Broken things

The Broken PlateThe mirror in my upstairs bathroom medicine chest almost fell on my head. The mirror is separated into thirds, with each third opening when you push it, screws holding the turning mechanisms together, and  magnets holding the doors closed when pushed. Personal things are hidden behind the mirrors: antiperspirant, several tubes, half-used, of anti-itch cream, for a variety of uses, expired, floss, gauze pads, band aids, and items I am unable to recognize after 12 years of storage in this medicine chest. It’s just one more area that I need to purge of uselessness.  One of these mirror doors almost fell on my head  because the cabinet is stuffed to the gills; technically, the leftmost mirror popped out. Talk about potential bad luck. I was having trouble closing the mirror against the chest, and I pushed too hard one day. (Oh, the metaphors for life that come to mind based on mirrors, pushing too hard, useless items stuffed inside, etc.)  I could feel the mirror falling and was able to catch it before it broke my skull. The mirror is still whole and sits beside the vanity, with the screw that broke off the hinge on the floor. My orange and white tomcat likes to play with the broken screw. He does this while I pee. I watch him and wonder when will have the energy to fix the medicine chest. Do I even have the skills?

I’ve been able to superglue the screw and hinge together with great success; however, every time I try to re-install the mirror in the vanity, the top screw breaks off again. You see, there is not enough room to fit the bottom and top into the grooves with both screws in place. In other words, I am taking the wrong approach, trying to squeeze this thing in and breaking it over and over. (Why do I feel as though I am somehow discussing my romantic life here?) I need to come up with a more creative (and less lazy) solution. I have one in mind. I will spare you for the moment.

Speaking of broken things. I wrote an essay while I was a student in the Solstice MFA program in creative writing of Pine Manor College entitled, “This Time I Fell in Love with the Daughter.” The essay is essentially my coming out story between the ages of 18 and 24, the longing and struggles I faced in the 1980s, and the eventual revelation that I was a lesbian. The essay is about broken friendships, broken hearts, and broken people, so I find it apt that the essay has been accepted for publication by The Broken Plate, the national literary journal of Ball State University.

For some people, this is an uncomfortable essay because it is raw and vulnerable. Yet it has done well out there in literary journal land where 95% of my work gets rejected, with the venerable Gertrude Journal writing to let me know the essay reached the finals and that they saw much promise in my writing. Please continue to submit, etc.  I think there were some other “good” rejections for this essay. I’m thrilled, however, that the students of Ball State University have chosen this essay for their publication. Thank you very much.

“This Time I Fell in Love with the Daughter,” is the sixth of eleven standalone essays from my final creative thesis at the Solstice MFA program. There is a final chapter to the thesis, but I don’t believe it is standalone, so I can safely say I’ve published more than half of that thesis. The thesis is all about broken things — parents, lovers, friendships, sex, hearts. I keep trying to finish it, as it could be a full length book. I keep changing the name of the book based on my mood. Right now I’m calling it Marcella Songs: Essays on Valiant Failures in Love.” It’s all about shattered mirrors.

There is a lot broken in our society and around the world these days. I don’t have to tell you if you read the news or the pseudo news on Facebook. Part of me would like to jump into the fray and the arguments, but I cannot. I get too angry and I alienate people. So I don’t discuss politics much, but I continue to think of myself as a writer and hope my personal stories somehow achieve a universal theme and make a tiny dent in improving something in this world, any little thing.

I did get the third of the mirror back in place. It took extra effort, not something I’m known for these days, as my workouts wane, my writing production is in the toilet, and my performance at work is only mediocre. Still, I brought a step-ladder into the bathroom and had to glue the broken pieces while I held them in place where they belonged, rather than trying to squeeze something in a space it couldn’t squeeze. (“I held them in place where they belonged,” again, ripe with metaphoric possibilities, but I suck at metaphor.) So, the mirror is back up and functional (to a degree), chipped a bit in one corner where I had manhandled it, and not fitting exactly as before. It’s still broken, but it got up again.

Thank you for reading about broken things.

 

 

A little Halloween tale

“Halloween Costumes. All rayon, full length. Generous bright colors. Each with molded vinyl face mask. Choose from Devil, Astronaut, Princess, Skeleton, Witch, etc. 69 cents each.”

