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.

My Summer Just Got a Little Easier

Summers are always a source of anxiety for grad students (do I teach comp? Do I grade AP exams? Do I work for minimum wage at an indie bookstore? Do I schlepp mocha lattes to IT professionals? Do I apply for some random travel grant for grad students who are of mixed Armenian-Azeri-Turkish descent + also gay, fans of Ayn Raynd, and former wards of the state?). For this reason, summers for me now are diametrical to childhood summers, when simply muttering the word "summer" evoked images of swimming, summer camp, girls in jean shorts, festivals, watermelon, fireworks, cherry pies and gilded skin. Adulthood is nasty that way. But I just found out yesterday that I received an ACE/Nikaido fellowship for this summer (my second one in two years), which will give me enough money to pay my bills, split rent with LB, study conversational Japanese in Chicago at the Japan America Society of Chicago (god knows I need it considering my nihongo still sounds like a babbling 6-year old) + most importantly, spend this summer reading books for my dissertation, revising NINJAS, starting a third novel + writing the critical portion of my dissertation. I don't have a wealthy daddy or a trust fund or leftover cash from a recent stock transaction, but what I do have is institutional support for this summer + next year (when I go on advanced fellowship), so I'm insanely grateful for that. Also, I have a wife who has a real job + that of course helps the most.

Bummer: No Yaddo Fellowship This Year

Man, i'm kinda depressed right now. i just got my rejection letter from yaddo, and that was one of the fellowships i wanted the most for so many different reasons--the solitude, the beauty of saratoga springs, the productivity, the presitge--and now i have nothing worked out for the summer. it's amazing how one letter can change your status from hopeful and mysterious to despondent and chaotic.

I don't know how, but sometimes i forget how much rejection there is in writing, how on every level of this process--the mfa program, the literary journal, the agent, the publishing house, the fellowship, the grant--rejection is actually the rule, and acceptance, the anomaly. i keep on forgetting. . . i keep getting these outlandidsh hopes, i keep feeding my insatiable dreamlife, and then yaddo rejects me and i realize how quixotic i really am. it's humbling and it hurts. . .

i just knew by the size of the envelope that yaddo had rejected me, so, before i opened the letter, i took a bunch of pictures of myself in my mod squad look when i still felt talented and hopeful. that way, they couldn't take it away.