Is it just me or has January flown by before you had the chance to get comfortable writing 2015? I bid farewell to Tennessee last Friday and returned to Texas after a long absence. To me, two years and eight months seems like forever, but in reality it wasn’t that long at all. I am grateful for the people I met and friendships I formed in Tennessee and will always hold a special place in my heart for the state, but I am happy to finally be home. Well, almost home. I’m not far from Dallas and a trip to Houston is less than 250 miles so that makes me close enough.
In the six weeks since graduation I have not had a moment to breathe. Immediately, I morphed into relocation mode and started considering my options. Then of course there was the actual move. There have been forward steps and backwards steps along the way, but progress by any means is always good. This latest move feels like a first draft. I’m on chapter one and the pages are all crisp and blank. The environment is new, my senses are awakened, there is anticipation mixed with uncertainty, and excitement about the possibility that in any moment something wonderful could happen. As usual, I unconsciously write outside the lines.
We did not get any pictures during this last road trip because we covered 529 miles in about nine hours. I now remember why on previous trips we checked into a hotel after driving for five or six hours. The good news is we arrived without any major mishaps. (That fire hydrant I almost took out with the truck doesn’t count.) The bad news is our furniture was not as lucky. I strongly recommend hiring professional movers to help with every aspect of the relocation process if you plan to travel across several states. The loading process is extremely important and you must make sure all items are firmly secured with tie-downs before traveling even a short distance. It is cheaper to rent a moving truck and do the driving, but I recommend saving enough money to hire a well-known company who specializes in relocation to do the driving instead. You might be broke by the time you arrive to your destination, but you will be less stressed.
Unpacking is moving slowly as we adjust to the new place and find ways to rearrange our possessions in unfamiliar surroundings, but there is joy that comes from seeing our favorite places and familiar conditions (like traffic jams, Barnes & Noble, Whataburger and Shipley’s). My writing room is almost set-up and I am already beginning to feel the familiar longings to put words on paper, create beautiful sentences and develop complex characters. The novel I was working on during thesis is waiting for the story to be finished and I need to feel like a capable, creative writer again instead of someone in transition. I think it is good that I stepped away from it for a bit to give the story a moment to breathe, but too much time away makes everything stale. I have a story to tell that won’t finish itself so my goal is to become more disciplined in order to reach my personal goals. Writers must write. It is what they do. It does not get more simple than that.
What I loved most about attending residencies at Murray State was the bonds formed with other writers within the program. Nothing replaces that kind of support and I cannot stress how important those relationships are. Just knowing the people you interact with understand why you are there (even if you haven’t figured it out yet) makes all the difference in the world. As fellow writers they share your frustrations and recognize the desire to create something remarkable from nothing and have it be appreciated. I find it difficult to explain why I do what I do – why I want to write or my love affair with words. An explanation isn’t necessary for those who speak my language. My only hope is that the rest who do not understand will some day find comfort and enjoyment in reading something I have written and that my words will speak for themselves.
My goals for the next several months are to work, write, read and spend time just enjoying life – once we’re settled, of course. Right now, I am not sure if I will be able to attend AWP 2015. Either way I will keep you posted, but first, I have to finish unpacking.
It’s New Year’s Eve and instead of making resolutions for 2015 or waiting to watch the ball drop in Times Square I am looking forward to the fact that tomorrow I get to sleep in. December has been a busy month and I have much to be grateful for. In fact, I am about to embark on my next journey which crosses several hundred miles. It’s time to go home.
If you have been with me from the beginning you know I have been a Tennessee Texan for the past two years and seven months while attending graduate school. Two weeks ago I attended Murray State University’s commencement and walked across the stage as they called my name to accept the keys to a dream I have been chasing. As I look at graduation pictures sometimes it is hard to believe I am the girl in the photographs. Surreal does not even scratch the surface of what it felt like to be in that room. It was the Academy Awards for graduates. Our procession in robed regalia to Pomp and Circumstance was the red carpet, and walking across the stage and being recognized for your hard work was like winning the Oscar.
