Tag Archives: MFA

Becoming a “real” literary person…or a really literary person? Whatever.

Since this is my first “real” post in awhile (the last had been sitting nearly finished in my drafts folder for ions), I feel like recapping.

In the last few months since I’ve blogged, I’ve:

-Gotten friendly with the J-train.

-Gotten very, very mad at the L-train.

(…and the rest of MTA for that matter)

-Considerably reduced my coffee intake (somewhat. I went TWO whole days without a cup. It only went that long, but knowing I was capable and still friendly to customers was inspiring).

-“Created” a new favorite summer drink (lemon syrup, seltzer, crimson berry iced tea, NO CAFFEINE).

drink

-Watched The Jinx. Realized I would love to make a documentary sometime. Especially one involving murder.

-Realized how fantastic the show “A Different World” is.

-Visited Asheville, NC for the first time and saw my beautiful friends from UNC.

-Gotten a tattoo (!).

-Started an internship.

-Finished an internship.

I will pause at this last one on the list. And since the one year anniversary of my college graduation is coming up, I think some reference to the hurdle that was undergrad deserves to be made.

So let’s say you’re about to graduate from college. You’ve finished your finals–dotted your I’s, crossed your t’s–and from now until the day of graduation, it’s smooth sailing. You’ve bought your gown, you’ve secured your graduation tickets, you’ve gotten drunk at senior bar golf, and at a random bar in the daytime, and on a Tuesday, and on a Tuesday at a random bar in the daytime, just because you finally see freedom on the other side. Stress? What’s that! Troubles? Who are they? Troubles are for silly underclassmen who haven’t worked nearly as hard as you did for those four years of undergrad! They can suffer. You’ve paid your dues.

But then, once you finish your impromptu musical number down the street (see: 500 Days of Summer), you learn that you have one more task: Suddenly, whomever was originally picked to deliver the commencement speech (Oprah, Bill Nye, Kim Kardashian, Left Shark from Katy Perry’s Super Bowl performance) has fallen ill, or tripped over a rake and poked their eye out on the handlebar of a rusty bicycle that  was inconveniently missing its rubber grip…so now you’ve been selected to deliver the Big Speech. Suddenly, you have one more hurdle to hop over before you can be done. You want to cry, or at least a bowl full of Reese’s peanut butter chocolate chip cookies.

This happened to me earlier last week, on a much lower scale, in a much less terrifying way, because I like to exaggerate. I am far past college graduation (almost a year to the day, even), and neither Oprah nor Bill Nye nor Kim Kardashian nor Left Shark have poked their eyes out on random bicycle pieces.

Last Tuesday morning, when I was heading to Gowanus for the last day of my internship at Ugly Duckling, I was ecstatic. It wasn’t that I didn’t enjoy my time at my internship; in fact, I really appreciated everyone I met and had a great time. It was only a few blocks away from my pie shop, which meant I didn’t have to learn about a new part of Brooklyn, or a new transportation system. Or buy coffee on my way in.

My reason for happiness was at how crazy this semester has been. The extra class through which I got the internship in the first place was a lot more work than anticipated, and my four day work weekend shifts were physically exhausting. When I realized shortly after I started the internship that it would mean literally not having a day completely to myself–internship Mon/Tues, class Tues/Wed/Thurs, work Thurs/Fri/Sat/Sun, rinse and repeat–I grew perpetually anxious. When I could finally go to sleep I would toss and turn, thinking about all the things I needed to get done the following day. Then I thought about all the things I needed to get done the following week, and the following month, then in the year, and I found myself resetting my sleep timer over and over again. Four hours later I would have to be up for some reason or another.

I also tend to stretch myself a bit thinner than I probably should. I came up with the idea, at the last moment, to interview three of the writers who were going to be reading at an annual UDP reading at the Brooklyn Public Library. It was a hassle, but my “purpose” of having this internship for class was to have one project that we start and complete in the duration of 4-6 weeks. For weeks I stressed about what this project would be, hoping I would just be given one. But after a while, I realized that I would need to take the initiative. After all, the presse had been great enough to welcome me in randomly, without really applying to be an intern. They treated me like all the other interns, even put my name on their site. They even offered me coffee, for Pete’s sake! The least I could do was find a specific project to do for them.

So I did. I assumed the task of reading three books by UDP authors, coordinating interviews, and coming up with questions to ask them about their work and then post online. Reading three books is nothing, unless it also means reading poetry, an idea that has made me feel a bit uneasy since undergrad. I’ve never been a poet. In undergrad, I struggled with Sir Walter Ralegh and Keats and that woman who always wrote about her dead children (I think her name was Katherine something?)

I really appreciate Gwendolyn and Langston and Edgar and e.e. and even Emily, but modern poetry does not seem as “easy” to understand as those poems were (although Emily Dickinson was no walk in roses, either…). So many things that I had peeked at from UDP, albeit beautifully printed and beautiful sounding, had left me scratching my head. I didn’t feel like I “got” it.

How was I going to read these books of modern poetry, come up with coherent thoughts on said books of poetry, come up with coherent questions regarding said books of poetry, build Rome, save those kids from that burning building, and keep up with school and work in the span of two weeks? It seemed like an impossible feat, one meant to be narrated in the Rocky & Bullwinkle narrator voice.

‘Twasn’t.

But it got done.

