On Growth Spurts

Life, Writing

I, like most people, went through several growth spurts during middle school.  For most of my life I’ve been taller than the majority of kids my age, so these spurts were unwelcome.  I was more mature than many my age, too, which wasn’t always the most fun (though now I see it as a huge blessing).

I got braces smack dab in the middle of sixth grade, leaving me to be one of the only middle schoolers with metal wires stuck to my teeth and an adjuster situated in the roof of my mouth that was cranked with a key.

Growth spurts are not always fun when they occur in one’s formative years.  They make for awkward conversations, awkward feelings, and awkward appearances.  I am coming to learn, though, that growth spurts continue long after one has actually stopped growing.

Life has a way of stretching a person out.  We are all constantly being molded to fit the shape of the place we are in.  This is a type of growth, a type of re-shaping.  It is a harsh and soft process all at once.

Growth, if we are all being honest, is painful.  Even the physical type of growth can be – I distinctly remember my mother telling me that the occasional aches and pains I experienced in my limbs were growing pains.  Despite the pain that sometimes comes from growth, it is a beautiful thing.

As I have come to very recently recognize, I have been in a phase of growth for the past couple of years.  Looking back on where I was last year is startling.  There has been growth since then – it hurt at times and made me cry at others, but it was still growth.

Sometimes the only way to become a better person is to run through the fire, or slog through the mud, if I’m going to be more accurate.  I think the worst part about periods of growth is that I can tell when I am in one, mainly because it hurts in new and unexpected ways than ever before, but I cannot see the end goal.  I can’t see the person I will be in a week, in a month, in a year, I just know that person will be different than the person currently making her way through the swampland.

I find in these moments I must look to the good that I know will come of this, even though I don’t know when.  I can only grasp at what the future might bring – the brilliant dawn at the end of a dark night that I know will eventually come.  I must grasp on to hope for better times yet to come, for a better me that is yet to come.  I know one day I will be that person reflecting back on life and recognizing the beauty that came from this present pain.

And I can only hope that person will be a better one.

 

On Rejection

MFA, Writing
This is a post I never published from spring 2017, yet is particularly poignant after a slew of another type of rejections recently…

I’ve been meaning to write something about rejection for a while.  The thing is, I find this topic hard to talk about sometimes.  At this point in my writing career (stupidly early on, I must admit), I have been rejected more times than I can count.  While there seems to be quite a list developing on the writing page of this website, it took a lot of “no’s”to get there.  Even thought there have been more no’s than yeses and you’d think I would be used to rejection at this point, I’m not.  It still stings.

The past few weeks I have felt like that soda can, crushed over and over again by the shoe of rejection.

This afternoon, as a matter of fact, I was slogging around the house wallowing in the uncertainty that many of my most recent no’s have gotten me.  The last few no’s have hurt.  I’d like to be more writerly and use a word like stung which has a nicer ring to it here, but the reality is that they hurt.  It didn’t feel like I was stung by a bee, it felt like I was hit by bus.  No, like I was hit by a train.  Grad school rejections completely and totally crush you.  On my way to school today I saw a man picking up garbage on the side of the street.  He carefully put stray papers and candy bar wrappers in his bag, but when he came to a soda can deposited in the yellowing grass by the sidewalk, he placed it firmly on the cement before crushing it under his foot.  The past few weeks I have felt like that soda can, crushed over and over again by the shoe of rejection (that doesn’t quite sound right, but you get the point).

Last Friday, I was rejected not once, not twice, but three times by different literary magazines and for different creative pieces.  Three times in one day.  I set my own record.  The week before that I didn’t get into Minnesota State University, and a few weeks before that I didn’t get into Colorado State University.  Then, during a horrendous bout of the stomach flu, I was accepted to Memorial University but with no funding making it virtually impossible for me to attend.  A bittersweet acceptance, I guess we can call that one.

I don’t mean to throw myself a nice little pity party.  I mean to let you know that I am all too familiar with rejection.  It seems like in life in general, I have been rejected more than I have been accepted (this is probably an exaggeration, but I am going to roll with it).

I’m not giving up.

Despite the immense amount of crushing rejection I’ve been faced with the past few weeks, I’m not giving up.  After that terrible soda can metaphor, maybe I should, but I’m not.  Writing is what I want to do.  Rejection is part of the deal.  It’s a pretty crummy, soul sucking package deal that I’ve got, but it takes rejections like these to slowly build up that writing page.  It takes bad news to know how great an acceptance is when it comes.  It takes a heck of a lot of no’s to get a yes, but when that yes finally shows up it’s really, really worth it.

