Each Tuesday we feature audio or video of an SR Contributor reading their work. Today we’re proud to feature a podcast by Mark Lewandowski.
Mark Lewandowski’s essays and stories have appeared in many journals, and have been listed as “Notable” in The Best American Nonrequired Reading, The Best American Travel Writing, and twice in The Best American Essays. Halibut Rodeo, his short story collection, was published in 2010. Currently, he is Associate Professor of English at Indiana State University. He has also taught as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Poland, and as a Fulbright Senior Scholar at the University of Siauliai, Lithuania.
Almost every writer I know is a procrastinator. I certainly am. That is, I was, until I moved to Shanghai, China, last fall to teach, and found myself with six classes and 160 students crammed into two days of classes, and five days a week with nothing to do. I teach oral and written English to graduate students at one of the country’s leading universities, yet homework in my course is discouraged by the administration, so unless there are papers due—and that’s not often—I have roughly fourteen waking hours a day to pass alone. I’ve explored the neighborhood, the campus, the local shopping centers, and all the city’s major museums. Most of the shrines are merely tourist traps, but I’ve checked many of those out, too. As for friends—there aren’t any. So how did I end up here?
Four years ago, I taught in a remote city in northern China and shared an office and too many good times to count with other foreign teachers, many of whom remain good friends. In Shanghai, although it’s a bigger and more international city, the foreign faculty who share my apartment building keep to themselves. The few who speak English are busy with their young Chinese girlfriends and side jobs. We had a getting-to-know-you meeting in the fall, and one dinner at a Brazilian barbeque restaurant in the New Pudong District, but as the semester wore on there were fewer, and then no opportunities to socialize. My only regular contact is the British professor who teaches across the hall from me. He lives off-campus with his Chinese wife and child, and we chat and complain to each other for about five minutes on the two mornings a week we teach.
At my apartment, the one English-speaking channel on television delivers propaganda disguised as news, so I’ve unplugged my TV. Most outside news sources commonly available via internet in other places have been cut off by the Chinese government. I didn’t even know there was an Avian flu outbreak in Shanghai until my parents told me in their weekly phone calls. And as far as the local authorities are concerned, those thousands of dead diseased pigs floating in the Huangpu River haven’t damaged the local water supply one bit.
In short, I live in a vacuum, a world insulated from the West, fearful and often disdainful of Westerners, and very lonely. Although I enjoy my students, it would be unprofessional to socialize with them. Using the few Chinese phrases I know, nodding, and smiling, I have friendly relationships with a few shopkeepers; others, and even older people walking down the street, scowl at me in disapproval. So I pass the time taking walks, reading, listening to my ipod, watching American television shows I download onto my laptop, and, yes, writing. I’ve finally begun my memoir, the one I’ve been meaning to start forever, and that blank computer screen that used to be my nemesis is now my best friend. I find that writing about my solo experiences, observations of people, loneliness, and occasional despair is not only cathartic, but serves as a sort of friend, someone with whom to share my deepest feelings—ironically, many that I wouldn’t share with other people, but which may be open to anyone who cares to read the piece if it is ever published. I’ve even applied for a National Endowment for the Arts Literature Fellowship to help to finance me in finishing my memoir-in-progress.
So far, I’ve completed fifty pages. To be honest, the writing flowed more easily during fall semester. There were those occasional faculty outings to write about, my solo excursions, and my students’ reactions to different contemporary topics I gave them to discuss during oral English lessons. I’ve woven in my earlier experiences in Shenyang, China, and there still is much to say about that (mostly good, along with one dreadful experience I won’t go into here). I’ve written about spending Thanksgiving as a normal working day, and strolling through the lovely French Concession area of the city alone and miserable on Christmas day.
