Graduate School

9 Notes From a New MFA

During my latest 14-hour drive home from Halifax, and the last drive of its kind for some time to come, I got to thinking about what I've learned over the last two years. I think I was lucky, in that I approached the process of getting my MFA as something of a lark and a means to an end, so I didn't have any particular preconceived notions or expectations about the experience. I was free to ride the tide and see what happened along the way. Here is some of the flotsam and jetsam I picked up, both in the classroom and out, from my mentors and instructors, my classmates, and myself.

1. Murder Your Darlings. Every writer has heard this at some point in time. It's easy to fall in love with a specific turn of phrase, even when it just doesn't work for some reason. So it has to get the red line of death in the editing process. After a couple decades writing for hire, I rarely have darlings on the page and tend to be very open to suggested edits. So in my case, this takes a different meaning, which is: Understand when to let go of your grand plans, whether for research, structure, or purpose, and just let the current take you along to wherever you should be.

2. Find Your People. The idea of a writing community is a critical one. Most research and writing is done in a fairly solitary state out of necessity. But the improvement of the words on the page depends on exposure, inspiration, and conversation. Having a writing group nearby is a great idea; not always possible, but advantageous. And when it's difficult in person, it's certainly an option remotely, as my classmates and I have learned over the last two years. Whether we've cheered each other's successes, celebrated personal events, or commiserated in writerly angst, we've all had one another's backs and will, no doubt, continue to do so in the years to come.

3. Money Opens Doors. Let's be honest: An MFA is really expensive, and if someone thinks it's a one-way ticket to fame, they're delusional. That said, the degree serves three purposes, as I see it. First, it's terminal, so it indicates a level of accomplishment that can serve as the foundation to teach at the university level; a useful option for someone cobbling together income streams. Second, it can offer the nudge an agent or editor needs to take a look at your work; the expectation is that you have spend time and money improving your craft and may generate a higher-quality product. And third, for those of us who already write professionally in one capacity or another, the MFA provides validation of the practical skills we've developed; it's an acknowledgement of the value and quality we provide on a daily basis.

4. Start a Project. Just start. A book's structure may be reworked endlessly, or the voice shifted midstream. The research may be a beast (mine is) or the apparent path to completion may hit a snag. But the first step is to grab a hunk of clay and start working it. Even if your project is only tangentially related to your goal, it still counts. For example, while working toward her MFA and writing her book, one classmate moved to a new city and set herself the goal of stalking (erm, that's making) friends. Fodder for the book? Yes. Ultimately a much larger framework for living? You betcha. In my case, my new endeavor is #ProjectRoadWork ... details on that soon! 

5. Remember to Laugh. If there is one thing that characterized my MFA experience, it was laughter. It's very easy to take oneself and one's efforts way too seriously. High art. Serious literature. Profound issues of humanity. They're all parts of the conversation. However, the minute you buy into the hype is the minute you become insufferable to yourself and others. Laugh. At the difficulties of research. At the absurdities of academia. Even, as a cathedral full of people did last week, at the questionable Latin of a graduation ceremony. Laugh with joy at the company of compatriots. Laugh with pleasure at the sound of locals and come from aways alike singing sea shanties at a post-graduation kitchen party. Just laugh.

6. Place Does Matter. On one hand, this applies to my place as a writer and my place geographically. I promised myself when I started my MFA that I would not move until I finished it, so that I could control my living expenses. On the other hand, this also applies to the location of my MFA program. I don't know if all low-residency students have the benefit of such a warm cocoon when they are in session. For me, Halifax has become as much my place as anywhere else I've been. In fact, I trooped my parents up to Nova Scotia so they, too, could get a feel for this port city at the edge of Atlantic Canada. My educational experience is inextricably tied to my experiences at Canada's oldest chartered university and in the city it calls home. I am very proud to say I took my MFA at the University of King's College and Dalhousie University ... in the summers, while consuming copious amounts of seafood and Propeller ginger beer. 

