What I Wish I Knew After My MFA Ended

BREVITY's Nonfiction Blog

A guest post from Sara Finnerty:

420-Jacquelyn-Mitchard-splits-limbo-looking-back.imgcache.rev1308082218874In the years after I got my MFA I was a miserable mess. I felt like a failure as a writer and a human being. I still feel that way sometimes, but now I try and fail and try again and I know that does not mean I am a failure, it only means I am a person like everyone else. If I could, here are some things I would tell my self six years ago when I was finishing graduate school.

1)   Don’t even try to get published. There are some people in your class who will stop writing altogether. There are some who will only tangentially write. You will never stop writing, but don’t try to publish right now because your writing is still borderline terrible. Yes, you have an MFA but an MFA does not give you the heart, the will, the…

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On endings and beginnings

How I Met Your Mother finale caused a lot of controversy among its loyal viewers. Some of its earliest fans eventually lost interest but stuck it out for the sake of the mother. It took the show nine years to get to an ending–an ending that many disliked and liked. An ending that caused yelling sprees among friends who saw each episode together.

[SPOILERS AHEAD. STOP READING IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN IT OR PLAN ON BINGE WATCHING THE SHOW]

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The mother’s death and Ted returning to Robin six years after the mother’s demise did not make for the ideal happy ending. What was the point of an ending that didn’t focus on the show’s namesake and went right back to the woman before her? We barely met Tracy (the mother herself) in the last season. Towards the ending of the last episode, Tracy died within the span of five minutes.

I have to admit, the finale wasn’t perfect. The pacing, scene establishment, dialogue, and specific events of some characters could’ve been done better. But the ending still made sense for the main characters: Ted and Robin. It was their stories–both as individuals, friends, and as an odd couple–that made Ted ready to become the man he had to be for Tracy. And although the death was written sloppily into the timeline, the last eight seasons were mostly about Robin’s tumultuous love life and Ted’s struggle at starting a family despite Robin not being the woman for that dream. But I’m not here to write about how an ending should be written. I’m here to write about the endings we actually live in and live towards.

How I Met Your Mother stuck with me throughout college and early adulthood. The show not only made for good laughs, but also provided viewers with characters in similar situations. They were in situations that many young adults barely make sense of as they live through the necessities of a desk job, paying the bills, climbing up the corporate ladder, etc. etc. Early in the show each of them were struggling to find themselves amid the growing pains and difficulties of being a mid-twenty adult. Back when I was a self-entitled editorial slave, I cried/cheered in sympathy as Robin covered the fluff pieces. I saw some of my own friends in Marshall, both in his law school days and his choice to go corporate instead of pursuing the more ethical (but poorer) side of law. I was also once a Lily who hoped to build a life-long partnership with her significant other. All of them were undergoing transitions. These transitions are messy, yet we need to live through them to get to the other side. In fact,  every part of life is a transition. College makes for the longest transition.

Cringes, smiles, and laughter ensue when I look back at the four years I spent at university. I met my bestest friends there–my very own McLaren’s crew–and discovered as well what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. What I dislike about college was the time I found myself in. Of course, at the actual time, I didn’t mind. But looking back changes how I see that chunk of my past. As Johna B once put it late last year, “you think you have all the time in college.” There’s all that time to think about the rest of your life, the time to wait until your first job, the time in between school years, the time with your future best/for the moment friends, and time with either soon-to-be-ex or maybe-forever lovers. There’s no time stamp for the end of these things but graduation. Not just because of the nature of my college life, but also because of the young, misguided perception that these will last longer. That was just the beginning, I’d think. The rest will unfold into adulthood.

I was 21 when I graduated from college. I was a freshman at 17-going-on-18. I entered my first and the last relationship I had at 19. Eighteen was eight years ago. God, I was so much younger. And my younger self believed that whoever I was flirting with or eyeing could be my shot at forever. Then I was blessed and believed that the first official relationship I had was going to be the one and only one. All I had to go on was my belief we could make it work. That my parents were and are still their first and last relationship. That I didn’t like the on and off complications my peers had with their lovers/boylets/boyfriends/girlfriends/whatevertheywantedtocallit. I knew nothing basically and was winging and also enjoying the joy we were sharing. We were at the stage that left those awkward teen years, while we grew into so-called adulthood. We were both trying to figure out ourselves amid making ourselves fit with each other.

Fast forward from 2008 to 2014. To today, to this year, to about a month ago. Another friend I met in 2011 included this in his statement on the HIMYM finale: “C’mon, a lot can happen in six years.” He was pertaining to the time between Tracy’s death and Ted returning to Robin.

