Thesis During A Pandemic

None of us planned to be going into our thesis year during the worst global pandemic ever seen.

I didn’t have a lot of preconceived notions about what thesis would be but I definitely wasn’t thinking it would be anything like this.

Designing and writing a collection of short stories is what my program requires to get my MFA in Creative Writing and Publishing Arts.

So much of this is difficult to do in an online situation, especially when it comes to the design side of things.

I just turned in my thesis manuscript for consideration and while it was an emotional moment, I am so burnt out by doing my thesis year of grad school over Zoom.

We don’t get to have an in person book fair, we don’t get to have a graduation, I’m not going to get to walk on stage and get hooded.

2020 and into 2021 has been a huge let down for so many students who are finishing up school.

I’m trying to look on the bright side.

-I wrote a collection of short pieces of fiction.

-I am going to be graduating in May and I will be (hopefully) coming to the end of my education journey.

-I have been accepted into The Great Oaks Fellowship through Americorps so next year I’ll be exploring a career in teaching through that opportunity.

-I got engaged! My amazing girlfriend proposed to me in February while we were on a mini vacation in Vegas. I can’t wait to spend the rest of my life with her

There are some amazing things that have happened to me in the last year, and while it hasn’t been what I expected or what I wanted, I have accomplished a lot.

Stay tuned for more about my book because it is coming!!

The New Reality

I’ve been absent from this pages for a long time, mostly because I’ve been focused on school, and trying to find a new job. I also have been moving, yet again, and trying to settle into a new life, living with my girlfriend of about 8 months.

However, the new reality I want to talk about is the day to day lives we are living under COVID-19 or the Corona Virus.

Schools are closed. Grade schools, colleges, day cares.

Businesses are closed except to essential workers. Grocery stores are open, restaurants are open if they have drive through, delivery, or carry out. People are being laid off left and right because things are crazy.

Maryland is pretty much closed.

Casey (my girlfriend) and I ventured out today to stock up on groceries and a few other things but now we’re going to be trapped inside our apartment. Thank god we have a courtyard with a walkway and a balcony so that we can get some fresh air.

There are no movies, or dates at restaurants, there are no classes or seeing friends or family.

I sit in my living room, on my Nana’s old coffee table that I took before my family sold her house, and pretend like I’m in class. My teacher and classmates look out from my laptop screen and a little white dot shows that my webcam is on and everyone else is seeing my face.

I constantly wonder how I look worse in my webcam than I do in real life. Seeing yourself in a webcam is similar to looking at yourself in your hairdressers mirror with the plastic cape around your neck and wondering “have I always been this ugly?”

A creative writing program is not made for a Zoom classroom. Something gets lost in translation, and the thoughts and notes you get on your writing from classmates starts to feel a little more forced.

It probably is forced. We’re all forcing ourselves to face this new normal, to get up every day and keep going when it would be so easy to just let your bed swallow you whole and your blankets bury you.

This is the new normal for now but the worst part is, we don’t know when it will end.

Lock Myself In A Room

I consider myself a very realistic person.

I know that unless I become the next Rowling or Martin I won’t have a career as just a writer.

However, I can find it really difficult to come home from work and write.

Currently, I am in grad school and I have two part time jobs (one might be full-time very soon). I’m also going to therapy once a week so I can try to keep my mental health in check. So, more often than not, when I get home from work or class, or doing whatever else I need to do, writing is the last thing on my mind.

Usually I want to eat dinner, or relax and watch Netflix, not force my brain to think about the complexities involved with writing.

I feel like I need to lock myself in a room and focus on nothing but writing.

I wish I could do that.

I’ve started to look at Writing Retreats but I feel like they’re all either too far away, interfere with school or I can’t afford them.

I try to get my writing on a schedule but I’m also just not someone who works like that. My creativity can’t be forced, or put on a time table.

Will I ever be a successful writer if I’m not able to change this aspect of myself?

Is it a matter of forcing myself to write, even when I don’t want to?

Burn Out

I know I’m not the first one to experience the frustration that comes with #writerproblems.

Listening to writers talk about writers block isn’t new. In fact it is also a stereotype when it comes to writers.

I’m wondering if writers block and being burnt out are the same thing to a writer, because right now I am burnt out.

I have the desire to write.

I have ideas running around up in my head, a fanfiction that needs to be finished, I have plenty of things I my mind I could talk about.