7. Always Keep Learning. It's easy to convince ourselves that we know all we need to know at a certain point. Taking my MFA after establishing myself in my career was a wonderful reminder that learning keeps us sharp and bright and ever so much more interesting, both in our own minds and to others we may meet. It was a grand opportunity to spend time with people who shared a thirst for knowledge. At the moment, one of my classmates is serving with a nongovernmental organization in Myanmar. Another is recovering from heart surgery. One just got engaged. Others are plodding through information dug up from Afghanistan and Japan. And those are just the ones who didn't make it to graduation.

8. Believe In Yourself. One of the questions we answered (repeatedly) over the last two years was, "Why are you the person who should write this book?" We each needed to be able to explain exactly what made our take on our subject unique. As a side effect, we all gained clarity about why we'd chosen our topics, how we were approaching them, and why our voices were important. This whole writing process is not for the faint of heart. In fact, I'd venture to say that if you truly can't come up with a reason why you're the right person to write your book, you're probably the wrong person for that book. Once you answer the question, though, don't look back. You know what you can do; move on to believing what you will do.

9. Adventure Begets Adventure. Perhaps the most important thing I've learned is that earning the parchment is not the end of anything, but the beginning. In fact, the process of taking the MFA has the potential to open your mind to any number of things, from professional pathways and specializations to personal opportunities and relationships. The trick for me, now, is to keep surfing from adventure to adventure as long as the inspiration holds!

Kicking Off the Winter Writing

It happened twice, mingling with writers and academics in a conference room at the Canadian Consulate in New York City last week. I described my book project to someone (or in one case, one of my MFA advisors did) and her hand flew up to meet the gasp leaving her lips. Her eyes flashed wide and rims went red, tears burning in the corners. 

Both of these women clearly had more than a passing familiarity with the situation of the Baha’is in Iran. And both said the same thing: “I’ve never understood how people so kind could be treated so cruelly.”

That, of course, is the point. From here in North America, we look at this as a simple logic problem. Good people, we expect, deserve good lives. 

Good Lives Deserve Good Books
That's my mantra these days. Especially after Friday's pitch exercise, when each aspiring MFA met with two of New York’s finest publishing professionals to rehearse our sales spiels and gather information about our books' relative merits.

I was lucky enough to be paired first with Brenda Copeland, executive editor at St. Martin’s Press, an imprint of Macmillan. Beneath her bright blond bob, her eyes squinted in concentration as she listened to me reel through the story, the possibilities, the platform. Every now and again she'd ask a question or clarify a point. Her feedback was encouraging. In her opinion, the book may be considered too risky by large publishing houses, which make acquisition decisions driven largely by estimates of commercial viability. After all, both the issue and the individual are relatively unknown in the grand scheme of things. But, she said, keep going, because there is definitely a story here. And a smaller publisher or an academic house with a trade imprint should be able to appreciate the topic, writing, and potential impact of the book on their own merits. 

Later, I sat with Stephanie Sinclair, an agent with the Transatlantic Literary Agency. Her advice, too, was valuable. Start submitting excerpts, she told me; get that memorable introduction out into the world where someone can pick up on it and run with it. Her suggestions focused on her instinct that readers are going to be looking for books about hope and connections with people unlike themselves. 

You Gotta Have Heart
Over the course of the day, I tried out a minor title shift that Brenda recommended on my classmates. Universally, the response ranged from good to "I love that!" Which is promising, because I love it, too. It fits perfectly with the (yet again) revised overview and approach to the book that I'll be rolling out in the next two or three months. 

Little by little, the story is moving away from austere, “here’s all the background you need to know” writing. Slowly but surely, it’s getting to what it always was, the story of one memorable moment and the subsequent path to a serendipitous realization.

I’ve been good about separating the story from my heart on the page. But that’s not a possibility anymore. Each essay on the side, each chapter in the manuscript, has to pulse with a little more blood. 

Time for a Reboot

Every once in a while, everything needs a bit of a pause and a restart. The last month and a half has been a good reminder of that fact. Between graduate residency, travel back and forth, a quick injection of freelance work, surgery, and a slower-than-expected recovery, I skimmed right past my first freelance anniversary and slid right through the prime time to recast my book's structure and submit a couple of articles to magazines and literary journals.

