Monday, August 30, 2010

Hello again!

Just wanted to pop in really quick to say hi. I hope you all had a great summer and are all doing well, whether you've already started the semester or are starting in the next few weeks.

I've got a brief two-weeks into the semester kind of update over at Enjoy!

Click here!

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Back to School

By Jennifer Brown

Hi all. How was your summer? Did you get a lot of writing done? Here it is, back to school time, and I haven’t accomplished even near what I intended to this summer. Did do some work though. I’ve posted about it on my personal blog HERE.

Have a good fall semester, everyone! And keep us all posted!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Pre-MFA thoughts, fears, excitement, etc.

Lindsay Hansen, The Ohio State University '13 (Nonfiction)

I moved into my apartment in Columbus a little over a week ago and I am very quickly falling in love with this city. It's the biggest city in which I've spent any significant length of time. So it's definitely taking some getting used to. I'm not at all prepared to read bus schedules, or to drive in rush hour traffic, or to take almost half an hour to drive three miles. Still, I love it. Despite being in the middle of Ohio, I've already seen more queer culture here than I ever saw in western New York -- my friends and I stumbled upon a drag show in the middle of the street in the Short North last weekend, for example. It was definitely cool, and made me feel a lot better about Columbus -- just the fact that things like that happen here. That's a good thing.

Unfortunately, I have another month of worrying/impatiently waiting before school officially starts. We're on a quarter system, so I don't start classes until September 22nd, and I don't actually teach a class until the 23rd. So it's going to be another really long foru weeks. That said, Ohio State is great about training the Graduate Teaching Associates, so we start a two-week long training on Monday morning. I'm terrified about teaching -- I do not feel qualified, at all -- but I feel a lot better about it when I realize I have so much time to prepare. (But then, also, is it that much time? It feels like forever, but those two weeks are going to fly...)

But anyway, that brings me to my first goal of my first quarter as an MFA student: Don't make a fool out of myself in the classroom, especially when I'm teaching. I'll be sure to let you all know how that works out.

And, although the teaching is really what I'm most worried about, the thought of my classes is filling me with a semi-healthy level of anxiety, too. As a GTA I'm only obligated to take two classes per quarter (which I am SO happy about...), so I'm taking a creative nonfiction workshop with Lee Martin (!), who seems like one of the nicest people I've ever met, and yet, I am still intimidated, and Introduction to Graduate Study in U.S. Ethnic Literature and Culture, which has an emphasis on Asian-American literature this quarter. I'm really excited about that class, too, but also a little apprehensive, because while I'm unsure about my abilities in graduate level creative writing classes, I'm relatively confident that I'm not at all prepared for a graduate-level literature course. Still, I can't wait to start. Three years of writing, reading, and talking about writing and reading. This is exactly what I've wanted, and I can't believe I'm actually doing it.

Blah blah blah rankings blah blah blah

The new MFA rankings are up:

The methodology for these rankings has been argued here (and elsewhere) exhaustively. There are applicants this ranking will help. Great.

My own thoughts (not attacks on or defenses of the methodology, just thoughts), with my major caveat at the end:

To me, the overall ranking is less useful than the genre ranking, since you do all of the work that you care about (and in some programs, all of your work) within your genre. Separate rankings for poetry, fiction and non-fiction (not just listings, but actually separating these out) makes sense to me--but that would be less confrontational/awesome (in the full sense of that word), and P and W probably prefers the monolithic listing.

Many of these programs have singular attributes that make them super-interesting and are hard(er) to graph. For Iowa, it's the brand name, for Wisconsin, it's the single-genre cohorts, for UT Austin, it's the second-genre focus. Mind you, these aren't the only interesting things about these from everything I've heard wonderful programs. At University of Houston, it's the joint MFA-PhD mix (possibly one of only two in the country--I don't know if UNLV has their MFAs and creative writing PhDs take classes together, as we do), which is awesome.

