The Right Fit

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Finding the right career is a lot like trying on shoes. It’s difficult to find the perfect fit and looks can be deceiving. Sometimes what you try on in the store feels different later because it’s the wrong size. Often, it’s just the wrong shoe.

After graduation the hope is to immediately settle into a career. Some students have positions lined up before graduation and already know where life will take them next. For others, it’s a struggle.

The first 6 months after graduation you’re optimistic and determined to find the perfect job doing something close to what you majored in, if only the right company will give you a chance. You flood the market with recent graduate resumes and stalk your own email.

Six months later, after no responses, you’ll take anything that pays enough to make your student loan payments. But it’s the anything’s that make for bad fits. The hasty “it’s not what I really want but it will have to do because they don’t have my size and I’m tired of looking” fit. In the end, these fits are uncomfortable and only leave you shopping for a new shoe.

So how do you find the perfect fit?

If helps to have a great network and a marketable brand that people are interested in. I’ve joked that finding a job is like prostitution for work, but reality is you have to sell your skills to get noticed. Everyone wants a job. Many want the job you’re interested in and employers are looking for the best fit. It is more than just being qualified. The competition may be just as qualified, if not more. To land the job, you must be the purple cow – you must stand out.

It starts with a spectacular resume that showcases your skills. No matter what field you are entering a poorly organized resume or one with errors (even one) can cost you an opportunity. So think outside the box and find a unique way to showcase yourself. Second, prepare to be frustrated with the application process. Imagine spending an hour filling out a job application only for a computer program to sift through it in search of key words to determine if you’re a good fit.

I hate uploading a resume I’ve spent weeks revising only to have to parse it into little boxes that make it look ugly. Whose brilliant idea was that? Sometimes I wonder if it’s a test of patience. If you survive cutting and pasting your beautiful resume into an undesirable format you’ve passed the first test. To save your sanity, prepare a simple version of your resume as well and save it in rich text format (.rtf) for easier parsing.

Reality is we must work to survive. Sometimes in order to do that we must wear shoes that some days feel cramped and confining until we can get a better pair. But don’t stop trying on shoes. The right fit is everything.

Think about how much time you spend at work and the people you spend most of your time with. Are you happy? Do you like your coworkers? Do you feel satisfied in what you do? If not, you should. Happiness, not a paycheck, should be your ultimate goal, because you spend more time at work than any other place. What good does it do to drive a chariot if you have to meditate in the parking lot each day before you go into the building and avoid your coworkers?

Steve Jobs said it nicely,

“Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do.
If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle.
As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it.
And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on.
So keep looking until you find it.
Don’t settle.”

It may take some time to find the right fit. There may be some imposters along the way. Just be more selective in the brands you try and get to know your preferred style. They should be attractive and comfortable, with just the right amount of space. Nothing beats slipping into a pair of shoes that feel good, but still leave you room to grow.

Best of luck in finding the right fit.

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Bucket Lists

Do you have a bucket list? How realistic is it? Did you set a time frame for the goals to be attained or just have a “Someday I’d Like To” list?

The older I get the more I realize the importance of setting attainable goals. Not just career goals or writing goals, but life goals. You know, the things you can’t put monetary value on that make you smile. I used to be one of those “Someday I’d Like To” people until I realized the importance of not just living life but making a conscious effort to enjoy life as well.

Happiness isn’t about how many degrees you earn, what model car you drive, how much salary you make, the size of your house, who you marry, or how many children you have. These statuses say nothing about the person you are inside and sadly, some people put all of their effort into obtaining them.

The moment you realize there is more to life than your job title is when you really start to live. So why not start with an attainable bucket list? I recommend creating more than one list, i.e. 1-year, 3-year and 5-year and setting realistic goals for each.

The 1-year list should include realistic things you would like to accomplish within a 1-year time frame. You should have a plan to achieve the goals.

For example: Pay off Credit card debt

If you have a plan to set aside a certain amount of money each month to pay off credit card debt and are diligent then this is a realistic goal. If you do not have a plan to set aside funds and hope to win the lottery to pay off your credit cards or are still waiting for the government to discover oil in your back yard this is not a realistic goal.

