My happiness promptly died out about 2 hours after getting home a few days later from graduation/celebrating at a fellow graduate’s home.
Now that I found the absence of that comfortable MFA blanket—the one that said my work was valuable, that I was going places, and that I didn’t have anything to worry about except writing—the cold hard world was looking to pick a fight, and I didn’t have anything to defend myself with.
Work became more of a burden to me, creatively at least. I spend all day writing and then come home to (one would hope) more writing. However I didn’t come home to that. I came home to being sick of writing and wasting my time in other pursuits—mostly flash games or complaining about my job to my wife and dog and cat. I wanted to write, I could feel it clamoring around inside of my brain, but when I sat down it felt too much like work and much less like I was accomplishing something. It felt like I was surrendering away too much time to my business writing and it was leaving my creative writing bruised. It still feels that way, come to think of it.
Now, I’ve been at this job for five years. I’ve snuck in lunch-break stories and secreted sentences during business meetings. It’s fun. It reminds me that I’m not just a corporate editor trying to turn a buck. I’m pulling one over on these people, right? I’m not one of them, surely. But after 5 years I’m feeling the strain. I’m just tired all the time of writing, and it’s having a horrendous impact now that I don’t have a program that forces me into writing.
There are hundreds of very valiant posts and articles about forcing oneself to write—I’ve probably authored a few on this site, in fact—but they don’t matter one bit to me when I drive home and think about how nice it will be to not be doing something. I’m still producing stories thanks to a writing group I’m a part of, but for the love of God it’s easy to ignore those guys, too.
And so this is where I am: I’m an editor of an online IT magazine that exists for the sole purpose of getting eyes on to ads for my company’s offerings. I am a writer who struggles to write stories, and I’m not satisfied with either.
And this is the first of the crises: the crisis of what I’m doing with myself. It’s not a matter of “why did I get my MFA,” because I got it so I could experience getting it—so I could be part of a community that was solely focused on writing. I got that, and I never expected to make my money back on the effort (those article about what MFA holders are good for drive me crazy. I went for the experience and to hone myself, nothing more. Nobody really looks for MFA holders short of universities. Let’s just face that down).
I posted this question up on Facebook in a moment of exposed-heartedness, and the overall consensus was a mix of either “you’ll get through this” or “figure out when you’re happiness, and then figure out how to do that more.” Good advice and kind words, and I know they are right—or at least more right than what my natural impulse is, which is to delve into daydreams about winning lotteries or running away to a cabin I’ll somehow build out of logs and leaves.
So Facebook therapy pointed me in the direction of finding my joy, and pursuing it. If I knew what made me happy, that would be a relatively easy thing to do, I think. But I don’t quite have that answer, and I’m not even quite sure how to reach for it.
When I was in the MFA I was able to be pretty self-aware of what I enjoyed. I liked reviewing people’s work; I liked reading people’s work and strengthening it. That would point to angling my life closer to being a reviewer/editor, and that’s all well and good—but how do I get there?
If I had a do-over, I’d make sure the director and staff of my MFA discussed the crises of purpose that comes after graduation. I just spent two accelerated years gaining a terminal degree which taught me that the story is one of the most noble, important ventures humanity can take. I come out into the world with that belief only to quickly realize that nobody is willing to pay me a living wage to create stories.
And that’s fine—I get it. I realize that almost nobody can make that sort of scratch off of writing stories (at least not a humble writer like myself). But I wonder how I can do more reviews and critiques while balancing my work life. Or if I’m even able to move into a life where doing reviews and helping stories become stronger is part of my work.
Yes, that points to academia in a way—and maybe that’s the answer. I don’t think there is much room for another paid reviewer of stories in the world, and the idea of opening up a “story reviews and critiques” clinic in Lancaster is tempting, but altogether strikes me as an out-of-car-trunk service. I’d need to grease my hair.
I really don’t know what the answer is, as I’m sure you can tell by this rambling post. For those of you that followed along, I appreciate it, but I’m pretty sure I’m just working something out by writing it, which is something all of us could afford to do at one time or another.