Saturday, December 27, 2008

What They've Got That I Haven't Got

Well, I'm starting to get really excited. The wake-up-in-the-middle-of-the-night-you can't-sleep-so-you-write-in-your-blog kind of excited. A lifetime dream is about to come true. It's not the horse in the backyard that I've always wished for or that trip to Venice we had planned for this February. We had to cancel that so I could pursue this. I'm about to embark on an MFA program in professional writing.

Now what on earth is that, one might ask? And why would that be a dream of a lifetime? Simple. It's what I was always discouraged to do. And here, at the ripe old age of 52, I'm still rebelling against my writer parents. They were against education in the arts. "You either have talent or you don't and if you have it, you use it."

To them, one didn't waste time in graduate school learning to do something you already know how to do. They were old school, boxcar-riding, depression babies. They neither had the money or the time to indulge in MFA programs. (Actually, they weren't hobos riding in boxcars but I thought that sounded good.)

So now that they've both left this world and moved onto that great graduate program in the sky, I've found the courage to pursue this dream of my lifetime - to become a fulltime writer. They were fulltime writers and strongly discouraged me from following in their footsteps. Like good parents, they were trying to spare their child from a life of misery. And like a child who wants what she can't have, I've held onto this dream with a vengeance.

It's not that I don't like working in the prison and being a social worker. I've managed to write a book, a few books actually, while doing so. And articles and poems and screenplays. So, what's the big draw to the MFA? "What have they got that I haven't got?"

In the "Wizard of Oz", when the wizard is distributing the rewards, he prefaces each speech to the four seekers with "but they have one thing you haven't got." To the scarecrow, he says it's a diploma. I suppose I'm looking for the diploma, the piece of paper which will allow me to eventually write for a living from home, perhaps teach, and graduate from the prison. But it's more than that.

Someone once said that MFA programs don't teach you how to write but they provide courage. In that respect, I'm more like the lion than the scarecrow. It's not the brain I need, not the diploma but fortitude. That's the one thing I didn't get from my parents - an alcoholic father and an unhappy mother. Perhaps that's the one thing they couldn't give.

In the end, I suppose courage is the one thing I can only give myself - permission to act in the face of fear. But let's be honest, that little ticket stub called a diploma won't hurt either. It stands out on a resume and says "she can write" or at least "she can fulfill the requirements of a degree program." In the end, my parents will probably prove to be right. Nothing takes the place of action. And for now, this MFA is the action I'm taking.


oneperson said...

What an exciting blog post!

I've been in a couple discussions recently about late bloomers, like 50 and 60 years old late bloomers. I'm not stating you are a late bloomer, but I am on certain levels. I quit college to join the Way Corps. Long story short, I ended up very physically ill. Once I quit the Corps (twice midstream), circumstances were such that I couldn't go to college.

My counselor(C)recently stated: "Think of it this way: how long might you have left to live?"
Me: "Possibly 35 years."
C: "You could complete college 4 times during that time frame."

Now at 50 I find myself pondering and trying to figure out my purpose.

Maybe I will take the plunge (or a partial dip :-) ) into furthering my formal education at some point.

Anyway...big kudos to you and great success!!!

Billy said...

Kristen's last two posts and the above comment have stirred my thoughts a little.

First, I agree wholeheartedly on the age thing. What's old? While I do not have thoughts of changing careers or advancing my education, I've seen enough people to it to not see any difference between 22 and 52 and older. (BTW, I have you both beat at age 58.)

More importantly, though, is picking yourself out of the garbage feeling that Kristen wrote about in her previous post. I suppose that if you were treated liek garbage for so long as she was (and as others were), it is common to feel like garbage even when you are doing good.

What is garbage worth? Nothing of course; it has negative value; that is, you have to pay to get rid of it. And for people who feel like garbage for any of many various reasons (I have), the way to end that feeling is to know you are worth something to others. And for many of us, I think that comes through in the work we do. There are other important, very important stages on which to find our worth; I mention work because we spend so much time at whatever we do to make a living.

Enter Kristen's work...being a social worker in a prison. Most people probably couldn't think of too many other professions where what you do and say is immediately so important to someone else's life. And if Kris were always stressed out over whether she did or said the right thing to someone, I'm sure she wouldn't be in this work.

But who can say that writing, or any of the myriad lines of work that the rest of us are involved in, is not helping people just as much? To say we are not worth as much because we are not advising or helping someone one on one, or as a doctor saving their life, is being deliberately blind IMO. Can you imagine a world without writing? And that means novelists just as much, maybe more. And I challenge anyone to take his/her profession and eliminate it from the world. A writer may not kill anyone right away by walking out the door in the middle of an operation. But the life others would find in his.her writings will never be there. Oh, you may think that not reading a book you don't write won't kill someone. Did you ever think that adding to someones life is the same as avoiding taking from it?

The second key I thought of that helps us out of the garbage bin is illustrated by Kristen's enthusiasm about writing, as illustrated in her current post. Any of us is going to be worth something to others if we are like this...doing something we want to do and are excited about. We are then going to do the greatest job we are capable of, and that is going to be worth a lot to people. And, in Kristen's case, she is excited about the prospect of getting that MFA because that will open a lot of doors.

I am not assuming anything about Kristen. I don't know if her future wriiting plans include keeping her current job at the prison or not. Not only is this not my concern, I don't think it makes any difference. She is going to be helping people because she will be in a valuable profession (s) and doing something she is excited about and can do well.

I don't think she need me to tell her this, and I wouldn't be writing this if it were to her alone. But a lot of people spend time feeling like they are in the garbage bin for various reasons, and I know that includes a number of us who were in TWI and who have read Kristen's "Losing the Way", and/or her blog posts.

For any of us (I might be writing to myself!), knowing we are worth something can come easier when we are doing something we want to do and are good at, and know we are doing something that is helping people. This applies to serving burgers at a fast food joint, or, yes, even to hauling away someone else's garbage. It is a much better way to "do what you like as long as you like what you're doing" than the methods practiced by someone else I once heard often say that.


nancy (aka money coach) said...

Hooray for you! You've inspired me. In my early 40s, I'm thinking of ... law school! Human rights/civil liberties. Thanks for Going For It with the MFA; it's encouraged me :)