Zak Nelson, writer


In Daily posts on April 7, 2015 at 4:03 pm

shehecheyanu_1A student confided to me today about his doubts. He said he knows he’s not alone and yet, look: he’s alone. He thanked me for treating him with respect. I mean, I figure it’s basic human decency, but apparently students don’t get enough of that. Hell, none of us do. I hate to see a good person struggle so much with life but man, I get it. I get it. What can I say? He’s not wrong. Everything is peer review, everything is rough draft.

Still: today a student confided to me. And I was there to be confided in. My job was just to make it to that very moment. There is a Hebrew prayer called the shehekiyanu that we recite on joyous occasions. We use it to give thanks to a nameless, faceless force for granting us life, sustaining us, and enabling us to reach this day. We don’t have to know why. I can tell him: in twenty years, he can pass along the favor.

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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