So, I'm taking a couple of weeks away from the blog to get myself squared away. 

I'll be back on October 4 with new posts that align more closely with the topic of the book, updates to the website as a whole, and perhaps even some news about new publications.

See you then!

Mama Knows the Highway

Re-immersion is hard. In fact, a year ago, one of our faculty members sent us off with the reminder that, "Tuesday is going to suck." After the chuckles died down, he explained that the weekend is full of last-minute farewells to Nova Scotia and travel home. Monday, friends and family want to hear about your trip and your project. And Tuesday, no one cares anymore and you're on your own. He wasn't entirely wrong.

Perhaps that's why the first thought that comes to mind on the way out of any residency, particularly the summer sessions on the rocky Nova Scotia coast, is the ending of Where the Wild Things Are:

"... Max stepped into his private boat and waved goodbye
and sailed back over a year
and in and out of weeks
and through a day
and into the night of his very own room where he found his supper waiting for him
and it was still hot."

It's difficult to disconnect from daily life and commit to two weeks of focused writing craft studies and work on the book. It's even more difficult to step back out of the bubble and into the real world. I haven't decided yet whether my friends' flights in and out of reality are better, or whether my two-day drive in each direction really eases the way.

In fact, my travel plan has been governed by finances, not convenience. Thankfully, the road between here and Halifax is pretty picturesque, for the most part. There are some stunning views along the Bay of Fundy that peek out between the hills and then are gone.

This year, the drive home was largely occupied by consideration of the changes in my book that took shape through fantastic chats with my mentors (current and past/future). I often do my most productive processing when I'm away from the keyboard, so I sorted out the new structure of the book in my head, mentally cataloging the ramifications for research and writing.

I might ordinarily have used my hotel night in the middle of the trip to write, but this time, it came at the end of a very long day, so I used it to organize myself, instead. My assignments are planned out and noted in multiple places so I can plan around them.

This next chunk of the year is very full and very important. My to-do list includes a wide range of tasks related to life, not school or work. It also includes my regular school assignments and work on the book, plus added research efforts, plus an increased focus on my pitch, proposal, and platform-building leading up to our winter residency and publisher introductions in New York. Then, of course, there is the work that actually pays the bills, none of which lives on the same term schedule as the MFA. 

It's no wonder, then, that I started Saturday with a mochachino and bagel at the Coburg Cafe with my mentor group, attended a debrief with all of my classmates, shared hugs and humor with friends I won't see until January (horrors! my people!), and then got in the car and drove for nine hours. By the time I crossed back into the U.S. in the late afternoon, I was suntanned on my left side, my mirrored sunglasses had given me mild raccoon eyes, and I had decided to onboard another caffeine infusion in the interest of staying alert.

For the 90-mile freeway intermission (it's a regular two-lane road between Calais and Bangor), I boosted the volume and seat-danced while singing along at top of my lungs. Portions of the Pitch Perfect soundtrack. Nearly the full Great Big Sea discography. Bonnie Tyler. Great White. Darius Rucker. "Call Me Maybe." "500 Miles." You name it, I sang it, as long as it was upbeat.

That brought to mind a conversation with a couple of friends over dinner our first week on campus. One of them told me she knew exactly what kind of guy I should find. I cringed. I was sure I knew what she was going to say. After all, I've been misread so many times, I practically have a script: "Yes, he has to be smart or he probably won't 'get' me. But he has to be a normal human. Smart for the sake of smart is exhausting." Instead, she surprised me, saying that she thinks the key is finding a man who understands and appreciates my relationship with music. Maybe shares that passion. Maybe has a passion for some other pursuit. 

My other friend and I stared at her. This is someone who knows me as a writer, not a fully faceted human being (except via The Facebook). And she's right. I've often said that an equal and opposite preoccupation is a desirable thing. But I kind of take for granted that music appreciation (and the ability to clap on the beat, please) is part of the whole package. It's nifty to see how people pick up on things that we don't always state outright. 

