It’s dreary in Texas today. Apparently, the Gods of Amiable and Cheery Christmas Weather have decided to rue me: the sky is an unmistakable shade of grey, reminiscent of sink water, of dishes forgotten and now brining in soap froth, barnacled with the remnants of past meals.
I am half-awake, not nearly caffeinated enough and rifling through my two M.F.A. applications stories. Foolishly, I expected the papers to be somehow marred by time. I wanted them to have the beginnings of fine lines, too. But here they are: crisp and shocking white in 12 point, double-spaced Times New Roman.
A year ago, I was barely visible beneath a sea of half-empty coffee cups and loose papers, a red pen in between my teeth, grimed by the stress of completing the final edits to my 40 page application manuscript for M.F.A. programs across the country. A year ago, I was drunk on the idea of literary fiction, enthralled by the champagne sparkle of a parallel universe of renaissance men and women, of modern bards in expensive cardigans and thick-rimmed glasses. In her book, The Nest, Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeny, dubs this alternate reality the “glitterary,” or a tiny, glamorous cluster of promising, young writers on the cusp of discovery.
A year ago, I waited (fingers and toes crossed like Shakespeare’s infamous lovers), to be named as a new constellation in that world.
And somehow, I found myself thousands of miles away from a prestigious liberal arts campus, in a re-furbished warehouse that is within walking distance from at least four strip clubs, discussing the beauty and pure genius of an Under Armour commercial while chugging a literal cauldron of Dunkin Dark Roast and attempting to scrub the cool grey flecks of permanent marker off my hands.
Somehow I ended up in Atlanta, Georgia, attending a school that it isn’t really a school but more like a creative battleground. I found myself (a phrase that has both a literal and metaphoric connotations in this particular case) at The Creative Circus as a happily dumb and burgeoning copywriter with four intelligent, hilarious and talented roommates, a cat (had to give you a shout-out, Falafel) and a plethora of wonderfully weird friends.
Six months ago, after I’d been rejected by all of the programs I’d applied to, after I’d permanently hung up my cleats, after I’d begun using the past tense to describe myself as both an athlete and a writer, I sat in the Dey House, the refurbished Victorian on the outskirts of the University of Iowa campus that houses The Iowa Writer’s Workshop and the very brightest of the “glitterary” scene (irony, you cruel mistress) across from my most beloved fiction professor, whose intelligence and kindness nearly rendered him mythological.
He didn’t advise me to write what I knew or to be “edgier.” He didn’t comment on my use of semi-colons, which verged on superfluous. He didn’t give me anything saccharine.
“Apply again when you have a story that demands to be told,” he said.
“You haven’t found it yet,” he gestured to my application manuscript, “but you will. You just have to be willing to look for a while.”
If I’ve learned anything from my first quarter the Circus it’s that creativity is not a divine gift straight from the generosity of the Muses. Imagine the labyrinth of knots your iPod headphones seem to always find themselves in or the dainty kinks of a gold plated necklace and you’ve got yourself a creative brain. Pursuing creativity is a constant endeavor, a consistent reapplication of discipline, a choice to spend your existence unraveling the tangled mass of words, art, places, expletives, stolen genius, hoppy schemes, humor, caffeine and failure that run amok in your skull on a daily basis. Being creative person is something you have to earn, a testament to will and passion rather than natural ability.
(Disclaimer: if you’re thinking, “Oh, art school. How nice!” It’s not art school. I am making a career out of failing harder.)
My future is an incomplete collection of short stories, a fiction I keep on my bedside table and fill with the incoherent dreams that come just before sleep. Sometimes, in moments of characteristic impatience I flip to the last page, hoping to cheat my way to the ending.
It’s always blank.
How I am learning to love that white space.