Look, applicants (for the most part) are probably doing the work they should be doing to figure out where they want to apply to schools. And whatever, they're going to be fine, anyway. But I don't bring up the PhDs just to cheer-lead Houston, I bring them up because they help demonstrate the one funny thing about the rankings that has nothing to do with the applicants, and everything to do with the programs. That is, programs don't care so much about where their students are applying. Programs care, generally, about one thing: the writing sample.

Let me put it another way: 50 people apply to Iowa and 50 to University of Illinois in Urbana (picked at random--from everything I've heard, a good school). Those schools might accept entirely different cohorts. I bring up the PhDs because we have a number at UH who are graduates of prestigious programs (Iowa, UT-Austin, NYU) who get accepted to Houston just the same as the MFAs (and we use a blind approach, by going through manuscripts without attention to previous degrees--which just sorts out where you are on the degree track once you're here). There are also new PhDs who went to less-prestigious programs, and ended up in the same place. The teachers just picked who they want to work with.

I guess it's a small point to make, to say there are damn fine students in every MFA program, but I think it's worth reminding...

Monday, August 23, 2010

MFA starting line / Moving induced exhaustion

Day 01 out of ...well, many more.

I've been down in Greensboro now for a week and some change. Moving and organizing took 100% of my time and energy until this afternoon. There were moments when I forgot that I was actually starting graduate school this week. It became so much about moving that I nearly forgot what the heck I'm doing here. Phew, glad that's over.

Dropped the beau off at the airport today. Felt like a fool crying in public but everyone does it. Part of a new adventure, yes? It definitely helped that I had plenty of errands to run on campus so I couldn't come home and bury myself under the covers (though I was tempted). I will say one thing: long distance relationships aren't what they used to be. Between cell phones, e-mails, texts, skype, AIM and letter writing, feeling close and connected with my boyfriend won't be as tough as I convinced myself in some ways. Certainly won't make up for living together but.. we can't win 'em all.

Also, today was my first day of classes. Hurrah! Kicked off at 6pm. Not too shabby for a Monday, eh? haha It was sorta fun glancing around the room, seeing such new faces and trying to figure each person out. Just a little bit anyway. The class runs for 3 hours usually. Thankfully the professor was merciful and let us go early. Yay, perks of the first day! I'm eager to get into my poetry classes, one of which is tomorrow. I'm also getting tossed headlong into my assistantship this week. Lots of changes but with so much going on I'm hoping I don't notice a) how big my apartment is for one person and b) start missing loved ones as a result. Not gunna happen but I can try.

I'm gunna check in later this week once I've got more classes and assignments under my belt. I think it'll be fun to share any pertinent or just plain entertaining articles I read from class with ya'll smart people! Wishing everyone who has started, or is gearing up for the semester, the very best! Hope the sun is shining where you are and your hands are ready to get dirtied with some serious writing.


And It Begins All Over Again

Year Two of my MFA program at Penn State started today. Poetry workshop bright and early at 9:05 Monday morning. A lovely group of seven MFAs, one PhD lit student, and one MA lit student. And the talented, smart, and helpful Julia Kasdorf at the helm. Julia was the MFA director when I applied to the program, she called me with my acceptance, I met her at recruitment weekend, etc; then she was on sabbatical last year. The older students had talked about how great she was in workshop, and after one day, I think they’re right. We didn’t actually workshop today, but we discussed our ideas and goals in terms of “voice” (the general theme of the workshop this semester), we each read a poem we’d written over the summer, and we discussed the reading we’d done for today (selections from Frank Bidart’s collected poems). It’s a nice group of people, and the vibe is very positive. ‘Twas a perfect way to begin the semester!

I’m undecided right now on the other class I’ll be taking this semester. Since this is a two year program now, and I’ll be working on my thesis, I’m registered for thesis credits which means I only need two “real” classes. Right now I’m registered for both a lit seminar on Shakespearean tragedies and a lit course on the 1930s which promises to be heavily political/cultural studies-ish. I’m masochistically considering staying in both of them, but I think I’ll end up dropping one.