HandbagsDress Me Up and Send Me Out

from my chapbook, What’s in a Butch’s Purse and Other Humorous Essays, Winged City Chapbook Press, 2014.

The Toledo Blade, October 18, 1967*

 “Halloween Costumes. All rayon, full length. Generous bright colors. Each with molded vinyl face mask. Choose from Devil, Astronaut, Princess, Skeleton, Witch, etc. 69 cents each.”

When I was a kid in the 1960s, I sported drugstore-shelf Halloween costumes that my mother bought me each year – green-faced monster shirts, wicked witch dresses, super hero red capes, and in a rare femme moment, Lucy from Peanuts hopped up in a blue skirt. The costumes were made from rayon material that that would crack in my hands if it got too cold out, which it usually did on Halloween night in New England.

The costumes came complete with a molded vinyl painted mask and an attached elastic band to hold it on around the back of my head. The face masks resembled Yogi Bear, Bugs Bunny, Mickey Mouse, Superman, Batman or Casper the Friendly Ghost. Forget all the high tech shit and specialized costume boutiques you can find these days. Forget artistically making up your face with grease paints. I grew up in The Age of Rayon and such cheapo costumes were my Halloween get-ups.

I wouldn’t be surprised if the entire 1960s outfit was highly flammable and made of noxious chemicals straight from the Monsanto plant. I’m surprised I didn’t burn to the ground since nearly all the parents smoked back then. One errant match and poof: Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds, Elmer Fudd dynamited to cartoon heaven, nothing left of the Wicked Witch but a puddle of green gunk.

Daily News, October 9th, 1968*

“Flame Retardant Halloween Costumes, sizes tiny 3 to 5, plus small, medium, large. Both cute and spooky, animals and characters. All have well ventilated masks. 99 cents.

I donned these costumes over my regular clothes. You were a total goof if you put on a winter jacket to keep warm. Yet I recall as a young child doing that very thing – pulling a big winter coat over my Felix the Cat costume, or rather, my mom pulling the coat over me to keep me warm.  My neighborhood friends, too, had been bundled in winter coats by their moms, the whole lot of us looking like a tiny squadron of geeks. We all wondered: What was the point of the costume if it was hidden behind winter jackets?

When we were a little older and allowed to trick or treat through the neighborhood without parental supervision, we flung our jackets behind the bushes determined to exhort the full trick-or-treat terror upon our neighbors, scare them shitless with our rayon pants and jerseys and plastic molded masks filling with carbon dioxide.

The spit started to roll down our chins from breathing into the masks. We tried to limit how often we lifted the masks up (so we could breathe) and let them hang on top of our heads, because we would be ruining the spooky effect of the 69 cent costume, or if our mothers had really splurged, the 99 cent costume with the supposedly better ventilated mask.

“I still can’t breathe, Ken.”

“Just keep the mask on, Cindy.”

“I don’t want to do this anymore.”

“Come on, it’s just a few more houses!”

Ultimately, we were left inhaling back all of the air we’d just breathed out. The masks had little ovals for your eyes and a little round hole for your mouth, maybe two nostrils dug out. But the things never fit our faces, so there we were breathing our oxygen and carbon dioxide mix back and forth behind the mask. We started to feel a little lightheaded, a little trippy. This was the 1960s.

I have yet to mention the cars to look out for on those Halloween nights as we walked along darkened streets, a bunch of little kids with Halloween bags and dressed in oxygen-deprived masks and flammable costumes. Teenagers drove by throwing eggs, spraying shaving cream all over the driveways, and screaming out of their hippie vans, “Happppyyyyyy Halloooooweeeen!” High on pot, LSD?  Who knows? How could they see us in the dark in our little store-bought get-ups?

Newspaper Ad, October 8th, 1969*

 Masks 59 cents each. Character and animal faces glow when lit by the light in the dark for safety!

As we made our way through the treacherous Halloween night, we held tight to our plastic pumpkin pails, half filled with candy, most of which I didn’t like such as nauseating Bit-O-Honey chew candies, hard and horrible to the taste. We shivered our little asses off so some idiotic adult could dump a few stale fun-size (tiny) Tootsie Rolls in our bags and pails. Would a Hershey Bar have killed those people? Sometimes we got lucky and someone had Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. Those tiny-sized ones, where you needed to eat like ten of them to feel as if you’ve had a candy bar.

