I’m in my 40s, but no fool. I know la chupacabra has a taste for little Puerto Rican women and the bogeyman lives underneath my bed. I’m afraid of both of them, so I avoid El Yunque after dark and leap into bed from a distance of at least three feet so the bogeyman can’t grab my ankles.
I’m also afraid of mundane things, such as “Why the hell did I get an MFA?” and “What responsible adult decides to pursue writing in her 40s?” While I have practical strategies to guard against la chupacabra and the bogeyman, I feel defenseless against my post-MFA fears.
It’s almost one year since I completed my degree. Many of you are gripped by the anxieties I faced then — and still grapple with now. This week, I revisited where I was last year and reminded myself of my managing-anxiety-strategy: When I freak about my life going nowhere and being a loser, I consider if my fears are actually founded in reality. Following is a brief assessment of the things I left the MFA program with, and how far each has brought me.
I left the MFA program with:
- An MFA degree that landed me college teaching positions, and looks snazzy when applying to non-college level academic positions.
- Strong writing skills that helped me complete my collection of short stories without the support of a weekly workshop. I haven’t dipped back into the corporate labor pool yet, but hope these skills will make me more marketable if I need to return temporarily to pay my mortgage.
- A strong body of work that I am still submitting EVERYWHERE. Persistence and patience are paying off: I’ve been published, been named a finalist in competitions, received fellowships and grants, been invited to read, and expanded my readership beyond my dad.
- A strong network of classmates who are familiar with my work, and who continue to be trusted readers and colleagues. My teachers and mentors still provide references and guidance.
- Knowledge gained from speaking with established writers on how they’ve honed their craft and pursued their writing goals without starving. Important lesson: Be bold; it doesn’t pay to be shy. I’ve kept in touch with many of these writers, and they’ve become part of my network of mentors.
I repeat this reality check as often as necessary (sometimes multiple times in one day) because I’ve learned another important lesson through all this: Fear can be paralyzing, and this boricua needs to keep moving pa’lante.