I was first invited in 2012 to speak as a small press panelist at the Yale Writers' Workshop (known then as the Yale Writers' Conference). In 2013, I joined the residential faculty and have since taught mostly fiction workshops. This year, I again taught a short stories workshop, but unlike past years the demographic breakdown of my students was split down the middle — with a three-decade gap between them in age difference. I strategized beforehand about how I might handle any generational showdowns, but I needn't have worried. In the end, as the best classes do, the people in the room with me taught me as much as I taught them. I was reminded, again, of the importance of reading, writing, literature, entertainment, life, art. And if my students left our time together reawakened to the possibility of their own words and worlds coming wholly into being (or, in the case of one student, further fragmented), I left re-inspired to return again to my own project-in-progress, to the tea house woman, to Fit Into Me.
I haven't touched this manuscript since 2015, when I raced home from New Haven (for the second time) and dove in for the remainder of the summer, completing a first full draft in mere months. I had the material, the pages, I just hadn't realized that together they made a book. But in the fall, I put it away. I turned my attention to studying, and I studied, and I studied, and I kept on studying, for PhD exams (as two years' worth of blog posts attest). Well, this past December, I took those exams and now I am officially a candidate, officially ABD. I took on an extra course (for extra money) in the spring semester and focused mostly on teaching. I drafted and redrafted my dissertation proposal, I read and conducted research and started brainstorming and at least acknowledged this elephant in the room once that proposal was approved, I applied for fellowships (one of which, the Steffensen Cannon, I will be living on come fall), and I also, truth be told, took a bit of a break and caught up on some very crappy but very enjoyable Netflix. In short, I taught, I rested after two years of exam prep, and I wrote and applied for what I had to write and apply for in order to ensure my best chances for funding for this coming academic year.
After I wrapped up teaching a month ago, I served as a reader for the Chautauqua Janus Prize and also as a judge for the junior, senior, and adult essay categories for the Sejong Writing Competition (entrants wrote about Yi Mun-yol's Meeting with My Brother). Then I began prepping for Yale. This year, on campus, I even got to (briefly, way too briefly) catch up with a few former students, all of whom I admire and whose lives I couldn't possibly begin to comprehend but have watched from a distance and with a strange kind of pride. I know this person. How am I so lucky to know this person? And this summer, my workshoppees were especially lively. There was an incredible wealth of lived experience in the room that I was daily in open awe of, and there was also a funny moment when one workshoppee revealed that one of her characters was catfishing another. Half the class released a collective, "Ohhhh!" and the other half went, "Whut?" In one month, mid-July or so, these students are welcome to begin sending me their revisions. I'll say now, I cannot wait to read them. Heart emoji. Pen on paper emoji. Sparkle emoji.
In the meantime and for the foreseeable future, I'm free as a bird. (Although I must say I feel rather more like the cliche and less like my friend Adam's student who, when assigned to "live a cliche," perched himself in a tree and then wrote about how, in fact, he felt not at all free but cramped and cold and sort of stuck and scared to jump down.) So, OK. Time to get to work. Fit Into Me, oh yes, we meet again.