Do the same for the 3-year and 5-year bucket lists. A 3-year realistic goal may be to become fluent in a foreign language. A 5-year goal may be obtaining a degree or purchasing a house.

The key word is plan. Bucket list items fail because people are half-heartedly waiting for something to happen instead of believing it can happen and planning for it to come to fruition. Take writing for example. If your dream is to one day become a novelist and you expect a book deal to fall out of the sky without dedicating yourself to the process by writing daily and submitting work how will it ever happen? Words cannot write themselves and dreams cannot be fulfilled without a plan. So what is your plan?

In May, I embarked on a road trip of all road trips. Memorial Day was coming up which meant if I took just two days off from work I could have a 5-day vacation. My normal road trip companion was turning twenty-three and I wanted her to have a birthday she would not forget. This wasn’t just a vacation, but a celebration so the destination was centered around items on her bucket list.

Some of these items included:

  • Ride on a plane
  • Visit Las Vegas
  • Go to California
  • Find Johnny Depp’s Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame
  • Meet Johnny Depp
  • Visit Roswell
  • Get a tattoo

For her, these were all “Someday I’d Like To” items because there was always one reason or another why they weren’t possible. There are times when the impossible is possible if you are willing and flexible enough to make adjustments. If you truly want something in life you have to be willing to jump. So she did, starting with the tattoo. After that, I began searching for destinations.

Originally, the plan was to go to Las Vegas. It is an extremely affordable trip if you’re not big on gambling and are interested in the shows. Las Vegas is nice, but for me the choice was like choosing whether to see a movie in the theater or waiting for it to arrive at Redbox. Las Vegas was my Redbox. Thankfully, she found something she was more interested in that I would also enjoy – Roswell. From there I built our trip based on driving times and activities.

Fort Worth to California (by way of New Mexico) is a little over 1,500 miles, so I rented a car because I did not want to put that many miles on my own vehicle. A 5-day road trip with activities is perhaps a test of sanity, but I was up for the challenge.

I think the thing to do is to enjoy the ride while you’re on it.

— Johnny Depp

Roswell, New Mexico is a nice little city with great history. It is almost a 7-hour drive from Fort Worth, so we relied heavily on traveling music. There is more to Roswell than alien conspiracies, but the famous 1947 UFO incident overshadows the rest so make sure to schedule a UFO tour if you plan to be in town. Dennis Balthaser, resident UFO Researcher,  conducts the Roswell UFO tours and he is legitimate. For $100 a party of 4 can ride with Dennis as he chronicles the history of Roswell and shares what his research has revealed about what happened that night in 1947.

It was truly a pleasure to meet Dennis. He makes no attempt to convert non-believers to believers. He is an extremely intelligent, kind-hearted man who enjoys sharing what he has learned with others. He is also an engineer and has worked on many other amazing projects throughout the world. If you’re a researcher at heart and love history you will not want to miss this tour. Even if you’re a skeptic, driving around the city of Roswell and listening to Dennis talk will provide great insight. We learned so much and have a greater appreciation for the city of Roswell (and science). See for yourself by scheduling  your own UFO tour with Dennis Balthaser.

The next stop on the tour was Albuquerque, NM. It was about a 3-hour drive from Roswell, so after stocking up on alien souvenirs we headed for the hotel in Albuquerque. The sky over this part of New Mexico was too splendid to be real. I was surrounded by intense blues, reds and greens and filled with the urge to stop the car and create something just as beautiful with prose, but the idea that snakes might find the view pleasing as well and decide to venture out for a visit kept my creative soul in the car until we reached the hotel.

The work never matches the dream of perfection the artist has to start with.
— William Faulkner

The next morning, we had tickets to ride the Sandia Peak Tramway. Remember what I said about being flexible and willing to jump? We’re both a bit squeamish when it comes to heights, but this was my idea. The Sandia Peak observation deck is a located in the Cibola National Forest. In the summer hikers brave the altitude and in the winter skiers test their skill. I bought a shirt from the gift store that says “Got Oxygen?” on the front. They weren’t exaggerating. At times we were over 10,000 feet in the air and my lungs felt the exertion of a 400-lb man sitting atop my shoulders.

