So as you all know, since I talk about it ad nauseum, I'm applying for MFA programs. The list is rather short and centered around geographical and cost considerations. That is, I am happy to endure some geographical contortions if the school in question is not only a top-ten school, but if they also offer waiver of tuition and a living stipend. I'm less inclined to dive into debt for fifty grand a year at a program that may do nothing more for me than give me a community to write among for a couple of years. Having an MFA shows that you're serious about your writing and helps you polish your craft. A top program can also provide networking possibilities and the opportunity to learn from the best writers. It can also open doors for teaching, if that's a course you'd like to take. (And it's something I'm interested in, from the viewpoint that I feel strongly about what I've learned this far about approaching writing as a craft and also from the viewpoint that writers have to earn a living if they're not publishing best-sellers. Focusing on helping others improve their craft allows me to immerse in creativity as a vocation, which is much more conducive to what I want to accomplish than copyediting.)
In short, it's a tension between getting into the best school I can and balancing realistic considerations like age, debt worries, partner aspirations and career goals, and what I'm likely to get from the whole endeavor. It's a lot to consider, and I worry a lot that I'm selling myself short, or dreaming too big, or wasting time on the schoolin' when I should be writin'.
In a lot of ways, I wish I had thought to follow this course when I first graduated. I would have been on a more traditional track, with fewer detours. I think about the time when I was flopping around for a direction, terrified to just find a job. I sent our resumes, I researched graduate programs. I liked the cocoon where I was, so I determined to apply for library school at my alma mater. I knew people in the program, I liked books, I worked in a library, it seemed sensible. I took the GRE, I collected my paperwork, I filled everything out. Then I lost the application right before the deadline. I never found it. I took that to be the ultimate sign of ambivalence and gave up on library school.
So in my current endeavor, I am similarly busily filling out online applications. However, I found myself flummoxed trying to remember my GPA and credits earned as an undergrad. I have my transcript requests at the ready, with a request for my own unofficial copy. Alas, this solution doesn't do you much good when you're trying to save you hard data-entry work on screen seven and fill in the crucial information later.
While I cursed and fruitlessly beat my desk, it occurred to me that I have a filing cabinet in my attic, which I've been lugging around with me every since I graduated college. It represents my earliest attempts to put my life on some sort of track--each goal and aspect is represented by tidily labeled hanging folders. Thus I could label, categorize, and slide things into their appropriate folder. Soothing order amid the chaos of a life that I had to, for the first time in my life, direct the course of.
So I climbed into my attic and unearthed it from amid the dust and shingle debris from my re-roofing. Here are some of the folder categories: "short-term job search" ("How do I not starve while I figure out what I want to do?"); "long-term job search" ("What do I want to do as, like, a career?"); "bills" (Attempt to assert financial control as a Real Life Adult); "writing," in which I had stuffed the one good piece I had written thus far and hoped to collect more; and "grad school." When I dug through the grad school folder, the only thing I found was a copy of my unofficial transcript from college. Brilliant! So very helpful in the current circumstances and exactly what I was looking for.
In this case, I take it as a good Freudian turn that I could remember enough to actually locate something I stored so many years ago. It's like my brain is onboard with the ultimate plan as opposed to sabotaging it. But I can't help but be a bit humbled and disturbed that my categories haven't changed all that much. I have a career that I'm not enamored of or growing in. I can open the want ads and apply to be an "X" with the following skill set. But I'm still trying to touch base on the same goals, still trying to figure out how to earn a living, figure out what I want to be when I grow up, and figure out how to write things I'm proud of. I just hope that some of this is converging.