On that note, I'll leave off this post with the song that launched day two of my travels. Although the video portrays "Mama" as quite the floozy, I've always thought the lyrics better reflected a female truck driver. So you might want to close your eyes while you listen. Unless you're driving. In which case, you probably shouldn't be reading this, either.

Time Flies With Friends

"I need to show you my new blog header!" My friend took a last bite of her mac and cheese, snagged her laptop out of her backpack, and scooted a chair around the corner of the table.

We were sitting in the pub at the Dalhousie University Club with a few classmates and one faculty member, talking New York City, dogs, and inappropriate, self-serving reasons to marry a man. My friend cited money. I cited the need for a quadrilingual interpreter. Our program director called foul, since he perceived that my self-serving reason was actually strategic.

While the evening might sound like a bust, educationally speaking, it was, in fact, an integral part of the residency experience. Let's break it down.

  • My friend is a 20-something from Toronto whose professional writing experience has centered around theater scripts and lifestyle blogging. I'm a 30-something from the States (too many of them to list) and a professional writer of the article, marketing, business variety. We never would have met, let alone become pals, nor exchanged ideas of any kind, had we not met during our first residency last summer.
  • The basement pub in the Dal Club is the go-to venue for evening hangouts among the two years of MFA students in session for these short residency weeks, as well as our faculty, mentors, and publisher-sponsored writer and editor in residence. Book titles are hashed out over beers (or in my case, the ginger soda I dream about the rest of the year). Research plans sort themselves out across the tables. And author platforms begin to gel, blog headers and all.
  • For the most part, students from both classes, faculty, and mentors mingle freely throughout the residency, so fresh perspectives and new friendships develop here in Halifax and carry on through the year on Facebook, through emails, at writing groups formed by students living in close proximity, and at the remaining residencies in the program.
  • Each class only intersects with the one ahead twice and the one behind twice. There are only so many opportunities to make connections, share knowledge, get the scoop on past events, learn about one another's projects, and discover ways to help one another later.
  • Everyone wants to know the details of the winter NYC publishing residency. Before the wrap-up session on Saturday. Because travel. And money. (Also because NYC, except for me because it is my least-favorite city and it only takes me 3 hours to get there from home, anyway.)

In a few short days, we'll leave here, scattering to the far corners of the upper half of North America with nothing but ourselves, blank screens, and the memory of these two weeks to power us through the fall.

If we're sharp, we're soaking in everything we can from the people around us and the ambience of this place, so some day in late November, when we're really feeling the strain, we can close our eyes and put ourselves right back in the pub, on a warm summer night, with the laughter and chatter of friends around us. And we can remember that we're not really alone.

Boats and Argyle and Lobstah, Oh My!

The pale yellow walls of my home-away-from-home glowed gently last night as I sat at my desk. Piece by piece, I made my way through the last pre-residency reading assignments while I bounced along to a few universally uplifting Matisyahu tunes pumping through my headphones.

Finished, I took pen in hand and sketched a visual representation of my book's structure for tomorrow's mentor group session. There have been several comments that referring to these daily workshops as "group," as in, "We have group tomorrow morning," sounds a lot like therapy. Which, in a way, they are. After spending the last six months or so working away on our projects in our various corners of the continent, it's cathartic to come back together with friends.

It just so happens that one of those friends is a city. Halifax, I have decided, is a little bit like Maritime Disneyland, and reminiscent of Copenhagen's Tivoli Gardens. This charming metropolis is centered on a peninsula that takes about an hour to cross. On foot. From our small, stone university campus, a meander across town skirts the public gardens with their artful flowerbeds and dappled shade, or the fortress-capped rise of the Citadel. A small misstep while gazing out at the museum ships, pilot boats and cruise vessels in the harbor could launch a body down the hill past the green-, blue-, and white-painted blacktop of Argyle Street (pronounced the olde way, with the accent on the second syllAHble, as it should be). 