We trudged on, little goofy Halloween troupers. We pulled the plastic masks back onto our faces once we reached the next doorbell, to be scary. Plop, plop, someone gave us fun-size Three Musketeers. They’re okay. Pull that mask back over your face before you reach the next house and pretend you’re scary. “Trick or treat. Trick or treat.” And the neighbors respond, “Hi Cindy. Hi Ken, Hi Andy, Hi Robin.” They knew exactly who we were. Plop, plop. “We have homemade Rice Krispie bars for you!” I hated Rice Krispie Bars. That’s not officially candy. Basically, they’d thrown us cereal and marshmallows.

And then finally, after a long night, at about 8:30 p.m. we had to go home. It was there that our mothers would have us spill the contents of our bounty and go through it with us to check for un-wrapped candy–someone might have laced it with LSD, just for an especially scary trick on Halloween. We checked with our moms for slits in the wrappers or in the occasional apple, as bad as getting a frigging Rice Krispie Bar, to examine for razor blades–another wonderful “trick” from our more psychotic candy-givers. By the time the inspection was through, all that was left was a roll or two of Sweet Tarts (good), a few fun size Hershey Bars (good), a Rice Krispie Treat (shoot me) and a half pound of Bit-O-Honey chews (gag me.) I felt I had to pray to God before I ate each piece of candy, hoping it wasn’t poisoned or sabotaged in some way that might kill me. Or nauseate me (think Bit-O-Honey).

What an awesome holiday, huh???

Yet somehow we kids lived through all this toxic, flammable, oxygen-deprived costuming without a problem, and ate the Halloween candy we’d collected without any hallucinogenic incidents or razor-blade sliced apples. We survived Halloween the way we survived drinking tap water without dying and eating rare-cooked hamburgers without getting sick from e. coli bacteria. We went out to play a few blocks down the street without cell phones to text our moms saying that we were okay. There were no cell phones in the olden days. And when I say our moms bought Halloween costumes at the “local pharmacy” I mean it; we shopped in places called “Thayer Drug” or “Dykeman’s Pharmacy.” Chains like CVS and RiteAid had not yet been invented. We came home for dinner when we were supposed to everyday, or if we heard our mothers call out the backdoor to us. We told time by the position of the sun. This was long ago and far away, for my younger readers, one or two decades after the dinosaurs became extinct.

*Most of these ads can be found in a Google Search, by entering, “History of Halloween Costumes Timeline.” The origin of the October 8, 1969 ad is unknown.
This short essay is included in my Chapbook, What’s in a Butch’s Purse and Other Humorous Essays. For ordering information, see Winged City Chapbook Press.  or email me at cindy.zelman@gmail.com. You can find the e-book on Amazon.com, bn.com, or in iTunes.

Mother’s Day 2014 – I don’t remember writing this

Apparently, I wrote this in the spring, but I just stumbled upon it in my files. I don’t remember having written the piece, though parts of it are familiar when I read it.  I think I decided against posting it on Mother’s Day so as not to depress my audience during the holiday. Very thoughtful of me, right? You should know, that although my mother is still functioning all of these months later, the “decline” I mention in this piece has become more pronounced, which is to be expected, I”m sure. That doesn’t make it easy.

Mother’s Day, 2014, and in terms of the weather, it’s one of ten perfect days we get each year in Boston. A perfect day is 80 degrees, no humidity, no clouds, crystal blue sky, and soft breezes. Aside from these ten days, the weather sucks: it’s too hot, too humid, too cold, too windy, too rainy, too gray, too stifling, too raw, too anything. But today is perfect. There are nine perfect days left, so I expect a few in June and a few in September, and one or two sprinkled amid the stifling hot summer months.

There is nothing else perfect about today. I said it’s Mother’s Day. When I read Facebook I realize Mother’s Day is supposed to be a joyous event to celebrate our wonderful mothers, dead or alive. My own mother is in between dead and alive.

She should be out in this sunshine with the perfect breezes and sky, before it’s all lost to the body she resides in, the one that is slowly declining. But she can’t get out. I can’t get her out. It’s as if there is a glass wall between us and she must stay on the inside of it, while I look reluctantly in at her from the outside. I turn my head and  leave.

