Monday, April 12, 2010

My Grub Tale

Stories about the magic of Grub Street will appear in the blog and be archived in the "Grub Tales" tab above. If you want to share your Grub Tale, email your interest to


In the year 2000, I was a community reporter covering a planning board meeting packed with a bunch of suits going on and on about some zoning faux pas so dull, that my brain liquefied and started to drip, drip, drip from my ear and puddle on the floor. When I realized that the daydream that transformed snow melting off my boots into a brain soupy with boredom was the first fiction I'd written in years, I had one question for myself: How in the name of every writer I consider holy had I ever convinced myself that a career writing for a community newspaper could scratch the itch I felt to write novels?

I decided right then that an MFA at Emerson College would be the perfect bridge from journalism to fiction, so I whipped up an extended metaphor disguised as a short story and sent off my application, convinced this was the start of a beautiful friendship.

Unfortunately, the Emerson admission committee didn't agree, and a few weeks later, I found myself standing just inside the door to my apartment blinking at my rejection letter. It wasn't that I disagreed with the verdict—I was painfully aware of just how badly I sucked. But I still got trapped in a cycle of thoughts that went something like this:

I need Emerson to learn to write, but I need to learn to write to get into Emerson, but I need Emerson to learn to write , but I need to learn to write to get into Emerson...etc.

After repeating that extraordinarily unhelpful mantra for three days, I called the writing and publishing department at Emerson and asked the young-sounding receptionist if she thought that the continuing education classes there would actually help me learn what I needed to know to improve my application for the next round. At the time my salary was so paltry that I often had to put my groceries on a credit card, so I needed assurances that a class with a $1200-plus price tag was gonna be worth the price.

The receptionist sang the praises of the Emerson continuing education program for a few moments before she dropped her voice to a whisper and asked the question that would jump-start my life as a fiction writer:"Have you heard of Grub Street?"

When you take a second to reflect on this turn in the conversation, it's pretty miraculous. Even though I gave every indication that I was ready to empty my wallet to enroll in a continuing education class, an Emerson employee still pointed me toward Grub Street. Probably risked her job to do it, too. That's the Grub Street magic, right there.

That first Grub Street class gave me access to a community of like-minded word lovers who welcomed me as a writer as long as I showed up willing to brave honest criticism delivered respectfully. Better still, it was a community I could tap for encouragement, commiseration, and friendship. And truly, some of my closest friendships got their start at Grub Street—whether it was bonding over drinks with a writer whose work shook me in the way only the best writing can or the kindred spirit I noticed because when talk turned to "The Time Traveler's Wife," she pressed her hand over her heart in just the way I did.

For the most part, the non-writing world only recognizes writers once they've earned an Amazon sales rank. But Grub Street recognizes writers in the fast-talking breathless ways we speak when talk turns to writing and in our Herculean ability to nurture a willingness to stick to the page in the face of long, long odds.

For me, Grub Street's magic is about more than just an employee of a different school steering me toward the offerings at Grub. It's about guidance and friendships and all those ways leading to ways I can trace back to that first Grub Street class I signed up for almost nine years ago.

I'm more grateful to Grub Street than I have words to describe, so I'm doing this Run for Grub to pay it forward, as they say.

And should the training process help me blast through those last 20 pounds standing between me and my goal weight, well then we'll just add that to the long list of reasons I'm grateful to Grub.

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