Over time, however, I’ve become less and less productive. Early in the spring semester, depression settled in to stay. This illness isn’t entirely new to me—I’ve experienced major bouts of depression periodically throughout my life—but the disease breeds in isolation, when there is nothing to do but ruminate on one’s own dark thoughts. I’ve grown to understand why human rights advocates believe that putting prisoners in solitary confinement is a form of psychological torture, because I could hardly be more isolated than I am unless I were in a jail cell. Still, I can put on a bright face for my students, and give a friendly wave to a colleague when we pass on the street, or exchange a brief greeting with him (I’m the only female American teacher here), and send coherent responses to the administrative staff when they contact me about holidays or exam dates.
One thing I know for sure: I will never return to China, and probably never teach abroad again. The stakes are too high—I don’t know if I’ll find amiable cohorts, as I did in Shenyang, or end up totally alone again. And my father, who is frail and in poor health, needs me to come home and help care for him. I miss my adorable five-year-old niece immensely, even though we Skype every Sunday night. I fear I am missing the best months of her life, and wasting much of what’s left of my own middle-age. I will finish my memoir, I know. It just might take me longer than I thought it would.
“Try not to shoot off in every direction like fireworks.” –a Fortune Cookie’s advice
Besides being a poet, a wannabe novelist, and mother of three teenaged daughters, I also teach English, full-time, at a community college. I do committee work. I advise. I’m busy. I like to consider myself the queen of getting-things-done. Many of my students, on the other hand, haven’t figured out how to find time to do the reading and studying that they need to do in order to be successful in my writing classes. So this quarter, I decided to try a social experiment.
It helps that we’re reading a book of essays, Real Questions, that focuses on contemporary issues like what we eat and what media we consume and how we conduct our relationships. While reflecting on such things, it seemed plausible to imagine making some real changes in our own lives. What if we each changed one thing, and wrote about it? I worried that it sounded a little hare-brained, as if I were practicing to become a life-coach. The students loved it. Only a handful of them wanted to change something to do with writing or studying, but they all wanted to change something.
I cooked up a multi-part assignment in which students 1) write a blog-like proposal about something they would like to change, something they can actually DO, daily, for the next forty days of the term; 2) write a persuasive paper about why such a change is desirable; 3) tweet or just write a short reflection which they share with the class daily about the change for those forty days; and then 4) write a follow-up, reflective essay about how their experiment worked out.
In the proposing stage, goals tended toward “Lose 30 pounds,” or “Become a nurse,” or “Get an A in this class.” One man wanted to quit smoking, which I applaud, and another wanted to “be happier,” which I wouldn’t mind doing as well. But even quitting smoking is not quite in the category of “doable,” at least not in the sense that after fifteen minutes one could declare success.
You can write a novel, you can lose 30 pounds, you can quit smoking. But you can’t really do those things right now, today. The first part of this social experiment, it turns out, has been a critical thinking step of figuring out how to narrow one’s focus, how to break things down into parts so small that they’re not merely doable, but scarcely avoidable. I told them to think of things they can do in a single fifteen-minute increment.
When I thought seriously about what I could do, right now, and repeat for 40 days, I decided that the one change I craved was getting through my interminable novel rewrite.
I’ve written this on a list of goals before, and I immediately began to line up my excuses for why it was impossible. This time, however, a voice intervened, a voice I knew—it was the voice I had been inflicting on my students for two full weeks. You can’t rewrite your novel today, but you can write on the novel. So I decided on writing, at my desk—like a smoke break without the cigarettes.
I already write every morning and blog about it, but writing in the afternoon—evening as a last resort—would double my time with the pen. It could make a difference in my rate of progress.
For her first day’s reflection, one student lamented that because the baby kept her up late the previous night, she didn’t get up early and didn’t do the two hours of work on her home business that she had intended. She couldn’t even start, she explained, because her desk was a mess and the thought of organizing it overwhelmed her, and then the baby woke up, and then it was time to plunge into the day. And now here she was, the day half-done, opportunity missed.