I’m teaching an Intro to Creative Writing class, which I’m thrilled about. We meet for the first time tomorrow at 8:00am. I posted an overview of how the course is set up in a comment to JayTee’s post on teaching so I won’t reiterate it all here, but it’s basically a mixture of instruction and practice in fiction, poetry, and creative nonfiction (i.e. lecture/discussion, lots of writing exercises, one workshop per genre).

What else? Oh yeah, that whole thesis thing…. It is so strange to me that a year ago I hadn’t even begun my MFA program, and now I am halfway finished. While it would be nice to have a third year, I think the two year program is for the best (I don’t think I could take another year in Central Pennsylvania without serious detriment to my sanity). It’s crazy to think about having a book manuscript done by May, but it’s exciting as well. I turned in about 35 pages of poems to my thesis advisor at the end of spring semester, got her comments back over the summer, and then proceeded to not write very much at all…. In my defense, I did a lot of reading, and I did do some writing; but I traveled a fair amount (spent two wonderful weeks in California – half in San Francisco, where my new picture was taken, and half in Berkeley – and also spent a couple of long weekends back in Columbus), I also taught a summer class, and I took an intensive Spanish class, so for six weeks I was on campus eight hours a day, five days a week. Not too conducive to getting a lot of writing done.

However, I feel like I have a solid idea for my manuscript and good direction for the revisions on what I’ve already given my advisor so I only need another 15 pages or so. Totally doable, right?

So, for those of you who are starting, or preparing to start Year Two, how do you feel? I’m a lot more comfortable than I was a year ago, but also feeling an increased pressure to “perform”, i.e. publish, get into a PhD program, get a job, or something.

Good luck to everyone this fall, at whatever stage you currently find yourselves!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Putting on My Teaching Face

(not just a teaching face, but a myspace appropriate bathroom shot as well! 2 birds, one stone.)

Hey all!

Yay for us being 2nd years and for the new 1st years on the blog! And also to the post-mfa'ers and mfa'ers to be in the comments! Now that I've exceeded my exclamation point quota...

I just finished writing my first syllabus ever. It ended up being 6 pages long. It's for the intro to poetry creative writing course I start teaching on Tuesday. At UVA, we teach the 2nd year so I was watching anxiously while others took the lead in their first classes last year and now it's my turn. Here's my textbooks:

In the Palm of Your Hand: The Poet's Portable Workshop by Steve Kowit
Late Wife by Claudia Emerson
Poetry: A Pocket Anthology (Penguin Academics) (6th Edition) by R. S. Gwynn Paperback

My approach to preparing this class was to basically try to mimick the way I was taught. My students will be required to memorize 2 lines of poetry from the readings each week, they'll turn in a poem a week (but only workshop four poems), there will be in-class writing exercises each week, and tons of exposure to poets and poems.

So what's your approach to class prep?

Moving (in more ways than one)

By Chrissy Widmayer

I made the drive out to Fairfax today. I arrived mid-evening just before the sun went down. It's a ten hour drive from Michigan, and I was bedraggled. I somehow missed the exciting moment when I crossed over into Virginia, but nothing will match the feeling of relief I felt the moment I saw the "Welcome to the City of Fairfax" sign. The sun was low in the sky and filtering through the trees, casting it in (no kidding) a halo of light. A mixture of relief and excitement crashed through me, along with a feeling of purpose and sureness. This was the moment I've been hurling towards for the past year.

Now, I lie on an air mattress on the floor of my dark bedroom in my new, mostly empty, townhouse. It's not dark because it's night (though it is) or because I'm getting ready for bed (though I am), but because our power is not on. Due to the flurry of moving, and a number of other circumstances out of our control, we couldn't get our electricity turned on until tomorrow. Luckily, I have a friend who lives next door who let me steal his internet, use his microwave, and hang out in his air conditioning until I decided it was time for bed. We then, rather humorously, inflated my air mattress using his electricity and carried it over to my house. I felt it was important I get to know this little plot of land that will be mine for the next year, even in it's most barren, empty state.

