Last month I made a spur-of-the-moment decision to apply to an MFA program. But unlike sensible people who apply to several colleges, I only applied to one — Vermont College of Fine Arts.
I’d had my eye on it for some time, noting how many admirable writers had either studied or taught there, sometimes doing both. I also noted how many of them wished they could go back and do it again. Not every MFA graduate feels the same way after the fact, so when a friend mentioned that she was about to take a break from our usual writing sprints to join a conference call with the Admissions office I was excited for her, and intrigued.
“You’re going to get an MFA?”
“I’m thinking about it. Want to listen in?”
“Yes!” I really did want that, I realized.
So I registered for the call and dialed in at the appointed time, listening as potential applicants asked great questions and received warm, friendly, reassuring answers from the Director of Student Recruitment, Ann Cardinal. I had intended to just lurk but I couldn’t help myself—I asked questions. I got answers. I fell in love.
As luck would have it, my mother was buying a smaller house in London and wanted to use the difference to help me put a roof over my head. I told her about the MFA, and she gently questioned my sanity.
“You’ve been homeless for five years, living with friends, doing favours and cleaning apartments to earn your way. Now I give you the means to buy a house and you want to spend it on an MFA?”
“Maybe if I buy a very small, very cheap house I can do both? With an MFA I can teach. I’d have a credential, at last, doing something I love.”
There was silence, followed by the small, tired sigh of a parent who can hear the thwarted ambition in her grown-up child’s voice, who knows she should say no, but can’t bring herself to prick the balloon.
“Well,” she said, “I suppose there’s no harm in applying. If you get in, we can talk again.”
Three weeks of extended deadlines, late nights, 25 manuscript pages, 2 reference letters, a very personal essay, and a critical essay later…
To say that my mother is a saint would be the understatement of the year.
Of my life.
So now what? Well, now I can now finally dedicate myself wholeheartedly to the realization of a dream – to make a life from words. Getting an MFA is only one step towards that goal, but it’s a big one.
For one reason or another, I’d managed to reach the age of fifty-five without a degree. Any degree. Now, here was a graduate college willing to overlook that fact and judge my application only on the strength of the materials submitted. Apparently, this only happens in ‘rare and special’ cases.
It happened in my case, and I will always be grateful to everyone who helped to make that happen. You know who you are, and I’ll protect your anonymity so you don’t get inundated with similar requests.
For today, I’m giving the spotlight to my mother.