Writer’s Eye: Death of the Butterflies


It’s difficult to describe the months leading up to yesterday. They were filled with hopes, ambitions, plans, positive thoughts, and more than anything else, a desire to take my writing to the next level.

I’ve accomplished a fair amount in a fairly short amount of time. Since 2012 began, I’ve conducted a resume writing workshop by myself, began an internship at a newspaper (where 200,000 readers see my work), and began contributing as a columnist and submissions editor at The Washington Pastime.

All of this I’ve done, and yet I’ve wanted more. It’s not enough to visit NASA when your dream is to be walking on the moon. I want to be a writer. A good one. A great one. A published, well respected, and hard-to-ignore one. A professional.

I believed (and still do) that UCSD Clarion’s Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Workshop will help me accomplish these goals. But this wasn’t my year.

As per the program’s interim director, on a “typical” year (ie. one not featuring a “celebrity” faculty member like Niel Gaiman in 2008) the acceptance rate at Clarion is roughly 20%.

That means a little under 100 people apply, and about 18 get in. Those are good odds. I’d take those odds; because I believe in myself and my writing.

The interim director also cautioned that on years with celebrity instructors, “it could be as hard as getting into Standford.” Well, shit. Those odds are more deflating.

After all, I would be the first one to admit that while I love writing and have a certain inherent ability, I’m not nearly as polished or pedigreed as some other “aspiring” writers. In fact, most writers who submit to The Washington Pastime have better resumes than I.

But I checked the faculty list, and it was all clear. No “celebrities” — just the well respected and skillful faculty you’d expect from Clarion year in and year out. In other words, 2012 should’ve been a 20% year.

That’s what I thought. And so, I saved $5,000. I began planning my summer assuming that from June 24-Aug. 8 that I’d be in San Diego. I’d made preliminary provisions for my dog. I’d planned every step between acceptance and the workshop. Most importantly, I wrote.

I’d also done my homework. A former professor of mine is Clarion alum., and beyond that, I’ve been getting my hands on every blog post, tweet, website, or story written by an attendee that I can find. I was truly a student of this program.

And I want to say that I was ready for rejection; but before yesterday, I really wasn’t.

The date we were supposed to get our responses was Tues. Mar. 20. That day, I sat at my desk from 12pm EST (9am PST) until 5pm staring at my inbox. There was nothing. So, obviously, I wrote to the program director directly.

She e-mailed me back promptly, and apologized, but said that the submissions process had taken longer than expected. She said to wait until Thursday.

OK.

But then, on facebook, the Clarion page was updated to include this information. It was (more or less) the same information I’d received earlier, except for one additional comment:

…we received a ton of applications…

My heart skipped a beat. Could it be that I was facing Standford acceptance rates, rather than the usual 20%?

Well, I told myself, I can assume they received twice as much as they were expecting, because that seems to be a fair number. So 200 applications… (I assumed). Surely, I could make the top 10%?

Doubt crept in. I tried to ignore it, but months of a carefully crafted self-confidence and assurance slowly began to fissure. The cracks were small at first, but they were the last calm before the storm.

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The reason why I wanted Clarion so bad was because I’ve never had my “first choice” in anything before. In high school, I got cut from the baseball team, so I ran track.

In college, I didn’t go to the school I’d wanted to go to, and knew I’d never make it to my dream school (Harvard) because I simply didn’t work hard enough at things unrelated to writing.

But Clarion was different. It was not only my dream school–the pinnacle of “being good enough”– but it was also a school that didn’t care about an F in French and a D in Archeology.

All Clarion cared about was the strength of my writing. It was an inspiring concept. It gave me hope, and I tried to translate those hopes onto paper to make my way in.

I guess, when I think about it, I wanted Clarion to be my Hogwarts, or my Brakebills. I wanted it to be this magical place that only a few lucky people got to experience. Like a school of magic, it would have nothing at all to do with being a genius. The only requisite would be that inner something — the strength of inner character.

And it very well may be that place. But I also know enough about fantasy to know that with enough exposure, even these fantastic places can turn out to be as “real” and “normal” as your bedroom. After all, the logic goes, “In a world that includes magic, what’s left for us to consider magical?”

That’s sort of what I’m getting at. I may have been disappointed with Clarion, but I wanted the chance to experience that wonder, and to (even if it was just for one day) stand in awe of the new world that’d materialized in front of me.

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Going into Mar. 22 was not easy. I’d spent the previous night on twitter, madly obsessing over the selection and trying to cope with the anxiety it brought. I don’t usually make my turmoils public. But whatever. This was for the world to see — for better or worse.

