From under the skirt of everything

Back here again with my tail between my legs. The blog as it once was has been wiped clean — minus the first post because I still stand by it, even after everything, and by everything I mean this:

I have no idea what I’m doing with my life.

So cliche, so millennial, so 22-year-old-with-an-otherwise-decent-life-who-would-be-successful-if-she-didn’t-spend-so-much-time-complaining. But don’t let this statement be confused with ,I don’t know what I want to do with my life. That used to be my question, but it’s not anymore.

Besides this vague dream of using my writing to affect the world meaningfully, I didn’t really have any specific endgame in mind until around a year ago when I started to consider getting my MFA, going to grad school, and hopefully teaching somewhere. So I busted my ass all year and sent myself down my current path. I took the GRE. I applied to a few schools relatively nearby. I did the financial aid apps. I pestered my professors and boss for some recommendations. I cried a lot. I drank a lot while commiserating with my other graduate-school-bound friend. I fantasized about the TAship I thought I had in the bag and the apartment I would get in Pittsburgh. I made up elaborate hypothetical workshop situations in my head. I was in deep.

My first acceptance was probably one of the most affirming, emotional moments of the past year. It came late at night in the form of a casual email telling me to look out for a more official notification in the coming days. I said “oh my god” aloud like I was in a movie and it sounded like it was coming out of someone else’s mouth and body. When I called Nick to let him know that all of the hard work and whining had seemingly paid off, he sounded so happy for me that I almost cried. In the back of my mind, there was some nagging worry that despite my success, attending an MFA in a city where I couldn’t live with my parents would end up to be unaffordable or otherwise impossible for me to do, but I purposely set that feeling aside. There’s always a nagging doubt, and besides, there were two more schools.

The bittersweet chocolate-and-shitstorm of my academic future did not suddenly appear over my head one day but crawled menacingly over the horizon and I didn’t realize the storm was all chocolate until I opened my mouth. I got another acceptance a week later. No funding info yet, but there was still hope. Hungry for more information, I started lurking around on the various online communities dedicated to providing sometimes up-to-the-minute coverage of which MFA programs were notifying whom and how and when they were doing it. Fairly quickly, I stumbled upon some evidence that other poetry applicants at School #2 were, in my estimation, in much better shape to receive one of the competitive TAships  that were so necessary for me to attend. This was the first rumble of thunder.

Even then though, even when a simple crunching of numbers would have shown me just how low my chances were of making this work, I believed I would get it. Beneath all of the angst and panic was this illusion that it would all add up to something, that because I’m me or for some other naive reason, something would Happen. I guess this is what baby boomers mean when they refer to “millennial entitlement” but it didn’t feel that way. I believed (and dammit, still believe) in the importance of narrative, and I thought this was a blip in the narrative of me trudging through this MFA process and then being rewarded.

Then, rejection and waitlist notifications for the remaining school started going out. I waited in suspense and then didn’t receive one, which I boldly interpreted as good news. Not only that, but this program was fully funded! By this point, I had been reading enough online MFA resources to know that it’s not over ’til it’s over and one shouldn’t discount all of one’s options before they know for sure. But this assumption that a lack of timely rejection was an implicit acceptance was too tempting for me to resist. When you’re starving and when you believe in narrative enough, turds will look like chocolate right up until the moment they hit your tongue.

I spent the entirety of the AWP conference waiting for my acceptance to arrive. Uncertainty had begun to creep in slowly but in a gentle way that I could still ignore if I so desired. On Thursday night, I went to an offsite Wendell Mayo reading. I was slightly drunk on chocolate beer and a vodka soda with my friend and an alum of my current undergrad program and we were in a hole-in-the-wall little bar with a jazz band playing downstairs and almost drowning out the poetry and I was leaning against a railing trying to keep everyone’s coats from being stolen and in that moment there was this rush of love and certainty and passion that was so overdue. All of the stress of the past semester and change were yanked away, allowing me to see the beauty of these circumstances. I was crowded in a small room with a group of people who believed in the value of words and of feelings fiercely enough to show up, even to D.C., even in times like these. I told myself I would never forget it. On the last night, there was Rita Dove and Ocean Vuong and Terrance Hayes and a wonderful drunken discourse in our hotel room with an MFA cohort we’d just met. I told myself I would never forget it.

Half an hour after I returned from AWP, sleep-deprived and drive-lagged and wanting a shower, I checked my mail and found my days-old rejection from school #3 and then I forgot.

I forgot all of it. I forgot why any of the passion and talent and work I put into this process even mattered. I forgot about the two minor successes I’d already had. I called Nick crying and my mouth tasted, finally, like shit. I didn’t know whether to be bitter or depressed or resilient so I opted out of them all and for a while it was just me and my laptop and my crumb-filled sheets. I experienced every stage of grief and wondered for the first time if all of my going-for-it and all of my dream-following had been a waste of time. Maybe I should have majored in accounting. Maybe I shouldn’t have gone to college at all. Maybe for all of my effort and desire, writing and I don’t mix, I shouldn’t try to make something more than pure sentiment out of loving it.

I would love to tell you that I’m over it, but I’m not. I can tell you that this feeling is grist for the mill. I can tell you that when the pain subsided I wrote a poem about ripping off Charles Bukowski’s balls. I can tell you that I don’t cry about it every single day. But the shit aftertaste is still there following me around. I want an MFA so badly. I thought that 2017 would be the year I would get it because I tend to get the things that I want when it comes to my art. But I can’t have this particular thing and that realization has caused me to break with myself. The way I see things has changed.

The editor-in-chief of the journal I edit for told me today that when you’re depressed, you see up the skirt of every shitty little thing. He’s right. Being sapped of your confidence and your optimism brings you closer to the truth of the world which is that it’s chaotic and nobody really “deserves” anything. It doesn’t really matter what you want or who you are or what you can do. What matters is what you do and what happens. Somewhere along that chain of command, I lost grasp of the MFA dream for now.

Which brings me to what I said up above and what I kind of sort of revamped this blog just to tell you.

I have no idea what I’m going to do with my life.

So for now, I’ll write I guess.


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