Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Guest Blogger Raye Tibbitts on (18 months) After The MFA

Embarrassing. I ask my friend Raye Tibbitts (essayist, writing teacher, memoirist-in-progress, newspaper reporter and former zine publisher), to guest blog and what does she do but turn it into a post partially about me….hmm…I considered putting on an editor's hat and insisting she tone it down, but in the spirit of having invited talented guests to "write whatever you want," I'm going to let it go. Anyway, Raye has proven to me in the past that she knows – instinctively and craft-wise – just what she wants to say, damn it, and to step aside. So I will. - Lisa

Please welcome Raye Tibbitts.

Before I say anything else, let me say it is an absolute honor that Lisa asked me to guest blog while she’s in her graduating residency at
Stonecoast this week. Not only do I admire her as a writer, but she is hands-down one of the smartest professionals I have ever met, and I shudder to think of where I would be 18 months out of the same graduate program without her correcting my navigation at the various crossroads I have met.

On contemplating whether or not an agent will ever come across my
blog and offer to shop my book around (imagine a Jane Austen-esque scene with me staring hopefully into the starry sky, offering little personal trades to the literary gods), Lisa says, “Snap out of it, Raye. What you’re going to do is write a query letter with a link to your blog and find the agent yourself.”

On whether or not I should have taken the role of “pro” (read: modestly compensated) blogger for the Portland Press Herald’s new website,
Raising Maine (since I had decided I wasn’t a bad mother anymore and sort of cringed when people associated me with the title), Lisa said, “Of course you’re going to take this job. It doesn’t matter if they pay you in eggs, this is your platform we’re talking about.”

All right. I don’t know if she said anything about eggs, but you get the gist.

Eighteen months after finishing graduate school, I am getting the hang of pitching a story again to a different publication if it gets rejected by the first (rather than sulk inconsonantly in my bathrobe). Eighteen months out of graduate school, I hear Lisa’s voice in my head saying, “There are a bazillion editors out there. Find one you click with.” Eighteen months out of graduate school, and I finally feel like this life, the writing life, is really possible.

I graduated from Stonecoast in January 2007 with a handful of publications and prizes on my resume, and the letters M.F.A. after my name (not that I ever put them there, but it’s nice to know that I could if I wanted to). That’s it. I had cobbled together only a stellar career as a waitress/library clerk/baker/proofreader/whatever-I-could-do-at-night-or-early-in-the-morning-so-that-I-could-have-extra-money-and-stay-home-with-my-kids.

Unlike Lisa, I had no background in marketing or public relations or journalism or anything. I didn’t even major in English as an undergraduate. I couldn’t hack it to be honest. I was raised by the TV and once I discovered that I could write pretty insightful papers about
South Park, I skipped over to Media Studies where I could analyze up a storm without having to read Moby Dick.

I decided to go to graduate school for really only one reason. I wanted a night job that would put me further along the path of unloading the writer I secretly carried around on my back, a little hump of literary ambition that I managed to nurture furtively in the margins of my life as primary caregiver to our three boys. I thought, hey, I’ll become an adjunct English instructor (whoops….don’t say professor, that really raises the hackles on those tenure track few), and even if I never finish a book, at least I’ll be doing something that has something to do with writing even if it has nothing specifically to do with my writing.

Yes, I wanted to grow as a writer and all that stuff I’m sure I put in my application packet, but my motives were primarily practical. I needed a job and I thought teaching was something I could do.

The good news is that I got exactly what I wanted out of graduate school. In the last 18 months, I have taught at two different colleges and I’ve got to say -- if you don’t mind driving all over the state (at least this is the case in Maine, which is fairly rural), and the income isn’t the one you count on (you don’t get paid between semesters and you may never know for sure how many classes will end up running….you may be hired to teach three, but only one session will enroll enough students to go ahead) -- being an English adjunct is a great thing.

Nobody is going to get rich working as “contract faculty,” and if I didn’t have a spouse pulling in a consistent and reliable paycheck with benefits, teaching like this would make me crazy. But for now it’s just the sort of gig that meets our needs for flexibility, minimal outside childcare (which is prohibitively expensive on one state employee’s and one freelancer’s income), and almost enough moo-la to keep everyone in sneakers and sweat pants.

And there’s more good news. Thanks to Lisa, I also started pitching stories to community publications in my area, and guess what? They are publishing them. And thanks to my third semester Stonecoast project – the creation of Bad Mother Chronicles, a little zine for the parenting-challenged – I have connected with lots of editors all over the country. The
list of publications on my CV has grown to well over a solid page.

I am slowly cobbling together a career that includes teaching and editing and writing and greeting and networking and writing and reading and BEING in collaboration with my dreams and ambitions, prayers and goals.

To which Lisa says, “So it was worth it?”

More than I could ever imagine.

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