Disclaimer: Excuse my tangents in this blog post. I’ve been so frazzled lately with work, TAYO, a wedding to plan, and my M.F.A. apps. It’s amazing how busy life can get.
I know it’s crazy, but I’ve always wanted to be a writer who was inseparably connected to how her works were artistically presented, retained, and distributed. As creative director of TAYO for these past two years, I’ve had the pleasure of using my art background and abilities, presenting the fellow works of my colleagues in ways that are sparse and stripped down to the bare bones of the matters at hand—the work themselves. That’s why I’ve been especially attracted to Mills’ College and their Book Art program. It pits two worlds that I love together, writing (and its craft) with the creation of the form and structure that encloses and presents such writing. So, I’m applying to both programs at Mills, the M.F.A. in fiction and the M.F.A. in book art. I want to be a writer and I want to teach (why I want to do those two things is an entirely another essay in itself). I also want to one day start my own independent press and help publish writers who (like me) are highly interested in diasporic literatures that are affected by historical contexts and political theses. I don’t know where my life where lead me, but I’m open to the possibilities. And truthfully, I’m fucking scared. I have about 8–10 programs I’m applying to, and I’m really, really scared I won’t get into any. But, I’m going to keep trying. My life has led me to this point where I can’t turn back because if I did, I would be lying to myself and I could not live with myself if I didn’t at least try. I’m finally getting to the final stages/drafts of my statement of purpose/personal history statement/autobiographical sketch. I still need to write a lot of other essays that deal with different proposals and why I deserve XYZ fellowship. There’s a million and one things to do, but I’m going to keep on trucking because well… I need to.
Last year, I wasn’t nearly as ready to enter an M.F.A. program because I didn’t know my voice yet. And though it is still developing, it rings loud and clear. But more than that, my writing just wasn’t ready yet. Fortunately, this year I’m also halfway done with my writing sample and actually am proud of the hard work I put into it. Over the weekend, I finally made progress with this short story I wrote two years ago. When I first wrote it, I was simply inspired by my immediate feelings and by a prompt I gave to my students in my Writer in the Community course with Aimee Bender. The prompt surrounded three random words (a place, a noun, and a verb) that were given to me by three random people, (Hawaii, school, and to know). What came of it was a beautiful story about two brothers, their love for the same girl, and the tension between the world, the immediate socioeconomic boundaries that surrounded these three, and the space in-between. Back then, I had an unaware “idea” of what I wanted to do with it. The short story just wasn’t fully developed yet in my head, and so when I edited it, my revisions were just as bad as the first draft.
Now, after a lot of thought and a lot of trial and error, I know exactly what I have to do with this story. It’s ineffable, you know, the process of writing. I just sat down at my dining table, took out a pen, started scribbling down the chronological timeline of the story and its overall plot structure. I wrote like a madwoman, finally being inspired by the words that I wrote down (and another story I read a few months ago—Paper Lantern by Stuart Dybek, wonderful story, you must read it). Then, I hit a road block (and a cheesy image), and was stuck again. I looked over to my husband, was eating cereal (of course), and started talking about my newfound structure for this story that I loved. After a few bantering words here and there, I finally found a solution and continued my writing spree. The result: I finally know what to do with this story. I know I said this before, but if you ever got stuck with a story, you would cheer and jump and shout for joy too (something I did in my head). This is what is amazing about the writing process. It is not, and will never be, a process that is done in a vacuum. Writing is a collaborative effort, as is art, and you need to have dialogue and conversations about what this or that is, or how this or that isn’t working. The thing is, it wasn’t that I “didn’t” know this last year when I was constantly asking myself if I were ready or not for an M.F.A. program. I think, as writers/artists, we all know this—we all know that writing isn’t a vacuum. But what I didn’t have last year was the vivid experience of this writing process. I experienced it in Bender’s class when I taught little 4th and 5th graders prose writing, seeing for myself the imaginative and sequential process of children’s limitless talk stories. I experienced it at UC Berkeley last June when I attended the VONA/Voices conference, learning the ins-and-outs of craft and “why we write.” I experienced it last August when I wrote and collaborated with other poets in the Collaborative Manifesto Remix, which was done entirely online and on a WordPress blog. And I know I’ll experience and take full use of it at whatever M.F.A. program that accepts me. To be honest, I am eternally grateful to the imaginative and creative process of writing—and I guess, this is what you call your “muse.” I finally found it, and it’s magical. It really is.
Non sequitur: If anyone else is on this M.F.A. journey, please shoot me a email or leave a comment! I would love to hear your travels and concerns too .