Once the tram arrives at the top visitors can explore, hike back to the bottom or wait for the next tram. We explored the narrow and sometimes steep mountainside until sanity kicked in and “death by fall” seemed a real possibility. Then we headed back to catch the next tram down. I’m so glad we did this and would definitely recommend it for vacation, but considering we’d faced our fears and were both happier on the ground, once was enough.

“We should all start to live before we get too old. Fear is stupid. So are regrets.”
–Marilyn Monroe

After Sandia, we drove 6.5 hours to a hotel in Phoenix, Arizona to rest. There was nothing remarkable to either of us in Phoenix so we ordered take-out and got a good night’s sleep.

The next morning we drove 5.5 hours from Arizona to Hollywood, California. The scenery was beautiful, but the drive through the mountains – treacherous. Even in a Jeep, terror is an understatement. High altitude, sudden curves, steep hills, narrow roadways, falling rocks – a race car driver’s dream! For me, a nightmare.

After arriving in California we spent the remaining two days as tourists. We saw the Hollywood Walk of Fame and found Johnny Depp’s star, visited Universal Theme Park and toured Universal Studios, participated in an outdoor dance party (complete with Jumbotron) in front of Hard Rock Café Hollywood after a great dinner, entered the Wizarding World of Harry Potter and got sorted for wands, and met Johnny Depp – actually several versions of him at Madame Tussauds.

After an exciting vacation, we returned to Texas by airplane and collapsed from exhaustion. If I had to do it again I would recommend at least a 7-day stay instead because there is so much to see in California, but what an amazing adventure!

Bucket List Tally

  • Ride on a plane
  • Visit Las Vegas
  • Go to California
  • Find Johnny Depp’s Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame
  • Meet Johnny Depp
  • Visit Roswell
  • Get a tattoo

 

The tally proves almost anything is possible with a decent plan. So what are you waiting for? I’d love to hear what’s on your bucket list.

Golden Ticket

Tightrope

I suppose whenever you go through periods of transition, or in a way, it’s a very definite closing of a certain chapter of your life – I suppose those times are always going to be both very upsetting and also very exciting by the very nature because things are changing and you don’t know what’s going to happen.

– Daniel Radcliffe

I’m transitioning and I hate every minute of it.

The Journey

I took the high road. Since I’m more of a “path less traveled” girl than a “follow the leader” girl I naturally anticipated some turbulence along the way and readied myself by loading up on God, a healthy dose of naiveté and optimism. Before we were packed I overdosed on optimism, seduced by her promises of dream jobs, great salaries and endless possibilities, because dreamers are hope junkies. While everyone else has both feet on the ground and a plan in sight you can always spot the dreamers looking towards the clouds for something extraterrestrial to happen. Sometimes it does. Sometimes it doesn’t, but they never stop looking. I had a Master of Fine Arts, an excessively edited resume, excellent references and an open mind. God was supposed to drive me to my next adventure because, like previous adventures, only He had the map. Naively, I assumed we would be going someplace I would enjoy.

Imagine Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory (for Writers) – the tour guide is J K Rowling and each room holds top-secret opportunities for budding writers who want jobs in writing so they can feel like real writers. That sounds crazy, I know. Stay with me.

There are no tests, no assignments, no Dementors, and no need for social media prostitution. LinkedIn is diminished to “The Site That Must Be Banished” and “networking” once again becomes a way to meet people with common interests instead of blind dating for professionals where strangers stalk one another for career opportunities.

Anyone suspected to be in possession of confidence (no matter how small) is immediately separated from the rest and interrogated by the Oompa Loompa’s until they become like-minded and accept unworthiness into their lives. The Dementors remain on standby for the stubborn ones who had the audacity to get published.

Stephen King is Willie Wonka and his only desire is to lead other writers to print so that they too can be happy. He doesn’t hand out copies of his craft book – he knows they have already read it and that all of the answers to a writer’s questions about life cannot be found in his book or any other book. For each writer will have a different journey, some more treacherous than others. He wants them to keep writing – through it all.

