2014: Here’s to Cohabitation, Canines, and Creative Writing MFA’s

The first month of 2014 is nearly over. I turn 25 this year, and am embarking on new journeys in adulthood.

Firstly, I’m in the process of moving in with my boyfriend, Tony. We’ve been together almost a year, and our relationship has been a whirlwind of romance, nerdism, and all-around good vibes.

Objectively, the amount of time we’ve been together doesn’t meet some arbitrary prerequisite that couples are supposed to outlast before merging households. But in our subjective reality, we’ve been talking about this change almost since the time we began dating. At this point, neither of us are nervous anymore, and we’re mainly excited to have all our stuff in one place to maximize our sporadic workaholic attitudes (see: me writing this blog entry while he outlines a paper).

Along with this, Tony and I are adopting a dog. We had planned to be finished with the moving process, but casually perusing the website for a long-admired no-kill shelter called One Tail At A Time led us to the profile of our dream dog. I don’t want to say more just yet as the adoption process isn’t official, but it looks like we’ll be bringing a pooch home before my boxes are even unpacked.

So I know my personal life sounds like a pastoral fantasy (quiet reading time with your human/dog companions in your quaint home), but what has been most reassuring to me so far in 2014 is my professional life. But in order to contextualize, let me back it up so I can move forward more linearly:

In 2012, I had just wrapped up my first post-graduate year by working in a bookstore, making minimum wage, and volunteering literally all of my free time to my art. I intended to apply to Poetry MFA’s with full-funding so that I could float for 2 years and hopefully come out on the other end with a career under my belt.

I had made some strides in this progress when all of the sudden, a job offer landed in my lap. A Chicago Public School needed an after school poetry slam coach, and they had gotten a hold of my name. Not only that, they also needed someone to TA English and Writing courses. Although the position was initially part-time, I’d be making the most money I had ever made at any job, and by Fall ’13, I’d have a full-time salaried position.

I wrote back to my professors who had obliged to write my letters of rec and told them I was postponing the application process to accept a job. Of course, everyone knows that the salary did not happen — the budget at my school (along with every other CPS school) was slashed by 25%, and all non-essential employees were eliminated (that means me).

In a really brilliant and logical move, I also quit my job at the bookstore this past fall. After everything that had happened in my years since finishing my undergraduate degree, I was pretty thirsty for an occupation that felt like a forward motion, rather than stagnant, or even backwards.

Now it’s pretty early in 2014, but I do think I’ve moved forward quite a bit.

For one, I took a chance and applied for (and was accepted into) an experimental cohorts program in poetry pedagogy. My professor, Peter Kahn, had started a similar program in London, and wanted to bring it back home to Chicago.

Although I didn’t get the salary I had hoped for with Chicago Public Schools, I began working with After School Matters to continue to teach poetry at the high school where I was employed last year. I’m now teaching poetry full-time — thanks to happenstance. (And soon I’ll be teaching with other great Chicago arts organizations).

All of this has led me back to the Poetry MFA, which I’ve committed to applying to for this fall. There were a lot of times that I really regretted not applying when I first began the process, but I’m feeling much more optimistic now — and sure I made the right decision.

For one thing, I would not have met Tony if I hadn’t decided against applications (that alone makes it the best decision of my life, right?!). But, perhaps more importantly, I feel more grounded and invested in this decision than before.

I feel like many people decide to apply for their creative writing MFA’s because they feel lost in how to move forward in their artistic careers, or it’s some sort of personal goal, or they seek the prestige that comes from receiving an MFA from a certain institution. For me, it was also an illusion of two years of financial stability — I thought that an MFA was the only way I could be paid to be a writer.

In short, what motivated me before was a lack of vision, whereas now, I feel motivated by the complete opposite.

I realize, now, that I already have a career as a writer. So this career doesn’t necessitate a MFA in Poetry — it’s just that it’s become the logical next step. For one, a Master’s degree will greatly expand the teaching positions I’m qualified for. This is my chosen area of expertise — the same may be said for someone with a career in editing, or freelance journalism, for example (oh, hey, look, legitimate careers in creative writing). Additionally, my extra years of experience are mutually beneficial — they greatly improve my chances for receiving competitive funding, and there are many good MFA programs that groom students specifically to become teachers. This makes me much more of an asset to a given school than my 22-year-old counter part.

I think the sad reality is that too many people see school as a chance to opt out of the real-world competitiveness that it takes to build a career — granted, either way you’re not guaranteed success, even with a lot of elbow grease. As artists, we have to expect entire lives of non-linear success, false starts, falls from grace, and overnight success.

So, here’s to 2014. My year of all-or-nothing risks in every area of my life. But fuck it — with a quarter of a century under my belt, I think I’ve earned the right to forget playing it safe, and shrug my shoulders if it doesn’t turn out the way I wanted it to. At the very least, it’ll make for some interesting poetry.

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