From the MFA Blog

Below is a comment I just read:

“I’m actually a fan of the question ‘What are we doing today.’ Whenever one of my students asks me that I just lie to them. Sometimes it’s as simple as me responding, ‘Partying hard.’

Other times I’ll make up some elaborate bullshit lie. One was that in chapter 26 of Huck Finn Jim finds his wife because they meet on facebook, so today we will be discussing the use of online networking systems in late 19th century literature. The kid was like “Really?” and I was like ‘No.'”

The MFA application season is upon us

Time is going by so fast. I just graduated, god damn it. It hasn’t been nearly six months. Today, Seth posted a new post on the MFA Blog about where people are applying, which prompted me to think back towards what I was doing this time last year.

All I remember is the Honors Thesis class, and the brutal workload of taking six classes, being in class for 23 hours each week. My relationship was dead. We barely saw each other. I learned how to think. I impressed people with my writing. Bharati Mukherjee provided excellent commentary on my essays and treated our class like professionals. That was refreshing. I made progress. Some weeks I only saw J once in seven days. I wasn’t yet starving. I wasn’t yet alone.

What has happened and what will happen

I’ve been feeling a lot more upbeat about not going anywhere this year, mainly because it gives me a chance to take it a little easier, to try and find work, and to see if immigration reform is possible this year. Right now, I’m operating under the assumption that I won’t be applying to any MFA programs for next year. I thought about the number of MFA students out there ever year, and it’s a bit staggering. In some ways, the system is huge. An average of nine thousand students a year come out of MFA programs (thirty students at the average program multiplied by 300 programs). What do they do after they finish? Here’s a good example.

I ignored or didn’t get good advice until late in the application season. I didn’t apply to many fully funded programs, with the exception of Iowa and Montana (and possibly Houston). I accepted the offer of a program which would have me pay seventeen thousand dollars a year for a somewhat worthless degree. I went in with good intentions, and I’m leaving with them. I’m happy for everyone who is in a program this year, because there’s nothing like workshopping with other writers. For my part, not going to a program has motivated me much more than any workshop could have. If I apply again, I’ll only be applying to fully funded programs, or programs where I can get enough funding to get by. I really do think now that it is foolish to pay for an MFA, just as many people had told me.

My plans are such: to apply for the MacDowell Colony residency and the Jentel residency, the deadlines for both of which are September 15th. I have also been checking out lesser known online publications to see if I could submit work to them. Frankly, I’m disappointed by the quality of work I see in some of these. It’s also an eye-opening experience to read a wonderful piece and then to see that even though the author has gone to the same program I would have gone to (he graduated in the 70s), he is pretty much unknown. It puts a dent into all those expectations of being discovered after writing great work. In some way, this is the time when I have to figure out why I write.

I really hope I can visit Berkeley before the end of the year. I have many unresolved issues with the city.

I started a new piece today. I’m writing in pen now, rather than on the computer, because there are fewer distractions. Sitting at Starbucks lets me focus and relax, although, sadly, my Zune headphones no longer function, so I can’t listen to any music besides the Starbucks radio.

Things aren’t terrible at home, mainly because my father isn’t here. Mostly, everything is just okay. Today I felt really happy, maybe because I have deadlines and things to do and there are opportunities open to me that weren’t open to me before. I feel content. I’m thinking positively.

Whatever this is, it is only a short step from something better

I’m not going to Hollins. I’ll be in LA for the foreseeable future, which means at least a year, but more likely much longer than that. I do not think I will reapply to any MFA programs this year. Financially, it just isn’t viable.

I was really lucky for a while, but I think even the best luck has to run out eventually. Nevertheless, I’m not abandoning my writing. Far from it. The MFA was never as a crutch, only an opportunity to leave the situation I’m currently in, which involves, dare I say, emotional abuse, a pair of lying, racist family members, and the nearly impossible task of finding a job.

Let me qualify that allegation of emotional abuse. I don’t know if I really want to call it that, but I have to face the facts. There’ve been multiple occasions when my father has told me that he wishes I’d never been born. Two days ago I was shouted at and cursed at over Skype (my father’s in Russia) and told that if I don’t get my act together, he will have no problem throwing me out of the house. This evening he calmly told me that I was acting like “a nigger.” Surprisingly, I’m not offended by the name-calling; the most painful thing for me is to see the people I once idealized so much come down so far. It is a truly terrible thing to realize that you have absolutely nothing in common with someone who is supposed to love you.

A couple of days ago, my mother told me straight out that my degree was worthless, that I shouldn’t be going into the MFA because it’s a waste of time and money, that I’m useless. These are familiar themes in our relationship. Most of the time I can put up with comments about about being useless, but it was shocking to actually hear the words out of her mouth – that she could care less about my art, that she actually looks down on me for being an artist, as opposed to someone with a profitable future.