And now, of course, in the darkness and the emptiness, there is more than enough room for thoughts. Thoughts about moving, the strangeness of making a home in a new place. Thoughts of moving forward. And, lying here on my stomach, listening to the crickets out the open window, I realized that I'm ready. I'm ready for this change. I'm ready to be here, take this step, and do this thing right. For the past year, I've been unemployed, unhappy, in a stagnant state. But today, I feel in motion. Physically moving has made me feel like I'm moving intellectually, emotionally, creatively. I feel better than I have in a long time.

For the past few months, I've been full of anxiety, stress, nerves, worry. And yes, all of that is still lingering at the edge of my mind, but, for a while now, I've been waiting for the excitement to set in. Yes, I've said I was excited. I've even felt some excitement for abstract things related to my MFA experience. But today, right now, sitting in the dark and living by the light of my computer and my cell phone, I feel excited. I feel ready. All the negative emotions I've been feeling have completely dissipated. The darkness is gone. Tomorrow I'll wake up to the sun rising outside my window. There will be light (and hopefully electricity) and everything will feel new. And I, for the first time in over a year, will be happy to blink awake with the sun, get up, and start afresh. For the first time, I'm ready. I'm moving. And I can tell: I'm headed somewhere good.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Pre-MFA Thoughts

by Laura

The summer is steadily coming to an end and I am about to begin my MFA program, taking with me a huge jumble of excitement and nervousness. One moment I think that it will be the most wonderful thing ever, picturing myself strolling across Boston Common with autumn leaves crinkling underfoot and my head filled with ideas and inspiration. The next moment, this idyllic image suddenly turns into a nightmarish one in which I can't think of a single thing to write, can't find a job and have to leave school, and retreat in shame to my parents' basement. I figured that it would be helpful to get all of my mixed feelings out of my head and onto the internet, in convenient bulleted lists...

First up, we have Pre-MFA Fears:
- The issue of needing good employment immediately. A variety of factors led me to accept an unfunded offer, but sometimes I wonder if this was the right decision. Don't get me wrong -- I want to work and am applying to jobs that I'm really excited about. I just hope those jobs will be equally excited about hiring me.
- My worry that everyone in the program will be smarter than me, more well-read than me, and just far more fabulous in general.
- The question of genre, more specifically, the need to choose one. Yes, I love to write poetry. I also love to write creative nonfiction, and I sometimes cautiously venture into fiction. Did I pick the right one to spend the next three years focusing on?

Ack, now I feel even more anxious. To counteract the anxiety, a more positive list:

Pre-MFA Things to be Excited About:
- Hey, I'm in an MFA program! If I could go back in time and talk to Laura circa-September 2009, then she would be ecstatic that her future self would actually be accepted to a program.
- I'm enrolled in two classes with professors who seem very awesome, and I know that I will learn a lot.
- I'm moving to Boston! (Well, near Boston.) I get to live with my lovely boyfriend, write away in my tiny corner of our tiny apartment, and explore all the beautiful places that the city has to offer (that is, after I take the train out of our rather non-stunning neighborhood).
- I actually do love to meet and talk to new people, and I'm looking forward to making friends from a wide variety of places and backgrounds.
- There are many opportunities out there for me; I just have to be willing to work for them.

I guess that what it comes down to is this: I get to start a new life and can choose whether I want to view that life as an exciting place of opportunity and growth, or a place of abject terror. I struggle with the whole positive-thinking thing, but I want to get better at it. Here's to exciting things ahead!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Keeping the muse guessing

I'm someone who prepares to be motivated. I compile notes. I read weird, hopefully illuminating books, and when I go strange places I make myself stay up late/wake up early to write poem after poem. This is a lucrative process, and I often come back from trips/vacations with four or five newly-written pieces that are better than the twenty or thirty I wrote in the months before I left. Admittedly, I probably pillaged an old draft or two, but these are often substantively new works in their finished states.

I don't think this is uncommon--most people seem to be inspired by new stimuli/information/etc. If you've had this invigorating experience, you probably also know the desperate after-effects, when you come back: there are still more poems that you are inspired to write, but you never know when this special energy is going to run out. You might even try to fake it with similar subject matter or syntax or whatever your trick is, but at some point you just can't fool the muse.

