The problem with introspection is that it has no end.
In 2003, I was accepted into the Southampton – Long Island University Master of Fine Arts program. Based on my fiction portfolio, I was offered a small scholarship of $1000 a semester. I’d attended the 2002 Southampton’s Writer’s Conference and fell in love with the program. A writer’s life was for me, it seemed.
But, I turned it down. I didn’t attend any MFA program. Instead, I shacked up with my boyfriend of five years, moved from our hometown in Ohio to Chapel Hill, North Carolina and got a job at Borders Books as a Cafe Supervisor. We didn’t know anyone in North Carolina. We had no prospects. All we had was the belief that it would work out – we never even considered that it wouldn’t.
When we first arrived in North Carolina, Michael and I did a weird thing. We printed up copies of our resumes, put on our nice traveling sales-people dress clothes and starting walking around business parks. We passed out our resumes to over 80 places. It took us over three days to run out of resumes. The very last place was a little office in Cary. We didn’t know what they did. We didn’t care. Michael was in I.T. and I was marketing myself as an administrative expert with strong communication experience (which, was a total crock. In college, I’d been a writing intern at the American Red Cross and I was desperately trying to parlay that into something useful.)
A man answered the door and led us inside. It was after 5pm and he was, apparently, the only person left in the office. He looked over our resumes, asked us if we were a package deal. We both answered emphatically in the negative. Turns out this particular office was a technical writing firm. They were always looking for writers but I didn’t really have the necessary experience. They’d been toying around with the idea of adding an I.T. person, however. He took our resumes and sent us on our way.
Time passed and nothing seemed to come of it. We’d worked through a lot of dead leads like that. Michael got a job at Home Depot. I bounced around different Borders book stores in the area – my nagging sense of ambition never let me rest too long. In retail, if you want to succeed and you aren’t too busy getting stoned by the dumpster, you can rise up through the ranks pretty quickly. I did. And, then, Michael got a call from that little office in Cary. He was hired on as their I.T. person. We were thrilled – the people were great to him and it was our first sign of success.
By the time 2004 rolled around, I was a manager (still in training) at the Waldenbooks at Crabtree Valley Mall. But, at Christmas time, they told us our store was closing. It was my first indication that the entire company was about to quietly collapse. Michael had been offered a new position in the I.T. department in local government and was leaving the technical writing firm. We’d become friends with the director and she did something that really rarely happens: she gave me a shot.
I don’t think I really deserved it back then. I was a fiction writer and not the least bit technically minded. I was brought on as a Junior Technical Writer. I felt successful for the first time. Michael and I bought a house. We got married. I was promoted to Senior Technical Writer. I started to deserve the shot she’d given me.
Michael and I bought some land way out in the boonies. We saved up our money and finally built our dream house. I was promoted to Project Manager at the technical writing firm.
When you are a writer, it nags at you. You can’t really give it up for long. I toyed with it – writing things but never sharing them. I’d do NaNoWriMo in November and then throw the novel away. When I was younger, it was my whole identity and I’d turned my back on it. Getting back into it is like getting back into running after an injury – it clanks and hurts. It is awkward and hard. In the beginning, there are more bad days than good days. It can be discouraging.
I become friends with another writer, Molly Schoeman, who is the epitome of kindness and support. She encouraged me to keep going.
I started taking continuing education writing classes at Central Carolina Community College. I was lucky to be grouped with a really amazing teacher and a group of fellow writers that took the craft really seriously. There is a real pressure to show up and not suck when you are surrounded by people that are truly good at what you want to do. It is said that if you want to get better at something, surround yourself with people that are better than you. If you have enough ambition, it can work. I’m still working that out.
I’ve started submitting stories to literary journals and I am just now beginning to see some success. I decided to take it seriously. No more shrugging and blowing it off. When people ask me what I do, I’m going to say I’m a writer, because I am. No more qualifying it with “technical” because that’s a cop out. If I don’t take it seriously, why should you?
I think about that MFA program and wonder what would have happened if I’d accepted my spot. I might not be married to Michael. I might not live in my pretty house in the woods. I might be even further in debt with student loans than I am now. I might be a barista at a coffee shop, somewhere. Or, a bookseller at another book store. I might have found success because I’d taken the craft seriously at a younger age. I don’t know, I don’t know. It doesn’t matter. I don’t regret it. When you are a writer – or a singer, a painter, a woodworker – you don’t have a choice. You’ll do it in secret or you’ll do it on the weekends. You’ll tie your whole self up in it. You’ll shy away from it because even the idea of failure will hurt too much to try. But, hopefully and eventually, you’ll start to take it seriously again.