MFA in Creative Writing: Masters in Fine Avoidance

It has become impossible for me to maintain my fun and light-hearted side when I post on this site.  Lord.

My name is the URL gives me the creeps – like this should be my PROFESSIONAL space where I show off how SMART I am or have the capacity to be.

The problem, I’ve realized is that SMART is not necessarily equivalent to being authentic or even compelling.  I’ve thought a lot about this lately as the end of the MFA looms.  I’m reviewing my writing – all the critiques and feedback and scribbles in the margins – and there is one consistency: I hold back.  Still, even after all this time I’ve been laying essay after essay, I’m holding back.

The question.

WHAT am I am holding back?

No–

WHY am I holding back?

Even better:

WHAT is gained by holding back?

The only answer that I can offer myself is the illusion of safety.  To write one’s mind is cathartic.  To have one’s mind read, interpreted, and opened is terrifying.  I didn’t have such qualms in my 20s.  Perhaps because I never really aimed at the larger world of publishing.  The internet, as vast and limitless as it seems, is not very scary to me.  There are niches and pockets of places where I am read, but I figured they were all rather small in number.  To project oneself PAST that world, into places where I don’t know, into communities where I would not identify is something of a different animal; a realization that puts me in a cold sweat.  Maybe the difference is minute, but it feels stark.

To bid farewell to one’s work and watch it be metabolized into bodies unknown is what holds me back.  I don’t want to be mistaken, misunderstood, or judged. (A rather common desire, I think.)  And I very well could write in circles for the many years to come, giving just enough that I gain some kind of circulation and respect for writing some fraction of my truth.  This would be safe.  This would ensure interest in my writing but not really a response or challenge.  This is one option.

The other option is the one where I write the process of how I arrived at such a belief; the contrarian existences in my life that I employ in my everyday.  This is the other option: to be brave.

I’ve been slammed in workshops not for my writing but for my reluctance to share the process of my mind behind the story.  What I submitted as essay has always been story telling with the occasional aphorism to inject some jazz and spark every now and again.  But I won’t share the fire of my contention or the heartbreak of pain or the resurgence of ghosts, habit, and failings.

Maybe I will.

Maybe I will write down instead of writing up.

 

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Preparing for Good-bye

Three weeks until my coursework at Columbia is finished.  There has not been one day that I took it for granted and walked without knowing the immense weight, gift, and privilege it is to study the craft of writing.

I’ve been processing offline in my friendships – having friends over for dinner, long talks with a handful of confidants, and jotting down fleeting thoughts about grief & the end of things.

I take great comfort in the words of so many talented professors I had who expressed uncertainty if they knew what constitutes great writing.  It’s art.  It’s subjective.  It’s varied and complex.  But the one thing that writing demands is an authoritative voice.  A knowing presence stringing one word to the next.  I’m still experimenting with my voices.  Because I don’t have just one, I learned.  I have many.

My writing is hovering near the surface because I’m emotionally overwhelmed these days.  The end of things.

I have a hard time letting go, even when I know when I’m ready to move on.

On Learning

 

I’m learning so much I’m afraid to stop learning.

But learning is in the silence, the rumination between two puzzle pieces – past and present – reconciling their differences before fusing together.

Learning is in the silence of transforming what you thought yesterday.

You are what you think today.  An accumulation of the past.

 

 

The Sinner-Saint

One of the most difficult components of writing is learning how to write literature about faith. Specifically, personal essays that sing about the sinner-saint identity which lies at the crux of compelling identity-faith-politics writing.

When I identity as a Catholic and as a writer, some people assume I’m this surreptitious evangelical, trying to make others believe what I believe. When, really, I’m not one to try to teach others something I’m not entirely sure of myself.  I’m not certain.  I’m just haunted.

I have an obsession with God, or the idea of God, the phenomenon of people who worship and participate in ritual, engaging in folktale, story, and mantra. I find it all fascinating: the creeds, hymns, stories, hypocritical behaviors, hierarchy, history, fallacies and the unexplainable.

I’m not here to tell you what you should believe. I write to consider what all the mess might mean. And in that inchoate understanding, I try on sentences that express what I find. It’s hard.

Don’t be scared off when I say I’m Catholic.  Believe me, I’m skeptical enough for the both of us.  But every once in a while, a tweet comes along that I can get on board with.

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Writing Mood

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While waiting for the 7 Bus, I took a meditative moment.  It emulated exactly what my writing feels like inside me, right now.  There are many branches of ideas, some of them are broken; snapped in half without any possibility of further growth.  But there are a few buds that are still alive.  Some are just starting to catch the sun and feed off the light, growing in the direction of openness.  Eventually, the stick will be a thick branch of life.  Heavy with purpose.

Valentine Giveaway! Five Copies of Dear Sister: Letters from Survivors of Sexual Violence

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On February 14, 2015, I will give away five copies of the anthology, “Dear Sister: Letters from Survivors of Sexual Violence.”  All you have to do is use the hashtag #DearSisAntho and tweet how the book will be used for survivors, love, and listening.  I’ll choose the best five tweets, cover shipping, and include a personal hand written note as well.

Submit now through 11:59pm EST February 14th!

Breaking My Own Silence

The last time I blogged I was living in a house, in Cleveland, and resting up from the book tour that took every inch of energy from my bones.

It’s now October.  I’m a month deep into my MFA writing program at Columbia University in New York, and live in an apartment in the Bronx.  Life, how shall I put this in an understated manner, has changed.

So, pardon the lengthy silence.  I was getting my bearings.  Small things: selling a home, finding a home, beginning graduate school, child rearing my five year old, keeping my life partner and I sane in the process.

You’ll find me on here more often, I promise.

Welcome to October.  I usher it in with my gratitude and passion.