Saturday, March 19, 2011

Trying to Figure It All Out

"Bring on the wonder, bring on the song; I pushed you down deep in my soul for too long...." That song by Susan Enan, as innocuous as it may seem, was one of the little things that pushed me to apply to MFA programs last fall. After graduate education in the health sciences, I finally realized that after working in the journalism field for over a year, I was happiest when writing. I'd been trying to deny it for so long, and go with something more "practical", whatever that means. My research was primarily in oncology, and too many times I'd seen how short life is. No one is ever promised tomorrow, and I decided I did not want to live with regrets, so I applied to MFA nonfiction creative writing programs and one PhD in journalism. Even just making that decision changed my life - for the first time in a long time, I felt excited about my life. I felt alive. And just when I was starting to give up all hope and question my abilities and whether I would ever find my way, I got a phone call that I was accepted to Columbia University's nonfiction program. I'd applied to Columbia not because I thought I would get in, but because it was "Columbia" and I figured, why the hell not? I didn't even fill out all the financial aid forms because I was that sure I didn't have a shot. But you can bet I filled those forms out after the phone call!

It is scary, the financial aspects. But I have taken out loans for graduate school before, and know that it is a sacrifice and risk that will pay off. I believe in it. And I was pleasantly surprised to find out that there are a lot more financial aid opportunities available than I originally thought, as well as an Artists' Resource Center that can provide financial resources. So I am gearing up to take that leap of faith.

As of right now, I have not decided what I will be doing in the fall. I currently live in Chapel Hill, NC, and love my life there. The Carolina Way has seeped into my veins and UNC and the surrounding areas have been my home for the past 4 years. I am actually still waiting on their PhD decision, as well as another school's MFA decision. So until I receive all my notifications, my final choice is up in the air. Columbia's final decision date is actually later than April 15th, so I have some breathing room, thankfully.
I went to the city the other day, since I am up North visiting family, and had an excellent visit. The students were on spring break, but I was able to talk to the financial aid guy and some administrators in the Writing department, as well as see the classrooms and get a thesis anthology of last year's students, a student handbook and a course listing packet. As a psychology nerd, it is hard not to get super excited about the fact that the neuropsychiatrist Oliver Sacks is a nonfiction professor in the program. Individual fit is important in a program; for me, if the fit isn't right, I don't care who is teaching the classes, what the program is ranked, what city I'm in or if tuition is dirt cheap or funded. And for whatever reason, I felt like I "fit" there. It was a gut instinct.

This still doesn't even feel real, like this is my life - not just the MFA acceptance, but the fact that I have even been brave enough to finally take my writing seriously, and to trust this process, this journey that life is leading me on. Last summer, when I was talking about deciding to pursue writing, I mentioned that it seemed so "self-indulgent," to pursue writing, an art. And I was met with this reply: If you don't indulge yourself, who will?

Truer words were never spoken.


  1. Jaime, I love that last quote. It is so true, and I am going to keep it as a little koan over the next couple of weeks while I too decide what will happen in the Fall. I love Oliver Sacks' work, and it would be hard (for me) to turn down a chance to work with him--have you heard his piece on the most recent RadioLab? Not to be missed.

  2. Hey Chelsea! Thanks - I will tell the person who said it that you think it's great! ;) I was just really having trouble taking my writing seriously - we are so trained to see the arts as a luxury, as something "indulgent", compared to other vocations, and it doesn't have to be that way. And what's so wrong with indulging ourselves? (in moderation, in some ways). I have not heard Sacks' piece - I will try and check that out!


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