In the continuing saga of my MFA, my first packet is done and submitted to Blackboard!
For those of you who aren’t in the know about how the Tampa MFA program works, the packets are the homework for the month. Throughout the term, we have four packets due, each on the 15th of the month. For the June 2013 residency (which was my first), the first due date is August 15th (aka right now).
My first packet included 18 pages (double spaced) of creative work and annotations on The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz and Dreaming in Cuban by Cristina García. The packet totals 35 pages. All in all, I’m pretty pleased.
Being that this is my first ever packet, I’m already anxious about getting feedback. I started the term with a dysfunctional short story that wouldn’t end, and thanks to the inspiration/encouragement of my workshop group, I’ve decided to see if it could become a novel. So I’ve spent the past six weeks mulling over the characters and the plot, trying to really meet these two young women who are supposed to be the backbone to the story. I experimented a little bit. I got some great ideas. I sat alone outside of the State College High School’s indoor pool and wrote. I’m not sure I’ll keep everything I tried (like, does Candelaria really love swimming as much as I think she does? And if so, how am I gonna convey that better, because I don’t quite buy it yet), but I’m glad I took the time to try it.
And as far as the annotations go, I more or less tried to follow the example that we got at the residency. So I was looking for a couple specific things that the authors did well and then commenting on it. This packet, the aim was to pay attention to how Diaz and Garcia use Spanish in their prose. I also chose passages that I really really like.
Here’s my favorites from The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao:
There are still many, on and off the Island, who offer Beli’s near-fatal beating as irrefutable proof that the House Cabral was indeed victim of a high-level fukú, the local version of House Atreus. Two Truji-líos in one lifetime—what in carajo else could it be? But other heads question that logic, arguing that Beli’s survival must be evidence to the contrary. Cursed people, after all, tend not to drag themselves out of canefields with a frightening roster of injuries and then happen to be picked up by a van of sympathetic musicians in the middle of the night who ferry them home without delay to a “mother” with mad connections in the medical community. If the serendipities signify anything, say these heads, it is that our Beli was blessed. (pg. 152)
Not much more to tell. Except this:
That spring I moved back in with him. Thought about it all winter. Even at the very end I almost changed my mind. Was waiting by his door in Demarest and despite the fact that I’d been waiting all morning, at the very end I still almost ran off, but then I heard their voices on the stairwell, bringing up his things.
I don’t know who was more surprised: Oscar, Lola, or me.
In Oscar’s version, I raised my hand and said, Mellon. Took him a second to recognize the word.
Mellon, he finally said. (pg. 199-200)
(And in case you think his life couldn’t get any worse: one day he walked into the Game Room and was surprised to discover that overnight the new generation of nerds weren’t buying role-playing games anymore. They were obsessed with Magic cards! No one had seen it coming. No more characters or campaigns, just endless battles between decks. All the narrative flensed from the game, all the performance, just straight unadorned mechanics. How the fucking kids loved that shit! He tried to give Magic a chance, tried to put together a decent deck, but it just wasn’t his thing. Lost everything to an eleven-year-old punk and found himself not really caring. First sign that his Age was coming to a close. When the latest nerdery was no longer compelling, when you preferred the old to the new.) (pg. 269-270)
And here are my favorites from Dreaming in Cuban:
Dr. Price told Mom that we should start some mother-and-daughter activities, that I was starved for a female primate, or something like that, so she enrolled us in a flamenco class in a studio over Carnegie Hall. Our teacher, Mercedes García, was a bosomy woman with jackhammer feet who taught us how to drop our heels in time to her claps and castanets. Our first lesson was all stamping, first as a group then individually across the floor. What a thunder we made! Mercedes singled me out—“A proud chest, yes! See how she carries herself? Perfecto! Así, así!” Mom watched me closely. I could read in her face that we wouldn’t return. (pg. 59).
Luckily, Milagro and I have each other. We’re a double helix, tight and impervious. That’s why Mamá can’t penetrate us.
“Do you know the meaning of shells?” she asked Milagro once, all honey-voiced. “They’re the jewels of the goddess of the sea. They bring good luck not bad, like everyone says. You’re my little jewel, Milagro.”
And then Mamá turned to me and said, “You, Luz, you’re the light in the night that guides our dreams. You guard what’s precious.”
This was just like her. Pretty words. Meaningless words that didn’t nourish us, that didn’t comfort us, that kept us prisoners in her alphabet world. (pg. 120-121).
In a few of the sketches, I paint Abuela Celia just the way she wants—dancing flamenco with whirling red skirts and castanets and a tight satin bodice. Abuela likes these paintings best, and even ventures a few suggestions. “Can’t you make my hair a little darker, Pilar? My waist a little more slender? Por Dios, I look like an old woman!”
Mostly, though, I paint her in blue. Until I returned to Cuba, I never realized how many blues exist. The aquamarines near the shoreline, the azures of deeper waters, the eggshell blues beneath my grandmother’s eyes, the fragile indigos tracking her hands. There’s a blue, too, in the curves of the palms, and the edges of the words we speak, a blue tinge to the sand and the seashells and the plump gulls on the beach. The mole by Abuela’s mouth is also blue, a vanishing blue.
“These are very beautiful, Pilar. But do I really look so unhappy?” (pg. 233).