Interlude: Blues for the post-MFA Pocket


“This right here is some seriously middle-class blues.”

Jessica Lynne Henkle recently did me the great kindness of responding to a post I made on Facebook at length on her blog. The post I’d made went a little something along the lines of:

“Writers, tell me abut keeping the faith. Tell me about radical patience, and bootstrap theory, and breaking through. Tell me why this matters.”

Her response is a passionate and compassionate defense of the written word, and a great pleasure to read (which you should do).

I will admit, though, after the groundswell of support from writer friends–one I’d only just recently met invited me to coffee, to assure himself, perhaps, that I didn’t plan to throw myself off a bridge–I began to wonder if perhaps my original post sounded a bit more dramatic than intended.

I am not currently suffering a crisis of confidence, nor am I in any danger of quitting this business of writing, any more than anyone who has been doing much of anything, compulsively, since they were eight years old–knitting, maybe, doodling, or dressing up in women’s clothing–is in much danger of quitting any time soon. Making sense of the world through the written word is simply how I operate (a quality, I’ve found, that most writers share).

What I’m working with here is more a vague sense of feeling unable to complete the feedback loop essential to the evolution of art.

Cooking a meal is a creative act that completes its loop when that meal is eaten.

Visual arts, when people see it.

Musical and theater arts, when people come together and turn their attention to the stage.

And while it’s true that I’ve written since I was just a wee sprout, I also have a background in theater (and have dabbled decadently in an array of other arts). This is the first time in my life I’ve dedicated myself to just one discipline, and here’s something I’ve found: when it comes to the feedback loop of art, the written word is the most difficult loop to complete.

This isn’t a funk, you see, this is a blues.

It’s a blues for the post-MFA pocket–

the one where you’ve bet the farm on a swaybacked horse that shows no sign of winning…

a blues for the single mom, rising earlier and earlier to write, trading sleep for sanity. This is a blues for the mall cop on his lunch hour, dreaming up origin stories. This is a blues for the small–small press, small circulation, small time, small snippets of time stolen to weave these insistent dreams.

A blues for all who must reward themselves for every rejection, a tiny toast for every slip.

This blues has been every writer’s blues at one point or another, and right now, it’s mine.

Mike Magnuson, in his wisdom, weighed in on the thread with a little  straight talk from the Midwest:

“That’s the writer’s life, Susan. We work alone, and nobody really cares what we do till they see what we do in print.”

Mag, as one of those rare writers who has actually made his living writing, may have some idea what he’s talking about.

And yet, I’ve come to understand that my need to experience and respond to art–the written word in particular–is as great as my need to produce it.

To me, it’s not about publishing or becoming known. Art is nothing more than a high-level conversation, and it’s the conversation, ultimately, I’m interested in.

Toward that end, I’m focusing on ways I can more deeply involve myself in the conversation of art. (I think this may mean getting out of the house more.)

Want to join the conversation? If you’re on FB, here’s the “game” I’m going to be playing for the next month or so:

Monday–What I’m listening to
Tuesday–What I’m reading
Wednesday–What I’m writing
Thursday–What image I’m interested in

Friday—What video I think is cool (or, who knows, maybe what I’m cooking)

Feel free to play along.


2 thoughts on “Interlude: Blues for the post-MFA Pocket

  1. Now I feel badly that I didn’t respond to Your Brain on Fiction… It was a wonderful story. Keep it coming! I totally get what you’re saying about feedback loops. Well articulated… Let’s get together again soon and talk about art.

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