Regret weighs more than disappointment.
I was a ruthless runner. Sub-seven minute miles and qualifying for the Boston marathon were my driving goals, and my motto was “Leave it on the road”. I gave my all in every run, whether it was a morning five-miler, a 5K for a local charity, or the NYC marathon. I didn’t always win, but I never had the regret of having denied myself the chance by not trying hard enough. I lost many toe nails, endured bloody blisters, and almost lost bladder control sometimes, but I never crossed a finish line thinking I still had more kick or more to give.
Time to put up or shut up.
My running days have been on my mind a lot as graduation approaches. I’m terrified about post-MFA life, but I know that I left it all on the road over the past two years. I was accepted to the MFA program at a point when I didn’t believe I had the talent or strength to complete it. I felt depleted (defeated?) by my losses: I’d lost my job, my son, my faith, my sense of worth and purpose. Yet the invitation was an opportunity to realize my long-time fantasy of dedicating time to my development as a writer. Broken as I felt, I still recognized that I would never accomplish anything as a writer if I stayed at the starting line, just contemplating possibilities.
Play nice with others.
Immediately upon entering the MFA program, established writers gave me guiding words that helped me move beyond my limits and boundaries. At a welcome reception for new students, one writer told me to look around the room, then said, “Everyone in this room is going to be your colleague for the rest of your life. Remember that every time you interact with someone.” These were tough words because I’m introverted, self-conscious, and unkind by nature; however, I’m also practical and knew there would never be an audience for a writer no one respects or knows about. For the past two years, I’ve talked to everyone (even people I don’t like), been gracious (especially to people I don’t like), asked questions, and listened. I didn’t want to listen to the people I liked least, and they seemed to feel the same about me, but they provided some of the most thought-provoking feedback.
Ignore the “Do Not Enter” sign.
I was lucky to meet the poet Irene McKinney during my first semester, and hear her say, “If I only wrote about the stuff I thought would make people like me, I’d be ignoring about ninety-nine percent of what I should be writing.” She went on to admit that it was mortifying to write about the aging of her body, secret lusts and jealousies, and other things she would prefer to hide; however, the stories we need to tell wait in the places we least want to enter. She was right and wise, and I remembered her words every time I knew I was holding back in my writing. It scared me to plunge into the darker depths within myself to access the emotions needed to make fiction real. I had to resist the safety procrastination and avoidance seemed to offer: scrubbing the bathroom floor, refolding the sheets in the linen closet, or writing a “nice” story seemed so much easier. But just like with running, I had to risk discomfort and pain to move forward, get stronger, and finish proud.
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I don’t know the terrain or the course of the countless miles ahead. I do know, though, that because I gave my all during the past two years, I leave with what I need to keep moving forward.