Grad School: To Go or Not to Go, That is the Ever Looming Question
Let's just get this section out of the way because this single...what should we call it? Event? Area? Anxiety-laden-organism-consuming-my-mind-and-body-like-a-flesh-eating-virus was the axis around which the rest of my life orbited and, at times, seemed spin out of control.
Towards the end of March I was fortunate enough to be accepted into two graduate MFA programs: one at Columbia College in Chicago and the other at Georgia College and State University in Milledgeville, GA. Both programs were a tremendous honour to be accepted into especially for someone as young as I am. I was able to attend Columbia's Admitted Student Day and quickly learned that this was not the program for me. The students that I met were very into metaphysical writing and the class I sat in on was based on the "un-paragraph" (which, surprisingly, had nothing to do with Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury, which has that one chapter with absolutely no punctuation, indentation, or capitalization). I am a very traditional and realistic writer so right away I knew that this program was perhaps stretching the nonfiction genre further than I wanted to go, but I was also put off by the students' obsession with the faculty. The Creative Nonfiction MFA is only three years old and the faculty consists of three professors. One professor (the head of department) is a woman named Jenny Foster*. The students talked about how much they loved Jenny and her classes, how "cute" she looked while pregnant, and how they loved having brunch at her house. They talked about Jenny so much that I felt like Jan from The Brady Bunch when she exclaims, "Marsha, Marsha, Marsha!" All of this combined with the fact that Columbia was able to offer me a total of $0.00 in scholarship ultimately led me to decline their gracious invitation into the program.
And then came GCSU. GCSU is one of the top Nonfiction MFA programs in the country. It is a wonderful liberal arts college that is located about an hour and a half south of Atlanta. I visited this campus and found it very charming, Kalamazoo College-like, and predictably Antebellum. I met with the director of the MFA program as well as a few current MFA students and knew that this program would be a great fit for me. Their writing followed a more traditional path and the Nonfiction Department encouraged collaboration with the Theatre Department. I was a bit nervous about transitioning from the thriving scene of Chicago to the small town of Milledgeville, which makes Brunswick, GA look like a metropolis, but I had high hopes that I would settle in nicely. GCSU also has a wonderful habit of funding as many students as possible and thus was the source of my stress for the past four months...
At the same time that I was informed of my acceptance into GCSU I was also told that I was a strong candidate for the MFA program's Graduate Assistantship -- a position that came with a full tuition waiver and an attractive stipend. For one month I was given weekly email updates saying "you are still in the running" and "as soon as you move-up on the waitlist we will let you know!" Clearly, this began to take a toll on my nerves since my going to GCSU rested on landing this assistantship (because everyone knows an MFA degree is not a money making degree and even the director advised against paying for grad school). During this month I wrestled with desire to stay in Chicago and my feeling that grad school was the smarter and more responsible choice. I was also plagued by "Do I tell my jobs? Do I not tell my jobs? Will I be able to give the standard two weeks notice? Will I be letting them down?" When the final word came back that I would not be awarded an assistantship because all the other people who were the top picks had said 'yes' I was both devastated and relieved. Obviously I was sad to not be "good enough" to have been offered the assistantship right away, but I was also happy to not have to leave Chicago and the life I have built here quite yet.
However, the director of the program said he "still really wanted [me] to join [the] MFA program" and set himself on a mission to find an assistantship in another department for me. I applied to a few and the director would often write to his colleagues about me, singing my praises, and copy me on the emails. One of these colleagues was the advisor to the school's newspaper, The Colonnade. The assistantship with The Colonnade sounded very promising and a position that was right up my alley! The advisor to The Colonnade emailed me to thank me for my resume and cover letter and said she would begin her "search in earnest" the following week. That was at the beginning of April. I never heard from this woman again even though I followed up with her multiple times.
Needless to say, by mid-July the process of applying for assistantships, constantly being told they were already filled but the vacancy posting had mistakenly been left up (this happened with five assistantships), being ignored by the Colonnade woman, and just an overwhelming feeling of not being good enough began to take a serious toll on me. I was irritable, depressed, quarrelsome with anyone close to me (i.e. parents and boyfriend), and had a general feeling of "my life is going nowhere!" I became so stressed that I am quite sure I took a year or two off my life. The MFA director was incredibly encouraging and always repeating, "Don't give up! There's still time (classes began on August 19th)! We want you here!" (Although, the thought 'Then why was I fourth on the Graduate Assistantship waitlist?' constantly gnawed at me.)
