Sunday, 8 June 2014

Acceptance Pending


“You see I study art
The greats weren't great because at birth they could paint
The greats were great cause they paint a lot”

-Macklemore, Ten Thousand Hours

In January, I wrote a blog post about my struggle with self doubt. If you read it, you may have remembered that it left me wondering if pursuing a Masters’ in Creative Writing was a step in the right direction. What you may not know is that I eventually decided to apply.

Part of the application process involved presenting a manuscript. I opted to write a short story entitled, “The Broken Path to Indifference”. It told the story of a boy’s reaction to his father’s infidelity. It outlined the stages of his emotional breakdown, and ended with him becoming indifferent to it all. After a million and one revisions, well thought out insights from others, a thorough read through in the maxi and a post to Instagram, I submitted the story.

Two weeks ago, I received an email from the Department of Literary, Cultural and Communication Studies. I had to present myself for an interview with the Programme Coordinator, Prof. Funso Aiyejina. I was nervous and excited all at the same time.

I went to my trusty Google and entered the words: “common questions postgraduate interview mfa”. With the questions printed, I began to draft appropriate responses. I interviewed myself in the mirror. I asked that good vibrations be sent my way. I took a haircut. And I tried on different shirt and pants combinations. By the day of the interview, I was more than prepared.

So, when the first question Uncle Funji asked was: “Why do you want to do this MFA?” I smiled and rattled off my pre-planned response complete with my signature hand gestures and facial expressions. This was going according to planned. My enthusiasm and confidence was palpable. Then, he asked: “What did you write about again?”

You know in the movies when the character falls into an abyss, hands and legs flailing, screaming, “NOOOOOOO!”? Yeah? Well, that’s how I imagined myself in that instant. I figured that he honestly did not remember what I had written or worse yet, my story was -gasp!- forgettable.

I did not stop to ponder both possibilities, but gave him a summary of my short story. After which, he pulled it from a pile, skimmed through the pages, looked at me, and said, “OK, Garvin, we have several problems.”

My stomach plummeted and my armpits started itching as I came to the realization that what I thought was going to be an interview was really a critique of my manuscript. I had not prepared for this! Why is he clearing his throat? Why is he opening his mouth? Don’t. Say. It. Oh no, he’s saying it!

Listed below were the five main problems (NB: The lines in red are to be read with a Nigerian accent, so as to fully grasp what it was like):

1) Too much “telling”, not enough “showing” in the story. For example, instead of telling him that the protagonist is tall, show him a man brushing his head against a door frame every time he enters the room.

2) Poor story structure. It was too basic. I went from A to B to C to D. It would have been a more exciting read if I had started at C gone to A jumped to D and ended with B.

3) A lack of defining moments.

4) Too analytical. Almost like an academic essay. It links to the first point; I need to “show” more.

5) Inappropriate vocabulary. Use of “big words” came off as me wanting to show off.

He provided examples when necessary. He advised that I read more widely and critically.  Finally, he ended his critique with:

“If you are accepted into the programme, you have A LOT of work to do. We usually take a small group as the programme is rigorous and hands on. The committee still has to meet. You will hear from us very soon.”

I wanted nothing more than to run out of the room, crying with my imaginary long, red hair blowing in the wind behind me. It probably would not have been in my best interest- whatever little I had left- if I had, so I pulled it together.

When prompted, I asked him questions about the programme. I told him about the type of novel or short story collection I envision myself writing. He reiterated that they had not made a decision about my acceptance. We shook hands. It was over.

As I exited the department office, the words of the last half hour washed over me, and I whispered to myself: “I am not getting into the programme.”

I needed to process. Naturally, I went to the office of my former lecturer turned thesis adviser turned one of the few people who can talk me out off spiralling into emotional despair. And we talked.

I told her that Uncle Funji was never malicious. In fact, his critique was constructive. He knew what he was talking about. Plus, the whole purpose of doing the MFA was to learn more and perfect the craft. I knew that entering the field would involve critiques like these. But, in spite of all this, I felt like a watery load of faecal matter.

Furthermore, being accepted into the MFA had completely captivated me for the past year. I need the technical knowhow if I am to realize my dream of becoming a writer. I finally know what I want to do. I never stopped for one instant to think about what I would do if things didn’t go my way. Basically, in the space of half an hour, I had become very uncertain about my future.

She completely understood. I did put my heart and soul into the manuscript. And no matter how imperfect it was, I was proud of it. So, to hear someone tear it apart, although it was to help me in the long run, was bound to hurt.

She advised that I not dwell on whether or not I was accepted. In a few short weeks, I will know my faith. If it’s not to my liking, it doesn’t mean that I should give up. Most times, you must be prepared to work hard for what you really want.

And that’s where I am now, walking that fine line between getting my hopes up and not getting my hopes up, until I know for sure. What I do know is that, no matter the outcome, I intend to KEEP WRITING. Stay tuned! 

Until the next post.