Protecting this Delicate Thing Called Hope

So much of writing for me is sitting my ass down and writing, even when I don't want to.  I have really good discipline.  I can write for fifteen hours straight sometimes, and then revise and edit for days and weeks afterwards.  The hardest part of writing I can do and have done since my first workshop back in 2002.  The other crucial part of writing for me involves psychological and emotional maintenance (aka self-care), which is just as important.  Normally, self-care for me means not only exercising, meditating, getting enough sleep, eating well, and going on dates with LB every week, but also ignoring my own negative thinking and putting myself out there again and again (even when it feels POINTLESS) and not getting discouraged (even when NOTHING is happening), which has been particularly difficult this summer. 

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Moving Forward, Always Forward

Today I decided I'm not waiting any longer for destiny to call.  I've waited long enough, been a patient + understanding writer, taken my disappointments with enough grace, licked my wounds + played the patience game as best as I know how.  I think most people would have folded  by now, found a different vocation, taken out life insurance.  To be honest, I don't begrudge them at all, I understand where they're coming from + why they stop setting themselves up for heartbreak.  But writing is the one thing I'm awesome at + I won't give up.  I just don't know how.  This is why I can't wait any longer for journals + literary agents to get back to me, I've already given them enough of my time.  I've paid my dues.  Now, I'm moving on.  Something in the future will work out.  As for the past, I'm not convinced that's where my future is anyway (excuse the temporal paradox).

After waiting for a small eternity, deluding myself into thinking that patience was akin to loyalty, I've decided I'm gonna send out a flurry of new query letters + fiction manuscripts this week.  I think the best response is to keep moving forward + not look back, because we all know what happened to Eurydice.  I'm looking at Gary Shteyngart's + Patricia Engel's agents, I'm looking at the Virginia Quarterly Review again, at The Paris Review, the Missouri Review + the New Yorker again, I'm considering every option now.  I think I've waited like a champ, stuck to the positive (irrational), hoped for the best.  But not anymore.  It's time for my next move, wherever that takes me.  Ultimately, I want what every aspiring literary fiction writer wants: artistic materiality.  Or said another way, I wanna see my writing in print.  Besides that, I guess I want readers, passionate readers, I want snarly critics trying to outstylize my own novels with blistering manqué book reviews, I want online interviews, a flirty movie option that never comes to be, I want a date on Fresh Air, a little name recognition in an indie bookstore + some annoying fan letters written by readers obsessed with my characters.  A book tour would be nice too, maybe a free lunch now + then, a master class with a few undergrads.  But for now, I'm cool with just seeing my writing in print.  That's the only thing I actually need.  That's my future.  That's the uncanny dream.  So now I'll dream it as hard as I can + not look back in anger.

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.

The Waiting Game

Everything in the literary world is behind schedule: that short story I submitted a year and a half ago to Zoetrope, the literary agents that placed my manuscript in the sludge pile after telling me they'll read my partial, one of my stories I gave William O'Rourke to publish in the Notre Dame Review more than a year ago, the Kenyon Review's online version of my short story "Cowboys of the Heart: the 6-DVD Boxset", Stand Magazine's Winter issue that "Nimble Calligraphy" will be published in + of course, the 2 PhD programs I applied to, none of which have responded yet. I expect some uncertainty + delay. Actually, a lot. But I what I don't expect, is uncertainty + waiting across the board.

My bad.