I am at the deli, cheered up by the endorphins and caffeine streaming through my blood, ordering my mother sliced deli meats, cream cheese, buying a quartered pullet because she wants to cook chicken soup. These are part of her Mother’s Day gifts. There was the time when she would have driven down to the deli and market herself to buy these things. There was a day when I would have driven her, but she would have gone into the stores herself. That particular day was just a couple of years ago. Now she can’t get there, even if I take her.

It’s Mother’s Day, the weather is perfect, and my mother is in decline. She has stage 4 breast cancer. She is 84.

Yesterday I was shopping in Bob’s to try to find her polyester stretch pants, the kind she wore in the 1960s and 1970s, like Laura Petrie wore on the old Dick Van Dyke show. I tried to explain to her that they may not make such slacks anymore, not in the way she remembers them.

“Polyester pants were now basically workout gear,” I say to her.

“I know that, I know that,” she said, a little abruptly. The answer was miraculous enough – that she knows that, which I believe she does, but that she heard what I said, without the nearly constant, “What?” .

As I was driving to Bob’s yesterday, and while I was in the store trying to find polyester pants, I kept seeing my mother bent over. These days, 90% of the time, she walks through the house bent over and gasping, as if she’s in great pain. For the first time since her cancer diagnosis, I thought: I think she’s going downhill, she can’t stand up straight. I felt so sad, nearly sad to the point of speechless, maybe to the point of tears, although most of the time, she makes me feels so frustrated. It’s very hard to repeat oneself up to four times in nearly every attempt at communication.

It’s Mother’s Day and I’m not even home with her right now. It seems cruel, on the one hand, to leave her alone on what might be our last Mother’s Day together, and yet, I don’t know what I would do with her if I stayed home. She would still insist on creaking up and down the staircase bent over in pain to do the washes, to load and unload the dishwasher, to get in my way as I try to prepare some food. I cannot offer to help her. I cannot say, “Look, let me do the washes.” She would look at me dumbly, as if I’d just spoken in Greek or Chinese. Her mouth would hang open. Her aged faced would look nearly ghastly and close to dead. I can’t take it, the emotions inside me crash and bang and I have to keep it all in so I don’t make the situation worse for both of us.

On a very bad day, she will let me load the dishwasher, and that’s when I understand she is terminally ill. I have been banned from the dishwasher in the past because I apparently am very bad at loading it. So I watch her load and unload it, and the laundry, bent over like a what? Like an old lady on her last legs. Like a dying woman.

I don’t know if being bent over so much of the time is from the cancer, the osteoporosis, the collapsed vertebrae, or just from old age. But she has most definitely declined. And as she declines, it becomes more and more difficult to talk to her.

I received a call a few days ago from a woman who works for the Steward Medical Group, a company that owns all kinds of doctors’ practices and medical facilities in the area. Although the call, and the knowledge the woman had of my mother’s medical condition, felt a bit like invasion of privacy, I suppose as owner of these facilities, they have access to medical records.

She was an older woman herself. I could tell from the crackle in her voice. She said, “I’ve seen your mother’s diagnosis. I’m calling to find out if she’s able to afford her medication. I see here that she just wants comfort. I’m trying to find out if she has the pain medication she needs.”

I tried to explain the situation.

“Well, she lives with me, you see,and right now, she’s still functional. She can go up and down the stairs, use the bathroom, take a shower, all that. I’m there with her, well, actually, I’m at work, but I’m home with her, I mean I live there. I mean, she lives in my house.”

“We will also be having a social worker call on a regular basis to see if she can be of assistance to her and to you.” That would be nice, to have someone of assistance to me. I could have used that person eight months ago, when I was trying to get referrals and appointments, but I am sure I will need the help now or soon.

“Um, okay.” The help sounded like a good idea to me, yet I’m always suspicious when some outside entity starts watching over you. Yet, what’s the difference if they try to control my mother’s life, which I don’t think they are trying to do, but if they were, what’s the difference? How much longer can she have left?

“You can try calling her if you want,” I said to the lady on the phone, since she had expressed an interested in doing so. “I will warn you that she doesn’t always get what you’re saying. You might have to repeat yourself. I don’t know if she’s kind of deaf. I don’t believe she is demented, but she’s hard to communicate with. Here is the number.”

