Reading Nostalgia

When I was little, my parents were very involved with making sure I had a love of reading. I even completed the Hooked on Phonics program (and yes, it worked for me.)

I stuck these on the sides of books I’d read.

One morning Kevin and I went down a rabbit hole of our genealogy after he revealed he was related to Davy Crockett’s brother, and I revealed I was related to Pocahontas/Matoaka– not the Disney one, the real person. (Sidenote, this really shouldn’t be hard to believe. 17+ generations back, and with families having ten+ children, there are probably quite a number of people who are just as related to Pocahontas as I am.) As I dug through my file box for the stapled packet tracing my family back to Jamestown, Virginia, I found a file of my old reading incentives.

Evolution of my favourite pen for the day.

Reading incentives? Yes. With my sister and I reading ravenously, sometimes it was hard to remember who had read which book. We started keeping track with long lists of which books we had read. The incentive was pennies for each book, as noted by the “$3! Good job!” notes from my Mom at the bottom of the pages. These few dollars meant the world to my sister and I, and we’d often save up together to pool our money for trinkets, or carnival games at the Ocean City boardwalk.

I don’t know how after all of my moves and organizing and donating that these few pages from the late nineties made it to my file box, but I am glad they did. I like my use of milky pens, showing off my cursive, and of course, struggling to assign a genre to the Beanie Baby catalogue. (My mom wrote in non-fiction).

I did find my genealogy pages shortly afterwards. Kevin and I discovered that our families were in Virginia at the same time but in different counties, and that Davy Crockett spoke against Andrew Jackson and the Indian Removal Act, which Kevin was very relieved about. But, in Crockett’s memoir he claims some violent acts against Natives. History is never straightforward, it seems. Even in our memoirs.

Changing My Idea of Free Time

When aspects of our life are not fulfilling, we seek out other ways to fill the void. This is not always a negative thing, and certainly I am the first to admit that despite grad school, dog ownership, relationships, sickness or health, I enjoy watching things move on a screen. TV shows and movies are highly enjoyable to me, but it took my nearly 25 years to realize the vicious cycle of free time vs work, and how so many of us are addicted to certain habits in order to “relax and have fun.”

When I think about the forty+ hour work week, I wonder what the long term benefits are of only having two of every seven days to call our own. When I hear people talking about their fantasy retirement, I wonder “what about the 30, 40, 50 years until then??”

Meeko gives up on her day whenever she finds a good spot to nap in

I don’t want to think of my free time in terms of years, weeks, or even days. Free time is every half hour of my day that I’m not working for someone else. Five o’clock is no longer the hour when I give up on my day.

Over a year ago, I was writing only a few hours a week. Sure, I did research on publishing and literary journals, but deep down I knew I could be trying harder. Every day that guilt sat at the bottom of my stomach, pulling me into self-doubt and making me question whether I could call myself a writer at all.

My long-term motivation comes from completing projects and completing to-do lists. Short-term motivation comes from imagining how I will feel after accomplishing a small task. It is certain that I will not achieve any of my goals if I do not begin with simply finishing the short story or essay at hand. My planner holds my time commitments for the week so that my brain doesn’t spend energy remembering appointments.

It is a privilege that the hardships in my life are faceable, and fixable for the most part. I am grateful that I can choose to work on my writing goals this evening, after a shift at my temp job. 

There is no age limit where we should give up on our dreams. It is a privilege that we can use our free time to achieve our goals, so let’s get to work.

Summer reading list

During my first year of grad school, I took a lot of notes. I realized that in many of my classes, professors had suggestions for things I (specifically) should be reading.

This felt different from the random person who is all like, “you haven’t read X, omg, you are a horrible uncultured person, but just kiddinggg but seriously, drop whatever you’re doing, call off work, and go read X.” Okay, I get it.

Here’s the thing. Have you been in a library lately? There are a ton of books. More than I could ever read in my lifetime. That is the reality, I cannot read everything. For most of my life I read things that interested me, following certain authors, or discovering interesting looking covers in the library (a spaceship on the cover?? I’d better find out what happens!) Now I am switching over to reading things that will help my writing, through content, craft, or inspiration.

We all secretly like to be judgmental, mainly because it’s more fun that way. So, I thought I’d share my summer reading list. I made this list solely for myself, based on suggestions from professors for the types of stories *I* want to be writing, as well as books I’ve been meaning to read because I think they will inspire my writing somehow. Below are a mix of novels and short story collections. Some are just authors I’ve been encouraged to check out and I haven’t decided what works of theirs to read yet. There are also a few fiction craft books in there (as in, ‘how to write fiction’ type books). If you have suggestions for magical realism, minimalist, strange, genre bending, dystopian, and/or feminist stories, I would love to hear about them!

“Red Moon” Ben Percy
“Refresh, Refresh” Ben Percy
“The lie that tells the truth” John Dufresne
“Is life like this? A guide to writing your first novel in 6 months” John Dufresne
“Bird by Bird” Anne Lamott
“Willful Creatures” Aimee Bender
“The Color Master: stories” Aimee Bender
The Complete Collection of Calvin and Hobbes
“Reservation Blues” Sherman Alexie
“Indian Killer” Sherman Alexie
“The Way to Rainy Mountain” N. Scott Momaday
“House Made of Dawn” N. Scott Momaday  (re-reading)
“Suddenly, A knock on the door” Etgar Karet
“Reasons to live” Amy Hempel
“Jesus’ Son” Denis Johnson
Margaret Atwood
“The Power and the Glory” Graham Greene
George Saunders
“The Road” Cormac Mccarthy

Oh, and a lovely middle school student I tutor suggested I check out the YA series “Divergent” even though we agreed it seemed like a rip off of the Hunger Games. Got to stay up to date on my youth culture though!
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Grad School Update and Summer break

After finishing my first year of grad school at Boise State (two more to go!) I can say many things about going back to school. One of which is that your blog posts may vary incredibly. I disappeared a bit this Spring semester blog-wise, but I’m determined to keep going. I realized only in the last week or so of school that I had not done something social (as in, not related to my program) the whole semester, and I hadn’t called anyone for fun besides my sister. Talk about living under a rock…  Now I am ready to share more about my first year here.

