3/30/09

Why You Keep Going

"Here, and on my own blog, we've all be following the success of a poet in his fourth year of applying to programs who got into Brown! These stories are real, these people are real, and if you continue to show courage--which being a writer will require of you your whole life, anyway--you will end up where it is you've dreamed of being, I promise you!"

- Seth Abramson on the MFA Blog's April Mailbag

A follower of the MFA Blog, Peachy, correctly pointed out that the "poet in his fourth year of applying" is yours truly. Imagine how hard I laughed when a) I saw that there was some other poor loser who had waited four years and would be heading to Brown and b) I realized it was me!

Yes, I first applied to M.F.A. programs beginning in the Fall of 2004, hoping to start in the Fall of 2005. I was naive: I thought that since I did pretty well in Johannes Goransson's workshop in the Spring of 2004 and then went on to do well in Brian Henry's Spring 2005 workshop, I figured I was a shoe-in.

I was also an idiot.

Who knew the process was so hard? Who would guess that there were THOUSANDS of other people just like me across the country and even the world, who were "doing well" as undergrads in their workshops?

There are plenty of folks who get in their first time, I know, but I felt the first rejection year was incredibly humbling, thought perhaps not humbling enough. When we moved to Iowa City, Jennifer having been accepted to the Ph.D. program in Anthropology, I felt like I was even more of a shoe-in to get into the Writer's Workshop at the University of Iowa.

Clearly still naive, I applied for a second time during the 2005-06 application season. Because we were living in Iowa City at that point, I only applied to Iowa, which was kind of a silly thing to do, in retrospect. And it was certainly a silly thing to do again in 2007!

Thinking about it now, Iowa and I just aren't a good fit. It's about where you fit in, I think- the place that's going to be somewhere you can work and where the environment is solid for you. And while Iowa City has been a great fit in many ways for almost four years now, it's exciting to think that there are a few places that I do seem to fit in.

Johannes was right. G.C. was right. Seth is certainly right as well: apply to as many programs as you can afford to apply to- to as many programs you can bare doing the work for. You're not going to run the table- even the most "qualified" folks don't do that- but you do increase your chances of getting in.

Now, that won't guarantee you anything, especially considering that the whole process really is a crap shoot to some extent. There are so many variables (who's reading, for example) and there is really no way to gauge your writing to decide where you're going to fit in- you kind of have to trust that some program somewhere will like you.

And that's why, if you really enjoy writing, you keep at it. Even if it doesn't work out right away, certainly it CAN work out if you keep trying and never get bogged down. Perseverance is pretty much one of the most difficult qualities to work towards. It's easy to give up, and I think to an extent, we're set to give up. And there are limits, too, but you have to decide that for yourself.

It hasn't been easy, certainly. Many times did I think "f*** it! I'll just work some crappy job forever and write poems when I feel like it." But I knew, even when I was down, that that would never make me happy. And fortunately, beyond my own desire and ambition, I have a fantastic support network, including my wife, my family, my friends, as well as other folks who just were pulling for me all along (Seth included). People want you to be happy, after all, and they can normally tell that you're not on some basic level. I guess folks can just tell that there's some place you'd rather be than where you are.

So I haven't done it alone, certainly, but from within, you have to pull some kind of desire and strength to keep at it. You have to manage to figure out why you're doing it, beyond just wanting to do it for it's own sake. It can't be about some perceived prestige or desire to simply get a degree. Any degree should be about more than a title or a series of letters.

It's hasn't been an easy few years, and it's really quite strange to think that this period of my life is over and that I'm finally getting back on the track I began. Now, however, I know why this is the path I wanted to go on and I kind of have a feeling why I'm here.

And that's been worth the frustration over the last few years, most definitely.

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