So yes, I was in tears this afternoon wondering if I’m good enough to every get a real yes. I can’t answer that question for myself (I think I’m great, I’m a little biased), but I can keep going.  I can keep trying until I get a yes – hopefully one after the other.  In a year, my goal is to be swimming in yeses.  For now, though, I’ll take that piece I just got a no on and submit it somewhere new, all the while crossing my fingers for that next grad school notification.

On Writing After College

Writing

Or, alternatively, things I wish someone would have told me.

You will most likely forget to write.  I know it seems impossible while you are in college immersed in writing everything from research papers to your weekly calendar, but you eventually it will slip your mind.

Sure, you will still write, but it won’t be the type of writing you have waited your whole life to do.  Your head will become so full of work lingo, so focused on the drama of the break room dishes, that writing another email is all you can manage to do during the day.  And yet, there will always be more emails.

You probably won’t have friends.  At least, not in the way you have friends now while enrolled in school.  Friends are friends – they stick by you no matter what.  This doesn’t change.  But your friends will stick by you via text or the occasional coffee run, not through late night study sessions or weekend hang outs.  You may go months without speaking, and then suddenly you are messaging them about their new kid, their engagement ring, or how they are hoping to go to grad school once they are no longer too broke to breathe.  This isn’t a bad thing – you will pick up where you left off each time and it will be as if no time has passed at all.  But life goes on, and time does pass, and each day the sun moves through the sky like you move through the many seasons of One Tree Hill on Hulu.

Your will to try will diminish, then come roaring back when a fresh match sparks your fire, only to be blown out again.  You will come to realize that your day is made up of the same mundane things and that nothing really changes.  Sleep will become a prized luxury that merely fuels you up to go search for your will to try for eight hours every day.  You most likely will not find it, but the trying is what truly tests your character.

You might come to relate to your parents more than you relate to college students.  You will work at a college because you think that it is where fostering of the mind occurs, where all great writing and reading takes place, but you will quickly realize there is more to life than school.  You may feel old.  You are not, but the aching of your shoulders from your bad posture everyday and the creak of your back from your insistence on sticking to an exercise routine will make you feel like you are at retirement age.  Your 401K will say otherwise.

You could start a blog.  Let’s be honest, you probably will, but writing it will become so tedious that you will instead blindly submit your short stories and poems to any literary journal that does not charge a reading fee.  And you will not write as much new material as you wish you could.  As you wish you did.  As you wish you were.

You may get stuck, wondering how to start writing the millions of ideas you have in your head.  You probably stopped writing in the little notebook your creative writing professor insisted upon you having to record the everyday magic around you.  You notice the magic, but it is fleeting.  Your ideas swim in the dank abyss of your mind instead.

You may experience all of these things, but remember that you are still the same person who was excited about graduation.  Deep down inside of your body that has become merely a series of inter-working gears that pull you up out of bed in the morning, there is a soft spot that still feels.  Do not lose that spot, protect it with the glasses, sensible shoes, business casual wardrobe, and low maintenance hairstyle that keep you sane day in and day out.

Remember the magnificent in the mundane.

On Turning Out

Uncategorized

“You say I turned out fine, I think I’m still turning out…” – AJR

It’s something I’ve heard all my life – it’ll all turn out find in the end.  Those later in life who have been successful, made a life for themselves, and seem relatively happy say during a presentation or a Thanksgiving-dinner-speech that even with all the bumps in their lives, they’ve turned out fine.  Well, what is it like in the process of still turning out?  I’m not there yet – I’m not to a a point where I can say that I’ve turned out fine.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately. I’ve been living this lately. I am in a weird in between stage where I have accomplished a lot but am just starting out. I’ve come so very far but still have even farther to go. It is, quite honestly, a struggle. The in between is always beautiful, but I struggle to recognize the beauty in the moment.

Nevertheless, I am here. Still turning out.

The past year has been one of my hardest on many levels. I’ve had a hard time adjusting to a full time job – which is not what I thought I would be adjusting to this year – and have battled with my mind almost non stop. I have tried and tried again to maintain friendships that simply may not be worth maintaining. I have moved on to a new stage in life (a new confusing stage) while some of my friends have stayed in the phase they are in. I’ve tried to bring them with me, but it’s not worked out. I’ve tried to fit back into their lives, but the space that once was reserved for me isn’t there anymore.

I think that’s the thing that has been hard and unexpected. Life after graduation is not glamorous. It is mundane. It is stressful. It is tiring. And it is not at all what I expected. It is part of the turning out process that is wonderful in some ways and painful in others. Growing pains are a real thing, and they have come out in full force over the past year.

