I wanted to share something fun and different through this reading series, so I decided to share a little bit of a play that I had created many years ago.
When I received a MFA in Creative Writing, my concentration was not in fiction or poetry; it was in playwriting. I had entered the program on the strength of my poetry. I had intended on switching to fiction. But I fell in love with playwriting, and I decided to focus my efforts there. My thesis project was a full-length play called “Through the Looking Glass.” I loved and lived this play for many months, and it was the culmination of the time I spent at the university pursuing an MFA. Upon graduating, there was a staged reading of my play at a space in Manhattan, and it was bound and published in the university library, where all the thesis projects are stored. You can read the beginning of this play here.
For a long time, I was a writer without a MFA. I had studied poetry and fine art as an undergraduate student. After I received my bachelors degree, I spent about a year working at a bookstore. While working there, I ran a poetry workshop and immersed myself in writing. I was considering going for a MFA, and I began an inquiry into graduate programs across the country.
As fate would have it, I also fell in love with someone I had met while working at that bookstore. He introduced me to Andre Breton. I introduced him to Bettie Page. We shared a love of surrealism, poetry, music, and art. I started receiving pamphlets and booklets from graduate programs in writing around the same time I discovered I was pregnant. The pile on top of my desk became heavy, but it could not match the weight of the life that was growing inside me. I loved poetry. I lived poetry. And ultimately, that was what led me to my decision.
At 23, we moved in together, a musician and a writer. We were in love. We were going to start a family. We had no money; dreams were our currency. And at the time, I believed that was enough. I decided to go back to school to receive a masters degree in Education. I had initially went to the New School with the intention of learning and enjoying education again. I intended on pursuing teaching at the masters level, after I received my BA. I wanted to have a career as a teacher, so I could have a stable income. First, I thought that being a teacher would provide a job I would love while I pursed my writing. Then, I thought being a teacher would provide an income for my family. I never thought that I would make any money as a writer, but I also never wrote for money. That was never a motivating factor for me. I actually went into “being a writer” feeling that I would never make money from it. I didn’t care. Writing was just something within me, something I couldn’t stop doing if I wanted to, something that was given to me, a gift.
Fast forward a few years, and I was a single parent with two children under the age of 5. I was working nights and weekends as a cashier in a grocery store. (The bookstore had closed almost 2 years after I worked there) I was healing from the break up. I was raising my children. I was writing. I took a couple of classes each semester to finish my degree in Education. In order to graduate, it is necessary to complete a semester of “student teaching.” Those twelve weeks were some of the hardest of my life. I enjoyed teaching. I loved the children I taught, and they loved me. I loved my experiences teaching kindergarten and first grade. But I had to leave my own children in the care of others from early in the morning until late in the evening. It affected my relationship with them. It affected my relationship with my self. I felt that even though I’d make good money as a teacher, I would not be there to raise my children. That wasn’t acceptable to me. It was at that time that I decided that I would wait just a few more years (until they were both in elementary school) to get a full time teaching job.
I left my job as a cashier and began tutoring. I worked at a learning center, then as a freelance private tutor at a SAT company. During that time, I was writing mostly poetry. I had published some poems over these years, but not very much. I had two full-length manuscripts of poetry, unpublished. I applied for grants. I applied for book publication. I applied for a lot of things that would help me get my work into the world. But I felt mostly invisible (This was also before the explosion of the internet into what we know it to be today). I began noticing that most of the contemporary writers I was seeing published had MFA’s. I began wondering if that was what was stopping me from being published. For the first time in a long time, I remembered the choice I had made, and I realized that I could make another choice.
I couldn’t go across the country to get a MFA. I couldn’t even go into Manhattan, which is about an hour away from where I live. The commute alone would take away too much time from my work and my family. I needed something close by. Even though I had never heard of any, I decided to look into graduate programs in writing in the area I lived. That would be the only way that I could get a MFA.
