Welcome to UCF’s new MFA blog!
My name is Lana Issam Abdul-Ghani Khalil Abu Ghannam or Lana I. Ghannam for short. I’m a second-year MFA candidate in creative writing (poetry) here at UCF and a first-generation Palestinian-American to the rest of the world. I’m proud to say that UCF’s MFA program not only accepts, but also celebrates diversity in its program. The point of this blog will be to celebrate this same diversity, but diversity in our writing and MFA lives as well.
This will be a place of moments—big and small—for all of us to share with one another. We’ll share work details, school pressures, stories—fiction and nonfiction—as well as poetry and artwork. We’ll share our experiences (or lack thereof) as students, faculty, and alumni in our program. No progress or success will go unnoticed, no obstacle left unsurpassed. We’ll share the days in our writing lives for the sake of staying connected. In the end, that’s all we want our writing to do, right? Let’s use this blog as an invitation for each of us to open ourselves up to other genres of writing, stylistic choices, habits, schedules, ambitions, so that we can all learn from one another as people and artists outside of the classroom.
The more I think about it, the sadder I become knowing that the best friends I made in my two years in UCF’s MFA program have been made here and now, during my final semester. I sat on the sidelines my whole first year because I had no time to mingle and participate outside of lectures. Of course, this wasn’t the program’s fault or the awesome people in it—it was mine. Last year, I drove home (Orlando to Daytona Beach, FL) every weekend to spend time with family and help care for my sick father. I’m definitely not blaming my family because that’s time I would never have been able to replace, especially with my dad. He passed away last summer about three weeks before school began again in the fall. I thought it’d be difficult to come back so soon, to stand in front of my students as a first-time teacher with a plastic smile on my face, to jump back into my poetry thesis that needed to be done by December, to have to force my writing in class because all I wanted to do was hide out of grief. I thought it would be difficult, but the program made me work through it. The teachers pushed me in the classroom and in my writing, while my peers listened to me talk about my dad and then write about him. The people in this program became my support system without even knowing it.
My point is, we all have things in our personal lives that weigh us down, hold us back, beat us until we finally give in to those crazy voices in our heads that tell us to stop, drop, and fail. (Don’t pretend that you don’t hear your own voices. We’re all a little crazy. We’re writers.) We’re all capable of giving up on our writing goals because life hates creative people. Life likes to remind us that we’ll never be rich. What life constantly forgets, however, is that half of our reasons to push forward and continue on are the people we meet that make a difference to us, either in person or on paper. Think about the books you’ve read that have made you jealous of their worlds, lifted you up after heartbreak, planted seeds of courage in you to pursue a writing career. Let’s be those people for others and for each other.
I just defended my poetry thesis last week, the one I was writing while spending a month in the hospital with my dad right before he died. An hour before my defense, Terry Thaxton (my thesis director) asked me if I was scared. I don’t think she took a full breath when I blurted “Hell yeah, I’m scared” before I controlled my nerves. Though this won’t help anyone defending this semester (or in future semesters) feel less nervous before their own defenses, I do want to say that my MFA friends who came to my defense and those who emailed/called/texted me beforehand made me feel like I had already won (passed, succeeded, leveled-up, etc.).
Yes, I’m sad I wasn’t able to spend more time with my program cohort last year, but I’m so glad to have the connections and friendships that I do now. This year, my second and final year in the MFA program, has been one of the most significant years of my life, only being surpassed by the year before as a first-year MFA candidate, newlywed, and the moment of my father’s passing. Being a writer means to possess quality literary craft, the fortitude to handle a hundred rejection letters to literary journals before finally receiving the one acceptance, and the ability to network, all in no particular order. That last writer trait—being able to network—isn’t just to promote our writing, but to build relationships within our literary communities. My writing went from “good potential” to “great stuff” in the course of one year. That’s all it took.
Most of my writing grew when I let myself participate this year, meet people outside of school, talk about things unrelated to the program and read literary writing. I don’t think I’ve ever lived more than I did these past two years at UCF. Even if I never publish a collection of poetry (or essays, or short stories) in my life or am able to settle down as faculty in the perfect MFA program, I’ll know that these two years in UCF’s MFA program have been for something. I hope that all of you MFA candidates in the midst of the program, and those of you just beginning, feel the same way. If we can’t/don’t/won’t get to know one another in person—in the hallways at school, at readings, in the classroom, at parties, over the holidays, over lunch or coffee—let’s get to know each other here on this blog. I’ll bring all of me if you bring all of you, and trust me when I say that I can’t wait to know all of the people behind those writer masks (even when I’m an alumna after May).
I came, I wrote, I conquered. To all of my MFA friends (past and present), it’s been a pleasure writing next to you all. Out with the old and in with the new—good luck, first-years!
Lana Ghannam is a second-year MFA candidate at the University of Central Florida. She has successfully defended her thesis, a poetry collection titled Two Tongues, and will graduate in May 2015. An early draft of her poem “Phases: Root, Blossom, Wing” has been chosen as a prize finalist by the Mississippi Review. She serves as the 2014-2015 Marketing Committee Chair. Currently, she teaches creative writing at UCF as a Graduate Teaching Associate, and she lives in Orlando, Fl with her husband.