Andromeda/Giving something up to get better (as a writer)

We like the news and interviews around here, so the personal posting takes a backseat, but today I’m deciding to go the personal route.

Yesterday, I sold my cello. It was a carbon-fiber cello, the same model Yo-Yo Ma played (or pretended to play) at the Obama inauguration, only No. 106 of its line, and I loved it. It was the perfect cello for Alaska — impervious to cold and dryness. It was the perfect cello for me — built to a just-slightly-smaller scale than a regular wood cello, and able to absorb just about any kind of insult, like being knocked around. (My last cello got cracked while traveling through O’Hare Aiport; even at home I am not kind to instruments.)

More than that, the cello symbolized success for me. I bought it, fittingly, with some of the proceeds from the sale of my first novel, The Spanish Bow — a book that happens to be about a cellist. It remains the most expensive thing I have ever bought it my life — basically, the only fine material object I’ve ever owned. And I did love owning it.

But when I bought it, we weren’t in a recession.

Last fall, I considered selling the cello, to help pay general bills and keep our family from slipping into the financial abyss. Frankly, I was slightly more willing to sell the house, pay off the creditors, and move to Southeast Asia for a year, or bum through Guatemala, or find a really cheap way to subsist in Alaska, at least until the recession passed and the world of publishing got back on its feet, but the family wasn’t interested. (And one does have to listen to one’s family, once in a while.) Anyway, we kept squeaking by.

Last week, I got a better reason to make the sacrifice. I was accepted to the Antioch University low-residency MFA program. I’ve been sitting on the fence about the MFA issue for a solid decade, and I blame the readers and commenters of this blog for pushing me to the ‘yes’ side. You told me how the MFA helped you dedicate yourself more intensely to your writing, and that you felt you got a lot out of it, and I believed you. So now — cross fingers for a few final paperwork details — I’ll be starting classes in June, in Los Angeles.

Do I need an MFA to write? Absolutely not. Do I need an MFA to teach? Outside of the university, no. But I welcome the challenge of academia, I think a little Outside-engagement will be good for me, and especially, I do want to become a more confident teacher — and if an MFA can help with that, I need to give it a try.

The reason I chose Antioch is because they are the only creative writing program that is officially dedicated to the concept of community service. (Or so I read.) They certainly make a big point of it in their literature. And that — at this point in my life — means a lot. It dovetails with what Deb and I do here at 49Writers, and what we want to do in even bigger, bolder ways in the months and years to come. I love Alaska, and I love writing, and I want to find a way for those two passions to come together, perhaps with the help of some ideas and connections from our Lower 48 neighbors.

So a third passion has to take a backseat, for now at least. I won’t have time for practicing the cello, something which has always been a great stress-reliever for me, in the next two to three years. (I won’t be without a cello entirely, I should add. The person who bought my cello gave me a good deal — half cash, half trade, in the form of a lesser, student-model cello.)

I’m writing this not to impart the slight bit of nostalgic woe I’m feeling, giving up something I felt I’d earned, something which had become a potent symbol in my life. I’m writing this instead to share that strange mixed feeling of nervousness and excitement, thinking that maybe someone out there has felt it, too. Sacrifice (and I know much bigger sacrifices have been made) can feel really good. By giving something up, I feel even more dedicated to my own writing, and to the Alaska writing community, via the learning I hope to do and the bridges I hope to build as a result of the MFA, as well as other literary-networking trips to the Lower 48. Does that make sense?

I sure hope so.

10 thoughts on “Andromeda/Giving something up to get better (as a writer)”

  1. Congratulations, Andromeda. Isn't it curious, after making a daring decision, how strong one gets day by day? Life is the ultimate "What if" question. Cheers to the faith and fortitude that keeps answering "maybe I can do this" and then proceeds with joy. More power to you!

  2. Bravo! Not for your loss, but for the possibilities that lie ahead, and for reminding us why sacrifice is one of the most potent themes in literature.

  3. Congratulations! Really, you won't be sorry that you've decided to pursue your MFA. How wonderful of you to share your process with us. Makes me feel a little less lonely in my own process!

  4. Congratulations on the Antioch acceptance, Andromeda! (Maybe you can get your cello back when you're done with school!)

    All best,
    Anne Caston

  5. Congratulations, Andromeda, and bravely done. This loyal reader, at least, is doggone proud of you.

  6. Congratulations! I was also wondering when the online book discussion on David Vann's "Legend of a Suicide" will take place? Thanks.

  7. Andromeda Romano-Lax

    Hi Stephanie re: David Vann discussion — We expect to have it in May and will start running more specific announcements in just a few weeks!

  8. You will rise like cream. An aside, I read where you speak of the wish to practice the cello and got this flash, from the part of my mind that doesn't keep up, "How remarkable. I am reading about someone who loves the cello," — your book, THE SPANISH BOW, of course.

  9. Take heart! There's always the ukulele.

    But really – that's wonderful about the MFA program. And maybe the cello will come back to you in a few years. We'll all be waiting to hear how it is on the "inside".

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