I subtracted the now with the then and the number couldn’t have been more timely.

Sometimes I miss the mystery and anticipation of my younger self: the hope of a forever in our short lives, the determinism to go against all odds, the hope that the ideal can happen amid the inevitability of reality. False hope, although false, is still hope. It gives you something to live on while you’re looking for something to live for. The problem with being older and not much wiser is losing hope.

Perhaps that’s why I liked the HIMYM ending. It gave a realistic sense of hope. It echoed the same sense of hope after Marshall and Lily got together after their break up, after Ted finally got over Stella and got a teaching job, and Barney finally became the man he had to be to marry Robin. No overly idealistic hopes were faced; only the problems, the trials, and the conflicts that had to be overcome to get to an actual happy ending.

I’m looking forward to having a different kind of hope in this part of my life. I’m still very young, as many like to say, but at the same time I don’t carry as much uncertainty as before. In some ways I have some sort of idea of where I want to be and have learned to be content at where I am. Here’s to (still) figuring out the present, letting go of the past, and looking forward to the future–whatever the last part has to hold. 😉

A shot at forever

Last night, I was ranting to one of my best friends about my post-wedding attendance feels. Weddings are a rollercoaster of emotions for single guests: on one hand, you’re uber happy for the couple and the new stage they’re entering in their lives. You wouldn’t be there if the bride or groom is part of your own life and witnessing couples bravely take the next step is always a sight worth witnessing. For me, it’s not so much about the ceremony taking place in front of the altar or the little parlor games held to break the silence during the reception dinner. I’m the sappy guest who lives for the look on the groom or bride’s face when he/she looks at his future wife/husband from the altar/as she walks down the aisle. It’s all about the vows they promise to make–the little inside jokes and unglamorous reveals of how they proved their love for each other to get to the “I do’s.”

There they were, and here I was, documenting another beautiful moment that I was faaaaaar from arriving at. 

I hate making those things about me. I really do. Because proposing and saying yes to a proposal also takes work. It’s not something you wish for and hope happens to you overnight. A long-term relationship is hard enough to arrive at and make work for a few more years. It takes two to tango, like the cliche says. 

So there I was, wondering if I was going to grow up an old maid. My best friend, however, broke my heart with her own take on weddings, in general.

“I hate going to weddings because I know I’ll never get to have one.”

While my heart was barely held together post-wedding ceremony, it finally broke and was shattered on the floor when I heard this. My bff was right. That person is right about something so wrong in our supposed “forward” and “modern” society. 

Think about it. Why do some people oppose gay marriage? Okay, they have their reasons. But I’m not writing to oppose those reasons.

When we get right down to it, a marriage is a celebration of love. At least, that’s what we all look for and cry at in every modern day wedding right? It’s a promise declared to the other and the rest of the world (or God or whoever you want it to fall under!) is only there to bear witness. 

Why the hell can’t my friend complain about growing up into spinsterhood, regardless of whether or not the partner is a man or a woman?

What others don’t realize in opposing same sex marriage is what they’re taking away from people. People–you know, men and women, like you and me? People who live, breath, love, lose, and mourn a loved one just like any other straight person who happens to have rights granted by paper.

You’re taking away their chance at building a life with a partner. You’re taking away their chance at a moment where they can tear you up with their vows. You’re taking away the 3 or so years spent at arriving at a “Yes” to an “I do.” 

You’re taking away their chance to be witnessed as men and women, people–regardless of gender or gender preference–just like you.

You’re taking away a shot at a forever in our short lives. Forever is also tax cuts, mutual property rights, equal custody between parents, and all the other practical stuff the law provides for marriages.

And yet we spend our short lives declaring their love immoral or unfit for our society. That these people who work, live, and love don’t “deserve” to care for each other in the forever they promise without a ceremony. 

How do you plan on spending your short life? 

Me, I plan on spending it loving people. Loving them regardless of whom they choose to love as long as that person–man or woman–doesn’t abuse or disrespect them. That love also entails writing posts like these and forever fighting for a chance to witness all kinds of weddings. 

 

 

 

The Writing Tag

Bea of the Dalaga Project initiated something called “The Writing Tag.” As a result of friends of friends of friends, the lovely Johna B. tagged me in her latest entry.