Besides their attitude towards me, they also neglected to mention that my mother is going to have some sort of operation. I wish to fucking god they’d told me about this before. The lack of communication within my family is profound. My parents never tell me anything and then say that I don’t care about them. All they care about is money. What upsets me more than their concern for money is the perpetual state of dishonesty surrounding this family.

There’s nothing wrong with caring about money, but when you lose all semblance of character and goodwill towards people you were stupid enough to create, it becomes a bit frustrating. I have every intention of paying them back for the money they spent on tuition and rent at Berkeley. I’m not the type of person to just take people’s money if I can help it. I feel terrible about the two people who actually gave me money recently, and now that I’m not going to school I will be paying them back as soon as I can.

Like I said before, I don’t need the MFA to be a writer. In the back of my mind, I rationalized it as a pathway to a teaching career, but in reality, I needed to leave Los Angeles. I have no friends here and it seems as if I’m slowly losing whatever familial ties I once had. The worst thing is that my sister, who is turning 23 this year, is the complete opposite of me, and no one ever says anything negative about her. It doesn’t matter that I went to a good school and have two degrees. She’s obviously a much better person because she got her green card and now has a job at a bakery. She’s obviously better than me because she’s attended three different colleges off and on for six years and has yet to declare a major. Meanwhile, every single thing I do is micromanaged and criticized, I have no one to turn to or talk to, and unfortunately, talking to people online just isn’t a good enough substitute for seeing someone and giving them a hug. And I really need a hug right now. Really.

I’ve tried to live up to my parents’ expectations my entire life, but now I know that it is an exercise in futility. It will never work. Not when my father says that I can reapply to programs this year. Not when he doesn’t realize exactly how much effort and money and time went into doing this the first time around, how lucky I am to have been offered some good options. I’m going to say something for myself right now, because no one else will say it to me: I have done some good things. I deserve at least to be happy.

I don’t feel entitled to anything. I’m sorry for giving some people that impression. I’ve tried to explain my motivations and limitations as best I could, and that’s all I can do.

I’m going to start living for myself. Living for others has accomplished nothing and I desperately need some small vestige of self-esteem if I am to make it through the year.

I forgot to mention that the most depressing and embarrassing thing about this situation is not the fact that I’m staying in LA, but that I’ve had to continuously email the director of the program to ask for various extensions and to beg for favors. I also had to tell her last week that I was going to the program after all, and now I emailed her to say I won’t be going. I can’t help feeling like I’ve exhausted all of my goodwill with this person, who wasn’t very forthcoming with goodwill in the first place.

I guess I can stop worrying about everything now and get back to the business of finding some sort of job. I have a feeling I’ll be getting lots of calls for tutoring this semester, which would be fantastic.

Finally, thank you for those people who have supported me, and thanks to all my newfound MFA friends. You’re all amazingly talented and kind and I sincerely wish you the best.

I don’t believe in fate but I love cats

Ironically enough, the idea of fate seems to be following me around lately. Today was the second time I heard about fate in regard to my appearance. I was calling people from the Hollins English Department list to find housing on Wednesday and after about four calls, I finally got through to someone whose listing looked really good. They offered a furnished room with included utilities and an owner/housemate who is willing to cook communal meals. Sounded too good to be true, and I was afraid the rent would be crazy. So I called and the price was pretty good, $375. It’s not as good as something in the high $200s, which I would have gotten if B and I had managed to be roommates this year, but it’s pretty good.

Coming from Berkeley, where I paid about $530 to live in the living room for the past year, this was a great deal. I started talking to the woman, and she seemed nice and very willing to have me as a roommate without even meeting me beforehand (which is pretty much impossible unless I stayed with someone for a couple of days for free when I get there while trying to find housing). She has another roommate, an adjunct professor in his forties at some school in Roanoke, and two cats. Sounds pretty good. I love cats.

I called her today to confirm the date and to ask if I could do some work around the house in exchange for lower rent, and she agreed. So now I’m going to be paying $350. As we were talking, she started telling me about how she had really needed someone to take the room and was having a conversation about how she wanted someone intelligent, artistic, and clean (that’s her wishlist). Apparently, I called twenty minutes after she had that conversation with someone. After she told me that, she continued to talk about “The Secret,” and at that point I tried to be polite, but I really don’t believe in it.

I find it interesting that something like this happened to me. It’s rare for me to be lucky, especially in the housing department. I’ve always been screwed because I either had to do all the work, or because I started looking too late. Let’s hope this place is as good as it sounds.

I’ll be flying out there on the 27th, the day before the orientation.

I’m stuck in my memory

I hate blogging. Whenever I think of something to write, I sit down to write it here and instantly forget what I was going to say. Some blog posts stay unwritten, while others are written over the span of three to five hours.

I came dangerously close to calling JJ the other night. It wouldn’t be the first time I’ve decided to do something and then gone back on my decision a couple of days later. Only this time it’s been three weeks. At least I think it’s been three weeks. Each day has blurred into the next.

