On My Decision to Move to Arizona for My MFA

“You’re going to fry,” were the first words a friend told me after I shared the news I am moving to Arizona for my MFA. Subsequently, with everyone I told afterward, regardless of whether or not they gave a supportive and positive response, even at two generous surprise going away parties, I imagined they were really projecting the same heat weary reaction. It’s my own insecurity. I’m excited. And can’t wait, although it’s hard not knowing what I can’t wait for. I sit here on my laptop at a desk I won’t be taking with me next to boxes full of books trying to imagine where they will be in an apartment I don’t have yet and hoping my eyes aren’t deceiving me when I try to fit everything into my two door hatch back. It’s like I’m in this weird limbo with everything up in the air. An MFA is something I’ve wanted to pursue for awhile now. I had applied to programs before with minimal luck — either rejections or not enough funding (Side note: for those who are unfamiliar with MFAs, many applicants get rejected from every school they apply to. Getting in is highly competitive, because most of the top 50 programs in the nation have an acceptance rate of 1.0-3.0%. And for a degree with little straightforward economic utility on the other side of it.) When I applied again, I decided to expand my options geographically with the mindset I would allow this endeavor to take me anywhere. And, it certainly is, the farthest program I applied to.

I’ve lived in Kentucky my whole life. These last few weeks, I’ve been filled with so much nostalgia and sentimentality: how have I not appreciated this picturesque trail in Cherokee Park or remember that one time we drank margaritas on that patio or laughed during that movie night or jumped off that rock quarry or went to that art gallery? It’s the simplistic memories that get to me. But, I need to experience something new and welcome change. For instance, living in my hometown for the past four years has had its frustrations. Hello, soft homophobia via heteronormativity systemically reinforced all the time by those around me, and also the isolated incidents of more blatant slurs, even by those I consider friends. I know Arizona is rife with its own bag of conservatism , but I’ll be steeped in a writing community with like-minded support. This social gripe is peripheral though; the primary reason is creative. I’ll admit, deciding to apply again was an emotionally and not logically based decision. It was about a year ago, and I was starting to get fed up with where I was in my life. I didn’t feel like I was doing anything substantial or pursuing goals I set out a few years ago. So, what the hell? I said on National Bourbon Day, I think it was, and decided to give a go-around with applications. And, it’s worked out. Another part of my insecurity is feeling the need to justify to non-writers why I would want this. As I referenced before, an MFA is not something like a business or medical degree with secured job prospects afterward; it is essentially a 2-3 year artists’ residency. I don’t think I need to defend my decision, but I will say that it’s the right time for me. I’m at an age where if I don’t start taking on what I said I wanted at some point, those dreams seem further away. I feel the need to pursue my artistic ambitions with serious intent right now. And, I’m committing to a stellar program. Even though it’s far, I’m thrilled it’s ASU. And, everyone I’ve been in communication with there has been more than gracious and welcoming with altruistic enthusiasm, which has put me at ease during my uncertain transition period. I couldn’t turn down a top notch offer like this. I know I would be a writer regardless; an MFA does not make someone a writer. But, I think I need a program right now to give me focus and motivate me more. What would my other options have been? Keep working my office job in the same position for the next three years — maybe, who knows? — while writing at night when I get home IF I’m not too mentally drained? The idea of that is grim. What else? A lateral move to another job I also don’t really care much about but that pays the bills? No, I need a sense of growth. That’s not to say my job has been a wholly bad experience, and this isn’t to air work grievances (that would be one lengthy post!). I need to move on though. A writer needs to be a working artist, but I don’t see any of these alternative trajectories getting me or my work anywhere.

Publication is the dream. But, I know I have to be realistic. My rationale is this: afterwards in three years when I’m on a potentially desperate job hunt with an MFA in Fiction writing, it will still have been worth it to me, and I will be in a better place than I am now because of it. During my undergrad when I decided on the Creative Writing major instead of English Education because I didn’t want to teach in a restrictive high school curriculum and the way workshops discuss writing in more substantial ways from the perspective of authorial intent instead of theoretical, political, sociological lenses, I never thought my writing life would take me in this direction, but I feel good that it is. I’m doing it, first and foremost, because I love to write and want to be in a supportive, artistic community to help me get better at it. So friends, think of me fondly for the next three years, lying against a cactus and hunched over my laptop.

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