So here's what I'm wondering: how do you keep the muse going longer than it should? Any particularly effective tricks? Or is it blasphemy to even try to inspire yourself, having been so inspired?

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

How a Second Year (in a Three Year Program) Spends His Summer

Hello friends, Romans, countrymen! It's been a while, a good long while, since I posted here. Naturally it is because of my endless cavalcade of celebrity shindigs, film premieres and promiscuous cavorting that has caused my absence. Just kidding folks. Well, mostly. Right now I am writing this from my mother's favorite recliner in my parents' house, a house they will soon be moving out of, but probably not until after I return to Ohio. I find myself in an interesting place, not physically on this chair, but personally, professionally and emotionally. Basically I am eager to get back to Columbus and start living again.

As some of you know, my transition from West Coast rockstar to Sockeye Salmon out of water in the midwest has been occasionally rough, sometimes even depressing. This is not because of the program or even the location so much as it is rooted in the fact that, before now, I never really lived anywhere else than California (and even then I've always lived within 100 miles of where I grew up). Though there is a lot of diversity in my home state, it doesn't represent the vastness of this country, because nowhere can, so Ohio, unsurprisingly, is much different from here. Different in some ways I like, and some ways I don't like. Again, nothing earth shattering about this revelation. It simply is what it is.

Anyway when my summer began I had two main goals: 1) travel around/bask in the glory that is the Golden State and 2) write poems that were better than what I wrote last summer.

The first was important because after finding myself somewhat lost and adrift in Ohio I realized that my upbringing, heck, the specificity of the time and place and circumstances of where I grew up and lived almost all of my life, was important, nay, essential to who I am and why I do this crazy poetry thing. With that in mind, I endeavored to gain a greater understanding and appreciation for my home (generally and specifically) in order to attempt to tackle it like my new hero, Robert Hass, has for decades. Simply put, I wanted to cultivate a certain kind of California-ness in my writing, a sensibility I hope to incorporate with my other writerly interests (the male body, homoeroticism, mythology, history, perspective etc.) and I want to do it both in terms of the nature, of course, but also the people. To this end I spent some time in Northern California, essentially touring the bay area, rarely sleeping in the same place twice. I walked the rocky Santa Cruz coast at night, throbbed to the helter-skelter sounds of a gay discotheque in San Francisco, and lazed in the shade of coastal redwoods looming high in Berkeley. I drove a lot, as a passenger anyway, and as such had a lot of time to observe people and places. I met vivid characters who left marks on my memory like fingerprints. I even flirted with a hot guy across a dark room, full of mostly naked men. After my sojourn was over, I headed back down to familiar territory--Los Angeles, where I dined in Ktown, skipped along the beach in Santa Monica, brought baked goods back from Canters, saw a few good movies in single-show theaters and lost myself in the beautiful Getty center (an exhibit on Social Issues Photojournalism was particularly arresting)--before finally coming home the Mojave desert. Since I've been home I've barely ventured outside and even then only long enough to get sunburned. You need to live here to realize how little time that takes. Still, it could be worse; it could be Nevada or Arizona. Even being home, even house hunting with my mother in 110 degree heat, has opened my eyes to the sparse and simple beauty of chaparral and Joshua trees. There's a lot more to love about home than I realized.

So have I written "California poems"? Some, but not many, and they're not really that good. I once heard Bret Anthony Johnston read his fiction at UCLA and he said that he found he couldn't write about a place until he left it, until he moved on. I feel the same way. I think that the physical distance enables a certain kind of emotional objectivity, not unlike how photographing something banal tends to yield intriguing details about the thing. Those details (the way light spills into a parking garage, the way macaroni and cheese can resemble human brains in a bowl) are present, but it takes the objectivity of the camera lens to yield it clearly. So too does distance in relation to our perceptions of the thing we're distanced from, be it a loved one, a pet, a favorite sweater, a car, or even a home state. I hope that I will write more about home when I return to Ohio.