I don’t have anything interesting to say today, except that I’ve found a place to live, and hopefully this whole thing works out. I’m still deciding on a day to fly out, but it will most likely be the 25th, and I’ll be flying to Raleigh and taking the Greyhound to Roanoke. Flying to Roanoke isn’t possible because every airline that flies there charges for bags.

I’ve been practicing my southern accent. Hopefully I’ll be able to impress some of you in the future.

Itinerary and decisions

For a moment, I wished I had stayed in Berkeley and accepted USF’s offer of admission. There are several compelling reasons to stay in California. I’d be close to my family, and for an undocumented student who hasn’t been able to get a steady job, moving to Virginia is a really stupid idea. I also like California, at least northern California, and love San Francisco. If I could choose a place to live at (in?) for the rest of my life, it might very well be the Bay Area.

But Hollins seemed like a better fit that USF, mainly because it was unfamiliar. Staying in SF meant seeing the people I’d become used to seeing, spending time with them instead of spending time writing. Hollins was a good choice a couple of months ago.

I remember when I first came to Berkeley (or Oakland, rather) and went to be in my new room in my new home. I had an intense feeling of disorientation and fear, as if going to bed in a strange new place were the most frightening thing I’d ever experienced. I’m pretty sure that when I go to bed in Virginia on the first night, I’ll be quite terrified, if only because now, help will be three thousand miles away instead of three hundred.

I think I’ve figured out my itinerary for the next three weeks or so. I’ll fly out of Los Angeles, connect somewhere in the midwest, and end up arriving in Raleigh, NC. After that, it’ll probably have to be the Greyhound bus to Roanoke, although I’m a little scared of traveling at all at the moment, because of the increase in deportations.

Two things before I crash for the night, both relating to different aspects of friendship:

1. To my new friend – don’t give up. I hope fate sends you here again for this message.

2. Thank you for saying this: “The undocumented immigrant thing must be really hard. I was reading through your blog and it hit me suddenly that it hasn’t exactly been a cakewalk for you. You must have really worked to get where you are– America can be really hard, I guess– and I really admire that.”

I don’t think anyone realizes the difficulty of being undocumented, and so I appreciate what you said. I have tried to work hard. I think I’m very optimistic about everything because I know things couldn’t really be any worse for me. I always think about those people who aren’t really doing anything with their lives and what I would give to be them, to have a chance to do something.

It looks like I will be able to take part in a class action lawsuit against the USCIS (US immigration service). If the court rules in our favor, I’d get my priority date shifted six years back, to 2001, meaning I would get my green card in a matter of months. I hope the case goes to court very soon.

Confidence (Just let me be the one you want right now)

I've yet to decide on a date to move to Roanoke. Ever since I got
accepted in March, I've made plans to be there on August 21st.
Frighteningly enough, that date is only two and a half weeks away, and
I've yet to find a place to live or a way to move my possessions three
thousand miles from Los Angeles to Roanoke. Still, I'm confident that
everything will somehow work out. Some portion of this confidence
comes from being involved in The MFA Chronicles, because the
assumption behind that blog is that I am going to Hollins this month,
otherwise I wouldn't be involved in the blog.

I also have to state that I am very persistent, smug, and arrogant. I
like to think this comes with the territory of being a writer. You
have to have some confidence and arrogance to believe your work will
count for anything when you submit it not only to MFA programs, but to
editors who read thousands of submissions a year. I jokingly told a
friend recently that she should be more arrogant, and yet there's some
truth to that statement. You really have to believe you are the best,
but you also have to be intelligent enough to know when your work
needs improvement. I think some people don't realize you can be
confident in your writing, that you should be confident in your
writing. Confidence does not equate with arrogance. The key is to
find the balance between confidence and self-improvement.

I know good work when I see it, and I know my work is good, but I also
know that I can make it better. So I will continue to criticize bad
work whenever I see it, and I will continue to improve my own work.

I think if I had half the confidence in other aspects of my life as I
do with my writing, I'd be a much happier person. I probably wouldn't
be alone.

By the way, this was a test of the email posting system. Does anyone know how to attach labels to your post through email, instead of manually doing it after you post?

New collaborative MFA blog

Please check out the new collaborative MFA student blog The MFA Chronicles. I’m thrilled to be taking part in this effort, and I hope other people will be interested in reading about the experiences of many different students at different schools.

If you’re an incoming MFA student about to start your first year and are interested in getting involved and writing about your experience, please contact JaytotheTee for blog access.

New fundable page

Instead of asking people to loan me money for school, I’m now asking them to simply give me money. To that extent, I’ve created a fundraising page on fundable, and if you can spare $10, please pledge towards my goal. Since I can’t get a loan and there is no way my parents can pay my tuition, I’ll have to rely on the kindness of strangers.

You can find more information about my cause HERE.

I understand that times are tough, but if you spread the word and 1300 people pledge $10, I’ll be able to go to Hollins for one semester. The amount I need reflects the tuition and living expenses I will need this fall. The cost of funding is also included (fundable takes 10%).

Please do me a favor and repost this on Facebook and Twitter and wherever else.