Thursday, February 3, 2011


I got to try on an MFA hat yesterday.

My poet friend, in town for AWP, wears hats, hip little denim fedoras, and I'm so pleased to see him and be able to steal his dashing headwear.

In the symbolic sense, the MFA hat feels increasingly distant, for good and bad, as I graduated and, in some ways, fled full steam away, years ago. As I re-realized recently at an intensely educated happy hour, while I am well-educated, I'm not much of an intellectual. Analytical, yes. But I have a terrible memory for quoting authors, and I haven't even read Nietzsche.  And really, when I meet people, I don't want to get at heads, but at souls.  I get all fired up about how folks feel about their projects and hats, their triumphs and struggles. I want to dissect character, not hypotheses, although I will do the latter to get at the former. 

So far, it hasn't been the most remunerative hobby. But I keep doing it, endlessly fascinated by the oddities of people's stories and hearts. I suppose I'm just nosey. The gift is knowing a fascinating group of friends. 

Thumbing through the catalog for AWP brought up nostalgia for authors I've read, literary centers at which I've taken classes (The Loft in Minneapolis is fantastic; I still miss it), workshop names that spoke to my issues with plot, memoir, whatever. I orbit on the outermost fringe of that academic community and only connect to the traditional publishing world in that I know published authors, have read their novels and poems and memoirs. 

It is oddly fitting that AWP is happening right now, at the precise time when I am consciously trying to write more, to rediscover the uses, joys and pitfalls of writing. When I started graduate school, I thought I would be signing up for that academic team, the conferences and panels and teaching and publishing.  Nope.

One of the few quotes I do know (and love) is by Joan Didion.  She said, "We tell ourselves stories in order to live."  I don't know why other people write.  And certainly there isn't just one reason for anyone.  For me though, I know stories have the power to make sense of the world, give me a version of the many truths from which I can move forward. 

Neil's hat
As I busily hatch new plans and try to avoid picking at old wounds, I am keeping close tabs on the story I tell myself.

The character I am going with today: after a period of turmoil, and then of rest, our plucky heroine is ready to take on bigger challenges.  I'm heading out into the wide wide open.  Whatever that means.

I'll bring a few different hats.  It can get cold out there.

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