Friday, October 10, 2008

Thin Envelopes

I got a letter from Lesley University. The envelope was incredibly thin - was there anything in there? I opened it without thinking to hesitate.

They'd recieved my application, my letters of recommendation had arrived, but I was missing a BA Waiver.

What's a BA Waiver? I didn't know. I searched among the various forms on the website and found nothing. I called the woman who signed the letter. Still nothing. I got another letter, dated differetly but otherwise exactly the same. I called the Graduate Admissions office repeatedly, and checked the website over and again - nothing. Finally, I called Stephen Cramer, the director of the Creative Writing Program.

He remembered our previous conversation, the one in which he said, hurry up. It made me feel good that he'd remembered me. I asked if he could give me feedback on the sample I'd submitted, explaining that I was waiting to hear from Graduate Admissions about a BA Waiver and, if my work didn't warrant the effort, would rather know now than after taking this additional step.

A BA Waiver?! He exclaimed. You get that from me! You don't have your BA? I didn't realize that. I assumed, as is the case at times, that you decided not to go through with the process, as I never got your application.

Of course, without getting my application, he could not discern my need for a BA Waiver, or facilitate my getting one. Unfortunately, at this point in their process, they're candidates have been selected. However, he would review my sample again after the June residency, and we could just consider me an applicant for January. This actually puts me in a very good position for the next residency, he explained. He told me to have the graduate office send him my resume and to email my writing samples. I did.


It may seem this would have been a very hard blow. It wasn't really. After I didn't get my application out to Bennington I began to establish a plan in the event that I didn't get accepted by Lesley for June. I would apply to Antioch and Bennington, maybe a few of the schools I'd crossed off my list, and research other possibilities, essentially applying to a good number of schools the second time around, more like what seems to be tradition. I began to consider the plans I'd made for after I graduate, and how they would work out if I graduated in January 2011. I determined that the timing may actually be a better were I to graduate then. So this was fine. I would probably have pursued a deferrment were I accepted for June anyway.

I agreed that now I was ahead of the game instead of backed against the wall. I could reach out to potential recommenders well in advance of the application deadlines. Nehassaiu already told me that if I needed any letters in August that she'd be able to provide them.

Stephen Cramer sent me an outline of the BA Waiver process so that I would be mentally prepared for what I'd have to do, should they consider taking that step a good idea. I should do nothing until he'd had time to read my work - after the June residency. If they wanted to accept me, then they would undergo the BA Waiver process. It is an extensive process that is required by the university in order for Lesley to allow the department to accept anyone without a degree.

So I waited, with plans to go ahead and apply to a few more places come summer. I figured I could turn Bennington's application in well in advance, since it was pretty much already done. All I needed to do was get transcripts and two other recommenders. There was, therefore, no reason I shouldn't have the application in months in advance of the deadline, right?


Monday, October 6, 2008

Signed Sealed Delivered...

I talked to Vivian, my very honest bestie, to discern if there was something in me I had missed, some part of my efforts to evolve that had failed so badly, they warranted Dianna's treatment of me. I discussed some of my particular weaknesses, finding an accord: that nothing really added up to her conclusion. Then, I cleared my head of all the mucus that had compacted itself inside of it, and moved on. I set my application to Bennington, on which I'd worked so hard, to the side, and returned my focus to Lesley.

My essay, my writing sample for both schools were similar, but not the same. Still, working from the first was easier than working from scratch. I rewrote my essay to Lesley, which had to be much shorter than Bennington's. As any writer knows, shortening is always harder than proliferating. I got it done though, working with the same determination I had been for the previous months when I began to work on my Bennington application.

Because I write in three forms, fiction, non-fiction and poetry, I felt the need to represent all three in my application to Bennington, in spite of the fact that I was applying only in Non-Fiction. At Lesley I was allowed to apply in however many fields I chose, and so I decided to apply in Non-Fiction and Poetry. I believed my work in fiction, though more plentiful, was my weakest. This was a hard choice. On one hand I wanted to get in, and felt that I should represent my best work to better ensure admission. However, I want to enter a writing program to improve my work, and really wanted to work in the area that I felt was weakest.

