Two months into year two. Seven months before thesis and graduation and returning to the reality of jobs and the non-writing world. And while I am excited to think of the possibilities, of perhaps a job that will support me beyond oatmeal and ramen noodles, I cannot help but feel panic. I will be leaving this insular womb of the MFA, the workshop, the community of writers, the parties where writing is the main topic of conversation. I will once again be in a position of decisions. Where to live? What to do?
But for now, I am trying to enjoy the luxury of my current life. Time to write, read, and teach. Time to enjoy friendships. Time to live in sunny Roanoke, in the South, in the mountains.
Two months into this last year. Two months that have whizzed by like a cartoon train. If you see me standing and not moving or speaking, hopefully it is because I am overcome by this sensation and trying to slow it down, trying to enjoy the moment. Likely, I will also be thinking ahead. I have certain things that I have or will apply for but most of my future is out of my hands, left to search committees and human resources departments. If my current life is anything to measure by, I’m sure I will end up wherever I am meant to be.
What I can quantify:
14 short stories written and in stages of revision.
1 novel idea, simmering, waiting.
7 months to thesis, graduation, the wide open.
A kid asks if it’s okay if he and his friends fish near me.
I sit on a bench that is so close to the lake that if my legs were longer they would be in the water. This is one of those lakes that look like a pond that got out of hand, but is now established and permanent, though still holds onto the weeds and muck of its former life. Too, the stench of rot floats by on the hot breeze.
A dragonfly tries to swim against the wind, and when I look back up, it’s gone.
The children, the three boys who have taken up their fishing nearby, argue. One berates a tree for catching his line. He says, “way to grow there tree.” Another loses his bobber in the weeds, and they all go on about it. “Five dollars down the drain.”
They argue about worms and nibbles and lies about nibbles, and one seems to know—thinks he knows—about the incorrectness of a bobber on a bass line and cuts the offending line, which is not his.
“My brand new lure for five dollars down the drain.”
“I’ll dive in for that.”
“What the heck. Not my fault.”
“We can use those to catch bass.”
“Oh my gosh a leach. It swum on me.”
“You said a bad word.”
“He said goodness.”
“He did not. He said gosh.”
A mother yells over, asks where one of the boy’s shoes is.
The boys argue about whether gosh is a bad word. One runs to a mother, asks if “oh my gosh” is a bad word. She says that to some people it is but hesitates to say that it is not, in fact, a bad word.
The boy runs back.
“Is it a bad word?”
“No. And I didn’t say ‘Oh my God.’”
They argue about hooks, a tackle box.
I wonder if there are even any fish to argue about. Perhaps farther out where the water isn’t choked with weeds and mud.
One kid has diabetes, and his mother wants him to eat.
It’s hotter than I thought it would be, and I wish I could swim in the lake, but the muck. I have swum in enough muck in this life.
“You have to come test. I’m afraid,” says the mother of the diabetic.
“I’m coming.” He’s not.
The mother returns to a conversation with the other mothers.
“I’m not going to stop fishing until I get a fish,” one boy says.
Birds my eyesight cannot identify flit across the lake, not skimming but seeming to use the open water above the lake as an opportunity to perform.
The boys have returned to their mothers. I cannot see that anyone has been tested or fed.
The dragon flies have fatter bodies than I have seen. Fat, gray bodies with long, metallic blue tails.
I see no minnows. I see no fish. And I see no leach, though the suggestion of one keeps my feet out of the water.
The boys with their fishing poles wade in where the sand shows through water, likely sand dumped by the township to allow this kind of wading, though muck still floats over this attempt at a beach.
“Oh my gosh.”
“A flying fish is stuck in a tree.”
“I had a worm and now it’s gone.”
And I think, swim, worm, swim away.
I have since returned to this lake in the evening. A group of adults fished on overturned buckets. Fish were indeed caught, perhaps blue gill by the look of them, their round flat bodies. The mosquitoes were out, and in the glare of last sunshine, the cottonwood puffs and mosquitoes seemed almost of a same species. Hawks circled above a great silver maple, hunting, enticed by a small dog running between the fishermen. The fish were thrown back.