And there was that voice again. Wiser than my voice. Don’t give up. Spend five minutes tonight before bed clearing off your desk. Take out one project and lay it out. Just one! (Maybe you’ll actually do something on it! Maybe one step will turn into more!) Check today off your list. Done. Don’t excuse, negotiate, I told her.
I shared a quote that helped me get through my doctoral dissertation when my daughters were small, something the sculptor Barbara Hepworth—mother of four children including triplets—once said:
“I loved the family and everything to do with them….We lived a life of work and the children were brought up in it, in the middle of the dust and the dirt and the paint and everything….I found one had to do some work every day, even at midnight, because either you’re a professional or you’re not.”
How did my own plan work out? The first day it was 5:30 before I remembered. I needed to go home. Then my 13-year-old daughter wanted to go out for coffee and do homework. I, too, had homework, essays to read, a short story to reread in preparation for the next day.
But I couldn’t escape the voice. It’s not midnight yet, the voice said. What would I tell my students? Fifteen minutes? How can you begrudge yourself 15 minutes?
So I ordered my decaf latte and my daughter ordered her Frappuccino and we found a table. I set up my laptop. I went to www.e.ggtimer.com and set it for 15 minutes. I pulled out my manuscript and I started reading and making notes. I circled an image and I brainstormed and I suddenly saw something I hadn’t seen before. I worked for 25 minutes.
I was gonna write about making stories in second grade with my spelling words. I was gonna write about how my mama, who grew up abjectly poor and who didn’t go to college herself until she was forty-seven, understood so well that she gave me Walt Whitman when I was nine–A child said What is the grass?-– and the collected William Carlos Williams when I was twelve. I was gonna write about loving Wittgenstein, that space between the name and the thing he explores, that space I think we inhabit as artists. The power of story, poetry as prayer, how teaching reminds me every day of how miraculous the language we use to live in this life–I had written 500 words.
Then Boston blew up.
And West, Texas.
I quit watching the news years ago, but I stalked Facebook, texting people I know and love in the Boston area. I heard snippets of the working-class drawls of people on the streets in Texas. And I cried.
One sweet-faced freshman at the small liberal arts college where I teach in Virginia, shifted from foot to foot in my office, saying he had family in Boston, asking if he could keep his phone on vibrate.
Other freshmen–wide-eyed and curious and scared–in my American Lit class the next morning, discussed Whitman’s Song of Myself–”What is removed drops horribly in a pail”–as a manhunt locked my Boston friends in their homes, keeping their children home from school, away from windows and doors.
Shelter in place.
My students asked me Why and I didn’t have an answer. I said, “He’s your age, the one they’re chasing. Can you tell me why?”
They didn’t have an answer either.
What we did have was pain, fear, the shared understanding of how vulnerable we all are. We talked about that vulnerability, and they revealed to me that they, these children who were only six years old when planes hit the Trade Towers, feel that vulnerable, that defenseless, all the time.
One, a girl, generally giggly, who reminds me of a sparrow, bit her bottom lip and, said, “We know how much there is to lose.”
Yes, they do.
They were first-graders, carrying lunchboxes and crayons and Pokemon trading cards, when our military went into Afghanistan They barely remember when we haven’t been at war in the Middle East.
They were in middle school when the economy tanked. They’ve seen their parents lose jobs; they’ve packed up their picture books and soccer gear to move out of their childhood homes as a result of job loss or foreclosure. Some of them have learned what it means to be hungry, to be without heat or healthcare, what it means to make do. And to do without.
I, like lots of other people, have lived or still live in these kinds of truths, but for these kids, this is new.
Many of the kids I teach are from northern Virginia, growing up in the shadow of DC, in those belt-lines of power, in a culture accustomed to not only financial security, but to the security of government work. They are, for the most part, sheltered by their DOD and corporate parents, more so than the kids I taught at a large state school before this. Sending them to our mostly residential university in rural Virginia is, for a lot of them, a continuation of their parents’ desire to protect them.
