When I left grad school almost ten years ago, I was determined that whatever else happened that I would keep writing. I did not spend a disgraceful amount of time, money, and energy getting a damn MFA to not use it. And so the first year I expanded my MFA thesis into a real-length poetry manuscript.
It wasn’t very good, it was attenuated and wavery. But I sent it out anyway as an exercise. And I’ve been sending out my poetry manuscript ever since. For the first seven or eight years it got better, now I’m tired, so I just send it out without as many impassioned revisions.
But when I come across someone I knew in a writing context like grad school and whom I haven’t seen in a long time I ask “How’s the writing?”. It’s fraught. It’s like asking about a relationship or a pregnancy. If it’s going well, the person will love to tell you all about his/her writing. But if there’s been a miscarriage, or a breakup, or she’s no longer writing, it’s an extraordinarily awkward question.
In some ways I don’t care. I want people to write. I want people to know that they once wrote and that they can write again. Writing is something you can dip in and out of, I think. But it’s also a matter of practice and expectation. You lose your writing muscles with misuse, but you can build them up again. You need to have a tiny bit of confidence that you can write in order to write. Sometimes that confidence is external.
And this brings me to my father, because everything brings me to my father in June. He died a week before his birthday. Tomorrow he would have been eighty-seven years old. He has been gone for twelve years. A good 90% of my confidence comes from the fact that my parents thought I was smart and capable. My father was never shy about saying so. It was embarrassing and yet it meant everything.
What questions do you live by?