“You can do this,” he says. For a few moments they believe what he says is true.

J K Rowling gifts each budding writer with a magic charm to ward off uncertainty, insecurity, hopelessness, and fear of rejection.

“You can do this,” she says, and they leave believing what she says is true.

Transition

Reality really does bite, but some days are better than others. Gone are the 1990s when a human reviewed your application, it mattered what kind of paper you used for your resume or how fast you could type, and employment agencies solely marketed you, and not a slew of other candidates along with you, for the same position. Or if they did, it was less of a cattle stampede where the cows with the most active social media profiles got noticed.

Unless you want to teach or have the Midas touch with words social media is fierce and you will need to reinvent the box if you want to get hired. The Muse is a great source for career advice. I didn’t say it will get you a job, but their helpful articles provide insight into the latest trends in employment. Think of it this way. You are the commodity. If you are willing to sell (market your skills)  this is the route to go. If you detest sales and abhor the idea of prostituting your skills on social media in hopes that someone might notice and offer you a job, I feel your pain, but do it anyway. Yesteryear has passed so chunk the jackets with shoulder pads, save the nostalgia for music and find yourself a corner. Apparently LinkedIn is the place to start.

One last thing. It is okay to hate your transition. In fact it wouldn’t be normal if you didn’t. Who celebrates being in limbo (besides perpetually happy people just thankful the good Lord woke them up this morning)? Remember: some days are better than others. Don’t give up on those extraterrestrials. If you spend the morning cursing your existence and wondering why the universe hates you go for a walk and don’t come back until you: (1) find something beautiful; (2) think of one thing you would miss had you not awakened this morning; and (3) smile genuinely at three separate people you encounter. When you get back home, write! Don’t worry about what it is or if it makes sense, and for God’s sake, don’t start working on that piece you’ve been staring at for months now and still haven’t finished. Start fresh. Who cares about word count?

You’re a writer. I promise one day you will believe me.

“You can do this.”

Pomp and Circumstance

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.



Tennessee - Texas

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!

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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.

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Happy New Year!

“I Should Be Writing” and Other Things I Keep Telling Myself

I should be writing. I know. I’m blogging, so technically I am writing, but I’m not writing. My MFA defense was nine weeks ago – NINE WEEKS, and I still haven’t written anything that doesn’t fall into the category of editing my thesis. I now hate the word “thesis”. The mere thought of looking at mine once more gives me anxiety. I just want it to go away. Isn’t that terrible?

Right now my idea board is split between three unfinished projects. One corner holds ideas for a novel I started when I first began the MFA program, an opposite corner has notes for a collection of short stories I would one day like to write, and the largest section is dedicated to the novel I am supposed to be working on. I say supposed to be, because remember, I’m not writing.

I can’t really blame it on writer’s block. I’m not blocked. It’s more of a void. Upon returning home, I threw myself into editing the thesis I wasn’t in love with, so that I could focus on other things. I am a firm believer that if you stare at something long enough you will eventually find something wrong with it. I guess that is one way of looking at my thesis.

As you know, we took a much needed break in Illinois before returning to Tennessee. Sadly, I had to immediately return to work. I have come to the realization that work (at least this position) kills my creative spirit. It’s like walking into a cave. The light has been extinguished and there is little air to breathe. Recent developments at work have only narrowed the space within the cave. After a long day there isn’t much motivation to write.

Compounding matters is the  job search. What does one do with an MFA besides teach, anyway? I forgot how much I loathe job hunting. The other reason I have not been writing is that I have spent every free moment searching for a new job. Have you applied for a job lately? The process is a nightmare. You start with a resume, but must input the information listed on your resume into the company’s job bank so that a computer can scan for key words to see if you are qualified before a human ever lays eyes on it. Those fortunate individuals who make it past the robot preliminary interviewers are then held captive in a virtual room with the heading “Under Review For Consideration”. In this room the line is long and the wait indefinite.

