2015, Archives, March 2015, The MFA Years

Mr. Right

You’ve been putting off writing this post. Admit it. You were hoping, by now, to have some idea of where you’d be going (or not) in the fall. But no such luck. You are still sitting here, waiting, with four could-be offers, four red-hot MAYBE’s, blinking on repeat in your brain.

All this waiting has been good for reflection, though. You’ve come to terms with certain things—about your application, your sample…and also, with the schools you chose to apply to in the first place.

You realize that the MFA application process is, in many ways, like dating. Each prospective school a crush you’re hoping will want to date you back. You know that this metaphor is, on the one hand, cheesy as hell. But it has also been incredibly helpful in deciphering WHAT it was about these schools that had you so smitten back in October…and what it is about them now, in March, that makes you mourn the loss of some, squirm at the advances of others, and imagine a choice few as possible “fits” for a long and happy future.

Here’s how it works. You applied to ten schools. Among those, two or three had what you call “the X factor,” something sexy and exciting—a hip faculty member, a progressive reputation, a rugged, nature-driven aesthetic—that made you swoon. You were overwhelmingly attracted to these programs, in a manner not unlike your early penchant for men who hiked and surfed and read Ken Kesey and Gary Snyder. You have great admiration for these things—for nature writing, for surfing, for Snyder—but you do not, in fact, pursue them yourself. In short, you are a groupie. But you can’t see it at first, can’t recognize the disconnect between yourself, your work, and them. You thought it was meant to be. You thought, this is going to be an epic love.

Then there were the other schools: some more attractive than others, some more or less open to experimentation, but all solid, respectable, and perfect on paper. The Nice Guys Club, if you will. Schools like the guys you should have dated when you were younger, but didn’t find exciting enough, intriguing enough. Guys who are thoughtful and kind, who aren’t adrenaline junkies, who expand your horizons gently. The kind of guys you end up hoping to marry someday.

Come February, the rejections start rolling in. Some elicit only a blip on the radar, a brief jab of disappointment, then relief—because you realize you were just testing the waters with that one; that they were good, maybe even great, but ultimately not for you. Others, though, are a real blow. You want to cry. Maybe you do cry, or fight back tears when you receive the email in line at the grocery store and wait until you are alone in the car to read and re-read those painfully polite words: sorry, so many applicants, not this time, best of luck.

And then, there are the ones that do not reject you. The ones that want you—enough for a waitlist, maybe even for an acceptance. They are all, you notice, members of the Nice Guys Club. And they are all, you realize, reaching out because they want you. The real you, who wrote those essays and that Statement of Purpose from your heart, from your gut. The you who loves the thought of surfing, but is really more of a walker, a rambler, a build-a-sandcastle kind of girl. They want to walk and ramble with you. They want your words as they are—not as they could have been if you’d read more Snyder, gone on more hikes, injected more wilderness into your essays about the body.

As with dating, you begin to fully appreciate the worth, of a suitor who wants you, who sees you, who gets you. You look more closely and realize just how perfect your union might be (that is, if these particular suitors would only let you in off the wait list).

April is coming. It won’t be long before you get an answer. These next few weeks will be tough. But they will also keep teaching you—about your mind, your heart, your self.

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