A year and a half ago I was at a book party for Alex Greene, my editor at the wonderful ezine Stereo Embers. The party was at YA author Yvonne Prinz‘s house in Lafayette. It was a wonderful night; I invited one of my best friends and we talked with other writers. Alex read from his book, Emergency Anthems. After the reading I stared out the window for a moment. My friend came to me. “You okay?” she asked. I couldn’t describe what I was feeling. The website I wrote/worked for had closed six months before. I was working at a job I didn’t hate, but I knew I couldn’t do it forever. Mostly I was wondering what now? What am I going to do next?
Suddenly I felt exhausted. I could barely keep my eyes open. Then I felt nauseous. Oh God, I didn’t want to throw up, I didn’t want everyone hearing me throw up. I felt dizzy. “Oh my God, are you okay?” my friend asked. I had to sit down. She looked concerned. Then I felt this warmth,a whoosh. I felt it before once. I took deep breaths, then went to the bathroom, then threw some cold water on my face. I came out and said to my friend: “You just witnessed a hot flash.” Meaning, I was getting older. Right on time for a mid life crisis.
While I was considering what I was going to next, my landlord decided to renovate my apartment and jack up the rent to $3000 a month. He gave us the news on Easter Sunday. Klassy with a K. Suddenly I realized I couldn’t afford anything in the Bay Area. Not even an one bedroom studio in the less desirable towns. I moved to a city in Central California with high unemployment, where they have the eighth highest teen pregnancy rate in the state. Here’s how different it was: In the town I used to live in, they had classes on mindfulness and how to maintain a facebook page for your small business. In the new library I saw a homeless woman washing her hair in the bathroom sink.
Eventually, I felt not at home, but homey. The restless feeling stayed with me. Before I moved, I had gone to a novel retreat held at Vermont College of Fine Arts. For the first time possibly in years, my focus was on writing. Not on anything else, no drama. Just writing. I realized that I needed more of this. I wanted to learn more about writing. I thought I knew it all, but I didn’t. But how? Grad school yes, but I wasn’t sure I wanted to be a teacher.
One day while walking I saw a quote on the ground. “Find a place you trust and then try trusting it for a while” it read by Sister Corita Kent. I decided to find that place. But where? It wasn’t in the Bay Area. In some ways, it was in the new town. But I wanted something more. I loved the East Coast, loved being near another one of my best friends. I loved the nature of Montpelier (the town where VCFA is located)
A month after I moved, I found out that VCFA had a new MFA program called Writing and Publishing. It was offered on campus (VCFA is 98 percent residency based) and it looked great. But how could I afford it? Scholarships, silly. For two months, I worked on my application packet. I revised my application essay so many times I lost track. Finally, I emailed the whole deal late December. Early January, I was checking my email oh, several times a day to see if I got a response.
The stress caused my skin to break out. One January afternoon I walked to the local drugstore and bought moisturizer, skin cleanser and an aloe vera face mask.I came back home and checked my email. In my inbox was an email from Trinie Dalton, the faculty chair of the program. She wanted to talk to me but didn’t have the right number. Was there a better number she could call me back at and when would be a good time to call?
I felt very warm and calm. I knew it was good news. A professor doesn’t call you to tell you thanks but no thanks. I emailed her immediately and told her she could call me anytime that afternoon or the next morning. She was on Facebook, I thought about friending her. Something told me no. Don’t overdo. You will know soon. So I watched an illegally downloaded episode of St. Elsewhere and did my best to relax.
An hour later, she wrote me back. She could call at 4:30, would that work? Yes. My cat Ida B jumped up on the bed and sat with me. The phone rang. I saw Dalton’s name appear on the caller ID screen. I picked it up and she introduced herself. She explained she was calling students because many people were getting early acceptances at other schools so she needed a head count of people who were definitely interested in priority fellowships and scholarships. Because oh yeah, I got in.
I tried not to cry when I was talking to her. I thanked her several times, told her what classes I was interested in, and how grateful I was for the opportunity. In the meantime I was texting my two best friends that I got in. One said “Awesome blossom! You deserve this!” My other friend said “Of course you got it. Was there a doubt?”
I walked out of my room, then told my mother. I fell down on my knees, crying. You have to understand, last year I was working at a department store. I was doing okay, but I kept wondering God, something is missing. I’m not sure what. I was trying to find a full time job and turned to the local department of rehab for help. Unfortunately the woman I was paired with just didn’t understand me at all. She made me take IQ tests and when they came back she said I had an “80 to 89 IQ average” I knew it was going to be bad news so I brought my mother with me. Thankfully she stepped in saying how talented I was in other areas. The counselor then said “Oh, that’s hobbies. That’s not real work.” She then said she would make it my vocational goal that I should be a full time fitting room attendant.
Now I understand why she was put in my life. She was there to show me that no, just because someone in authority says something doesn’t make it true. If I had to have a slogan, it would be “Proving People Wrong Since 1972.” Because I’ve gone farther than anyone thought I would. I did again.
That night I laid in bed, realizing it was a year since that night in Yvonne’s kitchen when I had my hot flash/insight. Seu Jorge was singing David Bowie in the background. Although he’s singing in his native Portuguese, one lyric stays in my head: The stars look very different today.