When I arrive home in that evening, my mother tentatively walks into the kitchen and hesitates, and I know she has something to say about the woman who had called me, and then her, earlier in the day.

“I don’t understand what she called for. You’ll have to explain it to me.” I do my best, not entirely sure either what the woman had called for since she is not Hospice.

“It’s the Steward Group,” I try to explain. “You know, they own the hospitals and even Dr. Choi’s practice.”

Silence.

So I say it louder, no response. So I say it louder still, no response, so I say it perhaps a fourth time followed by, “Do you understand what I’m saying?” and a bit pissed, she replies, “Yes, I understand.” I guess she chooses not to respond

“They are a company that owns the hospitals and the doctor’s practices.”

“I know who they are!” she says.

I say, “Don’t worry, they are just calling because it’s their job.”

“She said some other nurse would be calling me. I told her to call you, that you are handling all this.”  It is the social worker who was going to call her, who will now be calling me. My mother doesn’t understand, and this makes it so hard to help her. And this is why she is alone right now on Mother’s Day, because it is so hard to help her. And I’m a bitch, or I’m at the end of my rope, but the rope needs to be longer, because she isn’t gone yet.

A few hours later, my mother says, “What a jerk that woman was. You know what she asks me? She says, if it’s an emergency, you will call 911? What does she think I don’t know that? Why doesn’t she call 911 for me?”

“She’s just trying to be supportive.”

“What?” That eternal “what?”

“Nothing,” I say.

I have been trying to decide about where I will live when she’s gone. Will I stay in my house, give it a makeover, maybe find a roommate and feel comfortable again within those walls? It is my home, after all, and there is so much good about it. But will her ghost in every room freak me out? Will the house just feel strange and bereft and make me feel insane with her missing from it? I don’t know.

I have been looking at condos in the area, most of which give me a great deal of anxiety – the complexes look horrible, some of them are nothing more than converted apartment buildings from the 1970s. Projects once, projects still with the low owner occupancy rate. I might be sharing walls with noisy neighbors, punks, screaming children, heavy metal played at full blast at 2 a.m., or maybe the condo association will piss me off and I’ll walk into a meeting with an automatic pistol. The automatic pistol, you should understand, would be my mouth.

But today, before I went to the deli, I drove into Knollsbrook, which is a condominium community I lived in as a teenager. It’s one of the nicer developments in my area, like a small town all its  own. Way, way in the back, there is a one-floor, 1,200 square foot, 2-bedroom- 2-bath unit for sale. I’ve seen those units. They are beautiful. I could afford it. The outdoor porch is enclosed in screen. The view is of the woods. I want to sit in that screened in porch with my two cats, listen to some soft music, read a book, do some writing, and start my life over. I want to buy this place, probably one of the nicest and one of the most affordable units in the complex, but I hear they won’t take animals. I hear you can get fined or even thrown out, if you have pets. Yet I hear they may not enforce that. And  as I drove in the first thing I saw was a couple unloading two dogs. They might have just been visiting.

I want to look out my windows and see the perfect landscape, the snow removed without any effort from me, swim in the three outdoor pools and the one indoor pool, as I did as a teenager.

I am searching for the place I will live when my mother is dead.

It’s Mother’s Day, and Knollsbrook looks perfect for me, but I have to leave and buy deli meat and a quartered chicken and cream cheese and bulkie rolls and bring them home to my mother and try to talk to her so she won’t feel alone on this day, perhaps the last Mother’s Day she will know.

The weekly post I promised

I have not finished this piece. It is a short scene from February 2014. I am hoping to turn this into something more, but if not, at least it’s here, a record of a moment.

This is what it looks like: My mother is lying on a gurney for the second time in two months, the first time to remove an enormous tumor that was pushing through her breast, stage 4 breast cancer.

This time we are at the hospital for a needle biopsy of her lung. There is a chance her lung could collapse during the procedure. She says she’s more worried about peeing in the bed.

I said, “That’s a good thing to be worried about, I mean, it’s better than worrying about the spot on your lung, whether it’s lung cancer or breast cancer.” (Did I really say all that? I must have thought it.)