The truth, though, that I always have to return to, is that my fiction pieces are primarily biomythographies. Part of my writing of fiction is related to my love for the genre, part of it is my desire to hide behind it. It's so much easier to tell certain stories to the world and pretend you aren't talking of yourself. Fiction for me is akin to that "friend" we always get advice for. Maybe, I had to admit, the reason my fiction is so much weaker is because I have yet to have a fictious story to tell. Maybe I need to tell my story and get on with it, own up to it.

Aside: The samples of non-fiction were excerpts from a memoir I've been working on called Honest: A Break Up Memoir. I originally pedalled it as a novel. One of my readers challenged me as such: "It seems more like a true story than fiction..." What was I to say? I decided to just girl up and brave it out. Now, year having passed, since the incidents detailed, it seems a bit easier to do, but only with that memoir. I had to battle against the urge to write yet my next difficult story into a work of fiction, but that's a later post...

Bennington required I think 20 to 25 pages of non-fiction. What I decided to do (risky) was submit 20 pages of non-fiction, three pages of fiction and three poems (two pages). I figured, if they discarded the extraneous items, I'd still have submitted the minimum, that with those items I did not exceed the maximum number of pages, and that if they reviewed the materials, they would give insight into my particular style of writing. But, of course, this well thought out sample did not get submitted.

For my application to Lesley, I met the maximum number of required pages in both non-fiction and poetry. They allow you to submit both in one application. I refrained from submitting in fiction also. Sometimes I regret this. It would have been informing, the reaction from the review team. But now it's too late for that, right? Kinda.

I went to Teddy, my second recommender, taking the form and having him complete it on the spot. He sealed it, and I mailed it. Nehassaiu mailed her recommendation, and I mailed my application.

I want to say that, while I was working out my whole writing sample concern, I did call the school. I spoke with several people and they were terrific about answering my questions and providing me with information I didn't know I needed. They did let me know, however, that I was a bit on the late side for June consideration. I rushed my packet out.

I have to say that there is something to be said for that feeling. I took that hefty envelope to the post office, they weighed it and I paid to have it delivered. I left the weight of years of hesitation and self doubt on that post office scale. I had taken a long desired step toward a future scribed with deep blu letters.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

From Shuga to Shyt


Dianna, my brilliant writer friend who is working on her MEd, who teaches at the independent school, is not to be found. We had arranged to meet up on one day around the end of February so I could give her the recommendation form. She would see my new place, and we would ride by some spots I saw around here, that had apartment for rent signs out. She was thinking of moving. Now, I couldn't get her on the phone. I tried calling just about several times every day, but thought little of it. She tends not to answer her phone, check her messages.

On March 10, I dropped by her house and put an envelope in her mailbox with the form inside when she didn't answer the door. I was dissapointed that we hadn't talked or hung out, but there was time for that later. I needed this form completed. I only had three weeks.

Later that day, I got this email from her:

I'm sorry about the late notice and all; I was really hoping that you found someone else to write your letter of recommendation. I don't feel comfortable doing it-felt put on the spot when I saw the attachment at the bottom of an e-mail you sent me. I take complete responsibility for not discussing this in a timely manner and do hope that it hasn't caused to much of an inconvenience. To be honest with you, I suspect getting me to write you a letter of recommendation was the primary, ulterior motive why you asked for my help with your personal statement and writing sample. That may not be the case, but that's how I feel-whenever we talk you always seem to want something from me. I know that avoidance wasn't the answer, but it's how I decided to handle the situation. I'm sorry, and hope that you'll find someone else who can then fax the recommendation. Given your criteria was a fellow writer, it shouldn't be that hard; and I do truly wish you the best as your pursue your graduate studies.
What the fluck!? I can't even think of anything else I've asked her to do for me. My immediate response:


If you don't feel comfortable writing my letter of recommendation that's fine, of course you shouldn't. I don't think that I understand though, why I would need an ulterior motive to ask for your help with either of these two things. I don't know if it was naive of me, but I assumed that unless you didn't have the time, you would gladly write a letter of recommendation for me, and that you would gladly review my writing or whatever, as I would for you or Thom or Neh, or Jacqueline or even Sam, without hesitation.

