I’ve been out of school for over a year now, I guess, after three years in a two-year MFA program. I had a bit of a breakdown, a holy horrible hell of a chunk of writer’s block, a miraculous recovery accompanied by a breakthrough, and then a wonderful last semester. Teachers I loved, classes I loved, a sudden ability to speak in class instead of sitting there silently and miserably. I read books, and I made progress on my novel, and I remember being really happy. It was a simpler, sepia-toned time, and despite all the uphill inclines and the snow and the lack of shoes, things were better, then. Candy bars only cost a nickel! Get off my lawn!
I was miserable for most of graduate school, and felt overworked and panicked and untalented and a little bit crazy—it was just two classes every semester, a literature class and a writing workshop, and ostensibly, it was what I wanted to do, this reading and writing and reading about writing and writing about reading and also Deep Things like Life and Truth and Beauty. But I shrunk down tiny under the pressure and doubted myself and usually felt sick and sad turned in a whole lot of work late and the semester I finally cracked, I dropped in the middle of classes and have some bright shiny F’s on my transcript. F’s! For the girl who freaked out when she got a single A minus as an undergrad, and was peeved every time a professor left the plus off the A in all her other classes.
It was so hard, and preyed on every single insecurity I owned (and grew
a couple, full-blown, from my forehead, all Zeus-and-Athena style), and
I miss it terribly. Because I like to punish myself, obviously. And
because I miss being in a community of writers, or wannabe
writers—whatever we were. I miss people who talk about writing, and
think about writing, and actually are writing. And I miss writing. I
finished my book last year, at the end of August, and printed out two
copies and dragged the giant stack to the MFA office and turned in it,
and I’ve written maybe 500 words of fiction since. I went through the
book once, to edit it, at a writing retreat I still think incredibly
fond thoughts about. But it was mostly sentence-level stuff. I wrote a
story, and a piece of another one, and that’s been it.
I’ve gone through various plans to fill the hole in my heart left by
the end of school and the lack of writing. Briefly, I considered law
school. Ha ha! That’s funny! Then, I took up hobbies. I can crochet
horizontally like a motherfucker (hooray for lumpy scarves!) and
slightly less successfully in the round (hooray for lumpy hats!).
Embroidery was nice for awhile, except for the fact that I cannot
actually stitch in a straight line or anything approaching neatly,
which is of course why I took up machine sewing, and made several dozen
(lumpy) bags, some of which I gave away to very polite people who I
hope did not feel very guilty when they accidentally donated them to
science and or the thrift store. I painted for a while. Then, I stopped,
and Picasso said whew! That was a close one! And all the nice people at the Museum of Modern Art were very disappointed. That they didn’t get
to burn me at the stake. Beadworking, I think, is not going to be my
thing (because patience is not my thing), communism is hard and killing
hobos is too messy.
So what the hell am I supposed to do? Don’t say, “Why don’t you write to
fill the void left behind by not writing” because that’s just too, you
know, easy. And logical. And sensible, and et cetera, okay, fine, I’m
dumb. And I recognize, I really do, my tendency to run away from the
things that scare me, instead of facing them head on and I’m scared of
not being good enough or talented enough or being successful, and will
you bill me for this session, doctor? And renew my prescription? I’m
seeing the unicorns again.
My novel, my final project for my MFA program—which was my second
attempt at a thesis after my first one blew up in my face and then died
a horrible, ugly death—started during National Novel Writing
Month, that wacky event where you attempt to write a book (50,000 words) over the course of 30 days. November—the end of this
week—that’s National Novel Writing Month. What better way to sink or
swim, try or die, kick myself in the ass and call me Charlie than to
take another crack at it? Alternatively, I will take up woodworking,
and give everyone a cunning hat rack for Christmas. I’m about 50/50