Halfway done with my degree and thinking, I could do this forever. Not just writing, but the whole experience of living and breathing writing in a community which does the same. While this semester has been largely more stressful and less blissful than the last, I still find myself more satisfied with my life than I ever have been before.
Things that are blowing my mind:
- I am halfway done with an MFA. Only one year left.
- I have enough pages to meet my thesis requirement.
- I have enough pages for a book.
- I have written my first syllabus and will teach two classes next year.
- I have made friends which I will be extremely sad not to see every day once these shenanigans are over. In one year, I will be a sentimental mess.
- I am a writer. Not just a student.
My summer plans are mostly tentative at this point. I am searching for a job or internship back in Michigan and looking forward to spending a lot of time at the beach in the name of thesis research. Mostly, I will be writing and revising and researching in preparation for another year of workshops.
In other news:
You can find my short story, “Milkweed, Bowling, and the Japanese Bomb” in Issue 9 of Midwestern Gothic. I am happy to see my work showcased alongside so many fantastic Midwest writers.
The last book of the project is a doozy, Duncan the Wonder Dog by Adam Hines. This graphic novel imagines a world in which animals can talk, and fight for their rights, and form militant terrorist groups. One such group, led by the vicious monkey, Pompeii, bombs a building, which sets off a massive animal-hunt for her and her accomplice, a gorilla. Duncan approaches the story and the make-up of this alternate world from both human and animal perspectives. The dynamics between the two groups are fascinating yet real. Of course a dog would want to know what is happening to a cow at a slaughterhouse.
But this graphic novel is perhaps less about the narrative and more about its execution. Hines uses poetry, philosophy, collage, multiple plot lines and digressions. He experiments with the art form of the graphic novel in previously unseen ways. While the narrative is strong and interesting, the real value lies in this experimentation. A great way to end the project.
And now, for the break down. A listing of graphic novels worth reading, middling, and worth skipping. (See the wrap-up from last year, too.)
- Fun Home by Alison Bechdel
- Blacksad by Juan Diaz Canales and Juanjo Guarnido
- Mister Wonderful by Daniel Clowes
- Wilson by Daniel Clowes
- A Contract with God by Will Eisner
- Sardine in Outer Space by Emmanuel Guibert
- Duncan the Wonder Dog by Adam Hines
- I Killed Adolf Hitler by Jason
- Low Moon by Jason
- American Vampire by Scott Snyder and Stephen King
- The Country Nurse by Jeff Lemire
- The Underwater Welder by Jeff Lemire
- Making Comics by Scott McCloud
- Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud
- 300 by Frank Miller
- Creature Tech by Doug TenNapel
- Captain Long Ears by Diana Thung
- Hereville by Barry Deutsch
- Special Exits by Joyce Farmer
- The Storm in the Barn by Matt Phelan
- The Impostor’s Daughter by Laurie Sandell
- Y: The Last Man by Brian K. Vaughan
- Set to Sea by Drew Weing
- Cairo by G. Willow Wilson
- Weathercraft by Jim Woodring
What is this? Why do I keep returning to Daniel Clowes? This is the third title I’ve read by him for this project, and I have this strange compulsion to read everything he’s written. Also, the library has an abundance of his books, and rather than read some questionable vampire-crime-Greek-god comic, I’m drawn to his dependable asshole-ery instead. Yeah, asshole-ery. Everything I’ve read by him has an asshole. Even Mister Wonderful. Wilson might be the biggest one yet, though the chicks from Ghost World were pretty bad too. But I guess what saves this one and all of his graphic novels is the sad fact that the things Clowes writes into his characters’ minds are all things we’ve thought at some point.
Wilson is about Wilson, “a big-hearted slob, a devoted father and husband, an idiot, a sociopath, a delusional blowhard, a delicate flower.” Essentially, he’s a jerk who might not have been a jerk if he’d gotten some love along the way. He loves his dog and tries to love his ex-girlfriend and daughter and new girlfriend, but he never quite understands the concept of loving someone the way they need to be loved.
Only one more day in this project, and then I will disappear into the MFA world once again.