I’m not judging any of this. It is what it is. But much of the work I do with them, coming from my own poor and rural background, is simply helping them understand, through writing, through literature, that not everyone lives the way they do, in this country, or elsewhere.
I teach as a writer. It’s how I live in the world, and I simply don’t know how to be anything else. I work at a teaching institution; everyone teaches General Education classes, and I love teaching those brand-new-just-out-of-high-school freshmen more than I can say. Even when one of them asks, every semester—
I’m a Bio-PoliSci-Business-Anything-but-English major. What does this class have to do with me?
I tell them, as best I know how, what literature, all art, means to me, and why I think it matters to them.
For me, it is only in literature, in art, that we hear and can intimately know the individual human voice. I tell them that, to my mind, the literature we read belongs much more to them than it does to us, the writers who create it. We, I believe, are reflectors, and in fifty years, the literature created by their peers will reveal their time, their dreams, their fears and values, the hopes they hold close to their hearts. .
Without apology for the tears this discussion always brings, or for what I know many of my own peers will dismiss as sentimental, I tell these young people, that for me the function of all art is to allow us to look across the room at another human being, at each other, and say You are not alone.
We felt alone that day.
As Boston’s police force sought a broken young man their age, and as the death and injury toll rose outside the fertilizer plant in West, Texas, and as the media bombarded the airwaves with conflicting and frightening partial stories, one of my students quietly said, “You know, at first I was kinda pissed at having to read a fifty page poem.” He leaned back, arm thrown over the back of the desk, sprawled in the seat like a young strong animal. Then he smiled. “But, yeah, I really like this Whitman guy.”
I asked, as I do at the beginning of any reading discussion, “So…what struck you? What didn’t you like? What part stayed with you?”
He gave us a page number and we turned to the part he selected, reading it, gratefully, together.
“The city sleeps and the country sleeps,
The living sleep for their time, the dead sleep for their time,
The old husband sleeps by his wife and the young husband
sleeps by his wife;
And these tend inward to me, and I tend outward to them,
And such as it is to be of these more or less I am,
And of these one and all I weave the song of myself….”
Each Tuesday we feature audio or video of an SR Contributor reading their work. Today we’re proud to feature a podcast by Joannie Stangeland.
Joannie Stangeland’s new book, Into the Rumored Spring, was published last fall by Ravenna Press, and she’s the author of two poetry chapbooks‚ Weathered Steps and A Steady Longing for Flight, which won the Floating Bridge Press chapbook award. Joannie’s poems have appeared in The Midwest Quarterly,Valparaiso Poetry Review, Tulane Review, Fire On Her Tongue, and other publications. Joannie’s taught writing at Richard Hugo House and LiTFUSE, and she’s the poetry editor for the online journal The Smoking Poet.
Christina Arregoces, Issue 7 Art Editor and Issue 8 Interview Coordinator, discusses her pursuit of literary outlets and plans for the future.
After interning at Superstition Review my freshman and sophomore year, I went on to immerse myself in any (and every) literary outlet I could. From ASU’s State Press Magazine to Lux Undergraduate Creative Review, from the Barrett Chronicle to Every Day Fiction, I applied for, submitted to, reported for, and wrote for just about every publication that I was lucky enough to stumble upon.
And between papers, classes, and incredible mentors during the next year and a half, I then stumbled upon copywriting.
I now happily work as a part time copywriter at a marketing firm in Tempe, and I plan to continue there until I graduate in 2014.
Until then? I’ll be hard at work on my creative writing Honors Thesis, while continuing to write for the Washington D.C. based blog, Spike the Watercooler.
After then? Well, that’s a good question. Though I’m planning on taking the LSAT this June, I’m still considering applying to a handful of MFA programs, with the end goal of getting my PhD and teaching at a collegiate level (hopefully, somewhere in California) in mind.
Let’s just say I’ll be doing quite a bit of breath holding come next fall.
