The Audacity of Hope

I've had a few days to mull it over now. Last Wednesday, I got an email from the University of Michigan MFA Program telling me that while I am amazing and fantastic and terrific, I wasn't quite amazing and fantastic and terrific enough to be admitted to their highly competitive program. But...

I am amazing and fantastic and terrific enough to be wait-listed.

Remember that episode of Friends where Rachel thought she might be pregnant and she peed on the stick but she couldn't look at it, so Phoebe looked at it and told her she wasn't pregnant and Rachel was all disappointed -- only Phoebe lied and Rachel WAS pregnant but Phoebe said this way she knew how she really felt?

Yeah, I never really understood that logic, either. Only, I think I might feel a bit like that. Like, how I've talked a lot over the past six months about how my hopes aren't really pegged on getting into the MFA program and I think I meant it until I found out I didn't get in and then when my heart pounded uncontrollably and the tears rolled forward, then I discovered that I really did want the baby after all.

You know what I mean.

So I cried for a couple of hours. Or days. Who's counting? Until I spoke with a couple of friends in academia who surprised me by telling me that being placed on the waiting list is a good thing. It's a little ray of hope. But hope, sometimes, is annoying, especially when your heart is pounding and your stomach aches and you just want to know whether or not you'll spend the next two years in school trying to become a better writer and a better writing teacher or lying on the couch eating bon-bons and waiting for Richard Simmons to have you air-lifted from your home for an intervention.

The way it works is this -- they offer spots to their preferred candidates. If any of those candidates choose to go to another school, then they offer the spot to, hypothetically, the next person on the wait-list. Equally hypothetically, if a good half of the people who were offered spots were to die mysterious and untraceable deaths, a whole lot of us on the wait-list would get in.

I'm just saying.

So...I've spent the past week ricocheting between feeling hope and disappointment, trying to deliver myself to a place of acceptance no matter what the outcome. Which is big talk. But I think I might be there.

A few days before I got the letter, I was pulling into a parking lot when the thought hit me like a ton of bricks: You haven't written fiction in 15 years and you just applied, out of the blue, to one of the top fiction MFA programs in the country. That is, depending on how you like to look at these things, incredibly audacious, ballsy and/or deluded.

It will only make sense to the writers out there when I say that the reason I haven't tackled fiction in so long is because it matters so much to me. My mother assured me that I'd never make a living as a fiction writer and the rest of my fears were only too happy to comply. Other types of writing came to me far more easily and mattered far less. It seemed to make sense.

This is what it means to be on the wait-list, I think: It means that I should keep trying. It means that I might be good enough to keep working at this. It means that I show promise. And that's something I've never felt confident about when it comes to writing fiction.

So I still don't know what will happen. By April 15, everyone offered an MFA spot at Michigan will have had to give their answer, so I'll know if my flutter of hope pans out. In the meantime, I'll keep teaching the fiction workshop at 826 Michigan. I've signed up for a July week-long short story workshop at the University of Iowa Summer Writing Festival and I've applied to the fancy-pants Bread Loaf Writers Conference in Vermont for August.

I am, as some might say, just gonna keep truckin'.