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Think about them too much and you’ll go batty. Don’t think about them enough and you’re doomed to repeat past mistakes. Looking back on the choices I made ten, twenty, even thirty years ago—most of them good, I’m proud to say, but not all of them—frankly, I’m stunned that I had whatever it was I needed (courage or naïveté, foresight or luck) to choose that school, decline that fateful car ride, apply for that job, ask that amazing woman to marry me…and on and on. The fascinating, but more often horrifying, thing to consider is what would have happened if I had chosen otherwise.
Many of the articles in this issue explore the big (and not-so-big) choices that writers make, and how they affect not only their personal narratives but also their writing lives. Novelist Jesse Browner sets the contemplative mood with “Lives of the Civil Servants: The Choices We Make," in which he considers the consequences of his decision, twenty years ago, to take a job that gradually ate up most of his writing time. “Still, even after all these years,” he writes, “I remain plagued by the fear that I have made the wrong choice.” Poets Brenda Shaughnessy and Craig Morgan Teicher pick up the thread in “Enduring Discovery: Marriage, Parenthood, and Poetry," in which they discuss the choice to marry a poet (that is, each other) and how that decision has kept them strong through some very hard times: “In no small way our love and commitment to poetry—especially to each other’s—has enabled us to remain hopeful, joyful, and most of all, imaginative through some of the most challenging experiences any parent, or any couple, could face.”
The choice to attend (or avoid) a program in creative writing is an important topic in this, our sixth annual MFA issue. Gregory Spatz makes a delightfully debatable case for writing schools in “The Teachable Talent: Why Creative Writing Can Be Taught,” in which he holds up as an example Shann Ray, who despite submitting a writing sample that was “troublingly weak,” was accepted into Spatz’s program and, by choosing to work hard, listen, and remain open to instruction, learned how to write—or how to write better, anyway. Of course, the writer’s day is filled with countless creative choices that, when put together, result in words on the page. I am simply in awe of those made by the contributors and profile subjects in this issue. The decision to publish these articles? They’re so good we had no choice.