So all the neuroses were for nothing. Despite wondering if my acceptance letter had been sent to me by accident, I have completed my first semester as an MFA candidate in Columbia College Chicago’s Creative Nonfiction Program. As I write this, I look at a picture of two new friends, Adry and Naomi, and I at a party making the duck face. I wish someone could have shown me that picture on those sleepless nights in late August. However, I had to relearn the old lesson that things rarely turn out as disastrous as I imagine.
I was guided through this semester by good friends, professors, and family who held my hand every step of the way. Mom picked me up from school every Wednesday night because I would have had to wait two hours for the train. Jenny, David, and Suzanne taught me how to read carefully, write effectively, and teach passionately. My peers coaxed me out of my shell and invited me to study sessions, readings, and parties.
This semester I had to relearn the benefits of discomfort. Susan Sontag said, “A free life is one in which you are willing to be uncomfortable some of the time and insecure some of the time.” I’d have to say I lived about as free a life as I ever have these past three months, experiencing various degrees of anxiety from the end of August until my second essay went through workshop on Halloween. I would rather have gum surgery than repeat that process again, but I grew more in those two months, as well as this past month, than I did in the last two years. I learned that the fulfilling life is not one where you take the easy way out, but the one where you do something you might fail at.
My writing was not as good as I thought it would be, but still better than it’s ever been. I’ve learned that not every essay has to read like a novel, and that it’s ok to write about that time on the train, or losing your friend. I have also relearned the importance of surrounding myself with people more intelligent and more talented than I am, because they all taught me how to be a better writer. I am finding my own voice by looking for the voices of my peers and professors in their writing.
My work is praised and my confidence rises: I am becoming a better writer. My work is critiqued and my ego is bruised: I am becoming a better writer. One professor said that workshop is a great place to crash and burn, and I have. My friends have shown me how to put the pieces back together.
So the next cavalcade of anxieties is waiting around the corner. I will be teaching some unsuspecting undergrads next semester and I will be submitting new work to new eyes for new praise and critique. I will have to relearn the old lessons. I am terrified and I am elated.