I asked the same two things of every person who I approached, for support with the writing sample and essay and for a letter of recommendation. You got a different email than everyone else, in which I asked for everything all at once, because I erronously left your email out, which I realized when I reviewed the list it of people the email had been sent to. I composed your email seperately, may not have said everything, but I really didn't think it was a big deal.

I don't understand this, and I don't appreciate it. I would have had no problem with you saying no. For instance, Nehassaiu said she couldn't write my rec for Bennington, but is writing my rec for Lesley because there is enough time, Lesley's rec
being due April 1 instead of March 1. Jacqueline said she had time to review my essay only. Langston said he would try to review my sample. Janice said she didn't feel comfortable writing the rec letter because she didn't feel qualified. I was fine with whatever people said they could or couldn't do. I never ask things of people with an attitude that they have an obligation.

No, I haven't asked anyone else because I thought I could count on you, and I won't be able to get a rec and therefore, I just won't be applying. So I really don't appreciate you're avoidance, and you taking full responsibility doesn't mean anything really, because this was something really big and important for me, and those words "I take complete responsibility for not discussing this in a timely manner" don't change the fact that now all the work I've done is down the drain and I cannot apply. I'm fucking pissed off. I'm pretty simple Dianna, I don't really work with ulterior
motives. I wish people would just be fucking frank. I learned from you the importance of being present. But whatever.

I do whatever I can in almost every instance to help people, and when I don't ask people for help I get fussed at and asked why I act like I don't deserve the same kind of support that I like to give other people. Well this is why, because I don't feel like dealing with someone else's bullshit, her own baggage that causes her to interpret my actions negatively and try to make me out to be some kind of bad and using person. Yes, I always intended to ask you to help me with all of that, and whatever you could offer I would have appreciated. And whatever you said no to I would have understood. But this, this is insulting, hurtful and mean. You are wrong for doing this to me, I don't deserve the perspective or the treatment. Don't do the rec, I won't ask
for your help again, and I'll just start preparing to apply to programs in

This application to grad school was important to me for many reasons. It represented follow through, I was finally following through with my ongoing plan and desire to go to school for writing. Also, it represented my ability to pursue a path and forge a future that I could enjoy and that would lower my neediness, strenthen my independence. I don't want to be a burden to anyone. And I don't want to end up having supported and nurtured my daughter only so that she can be burdened with having to support me because I haven't been able to establish a structure of consistant stability.

Note: Being an artist, I found it impossible to exist in the typical life work situations for long. I don't desert, but somehow it never works out. The world keeps sending me back to a space in which I belong, but I get hungry in that space. I must get to a point at which I will produce works that I feel comfortable putting out, and establish a life work scenario that my spirit will approve.

I did not deserve Dianna's decision and, quite honestly, I felt she should have sucked it up and kept her commitment. This, I think, was the wrong time, the wrong way to confront whatever issues she'd had with me. And clearly, her response was related more to previous interactions and not this one request. To this day I don't understand what she accused me of in her email at all. Why would I need to be manipulative to get a letter of recommendation? We are supposed to ask people to write rec letters, that's the nature of rec letters. How does my asking her to read my writing sample and essay get me any closer to getting a letter of recommendation from her? How does the first cause the second to happen any better, any surer? Anyway, who would write a letter of recommendation for a writing progam and not review or refamiliarize themselves with your writing? I'm still baffled.

