Zak Nelson, writer

In Which Our Hero Returns … Triumphant? Part 3

In creative writing, memoir, MFA creative writing, personal news on August 22, 2014 at 8:50 am

III. Transmogrification

I licked my wounds for the next week and a half, as I geared up for Sewanee. I had no idea what to expect from the two-week long writing conference. All I knew was that I had been accepted, that my friends and family (including many of you, dear readers) helped pay my way, and that I was going no matter what. Who cared if I hadn’t written anything since May and felt like an imposter? It would be two weeks of not thinking about jobs.

Angie dropped me off at the airport. It took a ridiculous two flights to get to Nashville, where I met the group that was waiting for the conference buses. It felt like I was eleven and at summer camp all over again. I got suddenly shy, didn’t introduce myself to anyone. These other attendees lingering around the baggage claim area must’ve felt the same. Only a handful were already chattering away like they were old friends. Me, I needed more coffee to make that transition.

The bus broke down only once on the 90-minute drive to Sewanee, and it’s probably a good thing it did. There was suddenly an occasion for people to toss each other glances: bewildered, bemused, impatient, accepting, or humorous. And once that dam was breached, people started talking more. The remaining half hour on the bus I talked with three other writers.

This isn’t the place where I’ll be talking about my time at Sewanee in great detail. Maybe I’ll post that story here, or maybe I’ll just keep it to myself. It was a magical couple of weeks, and I made about a hundred friends and, on the professional side, new contacts. Doors opened. Okay, maybe a little detail:

While the workshop itself was excellent—a truly inspiring and dedicated group of

In Which Our Hero Returns … Triumphant? Part 2

In memoir, MFA creative writing, personal news, travel on August 20, 2014 at 6:31 am

II. Speed Bump or Opportunity?

My parents and in-laws came to visit for graduation. It was lovely. We went to the beach, spent time together, and they kindly refrained from too much talk about the Future. As soon as they left, I sat down and wrote a draft of a short piece of fiction, a sort of John Henry parable about a paperboy on a bicycle who races against a delivery guy in a car, making a stand for the older technology, just before—here’s the ironic twist—the advent of the Internet, which would mortally wound the newspaper. It was only a draft, but see? I was writing! Ha! That will show them! Then I had a job fall into my lap.

It was a freelance gig, a college friend’s husband needed me to write scripts for some educational videos. I jumped into it. The pay was good, the people were friendly and professional, and the work was mostly fun. I didn’t anticipate that it would take all my time, from May through the first half of June. Bye-bye, paperboy. Adios, novel. Smell ya later, memoir.

During this time I applied in a half-assed manner to a few jobs. A sales rep for a textbook publisher. A copywriter for a local marketing firm. A marketer for a university press. I wasn’t applying to many teaching jobs—I was ambivalent about it, initially. There didn’t seem to be any good teaching positions open in the Triangle (for you non-Carolinians: that’s Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill, in central NC), and besides, I’d had my brain crammed full of horror stories of adjuncting and what it would do to my life.

As the freelance job wrapped up and Angie and I geared up for a weeklong vacation to Sanibel and the Florida Keys, I did apply to one teaching job: at the last minute a position had become available at NCSU, from whence I had just graduated.

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In Which Our Hero Returns…Triumphant?

In memoir, MFA creative writing, personal news on August 17, 2014 at 11:16 am

This is the first part in a series of catch-up posts. If you aren’t interested in reading about me (and honestly, aside from my family a few patient friends—bless your hearts—who is?) then you may safely skip the next few days of posts.

I. Malaise

I swore it wouldn’t happen to me. Everyone I know who’s graduated from a MFA program seems to sink into a post- graduation funk marked by listlessness, aimlessness, and ineffectualness. Last year at this time I asked the recent grads if they’d written much over the summer. I’d get a glum look, a tight smile, a shrug: nah, not much, nope.

Not that I blame them. It makes sense: after two years in turbo-drive, to suddenly lose the very thing around which your life’s structure and meaning has been organized can be disorienting to say the least. Then there’s the whole matter of having to look for jobs, and the decision to move or stay. One must negotiate having partners that, having moved out here for you, have finally found a decent job that they aren’t quite ready to leave.

I swore I would be the exception. I’d hit the ground running. I’d finish the draft of the novel, and the draft of the memoir, and I’d revise the handful of stories that had been workshopped, the piles of marked-up, binder-clipped manuscripts relegated to a plastic bin in a closet in a back room. I’d be productive! I’d be published by summer’s end! And as for the job search … why, with my skills and experience I’d score a high paying, low-stress job in no time! One that doesn’t start until September, giving me the summer to write and travel! I’d collect exclamation points, only to imbue them with irony after the fact!

Stay tuned for the next installment of “Our Hero Returns…Triumphant?”


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