I must be coming out of my post-MFA slumber, because I feel like writing again. Not revising or editing or researching or plotting, but honest-to-God writing. I’m talking about letting-it-flow without agonizing over the opinion of peers and faculty—the ‘I don’t mind making an ass of myself as long as I’m having fun’ kind of writing. Having said that, I’m not quite ready to give up on my ‘Don’t you dare critique me, because I’ll poke my right finger in your left eye’ attitude.
It’s not that I’m overly sensitive, though my husband may disagree. I’m actually quite resilient, being a Capricorn and all, but after graduation, my creative part desperately needed a hiatus to recuperate from critique overkill. I know the characters of my work-in-progress novel will still be there when my inspiration returns. I’m confident that I’ll be a better writer for having given myself time to assimilate the learning: embracing the principles I value and letting go of those that don’t suit my writing style or sensibility. There’s a time and place for everything—right? And sometimes you need to write about something to really get it out of your system. So, my next few blog posts will be an attempt to articulate and make sense of the last two years of my life—in a having-fun-with-it kind of way, of course…I hope.
Toward the end of 2009, when I realized it was time to take my writing to a higher level, I applied to a number of low residency MFA creative writing programs. Low residency because my husband and I don’t live a normal life (which is not to say we’re dysfunctional gypsy expats, though you might want to read my upcoming memoir—Out of Sync—to decide for yourself).
- My first choice was the Stonecoast program at University of Southern Maine. Their promotion centers on “flexibility” that includes the option to develop a research project in community service, teaching, publishing, or creative collaboration in addition to a craft essay, AND the option to spend one residency in Ireland, where my daughter lives—the “difference” that earned them three *** in my mind. Damn, their acceptance came way too late!
- I also applied to Warren Wilson College, because it’s “located in the beautiful Blue Ridge mountains of North Carolina,” even though the story goes that the institution flaunts a “greener-than-thou” attitude, which might explain the rejection I received.
- My next application went to Vermont College of Fine Arts, the most expensive of them all, but their claim of “advancing the arts to create a more human world” appealed to me. Only, they never responded: not a single “yes/no” or “we-don’t-like-you-so-go-back-to-your-mama.” I think my application must’ve fallen between the cracks, and that’s not too surprising if you consider how many cracks there are in the arts.
- My first offer came from Pine Manor College (MA, outside Boston), which I accepted at first, and then declined for the reason mentioned below.
- When I received an offer from Queens University of Charlotte, I accepted since it seemed like good karma, though you’ll have to read about my experiences in North Carolina in my upcoming memoir, Out of Sync, to fully understand my relationship with the South.
So, that’s an account of my MFA application process in a squirrel’s discarded nutshell. It’s interesting to look back on the application elements that reflected my aspirations and skills then and compare that with how I feel about myself as a writer and see my future career at present.
I only realize now that I wrote both my application and graduation papers on the subject of Lionel Shriver, the author of We Need to Talk About Kevin. Then again, the story still fascinates me.
This is the opening paragraph of the essay that formed part of my application:
Lionel Shriver is an American journalist and author. She has been an expatriate since 1985, living for periods in Nairobi, Bangkok, and Belfast. She currently resides in London. Shriver is best known for her epistolary novel, We Need To Talk About Kevin. The book was first printed in 2003 and reached best-seller status mostly by word of mouth due to America’s, if not the world’s, preoccupation with the story’s main theme: school shootings. The author won the 2005 Orange Prize for Fiction, a UK-based prize for female authors of any nationality writing in English. In a plethora of reviews, readers and critics agreed that this disturbing yet eloquent story was a notable read. “This is heavy material, but Ms. Shriver tackles it with admirable panache, turning a sensational story into a troubling one.”—Wall Street Journal.
Below follows the premise of my graduation essay as it pertains to this story (I apologize for not divulging more than this, as I intend to submit a similar paper for publication):
Internal and interpersonal conflict can be very intense when a character’s beliefs about the world are thwarted to the extent of undermining his/her sense of self.
In my opinion, values/beliefs and identity are primarily the levels where the characters’ conflict plays out and where change is most evident as the story progresses through five distinct phases:
- the time prior to Kevin’s birth, when Eva and Franklin were footloose and fancy-free;
- during her pregnancy, when the couple’s opposing values start emerging;
- after Kevin’s birth, when his obstreperous personality emerges and the parents start drifting apart;
- after Celia’s birth, an event that upsets the fragile balance even further;
- following the massacre and Kevin’s incarceration, when they are all finally ‘separated.’
The application element that troubles me most and, therefore, warrants considered analysis, is my Statement of Intent: “an essay on the prospective student’s reasons for applying to the MFA program and expectations for the program.” Watch out for my next blog post in which I’ll discuss my original goals and assess my level of success, or lack thereof.