2014, Archives, September 2014, The MFA Years

Nazia Jannat Introduction – Columbia University ’17

I winged my way into grad school.

Yup, you heard me crystal clear. I didn’t prepare for the GRE, I took a nosedive into the process during senior year of college, my fucking submission packet fucking came in late after the fucking deadline, I only applied to 3 schools, and I definitely didn’t try for fully funded magical realms like Iowa. Instead, I poured my heart out and took a chance on the little things that made me weird. While I’m not as weird (or funny) as my role model Al Yankovic, there are still a couple of peculiarities I’m comfortable admitting.

I am 4’11 and ¾ inches tall and I think my height deficiency makes me complete. I am a cereal killer. I have the tastebuds of a 7 year old and can survive on sugar if need be. I try growing plants but end up killing them with love. Similarly, I try maintaining old friendships but end up losing myself over breakups, arguments, and truckloads of tears. I guess I’m cute and likeable? Yeah? I’ll say yeah. People see the effervescent side of me and rarely ask about my background. And my background is serious.

It’s not easy being an incoming minority graduate student. As if it weren’t overwhelming enough to start a new chapter of academic life, things start to get a lot weird when people realize you don’t look like them. I certainly don’t look like you, or Hillary Clinton, or Angelina Jolie. I come from a lower middle class family in Queens, NYC, having been born in a third world country. Shopping at Macy’s is a seasonal luxury. Attending a private college calls for private financial compromises. And hiding a mental illness on top of all this just feels like another burden I can’t remove from my chest. It’s sort of like taking off a sports bra– the difficult strands and binding elastic pressure thingies needing to be suddenly released but being further delayed by sweat and exhaustion.

I am a South Asian Muslim American woman questioning my faith, my family, my body, and my talent. Whatever it is. For everyone needs a talent, right? Right. As told by my second grade teacher before she succumbed into a 6 month long hiatus due to cancer. I still remember her name, Mrs. Cipanski. I am a South Asian Muslim American woman changing career paths from the sciences into the arts, and from an Asian perspective that’s pretty heretical. HA HA HA if you need to talk to anyone whose parents flipped the hell out, it would be me. I could help you.

Because I was supposed to be a doctor, an engineer, some sort of researcher and I chose to stop. Apart from cutting my long-ass hair at the end of middle school, switching paths was the best decision I’ve ever made in my life thus far. I may be young, but I am happiest when I have a pen in my hand and a blank (preferably unlined) piece of paper in front of me. Nobody can tell me how to operate on that piece of paper like I would have to operate a fancy microscope or a golf cart. I can write about anything I want. And that for me, is still a scary phenomenon. I grew up as a child learning that women have their places in the home where they can be subservient to their husbands and faithful to their children. Don’t get me wrong, I want to do that and raise a loving modern family but at the same time not have to feel the immigrant pressure of achieving perfection. I believe the American dream still exists sure, but the way I want to approach it is different from that of my parents’ wishes.

Part of me is ashamed of my bipolar II diagnosis. Part of me wishes I could have acted differently during my belligerent, rebellious years. But most of all, I try not to let these parts of me overwhelm my sanity because I’m in the process of learning how to breathe again and doing so in a manner that is both rational and healthy. Imposter syndrome is on the high, even now as we all go through our first month of school. And it’s important to get a fucking grip of yourself. For that MFA, for that money saving job, for that piece of art you want to live your life for, and for that achievable dream. We as writers have the most fabulous of dreams and each of them are capable of being written down in stone. Our craft is a communal melting pot of imagination and gusto and audacity. I strongly think setting aside time for your art will make you worthy of self accomplishment and genius. And this is why I want my MFA. I want to study poetry so I can accomplish goals of my own and build a supportive network and live easily knowing I’m not the only one. I need to show that it’s possible to focus in a (still) dominantly Western field of art for all the people of my background, my religion, and my surroundings. And I’m not going to fail.

I start classes in the spring because this fall I am finishing up undergrad at Barnard College. I took an unexpected leave of absence during what was supposed to be my final semester and even more unexpectedly, got into my dream program across the street at Columbia. This definitely makes me weird, but in a good way. I’m an interesting kind of weird and I’m happy to share my weirdness with you if you need a friend. So here I am, not really good at closing conversations but pretty damn sure of continuing them. As I contribute to this project, I hope I can convince you how writing is important and why an MFA is something worth going into debt for (oh boy….not going to open this can of worms right now ugh see, I said I was bad at closing). Columbia and Barnard have been my home for the past 4 years and I’m beyond grateful that it will be so for the next few years as well. Wherever you are and whatever you’re studying, just fucking go ahead and pursue your desires. Keep writing, keep reading, and keep being weird because what else are comfortable chairs for? (And if you say sleeping, then I might terribly judge you.)

That’s all for now. TTYL

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