I call the years between undergrad and graduate school the lost years. I hardly remember what I was doing besides working, taking the prescribed two vacation weeks a year in Florida, and paying a heavy car note. Three years ago I was walking in the dark, feeling my way around. I had lost most contact with the undergraduate network, and I wasn’t thinking critically about anything. If I said I didn’t write down one creative sentence between 2002 and 2008, it wouldn’t be far from the truth.
In the summer of 2008 I decided I was going to take an old college professor’s advice and get a masters degree. The reason why? Because I was bored to tears with my life. I gathered all my applications, followed the instructions, and stumbled when it came to the writing sample. I didn’t have a single poem on a napkin to submit.
I got to writing. All five schools asked for different samples; some fiction, some non fiction, some poetry, and a letter of intent for each. I wrote my ass off that summer, and it changed me. Suddenly I was obsessed with the applications, making a back up plan, in case I didn’t get in, to take writing workshops at local programs like the Montclair Adult School.
Then Jayne Anne called me. She sounded like she didn’t have time to waste, and said she never heard of the other school where I had been accepted. I felt pressured, I felt assured, I accepted.
I had to work full time, while taking a full course load because I never do anything half way. Soon I found myself in reading intensive Caribbean history classes and writing intensive workshops. I was drowning, I was tired, I was intimidated—but I had turned on the light.
But you wanted to know what I’ve taken away from the program.
From Rigoberto: how to write an awesome statement of purpose.
From Tayari: how to ground the story in deeply human conflict, and never describe a character using food as an adjective.
From Jayne Anne: how to line edit like you’re mining for a diamond.
From Alice: how to (should I ever teach) cultivate the individuality of each student while patiently allowing them to express themselves, and encouraging them to strive for their best possible effort.
From Rachel Hadas: that even when your personal life is falling apart, put on your most colorful scarf, get to work early and over-prepared, then make them love your beautiful mind.
Maria Victoria Luna