All of us seem to have our senses overwhelmed when we hit the waterfront. The scent of salt water hits us at the same time the pouring sun reflects off the lapping waves into our eyes and a breeze washes the day's heat away. And just as I grew to expect sugar wafers and sherbet on visits to my great-aunt and great-uncle's home, I've quickly come to expect that lobster rolls, Cow's ice cream (Fluff 'n' Udder, anyone?), and Propeller ginger beer will be on offer upon arrival at my friend Halifax's place.   

Sound, though? It could be the buskers, or something much simpler. In fact, as I walked across the quad Sunday on the way to my room, one of the mentors in the MFA program who lives nearby came striding across the grass from the dorm. He's part of the opposite mentor cohort from the team that works with my class, so our interaction last year was limited and most often in more social environs. Still, when he saw me this weekend, his face lit up with a grin of recognition and his voice carried across the lawn. "Welcome home!"

I heard that greeting about three times more before the day was out. After all, a city is nothing without its people.

Yes, I Already Started Packing

Perhaps it's my reality as a no-two-days-the-same freelancer. Perhaps it's the events of this year. Perhaps it's the nature of the work I'm doing. Or maybe it's the insanity of this summer both in my life and the surrounding world. But holy jeepers and gee-whillikers, Batman, my second and final year of the King's MFA begins in less than two weeks! 

I am super excited to see my friends after nearly eight months in our own little worlds. I want to hear about everyone's travels, for fun or research, or potentially for purposes of totally changing their book topic. I'll be missing the class that graduated in the spring (it contained some characters), but I'm curious and happy to see who is in the incoming group (likely character-filled, too).

Our two weeks together in Halifax is like a cosmic reset button kicking off our next round of efforts. After this brief residency, we'll see one another just one more time as a class, for a week in New York City in January. Some of us will connect at graduation in May, but it's unlikely everyone will attend. Then, we're well and truly on our own, unless we're able to meet for tea on our way through each another's environs by chance someday.

For the moment, I am just barely containing my desire to get back to the city wherein sits my university, even though I will only be there for a fortnight. For an American driving northeast, the trek up and around the coast and down onto the peninsula can be broken into chunks, each with its own distinct character:

  • Southern Maine, with the crazy Boston drivers and beach people.
  • Mid-coastal Maine, where there is a much-needed Starbucks at a rest stop on I-95.
  • Bangor to Calais, the inland run where truckers try to kill you and if they don't succeed, the post-washboard state of the two-lane highway just might.
  • The Border, where you must abandon all fruits and vegetables and convince the nice guards that you are not staying long enough to take away any Canadian jobs (or, on the reverse trip, that you have not been away long enough to acquire any contraband of any sort).
  • St. Stephen to St. John, where your clock and your GPS units of distance are both confused, you spend most of your time looking for a gas station, and you stand a real danger of driving off the freeway because the views of the Bay of Fundy are just that stunning.
  • St. John to Sackville, where you amuse yourself by trying to decipher New Brunswick's tourist route icons, counting Tim Hortons signs, and wondering if you're there yet. 
  • Amherst, where, from miles away, you can see a small rise in the farmland whereupon a tiny windmill, a high-flying Canadian flag, and a row of equally soaring and flapping white-and-blue provincial standards welcome you to Nova Scotia. Coffee, bathrooms, gift shop, tourist brochures, and the nicest greeting ladies in North America are all at your service.
  • The road to Truro, where you can find an A&W and ponder the potential merits of rerouting to Antigonish and "Cay'Breton."
  • Truro Heights to Dartmouth, where you can't believe how slowly the kilometers are clicking over and you may change the playlist to some old-school Rawlins Cross, the Rankin Family, the Barra MacNeils, or MacKeel just to give yourself hope.
  • The MacKay Bridge into Halifax, where you take a deep breath, flip the playlist to Joel Plaskett (starting with "Harbour Boys"), set forth on a cruise through the North End and down the leafy tree-lined length of Connaught Avenue, and maybe skip your destination altogether in favor of a stop at Point Pleasant Park to make sure the ocean is still where you left it.