“I can’t fathom writers married to writers and musicians married to musicians. There’s your enemy in bed beside you.” —T.C. Boyle
There isn’t a good history of writer couples. Think of the Fitzgeralds. Think of Plath and Hughes. But here I am—knock on wood—married to the poet Katherine Riegel for the past 11 years. I can say, without doubt, that our relationship has shaped me as a writer. If we had never met in Carbondale, IL, those many years ago, I might be teaching high school somewhere, or back in Chicago working at a camera store. Katie is my creativity fuel, my muse, my motivation. I can also say, with certainty, that without me, Katie would still be a poet.
Recent email to Publisher/Friend
You may know by now that Katie has gotten her second book of poetry accepted for publication. But you don’t know how much we are in fierce competition with each other, and how I need to have my second book come out at the same time. That said, would you guys be interested in taking a look at my essay collection, Southside Buddhist?
By the way, I’m kidding. Only a little. But seriously, you interested?
Ira “Bad Husband” Sukrungruang
P.S. She can’t win!
We have learned how to be with each other. We know that I prefer the left side of the bed. We know that she hates June bugs. We know that I hate spiders. We know that she has to figure out tips on checks at restaurants. We know that I will have to cook most meals. We’ve also learned what to say about each other’s work. This took years. We are both stubborn in our own ways, and believe, most of the time, that we are right. Katie is more outwardly stubborn. I’m more inwardly stubborn. She voices her displeasure. “You’re wrong,” she’ll say. I keep it inside. “You’re wrong,” I’ll say on the inside.
Now we have a system. It’s really not a system. We tell each other our work is the best on this planet. No other writers rival our brilliance. And together, we are like those Japanese animes where we can join and become an ultimate power.
“Wonder Twin Powers! Activate!”
We’ve come to know other writing couples: Jon and Allison, Chad and Jennifer, Jeff and Margot, Stacy and Adrian, Aimee and Dustin, Michael and Catherine. Sometimes we go on writing couple dates where most of the time we talk about TV. Writers love TV. TV and food.
We are known as Katie and Ira, a two-headed writing beast. She is the phoenix, and I am the dragon. At readings or conferences, if we are not together, people will say, “Where is __________________?” This happens a lot to writing couples. One of our friends once said, “We’re taking a break,” and this caused such a stir that soon the writing world was abuzz. “Did you hear? So and so are breaking up!” It was the best joke ever, she said.
When we appear by ourselves, it is to others as if we are suddenly without a limb.
In “Enduring Discovery: Marriage, Parenthood, and Poetry,” Brenda Shaughnessy and Craig Morgan Teicher write: “We root for each other’s work, which is good because these books delve into our shared private lives.”
I write about Katie often because I write about what it means to belong to two cultures—Thai and American. Katie, however, very seldom writes about me. When we were first dating, I’d say, “Write a poem about me.” I’d say, “You must not love me because I’m never in your work. I love you because you’re always in my work.” She’d shake her head. “Listen, if I begin writing about you, that means our relationship is not doing well. I only write about bad relationships.” This is true.
Eleven years later, still nothing written about me.
Katie McCoach, Issue 6 Nonfiction Editor, discusses her experience at Superstition Review and other internships and how they gave her the experience to pursue her ideal career.
Until my internships with Superstition Review, Ellechor Publishing, and Folio Literary Management, I had no idea where my Creative Writing and Communications degrees were going to take me. I knew I enjoyed the degrees I had chosen for myself, but what job would I end up with? I felt like the only choices I kept hearing were technical writing, teaching, or apply for MFA programs.
Those options weren’t for me. But then the lingering question; what was?
Well, a few internships later I discovered my dream job, and the path to take to get there. Fast forward a year and here I am now, pursuing my dream. Half of my time goes to an author marketing company where I spend the day executing marketing campaigns for traditional and self-published authors, and the other half of my time is spent freelance editing as Katie McCoach Editorial. I edit and critique manuscripts, query letters, website content, and newsletters. When I look back at how in the world I got here, it comes down to six things interning did for me, so I wanted to share them here for you.