Life is continuously not what I thought it would be. The road I am traveling isn’t going where I thought it was, and it’s missing people I thought would still be traveling beside me. Somewhere down the line I will be able to say that I have turned our okay, but right now I’m still turning out.

So in the meantime, as I am trudging along the road, I have made it my goal to strive for beauty. I’m running towards things that make my spirits bright, even if only a little bit.

While I’m still turning out I am noticing the good days. The shouting cherry blossoms this spring that quieted and gave way to billowing lilacs. The fragrant air that rushes past my ear as I drive with the window down. My precious cat who greets me every day when I come home. The fact that there’s flowers on my desk at work and can go on walks outside everyday. These are the good things that help me trudge with a slightly lighter step. It doesn’t make everything better, but it sure does make the process of turning out seem more lovely than simply bearable. At least for a few fleeting moments throughout the day.

On the Circle of Life

Writing

If you read the title to this post and instantaneously thought of The Lion King, know that this was the goal. Well, that and some other things that I’m planning to address in the coming paragraphs, but it is my sincerest hope that you read these words whilst humming along to the Disney melody in your head. You’re welcome.

Regardless of the connection to The Lion King, I have been ruminating as of late on the cyclical nature of life and, of course, of writing.  In the spring I attended another PPWC and was amazed at the way everything came full circle.  It was a year later, with a newly minted me (although really not much had changed since the last edition) with slightly changed versions of the same people and more new things to learn.  It was an interesting experience, being both familiar and unfamiliar with what was going on, having the same conversations (more or less) that I had the previous year, and still feeling like everything with completely different.

I’m now going through a similar process with a new job.  It’s new, but it’s also the same process that I’m going through as the last time I was the new person at a job.  It’s in the same field as my last position, but harder in some ways and easier in others.  I’m still in school, but as a staff member.  There’s still students, but I am (supposedly) older and wiser than them.  I find myself relating to the students I help more than my coworkers.  Maybe it’s my age.  Maybe it’s the freshness of my degree (which I’m still waiting on, by the way – that silly piece of paper needs to come in the mail already).

To get back to more writerly things, I just had a story published online. (please note the literary journal is now defunct)  It was an honor, and it’s one of my favorite stories that I’ve written, but I went through the same cycle I have so many times to get there.  Why was this submission different from the other fifty that didn’t get in anywhere?  And once my story got in (again, a huge honor), the process was just like when I’ve had other stories published, yet it was a new magazine with new readers and a new idea that I had put out into the world.

I feel like life in general is cyclical.  Yes, time moves in a straight line, but in many ways, that line does a lot of loop-de-loops.  Up until a little over a month ago (it was really only that short time ago?) my loop-de-loop was the school year.  Start school, struggle through the semester, take finals, have a break, go back to school, end of year finals, summer break, repeat.  Now I will have a similar cycle, but a different role.  Now my days will be cyclical, and my years will be too, but not in quite the same way.  My writing, I’m sure will be cyclical.  I’m planning on applying to grad school again (this time only to schools I would 100% go to if I were to get in) and going through that cycle once more.  I will write, and I will edit, and I will submit, then I will write some more.  Life is cyclical, writing life is cyclical, and some of the best plot-lines in literature are cyclical.

While thinking about this concept may seem fruitless, my dwelling on this is something that I think will help in my writing.  I’ve realized that life is full of twists, turns, and now loop-de-loops, which will help me write life in a more realistic way.  I can take a character’s life and habits to a whole other level, and take The Lion King, and all the truth that’s found in that silly little song to heart.

 

On Distraction

Distraction, Writing

Sometimes, I find that distraction can be a good thing. At this moment in my life, I am slogging through the last semester of my undergraduate degree and impatiently waiting to hear back about whether or not I have gotten into graduate school. Right about now I can use all the distraction I can get.

Distraction is, more often than not, considered the bane of the writer’s existence. There are all too many things that beckon each and every writer when the only thing they should be focusing on is their writing. Writing at least 500 words a day is how to finish that novel, you say? Well, that can end up slipping to the bottom of the list when there’s website updates, blog posts, and (at least in my case) 15 chapters of The Tenant of Wildfell Hall to finish up by tomorrow. In this case, I would undoubtedly agree that distraction is not to my benefit. Sometimes, though, when staring at my e-mail waiting to hear back about a submission or rereading a sentence over for the fiftieth time to decide whether or not it’s working, something to distract me would be beneficial. 

