So you got into an MFA program – Now What?
We have all experienced the proverbial tearing-open of an envelope, inside which the future was waiting. Possibility trembling between paper-cut fingers, unfolding.
This spring I was accepted into Carlow University's low residency MFA program for fiction. The build-up was less dramatic than previous envelope openings, as my attention was saturated to capacity each day with the dramas of twenty-eight elementary schoolers. Every spare moment demanded my focus, held captive to revelations about shoe-tying, band-aids, alphabets, skip-counting, and who played with whom at recess. All the while lessons begged to be planned, and grades continually needed to be entered.
But nonetheless, when I slipped my tired self into bed at night, visions of international travel and a scholarly, creative cohort replaced the habituated feedback-loop that kept me recalling all the details I'd left out in the panic of keeping up with the well-oiled machine that is the American classroom, with its factory-like, industrial origins.
So, I began to research.
When I first learned of Carlow's program, tears welled up. I know, this sounds cheesy. I know. But please understand, I wanted to piece the puzzle pieces of my novel together, and my novel is based in Pittsburgh where Carlow is located. I also wanted to write about my ancestors, who came from Italy and Ireland. And I wanted to do it without having to move away from Baltimore, where I've finally returned after a decade of traveling and working odd jobs across the United States.
Reading the details of the program sped up my brain and fluttered my chest. Low-residency – check. International with two annual retreats at Dublin's Trinity College – check. Based out of Pittsburgh, at my mother's alma-matter no less – check.
This program was perfect.
The discovery happened during a period of time in which I and a close friend had tenderly chosen to commit to a forty-day yoga practice designed to connect us to our hearts. Our poor, abandoned hearts.
Each morning, we rolled out our mats and intentionally sat with the desires, the fears, the anxiety, the longing, and the joy that dwells inside this closed-off, boarded up place. And as I gave it my attention, it began to bloom.
It is normal to choose security over creative expression sometimes. In fact, it is often necessary. But so is the reckoning that must accompany such a choice.
And so, most days during that late winter/early spring, I came home from my classroom still inhabiting the spaciousness my yoga practice created. I stripped off my paint-splattered, fingerprinted clothes, and asked myself now that I had been supporting myself financially, but not spiritually or creatively – What have I lost in this process? What has been sacrificed? What still has life left to bloom?
I don't want to be an expert. I don't want to be a teacher. I want to be humbled, for the walls I've strategically constructed around my heart to be torn down. I want to be on my knees in awe, and I want to be surprised.
I've entitled this blog Thank You as a reminder to myself that every day I spend in Dublin this coming June is a gift, and in order for my writing to keep blooming, I must plant my intentions in the fertile soil of gratitude.
I will aim to say thank you each day.
Turning off the mechanical brain now (that is unless I'm navigating flight connections, hotel shuttles, or time zones). I'm ready to step into the wild and surprising process that is creative writing.
I'm ready to answer the question - now what?
BY ROSS GAY
If you find yourself half naked
and barefoot in the frosty grass, hearing,
again, the earth's great, sonorous moan that says
you are the air of the now and gone, that says
all you love will turn to dust,
and will meet you there, do not
raise your fist. Do not raise
your small voice against it. And do not
take cover. Instead, curl your toes
into the grass, watch the cloud
ascending from your lips. Walk
through the garden's dormant splendor.
Say only, thank you.