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?
Since about the age of 8 I’ve been told I should be a writer. Indeed, I’ve had a few articles published, but nothing for pay. And of course there’s this blog, which is a creative outlet that I have found I can no longer do without.
In every job I’ve had I seem to eventually wash up on the shores of writer-land. Either I get volunteered to write the company newsletter or I’m asked to put together a contract proposal on the side. Currently I’ve been approached to join a committee and get involved in writing training procedures. Don’t get me wrong. I love doing these things. It’s just a constant source of amusement that I seem to always land in this place in spite of the fact that I honestly don’t see myself consciously paddling my boat in this direction. It’s as if I’m in some sort of writers’ Gulf Stream that carries me along without my having to navigate.
I’ve been told I should write for a living. To that I say, “Pish!” I like to eat and pay my bills. Many people have said I should write a book, and maybe I will someday, but there are quite a few hurdles I’d have to jump over before I could reach that goal. First of all, it’s easier to be struck by lightning than it is to be published these days. People are just not buying books like they used to. And even if you get published, the big publishing houses don’t seem to be promoting their authors that much anymore, unless you’re one of their all-stars.
Self-publish? Maybe. But then you have to be a phenomenal PR person, and persuasion has never been my strong suit. It’s hard to get the public’s attention, and that is a skill set that I don’t seem to have.
Also, anyone can put out an e-book or self-publish. Yes, there are a lot of good writers who do this, but you have to wade through an ocean of crap to find them, and most readers aren’t willing to do so. Believe me, I know several people who hare published and the product they have put out is an embarrassment to the written word. So there’s a stigma.
But the main roadblock to my writing a full length book is my utter lack of follow through. If you could only see my cluttered house you’d know that to be true. How could I write a novel when I can’t even be bothered to balance my checkbook?
And then there’s the confidence thing. I can’t imagine that I have enough to say on any one topic that I could hold someone’s interest for 300 pages. I mean, seriously, who am I? Yes, interesting things have happened in my life, and I’d like to think that I have a unique perspective. But when I contemplate trying to hold forth on that perspective for any length of time, I get no pictures.
Maybe that’s why this blog appeals to me so much. Each day I can write about something new, and I don’t have to plan that far ahead. I don’t have to develop a plot or come up with a story arc. I just get to do what I like to do, which is write. Just because you love to do something and have a knack for it doesn’t mean you have to twist it into a money making machine.
If I had all the money and time in the world, I’d pursue a Masters of Fine Arts degree. I think that would be fun and exciting and I’m sure I’d learn a great deal from it. But I already have 3 degrees that have gotten me nowhere in life. I’m still paying off the last one, and I’m loathe to add a fourth to my wall of shame.
Maybe I do have a book in me. Maybe not. Maybe writer-land is actually a chain of islands, and I’ve been washing up on one of the small ones, like Molokai, instead of the big island of Hawaii. Who knows where the current will take me next. But I have to say, if it turns out to be my final destination, Molokai isn’t such a bad place to be.