This post has caused a lot of anxiety on my part, because it’s very personal. I’m an MFA candidate. I also worked full-time at a job that was in no way writing-related and expected me to work ten hours a day with a vigorous passion for others.
This last month, I made a decision to leave that job in order to completely focus on my studies. My job involves other people, including about a hundred children who depend on me being there at my job. There is a lot of guilt that has come with leaving them. They don’t understand why I need to do what I need to do, and on some days, I doubt myself in my selfishness.
But this is the way things have to be right now.
When I got into my low-res program, I thought I could balance both. It became apparent on both sides pretty quickly that it wasn’t going to happen. Both needed me. My program needed me. My job needed me. And they were each getting half of me. It wasn’t that I was being lazy; I was giving each part of my life everything I could. But I was living two lives. And there’s only one of me.
It would only get worse this next year, with a third semester project and a thesis. In an MFA program, you can coast or you can do the maximum. There was no point in going to school to coast.
So I had to choose. Was I going to stay in school, or was I going to quit my job?
I told the kids I was leaving on an early morning where all of us were laughing about something or other, and then none of us were laughing once my decision was out. It’s a touching and sad story, but I’m not going to share it. The shortest version of the story is this: I left them.
With all of this in mind, I’ve taken a lot of time to think about selfish decisions. Selfishness is a cardinal sin here in the quiet, unassuming Midwest, where people apologize for accidentally going through the gas station door before you. And especially as women, we are supposed to give our lives for others. We have the traditional role of caregiver, nurturer, mother. We are supposed to support those around us and measure our success through the worth of those we’ve helped.
So what happens when we do something for ourselves? So what gives me the right to write? What gives any of us the right to go get this degree that will obviously not guide us to fame and fortune, but instead is an act of passion? An act of knowledge?
I’m still struggling with this question, but I know that I got into an MFA program to be a better writer, and this MFA program won’t be here in a year. There will be another job in another year, and I will stay at that job. But for right now, this is what I need to do. And sometimes we just feel in our gut that there is some act we have to take … a selfish act, perhaps … in order to fulfill the thing we need to do.
As a serious writer and fellow candidate, you understand what I mean by “the thing you need to do.” You know how it is to have a day where you have gotten no writing done, and you have that gross beer gut feeling like you were supposed to have exercised, but you didn’t. You know how it feels to write utter drudge for days on end and the smarter part of your brain is telling you it would be so much easier to just never write again. But you don’t. Because you need to fulfill the thing you need to do.
We all went to MFA programs. We broke up with partners, gave away pets, quit jobs, sold our couches and dining room tables, and moved far away to go do something just for the sake of knowing how to write better. As writers, we shut ourselves away from parents, spouses, lovers, and children in order to get some time to ourselves and go play pretend on computer keys. It’s a lonely life. And to the Muggle eye, it’s a purposefully isolated and self-centered life. But there’s that crucial moment where we all had to turn and look at our lives and make the conscious decision to take writing seriously. To be a writer.
I think there’s some courage in doing that.
Or maybe it is just selfish.
But regardless of a need or a selfishness, it’s a sacrifice we’ve paid up front for the two to three years we receive to learn. So don’t squander it. Don’t make your payment go nowhere.
Yesterday was the last day at my job. Today, I woke up at seven A.M. I will start Day Three on my #yearofwritingchallenge. Join me for even a few minutes a day in doing the thing we all need to do.