This Month of Grad School Was Brought to You By…

So I had an idea to get me posting on this blog again. Something that might not take the normal amount of effort, but might end up being something fun for you guys to read and for me to look back on.

So the grand idea is this: at the end of every month of grad school (starting in February 2019), I’ll post a list of what’s been getting me through the grind–the writing, the reading, the research, the prepping to teach, the teaching, the grading, the tutoring, all the “ings.” Grad school, so far, is one of the hardest, weirdest, most joyful things I’ve ever done. I’ve never felt so unsure of myself. I’ve never felt so confident in my abilities as a writer. I’ve never felt smarter. I’ve never felt so…not smart. I’ve never felt more inexperienced. I’ve never felt surer of my career.

You get the idea.

In short, grad school is a hot mess, but it’s the best hot mess I’ve ever stumbled into. I want to start documenting it properly, and what better way to document my life at this moment than with a list of the things I’m loving right now?

Let’s start! This should be fun.

My Desk At School 

My office/desk at school is the best. I’ve dubbed the space my Little Corner of Happiness, and my Little Corner of Happiness is growing and growing with trinkets from friends, postcards from travels, and piles of readings and sticky notes. Here’s a picture:

I look forward to getting my life together in this office every morning before I teach. I also love when students come to my office for conferences or to chat. We almost always have a conversation about Chip, my pencil mug, and the conversation sets a great tone for the meeting.

I love you, Little Corner of Happiness.

Maggie Rogers

Oh my word, I’m loving Maggie Rogers’ music. I “discovered” her this month when her newest album came out and it was all over my Twitter/Instagram feed. I gave the album a listen and I was hooked. The album, Heard it in a Past Life, is so, so good. She’s got a folksy quality to her voice, but the music she sings to is so upbeat and “dancey.” It’s perfect running music, perfect writing music.

Here’s a link to my favorite song, “Fallingwater.”

Exploring

A friend recently came to visit (hi, Allyssa!), and when company comes to town, you take ’em places! Exploring for a weekend made me realize how much my region has to offer–and how much I haven’t seen of it. So–exploring renewed my soul, exhausted my body/mind in the best way, and made me hungry for more.

Also, I got a new mug during our travels; I’m always pumped about a new mug. I got it from an art museum, and it has a quote by Mary Cassatt, an impressionist painter, printed on the side. The quote reads, “A woman should be someone, not something.”

Heck yes. Sipping my morning cup of coffee from that mug feels like consuming a warm cup of empowerment.

Sparkly Folders

I’m all about cute school supplies. I know plain stuff works just as well–often better–but, heck, I need some sparkle in my life, so I picked up two sparkly folders at Walmart on a shopping trip last month. One of the best decisions of my MFA, let me tell ya.

I love how the sparkles catch the light when I pull them out for class. I love how they glitter under the yellow glow of my lightbulbs in my apartment, in my living room as they sit on my desk. Can they hold a lot? No. Do they hold what I need? Yes.

Do they enrich my life? One hundred percent.

Astrology Chats & Charts

One of my friends (hi, Courtney!) and I have been into chatting about our astrology charts (is that the terminology?) lately, and I’m having so much fun with it. She’s my personal astrologer (AKA, she knows a lot more than me so she helps me out when it comes to figuring out what means what), and we have learned so much. I’m a Taurus sun, an Aquarius moon, and a Scorpio rising. Neat stuff.

Amazon Fire TV Stick

I recently bought an Amazon Fire TV Stick to convert an old TV into a smart TV, and holy cow it’s one of the best investments I’ve made. I love, love, love, love how I can play Spotify on my TV now. With that nifty little Fire Stick, I can transform my living room into the ideal writing space soundtracked by a perfect playlist–usually instrumental music, Broadway playlists, a few country artists (really just Kacey Musgraves or the Dixie Chicks at the moment), or the Waitress musical soundtrack, because I’m forever and ever obsessed.

Also, the Fire Stick is Alexa-enabled. I’ve recently discovered I’m obsessed with having conversations with Alexa, and that’s probably a bad thing. We’re pals. We like to catch up.

I promise I’m not crazy.

