40 thousand reasons why I’m getting an MFA

Or 9 reasons.  If you know anything about low-residency MFAs, or grad school in general for that matter, than you know what that 40 thousand number means.  But 9 is a nice round number (think pregnancy).  It’s brimming with potential as are my reasons, dreams, goals, aspirations, or anything that we think we’re supposed to be doing to make our stay in this dimension more meaningful.  A ‘life’, I guess.  And in this crazy world, that comes with a price tag.

1.       I was bored out of my precious, God-given mind.  So bored that I counted the days until I’d go to a feminist sci-fi convention in Wisconsin. I just needed something to intellectually cling to, feel challenged, have my mind stretch beyond its urban, mothering, Oprah & The View, little island girl limits.  Reading is isolating and so is writing.  I have very smart people around me, of course.  But they have lives and active Twitter accounts.  Literary salons, book clubs, and potlucks are far and few in between.  Us thirty-somethings tire easily these days and intellectual babble does not pay the bills.  (Nor does an MFA, but that’s beside the point).  Intellectual stimulation revolved around my craft—just the thought alone… braingasm! 
2.      I’m an immigrant.  My mother’s an immigrant.  My family is immigrant.  We have a different perspective when it comes to education.  Folks leave whole lives behind in pursuit of education.  My mother will have something to talk about with her friends.  As long as she knows that Master of FINE Arts (Grey Poupon voice) sounds way more prestigious then a simple Master of Arts in whatever.  Like pure silk and well-rehearsed fancy French words, yes?  Master’s in Business Administration sounds too stiff and confining like a necktie in July or stilettos at a dance party.  Master of FINE Arts is, well, refined.  (This reminds me of that movie where Jamie Foxx plays a tattered homeless man who is a classical violinist from Juilliard. But that’s besides the point.)  Needless to say, English is not my first language. Nor my second. I still say “close the lights”.  I need to work on that. 

3.      I’m a mother.  I’m Black.  I’m Haitian.  I’m a woman.  These all count for reasons 3, 4, 5, and 6.  It all boils down to time, resources, socio-economic status, etc.  (I outline these in detail during this interview with author friend Neesha Meminger onTiger Beatdown.)  These labels are not limitations.  And it’s a choice not to make them limitations.  I’ve got stories to tell.  Though I’m not voiceless, nor are the others like me.  I realized that I need to speak up more, louder and clearer for the hearing impaired.  That requires lots of practice.  Choosing words wisely, learning how to weave tales in such precise and definitive ways so that my stories resonate with just the right frequency.  Time and space are my enemy.  I will pay good money for time to study, hone my craft, read good and bad books to know the tradition.  Immerse myself in the world of English words and its heavy, complex history.  Then, know myself and my own cultural history well enough to pull from both—the written mode and the oral tradition.  This requires time.  I absolutely cannot be constantly interrupted by my children because of endless requests for snacks. And I need precious, precious space for my thoughts and ideas to wander.  Tons of lectures and workshops for 10-days (residency) in the rolling green hills of Vermont are like a deep long sigh for my brain.
7.       I applied to one program only—Writing forChildren & Young Adults at Vermont College of Fine Arts.  Ten years ago before I even knew about MFAs, it would’ve been the MA/Ph.D program in Mythological Studies at Pacifica Graduate Institute.  They house Joseph Campbell’s papers and books—an intellectual playground for me.  And there’s a course on ritual drama.  Who studies ritual drama and symbolism?  I would.  But dagnabbit, one semester of African Mythology.  One?  Or it would’ve been a Master’s in Folklore, Storytelling, Oral Traditions.  But I’d have to move to god-knows-where and be the only chocolate chip in the batch.  There’s a pattern here.  Mythology, Folklore, Writing for Children & Young Adults.  I strongly believe in deep, intense study of esoteric concepts.  It grounds me and gives me a sense a purpose in this twisted universe. 
8.      The folks who love me are rooting for me.  I get to leave for 10 days twice out of the year and come back with new and exciting stuff to tell my husband.  My children think I’m so cool.  My “textbooks” (picture books, middle grade and YA novels) are stuff they can read and I can read to them, save for the writer’s bible—The Art of Fiction and all the other craft books.  I get to have precious writing time because, I tell them, I have “homework”.  Family is more willing to help out when they know that you’re in grad school and not just working on that “novel” that’ll probably never see the light of day.
9.      I am completely blown away by what I’ve learned so far–the world of children’s literature from picture books to novels for teens.  There are so many serendipitous moments that let me know I’m supposed to be doing this.  It’s been my experience to not do things because of money and then something would happen where I lose that same amount of money it would’ve cost.  It’s as if the universe begs for that exchange.  It’s a sacrifice.  And since we don’t live in a world where chicken or goat’s blood is ritualized, money and debt will do (in this case, maybe a whole farm).  I’m studying the art of telling stories to young people.  This would’ve been the storyteller of the village—the keeper of culture and tradition.  The mythmaker.  I’d have to study with the elders, commit stories to memory, learn the meanings and symbols, and have a deep reservoir of tales to pull from my pocket and sprinkle out onto the young impressionable minds.  But, alas, this is the new way.  I get to have an advisor who is the “elder” that guides, shapes my work and ideas, and imparts wisdom. 
And besides, I’m sharing this experience with some of the most playful, brilliant, imaginative, did I say playful?, and creative people on the planet.  Folks whose job it is to tell stories to children. 

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