Uncle Tizdale Johnson (on horse in background) tries something new

How long has it been since you’ve taken a risk and tried something new? For me it was last fall. It came in two parts. First, I took the Graduate Record Examination (GRE); then I applied to four MFA creative writing programs. After months of waiting, I now know none of the programs accepted me. I haven’t had to say anything derogatory about the results because friends and family are doing that for me:

“Stupid universities!”

“Unbelievable about the schools!”

“Their loss.”

I’m sure they’re right and I’d be lying if said I’m not disappointed. But . . . life rolls on. Fifty is in the rear view mirror. My college transcripts are damn old. The only thing to do is keep writing.

My applications required a letter of intent. Here’s an excerpt:

I want to become the best writer I can be. I want to obtain a thorough grounding in writing craft and technique. I want to sharpen my facility for literary critique. I want to immerse myself in a writing community of peers, faculty, visiting artists and publishing industry professionals. I want to gain teaching experience, to help undergraduate students develop the writing tools they need to achieve their academic goals. I want the MFA credential on my curriculum vitae, proof that I’ve achieved my goals.

Short of the teaching experience and earning the MFA credential, I can pursue these goals outside of a formal academic setting. So this is where I’m starting, again. For writers, it’s the natural thing to do. We call it revision. I’ll seek out relevant craft seminars, offer to review new books for local libraries and newspapers, stay in touch with my writing cronies on more than a social level. Lectures and readings by well-regarded authors are available in a nearby town. There are plenty of conferences that offer one-on-one appointments with editors and agents.

The trick is, I have to develop the curriculum on my own. This is coming a little bit at a time. For craft, I’ve registered for a one-day writing workshop with Helen Marshall at Clarion West. I’ve turned to The Portable MFA in Creative Writing by the New York Writers Workshop for grief counseling; the introduction offers the type of comfort one receives from friends after breaking up with a really bad boyfriend.

I keep going back to something my husband said when I committed to sending out MFA applications last fall: You deserve your chance. So I took it. Everyone I asked for help along the way said yes. When I think of that, it takes the sting out of the rejections.

Will I apply to more MFA creative writing programs? Possibly. My GRE scores are valid for five years. But maybe it won’t be an issue. Maybe I’ll get to where I want to be following my own program, with a little help from my friends.

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