I had to ask four questions to get the oncologist to explain to me why the lung biopsy would be beneficial, given his stage 4 “incurable” diagnosis.

“We need to know whether the spot is breast cancer or lung cancer,” he said.

Imagine a six-foot three tall, skinny man with dark hair and a wan complexion. He looks like he should be a funeral director. I guess as an oncologist, he nearly is one.

“Why,” I ask, “do you need to know which cancer it is, since you’ve already diagnosed her as incurable?”

“Because it could be lung cancer.”

This guy could have played Lurch in The Addam’s Family show.

“And if it’s lung cancer?”

“We would want to remove it.”

And once again, given that he has diagnosed her with incurable stage 4 breast cancer, I ask, “Why?”

“Because lung cancer could spread faster than breast cancer.” Couldn’t he have just said that first?

It was the only sentence that answered my question. Will it make a significant difference, – say add a year to her life as opposed to two months? I don’t ask because I don’t know how many questions it will take to get to that answer, or even if there is an answer, or if I want to know it. I cannot process any more information coming from this ghoulish man.

I want to make a comeback

Blog
Oh right I have a blog!

When I started The Early Draft in 2010, the point was to free myself to write whatever I wanted. It was an exercise in not worrying that the writing was perfect or publication-ready. I wanted to blog because I don’t journal. I always write because I want readers. For a few years, I went great guns with this effort and started to build a following. I developed many mini-essays here, that with a little work, actually became publication-ready. Some of the early draft work that began here ended up in my chapbook, What’s in a Butch’s Purse and Other Humorous Essays. Some of it ended up as posts for lesbian.com. Some of it ended up published on other websites.  My blogging took off, and for several months, I had blogs featured on The Huffington Post, particularly in the Gay Voices Section, but also in their over 50 page and their Impact page.

And then it all stopped. Not just the blogging stopped, but for the most part, the writing stopped. You’re wondering why, I suppose. I’m not sure exactly, but I have a few ideas. I had commentators on The Huffington Post rip me a new asshole for an unpopular view about smoking marijuana at outdoor concerts. I didn’t realize my writing could engender so much hatred. The reaction freaked me out. Another paradox: not only was the marijuana blog my most read post (with more than 250 comments, most of them hateful), but it was linked to a national pro-marijuana website and exposed in state after state after state. The article probably got more exposure than anything I have ever written. I became known as the woman with a stick up her ass who didn’t want to inhale someone else’s pot smoke at a concert. Yes, the anti-party chick. That’s me. The buzzkill. The one who would vote against legalization — although that’s not true — I do vote for legalization, just not smoking in public where it travels up my nose. The Huffington audience didn’t catch that part. So, I had my first brush with audience hatred. Ouch.

People hate me because I don't like to smell their marijuana smoke. I'm a relic.
People hate me because I don’t like to smell their marijuana smoke. I’m a relic.

Nearly a year later, my mother was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer, incurable, and the morbid oncologist made it sound as if her death was imminent. This also dampened my spirit when it came to writing. My mother is still here, and overall, doing well, but the shock of the diagnosis threw me into a state of “Who the fuck cares about writing, death is the BIG thing…”

One cannot live in a state of morbidity or cowering from the angry mob forever. One must try again to get the writing energy going. This is what writers do. This is what human beings do under many circumstances. We fall, we fail, we try again.

The paradox of my writer’s block being that since 2013, I have had more work published than I ever thought possible (work I wrote prior to the block, of course.) I am not rock star of the literary world, but since 1991, when my first, well, creative-nonfiction-piece-disguised-as-fiction was published in the journal Feminist Studies, and decades went by and nothing was published, and I thought I was a one hit wonder, I now have a relatively (everything is relative) long list of publications. If you would like to see them and maybe read some of the pieces published online, please refer to my publications page on this blog site.

Just "angst" period.
Just “angst” period.

 

So, I’ve been sending all this stuff out in the last few years, and mostly what I get back are the typical rejections, but beyond those, are the acceptances, even minor recognition: I’ve won three honorable mentions in the last year from New Millennium Magazine (and how I’d love to crack 1st or 2nd or 3rd Prize) and one honorable mention from The Writer’s Workshop of Ashville. I’ve been flattered to have one of my essays chosen to be in the top 10 of the year (a few years back) from Connotation Press: An Online Artifact, and more recently, to have a short story (I started nearly 20 years ago) published in Volume 17 of the print journal, Steam Ticket: A Third Coast Review, which also has been chosen as a piece to republish online to represent the “Best Of…” Steam Ticket.

