Part 1: Why a Master of Fine Arts (MFA)?
I cannot recall a time when I wasn’t an avid reader, or writer. Until my mid-thirties, I had not considered writing as a gift, and did not officially call myself a writer. I wanted to be a marketing professional, because who makes a living as a writer in a third world country? Your best bet is to get a real job and write on the side as a hobby, especially if you came from humble beginnings, like I did.
For nineteen years I worked mostly in Sales and Marketing, earning decent pay, by Dominican standards, accomplishing typical goals like home and vehicle ownership. Writing took a back seat, but never failed to tug my sleeves to remind me that she was there. So I would write something every now and then. I even wrote a novel (which my readers loved). Still, I didn’t feel confident about taking it seriously.
Was it because I was in a comfort zone? (You know how we love to resist change, when we’re in these zones!)
As the tugs became more incessant, I felt a shift. Here’s when the magic happened.
- I paid closer attention to what excited me most
For about five years I was conflicted about pursuing higher education at the Masters level. Should I major in marketing or writing? I struggled because I enjoyed marketing but writing was my first love. And the money mehnnnnn! What would I do with a writing degree, in Dominica? What would I earn? I sought clarity through different sources. Life coaches (like Oprah) challenge us to pay attention to what excite us. I started to monitor my behavior; I was devouring material on writing, and literally mustering energy to open the marketing newsletters. The answer was there all the time.
- I started to share my work with more people
I found a gem of a mentor (round of applause for Dr. Schuyler Esprit!) who encouraged me to send my work into the world. It took me years (and guts) to heed her advice, but little by little, I did. I shared my writing with other people outside of my circle, and the positive feedback was overwhelming!
- My dream job woke me
I landed my marketing dream job at a prestigious company, and for six years I basked in it, growing in the role. I was born for this! But something was lacking. Marketing was not my first love, and I could feel myself pulling away, becoming resentful. Sometimes the higher power gives us what we ask for, to help us realize what we really want, or what we do not want. In effect, I came back to square one in a roundabout kind of way.
- I took writing from the back seat and placed her next to me
There’s so much advice on writing out there. The best I read is ‘Becoming a Writer’ by Dorothea Brande, first published in 1934. (The book is available on Amazon – check it out.) Brande suggested several exercises that allow writers to get into their zone. One of them was waking at least one hour earlier to write. Being a single mother with a full time job, that exercise was challenging. However I started it, and lo and behold! Every day a new story erupted from my soul. At that time I disliked leaving my writing to get ready for work. I was itching to write all day!
- I grabbed the opportunity of a lifetime
After Hurricane Maria emaciated Dominica in September 2017, the University of the West Indies St. Augustine Campus in Trinidad offered a two-week residency to two Dominicans. I was selected and I became a junior Writer-in-Residence at the campus, learning from award-winning author Oonya Kempadoo and other writers and scholars. I was in heaven! I read one of my short stories at a literary event, and I was given the honor of representing the university (and Dominica) on the Caribbean News Media Group television morning show. The whole experience was life changing, solidifying my decision to pursue formal training in creative writing.
Yearning to pursue the MFA in Creative Writing was one thing. Getting there was another. I had so many questions:
– How do I pursue an MFA, as a single mother, already laden with responsibilities and financial commitments?
– What school would accept me without formal training in English?
– Would I have to leave my job, my home, my family?
What about renovating my house that the hurricane destroyed? Didn’t that take priority?
(No, I wasn’t insured. Shame, I know.)
The answers came through prayer, research and speaking with people. Despite my challenges, I remained confident in my decision and fearless, knowing that God’s grace is sufficient. He blessed me with a gift, and he will always help me to nurture that gift.
The truth is I have this intense desire to become a respected author and I fear stagnancy more than I fear change. I believe that even though change will cause some discomfort, or upheaval in some cases, we can only achieve what we desire by getting out of our comfort zones, and owning our calling.
No risk, no reward.
Look out for Part 2 of My Journey to the MFA.