I’ve always had big dreams. As a pre-schooler, I knew my accomplishments could surpass learning to tinkle in the toilet instead of my pants. People have asked what I’ll do with an MFA in creative writing. They think it’s impractical. They don’t know I can realize all the dreams I’ve had since I was a kid with my degree.
When I was four years old, I wanted to be a boy when I grew up. It wasn’t a gender identity thing. I wanted to be on the football team, like the boys on “The Brady Bunch”. People cheered the boys when they pushed, shoved, tackled, and snatched balls from other kids. I was good at all those things, and believed if I was a football player, I’d receive trophies for my talents, not scoldings and whacks on the butt. I walked around the house topless, like a boy, for months. My preschool brain was made up: I was determined the only shirt I’d ever wear was a football jersey. I would be the team captain, parades would be planned in my honor, and I’d fill a showcase with all the bronzed balls seized from other kids.
My boyhood dreams were replaced a few years later. It was the late 70s. I was in the first grade, too young to prowl Studio 54, but old enough to watch “Soul Train” and know I wanted to be a disco queen. When that whistle blew every Saturday morning, I’d slide into the living room in my socks, climb onto the coffee table, and boogie oogie oogie along with the Soul Train dancers until I just couldn’t boogie no more. And I was good. I could strut down that Soul Train Line and keep it parted because I was so damn good.
There was no doubt among the first-graders, even fourth-graders, that I was disco royalty. “Dance Fever” was also very popular at that time, and a favorite game to follow musical chairs at the birthday parties I attended. Everyone knew I meant business when I took the floor, in my glitter headband and wing-sleeved top, and asked for the Bee Gees. The prize-winning goodie bag was always mine at the end of my secret-weapon dance routine: hands-behind-the-head a la Tony Manero, break into a hustle, then a little king-fu fighting before spinning, kicking my leg, and ending in a split with my hands above my head in victory.
My uninhibited dancing passed with the years and the disco craze. I arrived at college thinking I would be an anthropologist. The travel, adventure, and cultural observation and immersion appealed to me. I wasn’t intimidated by “roughing it”. Years of long-distance running had trained me to outrun any potential predatory animals I’d meet in the field, and answer the call of nature in the wild. I didn’t even need tissues or paper products, as I’d crossed many a marathon finish line missing a sock, bandana or tee shirt.
The head of the anthropology department was my adviser, and she told me stories of her field trips. I remembered most the one of her return to Papua New Guinea with her newly born daughter. Her baby was less than four months old, vulnerable to disease and dingoes, and there was no medical facility in the area, or even transportation in case of an emergency. If there was no guarantee of medical attention for a newborn, there certainly wouldn’t be any for me if I couldn’t outrun a furred and fanged carnivore, or ate a poisonous berry. I couldn’t observe other cultures if I dropped dead in the field.
I thought my adviser would be disappointed when I decided to tell her anthropology was not my field. Instead, she said it was a wise decision because it would allow me to concentrate on what she felt I did really well.
“What’s that?” I asked her.
She threw her head back and rolled her eyes dramatically.
“Sweetie, are you kidding me? All you ever do is tell stories! Concentrate on that and you’ll be real happy. I promise.”
I was skeptical at the time, but 21 years later, I realize she was right. I shouldn’t be surprised: she’s a big-name anthropologist, an expert in studying behavior, and she’d spent a lot of time observing me. I wish I’d followed her advice more closely much earlier, but I’m following my passion now. I can be anything I want in my stories: a football player, a Studio 54 disco queen, or a female Indiana Jones who wears football jerseys in the field.
Let people say an MFA is impractical. I know I’m real damn happy.