Real Life Experience – I know you hear this all the time. Enough already, right? But it really cannot be expressed enough. The internships I held were all very different from one another and from each of them I discovered this whole world I knew nothing about. I learned how to communicate with authors, how to hone instinct in selling, selecting, and editing, and I saw the different roles each person can play in the publishing industry. Many of the things I learned in my internships I would never have learned by just my degree alone.
Discover What You Want – A couple years ago, I was the Nonfiction Editor for Issue 6 of Superstition Review. Here I learned the in and outs of a literary magazine: how to communicate with authors and pique interest, how to develop an instinct for selecting the best work for the issue that season, and I had a chance to read amazing work by so many brilliant writers. At one point, I was asked to give comments on one of the pieces, to see if there were any suggestions or feedback we could contribute. This was my favorite part, and it wasn’t even one of my typical duties. That’s when the first hint of what I wanted to do as a career began to hit me.
Conduct the Ultimate Interview – Internships are jobs. Although they are temporary and often times only a few months long, they are still jobs. This is your chance to conduct the ultimate interview – how does this job fit with your personality? How are your skills best utilized? Can you see yourself here in five years? How could you move up in the industry? I worked for a literary magazine, publishing company, and literary agency. I saw very different roles of the publishing industry, and from it I discovered where I fit best.
Path to Your Dream Job – Every person in your industry started somewhere, maybe even interning exactly where you are now. So ask them – how did they get their job? What about their boss’s boss? The path to your dream job becomes readily available to you as an intern and this is your chance to begin it.
Perspective – I chose to intern at companies that were all related to publishing and from this I saw different parts of the industry that I could have never seen if I hadn’t worked in the areas I did. Interning at Superstition Review I saw the literary magazine side of publishing. The publications in literary magazines across the country influence contests and grants. These contests can mean referrals for lit agents, which in turn can mean a sale to an editor, and the next book a publishing company picks up. There is much more to it than that of course, but I now am able to see the industry as a whole, which gives me perspective, especially in relation to the job I chose to pursue.
Connections – This is another one of those things we hear a lot. I currently live in Los Angeles and I am surrounded by the film and TV industry. I see first-hand how connections are the only way to establish your place in that industry. The same goes for publishing, though depending on the path you choose, it might not be quite as cutthroat. When I first moved to LA I attended one of those kind-of-awkward-but-you-push-through-it networking events. I was wary at first, and then I met someone who was starting her own marketing business. She needed an editor for her website content and what do you know, here I was, an editor. On top of gaining business with her, she also had a friend who was a literary agent, and that agent knew other freelance editors, and by then my connections had tripled. This happened just from a two-hour networking event, so imagine what a semester-long internship can do.
Interning was definitely the right choice for me and my career path, and – I have to cliché it up right here – I would not be in the position I am today without it.
If you are a current or past intern, what has interning done for you? If you are debating interning, what things do you hope to gain from the experience?
Katie McCoach graduated from Arizona State University in May of 2011 with her Bachelor’s of Arts in Creative Writing and Communications. She currently resides in Los Angeles, CA as a freelance editor. She has had essays published in TrainWrite and Kalliope. You can visit her at www.katiemccoach.comand on Twitter @katiemccoach
I stood under the flicker of thefluorescent lights, transfixed, unable to move. In front of me, the display of fruit shimmered, otherworldly: oranges the size of softballs, lacquer-shiny apples. I picked up a kiwi, then put it down. I wandered, slightly stunned, through the aisles of bright jars and boxes. Finally I stepped out through the magic doors, empty-handed.
When I returned from two years serving in the Peace Corps in West Africa, I felt raw, hesitant, unmoored by the simplest things: the grocery store; a simple and impersonal transaction at the bank or the post office; turning on the tap and having water pour forth.