Even though it was not the intimate graduation our English Department has planned in May and even though my immediate family in Texas could not attend, I am so glad I participated. My daughter, who has been with me along this entire journey, was there to see me graduate which made it even more special. If you are grauating soon make sure to attend graduation. Think of it as the Pre-Oscar party to the rest of your life. It is worth it!
Now that I am officially no longer a student my focus has turned to finding employment, finishing my first novel, and traveling. My goal is to attend AWP – 2015 which will be held in Minneapolis and get settled once I return to Texas. I would really like to do more book reviews as well. I hope these posts have been helpful and encouraging, especially for those of you who may be considering entering graduate school. If you have any questions about the thesis process, low-residency MFA programs, road trips, or just want to talk about writing please leave a comment below. I would love to hear from you.
Right now, I am surrounded by boxes, but as always, I am excited about the next adventure. The next time you hear from me I will probably be back in TEXAS. Thank you Tennessee for the Texas-sized welcome. Kentucky, I am pleased to be able to take a piece of you back with me. Texas, I will be home soon.
As always, keep reading, keep writing and keep dreaming.
In fiction, conflict can arise and create a plot twist. These plot twists propel the story into a new direction and help “build” the character or get them to where you want them to be. If life were fiction and I were a character, right now we would be encountering my plot twist. It reads something like this:
The fearless Texan, with a yearning to travel and desire for knowledge, sets out to explore the unknown and pursue her dream of becoming a novelist. Setting her sights on graduate school, she heads to Kentucky for an MFA program in creative writing at Murray State and finds a temporary home in Tennessee where she discovers, unlike Texas, they worship pork, not beef, and are accustomed to tornados in the summer and single digit degree weather during winter.
With bachelor’s degree in hand she searches for work in her new surroundings, but encounters resistance within the economy. After completing a three-month sentence in Cashierdom, she loses one month of sanity in Printingville before making her way to Leasetropolis which is surrounded by Plexiglas, has extremely low ceilings and conventional thinkers.
Three residencies, three mentors, three meltdowns, 68 text books, an attempted thesis defense assassination, wretched teaching presentation, confidence-building reading, and almost 945 days later – it’s finally time for graduation, which also means, time to return home.
The festivities are bittersweet for the Texan. An obsessive planner, she is in “relocation mode.” Her thoughts are not on graduation gowns, mortar boards, tassels or honor cords (although they are an honor), but her future: the next job, next home and the next hundred miles wherever they may lead.
I have said in the past there is joy in adventure. Yes, there is, unless you are job hunting. There is nothing exciting about being an almost graduate, stalking employment boards, resume revisions, and rejection. You can say it is good practice for when you start submitting your work for publishing, but in reality no writer has positive thoughts about having their work rejected.
Job hunting is in some ways worse than having your writing rejected. At least you get rejection letters. Most companies seeking candidates for employment don’t bother to respond at all – even some placement agencies. Why such cruel and unnecessary punishment? Is it unrealistic to hope for the career of your dreams? Perhaps, but the dreamer in me is willing to accept a happy-medium. Writers live to write and will usually do whatever it takes to be able to continue doing so.
The magnificent thing about plot twists in writing is the ability to shape the character into the person you need them to be. Sometimes this is through hardship, loss, or frustration, but as long as you are holding the pen or perched in front of your keyboard the story possibilities are endless.
Congratulations to my fellow graduates. We made it! To those of you still on the path, keep fighting for whatever it is that motivates you to be the person you have always wanted to be. No one can stop you from writing, but you. Dream it, claim it, capture it!
As for me, right now my destination is unknown, but there are still 41 days left for another plot twist and who knows what a page turner its may turn out to be.
This is only a chapter, not the ending . . . The story has yet to be told.
Thank you all for the likes on my previous post. In case you were wondering, I passed my thesis defense, had a successful reading, and survived the teaching presentation. Am I glad it’s over? You bet, but before we get into the details, since I love road trips, let me first tell you about our “never a dull moment” journey.
We left a day early. That was smart considering we had to organize travel for four pets and two humans. What wasn’t so smart was my brilliant idea to work up until the day before we left. I realized a week before that it all wouldn’t fit into my Taurus and rented an SUV. When we finally got everything packed my living room looked like this:
I was determined to make good use of the space and organized the luggage perfectly so that it all fit, providing no one needed to get anything out. As long as I had enough room to see out the back we were ready. I made sure the pets were all still breathing and we hit the road.