At the exact time I looked into this, a relatively local university decided to start a MFA program in creative writing – to begin the next year!! I couldn’t believe it. No other colleges or universities in my area offered an MFA. It would mean adding an extra year to my plan, but it would only be another year. This was my second chance. I received the information. I applied. I was accepted! I applied for loans, which were also granted. Strangely enough, that summer before I attended, I received notification that three of my poems were accepted in some new experimental-type online journals. This was proof that I didn’t need a MFA to be more widely published, like I had started to think. The type of writing I was doing was different. The world of publishing, especially considering online resources, was changing. But I took this as a sign that I was on the right track. I entered the program, which was brand new. Because it had just begun, it was a very small and intimate program. It was just right for me. I was among the first graduating class.
I was 33 when I decided to get a MFA in creative writing, exactly 10 years after I had seriously considered it as a possibility, a lifetime away from where I had been ten years ago. My intention on entering the program was simply that I wanted to be a better writer, to expand, to grow. I wanted to enter the world of writers again. I had been solitary for so long. I wanted to learn how to write fiction, because it seemed elusive to me. I had never been introduced to playwriting before the program, and when I took my first playwriting class, I loved it so much. (It is said that most people come into playwriting as either actors or poets.) I met a lot of different people through the program, people of varied ages and stages of writing, people I still consider close friends. I became a different student than I had ever been in the past. I have always loved school, but this time I was incredibly active in my learning. I was back in a world where writing and reading mattered. I spoke out in class. I wanted to! I shared my work. I read my work aloud. I offered my ideas, opinions and insights. I listened to the ideas and opinions and insights of others. I learned how to stand behind my work, to make conscious choices. I didn’t take a single thing for granted.
After the program, I immediately got a job teaching at an elementary school. I continued writing. I began publishing more. After a few years, I was laid off from my teaching job. I went through a series of unemployment and crappy jobs. I continued writing. My writing moved in an inverse direction, and my work has been published more. I am proud of the work I’ve done so far. After I was unemployed was about the time I created this website and blog, so this brings me to now, where I am. My goal for so long was to have a career as a full time teacher. I was devastated when that plan fell through. I became an unemployed teacher, surprisingly unqualified for most other jobs (or at least those who are hiring seem to think so). I have dated and I have had long term relationships, but I’ve never had a marital relationship (nor do I want one). I am still a single parent. I still don’t have that ability to provide for my family in the way I wanted to. I am poor. I work at very low paying jobs, the only jobs I seem to be able to get. What happens when you don’t have a plan B? What happens when a dream falls apart? I know, I know. This is the story of my life. Fail better.
When I received a MFA in creative writing, I entered a transformational space. I did literally begin again, anew. I didn’t think that at the time. I looked at it as a second chance to do something that I had wanted to do in the past, but didn’t. I didn’t think that it would change me, or that it would alter my path in any way. I even went right back to my idea of teaching elementary school. I imagined it as a moment in time, and I knew it was an important step for me, but I couldn’t foresee the ways in which it would affect me. When I was unemployed, I also entered a transformational space. Similar things resulted. I was forced to begin again. I didn’t know the ways it would affect me or how it would change me. But interestingly, that wasn’t something I chose. That was something that life chose for me.
Sometimes we are fixated on what we want to happen, and forget that the world is so mysterious, so filled with things we can barely understand. Things happen for reasons that we do not understand, in the universe, in the world, our societies, our governments, our personal lives. Even when a choice is made for you, you can choose how you respond and how you grow from the experience. I believe that we each have a path in life, and that we are guided by our passions. Some people call this intuition. Others call it following signs, which is the idea that Paulo Coelho talks about in The Alchemist. I believe that following our passions is the only guide we really have in which to live our lives. It is what we love, at the core of our being, that helps us make our decisions and choices. As Joseph Campbell says so wisely,
“Follow your bliss, and don’t be afraid, and doors will open where you didn’t even know they were going to be.”