Friday, October 5, 2012

Out, Out, Far Out to Sea, & Alone: My First Year Post-M.F.A.

                                                             for Virginia Woolf

“. . .so I have to create the whole thing afresh for myself each time. Probably, all writers now are in the same boat. It is the penalty we pay for breaking tradition, and the solitude makes the writing more exciting though the being read less so. One ought to sink to the bottom of the sea, probably, and live alone with one’s words.” ~Virginia Woolf

               We are far out to sea & alone; my wife, & ten-month old daughter Izzy—whose pictures you’ll find beautifying the landscape of my Facebook profile—the only bearings I have available to keep me from setting adrift; existing in a place apart from landmass that is the non-writing populace; agonizing over contractions of imagination & creativity on almost a daily basis; living in our heads & stargazing—even placing our thumbs over the moon like Tom Hanks in Apollo 13—at what we can’t help but believe will be eventual success, instead of doing the practical thing & earning a degree in Business, or Accounting, or Business with an Accounting focus, etc. In other words: what have I gotten myself into?
               In my case, it’s quite simple: four years ago, I, of sound mind & body, chose to make a mistake, given that it was the most practical option. I chose to bypass the G.T.A. program at our university. Why? I couldn’t afford the pay cut. I had three choices: 1. Leave my part-time job. 2. Attempt to balance a full course load & my teaching responsibilities while still working a few days a week at the job in order to negate the pay difference. And oh, yeah, while trying to fit in some writing. 3. Maintain the status-quo: skip the GTA, continue going to class & working my part-time job: because Mos Def said it best: “Ends can’t meet where the arms don’t reach.”
               So I have no PhD, no G.T.A. experience (and therefore, no teaching experience), and no book publications. More importantly, my current job (the job I couldn’t afford to leave), makes me (professionally) unhappier than Septimus Warren Smith (minus the suicide). This is why I pine over relative “success.” One positive is that it provides me more free time to write in comparison to my writing brethren who teach. But, with a wife and ten-month old child, “free time” isn’t necessarily free.
               Teaching or not I do manage, however. That is one reality my publications reflect; I’ve written to the tune of twenty individual publications spanning across poetry, short fiction, creative nonfiction, and “performance text” and/or drama. To be fair, most would consider that a very successful year for a developing writer. For me, however, if a full manuscript does not out materialize out of all this “success,” I will regard 2012 as a disappointment.           
            There is no definitive answer as to whether or not I made the right decision four years ago when I was a first-year M.F.A. student.  I have no doubts that I would be happier working in something related to my field of study, whether it be teaching, editing/proofreading, copywriting, etc. & I’ve applied to each of them in gaggles, but to no avail. I do, however, have an appreciation for my professional unhappiness given that it gives me a bit of an edge. It keeps me starving to write & write & write now, which ultimately is what’s keeping me from sinking to bottom of the sea—without my words. 

A graduate of Florida Atlantic University's MFA program, Michael J Pagan's work has appeared in The Rumpus, DIAGRAM, Spork Press, Verse, Requited Journal, and other publications. He currently serves as an editorial assistant for SquawkBack Magazine, as well as a fiction reader for Burnside Review. He lives in Deerfield Beach with his wife and daughter where he continues work on his first poetry manuscript, With a Bullet, Sparrow Voices, along with his first stage play, PING.


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