One more workshop, a lit paper, and 30-something student portfolios: that’s everything that separates me from winter break. After a lazy Thanksgiving, I found it difficult to return and finish the final stretch of the semester. It was even more difficult to do without sighing heavily after every new email notification. Over winter break, I’ll see Joanna Newsom in concert. I’ll stroll through the Pittsburgh strip, watching men shuck oysters outside Wholey’s fish market. I’ll sleep in my childhood bedroom. I’ll live in sweatpants. I have a pile of books checked out from the campus library. I’ll spend my break reading, mostly books on West Virginia folklore, ghost stories, and history. After conducting some research, I’ll begin a new essay; I’ll revise some of the work I completed this semester. I’ll send pieces out to journals and wait.
Earlier this year, I learned how to be patient as I waited to hear from the 10 MFA programs I applied to. A lot of that news was bad, or at least not what I wanted to hear. Even my earliest offer came with what I considered to be inadequate funding; I was forced to pass even though I liked a lot of things about that program. Some of the news meant even more waiting—to hear if my spot on a wait list would become a full-fledged offer. From mid-February thru mid-April, I dreaded checking my email. Applying in the Smart Phone age proved to be painful; I instantly received my rejections, sometimes when I was out in public. My lowest point came in mid-March when I was visiting New Orleans. I received two rejections in one day. One of those rejections was sent twice. Thanks. But I got it the first time. I get it. You really, really don’t want me in your program.
In early April, at the AWP conference in Minneapolis, friends, professors, and colleagues hounded me: “Have you heard back from all of your schools? Do you know what number you are on the wait list at X program? What’s your dream school?” I wanted to tell them that at that point, my dream school was any program that wanted me and could fund me. I wanted to cry whenever they asked me, as if I wasn’t already thinking about what they were asking me constantly—as graduation loomed and so did the end of my lease.
But it worked out for me. In early April, I received an exciting email from WVU inviting me to be a part of their program. I enthusiastically accepted. In my most recent post, I mentioned just how many great things my program has going for it. I also spent a portion of my post tracing the difficulties I’ve had adjusting to living here. The truth is I’m not always happy to be living here, but I’m grateful for the opportunities I have here. And maybe with time, with patience, this too will feel like home.
What I’m getting at is what many of you already know: The MFA application season will kick your ass. You will be battered. You will be humbled. You’ll learn patience. Essentially, what almost everyone who pursues writing—whether in an MFA or not—endures at some point. I’m certainly not the first person to make this connection, but I wanted to echo the idea. After my first, stinging rejection, I stopped taking the news personally. That’s not to say that it didn’t still hurt.
I started sending my work out for publication this year, and I do think that my experiences during this year’s application season have helped prepare me for the scrutiny and rejection my work will face. I learned the art of patience from this MFA season. And I think that no matter the outcome, whether one is offered entry into a program or not, this process is good practice for anyone who plans to write. Most who apply not only learn how to handle rejection gracefully, but also learn to be patient when waiting for news, whether good or bad.
Many of you who are reading the posts on this site are prospective applicants. You’ll spend the next few weeks agonizing over your statement of purpose, hounding flaky recommenders to upload their letters, and organizing your writing samples (the 20 page one, the 22-page one, the 27 page one, etc). You’ll do all that you can do, although you’ll always feel that you could have done more. You’ll finalize your applications. You’ll send them out into the world.
After that, make sure you take a deep breath. Relax. All that you can do is wait.