Ending My First Year in Grad School…

So, I have two and a half weeks of school left and I’m almost done with my first semester of graduate school. What can I say about it? So many things. So many things that I’ve neglected blogging, that in a span of a year and a half, I’ve lost the woman I love and will always love and who has raised me since I was two, that I feel a constant spiral of emotions in this Navy-game I play with my beloved, my beloved always, and that I learned a million things and most of all, I learned this: I can write.

It’s an amazing thing to realize this. A simple and amazing and wonderful and humbling thing.

I really can. Write. I can.

I must have read over 50 books this past year. And I really think I did… I could name them all, list them title by title, create an inventory of what has affected me and what didn’t, but that’s a waste of time. One thing I do know is that, literally, they have shifted me. When you travel, your body is transported across boundaries and state lines and there is something strange that happens: you experience jetlag, your brain’s fuzzy, everything’s off, and you know something in you has shifted. The same thing happens when you read great books. Each book I’ve read this past year has drastically shifted me. Shifted my writing. Shifted my mind. My sense of thought, whatever that means, and my abilities. I’m incredibly grateful for what has transpired at Mills, and I can really say, with all my heart, that this place was the right choice.

I’m really happy to have ended up here. I’m in the right place. And yes, it’s hard. I’m uncomfortable. I miss home, where ever that place is, whether that is in my husband’s arms or the imaginary and foreign past. There were many times I wished I could drop out of the program and head back east to him–start over again, apply to different programs, just so that I could be nearer to his arms. It’s hard. There were times when I felt like I was living a double life–I felt schizophrenic–because no matter what, a civilian can never really understand the partial death you experience when your lover leaves you, time and time again, and though it’s true, I must write through the pain, and at the same interval, I can only write when I’ve achieved enough distance (and in many cases, enough age or experience, whatever you many call it–and despite this being controversial, I know in my own limited writing experience, I had to be a certain age and have had to have a certain frame of mind or a certain mentality dipped in peace and reserved from the kind of trauma or whatever you may call it to write x or y), I’ve realized that despite the vast valley tucked away in the dichotomy between my private vs. public life, I’ve really learned this: I can write.

At two of my lowest points during my first year, one in the beginning of my first semester when my grandmother passed, and another in the beginning of my second, when my husband’s deployment was cancelled in two days’ notice (imagine losing precious time with family and $$$ because of grueling days to prepare for such a monstrous, 10-month deployment–not to mention the cyclical arguments and emotions of abandonment you’ll feel with your spouse), I, again, realized this: I can write. When my grandmother passed, my professor said to me, in the sincerest of tone (especially since she’s pretty intense and very scary when you talk to her): “You don’t have to be here. But you’re here. When my grandmother died, I–well–she was my muse. My first book is dedicated to her. Write about your lola.” When my husband’s deployment was cancelled and he was trapped on the ship for duty, as I was stuck in a hotel room alone, in a city where I knew not a soul, I got the best news an emerging writer could ever dream of:

Glimmer Train Stories wants to publish my story. My story.

Past contributors have been Junot Díaz and Charles Baxter. They select only 40 stories out of 40,000 stories a year. That’s a 0.001 percent acceptance rate. I was denied at 8 other, fully-funded MFA programs, accepted into Mills with a full-tuition assistantship, left everything I knew in L.A. and constantly parted from my husband–him to sea, I to the West–and here I was, in a hotel room alone, with an accepted story at one of the top-ten literary magazines in the nation. I felt proud. For five seconds. Then, the anxiety crept in, the fear of failure sauntered beside me, the fear of success reared its head, and I was flooded by everything: the fear of “Is this the only thing I’ll ever be able to attain?”, the fear of “Will anyone even be proud of me?”, and the fear of “I’m young, and I’m stupid, and I’m working so hard in this industry that just wants to spit me out and kick me, and I’m happy over this one, small thing?”

I’m neurotic. I’m severely pessimistic. I hate/love myself like every other person out there; I’m conceited and depressive and all the numerous of other things you can think of. And I’m working on that. That’s another success of this year, a huge, huge success: I’m finally seeing a therapist I really trust and who’s a great match for me.

But, nonetheless, Glimmer Train Stories is publishing my story. A story I’ve been working on for two very, very long years.

So, I can write. But more than that, I learned something even more imperative: I know how I can write. I know how I work. I know how I write.

I write slow. I take time. I live, think, breathe, laugh, cry and map out my stories before I write them out. I write long, long drafts that I later erase, and yet, I had to write them. I think about my characters and I dig into the well that is what I know and what I don’t know, and I let my imagination go crazy and let the words organically come to me. Then I revise: I cut, I chop, I edit, I erase, I rewrite, I write, and so on and so forth. And it takes me a long time.

