Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Guest Blogger: Beth Staples on writing in the "real" world

I was excited when Trina asked me to contribute to this post-MFA blog. I have been post-MFA for over six months now, which seems a both round and regular enough amount of time for reflection. What it hasn’t been, unfortunately, is enough time to figure out how to have a “real” life and enough time to write. So this here is a blog post about how I haven’t figured it out yet. Hopefully I’ll find some way to make it inspiring in spite of that.

Some background. Within two month’s time – between October and December of last year – the following events transpired: I graduated from my MFA program, I got engaged, I started a full time job, I bought a house. Luckily, no pregnancy, or I’d have no other major life events to look forward to. On top of all of that (or because of it?) I started suffering from a series of chronic, daily migraines impervious to any medication. (On good days, I like to think of the pain as a novel idea gearing up for its birthday.)

Which brings me to here. The bad news (which we’ll get out of the way) is that I’ve spent only three hours since graduation writing. Yikes! There is some good news, though. I’m working my dream job as Managing Editor of Hayden’s Ferry Review. I teach one fiction writing class at ASU each semester. I’m planning my wedding. I’m making my mortgage payments. To manage my headaches, I’m trying to eat better. And occasionally, I even exercise. In list form, the two sides of that scale appear obviously imbalanced. The good side is winning, right? Then why does it feel just the opposite?

I believe firmly that new schedules require adjustment, that taking care of one’s body is just as important as taking care of her mind, and that sometimes, it just isn’t possible to do all you want to do. But I also believe that the major difference between a writer and anyone else is the writing itself, that the pressures of “real” life are always going to make it difficult to find writing time, and that it is possible to prioritize activities so that the most important of them (breathing? writing?) get their due attention.

Given that in the last six months I’ve found barely any time to write at all, and that exhaustion, job-juggling, doctor’s appointments and event planning are – often – the stuff of every-day life, I’ve been pondering some frightening possibilities. Among the questions I’ve asked myself these past six months: What if I’m not cut out for writing after all? Is it enough to work with writers and writing, without actually writing myself? Why, when I know that American Idol isn’t even that interesting, do I flop on the couch instead of writing? If I spent the same amount of time writing as I do feeling guilty about not-writing, would I have already written the most amazing novel ever? Etc.

Here’s what a friend recently said to me: “You’re going to spend parts of your life not writing. It’s just the way it is. If you wrote all the time, you’d be a crazy-artist-writer person and no one would like you.” Was she just trying to make me feel better, or does she have a point? I like my beau and my cat and swimming and eating and my wedding plans and our ping pong table and yes, even reality television. I also like teaching and editing and reading and (yes!) writing. I want all of it. And I’m hopeful that balance is possible, that this new life just needs some time to settle down, that with some negotiation, discipline and routine, leaving the MFA life behind is a step toward being a “real,” living, working, breathing and writing writer.

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