However, making the effort to sit in front of a blank word document at my laptop or stare at a blank page of one of my note books seems like too much.

The only reason that I’m writing this now is because I’m forcing myself to do it.

School will be over for the semester soon and I keep telling myself that my fire to write will come back.

I have faced this problem in the past. I get burned out during the semester being forced to write certain things, by certain perimeters, or given specific prompts and it puts a slight damper on my creativity. Usually when the stress of that semester ends, things get better.

This time I’m more worried.

The novel that I have been pouring the last few years of my life into doesn’t seem to hold my attention anymore.

I’ve had thoughts about diving into the revamp of my first novel because at least the bones of the story are worked out. Yet I haven’t made a move to do this either.

My last blog post exposed some of my frustrations with my program and who I am as a writer and I can’t help but wonder if this is a big part of what is wrong.

I feel beat down by a program that I was so excited to be a part of, that I thought I wanted.

Now I’m starting to worry that I was wrong about so many things, including things that I want.

Having depression and anxiety as a creative person is fun!

The Negative View of “Genre Writing” in Creative Writing Programs

“Genre isn’t what we do in this program” said the professor for my fiction workshop class who also happens to be the director of my program.

I can’t even begin to describe the emotions that smacked me in the face when I heard that.

I started crying in the middle of my class, in front of everyone. Usually I don’t have a problem crying in front of other people, but I’m sure most of my fellow MFA students thought I was crying because my short story was getting ripped apart. In reality I was crying because I felt like what I write in general was getting ripped apart and I’m sure plenty of other people have felt that.

Let me start off by saying that I think fiction should be a wide association that includes fantasy, sci-fi, historical and more realistic fiction. The MFA program I’m in only wants me to write realistic fiction, maybe historical fiction if I’m lucky.

The piece I wrote was set in Victorian England and I didn’t think it had any fantasy aspects. It wasn’t set in another world, it didn’t have magic, or vampires or anything that doesn’t exist in this world. It was just about a secret society that operated outside of the notice of most people and wanted to shape the world in their image.

With the current state of the world that didn’t seem like much of a stretch.

My classmates barely had enough time to tell me what they enjoyed about the short story before my professor was jumping in and telling me that my story was “genre writing”. I was confused for two reasons:

  1. I didn’t feel like the story was genre
  2. She was saying genre writing like it was a bad thing that her MFA students shouldn’t deign to waste their time on.

I don’t understand why “Literary fiction” just includes authors like John Green or Nicholas Sparks. Story lines that seem to be these thinly veiled wish fulfillment stories where the author can insert themselves into the life they always wanted.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve written those pieces.

When I was in middle school, maybe a freshman in high school, I started to write a story called ‘Love in the Rainbow’ (points to me for worst title ever while unknowingly also foreshadowing my own gayness). It was a story about a quirky girl who was exactly my age and who had the dog I dreamed of getting and the car I wanted, and was much better off financially than my family, she even had a name I liked better than my own. She had the older sister I had always wanted, a father who was always there for her and her mother had passed away. She had amazing friends, was popular and pretty and eventually fell in love.

Meanwhile I was a young girl who had a horrible relationship with her own mother, felt betrayed by my father always taking her side, had an older brother who I couldn’t connect with and a family that was always worried about money. I barely had any friends, I was bullied and made fun of and no guy had ever showed even the slightest interest in anything having to do with me.

I hated the real world. I hated being reminded of it by books. I didn’t want to read something about an awkward young girl learning to love herself, I wanted to escape.

I wanted to travel through Moria with the Fellowship because fighting goblins felt like less of a battle than the fights I had with my mother.

I wanted to go to Hogwarts where I might be able to make friends with people who were as unique as I was.

I wanted to go through the looking glass because maybe in Wonderland I would be able to find someone who was backward enough to look at me and see someone beautiful.

When my professor told me that genre writing wasn’t welcome in the program I have been pouring my wit, words and ideas into I just felt like quitting.

I’m putting my time, effort and money into a program that doesn’t even allow me to write what I am passionate about. Why should I stay?

Of course the practical side of my brain reminded me that I want my MFA to be able to teach at the college level, so I don’t plan on quitting.

Still I wish I could make some of my professors understand what fantasy novels have done for me.

They helped a girl who felt alone and wrong find a place in the world, they helped her find something she is passionate about, something that she can live for.