Today, instead of re-checking my submittable page, my grad school application portals, and the MFA Draft page on Facebook, I purchased my own domain name (oh, hey, addeyvaters.com, welcome to the party), watched an episode of Criminal Minds, found a new jewelry box and some 1940s prints at Goodwill (my second time to the thrift store in two days, it has become a worthy distraction), and did actually get around to some of that Tenant of Wildfell Hall reading (a little later than I should have, though, I must admit). Distraction sometimes can be a good thing. It can get us out of our heads and/or out into the real world. It can force me to have a pleasant conversation with the cashier at the thrift store or to clean out my jewelry stash now that I have somewhere new and pretty to put everything.  

With my life teetering on the edge of so much uncertainty lately, distraction has become my saving grace. If you’re a worrier like me struggling with finding ways to keep your mind off of this, that, and the other thing, go thrifting, take a walk, or create yourself a brand spankin’ new website. It will at least temporarily cease the worrier within and might just get some creative juices flowing in that writerly brain of yours. 

On Vulnerability and Armor and Words

Writing

It takes a lot to be vulnerable. To lay your thoughts and feelings out in the open and truly let others see your inner workings is momentous. Sometimes vulnerability is seen as something negative and something to hide. We are often taught to wear armor – to cover up our weak spots with something not so weak. We are often taught that to be strong, we must not let anyone see the spots underneath that armor – the spots that, if exposed, could be used against us. Spots that are soft and able to give in, whereas our armor is tough and able to deflect. Spots that are human.

I have learned this semester that vulnerability takes a lot. Sometimes parts of your own personal history that you thought were finished and dealt with can bring a lot of heartache and emotion bubbling to the surface. Sometimes you’ve actually gotten over parts of that same history you thought you never could.

I am taking a creative nonfiction course this semester. A course where there’s no escaping your history. A course where vulnerability might as well be listed as the prerequisite. Writing about yourself is hard, just like talking about yourself can sometimes be. That complex interview question of “tell us about yourself” is complex and dreaded for a reason. I have been very inspired by my sister and fellow students and their willingness to be vulnerable. I have in turn been vulnerable in my own writings. Sometimes I don’t always understand the writing of others and sometimes I’m sure they don’t understand my own work, but we all seem to have come to the conclusion that vulnerability is a must – and that vulnerability is unbelievably and excruciatingly difficult. Baring your heart on the page can leave you shaking with trepidation or fighting back tears in the middle of class, but it’s beautiful. Having the strength to bring up things that were heart-stopping and terrible, or downright wonderful, in your past is brave. Being willing to share any part of yourself that is not always visible under that armor is astounding.

On Applying to MFA Programs

MFA

Something I discovered junior year was that graduate programs in creative writing exist.  At my current university, there isn’t even a graduate program in English, and no undergraduate major in creative writing at all, only a minor.  This has never been particularly bothersome to me, but I think that because of this, the idea of studying creative writing at the graduate level never really crossed my mind.  I discovered, though, that there are MFA programs in creative writing all across the country, that my current creative writing professors have almost all graduated from one such program, and that a lot of these programs allow students to work with incredibly talented writers while fully funding their students.  I guess you could say that after a bit of looking into MFA programs my thoughts were something along the lines of: mind blown.

Now that I am in my senior year and set to graduate in May, I have been deciding where I want to apply, what my personal statement should say, what pieces of writing I should use as my samples, who to ask for letters of recommendation, where I would actually want to live for the next two or three years, how hard (or easy) it will be to get into different programs, which faculty I would like to work with, and so many other things.  In addition to how time consuming it is to apply to different MFA programs, it is also expensive given the application fees that are required.  It also costs money to send transcripts to each school, and requires me to ask an incredibly big favor of three or four of my instructors so that I have great recommendations.  It’s all a bit overwhelming, to say the least.

While it is a bit much to handle at times, it is also incredibly exciting.  The prospect of going to school for the next several years studying just creative writing and potentially teaching it, or some other sort of English course, while doing so and being surrounded by a community of other writers – some, I’m sure, very well known and some who have never published before, is such an amazing prospect.  I have come to really love and appreciate the academic world of literature and creative writing during my undergraduate years, and I absolutely adore the idea of staying immersed in this world a bit longer – and potentially for a long time afterwards if I teach.

I spoke with one of my instructors yesterday about the prospect and she had a lot of advice for me.  Daunting advice, to be sure, but such useful advice coming from someone who has been where I am before and actually gotten in to one of these MFA programs.  I’m now going to apply to more programs than I was first considering applying to.  I am now going to try almost exclusively for MFA programs rather than MA programs, since she explained that to teach creative writing, an MFA is almost crucial.  She gave me a lot to thing about, but I am still so excited.  I am ready to really get underway with my applications and to start this journey of writing after graduation – whatever that entails.

