Twenty years ago, I wanted to apply to graduate school. I wanted to study art or writing or psychology, anything that let me continue exploring the inner struggles of humanity. It seemed as good a time as any since my Dad was newly dead, I’d recently left my son’s father, and I was turning 30. I had always loved the academic environment and figured it would help me discover what I was supposed to do with my life.
And then I got busy… with my growing son, my job that turned into a career, my aimless romances, and my deepening friendships. Over the years, I took a couple of career breaks to figure out what the next chapter of my life would look like – occasionally considering graduate school again. I took writing classes here and there, did some freelance work, spent time with my family, and waited. I waited for clarity. I waited for my dreams to manifest. I waited for inner peace. I waited but nothing changed – except for the fact that I was getting older.
So earlier this year, while working at a good company with good people, I decided it was time to leave my career and focus on my writing full-time. I was turning fifty and would look back with regret if I never took the risk. I wanted my son and my husband to be proud of me. To let them, and anyone who is interested, know that it is never too late to be what you might have been. And therein began my most recent graduate school process to get an MFA in Creative Writing.
I picked six schools. Six! It seems like a crazy amount now but I was quite sure I wouldn’t be accepted anywhere. Not only because I haven’t been writing novels since I was 15 but because I am an older, privileged, white lady (relatively speaking,) not necessarily a voice that needs shining a light on. Mostly, though, because I’ve had crippling self-doubt most of my life – at least where my craft is concerned. I applied for low-residency MFA programs which means spending two weeks on campus during biannual residencies and the rest of the time corresponding directly with a faculty mentor. I’d receive monthly letters reviewing and critiquing my work and at the end, hopefully have a manuscript in-hand. While I was unclear about my level of talent, I have always been a bit of a dreamer, so I applied to the top five programs for my genre of nonfiction. Oh and then I also applied to NYU because their residencies are in Paris and I mean, come on. Paris.
I spent months doing research, reading articles, watching videos, speaking to alumni, and devouring website information. I was terrified at the prospect of asking for letters of recommendation since I’d both been out of school for 25 years and hadn’t been working since March. Plus, each school had a different set of questions for their essay submission like “What is your literary heritage?” Um, I’ve read every Stephen King novel? And then of course, there was the work itself – 25 pages of prose that I had written over the years. Putting your best work in front of strangers to decide whether or not you have promise, whether or not you will be a good addition to a cohort, and frankly, if being an alumni of their school will help them… it’s all a bit nerve wracking. I have had moments of wanting to scrap the whole thing.
What is the alternative, though, to continue on the path that I’ve been traveling down? It’s ok, this path. It’s fine. It’s safe. But it isn’t changing me and I haven’t been growing in the ways I know are possible. So I sent off those applications. Three of the six have gotten back to me so far, all with letters of acceptance. I’ve had a lot of ‘wtf am I doing?’ moments since but I’m excited at the prospect of what’s to come. A nonstop, two year slog of writing and discovery and growth and discomfort. Hopefully, at the end, I’ll have something to share that resonates, and that’s been the goal all along.