Your phone (if not already) becomes surgically attached to your body in fear that you might miss “that call” or “that email” from a prospective employer. You check spam religiously and scan the caller-id for missed calls.  You hope that website where you applied doesn’t have some sort of tracking system to log each time you check the status of the position. You picture them calling. Will it be a man? A woman? Either way, they will be extremely nice on the phone. You will get along well. Your enthusiasm for the position will seep through the phone line and they will not only want to offer you the position, but a great starting salary as well. At least this is what you tell yourself in the beginning when you are still optimistic. Later, your psychic powers will reveal that you will definitely not get the job, even though the company has not listed the position as filled.

This vicious cycle will continue until (1) you find a job; (2) you decide a career in retail or fast food is what you have secretly always wanted or (3) you give up and decide that doctorate isn’t such a bad idea. After all, you survived the thesis defense with multiple gunshot wounds. A dissertation, even a really bad one with hostage negotiations, won’t kill you, will it? What’s two or three more years? An eternity compared to a lifetime of debt, how much worse could it be? You love studying and completing assignments while your friends and everyone else on the planet enjoys life. Besides, a relationship would just get in the way of your desire for another pretty plaque to hang on your wall. Don’t worry about not having anyone to sit in a rocking chair with when you get older. You can just polish your pretty plaques.

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Is there such a thing as a job of your dreams? I think it is possible to come close. With that in mind, I am patient enough to keep searching. In the meantime, while I’m in my work cave by day and “For Consideration” virtual room by night I really need to be writing.

I think I will start with baby steps. Instead of focusing on piecing together the remnants of my thesis a fresh start might be in order. I don’t mean scrap everything, but perhaps re-familiarizing myself with the characters might shed new light on what direction the story needs to take. I have accepted the fact that I will not finish writing my novel within a time frame that pleases me. These things take time. The life of a writer is filled with frustrations as well as disappointments, but also much joy. Joy that comes from the last word typed on a page. Joy knowing it is good. Joy that comes from finally being published. It is all worth it. The good, the bad, the ups, the downs, the days when I know I should be writing, and the days when there is an unwritten story in my head waiting to be told. It is why we love writing.

If you, too, should be writing, but the distractions in life have become to loud to bear, give yourself a moment to be human, and when the time is right – write.

 

Until next time —

 

Man down! Life After Defense

man downThank 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:

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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.

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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.

Photo by Taylor Winters
Photo by Taylor Winters

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. 

Photo by Taylor Winters
Photo by Taylor Winters

Tennessee Texan

DSCN0151Hello again! Long time no see. I know it’s been ages since I’ve updated you on my progress along the road to my MFA. I apologize for the lengthy absence. I have truly been busy. Since my last update I got through another Tennessee Christmas without seeing my family in Texas and went back to Kentucky to attend my thesis residency in January. Right now I am in the middle of my thesis and to say I’m stressed is a huge understatement.

It has been one year, nine months and ten days since I have seen my friends and family back home in Texas. Sometimes I miss them and sometimes I just miss Texas. I’ve added Texas memorabilia around my apartment to remind me of home, but nothing takes the place of actually being there.

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What is it about Texas that makes me long to return? Honestly, I don’t know. Maybe it is familiarity. Maybe it is simply me being tired of the cold weather and limited choices here in Jackson, but I’m sure once I’m back home I will be wishing to be someplace else (after a little while) because I just have one of those restless spirits. The good thing is I truly feel like I have stepped foot into Dorothy’s shoes. Oz was beautiful, but there truly is no place like home. Tennessee is nice (for the most part), but there is for me, no place other than Texas that I want to live permanently. I wasn’t so sure about that before I left. Leaving was good. Now I know.

Today is the first day the weather has warmed up in quite some time and it is greatly appreciated. I’m sitting outside now on the patio with 5/6 of my household trying to work on thesis materials for my second packet which is due in sixteen days. Yes, I’m counting days because lately there is never enough time. While I’ve been here I’ve experienced many things, a double (almost triple homicide) too close for comfort, numerous tornado scares, racism, a sweet little place that makes the best ham sandwiches I’ve ever tasted, snow, frozen car doors that won’t open – then won’t close, true southern accents, and apartment leasing.

