A few years ago, my college roommate Jenny had a show at a fantastic Philly gallery. I hadn’t seen her in a while because she’d been holed up in Manhattan and Vermont finishing graduate school. But when I got word of her visit to the area, I cleared my calendar.
“I need to go outside,” she said, anxiety coating the simple sentence.
“You okay?” I asked as I held the door open and scooted her out to the street.
“Yeah, I’m just nervous,” she confessed as she fumbled through her purse in search of a cigarette. She paused on the curb, clicked the lighter, took a long drag and as the smoke seeped out of her mouth, she said what she was really feeling. “What if no one likes what I’ve made?”
I knew what she was saying. It’s the same fear that knots my stomach after I post a piece. I refresh the link, I reread the essay and then I agonize over whether anyone will be inspired to comment. Sure they are just words but they are my words. Whether it’s a collection of brush strokes splashed across a canvas or a clutter of sentences dotting a page, the creation is personal. And the piece doesn’t have to be a portrait or a memoir; it just has to be something you created, something you birthed and coddled before putting on display for all the rest of the world to view. So when I pulled together my grad school essay and short story, I could totally relate to Jenny’s anxiety when she stood in the gallery surrounded by her own art.
“How many schools are you applying to?” Leslie asked in January.
“A lot. The acceptance rate’s low and my desire to attend is high so I’m flooding the market.”
“Five to ten percent, tops,” I offered with a grumble.
“Oh, um, wow. Yeah, flood the market.”
So I did. Because there’s nothing else I want more right now. Nothing. Sure I’d love to be wearing a Cartier Roadster and I’d love to go home every night to a smarty man I adore. Oh and I would love love love to have thinner celuliteless thighs. But I want this more. Way more. At least way more right now. When I’m surrounded by a pile of books in August, noting passages and struggling to pen my own creations, I might think otherwise. But now? Now I want in to a MFA program for creative writing.
After organizing multiple spreadsheets and color coding each one with neon streaks, I whittled the list of schools down to ten. Then, in late January, in a heap of desperation and self doubt, I added one more. It’s a newer program that has done little to no advertising. I figured the acceptance rate would be higher because the applicant pool would be smaller. I disregarded the fact that the program ran four years instead of two and was located in the far reaches of Alaska. Right, I know - Alaska? As if I need any reminder of that slice of my life. Anyway, like I said, I want this.
As of today, I’ve submitted nine applications and I have two left to complete. Of course they’re for schools that rank rather high on my list. They both have strong reputations and excellent rosters of affiliated writers. But as much as I foam at the mouth with excitement about those two stragglers, I’d be quite content with any of the schools I have applied to. Happy instead of happier isn’t the worst consolation prize in my book.
“Good news or bad news?” I asked my dad as I helped him through the back door at work earlier this morning.
“Bad,” he said as he tightened the grip of his mitten clad hands around his walker and moved in a forward motion. Like a clumsy waltz, I faced him and slowly stepped backwards as I relayed the news.
“The heater in the office is busted and we have to replace it.”
“I got into a grad school.”
“Really? That’s awesome bubby!” he said as he beamed a grin and cautiously lifted his right hand to offer a high five.
As I stepped out of my dad’s way, allowing him to continue on his original morning path leading to his office, I smiled. I smiled at my insecurities and my accomplishments. And that’s when I knew how Jenny felt when at the close of the opening the gallery owner told her she’d sold half of the available pieces. It’s a swirly warmth that settles the nerves and excites the heart.