Four years after graduating from college, I still didn’t know what I wanted to do. (Disclaimer: I wasn’t worried about it.) I dodged a serious bullet by not getting into grad school right out of undergrad, and spent the next four years living in the world, indulging in your standard “Oh, shit! I’m grown” adventures: Moving away from home, dating for the first time, playing, playing some more, playing again. (Disclaimer: It’s fine.)

What’s that saying, “no idea is a new one” or something like that? The decision to get a writing degree was undoubtedly an influenced one; I was dating an English professor (every nerdy girl’s dream), it was my first (and last) year in New York (so being a starving artist was a more pressing concern than it had ever been), and the increase in incidents of police brutality against Black people left me turning, time and time again, to writing as a way to process, grieve, and heal.

Writing, for me, exists at the intersection of pleasure and purpose. I chose to pursue an MFA in writing because I love to write, and I want to use my time on this Earth to help people get free.

It made a lot of sense to use the former for the latter. I’ve been writing since I knew how to hold a pencil. It sustains me. It’s when I feel most present, most connected, most in flow.  It just never occurred to me that I could do it as a job. 

In the summer of 2014, I went to Pink Door, a women’s writing retreat hosted by the brilliant and badass Chicana poet Rachel McKibbens. Spending a weekend in the company of other women writers was the only evidence I needed: I could do this for real.

Once I gave myself permission to claim the identify writer, I thought, If I’m going do this – if I’m going to really do this- then my writing needs to  sharpened. Fine-tuned, greased-up, on point, and powerful enough to change the world.

So:  grad school.

In my personal statement, I wrote: To occupy this body in this lifetime is not only a sacred gift, but also a privilege; I am able to see what many cannot. I understand that in order to change something, it must first be recognized. Writing is how I show the world itself. As such, cultivating my writing is as much my pleasure as it is my responsibility.

If you’re considering grad school but don’t know where to start, ask yourself the following questions:

What’s my biggest delight? What do I love to do? (I mean really love, I mean not the thing you have been doing, but the thing you really want to do.) When do I feel most present? When do I feel like I can bring all of myself into the room? What do I feel called to do? Why am here on this Earth, in this lifetime? (There’s no wrong answer.)

These are no small fish to fry. But if you sit with them, you can discover a lot.

Once I had arrived at the conclusion that grad school was for me, I had to figure out how to get there.

~

I didn’t think about student loans before I applied.
I didn’t think about student loans before I applied.
I didn’t think about student loans before I applied.

I skimmed the Financial Aid pages, and saw myself going down a mental rabbit hole I didn’t want to go down. I  know myself; If I would have indulged my fear of debilitating hardship, I would have never gone through with the applications.

I wanted to kill two birds with one stone (moving to the West Coast after having been on the East Coast all of my life and going to grad school), so I hit up Poets&Writers Creative Writing Programs Database, narrowed my search down to schools in California, and went from there.

I asked myself these questions:

  1. Is the program interdisciplinary? Does it allow me to write across genres?
  2. Are the faculty interesting people doing interesting work?
  3. Will I feel mentally/emotionally/psychologically safe while I’m there?
  4. Will this program provide me with the resources I need to navigate a career as a professional writer?

I applied to three schools, and decided on CalArts because the answer to all of those questions was yes.

Tuition is $43,400 a year, and living expenses make the cost of attendance a horrifying $58,000. I got a $20,000 scholarship from CalArts, took out a $20,500 loan, received two privately funded scholarships (totaling $2,750), got a $2,000 work study award, and worked four jobs to save $7,000.

I know. Yikes. I decided it was worth it, because if I cant indulge in what brings me joy, then what’s the point?

~

Yes, grad school is expensive, and terrifying, and all of the things that people say it’s going to be. It’s also really fun, sort of like summer camp, where you get to spend two to there years of your life doing the thing you like to do the most. (Or, at least that’s how I think it should go. Ask me in two years.)

I’ve just passed the three-week mark at CalArts, and when people ask me if I love it, I say yes from the bottom of my throat. Yes, I love it.

I love being surrounded by artists. I love having the space and time and support to write. I love reading about writing. I love the ideas I’m getting. I love that I have permission to dive, head first, into this thing that sustains me. I feel my voice getting stronger and my vision getting clearer. As cliche as it sounds, grad school (for me, at least) was not a means to an end, it’s a part of the journey.

I may feel differently when those loan bills start to roll in, but for now, I’m enjoying the ride.

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