1. What type of writing do you do?

I write feature articles, profiles, and news bits on a food website called Pepper.ph. But even before Pepper, I got started with the features and news I wrote for the university school paper and then managed/edited/wrote the content for a few licensed magazines. I write nonfiction, I guess, for a living and it’s also what teaches me how to live (NUX). It serves the practical purpose of paying the bills, but at the same time it’s the kind of writing I said I’d do after graduating with a degree in Chemistry. I’m what the newsroom writers like to call “those lifestyle ‘journalists.’ ” 😉

Recently I’ve written working drafts of two family “memoirs” for my creative nonfiction classes and three working short story drafts for two fiction classes I took last school year. Yeah, I also churn out drafts for an MA in Creative Writing, which I hope to finish before I turn 30.

2. What genres and/or topics do you write about?

Food, travel, journeys, conversations, family/ies, relationships, old houses, love, loss, people, pop culture, feminism, gay rights advocacy.

As for genres? Whatever would best tell the story, I guess. Like I said, nonfiction is what got me started on this writing journey. I graduated college determined to make a living as a writer. As for fiction, I am still exploring the form for its narrative devices. As I tell my friend, the one genre I won’t touch is poetry 😛

3. How long have you been writing?

Since I’ve been scribbling unedited, unfiltered thoughts on my diaries in grade school, I guess. But college gave me the excuse to be published in a monthly newspaper, so that counts as the real beginning of “edited” and more well-thought out writing.

4. Are you published?

Yes, you can see all my edits and by-lined work in a few issues of local travel, food, and photography magazines. Like I said in question one, I work/write full time for pepper.ph, so I get published online too. As for being published for actual writing (ie writing for myself/personal projects), I’ll give it 10 years?

5. What was the first story you ever wrote?

I can’t recall the title of the first story, but I printed a bunch of short stories back in grade school. They were Christmas themed or parable-themed, I think. Anyway I printed them, punched two holes and bound them with string and covered the back and front with art paper. I gave my mother my self-published “book” for Christmas.

6. Why do you write?

Because I can’t imagine not writing. Writing helps me make sense of the world. And if in the act of writing, the subject(s) don’t quite make sense, then I know it’s time to step back and live a little before I can return to that piece.

7. How do you find time to write?

It’s a habit formed, I guess, from having to submit articles monthly since college and eventually making it my living. The challenge is in finding time to write each piece well. I prefer writing in bits, especially when I am working on several articles/projects at the same time. I schedule how much will be written and revised within the span of a week.

I prefer to write my personal/MA-related stuff on the weekends, as the 24-hour long days allow me to stare at the screen or catch up on my reading.

8. When and where are the best times to write?

When? When you start writing. Once I start writing about something or someone, I am compelled to finish it or at least get to the middle.

Where? Wherever there is the likelihood that I will not run into someone I’ll end up conversing with for hours. I love people, but writing is lonely work and it only gets done when you’ve processed it all on your own. My go to places are: a. my condo when the rest of the family isn’t around b. the dining room at our house so I can be near my dog c. Starbucks Torre Lorenzo thanks to the lack of Internet.

9. Favorite food/drinks while writing?

Iced french pressed Vietnamese coffee with condensed milk or milk. Cafe Americano, hot or iced.

10. Your writing playlist.

Silence. Or the buzz of a studying crowd in a coffee shop.

11. What do family/friends/loved ones think of you writing?

My family has been supportive, primarily through my parents funding my MA tuition :)) My friends are equally supportive, and are unafraid to tell me when I could’ve done better. I’ve also met a few other writers both in the program and from work that make the journey a little less lonely.

12. Part of writing you enjoy the most?

Hitting send to my editor(s) and printing the manuscript out for submission.

13. Parts of writing you finding challenging?

Choosing the right words. Pacing the story. Fleshing out the character(s). Timing the dialogue. Not rushing a scene. Stopping myself from lingering too long in a scene. Editing, revising, scene establishment. Revising all over again after the nth draft.

Every damn step.

14. What do you use to write with and on?

Microsoft Word with the track changes option turned ON.

Ever Note for gathering information and research.

Yellowpad paper for when I am struggling with a lead in, the beginning of a story/scene, and revising major chunks of a piece.

Post-it’s for arranging scenes. A pink notebook with no lines and a black ballpen or a Gtech pen.

15. How do you overcome writer’s block?

I take a break. I read whatever novel I’m finishing, watch my favorite TV shows, see friends, talk to my dog.

16. How do you motivate yourself to write?

I read the news and features on the New York Times. the New Yorker, or NY Mag. I watch brilliant shows like Game of Thrones and analyze the endings of well-written series like How I Met Your Mother. I remind myself that I have to write a book to finish my MA degree. I tell myself that those three stories still need a lot of work. I write to live and to make a living.

