M.F.A.. Why? Because it doesn’t matter how much teaching experience you have. It doesn’t matter if you have a Ph.D. in “Creative Writing.” What matters the most is that you are PUBLISHED. Not self-published, not vanity published, not published through Donny down the street who makes guerilla book orders. By a publishing house. One that has books in Barnes and Noble. And, it probably can’t be genre, though I’d love to hear a success story from someone who got a full-time (creative writing) teaching position after having published a werewolf series.

If you don’t have a publication before you start applying to teach creative writing, chances are, you’ll be teaching adjunct at a university or community college. Once in a while, you might get a lit course or a creative writing course, but for the most part, you’ll be teaching English Comp..  And probably dying a little bit inside an hour at a time.  Don’t get me wrong, comp. professors are badass, but a creative writing instructor trying to find fulfillment and meaningful andragogy teaching composition is like telling a tiger to go forth and be a vegetarian.  We’re just not built that way;..

There are other jobs out there for M.F.A.-holders. Pals of mine are working at creative firms, magazines, publishing houses. But, they all had internships as editors and typesetters at the traditional universities.

Here’s another big question: Does a degree add value? As in make you more publishable? Or look good on a query? The answer is a big, fat, hairy NO to both.

Having a B.A. in English and an M.F.A. here (fiction) I know that it made me a better writer, but that was my own personal experience. Others will have different experiences. The question is, can you learn the material on your own and through reading fiction/craft books/threads on a cool-ass writing forum and writing your bum off? Or, do you think you’ll do better with the academic structure/rigor?

You may not know the answer right now.  But don’t let one or two bad experiences in the classroom jade you forever.  I see this a lot on writing forums.  “I had a shitty creative writing teacher.  They just didn’t GET ME.  I hate schools and I AM NEVER COMING BACK!”

tumblr_lyvydpHE9E1qc9z2jo1_500

The first creative writing class I took was awful. The teacher was drunk half the time and seemed to be a failed writer who was taking his inadequacy out on the students. I dropped the course. If I had taken that one experience and said, “Wow, academics is not for me,” I wouldn’t have gotten all the amazing instruction that came after. I tried the class again with another instructor, loved it, and kept going from there.

I thrived in my program, even won a fellowship and averaged two publications per year (short stories).  But in my heart I’ll always be a genre writer and I can take all of that knowledge and use it for the power of geekdom.  I feel like it’s served me well.

 

28

08 2013