Even without this acceptance, I would have still learned the simple adage that I can write. I learn it slowly, again and again, and though I have my doubts, I know that I can do this. It’s because I want to write. And I don’t give up. Though I didn’t need the affirmation, it felt good. In that sense, I needed it and wanted it, but more than that, I worked really damn hard for it.

So, at the end of my first year, I learned a lot. Not to sound cliché, but I know that I have a thousand more things I need to learn. I want to get better. Even if I don’t become a successful writer later on, and even though the Glimmer Train acceptance is relatively STILL a very small step towards a successful writing career, I know this: I can write, and I will not stop trying. And I mean this on my own terms. If I take a break from writing after my short story collection’s manuscript, it won’t mean that I’ve stopped writing. I’ll continue living, perfecting and purifying my sentences in secret, and eventually I know I’ll return to this tortuous endeavor. And it’s because I love literature–I love reading–and there are still so many untold stories that need to be told. I’m not someone who can tell herself that I’ll be successful or that I’ll make a living out of writing. I just want to have a happy life, and that includes having a wonderful family, having love, having my husband, having my kids, having laughter, and also: having books and reading and writing.

And that’s good enough.

Now! To get to the point of why I even started this blog… I wrote down several books I wanted to read this summer. A summer reading list. I know indefinitely that I will not finish this list, but it’ll be nice to try. I want to reread books I fell in love with–they’ve taught me so much craft-wise that I need another go at them. I also have a list of books I want to read for the first time. It seems like both of these lists will never end…!

A side note: I want to add more creative nonfiction to the list. I recently found out I’m Nonfiction Editor at 580 Split next year (YAY!), so… If you have anything in mind for CNF, please send them my way.

The (Unfinished) Summer Reading List

Books to reread:

1. THE GOD OF SMALL THINGS, Arundhati Roy
2. ALL THE PRETTY HORSES, Cormac McCarthy
3. ALL THE NAMES, Jose Saramago
4. THE LAND OF THE GREEN PLUMS, Herta Müeller
5. THE GIRL IN THE FLAMMABLE SKIRT, Aimee Bender
6. BY NIGHT IN CHILE, Roberto Bolaño
7. THIS IS HOW YOU LOSE HER, Junot Díaz
8. WOMAN WARRIOR, Maxing Hong Kingston
9. THE BOOK OF DISQUIET, Fernando Pessoa
10. THE LOVER, Marguerite Duras
11. THREE APPLES FELL FROM HEAVEN, Micheline Marcom
12. ISLAND OF A THOUSAND MIRRORS, Nayomi Munaweera
13. SLOUCHING TOWARD BETHLEHEM, Joan Didion

Books to read:

1. LECHE, R. Zamora Linmark
2. BELOVED, Toni Morrison
3. THE BLUEST EYE, Toni Morrison
4. THE BOAT, Nam Le
5. DAYS OF AWE, Achy Obejas
6. WE CAME ALL THE WAY FROM CUBA SO YOU CAN DRESS LIKE THIS?, Achy Obejas
7. LAST EVENINGS ON EARTH, Roberto Bolaño
8. FEAST AND FAMINE: STORIES OF NEGROS, Rosario Cruz Lucero
9. WE OTHERS, Steven Millhauser
10. CHILDREN OF ROOJME, Elmaz Abinader
11. BLOOD MERIDIAN, Cormac McCarthy
12. NOTES OF A NATIVE SON, James Baldwin
13. THE PEOPLE OF PAPER, Salvador Plascencia

But more than anything, this summer I want to write and see my husband before he leaves. If he does go. And of course, that’s up to the freaking Navy and the bigwigs at Congress.

I want to finish most of my thesis by the end of August. I’ve got a lot of work to do. And I know I can do it. I can write. And love. And be happy.

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5 thoughts on “Ending My First Year in Grad School…

  1. OMG! Congratulations! You did it! I’m so proud of you! Also, it’s sad to hear about the struggles you’ve been dealing with. I wish you love and strength and emotional movement. Also, another book suggestion: The Broom of the System by David Foster Wallace. It’s totes crazy and over the top but super fun.

    1. Hi love! I miss your face! How are you? I’ll definitely add David Foster Wallace! He’s next on my list. Did you read “The Pale King?”

  2. Congratulations on Glimmer Train! What a big coup–and a sign from the Universe. Even though you didn’t really need that sign to know you can write, right? 😉

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