I've written a lot though, a lot of non-"California" (or is it) poetry. I've drafted about fifty poems, but the number shouldn't shock anyone. I write a lot of initial drafts and typically end up with a handful of fine poems...I don't know that any of them are great except for the two being published. As we all know, published = greatest (well not really, but it sort of feels that way, doesn't it?) At any rate, I've been sporadically productive, as I'm want to, and I've started exchanging drafts with a fellow second year via these series of tubes we all hold so near and dear to our postmodern (post to the third power?) existence. I for one welcome our future robot overlords. Let them be merry and fertile. I think I've accomplished my second mission of writing better poems than I wrote last summer because I feel I am a much better and more grounded writer. I have a sense of what is important to me, what I do well, and what I need work on. This is exactly what I was hoping the program would do for me. OSU has three amazing poet-teachers and I am so humbled to have received their encouragement, criticism, praise and often humorous scorn. It's heartening to see my own progression. It gives me a sense of direction, as in I am going somewhere even if it zigzagged, spiraling down, or randomly jabbing.

I'm excited to return to Columbus because I feel like I'm going to really run as soon as I hit the ground. I am taking an Asian-American lit class (a pet hobby/potential parallel career interest of mine) and I have half a dozen novels to (hopefully) read before class starts in September. I have lessons to plan for my poetry writing class (which I am super jazzed about teaching! Those kids are going to have a lot of fun with me! Fun and LEARNING!) I have new MFAs to non-romantically romance! New Ph.D's to form an uneasy though gradually more comfortable and enriching playfully combative relationship with! I have a GradQueer organization to co-run! Poems to send out to journals (that have actually expressed interest to see such things from me!) New apartments to move into (well, just one)! So much to do! And it all starts when I head back to the home of Jeni's Ice Cream and the most unthreatening gaybars in the country (probably). I'm so glad (and fortunate really) to be in a three year program because with the introductory year behind me and the thesis year looming ahead, the second year should be a party...a writing party! Full of seriousness and purpose and personalized rejection letters and late night coffee jaunts and new recipes and pledges to go to the gym that may or may not hold and...and...and...well I'm glad to be at OSU.

Here are some recommendations on poetry: Robert Hass's The Apple Trees at Olema, Carolyn Forche's The Country Between Us, Larry Levis's Winter Stars, Alan Shapiro's The Dead Are Alive and Busy, Rae Armantrout's Versed, Timothy Liu's Say Goodnight and Ralph Angel's Anxious Latitudes. All are quite good in my estimation.

And for the applicants...don't let the process harangue you this early in the game. Be sure to be writing now since most applications won't go live for another couple of months. It's time to draft, draft, and redraft everything. A year from now if you're in a program you'll realize the humor of this since you, like me, will probably be doing the exact same thing though (hopefully) with better results.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Intro: Chrissy Widmayer, George Mason University (Class of 2013)

Hello! My name is Chrissy Widmayer (not to be confused with the original Chrissy here on MFA Chronicles) and I'll be studying nonfiction in George Mason University's MFA program starting this fall.

I'm a 23-year-old from the beautiful state of Michigan where I've lived my entire life, except for the six months I spent studying Spanish and international relations in Quito, Ecuador during undergrad. Like many people, I left undergrad with a degree and a passion. Though I majored in political science at Kalamazoo College, I came away with a need to tell stories. Having studied documentary filmmaking as well as poetry, playwriting, screenwriting and creative nonfiction, it was merely a choice of which direction to take. Luckily, George Mason's program requires cross-genre studies, which suits me just fine.

I was thrust into the MFA online community during my extremely anxious application season. I applied ten places in two genres (poetry and nonfiction), and was horribly impatient to find out where I'd end up. After a summer spent in Chicago interning for PBS, I was forced to move back in with my parents. Southeast Michigan is known for it's unbearably high unemployment rate, and I remained unemployed and unhappy until I applied for my MFA. This community kept me breathing and positive as rejections rolled in. They cheered me on as I got accepted at California College of the Arts and Emerson, and got wait-listed at George Mason. I made friends online who became friends in real life (like fellow MFA Chronicler, Laura). Everyone in the MFA online community supported me, rejoiced with me, cried with me, watched the Olympics with me, and helped me get through it all. It was on April 15th, when I had to accept or decline my spot at Emerson, that I got off the wait-list with similar funding at George Mason. The decision was gruesome and difficult, but with the help and support of my MFA friends, I am completely certain I ended up choosing the right place for me. After a year of unemployment and odd jobs (I've worked as a substitute teacher, a video editor, and a standardized test scorer), I'm looking forward to starting school again just a couple of weeks.