On August 1st I was officially offered an assistantship with the Nonprofit program that would begin January 1st. The MFA director said that his department normally does not allow students to begin mid-year, but he was willing to make an exception for me. Given everything I had just gone through and the extreme emotional/mental toll I had been feeling, I decided to say 'thanks, but no thanks.' Everything just felt too 'up in the air' and I was a little tired of feeling like the runner-up. The director said that he understood and deferred my acceptance until Fall 2014, when I will hopefully be more prepared for the assistantship search. Until then, I am extremely happy, calm, and relaxed to be spending another year in Chicago. Which brings us to...
The Living Situation: Get Me Out of this Hell Hole
As many of you know, I moved in with a girl from my college back in November. Fiona* was two years younger than me at Kalamazoo College and we had maybe spoken a total of four to five times. It's a long story as to how we ended up living together in Chicago, but let's just say it was a spur-of-the-moment-she-seems-nice decision. Not to go into too much detail quite yet, this ended up being an unwise decision on my part. Fiona and I were not well-suited to be roommates whatsoever and it was immediately clear that Fiona needed a "mother figure" in Chicago. I am probably one of the least maternal people out there. Friends and family would say to me, "She's just looking for someone to hold her hand and guide her through this." My response: "Time to push Baby Bird out of the nest!" We also differed greatly in the cleanliness department. For example, I like dirty dishes to be cleaned within 24-48 hours. Fiona didn't mind them festering for nearly a week and often forgot what dishes were hers. She even went to California for three days and was kind enough to leave her dirty dishes in the (extremely shallow!) sink. I also believed in flushing the toilet whereas Fiona had a bit of a problem with that and it was sadly not for environmental reasons (and this only happened with non-pee items!).
But I am getting ahead of myself. I need more time away from this experience to fully give it justice in a written form because as of right now it will simply be a rant (and a few of you did receive my special piece on "The Back Incident" so you already know a good bit about what I was going through -- to anyone who would like to read this, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or message me on Facebook). A few positives did arise from this living situation: I learned the art of patience, I made great use out of having three jobs, and I was able to foster some new friendships because I needed people to hangout with while trying not to go home until after midnight or 1:00 a.m.
Yesterday, I officially moved out of the Uptown apartment I shared with Fiona and am now a resident of the wonderfully eclectic Chicago neighbourhood: Rogers Park. Rogers Park (RoPa) is also where Heartbeat Theatre is located so it is nice to have at least one job I can walk to.
I am again living with a friend from Kalamazoo College, but this time it is someone who I knew fairly well in college and hung out with on multiple occasions. In the week we have lived together, I can already tell that Bianca* and I are going to get along great. For starters, she flushes the toilet and I cannot hear her chewing from 20 feet away -- a giant leap in the right direction!
Positives and Promises
I want to end this post on a positive note. While this summer has been an emotional rollercoaster ride and the past nine months have made me feel like I was serving a prison sentence in my own apartment, there have been a handful of positive moments. I feel very settled in my three jobs and have thankfully found greater purpose within my marketing association (i.e. my day job). The people I work with are great and while I am not ecstatic to have to catch a train at 8 a.m. Monday - Thursday, I do like being with the organization (and there is a rumor going around that I may be asked to travel to New Orleans for a large annual conference that we host every Spring so fingers crossed!).
Heartbeat Theatre continues to be an amazing community of artist to work with and while I am only paid for Front of House work, I am very active in their storytelling group and volunteering with their special events. The Chicago Theatre is perhaps my least favourite of my three jobs, but that has more to do with some of my coworkers than the job itself. If the marketing association were to ask me to go full time then I would drop the Chicago Theatre in a heartbeat, but until then I do enjoy seeing the shows for free and making the occasional bartending tips.
I turned 25 this year and in honor of my milemarker quarter-century birthday I got a tattoo! It is a modified image of my father's art studio logo, which I got because, to me, it represents family, traveling, art, and being a military brat. I got it on my back and I won't lie -- that thing hurt like a bitch! Luckily, it healed quickly. Right after getting the tattoo my boyfriend took me on a surprise trip to Galena, IL for my birthday, which was a really wonderful time (even though I wasn't able to use the jacuzzi in our room because a fresh tattoo cannot soak in water -- drats!).
And lastly I want to make a promise that I will keep up with this blog more regularly than I have in the past. I know that I have said that before, but as this is the start of a new "year" in Chicago anda lot more. I have been writing for pleasure fairly steadily since graduating from Kalamazoo in 2010, but I have fallen off the bandwagon this year. Now that my work, living, and social life have reached a comfortable plateau I believe it is time that I treat my writing more seriously and remember that this is what I want to do for a living. I plan to start submitting more pieces for publication so maybe this time next year I will have a story in physical print and not just online!
Thank you for continuing to read my scatter-brained blog. I hope most of my posts are entertaining and not bordering on a journal entry. I'll make sure to write again soon!