Resisting False Dichotomies (AKA a Month of Fidgeting)

I do my best to resist false dichotomies.  Not only are they warped, fucked up little distortions of reality, but they're also usually untrue.  This is why false dichotomies are considered a logical fallacy, one I taught my students at USC to identify + deconstruct.  But sometimes your life actually is one + that's where things really go to shit.  And the worst part is, this happens almost every 2-4 years . . .

When I was finishing my MFA at Notre Dame, I was waiting to hear back from a bunch of creative writing fellowships, a teaching position for the JET program + Notre Dame's Sparks Prize.  To be honest, it was scary as shit because  I knew in exactly one month I was either going to be flat broke with absolutely no job prospects, no funding, no school--my inertial dream coming to a sudden + dramatic halt--or I would live to fight another day as an aspiring writer.  The one thing I thought I had the best chance of getting (the JET program position) I wasn't even a fucking alternate for.  I guess I should have seen the signs considering the 3 people in my interview were assholes, insinuating in their questions that I was too old for the JET program, that my lip piercing made me unfit to teach English, that I would AWOL anyway (they ignored of course, my years of experience teaching English/Writing to Mexican immigrants, international students + Cuban refugees, but let's not get technical).  But the thing I thought I had the least chance of getting (the Sparks Prize), in part because I was competing against my entire graduating class + in part because my writing isn't mainstream (which was supposedly part of the judging criteria), and yet, I won that damn thing.  Suddenly, I had funding for a whole year, I got to give a reading of my novel in progress on campus + I started dating LB in Chicago.  In many ways, winning the Sparks Prize defied logic but it also made perfect sense.

Fast-forward to Buenos Aires.  After living in South America for a year + literally crying at the thought of eating another motherfucking empanada or walking into pile of dog shit, I realized that I just wasn't writing enough.  In fact, I'd only written two new short stories + revised BLANK, my first novel, in the entire time I'd been living in Cap. Fed.  So, I talked to Valerie Sayers, my thesis adviser at Notre Dame + told her I was considering applying to PhD programs in English/Creative Writing + she was like:  Go for it, Jackson.  I applied to FSU + USC + got waitlisted at both schools (which was a blow to my ego, but whatevs).  At the end of March, I got into USC, which was my dream program since I really loved TC Boyle + Aimee Bender's short stories, I was intrigued with LA + I'd be an hour and a half drive away from my mom.  Out of all my options, getting into USC was the best case scenario.  I honestly wrote it off by March.  And I knew that if I hadn't gotten in, once again, my dream to become a published novelist would slowly die with a five-day a week.  But I got in + disaster was averted.  This gave me the time to write + workshop a second novel, get some stories published in some prominent journals, work with a few literary heavyweights + read a shitload of novels.  It was honestly as awesome as I'd hoped it'd be.

Now I'm back at the same either/or fallacy:  I just finished my PhD + my MA in English/Creative Writing at USC, which is one of the seminal moments in my life + now I'm fighting to keep that dream alive for another year (or two), for another month (or three).  But the options are so dramatically antithetical it's ridiculous.  Either I score an teaching position or creative writing fellowship in the next couple months, or frankly, I start making mocha lattes dressed in an apron + barista visor.  I know that sounds dramatic.  I know that sounds insane.  I know that sounds like I've simplified my reality, but this is the continuous struggle of being an emerging writer in the US:  Trying to scrap together funding or score a teaching gig or win a fellowship or win a book prize or live temporarily at a writing residency, all that, all of that shit, just to keep your dream alive until you finally make it (which will be never), or at least, until your books are published by Riverhead.

At this point, if I could do anything else in the world to make a living, if there was anything else I was as good at, as devoted to, if there was anything else I had as much talent + passion + dedication + vision as with writing, If there was anything else that fucked me up + made me as bipolar + euphoric + as certain of my place in this galaxy as writing does, I would totally run off + do that because this writing life is nothing but a slow-mo existential crisis, a chess match with yourself, an artistic war with almost no survivors.  But dude, I can't help it.  This is the only thing I'm awesome at, the only thing that has ever made sense to me, the only thing that has kept me up at night + woken my ass up in the early morning, the only thing that I could do for days without food or water, the only thing that threatens my marriage + confuses my family, the only thing that rings inside of me like a broken campanile + gives me cosmic significance as nothing else ever has.  It's all or nothing, man.  It's all or nothing.

Putting Myself Out There because I Have to

Becoming an emerging writer is a Quixotic, blunt, heart-breaking delusion where art is actually more like head trauma than vocation. Personally, I recommend people stay away from the fallout as much as possible. Even so, I've got it bad for writing, so I'm a hopeless case. You may not be.

Anyway, I've proven this before, but like I said, I don't know how to fucking listen. Which is why I'm setting myself up for heartache again. It's how you put yourself out there, you enter contests + hope you come back with the biggest stuffed panda at the state carnival. Eventually someone does, why the fuck shouldn't it be you? Besides, I have to do this: This is how writers do: They put their asses on the line again and again for some whimsical, half-finished idea + you know, it's absolutely fucking worth it too, even with all of the drama, rejection + nausea. It's worth it. We have to write, we can't stop the dream, even when it's turned dark + beastly and demented and sore, it doesn't matter. We have to write + so we do. And when we've got something, eventually we decide it's time to find our audience, which is all publishing really is.

So I sent out some new full + partial manuscripts to a few great, indie presses in the East Coast + entered several contests too. I mean, if we're going to do this, then let's do it all the fucking way, no compromising, nothing half-assed, nothing guaranteed, the opposite of evasion, shyness + silence. Let's do this, the voice inside my head tells me.

Here are some recent book submissions:

1. The Ninjas of My Greater Self (James Jones First Novel Contest) 28 April 2011

A Travel Guide to the Broken World (Coffee House Press) 29 April 2011

A Travel Guide to the Broken World (Flannery O'Connor Award) 23 May 2011

4. BLANK excerpt (Beacon Press) 3 June 2011

A Travel Guide to the Broken World (FSG) 3 June 2011

A Travel Guide to the Broken World (Drue Heinz Literature Prize) 20 June 2011

7. A Travel Guide to the Broken World (Milkweed Editions) 5 July 2011

And of course I'm waiting to hear from Irene Goodman, the literary agent that solicited a whole manuscript of BLANK + the outline of Ninjas, I'm waiting to hear from Electric Literature for almost a year, waiting to hear from McSweeney's for 8 months, waiting to hear from the Paris Review, Black Warrior Review, Fence, waiting to hear from the Chicago Review for 13 months now (including 2 ignored emails I sent them), but I'm still going strong. I have absolutely nothing suggesting I'm going to win shit, nothing suggesting I'm gonna get a new piece published in a new journal anytime soon, but I'm good + I'm strong. Something is gonna work out, something is happening, if nothing else, momentum. If nothing else, some fucking momentum.