Getting through the hurdles
Once I’d decided to pursue the Master of Fine Art (MFA) in Creative Writing, I started thinking about how to get there. Here’s how I felt: If I don’t get to learn how to write professionally, I will die. I reached out to my mentor, Dr. Schuyler Esprit, for advice. She readily shed light on universities, and her experiences living in different cities.
How would I research?
This was a few months after Hurricane Maria. There was no electricity in my community (Kingshill), therefore no Internet. Mobile data, at that time, was gold! Do you recall the outrage in Dominica over the exorbitant data rates? Researching using that medium was not an option. I told a friend of mine what my intention was and she offered me space to research. I took advantage of the opportunity, going in after work to scour the Web in a comfortable, safe environment. (Thank you Kimone Joseph. Angels are truly on Earth!)
I quickly realized that the MFA Programs are extremely selective. The schools I was looking at only accept eight people into the program annually – four poets and four fiction writers. The general recommendation is to apply to three or more universities, but I applied to two. Why two? Because funds were limited. (Remember I had to rebuild?) This means I was competing for a space that only four people in the world would be selected to fill. How would I, with a limited world view, dazzle these accomplished university professionals? It took me three months to complete the applications. The re-writings and editing were real! I give thanks to Yuri (my partner) and Schuyler who really worked with me to perfect the pieces I submitted. Special thanks to the women who helped me along the way with those letters of recommendation. (Dr. Muli Amaye, Dr. Schuyler Esprit, Ms. Kimone Joseph, Mrs. Dionne Durand-Smith.) Blessings, y’all!
Submit, then wait
I hit the submit button in October, way before the December deadlines with my heart set on University of Maryland (UMD). Why UMD? I was fascinated with the course outlines I read online, and Schuyler really blew their horn. Acceptance/rejection notice would come in late February/early March 2019. The wait was agonizing! If I could get a dollar for every time I visited the schools’ websites to re-read submission guidelines, FAQs, course requirements etc, you would hear coins dropping as I walked. I checked and double checked my Junk Mail to ensure that I didn’t miss anything.
One evening in February 2019, I was sitting on the arm of our Maria-battered couch engaged in conversation with my family when my phone vibrated. UMD. I was number six on the wait list out of over 300 applicants. I would hear back from them by April 15, 2019. My heart rate went through the roof! Can you imagine the agony that plagued me over the next two months? I joined message boards and Facebook groups which I visited multiple times a day following up on which schools were accepting people and how many people were rejected. I think that’s the time of my life where I refreshed Gmail the most. I hadn’t heard from the other university but when I followed up they said my application was incomplete and I wasn’t successful.
During my wait, life was happening and my work environment was getting unbearably uncomfortable. But listen to this: in my mind the opportunity was mine. As a matter of fact, I believed it even before I sent out the applications. From since the thought had crystalized in my mind, I became obsessed! In my journals I would write that I am an MFA student at UMD. I would reaffirm this in my in my speaking, in my prayers. I thanked God for it even before he gave it to me. In my notebooks, I outlined the date I would resign from my job and even wrote my letter of resignation. If you go through any of my journals, you’ll see these all over:
#mfa #umd #lisawriter #mfastudent #summer2019
Here are two examples of my manifestation:
- The image accompanying this post was taken at my former place of employment. I told my colleague (the photographer) to capture this so I can remember I had a name plate, cause I’m leaving.
- On June 27, 2018 I was in Court on jury duty and the judge adjourned the matter to June 24, 2019. Fast forward one year and I’m back in court. While waiting for session to begin I flipped the pages of my journal back to June 27, 2018. This was part of my entry:
“By June 2019 I will be getting ready for school or better yet, already gone. Me, my children and my husband.”
Call it Faith, call it Law of Attraction. I believe in both. The husband part has not materialized yet, but we will see.
My acceptance email came while I was at Writers Workshop mid-April. I was offered Fellowship, Teaching Assistantship plus tuition funded scholarship for three years. School would begin in August. The moment I’d worked hard for had arrived and although I was excited, it felt bittersweet.
Here’s what I was facing in the months leading up to my departure:
I mentioned that my dwelling home was unroofed and damaged. My family and I lived in the house with temporary roof and damaged windows, until March 2019. Being uninsured put me in a tight spot (yes, I know this was irresponsible). Digging into your pockets (or your family’s pockets) to rebuild is health threatening. Seeking government assistance was a lesson in humility for me – the calling, the resubmitting of invoices, the up and down, the begging. I finally got some assistance, just before leaving state in July – not what I had anticipated, but I’m thankful.
Because our house was being repaired, my family and I had to move further away from town – increasing our expenditure – more fuel, bills to pay for two houses etc. A move is a stressful event – getting used to somewhere else, formulating a new routine and just being away from what’s familiar can be unsettling. But we were not paying rent so I’m thankful.
2. Life Events
February, March, April, May, June, July
My daughter and my niece were preparing for the Grade Six National Assessment (G6NA) in May. For a number of reasons, my daughter was not focused and I had to double up my energy to help her realize the importance of preparation. The G6NA in itself, is a grey hair inducing mechanism for any parent. Then getting set for Graduation and Graduation Dinner put a dent in my pocket. My son was preparing to make First Communion, and I was helping my cousin to plan her wedding. All these events ares special and once in a life time occurrences. They all required time and energy.
3. Financial hardships in preparing for the big leap
As soon as I’d applied to schools I increased my monthly savings, but construction is such that there are expenses you don’t anticipate, and I watched the dollars dwindle. With a diminishing bank account I had to face fees, travel for Visa (ticket, food, accommodation, and transportation), purchase airline tickets for U.S. travel, existing commitments (daughter’s graduation, son’s First Communion, insurance and license for vehicle). I felt like everything was happening at the same time and I just wanted someone to hand me a million dollars. I remember being in Barbados, on such a tight budget I couldn’t even get $20 from the ATM to buy food. Again, thank God for angels. Yuri saved the day (and many other days).
I decided to sell some of my assets because I didn’t want to be in debt while at school, and I also needed some cash to help me get started. Selling was another stress but I was able to finalize terms with the buyers just before I left, and continue the process after I left.
4. University hiccup
The Dean in the Graduate Office at UMD decided to rescind the offer. He felt that my two year program with the University of Leicester did not meet the American standards of four years undergrad plus I had no formal education or prior training in English. When I read that email my heart dropped to my feet. I had already resigned and had started the process of selling assets. You cannot imagine my level of anxiety. After some back and forth, the situation was sorted out within a few days, and apologies meted. Isn’t God amazing?! Whew! I was on my way again.
Besides being financially draining, the big move was an emotional challenge for my children and me. We had to say bye to all we know and love. My daughter especially was heartbroken because she had her eyes set on Convent High School.
My aunt Doreen (Tanty) hosted a breakfast for my son’s First Communion and a beautiful farewell lunch for us. These two events, I will forever treasure. I am eternally thankful to my family and close friends for providing me with financial and emotional support in these uncertain days.
During all this, my writing suffered because it is difficult for a troubled mind to engage in creativity (well for me at least). In everything though, I was still able to write one or two stories, and I give thanks. Albeit the hurdles, I was looking forward to embarking on this new journey, and embracing my calling as a writer.
Remember, when you claim something (in faith), the universe is waiting to give it to you. Go out and get it. It is yours.
No risk, no reward.
Look out for Part 3 of My Journey to the MFA.