Sick.

the one and only time I ever got sick from drinking--thank you vodka soaked kiwi
the one and only time I ever got sick from drinking--thank you vodka soaked kiwi

“I wouldn’t be very proud of it,” my mother said. She was looking at the work I’d done on the high school yearbook.

I closed the book and put it back in my lap. My excuses rang in my head, and I looked out the window.

“Sorry,” she said. “I shouldn’t’ve put it like that.”

“It’s okay,” I said. “I didn’t…” I shrugged. I’d been on the advertising staff and done the layouts of several ads. “The graduation ceremony is outside, you know. We’re going to be so hot out there,” I said.

We didn’t mention the yearbook again.

How do you react when you’ve done a job you’re not proud of?

I’m considering applying for an MFA program near where I live. And as I think about the samples of my writing I have to submit, I feel sick. My stomach turns over and over. How do you get rid of this feeling? It pains me to look at my work. How on earth am I going to handle sharing my work in a class? Assuming I can even get in…

Why do we make ourselves crazy (well, me then), over something that is not the end of life and the universe?

14 thoughts on “Sick.

  1. I think it’s perfectionism that’s getting you in the gut.

    This feeling that everything you do needs to be absolutely flawless. Of course we all know there is no such thing as flawless… atleast when it comes to humans.

    I think it stems from not feeling good enough yourself (and by you I mean, me, this is what I have learned about my own perfectionism) from feeling like you need to prove yourself with your work, since you, yourself are somehow too deeply flawed to be worth it.

    This of course is not true. You, me, all of us are worth it, just the way we are. We are good enough and our work is good enough…. in whatever state it is in. This is not to say that we couldn’t revise or improve. Maybe even this work is not the one that goes out into the world, maybe it lives in our trunk, feeding other works, or serving as a learning process.

    What I’m trying to say is that we, and our works, are wonderful in their imperfection. And sometimes, striving for perfectionism limits the power of our work (and ourselves).

    Plus, the one time I applied for an MFA program, I was terrified also, but a friend told me that I was applying to be a student, not for a Nobel prize. Students are supposed to learn. They’re supposed to have room to grow.

    So I applied and I got waitlisted at Columbia, which I thought was pretty good and figured I could get in somewhere the next year… but the next year I went to school for teaching instead…. and I don’t regret that, either.

  2. Look at it this way. You’re going to school to learn how to be a better writer. If your work is perfect, you don’t need to go, so let your work go knowing that they may see its flaws, and that’s okay. It’s what they expect. Is your fear about being scorned for your efforts? If so, then remember they will not scorn you. They’ll be assessing your work objectively, which is the opposite of scorn. As someone who has read your work, I can say that you have nothing to be ashamed of in submitting it. The promise shines through. Be brave.

    1. Ha. That’s what I tell my students all the time–if you spoke English perfectly you wouldn’t be in my class. You’re here to learn. True. I know that.

  3. I’d say that most people who feel this way would step back from the risk and do something else with their lives. Happens all the time. Buried dreams are everywhere we look: at the mall filled with people overcharging on their credit cards, in angry comments on blogs, in addiction and pain. Feeling scared is natural- being able to move through it is true courage.

    I’d also venture that as an adult, you are now trying to make up for some serious lack of love and support for your creative efforts as a child. Honestly, that comment about the yearbook was pretty damn harsh, IMO.

    1. I promised myself a long time ago that I wouldn’t bury my dreams, but I didn’t realize how frightening it can be to pursue them. To be fair to my mother, she could be as supportive as she could be harsh–I just never knew what to expect.

  4. Man, I hate hearing that people are making themselves sick. About anything

    Don’t remember if you’ve actually said what you’re looking for from an MFA program. (Just did a Google search of the blog and I don’t see it in the results — first time you mentioned it was, per Google, January.) What is it? Dispassionate, objective feedback from strangers? (You’ll get plenty of feedback from strangers, but “dispassionate” and “objective” may be harder to come by.)

    You probably know about Dennis Cass’s call for paragraphs to be publicly reviewed. I had a paragraph I thought about sending him, but it was gnawing at my gut. Other than people who already know me, I just about never get comments from anyone. The comments I got from strangers came loooong ago, in practically another writing universe, and they weren’t always kindly. (Oh, sure, there are query rejections, but even if they go outside the form-letter approach they’re not really responding to the work, right? which they haven’t seen.)

    So I finally sent him something yesterday. And have been wanting to recall it. And not wanting to. And hoping he’ll get so many submissions that he’ll have to pick a handful at random, skipping mine. And afraid that he’ll not include mine because he is, in fact, too kind. And… and…

    All that over a stupid single paragraph. Sheesh.

    What would make you happy (happiest) about continuing to write, given that — if you want publication — you’re going to have to submit it to strangers at some point?

    I think you can be all right, whichever way you decide. The trick is that once you select the path, you then have a second decision — to decide (or not) to be all right with it, forgetting about all the decisions you made up to that point which, well, made it impossible for you to be standing on any other path than the one you’re on.

    1. I suppose I’m looking for a change I can afford financially. This program has a stipend equal to my yearly salary (no, I don’t make much money) and I really want out of my job AND I want something that will encourage/help my writing. This was all I could think of since I can’t just stay home and write.

      I sent a paragraph to Dennis. It is so short, it is probably laughable, but it is a paragraph nonetheless. Your feelings are understandable.

      And no worries about the paths not chosen. For all my silly angst, I tend not to worry about those.

  5. This is hard. I know how you feel about your work. I feel similarly in varying degrees, and have the same qualms you do about showing someone I don’t know my writing.

    On the other hand, I have to jump on team rowena here and second almost everything she said. You’re applying to be a LEARNER, not a master. If the MFA program is no longer about improvement of writing, what IS it about? I think your work, what little I’ve read, is as strong as any prose I’ve seen anywhere. It shines will all the same polish of any professional writer with work sitting on the shelves of bookstores.

    You can do it, and a lot of people believe in you. Even if you aren’t able to just yet.

  6. Any graduate-level writing program I know of–and I know quite a few–would be fortunate to have you as a student and proud to refer to you as one of their graduates after you’d completed the curriculum. You set the bar high for applicants because you already know what to write about and how to write it.

    In their well-meant wisdom, they might try to change you, but I don’t think that would be effective for them because you already know who you are and how much you care.

  7. Who would take a picture of you when you were sick? I am amazed, you seem to have a picture for everything! 🙂

    Why do you make yourself sick over this kind of stuff? Because it MATTERS to you. Intellectually you know it’s not the end of the universe, but emotionally it feels that way to you. That’s just who you are. I don’t know if people can disconnect that emotional part of themselves from things like that.

    I suspect that it doesn’t matter how “rational” you try to make yourself – you’re simply an emotional person, at least in this area. Embrace it, and keep going. You’ll be just fine in the MFA program. 🙂

    1. My roommate was, um, kind enough to take the picture. Perhaps she wouldn’t have done so if she hadn’t had too much vodka herself. We’re still friends to this day, so all is forgiven.

      I’ve been told too many thing matter too much me, but I don’t know how to disconnect that at all. Half the time I can’t even see it.

      And thanks for your support too.

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