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My Vulnerable MFA Adventure
Technically, you could say I’m still in college, right? I mean, some students even think I’m their fellow student.
Students older than I am can’t conceive it’s an insult when they say, ” You’re the instructor? Gawd, you look like a baby yourself.”
No, my nine-month-old is a baby, I think. But outside, I’m smiling. It’s an awkward smile, like I just opened the door on a stranger in a public bathroom. But it’s still a smile.
Yes, I’ve complimented the instructor, they think.
I shouldn’t be complaining. It’s not that I’m unhappy with my job. Everyone should be lucky enough to look forward to work the way I do every day.
This feeling, the need for more–more education, more writing, is an internal tugging at my heels that mirrors my son’s grasps at my ankles. I can’t shake it.
There is a place for me still, in this world of motherhood, as long as I occupy it. The young me who needs to write in order to make sense of life, isn’t disappearing the way she might have sixty years ago, when I would have been solely the mother figure. Mothering, without a doubt, is the toughest and most rewarding job I’ve ever had. It’s a life demanding of reflection, yet doesn’t offer much time to reflect.
Here’s why I’m writing this:
After years of considering more school, I finally abandoned the notion that I couldn’t. I am applying to low-residency MFA programs. Low-residency means I can leave for about ten days every six months, and then work on the rest of my degree from home.
It’s vulnerable to blog this. Even as I’m typing, I want to delete every word I click out. There is the chance I’m not accepted to even one of the three programs I’m applying to: Bennington, Goddard, and Warren Wilson.
People I really care about will know, I think.
People I don’t even know, will know, I think.
I am blogging the process regardless, as a promise to myself that I will see it through.
I almost changed my mind a few weeks ago, when I told my mother. She wasn’t surprised. Every time she thought she knew what I would do, I did the opposite. She always thought I’d do exactly what she would do.
When I told her, I had to clear my throat and take deep breaths and stutter, all things I thought were clichés of breaking into hard news, the icy sheet we don’t want to touch.
When I told her, she said, “We are just two different people I guess, Sarah.”
Obviously, I thought.
“What about the kids?” she asked. We both looked at Johnny, who was making Play-Doh pizza. Red caked his nails, smushed up against the pudge of his fingers. He was oblivious. His face crinkled. This blob was the most important fun of his day.
The other morning, I’d asked him what he would do if I had to go away on vacation for a week.
He’d said, “I’d be sad.”
I often tell him I love him, and then immediately ask him what it means. He’s still wading through language. I want to know when his feet bury themselves in the grain of the sandy floor. When he comprehends what life is made of.
“It means you are nice. It’s hugs,” he said.
That day he said he’d be sad when I left, I couldn’t ask him what that meant.
“Mom,” I said. “Cory will be here. Don’t worry, I’m not going to ask you to watch the boys,” I spat. I didn’t know where the anger came from. This is what heartburn feels like, I thought.
“That’s not it, Sarah. You know I would watch them,” she said. “You should have thought about this before you had kids.”
This is the woman who stayed home with me until I went to kindergarten. She taught me how to (sort of) do laundry. I still don’t iron. When I make sauce, I can’t make it any other way than how she taught me–slivers of onions so that my dad doesn’t get chunks, nearly a cup of parmesan cheese, and always more garlic. She gave me everything she had: brand new sweaters she’d bought for herself from a department store, rings I might never have worn but kept because they’d hugged her fingers for so long, and her nose, I have the wide bridge of her nose, how it flattens slightly as it reaches her forehead.
She was smushing her gum, always Wrigley’s Doublemint, against her teeth with her thumb. She pulled it away, letting it draw out just a little, like mozzarella cheese, and brought it back to her teeth. This is a habit for her, like biting her nails. Her other arm bent at the elbow, propping her face away from me.
“I don’t even want to talk about it anymore,” she said.
This is how I knew she was really upset. I’m usually opposed to qualifiers, but I mean really. I stopped talking.
My mother is okay with it now, but that’s not the interesting part, so I’m not going to write much other than she’s offered for Johnny to come stay with her when I leave for the 8-10 day residencies.
In the end, she’d been upset because she didn’t want me to leave for the residencies alone.
The only time I’ve ever really been alone was when I withdrew into my head.
I need to do this.
Cory has been so supportive, which is the best part. He actually is the one who exhumed the discussion from beneath about a million doubts that had sprung up like weeds. I’d planted them all myself.
So that is the beginning.