Monday, May 23, 2011

Jigsaw Falling Into Place*

This is a story about how I got into grad school for free, and how to get things to start going right for you.

It starts way back when I was a freshman in college, and my dad learned that Ron Carlson would be teaching a freshman-level creative writing class, and encouraged me to take it. I told him, "Dad, you can't learn how to write by taking a class."  My dad said, "Just sit in on the first class, and if you hate it, you can drop it."  So I agreed.
I went in to the first class, and one of the very first things that Ron Carlson said that day was, "You can't learn how to write by going to class--you have to just write."  Obviously, I stuck it out for the rest of the semester, and loved it.
I took a couple more writing classes, which I enjoyed, and sent two stories out, which got rejected, and then I had to choose a major and I chose biology and kind of forgot about the whole writing thing.  After a semester-and-a-half of  med school students and professors who were maddeningly, albeit understandingly, more interested in their own research than in expanding the minds of their undergraduate students, I had a small meltdown and declared my intention of dropping out of college to become a musician.
Yes, really.
I think what I was unconsciously doing was testing the waters for declaring my love for writing--but doing it with a subject I didn't care about quite as much as I cared about writing, and books.  If I failed at or was ridiculed for making music, it didn't matter so much.  Needless to say, I am not a musician now. It kind of fell through.
While I did not, in fact, drop out of college to become a musician, I did write some not-that-sucky songs, and I did change my major to an interdisciplinary degree in bio and philosophy, which I enjoyed.  I graduated with a firm sense of "f*ck you, The Man" and the understanding that if I wanted an experience like college to be a freewheeling, mind-expanding ride, the only person who could make it that way was me, and no one else was going to guarantee it for me.
I spent six months working as a line cook at a health food restaurant, having romanticized the life of the purposely not-rich, discovered that restaurant work was restaurant work no matter how hip all the servers were, and then went on a road trip to visit all my ex-boyfriends--and started writing again, in the meantime. And it just kept coming.
Then my father suggested that I apply to Iowa, because he knew somebody who knew somebody who worked there.  I looked at all my writing, saw I didn't have any short stories I would really consider submitting, said, "Balls," and spent the next year writing short stories so that I'd have something to apply to school with.
Which I did.  And in the meantime I got a story published, and the lovely, lovely magazine that is Jersey Devil Press nominated it for some awards.  Like the Pushcart Prize. And this beast.
I did not get into Iowa, or Columbia, or Stanford, or even ASU (weird list of rejections, right?), but I was waitlisted at U of A.  I wrote off the waitlisting, thinking that it didn't mean anything, and cried when I got what I thought was my fifth and final rejection.
And then U of A e-mailed me to say they were offering me a place.  They didn't have any money for me, but I was accepted.
I thought that was very nice, and planned on not going because I wasn't about to pay for my MFA, but I drove down to sit in on a class and talk to the department head about funding options, and when I told her I did outreach for a living, she said, "Oh, well, there's a field trip intern position open at our poetry center--why don't you run down and talk to the coordinator?"  So I did.
And she called me and interviewed me, and I liked her a lot, and then three days later she offered me the position as a field trip intern, and turns out it came with a full tuition waiver and a small stipend (small meaning big enough to pay my rent for the year).

Meanwhile, back at my job, they decided to start expanding the outreach department to include satellite positions in other cities.  Like Tucson.  So guess what I'm doing this fall, part-time, while I'm in school?

And yesterday I drove down to check out apartments, and my car nearly overheated and I had to park it in a garage and wait for the engine to cool so I could add coolant, and then, on my way back to my original destination, I took a prettier side street, and stumbled upon a cute little set of studio apartments.  I called the owner today to ask about the place, and he said, "Well, it's [this awesome price in your price range] per month, no pets"--
    "No pets?" I asked, disappointed.
    "Well," he said, "what kind of pet is it?"
    My heart leapt.  "A cat."
    "How big?"
    "Eleven pounds.  But he's neutered and everything."
    "Does he stay indoors?"
    "Well, that would be alright."
    I'm headed down to look at the place on Friday.

    The main point of this long, rambly narrative, is that if you give in and let that thing you love the most have some room in your life, other people will make room for it, too.  Things and events will start falling into place, like magic.  But it's not magic--it's only love, that awesome, enthusiastic, childlike kind of love that you have for discovering new things about yourself and your world.  It's still there.  You haven't lost it by getting older.  I promise.
     I left out a lot of the parts about how f*cking scared I was to try to be a writer.  But the thing I did right, I believe, was that I cared more about the writing than I did about the outcome of the writing.  I wrote because I loved it, and I accepted that I wasn't going to make any money doing it, or get good at it quickly, and I did it anyway--and now I'm about to make money doing it.  I'm actually earning a living for the next two years because of my writing--an incredible thing to me.  But it is possible.  I am not special, or particularly lucky--I am just a person who allowed myself to give in to my enthusiasm, and to value a process above any hope for reward--to find the reward in the process, itself.
      What is your enthusiasm?  What terrifies you the most to think of losing?  And what would happen if you just--
    gave in?

*Just for the record, In Rainbows is awesome, but I actively loathe all other Radiohead albums.  It's like some kind of allergic emotional reaction I have to them which causes me to become a raging depressed b*tch wh*re.  Like, more so than usual.  


  1. I think this one is my favorite... :) I think your fall back could be to become a Life Coach!! Seriously!! You have gained great insight to the Wisdoms of Life. I am soooo happy for you!

  2. Oh, thanks, Rochelle! I'm just glad it meant something to you :)