I have started this blog more times than I can count; each time starting at a different integral point in my writing life and trying to figure out how best to work backwards or forwards through her story to get us to where I am now. Each time I come back to the Summer of being nine years old. My grandmother drug my mother and I to a poetry workshop at a local bookstore. My plan was to sit somewhere in the back of the room with my Game Boy and wait it out, hopefully they would have decent refreshments.
People talk about defining moments, moments that change the trajectory. Oprah calls them “Aha moments” I wouldn’t and couldn’t realize that that was mine not for years to come. There were no refreshments, but being a little black girl in a bookstore owned by a black woman and people coaxing me gently from my shell to share what I had written because my words and my voice matter meant more than I could express then or now.
Twenty years after that first Saturday in that bookstore, several years after the bookstore closed it’s doors and a half dozen years after my grandmother passed I found myself scrolling through the Poets and Writers website. This was not a new activity, at least once a quarter I would look at all the MFA programs and fantasize about writing poetry “seriously”. I had known for quite some time that this is what I wanted to do to work on my creative writing in an environment that was supportive, and challenging. For too many years I allowed people to make me believe that creative writing is not a ‘career’ it is a hobby. I strove to apply my talent at writing in ways that were ‘real’ and ‘productive’. I choose journalism in undergrad over English because “I could do something with it”. Don’t misunderstand me, I loved and continue to love journalism but it was the safer of two passions.
Life being what life is, my safety net didn’t hold me. All of my experience in journalism, my internships, my articles that spanned from high school on consistently were not enough to get me the traditional journalism job. These skills did not sit me pretty in a newsroom where I would happily be overworked and underpaid to tell stories. That era of journalism, the one I hedged my bets on was over and in it’s place was a road of marketing and corporate communications, temp jobs, and freelancing. For four and a half years after graduating from undergrad I looked at that website, read forum post after forum post of applicants and new students, read as those new students graduated. In December 2014 reading the poets and writers website a week after my birthday in the midst of a slow Holiday season at a job with no security I said why not.
For me why not looked like applying to one program. I fell in love with New England College’s MFA program, it felt right. I knew when I decided to apply to only one program that I was taking a huge risk. Applying to one program is unheard of for any type of graduate work.
New England caught my attention above other choices that I also really liked for a few reasons. At the time I applied I was very interested in a low residency program. Because I live with anxiety and depression I thought it was best to apply to a program that allowed me to spend most of the semester close to my support system. In addition to being low residency,
New England College seemed to me to be my dream blend of personally developing me as a writer along with also developing skills that could be used in academia or publishing.
Many otherwise excellent programs skewed too far in one direction or another for my personal tastes. It was also a huge bonus that the application fee for New College is waived for MFA applicants. While there were three other programs I was also interested in, none of them tugged at my heart quite in the same way that New England did and I didn’t know if I wanted to pay steep fees for a program that I likely wouldn’t choose if I were accepted.
I don’t remember the wait to hear back from New England being excruciating although I’m sure it was in the moment. I got a phone call that I was accepted and not only was I accepted I was getting a merit based scholarship. Overjoyed would be an understatement. I cried every time I told someone about it and for a person who cries exceedingly rarely that is a BIG deal.
A couple of months later, I cried again when I let myself realize that I cannot afford to attend New England College this semester, even with the generous scholarship I was awarded.
The job with no security had ended somewhere between deciding this was my dream and being accepted.
MFA programs are beautiful, wonderful, expensive things financially, emotionally, and socially. My heart, and my pride took a hit now with the understanding that this would not be happening at least not on the timetable I thought it would. I am bruised but nowhere near broken by this. Other opportunities abound that both intrigue and scare me. New England College has been wonderful in working with me and I hope to one day spend time on that beautiful campus.
I am excited about my writing life, I’m excited about working on my craft and the future looks brighter and more full of possibility than I thought it would that day in December surfing the Poets and Writers website. I have learned things from this application cycle, from this acceptance and this reality that are carving my path. It is becoming obvious that this too is a defining moment, an “Aha moment”.