I had such a high regard for Dianna, and always percieved her as having a great ability to confront situations directly, but I guess that's just perception, and we all have our weaknesses. Like me, she too is flawed. In this instance, her weakness was having a grave impact on me. Of course, I intended to apply to Lesley, and if that didn't work out, I would apply again to programs in August. I thought, maybe I'll even apply to a quadrillion programs like everyone else does. So much farher in advance, I believed that at least I'd have success getting rec letters.

Dianna's perception was invalid, I lacked respect for her decision, and it hurt my deeply. After I sent that response to her email (much of a second and final response is actually contained in this post), I cried hysterically until my nose began to bleed. Before I could get myself together, my nose was bleeding out of both nostrils and my mouth, and blood was dripping from my left eye. I never spoke to her again.

Fluckin Britch!

Saturday, October 4, 2008

On My Waaaaaayyyy!!!

Of course, since I've been applying for MFA's for years, I have already sent manuscripts of poetry and fiction to friends asking them to read them. They took time from their busy schedules to review and comment in detail on my work - that I hadn't sent anywhere. This time, I couldn't bring myself to turn to anyone until I was sure that I would apply. I rolled my sleeves.

I worked on Bennington first because their deadline was a month earlier. I completed the application form easily, got my transcripts and began to work on my writing sample. I could not spend much time on that sample. I knew myself well enough to be sure I would never, ever send it in if I tried to get it "finished." (You know "finished," that ever allusive (for me) point at which you stop editing a work.) I focused on changing some tense choices I'd made when I first started working on the memoir, and eliminated a punctuation style I felt was not really adding to the emotion of the text as I wanted it to. Then I turned to my essay.

I was nearing the April 1st deadline, and had not requested any letters of recommendation. I wasn't going to until I had my essay done. In my mind, (although this probably was not the case) my essay had to be absolutely perfect. This had to be "finished." This was a shorter work, and could demonstrate how strong the work in my writing sample could be if I had some support. The work I couldn't allow myself to do on my manuscript was exactly what I felt compelled to do with my essay. I worked on it non-stop for about a week and a half. First draft I did in a sitting or two. Then I edited it about six times, until I got it where I felt it was tight. Finally, excitedly, on February 22nd (or thereabouts) I sent out an email to my friends.

My request was that they do any or all of the following:

review and critique my writing sample
review and critique my essay
write a letter of recommendation

In the email request I included the writings and the letter of recommendation form.

It hit me later that day that I hadn't included Dianna in that group email request. Dianna was a member of 12th House, a writer's group to which I'd also been a part. She'd actually been my writing partner. She was on sabbatical and was in a Master's program at University of Pennsylvania. She was a teacher in the middle school of a great independent school in here in Philly. She was brilliant and I couldn't believe I'd forgotten her. I sent her the writings and she quickly agreed to review my work. I began to get responses to my first email.

From Janice, a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania who wrote but never work-shopped, I got a few lines that said "writing samples sound good, essay sounds good!" She said she didn't feel qualified to write a rec letter.

Jacqueline, a current PhD student who was at that time in a Master's program (history) said she wouldn’t do a letter of recommendation. She did give me awesome feedback on my essay. The primary feedback was: You're putting yourself down too much. You undermine every good thing you say about yourself. Stop it! You're hurting my feelings! She then explained how she felt I was doing this, and boy was she right! Essentially, everywere in my essay I said, I did this thing, but it wasn't that great.

I began immediately to rewrite the essay. In the meantime, I got a message from Nehassaiu, my sister in New York, an actress who also has an MFA in poetry from Brown. The schedule from her shows would not make it possible for her to get to me by Bennington's deadline. This was disappointing because we were together in the writer's group 12th House longest, being among it’s founding members. She is among those who know me best as it relates to my becoming a student in an MFA program. However, I was happy to learn that with Lesley's deadline being a month later, she could write that recommendation. And Lesley only required two (Bennington, three.)

Dianna gave me her feedback, and between her and Jacqeline's responses, I pulled together a very tight essay. But, I had no recs.