My writing focuses mostly on womanhood and living life as a fat woman. I write a blog about body and size acceptance, and talk about everything from politics and feminism, to fashion and Harry Potter. I am avid Harry Potter fan (superfan, you might say), and I love movies, music and board games. My favorite place in the world to be is on the shores of Lake Michigan. I hate mushrooms and love peppermint ice cream. I adore elephants, ducks, and cutesy-sounding words that have double letters in them (i.e. bubbles, giggle, fluffy). I'm always laughing, and often have a hard time explaining why I'm laughing to my friends and family. In October, I'll be an aunt for the first time, when my older sister has a baby. Both she and my older brother live within twenty minutes from my parents, so it will be extremely difficult for me to move away.

I'm looking forward to posting here and getting to know all of you. I can't believe the beginning of my MFA life is drawing so near! I'm certain I'll have much more to post in the coming weeks as the start of the program looms. I can't wait to start posting!

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Revving up for my thesis year

By Casey Tolfree

I feel like the worst blogger ever. I had so much fun blogging both here on MFA Chronicles and on my own blog last spring and then summer happened and my blogging days went on vacation. Sadder still is that there was plenty to write about.

For all the newcomers to this blog, I am about to start my second and final year of my MFA program at Adelphi University.

I spent the summer writing my thesis and reading a lot of books I'd never heard of, but really enjoyed (for the most part).

I was concerned at first that I had only the three and a half months of summer to write my thesis. Writing for me is a long process and sometimes it will be days before I can find my characters again. Fortunately, the story I'm writing has captured me and I have been pretty much writing it or thinking about writing it every day.

When I met with my advisor Vince Passaro at the end of the semester, my goal was to be at page 100 by August. It's August 8th I'm on page 112. I made a goal with myself that to reach page 100 I would simply write one page a day... and I did for the next few months. It worked. Page 100 hit right at the end of the beginning of my novel. The part I had actually outlined in detail in my head. Of course the next 12 pages were much harder to come by, they are less planned and as I try to send my narrator further on her journey I need to make sure I cover all my bases. Andi's life is complicated, even for me the person who knows her best.

Aside from writing like I said I've been reading. I was assigned to read John Updike, Couples and The Maples Stories. Both books just amazed me. Updike's writing was something I could only hope to one day even get close to.

I wound up reading a total of 11 books this summer and will hopefully increase that to 12 by September 1. The authors I read, Updike, Ann Patchett, Anne Tyler, Edith Wharton, Colsen Whitehead just to name a few that I really enjoyed. I didn't think I could successfully read that many books and get my novel over 100 pages and yet somehow I did. I give all the credit to the train rides.

I interned in Manhattan this summer at a literary agency. It was so much fun. I am going to miss going once school starts. I met a good group of people and found something I'd really like to do with my life.
The train ride into the city is 47 minutes each way, so I brought my library books and I read twice a week on the train. I think I finished a book a week that way. Couples came on vacation with me, 10 hour car ride, both ways.

Overall, I guess the point of this blog is that even though in an MFA program you are supposed to immerse yourself in the writing. It was stepping outside the writing and doing other things that allowed me to write. If I'm forced to sit and stare all day at screen, nothing of merit will come. Knowing I had to write only a page a day that helped me be successful. Learning how the publishing world worked, made me see things in my own work that needed to change to be published.

I'm excited to go back to school, to see my friends and classmates. I've grown this summer as has my writing; I want to see where their summers led them.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

For Your Consideration ...

Hello. My name is Rebecca Bauman and I’d like to introduce myself by way of a popular Internet meme.



