Author: Jess Silfa

In Sickness and In Health

In a perfect world the MFA is straightforward: you go to class, you do your writing, and you teach or work on a literary magazine. When I started at Brooklyn, everything else in my life settled into place, whether it conformed to my busy life or went on temporary hold until I finished my degree. Grad school became my excuse for canceled plans, overdue emails, forgotten birthdays. It was easy to forget to take care of myself too. Aches and pains got pushed aside until the drafts were revised and the papers were graded. But then came the kind of symptoms that I couldn’t ignore. The pain was just discomfort at first. It wasn’t like the swift blow from a fist, but a gradual pulling and squeezing in my lower abdomen. When the pain intensified, I sat in front of my doctor and mapped across my body where it hurt. She patted my shoulder and told me the symptoms were likely stress. “Get yourself some glitter,” she said, “and relax until we get test results …

Butterfly at the Museum of Natural History. Photo Credit: Jess Silfa

On (Necessary) Self Care

When I was six years old, I started seeing a therapist. There were many reasons why I was in Doctor Davis’ care—an overactive imagination, inappropriate concern for World War III, existential dread—but the majority of our sessions revolved around relaxation. He and I played this game where we would try to relax as much as possible, calling out the names of the body parts as we felt them loosen and unwind: my neck is now relaxed, my shoulders are now relaxed, now my arms. I would never get past my knees before blurting out something like, “What if Russia invades us?” And then to lighten the mood: “Do you know how hard it is to learn Russian?” Twenty-five years later I still have trouble getting myself to relax (and surprisingly I’m still worried about Russia). I didn’t change who I was when I entered the MFA. My life didn’t get magically amazing; my insecurities didn’t disappear; my neurochemistry didn’t become more typical. But that’s me. The truth is even if you’re not mentally ill, grad school is …

Image by Sean MacEntee

A Quarter of the Way

I had this wonderful delusion that I would write this post from an airport Starbucks while lazily sipping an iced coffee and reflecting on my first semester. Yeaaaaah, no. It didn’t work out that way at all. I got to JFK with plenty of time. Then I got “randomly selected” and subjected to a full body pat down, complete with opening of my carry-on and laptop. Then I had to track down a wheelchair. Then I had to wait until someone tracked down a wheelchair attendant for me. Then our plane experienced a mechanical failure and we had to switch to another plane at another gate.  When I finally got into my seat, I brought out my tablet to write this post. I got as far as, “I’m now a quarter of the way through grad school,” before the baggage trolley outside the plane caught my attention. Not only was it speeding, but it did a drift move straight out of a Fast and the Furious film. There was static and then the captain came on: …

Accessibility and You (Yes, You)

Although I am carting many identities with me to grad school—Afro-Latinx, low-income, LGBTQ—my disability is often the first hurdle I face when in a new environment. I posted back in March that applying to schools as a disabled applicant had been extremely stressful. I had a hell of a time finding information on a lot of college websites, let alone the specific program websites. When I contacted some schools, I felt as if they’d never had a disabled student before. Their confused noises when I asked questions about accessibility didn’t give me much confidence. Many current students had no clue about accessibility either. “I’m not disabled so I wouldn’t know anything about all of that,” was the common response. I felt like I was going at it alone, and yet during my application period, I met other disabled applicants. How was it that there were several of us and yet schools still treated us like we had never existed before this application cycle? *** When people ask me about my experiences as a student with limited …

Jess Silfa Introduction Part Deux: Brooklyn College ’18 Edition

Image: Sven-Kåre Evenseth I never thought this could be my life. Since starting grad school I’ve been giddy. Excited. Thrilled beyond belief. The summer was a slow, ticking rise up the roller coaster track and these last two weeks in grad school have been the wondrous fall. I’m still feeling the adrenaline.  I already wrote an introduction of sorts back when I was an applicant blogger here at The MFA Years—feel free to read it if you haven’t already. Since my last blog post I chose to attend Brooklyn College. I packed up my apartment near Columbia University and moved with my roommate to Flatbush to be closer to the school. So far everything about Brooklyn College is what I wanted in a school environment: it’s accessible, near family, and the faculty is wonderful. So are the other students. There are fifteen of us in the fiction concentration and we see each other every week. We’re all in one fiction seminar together and then split up between the various workshops offered by the program. The fiction …

Elation (And Everything That Came After)

Image: Wonderlane In my introductory post, I called this entire MFA process my first pancake. It was supposed to be the try that didn’t end in success, my testing of the waters. Except I got into two of my top choices and wait-listed at another two. Clearly I was happy, right? Not exactly. Although I did experience great joy when I got those wonderful phone calls and emails, it quickly turned into overwhelming grief. Because I had psyched myself up for disappointment, I didn’t know how to take my acceptances. I had planned ways to make my 2017 applications better and drafted a new list of schools to apply to. Starting school now means I will never apply to Michigan, Wisconsin, Austin or many of the other schools people rave about. I will never know if a SOP that reflected more of my personality would have won more programs over. I will never need to send out the stack of transcripts I have sealed in a box marked “for 2017 applications.” I will never use my dogeared, well-worn …

Literal Accessibility

Image: haru__q There are six steps in front of my apartment building. They are made of marble and get slick when it rains or snows. I never forget that they are there. Before my car accident—before I became disabled—I didn’t pay too much attention to such things. Now I am always keenly aware of what lies ahead of me. For someone whose thoughts should revolve around words, I am constantly thinking of numbers; I calculate the distance from A to Z, whether one flight of stairs will be less painful than a thousand steps to the elevator, whether I can afford a cab to go the five blocks because I’m especially achey that day. And, ever since I decided to apply to MFA programs, I’ve thought about learning my way a whole new campus. Iowa’s program is located at Dey House, a two-story former residence converted for use by the Writers’ Workshop. On the Iowa website, it states that disabled students would only have access to the main floor. Columbia’s MFA program is held in …