Best Last Hopes

I finally did it. I finished my last two writing samples, got my statements together, wrote a check or two, threw them into a couple of big manila envelopes and sent them off to my last two MFA writing programs.

Pursuing an MFA has been stabbing my brain parts.

I started with 7 schools. I took out Austin because I didn't think I had enough time to deal with their deadline and the GRE scores. Then I took out SDSU because it was the only school on my list that needed a GRE score, and that means paying $150 just for a school that wasn't even one of my top choices. Then, I took out University of San Francisco because the deadline snuck up on me, and I rationalized that the living expenses, plus the expenses of USF, plus the fact that it's a Jesuit school (no I don't know why that matters but it made sense when I was trying to explain away not applying there.)

So that four schools in Southern California. Oh, a couple of days ago I got rejected from UC San Diego. So that leaves three schools.

Of those, UC Irvine is my school of choice, what with it being one of the top creative writing schools in the nation, but after re-reading what I sent, I can't believe they would give it more than a moment's consideration. Plus, if my writing was bad enough to be rejected from UCSD, then it must be a spilled coffee rag for UCI.

Which is a shame, because acceptance at UCI would have been tremendous validation. If you've never taken a creative writing class, you might not know that writer-students are astonishingly needy, self-loathing and arrogant all at once. We are the type, whether it is subconscious or not, that wants to be held in high regard by our peers, but even if they did, we would still hate our own work because we know the perfect series of words is somewhere in there, and until we unlock that secret, we are shitty people. I am sure it is an illness.

Evaluating the creative writing scene in college, I would confidently place myself somewhere in the top 10. Of course, that's me speaking, and I bet everyone would put themselves in the top 10. This is no scientific survey; This is me reading my classmate's work, brushing off most of it, and holding a few in high regard. It's horribly egocentric but an inevitable part of our nature.

The fear is that we all exist in our small, shallow ponds. Even were I confident in my status as a writer, what if college itself was a small pond? This is a pyramid, and few ever make it to the top. It's easy to hear people say they believe in your skills, to have supporters and to get positive remarks on your work. Plenty of self-perceived big fish have felt the same about their habitat.

But at the same time you fear anything negative. Like rejection letters. Did I mention I lost a writing contest at a journal today, too? I'm having something published online soon, but that pond is so small it might as well be a pot-hole filled with water and tadpoles.

If I am speaking with too many metaphors, well, now you see why I'm getting nowhere.

All of this is to say, I spent Sunday through Tuesday editing my two best stories, topping off at 30 pages, so that I could send them to my last two graduate schools. My two best, last hopes. I was astonished at how much I found that I could fix. True, I did sleep on it for over a month, which allowed for new perspective, but I was picking out basic errors like comma splices and tense shifts. It was atrocious and I couldn't believe I sent it out to be read by other sentient beings.

I worked really really hard on them in that final push. Altogether, from their inception a year ago to their mailing on Wednesday morning, it was the hardest I had ever worked on any story I have ever written. It received the most re-reads, line edits, and dedication than anything (save for, maybe, PCN.) Of those 72 hours, I spent about 40 of them just sitting here and working on it. It truly just might be the best that I could do with my current abilities.

And it is terrifying to think that it still might not be good enough.

Because then I'm out of plans, other than trying again in a year. But a year is a long time. A lot-- Probably too much -- is reliant on my getting in to somewhere to get a master's degree. I know a lot of people say a master's is a waste, it's debt, you might as well get into the job market, but they're using blanket advice that doesn't apply to my plan. Because I'm not in this for the job, at least, not completely. I want the environment, knowledge, and, yes, the vindication.

They were pretty little envelopes once I had them packed, sealed, and addressed. Neat, clean, thick and full of information. I hope they made it okay, and I hope some coordinator in some office sees something in it.

This is the fear of investing yourself into something. The terror of being really good at one thing, and then facing the fact that you might only be okay at it. I have been doing this my whole life, building an identity around it and dreaming the dream. It's not that I'm afraid I won't go anywhere if I don't get in this cycle - I'm not that melodramatic. But whatever the future is, it won't be as lifting as this tiny little vindication for my small, shallow fish pond.