How can that be unworthy of anyone’s time and attention?

Rejection Is A Bitch

We were challenged to submit some of our work to literary journals or publications for submissions.

The first place I submitted was UB’s publication Skelter. I submitted a short piece of flash fiction and a little piece of non fiction I wrote. In fact I have published both of them on my blog here.

Both of them were rejected from Skelter and it was very disheartening to me. The only time that I have been published in my own school’s literary publication was the semester I myself was working on it. I submitted a piece of non-fiction and I was the fiction editor so I had no hand in getting it published but I haven’t had any luck before or since.

After my rejection from Skelter, the rejections from three other publications I submitted to also came to me.

At one point in my life, I wanted to be an actor, which probably has as much rejection as my current field does, maybe even more rejection.

I wonder why I am a glutton for the punishment that I have now picked two careers where huge aspects of my life are judged. Why do I feel the need to be a writer instead of something else, something more steady and stable and less judged?

My answer: this is what I love.

I’ve been writing since I was little. I wrote on a typewriter, I carried an extra notebook with me all through high school and it was what I was known for.

I have gotten better. Sometimes I am able to look at my own writing and see that it has changed. I don’t even want to say improved because that is so subjective, but there is growth.

So why do I continue to be so hard on myself?

Somehow I doubt that is something I will learn in my MFA program.

Ganymede

This is a flash fiction I wrote for one of my classes last year. Usually I don’t think I’m very good at flash fiction, but I really liked how this one turned out.

I was herding sheep when he took me.

He ripped me from the life I had always known, carried me in a feathery vessel to a world where I was a stranger, a mortal among Gods.

He told me I was beautiful, the most beautiful he had ever seen. I was so different from the Gods with their pale marble colored skin and eyes of deep azure or clover. My skin was dark, the color of wet mud and my eyes matched.

Upon my arrival, I was given eternal youth and beauty. Hera looked at me with contempt from my first moments in Olympus, her eyes glinting with her wishes of my downfall. There was no way for me to tell her that I didn’t want this life, no words I could say to convince this goddess that I was not a threat. If I had been a cat I might have stood a chance of gaining her cool indifference, but she only saw me as a rival for the affection of their King.

I was given wine and told to serve, to make sure his cup was never empty. I stood at his right hand and yet no one ever seemed to notice until his voice drew their eyes to me.

“Look at my beauty,” he would say to the crowd of perpetual indulgence. “All of you gaze upon the gorgeous youth that I have rescued and claimed as mine.” Then he would go on to tell the story of how he saved me from a path that ended in Hades and gifted my life purpose.

Was herding sheep not purpose enough? Was helping my father and my family too lowly for him to understand? I suppose to a god my simple way of life certainly seemed like something to be saved from, but I had been taken from a life I loved and given an eternity of servitude.

At night, Helios takes the sun back across the sky, and Selene raises the moon to hang among the stars, and I lie with him towering above me.

His fingertips feel as if they leave scorching red marks across the darkened plains of my back. I’m sure he thinks his touch is soft, but I feel nothing but the lightning that lies in wait beneath the surface. He does what he wants to me and I do not object because no one can save me from his thunder.

While he consorts with Morpheus I often think of running away, wondering if there is some hidden path to be found that would lead me out of the sky and back to my home near Troy. Perhaps I could seek Prometheus to fuel my escape attempt, or perhaps there is a map that is locked in Pandora’s box. Alas, I know that my ideas are just feeble dreams, no mortal has ever bested him, and none ever shall.

We mortals are nothing to them, simply pawns on a board.

He moves me where he wills and I must obey.

Midnight Musings on Turning 30

A manhole cover jutting out of the side of a hill isn’t exactly a glamorous place to sit and ponder the questions of the world.  I’ve been coming here since I was thirteen and this is the place that my feet always seem to have me find again.

 I remember sitting in this place when I was still newish in the world. Now, newly thirty, I’m here again. The big three zero seemed like such an unattainable age when I was thirteen. It wasn’t an age to focus on, not when my sweet sixteen was only a few years away, and after that all the fun coming of age birthdays that would follow. Now as I sit in this familiar spot 17 years later, I long to grasp onto the child that ran away from me too fast.

