Today, I finished reading the material to prepare for my final MFA residency. Whew! I must say the material seems far better than what I was reading a year and a half ago when I began. The Lesley University MFA program was just beginning at the time, so I suppose the criteria is getting stronger for acceptance– and those of us who are currently participating are improving too. That is good news for Lesley. And good news for any graduate of the program too. I am grateful I was able to be a part of this fine learning experience, despite the work, ego shattering insights, and the personal stress that came with pursuing this degree. Hats off to the director, Steven Cramer. No one knows better than I that an arts program is only as good as its director.
Today, I got a rejection letter from a literary magazine. I haven’t sent material out to contests or publishers since beginning this MFA, except for a few rare cases. I took a sabbatical from attempts to become established, because I considered this my learning time. But when my non-fiction teacher commented that he thought my piece “Threads of Meaning” was ready for publication, I was inspired. Feeling confident that afternoon, I sent it out to a literary contest – for fun. I think I have two more contest entries floating out there, but I didn’t expect much from the attempt, so I didn’t keep track.
Anyway, today I receive a form rejection from Alligator Juniper, a fine literary magazine published at <ST1Prescott College. At the bottom of the form letter is a handwritten note from the editor. It says”
“Although we won’t be publishing “Threads of Meaning” it made it into our top twelve. I particularly loved the details of the different dyes on pg 5, the washing of the wool on that same page, and the wonderful detail of spinning wool directly off the rabbit in her lap. Just lovely. Finally, our staff had trouble with certain clichés or puns in the essay. Examples: “. . . wools been pulled over our eyes “(11) and “sheepish”. Best of Luck and we encourage you to submit again next year.” Melanie Bishop, Nonfiction editor.
Now, rather than feel disheartened or disappointed by this rejection, I was thrilled. They receive hundreds of entries to a contest like this, from hundreds of MFA students and aspiring literary writers (published and unpublished). I made top twelve? Amazing. And the editor thought enough of my work to tell me why it didn’t win, and that they still thought it had merit. I have the opportunity now to revise the piece, following their advice, and try again. Or I can ignore their advice and still try again. All I know is my rejections are coming from much better publications, and they are personal. That is progress. I know firsthand that you don’t bother to correct people who have no talent. A teacher or anyone in a position of authority tends to direct energies towards developing artists that they believe show promise. I know this because so many of our dance students used to get offended by corrections, as if that was our way of telling them they didn’t measure up, when in truth, correction were a great compliment. Therefore, I consider today’s rejection a love letter of sorts. We put things in perspective dependant upon life experience, after all.
I did use a few puns in my essay, but I was fully aware of them. I slipped them in for fun – never wanting to take myself too seriously. I suppose I should take them out, but I will be sorry to do so. Makes the piece less filled with my personality – more sophisticated. Frankly, I strive to make everything I write down to earth and smile inspiring, yet meaningful too. Guess by putting “myself” into the dialogue, it becomes a bit corney. Ah well.
I do not consider myself a literary writer nor do I aspire to be one. I have a good handle on literary writing now, thanks to school. I have great respect for this mode of literature, and my understanding of it will influence me and shade my writing forever. It is like dance. I studied classical ballet and modern with serious intent, but in the end, I remained a jazz dancer. I became a rather sophisticated jazz dancer with a great deal of classical dance knowledge to draw upon, but still, I chose the more commercial venue. And that was the right choice for me. I never felt I was selling out or lacking the serious overtones associated with great art. I do not see art as so neatly defined, and I’ve never been one to fall for the sudo-sophisticated attitude that “pure” artists cling to for authenticity.
I believe I will do much the same thing with writing as I did with dance – circle the beast fully, then settle where my instinct tells me I belong. I can’t describe how comfortable I am with that decision, having explored all avenues of literary fiction. It is one thing to be a commercial hack because you do not have literary sensibilities or a foundation in sophisticated technique – but another thing altogether to use this broad base of understanding to write commercial fiction well. This is all theoretical, of course. I don’t know if I will write any better having pursued a formal education or not, but logic tells me it was my path to full development. Feels that way, at least.
Today I signed up for my first conference in two years. It is conveniently in Atlanta so I’ll just drive in each day. This one is a serious literary conference for people who direct writing programs and run literary magazines, and for writers in MFA programs. A far cry from the romance conventions I began with. It is the AWP Conference (Association of Writers and Writing Programs) They are offering a huge selection of artsy fartsy classes which will stretch my exposure to subject matter. Primarily, I am excited about a few classes that discuss subjects I may consider for my senior seminar class. I am planning to discuss the possibility of a course that focuses on blogs as a path to stream of consciousness writing and how material from blogs can develop into work that is more serious. This may not fly, because my particular thesis doesn’t use blog material at all, and our seminar should be a development of our thesis study. But there is a class at the conference that discusses this Blog/literary growth issue, which may serve as support for it’s literary merit (and a means of research should I decide to go with it).I printed out the 45 page seminar class offerings, highlighting this session to show my mentor. I’d sure enjoy researching the subject, anyway.
I am also eyeing classes at the seminar about running a literary magazine and developing writing programs and teaching writing at the community level to disadvantaged groups. This is of particular interest to me. I am a natural teacher, after all, and I have a soft spot for those who need guidance and a leg up. Writing is power. And I’ve thought a lot about how I am going to “give back” to the art I love. Did it in a multitude of ways with dance. Must do it now with writing, ya know. It is a part of my personal commitment to Artistic Karma- a way to show gratitude to the heavens for my opportunities and gifts.
Anyway, I was a big fat looser in the Alligator Juniper contest, but I feel good about it. And today, I got an idea for the senior thesis seminar I will begin preparing this term. Yippee.
I’m always thankful for small gifts, especially those hidden underneath unattractive wrapping paper.