Over the past three weeks, I started reading a James Michener book, which I never thought I would do, because they’re very long, and seemed like something you wouldn’t even consider until you’re old. I started writing a synopsis for a new book, completely outside of what I had originally intended to pursue, which I also never thought I would do (the writing of the synopsis, that is, not changing my mind; I do that whenever I try to pick out snack foods at Target). I felt at ease on a small island that had almost nothing but a church on it, which, having hardened internally toward the church as an adult for different reasons, I really never thought I would do.
And I’ve done all of this because I finally started grad school, the biggest thing I never thought I would do.
When I graduated from my undergraduate college experience six years ago, I had a much different outlook (maybe not on the church part, but on the other elements, definitely yes). I was only going to read young adult books, because they’re amazing and highly readable in small amounts of time and not boring at all. I was going to write my amazing novel before I was 27, and never have to work in an office again (which no, I haven’t accomplished, but which I know is possible; thanks for rubbing it in my face, Tea Obrecht (just kidding, I love you, let’s be friends)). Also, I was only ever going to eat mint chocolate chip ice cream for the rest of my life.
I was obviously naïve. Coffee ice cream is legit.
I also thought that graduate school would happen instantly, kick starting my path to being amazing. However, I applied to several MFA programs my senior year of undergrad, got wait listed at three, and eventually accepted at none. All the programs I applied to were fully funded programs, because without that kind of financial backing, going back to school just cost too much; like many college graduates I’m now paying for the gorgeous house of information and insights that I spent four years building in my head. Even almost six years later, when I finally started working in higher education, my outlook hadn’t changed. I would be able to pursue other masters degrees, but my employer didn’t offer the only degree program I cared about. So I resigned myself to whatever else I had been planning to settle, and starte getting comfortable with the idea (to yet again quote my girl Dar Williams) that “the road to enchantment was not mine to take.”
Fast forward just four months, though, to spring of 2016, and that changed. I went from one college to another, and now, as an employee of Fairfield University, my employee tuition benefits make grad school a definite, and the University’s low-residency MFA program helps my ambitions come a little closer to reality.
Because of that change, I went out to Enders Island for a week, for the MFA's summer residency. I met students who were so far beyond my ability, but also students who were in the thick of learning the craft of writing with me, and a faculty that acknowledges the demands of everyday life and encourages our visions to thrive in their midst. Out on Enders, the chapel became a place where words lived during faculty readings, and though Enders is a beautiful place with a good mission driven by its religious roots, the most sacred spaces, to me, were those without walls or pews or icons. Ironically, one of my most special memories is exchanging my writing with new friends, and then watching them have their tarot cards read, on wide rocks beside the sea. We sat there under the moon, playing at divining the future, giving ourselves meaning, and I don’t think it felt holy in any way, unless something can be holy simply by bringing joy.
I’ll be going through Fairfield’s MFA a little slower than the rest of my cohort (I’m only doing summer residencies and fall semesters while most of my classmates will run ahead), but so far, being a part of it—the whirlwind of applying to it, preparing for it, then traveling to Enders Island and living it—has been, without exaggeration, life altering. In less than four months, my writing life has changed in every way. I’m excited to see it change some more.
Although that’s going to be a while. I’m going to need some serious breaks for ice cream.