Depression and an abusive mother made me grow up before my time. I won’t go into too much about what I faced, not because I don’t like to talk about it, but because at this point none of it seems original. At thirteen it was easy to think that I was the only girl in the world who had my problems, but since then I’ve learned how common they really are. Back then my mental health issues led me down a path that no one could have prepared me for. One that some people don’t come back from. That is probably one of the things I wish I could tell my teenage self the most. To look up and see that I wasn’t the only person I knew who thought about ending my own life, I wasn’t even the only person who made attempts. It was just so much easier to think that I was alone because the truth is if I had seen someone else on a similar path I probably couldn’t have helped them. I’ve been treading the dark paths of depression for longer than I care to think about and at thirty all I have to show for it is my life.

I was one of the lucky ones: I came back. Not every teen who deals with similar issues can say the same, their voices silenced by their own hands. I made it to thirty when the world seemed to fall apart around me, but then again what teenager doesn’t think their world is on the edge of ruin on a daily basis? Sometimes I long for the small things that seem like crises when I was a teen. A bad haircut, or getting rejected by my crush would be welcome escapes from major stressors like making sure I have enough money to pay my rent, crippling student loan debt or more serious things like the decaying state of the world.  

I’m still here and I give a lot of credit for that to my friends. There have been plenty over the years, some who have come and gone, and some that remain. They all helped me in their own way, even if they aren’t around for me to thank. My friends are the answer to pretty much any question in my life. They are the reason that I’m even able to sit under the stars contemplating and philosophizing like the Emo teen I never was. Looking back I can realize how truly lucky I was and still am to have people in my life who would stretch their hand down to me. They reach out to me in whatever hell I am going through and when they can’t pull me up, they join me instead.

So, what would make a relatively sane women sit in the cold in just leggings, a short sleeve T-shirt, and a hoodie? Let me tell you, as a relatively sane woman, I can explain myself.

I was looking for some clarity. The raised drain where I’m currently perched has served as the setting for many nights like this and many realizations. However, tonight on this metal cover sticking out of a hill at a school I matriculated through, my mind won’t be at peace. I look at the stars, feel the cold starting to numb my fingers and take another breath. Maybe the clarity I am searching for is closer than I realize.

My thirtieth birthday was probably one of the best I’ve ever had. My mother and one of my best friends conspired to throw me a small surprise party, something I’ve always wanted. My mom kept apologizing that it wasn’t a grander affair, but it was actually perfect. The friends who cared about me the most were there, and that was all I really needed. The dread I thought I would feel at turning thirty never came, and I was finally able to realize that my life is far from over. That is enough to keep me going, the realization that I have more time to make mistakes, memories and other things other people might take for granted.

 It’s cold and by now it’s nearly two in the morning. I glance once more out over the fields sparkling with diamond studded dew and at the sentinel stars, silently spread above my head and get up from my perch. I glide along the asphalt sea towards the school, mirroring steps I took as a girl. I see the number 1997 on the building, the school’s first year. I was 8 at the time, just starting 3rd grade in the shiny new building two blocks from my house. If I went inside, I would still be able to find my old rooms. Some people might see that as an inability to let go, but I see it as cataloging where I’ve been. The relentless march of time never ends and so I just try to hold on, while not letting go of the important things that have helped shape me.

            I walk toward my parent’s house and I breathe in the ice like night air. That is what I told my parents I was going out for, air, so I might as well get my fill. I walk slowly, my head thrown back, taking in the moon and the clear sky. As I reach the front porch, another moment of clarity hits me.

Man learned how to chart the stars and I learned how to map where I’ve been. I’m thirty now, and lucky enough to know what I want out of life. I’m in Grad school chasing after my dream of being a writer, I’m not stuck living in my parent’s basement and I have people surrounding me who will cheer me on no matter what I do. I can see where I’ve been and while I might not know where I’ll go next, at least that old manhole cover will be there for me when I need to figure it out.

A Good Website?

My opinions of a good website are probably a little different than normal.

While I love websites that are flashy and fancy, I don’t think every website needs that. There is something to be said for websites that are “simple”.

I also feel like what is good, is subjective. What I like about websites might be what other people hate about them.

For me, I’ve struggled to figure out what I think is a good website.

I want a website to be easy to navigate
Easy to read
Attractive or has some kind of design to it
Tells me what I need to know up front (I don’t want to mistake the website for anything else)
Menus – I don’t want everything slapped on one page. I want it paced a little bit, I want it to have some flow.

I don’t pretend to know anything about designing websites, I just know what I like when I’m exploring the web.