Reflections on My First Semester of Grad School

I finished my inaugural semester in the MFA for Writing & Publishing program at the University of Baltimore this week. It’s hard for me to believe I finished my undergrad degree in writing & literature at Marlboro College in Vermont almost seventeen years ago. That’s nearly half my life ago!

I turned forty at the end of August. For a long time I have wanted to write “more seriously” again, but I started my family when I was thirty, and for various reasons, it has been difficult to write “more seriously” for any sustained duration.

My daughter was born with a congenital heart defect, which required surgery when she was five-months-old. The first five months of her life were hectic in part because she was our first child, and we became new parents while my husband was finishing up his doctorate program; but also because when a newborn has a heart defect, complications can arise. We faced many of them.

We also juggled early intervention therapies in our daily schedule, because my daughter was also born with Down syndrome. I would approach how we addressed her disability differently if we were to do it today; there would have been far fewer—if any— therapies while she was so young. But that’s a story for a different day.

After she was born, we moved for my husband’s career after he got his PhD several times, and ultimately bought a house Baltimore, MD in 2008. My daughter was fifteen-months-old, and I was pregnant with my second child. My son was born six months after we arrived in Maryland, prompting his older sister to begin walking finally, just days after he came home from the hospital (she was twenty-one months old at the time).

My mother has been sick and unavailable for many years. We never lived close to what little family we have, and we’ve never hired any regular outside help. I’m sure you can imagine how busy I was as a stay-at-home mother, and if you can’t, there are plenty of places where you can read about what that experience is like. My point in mentioning all of this is to illustrate why it was so difficult for me to find the time to write “more seriously.”

In reality, I never stopped writing throughout those particularly busy years. I kept a blog for about fifteen years, which I began prior to starting my family, and stopped just a few years ago. I daresay there was a time when it received a fair amount of traffic. I’ve since decided to make that blog private, but it served my desire to write and communicate with people for a long time. I also wrote “more seriously” in the course of that time, participating in both NaPo- and NaNoWrimo on several occasions. I think because all that writing just sat in folders on my desktop, it didn’t feel real, and I didn’t give myself credit for writing it.

In 2014, when my kids were six and eight, I heard about the Words After War Writing Intensive at Marlboro College, at my alma mater. At the urging of a friend, I applied, and I got in. Taking part in that intensive began my foray into writing “more seriously” again. After participating in the program in 2014 and again in 2015, I decided I was ready to go back to school to get my MFA.

I looked at multiple MFA programs; most of them low-residency and in other states. My husband was willing to help me make that work, but the thought of it was daunting. By chance, I went to the Baltimore Writer’s Conference last fall where I met Marion Winik and D. Watkins who spoke about the program at the University of Baltimore. Ms. Winik, a prolific author of many great works of non-fiction and NPR commentator, spoke as a professor, and Mr. Watkins, the breakout author of the book, The Beast Side: Living and Dying While Black in America, and more recently, The Cook Up: A Crack Rock Memoir, spoke as a graduate of the UB program. I didn’t know at the time that the program existed.

After the conference I did some research and liked what I saw. I applied, and it was the first thing I’d done in a long time that made me giddy with excitement when I thought about what it would mean for me and the course of my life if I got accepted. I loved the idea of being able to get involved in the Baltimore writing scene, and going to school and working in the same place where I live and hope to develop my career as a “serious writer.”

I hope my use of scare quotes throughout, rather than just being annoying, has illustrated what I wish I’d known all along. I don’t think there is any such thing as a serious writer, any more than I think there is such a thing as a not-serious writer. Writers write, and in so doing, they become writers. Voila!

I’ll write more about the program in the coming days.

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