Why am I doing all of this humble bragging on myself. I’m sure it’s a form of compensation. I’m trying to tell you (and me) how great I’ve been doing as a writer when truly, in the last year, I’ve written nothing at all. I hope to rectify the situation. I love to write. Sometimes I write (not quite) great things. I do have an audience who enjoys my prose. I am not a brilliant writer, but I’m good, when I’m good, when I actually write something. I am trying to remind myself by all the self-congratulatory crapola expressed above.

It’s been an interesting year too, of seeing friends from the Solstice MFA program also publish books. My good friend, Faye Rapoport DesPres, has published Message From a Blue Jay: Love, Loss, and One Writer’s Journey Home, in 2014, which is a beautifully written, yet very accessible read, about the narrator’s search for an authentic life. If you’d like to read more about it before buying, I wrote a review of it on Connotation Press. However, I would just skip the review and buy the book! It’s fabulous. Faye has also published her essays in numerous literary journals. See her blog at http://www.fayrapoportdespres.com.

Another Solstice friend of mine, and one of my favorite guys in the world, Mike Miner, has published All She Knows, an amazingly beautiful and dark novella in stories that you don’t want to miss and you won’t be able to put down. I have also  ordered his newest book, The Immortal Game. I can’t wait to read it. See his author page on Amazon.

Faye and Mike are major talents. You don’t want to miss their stuff.

There are so many books coming from Solstice alumni and students that they are too numerous to mention in a short blog post; however, I want to reassure you this is a talented group of writers. If you have an interest in the program, here is there website: http://www.pmc.edu/mfa-news

While this attempt to get back to The Early Draft turned out to be more about my trying to pat myself on the back for successes in the midst of writer’s block, my on-going goal is to post a blog here once a week, even if it’s just a paragraph, and hopefully, one that is not about writing but that is writing.

You see,  I want to make a comeback.

 

Is the MFA Worth It?: Guest blog by Message from a Blue Jay Author Faye Rapoport DesPres!

Message from a Blue Jay was written one chapter at a time, starting in the early days at Solstice when I started practicing the personal essay form. Slowly, over the two-year period of my studies, I began building a body of work I could be proud of. Still, the essay collection that became my final Creative Thesis was not the end of the road – not by far.

Blue-Jay-Cover-10.2-for-webuseToday my friend, Faye Rapoport DesPres, is guest blogging! Her book, Message from a Blue Jay, was released just yesterday, and it sold out on Amazon in half a day! It’s a fabulous and beautiful read about one’s woman’s journey home. You can still order on Amazon as more copies are being shipped ASAP. Below, please read Faye’s guest post, then enter the giveaway by leaving a comment after the post!

Faye Rapoport DesPres

Faye Rapoport DesPres is the author of the new memoir in essays titled Message from a Blue Jay(Buddhapuss Ink, May 2014). Faye was born in New York City and raised in upstate New York, and she has also lived in Colorado, England, and Israel. Her personal essays, fiction, poetry, reviews, and interviews have appeared in a variety of literary journals and magazines including Ascent, Connotation Press: An Online Artifact, Fourth Genre, Platte Valley Review, Superstition Review, and the Writer’s Chronicle. Faye earned her MFA from the Solstice Creative Writing Program at Pine Manor College.

The MFA in Creative Writing: Is it Worth It?

 By Faye Rapoport DesPres

It is appropriate that my first guest post for the Message from a Blue Jay “blog hop” (or virtual book tour) is being published on Cindy Zelman’s blog. I have been a fan of The Early Draft since Cindy began publishing her lively, insightful posts here several years ago. That was before she was stolen away by larger blogging venues like the Huffington Post – I hope she shares more of her writing here soon. Check back when she does – you won’t be sorry.

Cindy and I met as Creative Nonfiction students at the Solstice MFA Program in Creative Writing at Pine Manor College, so I thought I would use this space on her blog to address an often-asked question: Is earning an MFA in Creative Writing worth the money, time, and commitment?

