Showing posts with label introspection. Show all posts
Showing posts with label introspection. Show all posts

Friday, September 28, 2012

Adventures in Logophilia Day 16: Stymie

Today's word is:

Stymie is a verb of unknown origins which means to present an obstacle to or stand in the way of a goal.  According to Oxford Dictionaries, it was used in golf in the 19th century to describe a scenario on the turf where a ball obstructs the shot of another player.

I'm taking a break from calligraphy today.  My heart is not into dribbling ink haphazardly on parchment and pretending it looks pretty.  I'm thinking more about the word itself today rather than how it looks.  Just now I thought of a possible explanation for its origins.  Someone was playing golf, a ball went astray and the golfer whose brilliant shot was ruined shouted, "Sty me!" in lieu of stronger language.  Plausible?  Maybe just a little?

It's simple logistics.  A tree falls across the road, and there is no choice but to throw the car into reverse and go back, try for a different route.  The angles no longer line up the way they should.  There is an obstruction.  The path that we would have ordinarily taken is now inaccessible, even though by all means it was the right path, the main path, the one everybody else seems to be on.

My own obstacle isn't one tree branch in the road or a stray golf ball in my shot.  It's an amalgam of things that basically comes down to a truth that I've been trying to ignore for the last several years.  You may recall that I applied to MFA programs some years ago with no success.  A winter of rejections from eight schools plunged me into a non-creative funk - not quite a depression but unproductive nonetheless.  A few months later I somehow gathered myself and embarked on a novel, determined that this Thing was not going to stop me from writing, that I'd apply to a graduate program when I had the strength to do so. 

There is a cold fact about graduate programs these days.  Particularly humanities graduate programs.  I was told by a former professor and friend who did a little research and discovered (to paraphrase) that it is easier to get into the medical school at Johns Hopkins than it is to get into an MFA program.  If you look at university websites, most of them will be honest: they'd only accept 6-8 students per year, sometimes a few more depending on the program and how much money is available.  And in this economy, humanities and liberal arts programs have tight and tightening budgets.  So that's it.  Six students means three poets and three fiction writers.  Period.  Out of thousands of applicants.  Naturally, they choose the ones that stand out, who've shown ambition by getting stories published, who work in a field that uses their writing skills.  I am, decidedly, not a person who stands out, and being introverted and socially anxious, my only great ambition was/is to get my novel done.  Really, it was no wonder that I got eight of those "sorry but no" letters.  It's no one's fault.  Not even mine.  Definitely not their's.

The new plan was to apply this fall to an MA program at my alma mater.  Just the one program because I figured my status as an alum might improve my chances for admission.  I wanted an MFA, but an MA (Master of Arts as opposed to a more intense, more concentrated Master of Fine Arts) would at get me into fresh contact with instructors and other writers and open doors to teaching creative writing elsewhere.  I liked the idea of one day being able to help other writers develop and embrace their burgeoning skills.

But... I'm stymied.  I was told by an advisor this week that getting into this particular program is extremely difficult, perhaps more so than an MFA, and that the number of graduates accepted is very, very small.  In other words, he was warning me what I'd be getting into.  I am, basically, facing the same obstacle: my smallness, my place in life.  If I go ahead and apply, it would be the same story and the same gloomy winter all over again.

But... you say.  It could happen!  I'd like to believe that, friend.  But these things are standing in my way.  I can see them quite clearly.  Believe me, I'd love to get accepted into an MFA program. I'd love to meet new people and work feverishly on my writing in a collegiate setting.  And, of course, the idea of having a second degree to my name "Jillian, Bachelor and Master of Arts".  Who wouldn't?  Masters degrees catch people's attention, and somehow seem to imply that you take yourself serious.  But I am starting to see that I might have to be one of those writers who doesn't/can't teach or interact with writers in what I've percieved to be the "normal" way.  J.K. Rowling doesn't have an MFA.  (Does she?)  Stephen King might not either.  But look at their success.  Both of them write stories from their souls.  Mr. King could have "retired" decades ago, but he writes because he loves to, because it's a part of him.  One simply does not need an MFA or an MA to be successful.  An MFA helps, I've read.  Believe me I know it helps.  Unfortunately, the MFA store is closed to me, and I must make do with what I have.  So, then... am I a failure?  Or is taking the alternative (though by no means easier) route actually a way of letting go and moving on? 