I taught two classes of English 102, which is research writing, and I didn’t die. Professors have an option to theme their 102 classes, so I picked “pop culture.” If you’re going to have to read all their papers, they might as well be interesting, right? A lot of them really surprised me with their creativity, and I felt much more myself even in my teacher-character. I battled with weird classroom arrangements, incorporating a textbook, and a wide variety of actual writing skills. Could someone please let the engineering majors know that they will have to write again? That English 101 and 102 are not the last papers they’ll have to write? How do they think they are going to get grant money for the giant robots they want to build?

Lemongrab from Adventure Time
Lemongrab from Adventure Time

I also made a big effort to teach my students film critique as a research skill, which resulted in a class period watching part of a documentary on Star Trek fans and having my students take apart the directorial choices, editing, narration, etc. The classes are normally full at twenty-five students, but I somehow ended up with nineteen and four (!!!). The four person class was a crazy experience, but they all jumped right in and held themselves to such a high accountability. Their presentations and papers were far better than my nineteen person class. This has given me a lot of thought on the research showing the best way to learn is one-on-one.

For my next two years in my grad program, I’ll be working at Boise State’s Writing Center doing just that– working individually with students from all majors and levels on their writing assignments, getting to the root of their writing problems (or fears), and making every minute count. I’m really excited to learn more about the theory behind individual learning, and coupled with my growing tutoring and college admissions consulting business, I can put the theories I learn into action very quickly!

I applied to two National Humanities Seminars and was waitlisted to both (but ultimately not selected). I attended my first official writers conference in Seattle and learned that I feel overwhelmed around thousands of people (duh). I applied and luckily was selected to participate in a week long course design program at Boise State and have started to plan out my first Intro to Fiction Writing class I’ll be teaching next year.

But now, I am officially on summer vacation, which, like most
Jackie-vacations means working multiple jobs, Netflix, and writing as much as I can. I even made myself a reading list, just like the high school days. My summer jobs are: Temp Test Administrator for Pearson testing company, tutoring English for local middle school students, and beginning my season of college application consulting.

I bought a snake plant, which is good for filtering air
I bought a snake plant, which is good for filtering air

I will barely make rent.
I will eat a lot of pizza.
I will keep writing.

Thank you again for all of your support!

 

 

 

 

 

Graduate School Plans

As my grand road trip adventure comes to a close (only 5 more days before we can move in to our new apartment!) my upcoming application season is heavy on my mind. Every graduate program has it’s own rules and secrets, and for every graduate degree out there, there are reasons not to get one. I have decided to pursue the Creative Writing field through a Master of Fine Arts.

DISCLOSURE: I applied to 9 highly competitive MFA programs this past year, with the hopes that I would be starting school this Fall 2012. I was denied to 8 programs and waitlisted to Louisiana State University’s program. Unfortunately they did not go to their waitlist, nor do I know how high up on their list I ranked. I failed, and there is no one to blame except myself. After a few tears and a lot of thinking/charts, I have decided to re-apply for the Fall of 2013 to 14 different programs. I have quit my job and am changing my life so that I may focus exclusively on writing stories for the applications, as well as making writing my career.

My current goal is to get into a respected, competitive, full time Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing program. In general, students select from Poetry, Fiction, Screenwriting, or Creative Non-Fiction as their focuses. My chosen focus is Fiction, however I’m also interested in non-fiction and poetry. The way these applications work is that you apply directly to whatever you would like to focus on.

MFA programs, like many graduate degrees, come in all shapes and sizes. Creative Writing is considered a fine arts field, so the MFA is a terminal degree, or the highest degree that can be awarded for that field. This is confusing though, as there are a growing number of PhD’s in Creative Writing. There are many resources out there that can talk about the pros and cons of the PhD, and opinions on the lessening effect higher education has (ie “everyone” has a Master’s degree now/Bachelor’s degrees are the norm).

The most competitive MFA programs generally take a small number of students each year, waive tuition, and offer a living stipend (enough to cover rent). Some programs are 2 years, others are 3. Either way, one usually takes workshop classes (reading and evaluation your own writing as well as helping others with their work), teach English 101 to undergrads, and spends the final year creating a book length manuscript which will be what you shop around trying to get published.

Right now, I am leaning towards 3 year programs, with guaranteed (or close enough) full funding for all of their students. In other words, I’m not interested in paying  tuition if I don’t have to!

Here are the schools I plan to apply to for their MFA programs:

Iowa State University
Louisiana State University
McNeese State Lake Charles, LA
Michener
Ohio State
Purdue in Indiana
U Central Arkansas
U Florida Gainesville
U Mississippi in Oxford (Ole Miss)
U New Mexico
U New Orleans
U South Carolina in Columbia
Virginia Polytechnic Institute
Wichita State University

I will be posting updates with my application journey this time around, from writing my samples and personal essays to the decisions as they come in. Ideally, the majority of my writing samples should be done by August, then I will be able to start submitting applications October through January. Most of the decision letters will get mailed or emailed to me mid-March through the end of April. If you come across this and have any questions for me about the application process or what I went through last year I am happy to share. Wish me luck!