I didn’t start to get nervous about my thesis defense until we were on the way to Kentucky. My recommendation to anyone who happens to take a road trip using their phone as a GPS is to invest in a real GPS. The absence of cellular towers (or inability by my provider to access said towers) resulted in a loss of signal and us getting lost in Martin, Tennessee.
Not only did my phone say there was no signal, it said I wasn’t even registered on the network. Lovely! Once I accepted the fact that we were lost and would have to use our brains to get to our destination I pulled over alongside the road and laughed hysterically.
You know the “this isn’t really happening to me; I think I need to cry; pull it together, you’re stronger than this; I can’t believe I have to defend my thesis tomorrow morning and I’m not prepared” hysterical laugh? Yeah, that one. A thought crossed my mind that the cars passing by might mistake me for an escaped mental patient, so I grabbed the atlas from one of the bags in the back, played the “shove and slam” game about three times with the trunk, and allowed the only person in our household who can read an atlas (my daughter) to guide us back to civilization. Thirty minutes later we were on track and once again the stars were aligned.
The morning of thesis defense I felt relaxed. Not leisurely relaxed, but “there’s no way out of this” relaxed. Since we have pets, I always stay in Mayfied, which is a good thirty minutes away from campus. Somehow I neglected to see the memo that asked us all to arrive fifteen minutes early. I wondered if anyone had ever been late to a thesis defense, wished for a police escort, and prayed I could bend the hands of time (while flooring it), to arrive safely and ticketless to my defense.
I arrived about 5-10 minutes past the “be here early time” and found one of my classmates waiting on the couch. I wasn’t late after all. When my time came I felt ready. For what, I don’t know, but Judgment Day was before me and I was ready for whatever was to come – or so I thought.
For some reason I pictured me at one end of this long table and three committee members at the other far end. It wasn’t like that at all. Before me were three individuals I had either worked with, heard lecture, or knew of by way of the program. This was a safe, trusting, supportive environment – until the drive-by-shooting happened.
It came out of nowhere. An AK-47 had replaced one of my committee members and I didn’t have time to duck. I stared at the carnage that minutes before was a seven-story-novel-in-progress-turned-three-story-thesis and wondered if it was all a bad dream. There were three members, but only one had a weapon. Why?
As the bullets found their targets, obliterating my heart, confidence, and hope I swiftly took notes and tried to clarify what was being said as the committee member continued to fire. I held my head high and maintained composure while doing a quick mental inventory of the remaining skills I thought I had. I wondered what job I would find now that this writing thing wasn’t going to work out.
When the firing stopped I was sent out so they could deliberate. I sat alone in a room and tried to put pressure on my life-threatening wounds to stop the bleeding. The blood was seeping from every pore as I fought for survival. DON’T. YOU. DARE. CRY. I reminded myself that I’ve been through worse – much worse, and survived. I thought what good experience this would be for the cruel rejection letters I can only hope to receive in the future. I prayed no one asked me how it went.
When I re-entered the crime scene the atmosphere was different. I wouldn’t have been surprised if they pulled cone-shaped party hats out from under the table, threw confetti at me, and blew those loud, accordion, snake-like noise makers everyone hates. I waited for a banner to drop from the ceiling and a band to play. You did it!
So here’s the part where my sanity goes into overdrive because it is still processing the previous events. They’re happy. I’m in shock. Not from passing, but from it all. The entire two years: the move from Texas and relocation to Tennessee, homesickness, the fact-versus-fiction employment war, the frustrating change in program requirements, mentors, the just-because-we’re-writers-we-beat-up-on-ourselves days, the drive-by shooting – all of it! To make matters worse, one of the sweetest people I have had the pleasure of meeting, who just so happened to be one of my committee members, presented me with an award.
Me? An award? What did I ever do to deserve an award? Wow? Didn’t you just hear what the other committee member said about my thesis? I looked down at the beautiful plaque, which was from the English Honor Society, noticed my name was spelled correctly in beautiful gold lettering, and started to cry. Damn!