Have you ever received a blessing that brought complications along with it? I guess you might say then it’s not a blessing, but I think it is. It’s just complicated. I’m now working full time – right in the middle of my thesis. The major difference about this position and the positions I’ve held for the past several years, while in school, is there is no downtime and no allowances for being a student. Considering the fact that I moved out here to be closer to MSU one would think I’d drop anything that interfered. It’s not that simple, but I’m doing the best I can and reminding myself to be thankful for each and every blessing. I’ve learned that even hardships can bring about amazing outcomes.

I was planning to attend the AWP Conference in Seattle this year and had booked everything but plane tickets. Then my pet sitter canceled on me so I had to cancel AWP. At first I was really upset about it. Not only did I want to attend my first AWP Conference, I really wanted to see Seattle. If I weren’t working I would have loved nothing better than a road trip, because then I could have seen other parts of the world I might not ever have a chance to see. I do believe everything happens for a reason – even reasons I may not understand. Had I attended,  the packet I’m so desperately trying to complete now would have definitely been late and I would have been even more stressed. There’s always next year’s AWP in Minneapolis. What can be better than checking out Prince’s digs?

Thesis residency in January went better than expected. I chose my first mentor as my thesis advisor and it turns out she only had one other person. We were able to cover all of our material during the residency – something we would not have been able to do had we had a larger class. It was pleasing to have her read the material I’m working on now and see that I have truly grown as a writer. If you asked me what I’ve learned or what changed, I can’t point to any one specific thing. There are so many little things that make up the big picture of progress. I can definitely say if you are on the fence about whether or not to pursue an MFA to go for it. It really is worth it. There is no formula for writing (at lease I don’t think so).  Sure there are things you learn to make it better and methods that help you get to where you want to be in the story, but if you have no creativity inside, no drive to write something really good, and no willpower to keep going even during the tough times then school won’t help. As writers we all have something special inside that churns out stuff that makes us unique. If I had not pursued my MFA I probably wouldn’t have recognized my strengths as a writer or learned  how to nurture them to become a better writer.

It amazes me how you go along in life with one idea about where a journey may lead and end up with so many other amazing gifts when it is almost time for it to come to an end. Since I’ve been here we’ve started a “Something Good Happened Today” box. It was actually an idea I got from someone back home. She was posting on Facebook things she was grateful for, but on a daily basis, and I realized how much easier it was to complain than to recognize the good things (even if they are sometimes small) that happen to us. My daughter and I take a tiny scrap of paper, jot down the event and the date it happened, and put it in a box. At the end of the year we put the little scraps of paper in a plastic bag and read through them. If I were really disciplined I would do it on a weekly basis instead of every time something good happened, but baby steps.

To help me deal with thesis stress I’ve started an exercise program – one that was long overdue. I wanted to lose weight to fit into an outfit I wanted to wear for the banquet after thesis defense, but I also wanted healthier eating habits and a change in my lifestyle. I have a definite goal, but once again baby steps. I’m focusing on three miles a day right now, and getting up in the mornings when I’d much rather stay in bed for an extra fifteen minutes is brutal. So is exercising in the evenings when I get off and remembering to cut down on portions, but I’m optimistic. Exercise is a great way to burn off stress, especially after a day at work.

The leasing industry has a lot of potential for a creative person with tons of energy. With that being said, I don’t recommend it while in the middle of thesis. Time off is unrealistic, writing time must be crammed into a lunch hour (if nothing else is more pressing) or after work, and sleep is the enemy. The great part is that you get to meet some really amazing (and some not so amazing) residents and you get to work with some really fun people. I love trying to meet the needs of our residents and take pleasure when things work out. On the down side I had two evictions this month, but knowing I did everything I could to try and help them, before it got to that point, allows me to not be too upset. I’d be even happier if some of the proposals I’ve submitted to improve our property got approved, but then again baby steps.

My goal when all this is over is to leave here with a completed (or close to finished) novel of fiction. I’m working with linked stories and really enjoying the characters that have introduced themselves to me. Defense is in July and if all goes well, graduation is in December. Who knows what journey will be next after that. Right now, I’m just focusing on one thing at a time. I put them on the refrigerator in case I get sidetracked or overwhelmed.

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Until next time.