Ellie, My Dog, Especially When She’s Sleepy & Super Cute

Ellie’s always getting me through, but lately she’s been super extra cute, especially when it’s late-ish at night and I’m still reading or typing away and she curls up beside me on the couch and sleeps and smells all sleepy. That sounds weird–“smells all sleepy.” Ellie has a sleepy smell, and I love her sleepy smell.

Ok, I promise I’m not super weird. I’m just weird enough to go to grad school…

😉

I also love Ellie when she first wakes up in the morning. We’re kindred spirits–we don’t dislike mornings, but we’re definitely slow starters, a little pokey when it comes to attacking the day. She waddles (her gait’s naturally waddle-y) to eat her food, and then she cuddles up and sleeps in her bed for the rest of the morning while I get ready.

I could write a whole lot more about the other cute things Ellie does, but I’ll stop before I write an entire book.

That’s all for now, friends. Maybe I’ll be back next month! We’ll see.

I hope you’re finding fun stuff to get you through the grind. I hope you have a happy March–let’s hope spring will soon be bloomin’.

My Ellie.


Advertisements

Goin’ For an MFA–Reflections from my First Year

This post also contains a sprinkling of advice–even though, you know, I still feel like a newbie at this whole grad school thing. Ha. Enjoy!

So! You’ve been accepted to pursue your MFA in creative writing. Woohoo! I’m proud of you, internet stranger!

Now, if you’re anything like me, you are scouring the internet for advice/experiences/blog posts/etc. by people like me, people actually in an MFA program doing the whole grad school thing. You’re nervous, excited, anxious, happy, free, confused, and lonely (thanks T-Swift), all at the same time!

I was in your shoes a year ago. I had no clue what I was doing, so I Googled incessantly and nightly trying to figure it all out.

That’s why I’m writing this post. I hope my reflections/ramblings can give you some insight before you start, especially if you are like me–let me tell you, I am not kidding when I say I had no flippin’ clue what an MFA entailed.

Here goes nothing! Please enjoy this list of things/feelings I experienced during my first year as an MFA candidate.

Imposter Syndrome

Every moment. Every day.

You’ll feel like you don’t belong. Like they let you in on accident. If you’re semi-fresh out of undergrad (me) and your classmates are older and more experienced, you’ll feel so naive and clueless during a workshop. Maybe you won’t know what to say, how to do the workshop thing. I didn’t. I had no experience prior to the MFA–I was a literature major, so I just analyzed the heck out of really old novels and poems and plays but never asked how/why a story worked.

So every workshop felt like a whole bunch of “What the heck am I doing here? Can I DO THIS? Can I say this? Will I sound stupid?!”

My advice to confront imposter syndrome? Just roll with it. Truly. After a full year, I still feel unsure of myself as an artist most of the time, but isn’t that with everything? As I enter my second year, I’m trying to embrace this uncertainty. And after talking with my cohort, I can almost guarantee you that almost everyone deals with this feeling. An MFA program can be an intimidating/competitive place, but just know even the best feel like imposters.

Solidarity!

Criticism–& Lots of It 

Oh, gosh. I was prepared for all the criticism, but, then again, I was in no way prepared for it all.

Ha. Haha. You and your stories will get torn to shreds at one point–even the most talented writers in our program have endured a horrible workshop. I’ve suffered a few, I admit. The worst is looking at written comments after the fact and reliving the humiliation.

Okay, okay. It’s not that bad. It just depends on your perspective.

Every bit of criticism helps you become better, helps your stories become stronger. We’re all just here to become our best (and maybe, I don’t know, get published and get tenure-track positions one day, yes?), so every little bit of constructive criticism helps.

As a class goes on, you learn to filter the comments–you almost know whose comments you can “trust,” and you cling to their advice, their margin comments.

A little piece of advice? Find friends you can commiserate with. If you have a bad workshop, it almost always helps to laugh about it afterward with a friend. Make fun of yourself. Don’t take yourself so seriously. We’re all in an MFA program to learn and get better–why stress so much when you come up short?

(P.S. I’m still trying to actively live my own advice–HA.)

Speaking of Friends

Find you some. Be social, at least a bit. Talk to people in your office, if you have an office. That’s an order.

During my first semester, I wasn’t so keen on being social. I felt too busy, too overwhelmed. Also, my dog had stomach problems and big vet bills, so that didn’t help.

