Thursday, November 14, 2013

Transition

I have labor on the brain. I've been practicing a piece I'm going to read tomorrow at an event for Under the Gum Tree, a magazine that published a piece of my creative nonfiction last spring. I'll be reading the second part of the essay, which is mostly about Addie being born.

I don't need to draw any weird, gross parallels between birth and writing, here--but as I was reading, I was reminded about how the worst part of labor is called the Transition phase. That's the label they smack on the bad, anxious, hurty hours that make you wonder what the hell you were thinking when you got into the mess in the first place. Transition. Like it's just something you just breeze through. But instead it's surprise torture.

And since I feel like I'm in transition right now--in life--I can identify.

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I spent last weekend at the beach with a group of my writing friends. Drinking awards made of vodka; laughing, gossiping. Falling back into old conversations. Eating kale and pomegranates and brussels sprouts and Cheetos. Choosing the most inappropriate Card Against Humanity. Celebrating the fact that my thesis is finished. Having too many feelings. It was great. And at the same time, I came home a little wrecked.

One of my friends, Mag, said something while we were there about the ocean being too much. Too intense. Of course I'm not remembering it correctly, but the sense of it stuck with me. As much as I love standing at the edge of the continent and feeling small, I get how the line between things can be difficult.

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I expected to feel a great sense of relief about finishing my thesis. And I do. But last weekend went from fun to overwhelming as a heavy worry came over me about the future of my writing. I don't know what it looks like in the post-MFA/high school English teacher world. I know that earning an MFA has given me the excuse to block out those hours on my calendar for two years and a reason to say no to other responsibilities at work and home to make it happen. But I also know that putting my book first these last few months has been incredibly rough--too rough, with the demands of my job--and that I can't keep up this kind of dual schedule even if I wanted to.

I'm tired. And if my posts from the past few months are any indication, a little unhinged.

The unknown expanse on the other side of graduation feels very big. After my awesome beach weekend, I found myself sitting in a corner of LAX, waiting for my stupid plane, crying stupid tears about how I don't know what's next.

I'm not like other writers in my program. I didn't start my MFA with any kind of writing career under my belt. I was a baby (is this enough mixed metaphors for one post?), completely new to writing. I hadn't written shit. If I want to keep writing--and God, I do--I need to work at it, and work harder at it just to even start being competitive with the people in my graduating class. I want that (I need it, I would argue), but I know that teaching full time high school English doesn't leave enough of me at the end of the day to be able to go after it. That feels paralyzing. At least for now, while I try to decide what to do. I don't know how to be both.

I didn't really think going back to school was going to change me. And here I am, completely different like a huge cliché. I mean, this is great. Finally, Heather realizes that there is more to life than the two miles around her house. But change is scary. So is realizing that you want more than what you have.

And honestly? I'm proud of my thesis and I feel like I made it the best work that I possibly could. But the most overwhelming feeling I have about it is that I can do better. I'm not sure what to do with that feeling. Just keep writing, I suppose.

I have some very concrete goals: to continue to pursue a career in book reviewing, to write better short stories. Those are clear things. I can work at them. I'm just not sure about what the rest of life looks like. Where I go. What I do. When and how I write.

As I said: scary transition.

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