What is clearer to me, as I turn away and look at my options, the alternate forks in the road, is that I am still writing.  I began and finished a novel since that devestating winter - in a period of fifteen months while working full time.  I am closer to getting it published than I ever would be to an MFA program... even though publishing in itself isn't very close.  If it doesn't get published, it prepares me nonetheless for the next time - to improve my writing, to learn to navigate a competitive market, to find a niche and start little projects that could lead to free-lance writing (scary and nebulous a prospect as it is), and publications in lit magazines.  Yes, I'd still have to be a receptionist by day earning less than I care to say, but at least I'd have a little money and health insurance. 

So will be a "master" on my own time, self-taught.  I am following Mr. King's advice - read a lot, write a lot.  In his book On Writing, he said something along the lines of learning how to write by marianting in language.  Since the summer began I've been devouring books right and left.  I am also doing what I would have thought impossible several years ago: dabbling in social media.  By this I don't just mean posting notifications about the blog on Facebook or pinning pretty pictures on Pinterest.  I'm perusing other blogs, reading articles, commenting on them, and trying to join conversations.  That's what I hope to do eventually with Twitter, although right now I feel like a very small person shouting things in a room full of very loud, very talkative people.  The more I delve into the online world, the more I learn about the industry and the trends and other people's struggles.  That is learning to me.  

Again, I'd love to have the privilege of sitting in a classroom and getting my work critiqued and shaped by more experienced writers, but that luxury is only open to a few, and I am, apparently, not one of them.  Instead of standing outside in the cold whimpering because I'm not with the other kids, I'm going to stay where I am and go back to what has been most healthy, joyful, educational and life-changing for me: writing and learning as I go.  That, my friends, is not failure.  It is not a surrender to lazy impulses or stubborn quirks. It's not the most obvious path.  It's not the prettiest or the easiest.  But I am calm, and ready, and more at peace about it than I have been in a long time.

By chance I was thinking about the theme song to Firefly.  I'll be a nerd and put a bit of it here:

Take my love, take my land,
Take me where I cannot stand
I don't care, I'm still free,
You can't take the sky from me

Take me out to the black,
Tell 'em I ain't comin' back
Burn the land and boil the seed,
You can't take the sky from me...

So there it is.  The perfect plan is gone (for now), or at least out of reach, but there is still writing.  I won't have a snazzy degree any time soon to put on resumes and query letters.  But I have what I need.  I am blessed with advisors and friends and a love of language.  Not all is lost.  So much has been found.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Adventures in Logophilia Day 5: Intrepid (Jillian)

I had a hard time selecting a word today.  Nothing stuck out in my mind, even though I'd combed over the Lexicon twice in hope of inspiration.  Nonetheless, I have today's word, have put it down in ink (however imperfect my calligraphy may be) and it is...

To be intrepid (adjective) is to be characterized by resolute fearlessness; adventurous.

I'd like to think I'm an intrepid writer.  This year I've been in a sort of quest to try new things and to push my writing in new directions.  Not just where my novel is concerned, but in the everyday slog of the writing life.  Recently, I decided that I needed to get up early in order to tackle the novel before work.  As much as I hated, loathed, recoiled at the thought of getting up even a minute sooner than routine, it was actually a good thing.  I try to get up early now, and I am actually awake (if not bright-eyed and bushy-tailed) and refreshed and ready for the day.  It took a little intrepidation to do so.  And today, struggling to get out of bed when the alarm told me to so that I might blog was an intrepid battle. 

Sometimes we rail against the smallest things in life, but sometimes these little things are worth sacrificing in the greater adventure of our writing... stepping outside the box or the comfort zone or whatever you've been conditioned to call it.  We writers are curious creatures; walls cannot contain us.  I don't mean we should forgo the bonds of grammar and syntax and common sense, but use those "walls" as the starting point, the barest bones of our writing, and seek to find it viscera and blood and skin and clothes in new places.  Does this make sense?  We must go boldly into the Unknown, take risks, do what is uncomfortable or downright scary because the Story is worth it.  So... this Autumn I strive to be intrepid, sending my novel (my brainchild) into the deep, black hole that is the world of literary agents and publishing, trying again for a graduate program, and venturing into the world of online community.  I am off to see the world, pen in hand! 