Who wouldn't have started packing two months ago?

Dear MFA Class of 2018

About now, I imagine that the newly admitted members of King's MFA class of 2018 are receiving stuffed envelopes and excited emails notifying them of their acceptance. This post is for them.

Dear Class of 2018,

In about a month, you're going to suffer a collective freak out when you see the project summaries and short bios my class submitted a year ago, along with those of your own classmates. It's the same borderline hyperventilation many of us survived last spring.

I remember retreating to a conference room at my former workplace, documents in hand, and wondering what on earth I'd gotten myself into. When I read a few excerpts out loud to a coworker, her eyes bugged out, she turned the air blue for a hot second, and then she told me that as far as she was concerned, I fit right in with the impressive folks whose qualifications I was waving in the air. She was right. I do. You will, too.

You're probably going to spend the summer questioning that fact, while you try to get up to speed on pre-residency reading and writing assignments. You're going to wonder whether you're too old to stay in the dorms or whether you should pony up for a hotel or an Airbnb, because you are a capital-G Grownup. Stay in the dorms. You'll make friends fast and always find someone willing to chat or explore the beautiful city with you. Besides, it's only two weeks.

As you get to thinking about your book, you're going to have doubts. If you can, try to start your research (or at least give some thought to your research) this summer. It'll make your mentor sessions in Halifax super productive, which will make the fall semester so much smoother, when you're back on your own, playing chicken with your calendar. If you have multiple story ideas, start thinking through them now. You can always shift gears, but at least you'll have relative merits and challenges sorted for yourself.

In my opinion, this program is as demanding as you make it. You're a good (maybe excellent) writer with a meritorious (maybe publishable) book idea. That's what got you in the door. Your mentor will offer plenty of guidance and suggestions, but he or she will also follow your lead. Setting and meeting deadlines? That's on you! Submitting work you're proud of? That too! Figuring out how much you can responsibly tackle in a semester? Good luck! (Hint: 60 pages? Totally doable. 80 pages? Um, just remember the spring is nearly two months shorter than the fall. Ahem. Unlike some of us ... me.)

The program may feel a little "loose" to you. That's the magic of it, as I've learned. Last summer, I made a two-day drive into Halifax as my usual super-alert, totally intense self. I. Was. Ready. Then, after settling into my dorm room and stocking the fridge, I wandered over to register. My class's fearless leader, Stephen Kimber, offered a jovial greeting that set me at ease right away. The Hawaiian shirt and sandals helped. One of our mentors, David Hayes, was chatting with him, dressed in shorts and a t-shirt with the sleeves rolled up, equally curious to meet the new gang of writers.

As someone in the class of 2016 said to me with a chuckle later that night: "This is Halifax. Whatever intensity you're expecting, ratchet down 20 percent." She was right. Halifax is something of a surf town, and somehow, that vibe has infused this program. Throw a shaka, hang loose, and you'll be fine. The intensity comes later, when you're having a staring contest with a blank screen or figuring out how to interview someone who is un-interview-able. 

In fact, you'll find that as the clock moves toward 5 p.m. that first night at King's, a motley collection of people will start emerging from dorm rooms and cars and making their way across the parking lot to the barbecue. You won't necessarily be able to tell the mentors from the students. Last year, those of us who looked tentative and reserved gravitated toward one another and introduced ourselves, perching on the stone steps in the warmth of the summer sun. The folks from the class of 2017 stood out in our cleanest hot-weather wear, with notepads and pens, eager students returning to school after decades, years, or mere months living other lives.  

Then the shrieking started. The members of the class of 2016, without any reserve whatsoever, were flinging themselves into one another's arms, chattering and jabbering over and around one another about their projects, successes, families, travels. Giddy at being together again, it was evident they were one another's grandest cheerleaders. We watched, all wondering, I think, whether that would be us in a year. 

