Monday, April 4, 2011

Once More Into the Breach

Dear friends, once more.

If you've been following here, you'll know that over the winter I made the decision to apply for my MFA in Writing. I'm choosing to return to graduate school for two reasons: 1) I'm eager (some might say desperate) to become a better writer, and 2) I need a terminal degree so that perhaps, maybe, hopefully one day I can garner a full-time teaching position at a college or university. This dual career--writer-teacher--is one I've been working toward all of my adult life and much of my childhood.

My writer-teacher career got off to a pretty good start, but has become rocky over the past few years (though some may disagree): I worked in the experiential/outdoor education field for quite some time, had a stint as a newspaper reporter, earned a MA in English, and have been teaching composition and literature courses at community and 4-year colleges ever since. Three and a half years ago I completed an historical novel (after researching and writing for a year and a half), acquired a literary agent, but haven't had luck finding a publisher... which has been frustrating and even a bit demoralizing, to say the least. I've published in regional newspapers and magazines and nationally reknowned literary journals, and I've won a few contests and had the pleasure and joy of participating in some great writer's residencies, one due to winning a North Carolina Arts Award, of which I'm especially proud. But that's not the point.

The point is: I want to become a better writer.

And so, it's back to graduate school for me, this time for the terminal degree in my field. I applied to low residency programs (I have a husband, toddler, and house, so moving isn't an option) at the following schools:

  • Pacific University

  • Spalding University

  • University of New Orleans

  • Vermont College of Fine Arts

  • Goddard College

  • Lesley University

  • Queens University of Charlotte

  • Thankfully and wonderfully, I have been accepted to Pacific, Spalding, UNO, Vermont College, and Goddard. I'm thrilled that these fine institutions think enough of my talent and promise as a writer to ask me to join their writing communities. But now's the tough part. I have to decide.

    To be honest, it's keeping me up at night. I've not been sleeping well for the past two weeks (and neither has my poor husband). I've done all the research I can, read the right books, talked to the right people. I've narrowed it down to two schools, which, out of respect and since I haven't officially "accepted my acceptance" anywhere yet, I won't mention here... yet. But these last two schools, and the deciding between them, is quite literally making my head ache. I know I can't go wrong with either, that I'd have a great experience at both, and that what I do with the degree is up to me.

    However, I'm still pondering this unqualifiable program characteristic: the power of "pedigree." Writing the word "pedigree" creeps me out, but it's a sad but true fact of academia--where you got your degree matters. Would I be hurting my (somewhat future) teaching career--because I know I wouldn't hurt a writing career, not by any stretch--by not attending a top ranked school?

    It's a point to ponder. And ponder it I will, again, all day and probably into tonight. Look for a future post about what I finally decide, to come later this week. And one, after, about how I came to the decision (i.e. my research, other tools, the process). As I know from personal experience, there's a great lot and a great little information out there in cyberspace, about going for your MFA in Writing--and sometimes, a first-hand account can be helpful.

    Happy Monday!