When my friend Yuvi Zalkow challenged his readers to write about their fears or failures, I knew I would take part. One, he’s a friend. Two, the assignment is a creative challenge. Three, said assignment frightens me. I know I write about my fears on this blog at times, but Yuvi’s challenge seems of an entirely different caliber.
I ran through a couple of options once making my decision to accept Yuvi’s challenge. I could write about my professional fears, which are somehow personal. I suppose it has to do with the fact that Write Right is such a part of me that to have fears for it is both a personal and professional matter. I could write about my personal fears, but I’m not sure I’m comfortable doing that. I already have some sort of internal barometer when it comes to sharing such things on the Write Right blog. I next considered how John Keats’ “When I Have Fears That I May Cease to Be” could play into this post; his poem often echoes in my mind when I think about fear. I still haven’t found a good way to incorporate Keats’ poem although poetry itself ties into the fear I finally decided to address.
The final year in an MFA program is brutal. You aren’t writing poetry; at least, you aren’t unless you’re the crazy person who takes a creative working workshop during the next-to-last semester. You’re trying to order your poems and to force them into some sort of cohesive manuscript. You learn to be a vicious editor, much more vicious than you ever were when you were an editor or a copy editor. You cut poems from the manuscript. You stop worrying about page counts. You start worrying about overarching themes and repeated imagery and ordering your poems to follow some sort of arc. You obsess over the style guidelines given by the graduate department: Are the pages numbered correctly? Are the margins in accordance with the style guide? Has the committee signed the forms they need to sign? All this, and it doesn’t even begin to account for the oral defense and the comprehensive exam.
By the time you finish your MFA, you’re weary. Your poetry mentor warned you that you would be tired, but you still think you’re indefatigable. You’ll be back to writing in a week, two at the most. Three weeks pass, then four. No new poems. You start to worry. You start to feel guilty about getting an MFA in creative writing when you are, in fact, not writing.
These feelings of anxiety and guilt only are compounded by the fact that you can’t find a job. You did your due diligence and started looking for a job in January, but the promised job has disappeared despite jumping through all the hoops that were given to you. You stare at your checkbook and feel your heart beat faster any time money leaves and doesn’t come back. You become obsessed with looking for a job, but new job listings are few and far between. You feel guilty whenever you aren’t looking for a job even though you’ve spent the last three hours doing so and know you’ve exhausted your possibilities for at least three days. You find yourself feeling very alone and lonely and with no desire to write. You need something to fill your days, though, so you start to play World of Warcraft. You then feel guilty about playing a game and wonder if you should be looking for a job or writing.
You somehow come through that phase, although you’re not sure how or why. You take the first job you can get even though it’s part-time and has nothing to do with your degree. You need money, and money trumps all at this point. You continue to play World of Warcraft because you’ve made some friends online, and, at least when you’re playing as your night elf rogue with dual-wielding blades, you don’t have to admit to being a failed human being. You can just be one of the many people playing an MMORPG for one reason or another.
You’re still not writing, and you continue to feel guilty about the fact. You make some attempts to write poetry, but you can tell that they’re awful poems. They aren’t things even worth typing (because, after all, you write your poems with a pencil – a pen if a pencil isn’t available – and paper before typing them). You try to get back into a rhythm of reading poetry. You eventually do write a poem that isn’t quite as bad as some of the others. You do, unfortunately, continue to write a number of terrible poems, but you begin to remember what you have long thought but had forgotten: every failed poem is necessary to a successful one. Writing comes in fits and starts. Sometimes, you have to do nothing in order to do something later.
Photo: LaPetiteTwinkie (CC BY-NC 2.0)