I peppered my conversation with words in Cape Verdean Creole, and listened to sappy Cape Verdean pop music, and felt nostalgic and vaguely tragic.
Soon (though perhaps not soon enough for my family and friends), this moony phase passed. But as I cast about for what to do next with my life, Cape Verde’s landscape and people and the intensity of my experiences there haunted me.
I didn’t quite understand why I had nearly stopped eating while I was there; why my marriage had been pushed almost to the breaking point; why after two years I still felt a simultaneous excitement and dread at the thought of facing a classroom of 40 ninth grade English students. I imagined these struggles in some way reflected in the geography and culture where they had arisen, but the connection was still unclear to me, blurred as bruma seca season, when dust had obscured the sky. I needed clarity, and the only way I knew to seek clarity was to write.
At the same time, when I mentioned Cape Verde to anyone, I was greeted with a blank stare. I was jealous of Peace Corps volunteers I knew who had served in Central America, or Russia, or on the African continent. The ideas people had of these places may have been distorted or false or based on stereotypes, but at least they had heard of them.
If I had often felt lonely or misunderstood during my stint abroad, when I returned, it seemed I was once more cast adrift.
I wanted others to feel the dry dust of the harmattan winds, to taste the earthy corn grit of djagacida, to understand the history and resonances behind the beautiful, mournful ballads.
In writing the book–a process which ended up taking almost 15 years–I want to say I found some of the clarity I had been looking for. But maybe it was simply that 15 years of living led me to cultivate more compassion for the 22-year-old girl with an eating disorder, or to see that the struggles my young marriage endured had both everything and nothing to do with our immersion in Cape Verdean culture.
Maybe it wasn’t clarity that I needed, though. Maybe it was simply to tell my story, dust-obscured, deep-throated wail that it was. What I’d wanted all along was to put the island where I’d lived for two years on a common map.
Eric Hawkins from Issues 2 and 3 is in the process of applying to graduate programs. He shares with us these words:
When I graduated three years ago, I was unsure of what the future would hold for me professionally and academically. A degree in English carries with it few obvious career paths, especially for someone like me whose focus was in poetry. All I knew for sure was that I wanted to be involved with literature as much as possible. I sought advice from one of my professors, who recommended I take at least a year before enrolling in graduate school to explore possible career paths and see if anything spoke to me.
My overwhelmingly-positive experience with Superstition Review led me to the world of publishing. I moved to New York City and set about applying at publishing houses, magazines, and advertising agencies. I eventually landed an internship with a literary agency, where my job was reading and evaluating manuscripts from writers seeking representation. It was enjoyable and interesting work, but it was temporary (not to mention unpaid) so before long I had to move on.
It is no secret that the job market is tough across the board, but print media has been hit especially hard. I had no illusions that finding a great job in the hyper-competitive environment of New York would be easy, but I was still stunned at just how grueling the process was.
Ultimately I came to the realization that I was going to have to fight very hard to build any kind of career that would satisfy my passions, and I decided that a job in publishing was not something I wanted badly enough to justify the struggle. With that in mind, I left New York to further develop my poetry and determine my priorities. Since then I have been writing extensively, and have even had a few poems published.
When I think back to my favorite parts of studying English at Arizona State, the thing that stands out the most are the poetry workshops. I love discussing the thematic and technical complexities of poems, and those sessions really helped me overcome my shyness with regards to my own work. These fond memories led me to realize that I wanted to be a teacher, and toward that end I have decided to go for my Master’s degree.
Even though I find myself now in the same position as if I had gone straight from ASU to grad school, I will always be grateful to that professor who advised me to wait. Would I give the same advice to someone else in my former situation? That would depend on how clear of an idea they had about their future. Coming out of college I had only vague notions and scattered ambitions, and these past three years outside of an academic environment have taught me a lot about myself as a person and a writer. Most importantly I now have complete confidence that teaching is what I am meant to do, and it is worth the struggle.