I did hash-tag searches of Clarion, and found a few other applicants who, like me, were also on the edge of their seats. Some of them even lived as far away as Australia.

Sweet.

Follow.

Follow.

@clarionapplicant i’m so glad that there’s
someone else who feels exactly like
I do!

And that’s when I realized something: On my own, I’d sort of taken that first step of a Clarion student. I’d heard that accepted students will often form online relationships via twitter, facebook, and blogs leading up to the workshop. This fosters friendships well before the actual June meeting.

I had sort of done that. I’d found others who felt like me, and even if it was just for that night, we were friends. Nothing else mattered.

Also, I was sort of using them. If any one of them heard from Clarion, they would surely tweet about it. In a way, it was an early warning system. I also considered how I’d react if one of these people got in and I didn’t.

Would I deftly click “unfollow”? No. That was the only thing I knew for sure. If Clarion was the honor I thought it was, it was something I was going to allow others to bask in. They all deserved it. Even as applicants, I felt like we already deserved it.

That night, I had a lot of dreams. I dreamt of myself alone in my room, jumping out of my chair with a Derek Jeter fist pump at an acceptance email. I dreamed of screaming at my cubical at work, and of startled strangers asking me what was so exciting. I dreamt of putting my head down in shame on my desk at a rejection letter. I even dreamt of a personally addressed email from the program director saying that although I had been accepted, they were rescinding their decision based on “excessive speculation”.

It was a disaster. After each dream, I woke. My stomach lurched. What was that feeling?

Butterflies.

They’d come back. It had been years. Years of numbness. And, by the magic of Clarion, they’d come returned. I could feel. I knew fear and hope at once, yet hold dominion over neither. I wanted badly to control my emotions. I obsessed over Clarion all day.

Every time I even thought about checking my email for a Clarion response, my stomach felt like the tower of terror.

Up 20 stories.

 

 

 

 

Down 40 stories.

Repeat.

It was awful. And awesome.

Then, around 6pm, something changed. If I had to describe it, I guess it was a metamorphosis of continence. I’d contested this entire admissions process that “the worst part was not knowing.” I didn’t care as much about getting in or not as I did feeling relief and certainty about something.

And for the first time–in my car listening to Jay-Z’s Kingdom Come stuck in bumper-to-bumper L.I.E. rush hour traffic leaving Manhattan– I actually felt that way inside.

What did it matter? I wasn’t going to be a slave to my own expectations. I was going to make the best of what I had. Hadn’t that been my plan all along? Hadn’t I always felt this way? Or had I gotten lost somewhere along this journey- consumed with other peoples’ experiences and advice?

It was as if, for the first time, my inner confidence finally matched my outer confidence. I checked Twitter occasionally. I was waiting for someone to tweet it out. But, by chance, I happened to see my response hit my inbox.

It was 19:56 EST.

Open.

We regret to inform you that you are not as awesome as some other applicants. CRUCIO!

Close email. Tweet. Text best friend. Sit in absolute silence. Crush objects with mind a la Darth Vader in Revenge of the Sith.

Breathe.

Fix previously bent objects.

See if any other applicants made it in. They would be deserving of my congratulations. Truly.

One by one, it seemed, they all answered in the negative. No one had made it- all of my new friends and I were part of the reject pile. Our excitement, our fears, our hopes, and our singular goal had ended at once. In my head, it was the microscopic equivilent to …a great disturbance in the force. As if a million voices cried out all at once, and then were suddenly silenced.

It was bullshit. I was not Alderaan. Neither were they. And that’s when the butterflies withered way. That’s when something else took hold of me.

That’s when I tweeted out to one of the other applicants. That’s when I decided it was still my summer. I could still do something, and I would. Productivity does not end unless you decide to stop being productive. There is still an opportunity for progress.

Last night, I took the first step in that direction.

My idea is http://r00m0frequirement.wordpress.com

I see it as an open-ended response to Clarion. Where the B-Listers can do what the A-Listers will do. Our own magical school. It’s where I hope to cultivate the skills to make it to the big leagues, or become so badass in the underground fantasy writing scene that they’ll be scared if what I can do.

Yes. I am so alluding to Julia from Grossman’s The Magician King. I am SO getting a star tattooed somewhere. Fuck “not being good enough.” We all sat for that test, and just because they didn’t see what I know is there, doesn’t mean I’m crazy. It doesn’t make them right. It just pushes me forward without a hand to hold.

Now, please excuse me while I get started on my next story.

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