On Dabbling

Writing

This semester, I have been dabbling in different forms of creative writing.  My usual focus is fiction, and I tend to drill my thoughts on creative writing so deeply into the framework of fiction that I often don’t consider the other writing forms of poetry and creative nonfiction.  This semester, though, initially by necessity (graduation, anyone?) and now by choice, I have been writing, and reading, lots of poetry and lots of creative nonfiction.

At first I was a bit skeptical.  I absolutely love reading poetry (I even wrote an article about why everyone should read poetry here), but I wasn’t too keen on writing it.  My thoughts on writing poetry have been altered, if only by a little, since then, though.  And as for creative nonfiction, I was, to be honest, completely and utterly new the form.  I thought it would be a bit boring or simply informative, and not much else, as I had come to expect nonfiction to be.  I can say now, though, that creative nonfiction is absolutely magnificent and that I may just be a fiction and nonfiction writer from now on!

Although my mindset has changed when it comes to approaching poetry and creative nonfiction, I’m finding that I am gaining more than just an appreciation for different creative writing forms.  I am learning that do be a great writer – yes, even of purely fiction – I need poetry and creative nonfiction.  I need to not only try my hand at writing it (and fail at writing it in the case of poetry) but I need to appreciate the thoughtfulness that goes into different disciplines within the field of creative writing and use what I learn in the process.

Writing, reading, and learning about creative nonfiction has helped me develop a better sense of how to describe.  I’m at least hoping that after this semester, I will be able to distill images and scenes into beautiful masterpieces – something that I can certainly take with me into my fiction writing, and that nonfiction experts seem to do so effortlessly.  Writing, reading, and learning about poetry has made me realize how important words are.  In creative pieces, each word holds weight – and I need to weigh my word choices thoughtfully before placing them in a piece.  Poetry has also taught me the intense and real work that goes into creating something so small but so very, very powerful.  Poets are incredibly gifted, and I have come to admire them as artists even more!

I guess I have been surprised at how beneficial to me as a writer it has been to dabble.  Dabbling in many different things is often seen negatively – as something that only those who are flighty and indisicive do – but I am realizing that dabbling is what helps creative people of any kind grow, and I hope to continue dabbling and learning and writing some more.

On Workshopping

Writing

Hello blogosphere!  Sorry I have been MIA as of late – this semester has been kicking my but, for lack of a better phrase.  I have been writing and typing like mad lately, finishing stories for my classes and publishing articles for Odyssey, and have unfortunately neglected my own little corner of the Internet.  Never fear, though, I’m back – at least for now.

Given my aforementioned stories that have been written for my creative writing classes at school, I thought I would focus on something almost exclusively done in said classes: the creative writing workshop.  Workshopping is crucial to being a writer.  It’s a pretty widely accepted form of garnering critiques and is how most college level creative writing classes are taught but, as with almost anything, there are positives and negatives to this form.  Up until this semester, I would have to say that my workshopping experiences have been largely positive, aside from a few snafus where I put my foot in my mouth in front of the entire class, but I have had some interesting workshops this week in particular that have left me with a sense of fear at the mention of the word “workshop.”

I find that sometimes workshopping is a tedious balance between a love fest, or a bashing fest, on a writer’s work.  It can be hard to establish the sense of what is appropriate and useful and what is unhelpful and sometimes just rude.  Letting a large group, especially of college students, have almost free reign on a discussion of their peer’s work can be tricky.  Like I mentioned, I’ve never really had a negative connation with workshops, but this semester has gotten off to a rocky start in terms of my two creative writing classes.

After experiencing an extremely disorganized workshop in which some student’s work received less attention than others, a workshop consisting of – there’s really no better way to say it – a big mouth who thinks they are better than everyone else, and a pretty brutal workshop in which both my story a classmate’s got picked apart by our vulturous peers, you could say that I am over workshopping altogether.  At least for this week!

All of this has made me realize the importance of establishing boundaries when it comes to workshops and the importance of carefully thinking through what you are going to say.  Sometimes things come across harsher than intended, and sometimes people don’t actually know what they are talking about (the constant “in my experience, life doesn’t happen this way” thing).  I’m not saying that I’m a perfect workshopper myself – I’m sure sometimes I come across in ways I don’t want to – but I always attempt to ruminate on my comments before saying them (if I can get a word in edgewise, that is).

I’m not quite sure what the purpose of this post was.  Perhaps a rant.  Perhaps a way for me to get over the bashing I went through earlier this evening.  Whatever it was, I hope it might inform some mysterious reader of how important thoughtfulness and balance is to having a beneficial workshop.  Without workshopping, writers cannot grow, but there must be guidelines to go by that allow for a pleasant and useful experience for everyone involved.