Two of my former workshop buddies had professional affiliations with the programs to which I was applying. I didn't want that intervention, and they didn't want that conflict. Still no recommenders for Bennington’s ever approaching deadline.

I began to panick. I couldn't think of who to ask. Then I thought of another former 12th House member, Matt. Matt was a graduate of Columbia's MFA program, author of three published novels. We hadn't corresponded in about a year, but I didn't think that mattered. It matters very much, however, if his email address has changed. We couldn't find him.

Dianna never mentioned one thing about the recommendation letter. She hadn’t said yes, she hadn’t said no. Had I asked her? I sent my work to her in a separate email. I called and it turned out I never did ask. She said yes, she could do it, and she could do it for both Bennington and Lesley. Yes! One down, two to go.

I thought suddenly of another artist, Teddy. Although his area was visual art, he was immersed in poetry, and had collaborated on projects with various writers, most often Amiri Baraka. He knew and could speak to my work. I called him, and he agreed to write a rec. Yes! Yes! So now I had just one more to find - but the deadline was speeding down on me like a runaway train, (or some other overused metaphor.)

Finally, Janice, aware of my troubles volunteered to write my third letter. I don't know why she felt unqualified. She completely was, and is a hell of a writer. So, Yes! Yes! Yes! I was now on my way, and not a moment to soon, being only a month away from Bennington's deadline. I could now turn to my attention to Lesley.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Identifying... and Applying

Warren Wilson
Bennington College
Antioch University in LA
Lesley University
Queens College
University of British Columbia
University of Southern Maine
Vermont College of Fine Arts

I often read blogs and comments on the MFA Blog website. It seems that a common approach, when seeking admission to an MFA program, is to apply to as many schools as is humanly possible. The very idea of this makes me nearly puke. That approach offends my financial realities and threatens to assault my over-extended life.

Even before I applied I knew I would spend an exorbitant amount of time on every application. Schools want different information in their essays. Some schools want two essays. Some schools allow candidates to apply in more than one genre and I write in three genres! And of course every piece of writing would have to be worked to death. Therefore, I needed to submit very strong applications to a very few programs that I felt sure would be just right for me.

To support this approach, I did a lot of research, created a shot list, and then worked to shorten it. Above are the names of the schools that made up my initial "short list." As I researched each program, I gained a more clear idea of that for which I was looking, and that for which I was not. I share some of what I learned because if you're trying to find some schools, some of this information may help you. The very thing that turned me away from any of these schools could be what you find most appealing.

I loved the idea of Antioch and Queens. Their locations were so fabulous. I love warm and hot weather, abhor cool and cold weather. Traveling across the continent to LA would be extensive and expensive, but I liked the idea of being in LA, possibly going to a venue or two and killing it on stage while I was there, enjoying the warmth of the weather. Queens being in Charlotte, a nice warm place, full of culture was also soooooo appealing. They topped my list at first. But of course, as much as I wanted to pretend otherwise, I cannot choose a school based on the weather.

The program at Queens, which includes semester long critiquing of other students work and receipt of feedback from these same students, seemed too much, at least for me. I'm all about workshopping during the residency - of course - but to maintain a virtual workshop experience all year round, critiquing the work of a group of other students from where ever in the world they are, while balancing my home life with my own reading and writing requirements, seemed pure sabotage - the structure of my life being what it is. I let that program go.

Warren Wilson
Bennington College
Antioch University in LA
Lesley University
Queens College
University of British Columbia
University of Southern Maine
Vermont College of Fine Arts

Antioch seems to have a strong focus on literary critique. This, I believe, is important. The writer supports the maintenance of standards and recognition of brilliant work in the world, through her written critical evaluations. However, I am not going to an MFA program to focus on literary criticism. In fact, that's the reason I want to pursue an MFA and not an MA, which generally seems also to have literary criticism built in.

