Thursday, December 10, 2009

madison, oregon, vanderbilt, greensboro

Do you know what these places have in common? They're each home to a university with a competitive, kick ass, and very selection MFA program in creative writing.

And I just applied to all four of them.

Here's the thing. I have a Life Plan, which is very detailed and specific. My Life Plan says that in the fall of 2010, I will begin the process of applying to MFA programs, will be accepted into a program, and will begin said program in 2011, at the tender age of 29. This was a sound plan - it would give Nathan time to finish his Masters and get a job, which would give us a full year to enjoy the perks of two incomes, save a little money, and pay off some debt.

About a month ago, I was having a bad day at work and thought that looking at different schools and programs might life my spirits. I'd always been intrigued by the University of Wisconsin at Madison, which accepts only six people a year, alternating between fiction writers and poets. It turned out that they were accepting fiction applicants this year, which meant that according to my Life Plan, Madison would have to be taken off the short list. Unless I applied this year - as in, right now, because the deadline is December 15th. It would be a shot in the dark, as they're one of the most selective programs in the nation, but what the hell, right? At the very least, it would be good practice for when I applied to schools for real.

You can guess what happened next. Applying to Madison gave me such a feeling of excitement and hope that I couldn't stop there. I added the University of Oregon to my list. Then I saw that Vanderbilt University, in Nashville, was waiving their application fee for anyone who submitted the entirety of it online. I love submitting things online! And Greensboro - well, North Carolina seems cool, the program there has all the main things I'm looking for (good reputation, small program, low cost of living, full tuition, teaching fellowships) and it's close to New York (compared to Texas, anyway). Why not? And so I did.

I paid my fees this weekend and mailed the last of my application materials out on Tuesday. I'm nervous and hopeful, but also realistic. I can't stress how competitive these four schools are - my chances of getting in to any of them are slim. And yet, I can't help but feel it's time. I've been putting off an MFA for years, distracting myself with things like library science, roller derby and debt. More than anything I want to devote myself to writing full time, to become a better writer, a better editor, a better reader. I want a change, and what better way to shake up your life than to move across the country for the degree of your dreams? I'm excited, but I'm also terrified. I don't know what scares me more - the idea of not getting in anywhere, or the possibility of getting in somewhere and uprooting my (not to mention Nathan's) life. Mostly, though, I am desperate to be accepted. I don't know if my fragile ego could handle four rejections at once.

I'll find out my fate by March. Until then, cross your fingers and wish me luck!


  1. Well, if Madison doesn't want you, even though they would be crazy not to, console yourself with the fact that they had 13 inches of snow yesterday, and you really don't want to deal with that mess and working on a second master's. ;)

  2. *sending great vibes your way*

  3. I remember thinking that I'd be lucky to get into any of the graduate schools to which I applied. Like you, I applied to the programs that interested me most and that were extremely coveted. You can well imagine my surprise and delight to get accepted to all of them. So you just might be in for a surprise yourself.

    But I must say, I'm a little sad to hear so much longing in you to leave East Texas. I thought you'd managed to build a surprisingly cosmopolitan and fulfilling life in the most unlikely of places, and it comforted me to know that our situations depended much more on ourselves than our circumstances. You seem now to have proved once again that such places never do in the end measure up. Despite ourselves, we move on, hoping to join that wonderful community that the storybooks tell us exist in far off places.

    That was more nostalgia for myself than anything else. I do wish you the best of luck in the graduate school lottery.

  4. Hi Anonymous,
    It wasn't my intention to express longing to leave East Texas. I do love this place, and I will always treasure the life I've made here. But I've always known that this is not where I would spend the rest of my life, and I'm fairly certain that I will live in quite a few more places before "settling down" for good.

    I fully believe, as you say, that our situations depend more on ourselves than on our circumstances. Which is another way of saying that I will be happy no matter where I go. I'm not moving on to find a better place - just a different one.

    Thanks for your kind words and your encouragement. I really appreciate them, and hope that I don't disappoint you!

  5. Re: Vanderbilt: I'm not sure if I'd recommend it.

    1. I went there for undergrad and had some really bad experiences with the creative writing branch of the English department. The professors in question (Lopez and Earley; not sure if they're still there as this was back in 2004-2005) were very unprofessional in the way that they treated the students and they didn't run the workshops in a constructive fashion at all. Neither could teach well. I heard better things about the poetry instructors, but I never took any classes from them so I can't say for sure. I wound up switching to literature after 1.25 semesters because I was so sick of dealing with the faculty.

    It doesn't help that Vandy is crazyexpensive and they don't generally give fellowships to master's students.

    2. I am also not sure that Nashville would be a good fit for you, city-wise. Speaking of crazyexpensive, Nashville has a really high cost of living as compared to the other cities you're looking at. It's also not at all vegan-friendly and is rather full of overly conservative fundamentalists. Greensboro is a LOT better and is a stone's throw from Asheville (where my dad lives), which is very vegan-friendly and full of lots of awesome, friendly people.

    Ulterior motive: Go to Oregon! I'm moving there in April.

    Good luck either way!

    (fireworksandice from LJ~!)

  6. Hi Lauren!
    I did think about you when I applied to Vanderbilt, remembering your stories from LJ. I appreciate the inside scoop. I'm mostly crossing my fingers for Madison and Oregon.

    And good luck with your move! I'm excited to see you leave the South. ;)

  7. For selfish reasons, I'm only crossing my fingers for Oregon. It would be like my birthday 20 times if you moved here! My plan to slowly move all the people I love up here is working. Yes!

  8. this is so exciting! i'm rooting for oregon as well! (though i do really like madison & that area of nc.)

  9. I know I am a bit late to this post, but I can't help add my $0.02. Congratulations! I am so proud of you and know you will land in the stars!

    Also, I am disappointed with Anonymous's comment because the idea that you want to move on to another place doesn't mean that another place has disappointed you or that it doesn't measure up. Chrissy, don't gather any moss! You will certainly bloom wherever you are planted!

    And third, I disagree that you will not like Nashville. It is an amazing city with a VERY low cost of living compared to most metro areas. Even though I do eat meat, I have been surprised and delighted to find amazing cuisine there. And seriously, could it be less vegan-friendly than East Texas?

    You will do great wherever you go and I can't wait to get an autographed copy of your first book!