Happy tears – mostly! I haven’t received an award in a very long time. It felt good – even though I still don’t know what I did to deserve it. When I escaped the room the first person I called was my daughter. She must have been waiting by the phone. More than anything I wanted human connection – a reassuring voice to sift through the rubble and sort out the truth from what I was feeling. She was supportive, but the wounds were deep, so I called the next best voice of reason in the world – my therapist. Every writer needs a therapist on speed dial!
Later that night was my reading. My therapist helped me stop the bleeding, but the wounds were raw and I didn’t feel confident to read anything I wrote. I hated my thesis. Sometimes I still do. Nevertheless I had to read something, so an hour before my reading I decided to switch stories. It was a risky move. I had fifteen minutes to read, hadn’t had ample time to practice, and the story contained a sensitive subject matter – abortion.
When it was my time to read, my amazing mentor I’ve had the pleasure of working with for two semesters gave a heart-felt introduction. I just love her, but you already know that. Reading something you’ve written on the way out of a program is a big deal. You’re reading in front of the new people and people who are almost where you are. Your writing is supposed to show growth, it is supposed to be practically publishable. I don’t know what happened exactly when I read, but I lost count of the wonderful people who congratulated me that night, stopped to talk to me about the story they heard, or said they really liked it. I was covered in emotional bandages and totally blown away. Wow! What an amazing night.
My teaching presentation was two days later. When I awoke that morning I decided to purchase three dozen doughnuts for the poor unfortunate souls who would have to sit through my teaching presentation. Okay that is a little dramatic. Yes, I bribed them. I wanted to bring coffee too, but the other voice of reason (my daughter) said it was a bit much. I arrived early to the presentation, set up my computer, and was ready to go. Not really. The presentation I was supposed to memorize didn’t go over the way I wanted.
For starters, I’m teaching a lesson on fiction and my class is made up of mostly poets and a handful of non-fiction writers. I’m teaching story structure and can already hear crickets. Quick, let me find some way to relate this to them so they won’t be bored. One girl looks confused. Another is yawning. Sigh. Did everyone get a doughnut?
Problem two – I was told I would have forty-five minutes to prepare the entire presentation and even sent drafts of it. It turns out I actually had more time than that, but I didn’t know this until after it was over. During the presentation I felt rushed and could tell they weren’t really following me. Not to mention – they weren’t eating the doughnuts! By the time it was over I was frustrated, but mostly relieved. I already knew teaching wasn’t going to be my thing. I was disappointed, but at least I’d survived.
We left Kentucky the next morning and headed for a small town in southern Illinois so that I could make the defense-recommended edits to my thesis. Not to mention, we desperately needed some time away from Tennessee. I knew if I returned to work before completing the edits on my thesis I would never finish them. I’m glad I gave us that time. We both desperately needed it.
I also found out that graduation, though in December, isn’t what I thought it would be either. Apparently they hold a special robing ceremony for graduates in our program, but only in May. It sounds really special, but I’m not sure I’ll be able to make that. All signs right now are pointing to Texas, so I applied for December graduation. I may go just to hear my name with the millions of other names or may just let them send it to me in the mail. Something tells me I’ll probably go. When I left Kentucky this last time, I had the feeling it would be a while before I would see it like that again. I’m going to miss it.
In a few weeks I will send my final thesis off for a last stamp of approval and pay for binding. When I said I didn’t like it earlier, I meant that it is a thesis, but not the story I feel I have finished telling. My next goal is to put it back into a novel, and when it is ready, try to get it published. I realize that takes time. Writing is not a hobby, but something I truly enjoy doing. Job hunting is especially difficult now, because I would love to find something that will allow me time to write – that and the fact I don’t know what I want to do besides write.
The profession I am in now does not leave room for anything else, so work consumes me. I want something different, but I’m not so unrealistic to realize that sometimes we must compromise. Besides, time is running out. My overachiever self is quick to remind me that I will be returning to Texas in 144 days and without the completed novel I wanted. I can’t help that. Rules are rules, but I will have my degree, and that is definitely something to be proud of.