poetry, Uncategorized

After the MFA

hooding Last night, I graduated from University of Tampa’s Master of Fine Arts in creative writing program. The picture you see here is the hooding ceremony. The gentlemen behind me (center) are preparing to place my MFA graduate hood upon me. I said farewells to many friends who have traveled alongside me over these last two years, and I received the hearty congratulations of family, friends, and fellow writers alike. One of my old frat brothers even showed up for the ceremony. It was bittersweet, as graduations always are: shuffling off one set of experiences to fully engage in another, saying goodbyes to greet new challenges, and reflecting on the positive memories and lessons of a long-term academic endeavor.

The question that arises after any graduation, of course, is now what? I must have been asked a dozen times yesterday about my plans for the future with this degree. My hopes are rather standard, really: I would like a full-time college teaching position, and I’d like to continue pursuing the literary life and all it has to offer. I have my name in the hat for various awards, fellowships, and publication opportunities, and I plan to continue applying for as many possibilities as I can.

Mostly, though, I plan to write. Not to oversimplify, but really, the MFA for me is a license to practice my craft in greater credibility. Now it would be questionable NOT to arise at 5 every morning and sit down to pen things out. Now it would be foolish to waste creative time and space, squandering a significant investment. More than anything, though, now is the time that I am compelled to prove the worth, the validity, and the relevance of my degree. Failing to write regularly would equal surrender, and those that know me will attest that giving up is not in my nature.

The MFA means excelsior — onward, upward, higher. May today begin that climb to a yet-unmarked summit.

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poetry, Uncategorized

Hometown Fellowship — A guide to being inspired where you are

downtown1
A view of Central Avenue from my new short-term writing space.

Recently, I decided to invest in my writing using a different method. Plenty of my writer friends pay some high-priced writing retreat or conference a handsome sum for the sake of privacy and different surroundings. Still others win residencies at noted creative spaces like Yaddo or The Studios of Key West. My objective was to experience this same “getaway” mentality without the hassle of airlines, rental cars, or questionable bathrooms.

I decided, simply, to invest recent prize winnings of mine in a “loft.” Here in my city, we have lots of historic buildings downtown with inexpensive space for rent. My thought was, by providing myself with a different perspective on a usual place, my writing would be renewed. So far, the new view has generated one piece, and I’m hoping, of course, for more.

I also gave myself a deadline and a project: for three months, I will use this office space as a creative venue outside my usual lake-view “writing room.” During that time, my plan is to produce a chapbook-size accumulation of work inspired by this new locale. Notice, I did not say “at least 20 poems,” or “at least 30 pages,” or any other precise measurement. By leaving the project somewhat open-ended, I have allowed myself the luxury of defining my own parameters as time proceeds. After all, I’ve only paid for three months here, and using the space judiciously is imperative.

By giving ourselves, writers and artists, permission to invest in our passions, we are assuring at least some level of productivity. There is also a tradition to be observed here: plenty of poets, novelists, and creatives have similarly allowed themselves the liberty of “lofts” or “studios” over the centuries. The views from these spaces have produced some of our greatest masterpieces. If I can achieve even some small slice of that same motivation, my objective will be achieved.

In the meantime, I would ask my fellow right-brainers to consider something similar if they’re in a funk or need a breath of fresh air.  A small getaway can result in the greatest returns, I’ve found. Hopefully, my little experiment will pay several creative dividends as the months pass. Updates, as usual, will follow.

downtown2
A second view of Central Avenue from the new writing space.