The Plan is to Fan this Spark into a Flame

*if you know any of the Hamilton: the Musical soundtrack lyrics, this will be a much more interactive read

Last night, I finished my first year of Grad School.

What.

I looked back on my first post of this blog, “Genesis,” and here’s a little quote from past-Sara:

But you know what else comes after the euphoria? Fear.
Fear of failing. Fear of leaving. Fear of the unknown.
I am under the assumption that everyone I talk to is right, that I 
will have a fantastic time. That I will love it in Chicago. That I will do great things. 

And then, at the end, this is a reason I gave for keeping this blog:

Hopefully I can document how I overcame my fear and eventually became the wonderful, talented writer that everyone seems to believe I am.

Guess what? Past-Sara was right. She didn’t know it, she couldn’t even imagine it, but she was right.

Here I am, mid-May, and I have turned into a weepy, sentimental grad student who feels 50, not 23. The age thing probably comes from realizing how much I’ve gotten done and changed in just ten months. I look back at August and it’s like looking back over years and years worth of work and discoveries and progress.

In undergrad, I didn’t find my niche. I knew I loved writing, and I enjoyed and benefitted from the workshops I attended in college, as well as the guidance of professors and the advice of my fellow English majors. But it wasn’t a community I was actually part of. Even the literary journals, where I was on the editorial boards, felt like something I could put on my resume (which, trust me, look really good on the resume) rather than something I felt embraced by. I didn’t even explore the opportunities for publication – I didn’t know what those opportunities were. I was just writing stories, turning them in to my classes, getting feedback, and revising. Those stories then sat around, collecting dust.

Grad school is way cooler. I know I’ve talked about it a lot on this blog, but I think you’re supposed to talk a lot about something that changes your life. What I’m not sure about, is if people realize the life changing things while they’re changing their lives, or if it only becomes clear to them after they’re over. I think that’s one reason I’m so vocal about this program – I can see and feel the change, and I’m trying to document it while I’m in the moment.

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In August, I had a handful of stories but not a single publication to my name. Now, my Submittable page has way, way more rejections than acceptances, but you know how many rejections I had in August? None. Rejections mean work is getting sent out, but I wasn’t doing that before Columbia. I also have fiction forthcoming, an interview published, and I’m a contributor for two different websites. And I owe it all to this program.

I’m a big believer in one person making the biggest difference, and I’ve had dozens of people. At first I was so thankful for the little family I’d formed with my fellow fiction cohort. Then, as time went on, and I ventured forth from my familiar genre, I found the nonfiction and poetry cohort were also part of my family. We would go to social gatherings – readings, bars, house parties, shopping, museum viewings – and we would talk about everything. Not many of them are as into sports as I am, but I forgave them 😉 What we talk about makes up for it: books, authors, conventions, narrative, publishing opportunities, teaching nightmares, language, experimental forms we’re trying out, successes and failures. And that’s just in the literary world.

These people – my cohort – are my people. I can text a number of them a screen shot of Jennifer Egan praising Don DeLillo’s most recent work and know they’ll understand my disappointment; I can send a Facebook invite to them for a poetry reading next week and know most of them will at least consider attending; four out of five books I read in any given month are books lent/recommended to me by these people; they share my accomplishments and I share theirs. We are happy for each other, really happy. There’s a feeling – at least on my end – of an alliance. We’re all in this together, we all know what it feels like to create and submit, recreate and resubmit, fail and fail again. We love words and the power they hold.

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And then the teachers. Even as a writer, it’s hard to find the right words to explain what I’ve learned, how thankful I am, what they mean to me… so, maybe I won’t. Maybe my lack of words can speak more fully to their affect in my life.

The other day I was in my workshop class and I looked out the window behind one of my classmates. The window framed the Sears Tower standing tall and solid against the darkening sky, the rest of the city unfurling on either side of it. In the room, my classmate said something like, “Everything is about the futility of language,” and we kind of laughed, and I just sat there thinking Wow. Wow. 

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If you haven’t heard the “Hamilton” soundtrack, do it.

So it’s the end of Year One. There are things in the works for this summer, but this is not the blog to talk about those things. I’m not looking ahead right now. Right now, the view behind me is just so beautiful.