We glimpse our Other Selves, from time to time. The actor/actress/porn star who has your eyes and cheekbones, causing the cashier to double-take. Seeing a younger brother playing with his son, while you have chosen not to have kids. Passing a trimmer version of yourself on the sidewalk; eyeing her work-out clothes, the racquet she's carrying, and thinking I never should have given up tennis or Gotta get a haircut.
I've been thinking of the ways we determine our lives. (Photograph of "Identical Twins, Roselle, New Jersey, 1967" by Diane Arbus.) There are subjective choices--things we could have done differently, but much the same end. For me that includes choosing a graduate program in Virginia or DC, either of which fundamentally returned me to this literary community. Or working things out with men who, let's face it, sooner or later would have imploded no matter what I did. But then there's the life-changers, like passing up on a magazine job that would have moved me to the Berkshires when I was 24. Or, five years later, saying Yes to living in Mississippi for a month.
There is a time when I considered enrolling in PhD programs. But I didn't apply for a couple of reasons. First, I always worried I was a bit uptight--a brittle perfectionist--and six years of scholarly study seemed like it would only compound that personality trait. Second, I was utterly embarrassed at my lack of a second language. (I'd studied Latin in high school, but dropped it before the AP level.)
My MFA gave me everything I needed to embark on a creative writing career. But sometimes I wish I'd done a doctoral program for two specific purposes: I'd love to write a collection of craft essays, and I'd love to edit an anthology. I'm enough out of the PhD loop that I don't actually know if either track is honored, as opposed to writing critical essays--but if not, they should be. Making time for either feels so unlikely in this stage of my life, in which I often have to take a crass dollars-per-word approach to writing--that's the trade-off of being a "full-time writer." Poetry is my indulgence, my pleasure; feels like I can't afford a prose one. Travel is hard on the scholarly brain.
But Daniel Nester has done what I have not. (Translation: He is amazing.) His Incredible Sestina Anthology is going to be a beyond-smashing collection--the table of contents includes everyone from Sherman Alexie to Elizabeth Bishop to John Ashbery to Anne Waldman. I'm honored to be included; I hope there are whole courses built around it. That's another craft essay that I keep making notes toward in my head..."Confessions of a Sestina Addict." The book is going to be out from Write Bloody in October, and you can pre-order it here.
A question, particularly if you're still a student: what is the most outlandish dream you have, in terms of your craft? What is the location/program/career that makes that feel most possible? The Other Self always seems to have a bigger life, and of course that's not true; don't be seduced by that. But don't minimize your options, either.