If You Could Do Anything…

If money, time, responsibilities, age, and health were no object, what would you do right now? If there were no barriers in your way, what dreams would you pursue? What goals would you try to achieve?

I think about this quite a bit. As I’ve said, I have a very long bucket list. I dream big. Even so, my “one thing” seems to be different depending on which month or year you ask me.

Today, at this moment, what I’d love to do more than anything else is pursue a Master of Fine Arts at my alma mater, Warren Wilson College. Many very talented writers have gone through that MFA program, and have gone on to win National Endowments for the Arts; Guggenheim, Radcliffe, Stegner and Hodder fellowships; the Rome Prize from the Academy of American Letters; Whiting Awards; the NAACP Image award; The Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers’ Award; the Kate Tufts Discovery Award;  the Juniper Prize for Fiction; the Lannan Literary Award for Poetry; the Kenyon Review Fellowship; the Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy; The Howard Frank Moser Short Fiction Prize; and on and on. Even more have gone on to be published through highly acclaimed publishing houses. I genuinely think this program would push my writing to the next level.

It is a low residency program, which means I could remain in my beloved Seattle most of the time. But twice a year I would experience the delight of Western North Carolina and its Blue Ridge Mountains. And there’s something magical about the WWC campus. It is one of the most environmental and liberal campuses in the country, and it influences you. It gets into your bloodstream. You can’t go there without leaving as a more amazing you. I’ve tried to get many people to attend this fine institution. One day I hope someone will actually listen to me, because this place is a gift.

So what is holding me back? Money, first and foremost. That always seems to be my biggest hurdle. The bills won’t stop coming simply because I would prefer that my focus be elsewhere. And then of course there’s the question of time. An MFA is not a trivial pursuit. It’s not something I could squeeze in between my bridge openings at work. And unfortunately, that work is what keeps the dogs in kibble.

So unless I happen to stub my toe on the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, I’ll simply have to keep dreaming of a path in life that I most likely will never have a chance to take. Somewhere in an alternate universe, another me is sitting under a tree in the heart of an alternate Appalachia, learning how to be the most incredible writer she can be.

Oh, and she’s younger, thinner, in a loving relationship, and impervious to cold. Why not? Given my active imagination, I can almost content myself with that. Almost.

So now it’s your turn. What would you do, if you could do anything?

wwc

I may not have an MFA, but I still wrote a book! http://amzn.to/2cCHgUu

Views from my Windows—Part Two

For the beginning of this story, check out part one.

No matter our circumstances, my mother never let it be a question in my mind that I’d be pursuing higher education. She wanted more for me than she ever had herself. I got scholarships and loans and grants and she helped me as much as she could, and off I went to Warren Wilson College in the Blue Ridge Mountains, where I learned what true beauty was. I made sure that there would be several state lines between me and my stepfather. As long as I draw breath, I will never know such a beautiful sight as those rolling hills in every shade of azure, and every shade of orange in the fall. I have been trying to get back there ever since. My soul resides in the Blue Ridge Mountains. It is where I feel at home. It is where I am as safe as I could ever be. I should have never left.

WWC Barn

But I was young and stupid, so when my college did away with my major (only 3 of us had chosen it–it was a very small school), I transferred to Flagler College in St. Augustine, Florida. I wanted to be closer to a boyfriend with whom I broke up a few months later, and I liked the architecture, too. What stupid choices we make when we’re young, not realizing they will change the direction of our entire lives. But for the next year I looked through Tiffany stained glass windows over the beautiful tourist choked streets of St. Augustine. But I never felt at home there. I was the only liberal poor kid amongst mostly rich kids who breezed through school as if it were a 4 year baby-sitting service. For them it was a way to avoid work. For me it was my life. I just didn’t fit in.

flagler_college

But I was focused on much bigger things, because that summer my sister, now stationed in the Netherlands, sent for me to keep her company. From there I traveled throughout Europe, and my views were varied, and each more spectacular than the last. All this was enhanced by the fact that I fell in love for the first time. My eyes were opened, and the world seemed full of possibilities. What an amazing world we live in! That was the happiest summer of my entire life, without a doubt. But the recurring theme in my life is that all good things must come to an end, and so this miraculous summer did. I left Europe while feasting upon a bitter smorgasbord of rejection.

After 10 days at home, I started my Junior year studying abroad in Guanajuato, Mexico. This was an adventure as well, but a scary one, because it was my first time living without some member of my family within a half day of me. I was walking this tightrope without a net, and with a completely broken heart, and temptation was all around me. Suddenly I was exotic, with my light blue eyes and my pale skin, my taller than average height (for Mexico, anyway), and my entirely undeserved “American” reputation, and because of that I was popular for the first time in my life, and for all the wrong reasons. I had adventures and misadventures in this beautiful little city, and I had a sweeping view of it from my window, along with a stone wall topped with broken glass, and a sloping cobblestone lane.

gto

I learned a great deal about myself and about others during this amazing sojourn, but I was glad to get back to the familiar halls of Flagler College. Even though I didn’t fit in there, at least I understood the game. Going from being the exotic center of attention to fading once again into the background was a bit of a culture shock, so I’m afraid I copped a bit of an attitude as I gazed through the Tiffany glass this time. When the opportunity to graduate a semester early came up, I leaped at it.

For the next two years I remained in St. Augustine, trying to get used to the fact that a college degree didn’t automatically bring me the success I was always led to believe that it would. That took some getting used to. So I sort of drifted rudderless through my life. I’ve got to say, though, that I had an AMAZING view yet again. I was in this horrible disintegrating house on the waterfront. It was built in 1888 and I’m convinced that it had the original plumbing. It was a big apartment, but there were entire rooms I could not enter because the floors were so soft that I would surely have fallen through. But I could sit on my balcony and watch the sailboats on Matanzas Bay, and if I stood on tip toes, I could see the Bridge of Lions from my kitchen window. I loved that place, but it should have been condemned. Instead, long after I left, someone bought it and must have poured millions into renovations to make it a bed and breakfast. People pay more in one night to sleep in my bedroom now than I paid in an entire month. That makes me smile.

Bayfront_Marin_rose_2

This was actually MY balcony. Sure wish it looked this good when I lived there!

But again, all good things come to an end. I lost my job, and spent a miserable, awkward and uncomfortable 6 months under the same roof with my stepfather while I searched for gainful employment. Just when I was about to lose all hope, I got a job with the State of Florida, and relocated to Jacksonville. And for 3 ½ years I had yet another spectacular view. I lived in a little studio apartment on the Cedar Creek. I could sit on my patio and watch the Muscovy ducks on the banks of the creek, and see the occasional manatee breaking the surface. At night the stars would reflect in the water and I felt like I was floating in outer space. All I had was a mattress and some lawn furniture, but I was young and didn’t care.

And then my mother got cancer.

To be continued……