There are many, many wonderful bits of “My Parade,” alexanderchee's contribution to MFA vs NYC excerpted this week at Buzzfeed. (And, of course, it’s not all “bits”; the essay works in very interesting ways, and between this one and Gould’s, I’m buying this book.) Here are a few of my favorite moments—five in total, from different points of the essay:
I got my first glimpse of Iowa City when I moved to San Francisco after graduating college. I made the friend I was driving with take the Iowa City exit from I-80, and we pulled into the truck stop.
“I just want to look at it, in case I decide to go to school here,” I said. This seemed safe to say sarcastically, like saying I wanted to look at the White House because I was going to be president one day. I got out, pumped some gas into the car, looked around at the truck stop and said to her, “It looks terrible. Let’s go.” And we laughed as we drove away.
It was nice, then, to sit in a quiet room every day, surrounded by books. And there were thousands of them, books I knew alongside books I’d never heard of, spilling off the shelves and out of boxes. They ranged from pulp pornography paperbacks to Vita Sackville-West first editions to the works of the Violet Quill group. Slowly I became aware that for me, a young gay writer who wanted to write, well, everything — poetry, fiction, essays — this was an education. The catalog I was creating was a catalog of what kinds of gay writing had succeeded and failed — what the culture allowed and what it did not.
At the next table a conversation about the new Versace leather skirts broke out, if a conversation is people all saying the same thing to each other. They were so heavy, they kept saying. So heavy.
[Frank Conroy] smiled, congratulated me, and then said, “You succeed, you celebrate, you stop writing. You don’t succeed, you despair, you stop writing. Just keep writing. Don’t let your success or failure stop you. Just keep writing.”
It may be that you, like many, think writing fiction does not require study. And not only that — that it is not improved by study. That talent is preeminent, the only thing required to become a writer. I was told I was talented: I don’t know that it did much except make me lazy when I should have worked harder. I know many talented people who never became writers, perhaps because they became lazy when they were told they were talented — maybe it is even a way to take people out of the game. I know untalented people who did become writers — and who write well. What I mean is that you can have talent, but if you cannot endure, if you cannot learn to work, and to work against your own worst tendencies and prejudices, and you cannot take the criticism of strangers, or the uncertainty, then you will not become a writer. Ph.D., MFA, self-taught — the only things you must have to become a writer are the stamina to continue and a wily, cagey heart in the face of extremity, failure, and success.