My second semester, however, I did stuff. With people. Usually just dinner, and, toward the end of the semester, game nights, including a round of Dungeons and Dragons.

Side note: I had no idea how fun D&D could be. Holy cow.

Anyway.

My point: friends can help you feel not so alone in all of this. All of my friends are in the English department, creative writing or otherwise. We all share the fourth floor of the English building as TAs, we all teach sections of Comp, we all come from different walks of life and different parts of the country/world. It’s a wonderful feeling to talk to people who are going through the same things you are–you learn from your friends, you have fun with your friends.

My advice: just talk to people in your classes. Go to mixers. To pizza nights. To readings. Don’t be afraid to say “yes.” Know when you need to say “no,” but, man. Say “yes” every once in a while. It could lead to some awesome experiences.

Me Time: Take Some

Friends are essential, but so is a little thing called “me time.”

If you’re anything like me, you’ll feel like your whole life is consumed by the MFA–there is so much to do between writing, preparing to teach, teaching, office hours, obligations such as readings, meetings, etc., and writing center hours (at least if your program is like mine, with funding etc.). The MFA is a job, so it makes sense that I’m talking about a little work/life balance.

Find hobbies outside of your field. This is proving difficult for me–I love reading, I love writing, but I know I need something away from it all. Walking my dog and cooking dinner–in that order–have become my solace. I listen to music (mostly musical soundtracks because I can’t seem to break away from storytelling completely) and podcasts, and I tie up my shoes and strap in Ellie (dog) and we set off around the block. When we return home, I make something simple for dinner (all while listening to music or a Podcast still), and I either sing my heart out or laugh out loud to whatever Podcast I’m listening to (usually @GilmoreGuys, because I’m still obsessed with Gilmore Girls). This time away from the books, from students, from grading–from thinking–helps so much.

Find something outside of the MFA that you enjoy. The MFA is not your whole life–it’s what you do, not who you are.

Ha. I’m so cheesy.

Submit! Submit! Submit!

The MFA is your chance to spend 2-3 years on your craft with the guidance and help of your cohort and professors. Why not actively try to get published in the meantime?

When I say “submit,” I mean to submit to literary magazines, contests, journals, etc. I’m saying this because a year ago I definitely had no idea what this whole “submitting” process was like–I couldn’t tell you any small presses, magazines, etc. Remember: me = clueless.

Get a Submittable account–it’s free, and you can easily discover new opportunities and submit to places and keep track of your submissions all on one site! A ton of journals only operate through Submittable, so it’s almost essential. Also, if you want to invest a bit of money, get a Duotrope account–I believe it’s $50 for the entire year, and it is wonderful. You can search journals based on acceptance rates, etc. You can also search for individual magazines and check your chances of acceptance and see how long it takes on average to hear a response.

I’m guilty of checking Duotrope every day. It’s probably unhealthy, but hey.

Once you start submitting, be prepared to wait. And wait. And wait. Also, be prepared for rejections galore. Don’t worry–it’s normal. Although it can hurt, every rejection feels like a step towards an acceptance.

My philosophy? Submit without abandon, often and plenty. You never know what will come of it. In my first year, I have been published once, and I’m always hoping another acceptance is around the corner.

Enjoy

And, in true Kaila fashion, let’s end this post on an extra-cheesy note!

While pursuing an MFA can be stressful, intimidating, and competitive, it’s been such a great experience so far. I’m surrounded by ambitious people just like me, by people who love to discuss their art and books and other nerdy things. I’ve tried to soak up every minute of academic bliss–sometimes I pinch myself because I realize I’m still a student, one of my favorite things to be. I get to walk around on a campus that’s buzzing with potential and dreams not yet realized. I get to teach students just starting their own journeys, see them grow as college students and as writers. I get to become the best writer I can be, and I’m surrounded by accomplished faculty who are on my side. I get to write fiction; I get to be completely immersed in worlds and characters I create. I get to attend readings by accomplished authors and ask them my questions, pick their brains.

It’s fantastic.

Enjoy your MFA experience. Don’t stress. You got this, internet stranger.

Thanks for stopping by. Now go kick some you-know-what!

For more advice/posts from fellow MFA candidates, check out the blog “The MFA Years.” It’s a wonderful; I’m pretty sure I make up half of the traffic to the site.