17. Authors who inspire you as a writer?

Jane Austen, simply because she was the first to inspire me to become an independent woman writer. MFK Fisher, because she not only speaks multitudes with sensory language but also acts as my life peg. Jeanette Winterson; anyone who has read her knows I need not explain! Jonathan Franzen for the sheer force of his characters and his ability to keep one from turning to the next page. John McPhee, Mindy Kaling (yes, that is a legit inclusion), Stephen King, Tina Fey and Amy Poehler (every girl needs her modern day heroes), I’ll cut this list short because I’m a writer; I’m not going to run out of writers to read from 🙂

18. Books that inspire you as a writer?

Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain. Food, drugs, sex, a little rock and roll in the writing. Any Lonely Planet collection of travels and places to go to. Getting my feet out there and tasting the world are what fuel my writing 😉

19. Best advice you’ve gotten as a writer?

“You lose nothing as a writer,” said my Professor, Sir Butch Dalisay, on just getting out there and experiencing the world. There is no such thing as a lack of writing material–only a lack of the writer’s will to use details, conversations, and subjects as part of some story.

20. Writing goals this year?

Write some more to find some semblance of a voice. Edit those unfinished stories. Update this blog more often. Improve with each article sent for work.

Tagging Nina Marfs, B, Jacob, Eva, Cor, Tina, and Kat! (Oh look, anong hindi naiiba sa inyong lahat?! :D)

A lot like love

Dear 2014,

Thank you for turning out much, much, MUCH better than I could’ve ever imagined.

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Writing for a living and being challenged by the demands of the craft. Check.

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Friends who don’t think twice about being there for you. And these lovely faces are just two out of (starts counting)…ten? Fifteen?

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One year of grad school down. Three stories (still being) written, three essays (to be) sorted yet started.

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Only one of many photos from that weekend of accidental bliss.

Grateful.

Infinite thanks,

Gela

A resolution

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It may be too late to be making any “New Year” resolutions, but I’m posting this image taken by good friend Nikki anyway.

I went into 2014 not knowing what lay ahead. I had a pretty good first day of 2014. I was happy. Like every other first year, I was at home, waiting for 12am with my family and welcoming it with free fireworks from our neighbors. I got a flurry of Happy New Year messages and I responded back happy. I didn’t mind being at home. I didn’t mind being single. I was in a better place than January 2013, considering what lay ahead then.

Yet I didn’t know what the rest of the year would be like. We all go into a new year, a new month, a new day with some sort of expectation–the rush hour commute, seeing so and so at work, eating at your favorite lunch place. Last year, I was still recovering from a job loss but I knew the rest of the year would be spent getting back on my feet.

I had no idea what lay ahead in 2014 back in January. After five years, I came into the year single. I was in a job that was okay, but not much else. I came into the year with no idea what lay ahead but I was ready for whatever it had to offer. I guess it was that new beginning, a sort of palimpsest that I haven’t had in a looooooong time, relationship-, career-, and social-life wise.

Fast forward to now: I got out of that okay job. The decision made me anxious for a few weeks. An opening came up in January at a certain food website. I wasn’t sure about jumping ship so soon–and then, there was no guarantee I’d get the job. It wasn’t in my nature to leave a position so soon and test the waters in a place I was barely familiar with. But I was overthinking even applying and like my friends told me, there’s nothing lost by sending an email. Well, look where that got me 🙂

So one night, slightly tipsy from my drink, I said to Nikki,

“Applying for that job was my brave thing in January. I need to do something brave in February.”

I think I did. I sorta did. I spent a few days overthinking it, haha. But I did it anyway. It’s nothing dramatic, but considering everything I’ve been through feelings wise I’d say it’s a bit of a speed walk.

I’m looking forward to more brave moments. Not rash, not stupid. Maybe a little stupid. Brave.

2014 goals

1. Write letters. And send them whether through the post or through e-mail.

2. Never run out of books or articles to read.

3. Say yes to more things that open up possibilities. Say no to what’s safe and more restrictive.

4. Save more money.

5. Drink to celebrate and not to forget.

6. Go from being at peace with 2013’s decision to being happy with it.

7. June to September may have been the craziest months of 2013, but they gave me a great figure. Faking it till you make it can only get you so far. It’s time to (re)make it and get back that figure.

8. Sashay into a room like a Beyonce. Spend my days as productive as her.

9. Smile more. But quit being too damn nice.

10. Finish what I start. Start what I want and need to finish.