I am going to school to focus on the creation of original work in the three genre's in which I write, strengthening my craft and my ability to identify the best in my own writing. I intend to grow as a critical evaluator through the process of critiquing my work and the work of my peers, through workshops and lectures and discussions around my reading. I believe that, particularly in the writing of non-fiction (my chosen focus, remember?) developing the skills necessary to write literary criticism are an inherent part of the workshopping and writing process. And let's not forget that I can also take workshops on literary criticism later in my career.

Warren Wilson
Bennington College
Antioch University in LA
Lesley University
Queens College
University of British Columbia
University of Southern Maine
Vermont College of Fine Arts

Warren Wilson was on my list because I held the program in such esteem. It hurt me that the program doesn't offer a Non-Fiction concentration. I thought maybe I'd apply there in fiction or poetry, and decide later. But I couldn't do that. Even if I chose to focus on one of those genres, I absolutely intend to study non-fiction.

Warren Wilson
Bennington College
Antioch University in LA
Lesley University
Queens College
University of British Columbia
University of Southern Maine
Vermont College of Fine Arts

I couldn't really get a sense of the program at Vermont College from their website. So I removed them from my list. The University of British Columbia, however, seemed very interesting. They expressed outright that they did not focus on literary criticism. They also required that each student work in three genres. Hey! I write in three genres! Pretty awesome. However, UBC has only one residency each year. Not so appealing to me. That alone was enough for me to cross them off the list. But in addition, they offered too much flexibility for my taste.

Residencies are recommended, but not required. Students can go full or part time, and can take up to 5 years to complete the program. This may seem negligible, after all - I don't have to make use of these allowances. But I also look forward to becoming a part of a literary community, to studying with, and being exposed to, members of that same community over two years. I know there will be constant transition, new students and graduating students every semester, but there will, for the most part, be a group of students with whom I go in, along with other students with whom I willl gather, write, and grow, and from whom I will learn, over the course of my career at my school. This is important to me.

Warren Wilson
Bennington College
Antioch University in LA
Lesley University
Queens College
University of British Columbia
University of Southern Maine
Vermont College of Fine Arts

The University of Southern Maine requires that students choose one of three areas of emphasis and complete a project related to that emphasis for their third semester. Were I only studying one genre, many of the six choices they offer as areas of emphasis would actually be pretty interesting to me, as would this aspect of their program. One of these areas, "the craft of writing," would be of particular interest to me. However, because I have three genres in which I write, and I want to have the chance to explore all three and to at the same time focus on non-fiction, I am hesitant to dedicate a semester to anything other than the creation and development of my own original work. This is particularly true because I know that the craft of writing is empasized throughout the entirety of any MFA program.

I do want to address a breadth of issues related to being part of the writing community, existing as a writing professional, and living as a writer who is part of the global community. I just don't want that to be the primary focus of an entire semester in my two year program of study. So I crossed USM's program off my list and rewrote my list as follows:

Lesley University
Bennington College

These schools focus on writing, allow for the study of multiple genres, and have solid structure to their programs that I can understand. I am familiar with some members of the faculty at both programs. Although Lesley has a new program, they have talented faculty, some of which have taught for significant time periods at other well established programs. Lesley is known to have a solid and respectable program with a faculty and student body that is diverse. The program director has a clear sense of direction for the program.

Bennington has a well established program and has earned an awesome reputation. I'm excited about the work of the faculty, how far they reach for their visiting faculty, and they're focus on diversifying as well. I also like the country writer's retreat feel I get when I look at pictures of the campus.

So, with Bennington and Lesley I found I could identify... and apply.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Beginnings. Preparing For This HeadRoad Trip.

I grew up writing, yet it never occured to me that I may want to pursue a career in writing. I'm not sure why, but I think it has something to do with all the pressure from everyone around me encouraging me to be a doctor, lawyer, an actuary or an engineer. My first major was actually electrical engineering. I was cursed with abilities in math, actually enjoying algebra and loving calculus. So, I thought, maybe I should pursue one of these money making fields.

