2016 wrap up

My official degree!

The second half of 2016 was a whirlwind. After graduating and leaving Boise, Kevin and I drove across the country (again) to leave Meeko at my sister’s apartment so we could fly out of Boston airport to Iceland and Paris.

Thanks to cheap flights, that monthly discount on Airbnb, and a limited food budget (mostly baguettes), Kevin and I stayed in Paris for a month. This was Kevin’s first international trip, so it felt really special to share something that has been so important with him.

Hanging out in Paris
The chandelier at Palais Garnier (Paris Opera House)

We spent most of our time going to museums and gardens, with bakery stops in between.

I still owe Kevin back for the trip (because you know I didn’t have that kind of money saved up on a graduate student salary!), but between my graduating and him starting his own MFA program this fall, we agreed it was worth the risk while we had the free time.

After Paris we drove back across the country and stopped in Laramie to find a place to live. We snagged a still-being-renovated apartment with a fenced yard which Meeko was very excited about. The apartment is one of four in a renovated, hundred year old house. Two of our windows have breaks in the glass. The bathroom was built on what used to be a deck. But, it is almost twice the size of our Boise apartment… for the same price. While I’d hoped to find a place in a newer building for the sake of cheaper heat, Kevin and I stuck to our budget and signed a 10 month lease. The whole time we were apartment hunting in Laramie, we stayed in another Airbnb in Northern Colorado where our host made us delicious breakfast every morning. Meeko made friends with the black lab, and overcame her fear of the deck.

A familiar sight. This has been the best roadtrip car!

At the end of the summer, we spent a month living in Nampa with his mom while I commuted to Boise to teach two summer camps for a new startup. After that, it was off to Laramie, officially! I put my budget organizing and decorating skills to use and hit up Craigslist, yard sales, and the local oddity/flea market, Bart’s. (If you are ever driving on I-80 and need a place to stop and walk around, go check out Bart’s! You never know what you’re going to find there. Except wagon wheels, there’s always wagon wheels.)

Meeko enjoying the couch.

The best find was a brown couch with an embroidered scene of horses running across the plains. Too perfect.

It took a while to get settled in Laramie, and I am still figuring out the best way to cobble together multiple streams of income while I build up my new business. But, the cost of living is pretty low out here. I don’t go out to do much other than events with the University of Wyoming’s MFA program. A few years ago I might not have liked that, but right now, it is kind of perfect. I spend seven days a week working on projects from home, writing, consulting, building up my websites, and constantly looking to that future I hope to have.

3rd Street in Laramie, on the edge of downtown.

Kevin is loving his program, I’m enjoying how much I can focus on work here, and Meeko is eating all the snow she can. On to 2017!

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!

33 days left in Pittsburgh

There are officially 32 days left until I leave Pittsburgh. It’s strange how much this city has become home to me. It’s now in second place for “Longest amount of time living in one general geographical area”. First place is still Western New York, though I would argue that Amherst, East Amherst and Lockport(-ish) are all so different that it shouldn’t really count.

I came to Pittsburgh as a freshman at Carnegie Mellon University in the Fall of 2010. Now I have 32 days left in my life as Assistant Director of Admissions at CMU, living in a row-home and shopping at Giant Eagle.

As my first entry, this is my official declaration to the world that I am going for it. After two years of living a fairly average and socially acceptable life (for a humanities major anyways) I realized that not only was I unhappy, but the one thing that took up most of my time (my job) was preventing me from doing anything about it. After being rejected from all nine MFA graduate school programs that I applied to, I knew I needed to take drastic action.

In 32 days, I will finish selling off my furniture, pack up what’s left into my car* and drive across the country from Pittsburgh to San Francisco where I will be living with my boyfriend and working exclusively on writing stories for my applications. I hope you will join me and see how it all works out!

Also, my name is Jackie Sizemore.