1. I’m a first-year MFA student at the University of Florida and carry an emphasis in poetry-writing.

2. I recently graduated from Pittsburg State University (Kansas) with a B.A. in English and a minor certificate in Women's Studies (the latter being the product of an absolutely rewarding and, in turn, ultimately frustrating academic and sociological experience).

3a. I was born in Texas, but my parents' divorce and respective occupations (she was a social worker, he a journalist) kept me moving around the country during childhood and adolescence.

3b. I've lived most of my life in St. Louis (MO), St. Augustine (FL) and Tallahassee (FL). After high school I spent the bulk of my time drifting between flophouses and hostels in New York City and hanging out in the backs of comedy clubs. I could also often be found at the walrus exhibit at the New York Aquarium.

4. I ultimately wound up in Southeast Kansas at the age of 21 after falling in love with and following home an 18-year-old pot-dealer whom I believed to be a dead-ringer for a young Nicolas Cage.

5a. While attending school in Kansas, I worked as an animal caretaker at a wildlife education and outreach facility, specializing in the care of the program's mammals (prairie dogs, hedgehogs, opossums, etc.) and large birds (hawks, owls, vultures and even a Catalina macaw).

5b. I also volunteered at the local Humane Society -- work which tainted my faith in humanity and left me sobbing in the bathtub at the end of most days.

5c. I now keep three dogs of varying sizes, all rescues from the pools of strays I encountered, fostered and (for the most part) re-homed while living in Kansas. (When leaving Pittsburg, I felt very much like I was rowing away from a sinking Titanic and had but those three berths in my lifeboat.)

5d. I carry a lot of white/American/middle class/Homo sapien guilt.

6. I held a number of creative content positions at PSU's campus newspaper -- work which eventually yielded an editorial fellowship with Esquire magazine in 2007.

7. Seeking my MFA (in poetry of all things) was a last minute decision -- one I didn’t and in all likelihood don’t consider the least bit practical. But, by the end of my undergraduate work, I had all these poems written and I was practically thinking in verse.

8. My background is rooted in journalism and non fiction, and I'd always assumed that if I were to pursue writing as a vocation, it would be along those lines.

9. In my mind, poetry is one of the most effective and affective forms of writing … and one of the most unwieldy (thus my insistence that I take further training). I see it very much like stand-up comedy: When poetry is good, it’s just Absolutely Amazing, Powerful-Powerful Stuff. And when it’s bad, it’s nothing less than painful -- pathetic, physically uncomfortable to experience. And so I’m terrified of producing terrible work.

10. I have never successfully maintained a blog. Lord knows I've tried ... but I'm extremely self-conscious and suffer an awful kind of impostor syndrome that leaves me ready and rarin' to bolt from public view (and, as I imagine, public critique) at the drop of a hat. It's a neurosis that certainly threatens my ability to meet the demands of a writer's existence.

11. Now that I’m in Florida, I visit the local freshwater springs and skin dive as often as I can. I also head back to St. Augustine for a look at the ocean and to wander the old streets whenever time allows.


13. I regret having wasted so much of my youth without direction, though I'm told it's quite normal. I'll be 27 next month and have never travelled abroad (though I long to see the UK and Germany and France). I feel a sense of urgency, not only as a 20-something, but as a woman; I fear I'm losing time when it comes to "cashing in" on my best years.

14. DELETED, too

15a. I have a much cheerier disposition than it might seem here and now. The truth is, I could not be more grateful to have this opportunity at this program at this time. I can only hope that the overly-anxious shades of my character can scuff away in this warm, green climate … and I can come out on the other end of my time here in Florida as a generally satisfied, well-rounded, globe-trotting woman with a phenomenal butt.

15b. I am not copy-editing this post for fear I'll never bring myself to publish it.


  • The scent of spearmint chewing gum makes me sick.
  • I'm obsessed with solid, well-written true crime.
  • Every year, I am more and more incensed by politically conservative and spiritually fundamentalist thinking. I fear becoming abrasive, overconfident and obnoxious.
  • My face looks straight in the mirror, crooked in photos.
  • I don't care what you say: I saw Hugh Laurie first, damnit.

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