2016, Archives, September 2016, The MFA Years

Alexandra McLaughlin Introduction (Georgia College & State University ’19)

On my first morning in Milledgeville, Georgia, I woke up to my sister saying, “Zig, don’t freak out, but I just saw a cockroach in the bathroom.”

I’d decided to apply for MFA programs ten months earlier. It was October of my senior year of undergrad and I already felt anxious about what would come next. I’d heard countless stories about the difficulty of post-grad life—how hard it is to make friends, how isolated and lost you feel without the structure and rhythm of college. I decided a) I didn’t want to live in Minnesota forever and b) I wanted to find some sort of post-grad community. Then I discovered many MFA programs offer a creative nonfiction track, and it seemed like exactly what I was looking for. In college, I’d vacillated between a love for journalism and a love for creative writing. Creative nonfiction seemed to blend the two. If I could get into a fully-funded program, I’d have two or three years to develop my craft while getting paid to do so.

I spent October through January researching schools, putting together my writing sample, requesting letters of recommendation, writing a statement of purpose, studying for the GRE, and obsessively checking to make sure all the materials were received. I applied to eight schools and was accepted into two. It came down to Georgia College & State University and the University of New Orleans. The allure of New Orleans tempted me, but funding was a major factor, and Georgia offered three years of full funding.

In April, moving to Georgia seemed like a good idea. I’d lived in Minnesota most of my life and was ready for a change. When August arrived, I wasn’t so sure.

The night before I left Minnesota, my best friend and I stood in our empty apartment; my dad and sister waited outside. Emptying an apartment—peeling pictures off walls and disassembling furniture—is an inherently somber experience. Our voices echoed in my empty bedroom. We didn’t want to say goodbye. Rachel said, “Let’s just have one last dance party.” The song had only been playing twenty seconds when I burst into tears. At that moment, moving seemed so stupid. I loved the Cities. I loved living with my best friend. In the mornings, I knocked on her door to eat breakfast with me; after breakfast, she came into my room as I was getting ready so we could keep talking. I had a job on campus that I liked and that paid me well. I was comfortable there. Why was I giving all of that up to move to Georgia, of all places? It felt like a self-induced punishment.

Here’s what I tell myself: if you believe you’ll like a place, you will. If you believe you’ll be miserable in a place, you will. I allow myself to miss things about Minnesota, but I try not to dwell on them. I miss running along Summit Avenue to the Mississippi River. In Milledgeville, when you run along the Oconee River, the air is so thick and muggy you can taste the humidity. It’s at least 90 degrees here every day with almost 100 percent humidity. If you walk outside with a piece of paper in your hand, the paper feels damp.

Moving to Milledgeville has been a learning experience. For example, I learned that I had to visit City Hall for them to turn the water on in our apartment. Then my roommate and I took cold showers for a week because we didn’t realize the fuse box had a switch for hot water. I learned that cockroaches can fly, and that the small ones are the dirty ones. I learned how to use cockroach spray. I learned to always bring a cardigan with me because some buildings on campus are over air-conditioned. I learned that crinkle-cut fries are in abundance here. I learned that it lightening and thunders without raining. I learned that people in the south say “yes, ma’am, and “yes, sir,” and it comes off effortlessly. I wonder if I would sound sarcastic saying it.

I like Milledgeville. The downtown reminds me of Stars Hollow on Gilmore Girls. It has some nice antique shops, coffee shops, and a place called Sweetreats that might serve the best ice cream I’ve ever had. Milledgeville is also home to cultural landmarks. Flannery O’Connor was from Milledgeville and her farm, Andalusia, is open for visits. Though Milledgeville is small, there are a lot of cool places just a few hours away—Savannah, Athens, Hilton Head, New Orleans.

Though I’m still getting used to the culture of the south, I’m looking forward to learning more about it. I’m drawn to southern cooking and aspire to make the perfect cornbread by the time I graduate. The people in the program seem great so far. I dreaded orientation because I thought it would be like college: endless icebreaker games. But I was surprised by how laid-back and chill it was. We met for a few hours in the morning and had afternoons free. Classes and work started a couple of weeks ago, but I’ll save my thoughts on those for the next post. Also coming up: taking an impromptu trip to Athens, hosting a taco and margarita night with my roommate, and adopting a cat named Allie.

Thanks for reading!

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