Tag Archives: student

The Ghost Ship

“What do I do after … this?” I gesture around the room, and while I’m well aware that this could be interpreted as any number of things, I’m aware that H understands what I mean–graduate. Leave academia. I am comfortable here. I may not have always been the biggest fan of graduate school, but I can still negotiate a classroom setting like the best of them. Can I negotiate a world setting? I’m not sure. Other people think so, but I find myself continually pondering my capabilities. I want to write. I don’t want to walk dogs forever; it’s not how I’m interested in earning a living.

“Well, you’ll publish. And then you’ll teach. You have all this teaching experience, and as a published MFA, you’re qualified to use it.” Her expression indicated this should have been obvious to me. It wasn’t.

I have two lives for the first time. I am not just a girl who hides in the corner and scribbles in a notebook; I am also a dog walker with many regular dog friends who has to deal with doggy parents day in and day out. My boss has a life path for me that involves me getting certified as a dog trainer and helping the training side of the business. I love my each and every one of my dogs for different special reasons. I love what I do. But it isn’t what I thought I’d do. It’s a different ship than the boat I sailed to New York on.

I am interested in dog training, but I’m not. I can’t see how it would work with the life that I want, but I don’t how to say no to my boss. Have I ever said no? To anyone? And the most important question: When would I write?

Writing used to come easily to me; I did it all the time and everywhere. But now that it’s a thing I am supposed to do, I don’t really do it. I sit on my bed when I’m supposed to be working; I stare out the window. I watch people walking down the sidewalk without coats—it’s 70 degrees out today in New York City. It’s bright and sunny and warm and I am not a writer, because I am too busy being a dog walker. I have to make time. This is new to me recently, this idea that writing is something that has to be worked in, new because I never worked it in before. It just happened. 

“How do I get here?” I ask H. I stop just short of saying How do I be you? What I want, what I have always wanted, is to be where she is. A professor, working one on one with students and teaching classes, but a writer first and foremost. It is obvious as we sit across from each other, her bare feet up on her desk and mine tucked beneath me as the sun sets out the window behind us, that she has a different plan for me. We talk about my future, about the position that is mine for the taking next year, should I choose to teach. It is a good position, with benefits, and it has always been my dream. But I don’t say yes right away. H can see farther ahead than I—she can see all the books that I will write, the students I will teach, the relationships I will form, where all I can see are dogs. All I can see is my writing life sailing away because I am too scared to get on the boat I worked so hard to start moving. By not writing, by stopping myself, I am standing on the pier and watching it move away.

In Tiny Beautiful Things, Cheryl Strayed writes, “I’ll never know, and neither will you, of the life you don’t choose. We’ll only know that whatever that sister life was, it was important and beautiful and not ours. It was the ghost ship that didn’t carry us. There’s nothing to do but salute it from the shore.”

I want my writer life to be the life I choose. I don’t want writing to be my ghost ship. I am ready to catch that boat that is already sailing away.

So, today, I make myself a schedule for the first time ever. I write. I sail. And next year? I teach.

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Why I Can’t Go to Grad School (And Why I Will Anyway)

At this time last year, I wasn’t sure I would graduate.

I remember sitting with my laptop, trying to wrap up a difficult paper, and realizing that my brain was on shut down mode. There was a lot inside my head that kept from being who I wanted to be. I frequently hid in the third floor stacks at the library, in my special chair that overlooked all the things. I couldn’t walk down the hallway without headphones on because the world was too noisy. Too loud. There was a wall between me and the rest of the world, built brick by brick of the experiences in my life. The easiest way for me to communicate was the written word. So I said “to hell with this,” and decided to throw everything into grad school applications. Because it was easier. Because I could. Because it filled a hole.

I applied to eight different grad school programs. I didn’t think I would get in to any. So where I thought last year that I would be figuring out now what to do with the rest of my life, I am instead figuring out what I will do with the rest of my education. I didn’t realize this decision would be even more difficult. It’s funny, really, that I was so set on the idea that I wouldn’t get in that, while I was sad at my first rejections, I was solid in my backup plan. I didn’t plan to get in.

Not only did I get in. I got in to four. A plethora to choose from.

The choice is narrowed down to two now. 

*

I showed the cost breakdown I had worked out to D. She looked at it, and passed my phone back. “What is it that you like about these schools? Break it down.”

After thinking for a second, I answered, “Well, School A is new, and it’s high up on the rankings list. I already have relationships forming with people there. The program is more of a one on one or two as opposed to a mass advising thing.” I smiled at her. “And you know I like people.” I gestured between the two of us.

She nodded. “I noticed.”

“And the best part is the amount of connection available to the publishing world.” If I want to write eventually, I’ll be closer to knowing people, I thought. “It seems like they really set their students up.” 

“And School B? What is it about that one?” She knew I didn’t like it.

“It’s just…so…Okay. It’s really institutionally. Like, they really lack one on one advising, which I love. The program isn’t as set up in terms of the publishing world. It feels stiff.” And am I good enough to go there? Anywhere? Maybe that’s why it’s stiff. Maybe that’s why it feels like I don’t fit with them. Because I don’t belong there. The things I can’t say.

“Well, maybe it isn’t as connected. But it’s one of the top schools in the country. And you WILL write there. Have you talked to students there?”

“Yes,” I laughed, “you told me to.” I don’t know what to do.

“What’d they have to say?”

“Good things. They like the program, the courses. And they have their magazine, which is amazing.” And it’s all great but I’m freaking out nonetheless. What if I’m not good anywhere else? What if I’m only good here?

“What about what’s coming out of there, what the campus is producing?”

“I’m not sure how to ask about that,” I replied. “They seem like they like it though.” They are all pretty. They are all good. They could all be the right choice. But they could also be so, so wrong.

“What about the ones from School A?”

“I can talk to whoever I want at School A. They’ve really set me up in that way. I could tell you everything from what the courses are like to 

After a minute I added, “I really like the advisor at School A that I’ve been talking to. There’s already a relationship forming.” I’m afraid of being alone.

“I get that. I do. So I suppose it comes down to what you want to do when you graduate.”

“What do you mean?” Will I graduate?

“If you want to teach, go to School B. But if you want to be in publishing, go to School A.”

And if I fail at all these things, what will I do then? Out loud I said, “I’m just scared.”

“I’m just worried about this, about you, financially.”

Me too. But I was more afraid of everything I didn’t know than the obvious thing that I did.

*

Where will I live?

What if the classes are too hard?

What if my roommates are secret axe murderers?

What if I don’t have anything?

What if I have to sleep on the floor.

What if I can’t hack it?

What if I don’t know how to live on my own?

What if I fail?

What if I always belong to HIM?

*

There are a lot of reasons that I can’t go to grad school. I’m comfortable here. I own no furniture. For the first time in my life, I am actually fairly comfortable where I am. I have friends; I have people I can trust and talk to. I don’t want to leave that. Part of it too is that this really is a totally new start of my life. And I take that really seriously after all the life that’s happened to me. So to think that I might screw it up is very frightening to the point where I don’t want to decide at all.

But the truth of the matter, the real truth of it, is that I refuse to trust myself. I refuse to trust my gut, I refuse to trust what it is telling me. I refuse to just buck it up and make a decision. Do I continue, or do I turn back? Do I stay? Or do I go?

There are a lot of reasons why I can go to grad school, or rather, why I should. My GPA is excellent. I’m a good student. I write very well. I could actually make myself proud of me.

I need that new start.

The choice is narrowed down to two now. 

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