I ended up loving all three of the works, and I ended up learning what modern poetry can actually be. In all my prosaic bliss, I assumed poetry had to be in verse. I unlearned this from each of the writers I interviewed, although I never blatantly mentioned this to any of them. The things they were doing with the form were new and refreshing, in ways that apply not just for poetry but for writing in general. They also sometimes ended up drifting into nonfiction, too–something I personally appreciated.
My interviews came out pretty darn well if I do say so myself–particularly the one that I did on the phone–and by the time I finished the last one for their Tumblr page, I was feeling pretty dang good. I could finally cross one more thing off my list, and I would get to meet all of the writers in person the day of the event, and everything was blue skies and sunshine and rainbows. On to the next project, so to speak.

I walked into my internship gleeful and grinning on Tuesday, the morning of the event, feeling pounds lighter. I thought I’d crossed my t’s and dotted my i’s. Then one of the editors casually asked me if I would be willing to introduce one of the authors at the reading later on that evening, and boom, I felt my face fall, down through the old creaky floorboards of the third floor of the Old American Can Factory. It fell so far and so fast that it probably had time to skitter through heavy incoming heavy traffic and eat some chicken tikka masala in the Whole Foods across the street before I finally answered him.

Sorry, what?

I felt as though I’d just been asked to step on a Brooklyn-bound L-train naked. My first instinct was heck no! In fact, every single bone in my body screamed it as I flashed that smile I reserve for people who ask me for money on the street, and for regulars who ask if we have any more whole salted caramel apple whole pies left at the end of a busy day at the pie shop. It’s my I-really-don’t-want-to-say-no, but, well…”no” smile.

The UDP editor who asked the question, probably one of top ten genuinely nicest people I’ve met since moving to the city (and I’ve met a ton), could sense that I was a bit uneasy. “…Or not,” he said, going into damage control mode. “We can go over it, maybe, and discuss what you’re going to say? We’re just in a bit of a spot. You totally don’t have to if you’re not comfortable. I know it’s a stretch and it’s very last minute.”

I kept smiling that aforementioned smile, then said, “Uh, okay! Yeah! I’ll…think…” and sat down to finish what I had thought, ten minutes earlier, would be my last internship task.

It wouldn’t have been so bad if I didn’t already have one of those weeks where I would be stressing about stretching far beyond my comfort zone: The following day I had an interview with a documentary series that I’ve been hoping to intern for this summer, and the day after that was literary agent night. In three different instances, one day after another, I would have to play the role of someone who was a charming public speaker, someone who was competent and intelligent and perfect for your documentary internship, someone whose book you would fully get behind. I would have to play the role of someone who was wonderfully well-grounded in the literary field, someone with a cultivated literary presence. I would have to play the role of someone who was both witty and well-spoken.

I would have to play the role of someone who…I actually would like to be? Hey, wait a minute!

After I came to the realization that I would have to get used to these sorts of things if I wanted to be a writer, a “real” person, literary style, I grew a set of literary cojones and decided to write the sh*t out of that introduction speech.

“One of the most important things about an introduction for an author is honesty,” a UDP editor told me. “So be honest.”

So I was. I gave myself up to the audience in the very beginning of my introduction by telling them that I didn’t know what half of the words the writer had used meant in our interview. To be fair, the guy works for Google and has been a taxonomer and lexicographer (i.e., a person who compiles dictionaries).

Anyways, this advice on behalf of one of the editors was precisely the creative inspiration I needed to write a short speech that I thought was pretty funny and felt confident enough reading to an audience…up until a few minutes before. As I waited for the first poet to finish reading, my heart pounding fast, I felt that same feeling I felt during my English literature graduation ceremony last year, the one where I pictured myself walking up a flight of stairs to the stage and falling and hitting my head on something, over and over again, in one of those terrible meme loops that never shows the end result, just those seven seconds of disaster. When it was finally my turn and I stood up and climbed the stairs (didn’t fall), suddenly I didn’t feel like I was in my body.

No, I felt like I was Kevin Arnold in The Wonder Years.” And not “felt like” as in one of those “wow, this is just like one of those coming-of-age epiphanies Kevin Arnold had, when he realizes he has to finally grow up.” But I actually felt like I was Kevin Arnold because for some reason I heard Grown-Up Kevin Arnold’s voice in my head. Not Zakiya Harris’ grown up voice. Kevin Arnold’s.

It was very bizarre.

Then I was off, telling my little jokes, not sure if anyone was laughing, for going for it anyways. Apparently, the audience found funny in a good way; the writer did, too. It ended up going really well, even though I couldn’t make out any of the faces in the audience and even though I almost knocked the podium off the stage mid-speech (yet ANOTHER THING in this post that involves “falling”). The night only got better than there. I was given some goodbye gifts, hugs were exchanged, and promises of future interviews with more UDP authors were made. My literary cojones swelled with pride. With that night, I truly realized that I’m not just a student anymore–I have to be so many other proactive things as well. I make my own success I suppose.

I ended up having to reuse this mentality a couple of nights later at agent night, a much more daunting feat than everything else I’d faced that week. There were roughly ten students to every one agent. It was dog eat dog. When a classmate and I both gave each other somewhat quizzical looks after discussing how we both wanted to speak to the same agent, he jokingly said, “So this is what being a contestant on ‘The Bachelor’ must feel like.”

Bottom line is, I survived, and made some new contacts, too.

Oh, and I ended up getting that documentary internship. SCORE.

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