One last thought: Daedalus making wings for his son Icarus to use to fly.  That's a bold move.  He warned Icarus not to fly too close to the sun, but he gave him the wings anyway.  The wax in the wings melted, and Icarus fell.  Is it Daedalus' fault?  Or is it the painful price we must pay sometimes for taking a necessary risk?  In our quest we may lose a novel or a story, our brainchildren, but we've gone forward, paving the way for what comes next over the horizon.  There will always be something to inspire.  Sometimes we must meet it halfway, or else wrest it with all our strength out of its hiding place.  As Michelle would say, Corraggio!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The Ghost of Writer's Past (Jillian)

I have been absent from the blog for a while now, as I unavoidably had to contend with a move and the painstaking process of (finally) going through old papers and deciding what stays and what goes… what I should never have kept in the first place. Which brings me to today’s topic.

When I say “papers”, I mean many, many large binders overflowing with stories and schemes written by yours truly from 1997 to 2004. Some were the early creative explorations of a Star Wars fan; others are buds of novels, novellas, and stories; some were the journal entries of a writer beginning to understand her own voice. As you can imagine, the entirety of this collection weighs a ton… and takes up a lot of space, and could very well be a fire hazard. Hence, I have begun the task of scanning each page onto a flash drive, making this extensive archive more permanent, significantly lighter and much easier to peruse.

It is has proved a more introspective project than I thought it would… running across nuggets of narrative earnestness and awkwardness that make me laugh to this day. It is an extensive research project of the evolution of handwriting, of old type-written summaries created before my parents purchased a computer in December 1999; of specific plotlines and the way my ignorance gave my age away while my brain was cleverly constructing worlds and worlds of new horizons and people. I can see a girl who who planned things down to the last detail – from a language written for the aliens in my novels to the names and ages of the future children of the main characters - even if those ideas wouldn’t come out as planned.

These are some discoveries so far:

From a document entitled “Story Ideas”, early 2000:
Other secret agent ideas:
-has a metal plate in his head because aliens abducted him when he was a teenager
-His name won’t be Tristan Scott [another “secret agent”, evidently].
-girl will be called something else.
-girl has metal plate in her head, too, making them one of a kind.

I don’t remember the inspiration for this. Not sure that’s a horrible thing, either.

From a draft written in December 1999:
“Ignorancy is often the weakness of a corrupt soul.”

Eh. Right.

A nugget of wisdom I could use these days, from a free-write from the 8th grade:
“I practically forced myself to write the summaries of my own… adventures down. This took time. I’d lose interest and sometimes drive myself mad at completing them. They were supposed to be completely done before I did any serious writing. Then, I got to “The Revenger” which is at the end. That was still being constructed, and still is, actually. I was sick of summaries. I decided to stop the summaries and start to actually write. It sounds [is] great, as far as I’ve gotten.”

See?! Early on I knew that outline and planning can smother a novel to death. That is why I am taking the novel-is-writing-itself approach. The restless agitation of getting the story right before you even create it in words is counter-productive and perfectionistic. Not to mention exhausting.

“… I don’t care if someone hates my ideas. These are mine to cherish… My work has been long and hard on it [?]. Even though my sister can’t stand the thought of it, or people hate it or hate me or things stand in the way where I hadn’t seen before, I won’t give them [my stories] up for any reason. It is my alternative life. My second home…”

Fall 1999
Funky spelling: “hecktic.”

Hm… has a logic to it.

August 2000
“I’ll admit [it] – trying to dance with a CD “holster” is not a smart thing.”

The CD “holster” was actually an ugly, brown, bulbous fanny-pack-purse contraption in which I carried my portable CD player. The days before the iPod and the sleek elastic armband.

Star Wars-esque alcoholic beverages, November 2000:
Sekulian botlach, saranda wine, giff.

I can’t tell you much about these creations… only that giff is supposed to be a bit like whiskey. Of course.

December 2000, I developed an interesting rough-draft process. If I needed to add a line or a paragraph, I would mark the place with an astericks and proceed to complete it in the margin, complete with the date and exact time of entry (military time, of course).


It has taken me years to look back, and doing so puts these preserved moments in perspective – these were little steps to the place I am now. Writing made me happy, cloaked me when I wasn’t, and allowed me to expand my thinking in unusual ways. Fifteen years is a long time, 60% of my life so far. But it is still a sliver of what is to come, I hope. My journey as a writer can only get better from here.


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