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MFA Major Project, Second Take

Here’s the current state of my major project for my MFA, as it has slowly (or sometimes quickly) evolved over the past year. I am in my last “real” semester, and this summer I’ll work one-on-one with an advisor. No bets that the project will stay as it is, but thought some of you might find the evolution of this project interesting.

Major Project: Departments of Defense
K.G. Schneider

The esays in Departments of Defense describe the battlegrounds typical of most people’s lives. I have never woken up on an airplane with a mouthful of broken teeth, and my childhood was disappointingly normal. But I do know what it is like to struggle with a major decision, realize I have worn exactly the wrong dress, or take on a well-intended project, such as feeding squirrels in my backyard, only to see it balloon out of control.

Like many people, I have also served in the military. The military essays in Departments of Defense may seem superficially exotic, but I have tried to peel back stereotypes and assumptions and show the hypernormal world within the armed forces.

Section 1: Forward March

Essay, 7,000 words
Status: Third revision submitted 9/05
The battle: moving past stasis and toward a decision

A visit to a military recruiter’s office in Harlem. A journey across Manhattan and a journey toward adulthood. Note: this essay is rolling back to a version written in late spring 2005.

A Home for Rover
Essay, Memoir, 10,000 words (est.)
Status: First major draft submitted 7/04

Love! Death! Guns! Road trip! That famous oxymoron, military intelligence! This personal essay, a memoir set in my days in the armed services, features a homeless dog, two lady military officers, a purloined truck, a midnight burial, a big ol’ scary pistol, and unrequited love, all set in camouflage green against the rough sparkle of South Korea in 1990.

[Currently Unnamed]
Essay, Memoir, 5,000 words (est.)
Status: First major draft submitted 7/04

In 1991, when I took a week’s leave from the Air Force to visit graduate schools, my buddies in the squadron equipped me with a radar detector, a CB radio, and a loaded .38. I came very close to using all three. A personal essay about returning to civilian life.

Section 2: At Ease

Essay, 7,000 words
Status: First draft submitted 3/05

“In the camps they called it ‘cooking with the mouth.’” A braided lyric essay about learning to push past fear to be a writer, interleaved with historical material about recipe books written in death camps.

Fallujah in my Backyard
Essay, Personal-political, 6,000 words (est.)
Status: Partial first draft

It seemed so easy: I would feed the squirrels, and they would love me. Soon I had a created a monstrous welfare state for Order Rodentia and had destabilized our backyard ecosystem. My patio became a battlefield for squirrel-on-squirrel conflict, furry terrorism, and the torture and exile of other species. But could I find a way out and still save face? Was this a winnable war?

Range of Desire
Essay, braided lyric, 3,200 words
Status: First major draft submitted 10/05

An essay about the nature of desire, told through encounters with guns and women.

Bad Lesbian
Essay, 5,000 words (est.)
Status: Idea stage

The penultimate of Sapphic hip, the coolest dyke in the gay pride parade: to my chagrin, that’s not me. In this essay I will write about falling far short of the mark of lesbian chic, and then more broadly explore the mysterious terrain of fitting in, from what I wore to the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgendered Book Awards Banquet to the sweaty agony of seventh-grade homeroom.

A Moving Experience
Essay, 5,000 words (est.)

A memoir about the trauma of household moves, from entanglements with a cruel and uncaring phone company to late-night crises about what to keep and what to toss.

Dark Wood
Essay, Memoir, 7,000 words (est.)
Status: First major draft submitted 10/05

“Menopause is not an illness, I keep telling myself in a too-loud voice.” While this essay is humorous, it also tackles head-on the trivialization of women and aging, explores the physical and mental changes of menopause, and confronts the author’s long list of things done and undone that midlife makes her contemplate late at night, when she’s cooling off after a hot flash.

(There are several other essays that could fit in this collection, such as an essay about standing retreat, an essay about gay marriage, and an essay about learning to write essays. This is just my second attempt to pull together what I think my essay collection will look like.)

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