I started “Whisks and Words” last fall when I was working a job as an administrative assistant. I wasn’t using my degree, I wasn’t writing, I wasn’t active, and I wasn’t happy. So I started blogging about books and food and writing – things I know – in the hopes that it would give me an outlet and make me happy again.
Around the same time, I got my first CSA membership. A CSA is community supported agriculture, and essentially, you pay a fee at the beginning of a season and get food from local farms each week. The idea is that you’re throwing in stock with the local farmers, so if it’s a bad week, it doesn’t damage them as much, and if it’s a good week, you get more food. It’s a great deal.
But in that first CSA, I got beets. I didn’t know what raw, fresh beets looked like. I had a strict “no beets” policy, so they pretty much fell off my radar. And then there I was, twenty-five years old, with a bunch of beets with leafy greens attached and not the first clue what to do with them. And I thought, I bet there’s a bunch of people getting this same box of food and wondering what in the world to do with beets.
I approached a friend who publishes a local alternative magazine in Hampton Roads called AltDaily, and he agreed with the premise. He had no clue what to do with his CSA food either. So I was given a series to write called My CSAcation, providing recipes for these foods each week. I told myself that if I could write one column per week, I’d at least be writing again. Maybe I wouldn’t be as miserable. And I’d definitely be cooking instead of making bacon and eggs for dinner each night before passing out in front of the TV.
The column took off. The blog died.
In the months since that time, I’ve become food editor at that magazine. My column appears semi-regularly. I’m no longer an administrative assistant, and I currently teach, edit, write, and do freelance/project jobs on the side. I dance salsa and bachata and do Zumba, and I’m active. And I’m happy.
But I don’t write as much as I would like to. And thus, with my tail between my legs, I’ve come back to the blogging world.
What I didn’t see all those months ago when I was looking for an outlet is that I was stuck. I took a job that my mom approved of, that was easy to explain to people, and that was fairly secure (and really easy). No longer when people asked what I did for a living did I get blank stares and funny looks. (Try telling people you’re in graduate school studying creative writing. It’s a really special experience having people look at you in a way that says, “Bless your heart, you won’t have a pot to piss in, and you’re not old and wise enough yet to understand what a horrible thing that is.”) But it wasn’t entirely about the job. It was about my life changing without my realizing it.
I was a student from the time I was five years old until I graduated with my Master’s last year at the age of twenty-five. I never stopped. My entire identity was being a student. And then suddenly (which was fortunate – I only spent a month without a job) – suddenly, I was no longer a student. I had no homework. No thesis. No reading plan. No group of peers and professors to give me deadlines and make sure I wrote and ask me to push myself harder. I became bitter and jaded, and I mourned the loss of that identity. I mourned losing that lifestyle. I annoyed the people around me with my bitterness and anger and post-MFA depression.
One day, during that summer when I first started doing admin work, I ran into a fantastic poet named Jon Pineda at the Barnes & Noble in Virginia Beach. I didn’t think he would recognize me – I had met him a year prior at ODU’s Literary Festival – so I didn’t speak to him. (Also, I am hesitant to speak to writers in coffee shops/bookstores. Half the time they’re writing, and then you go through the awkward greetings while you try to figure out if they 1) know who you are, 2) want to speak to you, and 3) are figuring out a polite way to tell you to go away because they’re working.) But while I stood off to the side waiting for my latte, he spoke to me, called me by my name, and asked me how I was. He told me about his books he was working on, what new projects he was excited about, and then he asked me the question I dreaded: “what are you working on?”
The truth: nothing. Not a blasted thing. I had hit a standstill trying to revise the stories from my thesis. I told myself I was going to try a different genre, try writing essays, to shake things up. At that point, I had two editors waiting on book reviews, and I wasn’t even working on those. I admitted to him that I wasn’t working on anything, that I hadn’t been able to get down to it in the month or so since graduating. (I push myself a little too hard. Really, a month or two without writing is nothing.)
He didn’t judge me. He said he understood. He told me what a huge adjustment it was – life after the MFA. Becoming a post-MFA writer. Because you no longer have long days where you do nothing but sit on the couch or at the coffee shop and write. On Saturdays, you catch up on laundry and house cleaning and you try to hang out with people so you maintain some semblance of a social life. It becomes so much harder to be a writer after you get your MFA, which seems counterintuitive: the innocent writer (me) would think that writing becomes easier, that after finishing an MFA, with all that new knowledge under your belt, you somehow write faster and stronger and it’s not as hard.
That’s a lie. And Jon Pineda knew it. He delivered some truth to me that day, and I was (and am) so thankful for it. Because it’s been a year since I graduated. I’ve had one story picked up for publication. I write regularly, but not as much as I want. And not fiction. I’ll get back to it, but I’m not there yet. But I teach now, and I edit food articles, and I have finally figured out how to be some sort of a post-MFA writer. I still miss it. I miss being a student. I miss workshop (even the workshops where I got my ass handed to me). I miss readings and wearing jeans all the time and thinking about which books to put on my thesis list. I miss all that. But somehow I made it through, and I’ve begun redefining the kind of writer I am now and will be later.
I’ve come back to blogging because it’s a space to live out this new post-MFA writerly existence. It’s a screen on a website that says, “hey, Dana wrote today.” (Go me!) I gave this blog the tagline “A blog about a writer who cooks” because that’s essentially what I am. I’m a writer. I’m a writer. I cook a lot, and I’m a writer. It’s taken me a year to say that and feel like I’m not lying. It’s taken most of that year to feel like my food writing is real and legitimate. It’s taken a lot of soul searching and leaps of faith and months where the bills almost didn’t get paid. But here it is: I’m a writer. (And don’t it feel good?)