I sat in the front row of my major classes and drooled for an hour and twenty minutes. One class is all it took. And I don't mean one class as in, I took a class for a semester and then called it quits. I mean, after that first hour and twenty minutes of embarrasing myself and my teacher, I wiped the side of my face, cleaned off the desk, and I never stepped foot in that engineering building again.

What was I to do? While figuring nothing out, I continued to write and perform poetry. Boy, was that working out! A born performer, I was out there every day reciting "poems" and getting paid to do it! Yes, I was one of those "poets" that wrote my newest "poem" on the way to the gig and proudly said so when I got on stage. This was proof of just how deep I was, that I wrote this hot shit on the way there. Bam! I blew your mind and then I walked off stage to wild applause. The chosen people got to walk with me, patting my back and telling me how I had done it again.


One thing I learned from that era of my life is to gauge your audience. Those people would have had me foolishly publishing that crap I was spewing and reading those poems all over the city, country, earth to people who knew nothing about poetry except that sometimes it rhymed and sometimes it didn't.

Okay, so,

a friend of mine, a guy named Langston, who had written and self published the book Back to Africa with a White Woman with another friend named Wadud, on whom I had a crush, (shh, nobody knows!) invited me to become part of a writing community. His idea was that we would workshop one original piece every week. I was down. Other initial members included Nehassaiu, who's performances impressed me and who was becoming my big sister, and Samuel. There were others who eventually dropped off. These others were similar to me - sure they were already amazing. They felt they didn't need to waste their time with such silliness as workshopping and crafting their pieces. I, on the other hand, liked having my own little private audience of poets to whom I could read my awesome work. Can somebody say ego?

BUT! Something happened while I was there. Maybe it happened because I did, at least, take the process seriously. I gave feedback on the work of my cohorts and I seriously considered their feedback. And it seemed they always had some. My perfect pieces never seemed quite perfect after we'd discussed them. And other pieces, that I had not authored, were getting a lot more appreciation. Can somebody say busted - I mean, awakening?

What was that shit I was writing?

We began to study authors. Our group expanded. We began to share members with the Dark Room Collective, people began to get fellowships and began to enter MFA programs. People with MFA's began to join our group. And I expanded. I began to write poetry.

The writer's collective we formed became known as 12th house. Well, known to us. You probably never heard of it. We met weekly for years. It was because of that association and my studies with the awesome Sonia Sanchez, that I began to understand the career of writing.

My time in 12th House was a blessing, because it freed me from the world of spoken word - the planet of singing syllables - and landed me in the land of literature. It introduced me to the process of crafting and showed me that what I'd thought were classic works of art were plain foolery. Our initial focus was poetry - simply because that was what the members wrote. Eventually through new members, we had a group of prose writers. I myself didn't introduce my prose until late, just before 12th House began to transition, its members moving on. I therefore didn't have the benefit of learning where the strengths in my prose writing lay. I found myself stuck in the abyss of,

"How do I know it's good enough?"

I completed projects that were going nowhere, because I was afraid they weren't strong, literary pieces. I didn't want to publish contemporary literature.

No judgement there, okay? Well, maybe a little judgement but not like the, "You suck! You write contemporary literature" kind of judgement. It's more the, "I am seeking a different audience," discerning kind of judgement. The judgement that asks, "Would I like this shit if I hadn't written it?"

I began to yearn for the benefits of an MFA. I wanted to grow, learn, study craft, receive feedback, recognize my strenghts and labor through my weaknesses. I decided to apply to MFA programs, but where?

I couldn't just move to some awesome MFA program in New England or New York. I had become an unwed mother. Best thing to ever happen to me, (the mother part, not so much the unwed part), but it did place some limits on me. There were no programs that interested me here in Philadelphia. I was going to have to give up. But wait! Ellis started teaching at something called a low-res MFA program. I didn't have to live there, it was well respected, intense learning still took place... What is this place called Warren Wilson!