Before I began my own studies at Solstice, I posed this question to several friends who are writers. Two of the people I spoke to had graduated from well-known MFA programs, and one held an MA in English Literature. Perhaps predictably, the two MFA grads recommended that I apply, while the third friend did not.

The writer who felt that an MFA wasn’t necessary basically told me this: “If you want to write, just write.” Armed with a strong background in literature and the experiences he’d had in his MA workshops, he felt motivated enough to read and work on his creative writing on his own. He noted that there are writing workshops, writing groups, and plenty of other opportunities to practice and perfect one’s craft without making the commitment (financial and otherwise) required to earn an MFA.

I have seen this work for some writers. I have a friend, for example, who has published five novels and a memoir with several independent presses. She even owned her own press at one point – and she never studied creative writing in any formal way. She was simply an avid reader from a very young age, and writing comes naturally to her. She is also highly disciplined, and because she loves writing and reading so much, both are a major part of her life.

On the other hand, the MFA grads who I spoke to felt that their MFA programs contributed in important ways to their experiences and eventual successes as writers. One person is still writing regularly as part of a writing group, and his MFA qualifications helped him land a job as an adjunct writing instructor at a state university. The other grad won a major poetry prize a few years ago that resulted in the publication of her first book; since then, she has published several chapbooks and a second book-length manuscript. She also teaches creative writing at a well-known college.

In the end, I decided that the discipline and experience of a Creative Writing program would help me – and that decision proved to be the watershed moment that propelled me toward the publication of Message from a Blue Jay. Before I studied Creative Nonfiction at Solstice, the bulk of my writing experience included a few poetry-writing classes I’d taken years before and my ongoing work as a professional journalist and a business/non-profit writer. I read a lot of classical literature during college and the years that followed, but I was out of touch with contemporary literature and the literary community in general. Most important, I had never learned some of the basic aspects of creative prose-writing craft.

I chose the Solstice program because it is a low-residency program that allowed me to continue with my professional freelance work while I pursued my interest in creative writing. Solstice is a small, more affordable program with an incredibly talented faculty, and it is located in the Boston area, where I live. As I had hoped, my creative work improved leaps and bounds during the two-year period that I participated in the program. I also met other writers and became part of an unexpectedly supportive community of writers and teachers.

Message from a Blue Jay was written one chapter at a time, starting in the early days at Solstice when I started practicing the personal essay form. Slowly, over the two-year period of my studies, I began building a body of work I could be proud of. Still, the essay collection that became my final Creative Thesis was not the end of the road – not by far. I revised the essays many times after graduation and continued to produce new work. I also struggled through the process of submitting to literary journals and wrestling with the standard rejections, which came far more often than the acceptances. Through it all, my teachers along with fellow students and graduates encouraged me by believing in my work.

It wasn’t until two and a half years after graduation that I finally felt my essays merited inclusion in a publishable collection – the manuscript that eventually evolved into the memoir-in-essays that is Message from a Blue Jay. The study, the revision, the persistence, and the waiting were all worth it. I finally have a book that I’m proud of.

As to the argument that MFA programs produce robotic, unoriginal writers, all I can say is that Cindy Zelman, whose blog I’m posting on today, and I couldn’t be more dissimilar writers. Yet we graduated from the same MFA program and had many of the same instructors. We’re different people with different perspectives and different voices – yet we enjoy and respect each others’ work. We’ve celebrated each others’ successes over a hot cup of coffee and we’ve encouraged each other to keep going after the sting of rejection. When one of us says, “This is it! I’m done! I can’t do this anymore,” the other listens patiently and then says, “Okay. Now get back to work.” Having colleagues like that on your side is priceless.

So – is an MFA worth it? I think the answer to that question is different for different people. All I can say is that in my specific case, the answer was definitely “yes.”

 

This was the second stop on Faye Rapoport DesPres’s Virtual Book Tour.

Don’t miss the next stop on 5/16 at Chloe Yelena Miller‘s blog!

The publisher is offering a personalized, signed copy of Message from a Blue Jay plus swag to the winner of their Virtual Tour Giveaway.
We invite you to leave a comment below to enter.
For more chances to enter, please visit the Buddhapuss Ink or Message from a Blue Jay Facebook pages and click on the Giveaway Tab!