I had hoped for more frequent blogs in grad school, an excuse to break away from required assignments and let my thoughts wander with the wind. But instead I am lucky if I finish half of my ‘to-do’ list every week and remember to buy toilet paper. (If you want to come visit, I recommend you BYOTP.) So here it is: a personal update on life in Missoula, as well as my required reading list, (free of charge to all you lovely folks out there.)
One year ago today I was filling out grad school applications, stressed about test scores, finding transcripts, acquiring letters of recommendation, and writing the heavily weighted personal essays and writing samples. When all was said and done, I had dumped nearly $1000 into applications, which included hiring a writing coach, and I still didn’t even know if I really wanted to go. Two years back in school? Moving away from Bozeman and Dave? At some point during this whole process someone said to me, “You don’t need a degree to write.” Oof. After this much time, money, and excitement, that one knocked the wind out of me. I cried often, laying in bed next to Dave, looking at every familiar crack in the ceiling, petting my dog, questioning why in the hell I was willing to give all of this up.
It was Dave. “I will support you no matter what.” I heard those words over and over again. He has always kept me somewhat level-headed, (as much as he can,) so I knew that if my decision was problematic or outlandish he would have told me. “This is your dream,” he said. I was accepted to Emerson College in Boston, but chose the University of Montana in Missoula for the location, (obvs,) and the outstanding reputation of their MFA program. (Nonfiction is ranked fourth in the nation!) I packed my bags in August and moved three hours away to start a new life.
It has been three months of professors lecturing, hours in the library, teaching freshmen how to write, scrambling to print papers before class, reading, and somehow finding the time to be creative. I actually used to worry about being told to be creative in a certain time frame. “I can’t do that! Who can be told: be creative from this time to this time?” But I’m learning to switch my mode of thinking from logistical, (usually stressing over one of my shit-head, entitled 18-year-old students,) to creative freedom. It takes a few deep breaths, and sometimes a walk through the nearby park, but I can usually sit down at prescribed times and produce something I’m fairly proud of.
Beer also helps. I have read, and heard from many people, that there is no such thing as the “writer’s life.” But here in grad school, I really think I get to live it for two solid years. Just last night a group of us met at a local dive bar and discussed Joyce’s Ulysses, and the credibility of the Pulitzer Prize over pitchers of local microbrews. (You can say it: total and complete dorks.) After a couple of pints, people were standing up, actually shouting, about the racial implications in this book, or the syntax of that book, or the fine line between fiction and nonfiction. I had to laugh at the absurdity of a bunch of beer-soaked writers yelling about literature in a dive bar on a Wednesday. I should have left early in the evening, returning to my desk to write the many pages I have due, or read the many (other) pages I have due, but I also had to step back and remind myself: I may never have this again. Debating the literary greats over a pint with twelve other people at the bar is hardly normal life.
Being away from home is certainly hard, but Dave and I are both pursuing our dreams. While I’m writing and reading, he’s writing music and performing with his band, The Dusty Pockets. Instead of talking about grocery shopping or cleaning the house, we spend our time talking about what we’re creating, and encouraging one another in our artistic journeys. Living alone has given me the gift of quiet, and the ability to think and ponder freely.
My first semester is almost over, which means I am one fourth of the way done. In this short amount of time I have already learned so much about writing techniques I never even knew existed. It’s a lot of work, but I am so thankful. On that note, I’ll give you all some work. If you’d like to join in on the fun, here is my reading list for this past semester. This is only for my writing classes, not even any literature courses. Those comes next semester…lord help me. I’ll be sure to send along those reading lists as well. I know that I have to read Moby Dick over Christmas break if anyone wants to join me. Happy creating everyone!
The Nick Adams Stories – Ernest Hemingway
Coming Into The Country – John McPhee
A Year In Provence – Peter Mayle
Where Rivers Change Direction – Mark Spragg
Don’t Let’s Go To The Dogs Tonight – Alexandra Fuller
Breaking Clean – Judy Blunt
Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life – William Finnegan
Loitering – Charles D’Ambrosio
If Not For This – Pete Fromm