I did my research, and completed the application to Warren Wilson. I sent my poems to Ellis and got great feedback! Then I decided nothing was good enough. I didn't apply.

I found I was afraid to apply.

"How do I know my works are good enough?"

I worked on applying for years (primarily I worked on myself). I continued to speak to my friends and associates, who encouraged me to apply. The assurance of those teaching in MFA programs themselves should have been enough, you would think. But no. I still waited years, working on my pieces. I had gone from egomaniac to... what? I was confident that I could write something valuable, but not confident that I had written it, and couldn't figure out how to know.

I completed a collection of short stories, a collection of poems and short stories, and a memoir that I could not allow myself to release.

"How do I know it's good enough?"

Things were getting ridiculous. I set my sights, once again, on the MFA. Armed against my uncertanties, I decided to apply. But those years of searching, writing, and reading introduced me to a new genre: Creative Non-Fiction. This is what was meant for me.

I learned that Warren Wilson doesn't offer that concentration.


Monday, September 22, 2008


I thought I should mention that I am also a singer. You may never have heard of me, but I do have proof. Unlike millions of other people in the world, I have a music myspace page. Check me out here. Okay, that's not a link, but I don't know how to do that yet. Therefore, let me spell it out:
(I will that to be a hotlink.)

Love at First Write

It defies the thirty years that have passed, how clearly I recall the ruler drawn faultlessly in a small, tan composition book. The words beneath it, so precise and right, were written in fabulous first grade hand underneath. Love burst forth for what I had accomplished - not copying words of another, but crafting my own description of this measure I had made which seemed beyond improvement. It was simple and felt perfect and I had my first glance at who I was: a girl of words.

It was the book, Listen Children, an anthology of Black Literature edited by Dorothy S. Strickland , that affected me more than any other during my childhood. A gift from a neighbor, Listen Children contained poems, stories, biographies, and speeches, and I memorized most of it. This book was my initial introduction to poetry. I performed "Way Down In the Music," by Eloise Greenfield, at my first talent show.

In fifth grade I entered my original work, "Black Boy," into a poetry contest. I'd written it in fourth grade, but Masterman started in fifth, and that was the first poetry contest to which I had been given access. At this nationally recognized school, uncontested as the very best in the city, I competed equally against all other grades through twelfth, and won first place. The questions regarding the poem's true authorship were meaningless to me. This victory was defining.

And so, here I am.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

What I'm doing here.

At the point of starting this blog, I have just communicated with the programs that offered me admittance, sharing my decision regarding acceptance. I am now working to manifest money and grad-school-supporting life changes.

I know that there are people working toward an MFA - whether applying, deciding on acceptances, beginning, continuing or finishing - who like me, seek the benefit of having a glimpse into another's travels and process. Personally, I have searched to the ends of the world (wide web) for kindred lunatics who are also going on this fantastic voyage. I know that others are similarly searching, and that no amount of data is too much, so I’m adding my story and my insights to the pot.

I want to start by saying that everything that I have encountered thus far on this road, and all that is happening at this exact moment, has been - and is - insane. It is synchronously so very exciting. I choose to tell you all about it so you can know either, that your situation isn't as overwhelming as you thought, or that you aren't alone in having entered a bizarre yet amazing universe.

I have to admit that the world in which I live has been unearthly for most of my life. But things are a little more loony now, I think. It’s ungodly what I must overcome as I take each step forward, and what I must do to render the changes necessary for this venture to be possible, and all while I keep up with my current life! Some who know me may argue that this is no more craziness than all the other madness I attract to my life. They may be right, I don’t know. At the least, this version of madness is unfamiliar to me. And exhausting. And exhilarating. I intend to share all the details.

Why, you ask, am I calling into question the rationale of this choice? You'll understand as you learn my story. Suffice it to, at this point say, it is not because I would rather be doing anything else in the world.