It will be. It was us in Toronto in January, after all. The mutual admiration society formed last August in classrooms and coffeeshops, on trips to bookstores and over lobster rolls and ice cream on the boardwalk. And the force is strong. There is nothing quite as excellent as walking down a hallway, catching the eye of a friend up ahead and being pulled into a hug as soon as your feet cross the threshold. Unless it's being spun around tables and chairs from person to person, everyone greeting everyone with bright eyes and broad grins after months of separation.

By New York, that will be you, too. For this summer, though, just breathe. You are in for what may be one of the most challenging, fun, enlightening, and rewarding intellectual and creative adventures of your life. Take a deep breath and roll with it. No doubt you'll have brilliant new work in progress in no time.

And remember: We can't wait to meet you!

P.S. It seems like this is the week for writing about lessons learned. My classmate, Nellwyn, has a great, practical post on the subject. Check it out!

A Strange Start to Summer

In less than 36 hours, my "summer" break will officially begin (despite the snow coating the great outdoors). I turned in my last assignment more than two weeks ago and received my last individual grade last week. So, for all intents and purposes, my semester has been over for a while. But until the calendar says I'm done, I don't really think of school being "over" for the year.

Once upon a time, when I was in university, our semesters went from the beginning of September to the middle of December and the middle of January to the middle of May. There were some long weekends built in throughout and a week or so of exams that freed up time as each semester wound down. But they were pretty predictable timeframes, in general.

The scheduling now is a little wacky. I've undertaken my graduate work through a low-residency program, so we have a "long" and a "short" semester each year. "Fall" starts the first of August with two weeks of classes on campus in Halifax and then continues on our own, from home, through late November, leaving time for grading by early December. "Winter," which I've always thought of as "spring," begins in mid-January with a week of workshops in one of North America's publishing centers (Toronto or New York, depending on the year) and concludes in late March, with grading completed ... now.

Some of my classmates are working full-time while writing their manuscripts and taking care of our other coursework. Others, like me, have alternative schedules that allow us to mix work with writing and schoolwork on our own timetables. Still others are able to dedicate at least part of the school year exclusively to research, writing, and course requirements. In most cases, there is some outside force affecting the day-to-day, whether it's family or an employer or some other responsibility. Some reason to look up from the screen, cook something more complicated than canned soup, go to bed at a reasonable time, or step away for a few days to celebrate something or go adventuring. That's not the case for me, although I often wish it was.

If this school year has given me anything, beyond invaluable input on my writing and extraordinary lessons in the craft and business of nonfiction publishing, it's the knowledge that I'm not fantastic at adulting. I often have a one-track mind and a level of focus that can rapidly veer toward the self-detrimental (late nights and equally late mornings, skipped meals, lack of exercise, isolation, etc.). Over the course of my post-university life, it's led to a haphazard existence that isn't at all pleasing when I view it from outside the bubble of the moment. 

I noticed those faults less when I was working in an office full-time. I am a hardcore introvert and an only child, so being alone has always been a solace and a time to recharge. Being surrounded by people all day made me want to crawl into my home in the evening and pull the world closed behind me. Wednesday evenings, I'd teach drumming. Every few weekends, I'd see friends or my folks. At times, I might have been taking part in a Bahá’í study circle or devotions, hosting Feast, or attending a holy day celebration. But I couldn't handle more. Getting involved in people-centric activities, or even getting myself moving, was just too much of an energy drain. As a result, I never developed a healthy approach to my hours and days. I simply coped and hoped no one would notice.

Depressing, right? I certainly felt it was. It's only now, after a school year of shifting gears, that I'm really recognizing what a messed-up existence I had. And continue to have, in many ways, because I am still learning that it's okay to live the life I want. Plus, I have a lot of bad habits to overcome and, at the same time, replace with habits that I prefer. 

After a hectic couple of weeks that reminded me far too well of my own faults, I'm facing this "summer" head on. Yes, there is a livelihood to earn, research and writing to continue, goals to pursue. But there is also the opportunity to create a daily routine for myself that makes me feel healthy, relaxed, confident, and open to new experiences. It's been a lifetime since those words described me in a whole way, instead of as a worker bee. It's about time, I think!