Aug 28, 2005, 12:48 AM
Post #3 of 4
Re: [darredet] Dear MFA'ers, I need your help
I'm normally a lurker here, but your post put a huge lump in my throat for all the familiarity it held.
I'm 22 and in a week, I will leave Oklahoma to go to Oregon where I'll begin my stint as an MFA poetry student. I spent my undergraduate education garnering a music performance degree in Indiana, and in the summer before my senior year, decided to apply to some MFA programs rather than staying on the conservatory track, as I was starting to get burnt-out by the whole music school atmosphere. In October of my senior year, just as I was starting to really throw myself into several hugely important things--my senior Honors thesis, my senior recital, and of course, my MFA applications--my mother called to tell me she'd found a lump in her breast. I shut down. Completely. When the results came back a few weeks later, I was paralyzed. She had developed a rare kind of breast cancer that had gone undetected for years. It had reached stage 3 and was 8 centimeters long. She told me the were giving her an initial survival rate of 40 percent.
I was in a poetry workshop, so I had to keep writing. But it was hard. I pretty much figured that I wouldn't be doing a graduate degree anytime soon, so I kept putting off my applications. Really, the only thing I did a lot of consistently was going home from class, sitting down, and staring at the wall. I quit sleeping, quit eating, quit laughing, reading, hiking, smiling, and I avoided writing as much as possible. Whenever I tried to put anything down on paper, I'd get about three words before I scratched them out and said, "Why should it matter if I ever create anything beautiful again?"
Because at the time, it didn't matter..not a bit. I didn't touch my thesis (due in April), and I changed the date of my recital from December to the end of May because I hadn't touched my instrument outside of the required rehearsals and lessons. I tried counselling, but it was unproductive because all I did was cry. A lot of my friends abandoned me because they thought I'd completely lost it. And I guess I pretty much had...
A breakthrough came one night when I was sitting in a recital not listening to the music and just doodling in my notebook. I felt like there was some raging black cloud sitting in the way of my poetry brain and the paper in front of me. So I just started writing whatever came into my mind...I did a huge five page free write that scared me out of my depression-induced writer's block. I called my mother and asked her if it would be okay if I still applied to MFA programs...just to see...and she told me that she'd never ever want to see me give up my dreams, not even for her. I know it sounds cliche, but I went ahead and put together a portfolio and started sending out applications. Just getting up the nerve and self-motivation to do that helped pull me further and further out of my depression. Finally, I felt like I had control back over at least a portion of my life. In January, my mother had a massive surgery to remove all of her breasts and lymph tissue. As of right now, she's weak and sore from the months of chemo and radiation and the intensive surgery, but she's unofficially cancer-free. When I look back on that semester that I spent doing absolutely nothing but crying and wandering the streets staring at my feet, I sometimes get angry about what a waste it was. I don't know how this message is going to help you, other than to compare notes on what one might go through with this kind of situation. In my instance, I felt like it would only make my mother worse if I were to give up something in order to stay home with her. I felt like I could honor her more and bring her more joy if I kept on doing what I knew always made her happy--my best work possible.
My thoughts are with you, Wind. Feel free to e-mail me (firstname.lastname@example.org) if you want to talk some more.