Changing My Idea of Free Time

When aspects of our life are not fulfilling, we seek out other ways to fill the void. This is not always a negative thing, and certainly I am the first to admit that despite grad school, dog ownership, relationships, sickness or health, I enjoy watching things move on a screen. TV shows and movies are highly enjoyable to me, but it took my nearly 25 years to realize the vicious cycle of free time vs work, and how so many of us are addicted to certain habits in order to “relax and have fun.”

When I think about the forty+ hour work week, I wonder what the long term benefits are of only having two of every seven days to call our own. When I hear people talking about their fantasy retirement, I wonder “what about the 30, 40, 50 years until then??”

Meeko gives up on her day whenever she finds a good spot to nap in

I don’t want to think of my free time in terms of years, weeks, or even days. Free time is every half hour of my day that I’m not working for someone else. Five o’clock is no longer the hour when I give up on my day.

Over a year ago, I was writing only a few hours a week. Sure, I did research on publishing and literary journals, but deep down I knew I could be trying harder. Every day that guilt sat at the bottom of my stomach, pulling me into self-doubt and making me question whether I could call myself a writer at all.

My long-term motivation comes from completing projects and completing to-do lists. Short-term motivation comes from imagining how I will feel after accomplishing a small task. It is certain that I will not achieve any of my goals if I do not begin with simply finishing the short story or essay at hand. My planner holds my time commitments for the week so that my brain doesn’t spend energy remembering appointments.

It is a privilege that the hardships in my life are faceable, and fixable for the most part. I am grateful that I can choose to work on my writing goals this evening, after a shift at my temp job. 

There is no age limit where we should give up on our dreams. It is a privilege that we can use our free time to achieve our goals, so let’s get to work.

Graduate School Plans

As my grand road trip adventure comes to a close (only 5 more days before we can move in to our new apartment!) my upcoming application season is heavy on my mind. Every graduate program has it’s own rules and secrets, and for every graduate degree out there, there are reasons not to get one. I have decided to pursue the Creative Writing field through a Master of Fine Arts.

DISCLOSURE: I applied to 9 highly competitive MFA programs this past year, with the hopes that I would be starting school this Fall 2012. I was denied to 8 programs and waitlisted to Louisiana State University’s program. Unfortunately they did not go to their waitlist, nor do I know how high up on their list I ranked. I failed, and there is no one to blame except myself. After a few tears and a lot of thinking/charts, I have decided to re-apply for the Fall of 2013 to 14 different programs. I have quit my job and am changing my life so that I may focus exclusively on writing stories for the applications, as well as making writing my career.

My current goal is to get into a respected, competitive, full time Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing program. In general, students select from Poetry, Fiction, Screenwriting, or Creative Non-Fiction as their focuses. My chosen focus is Fiction, however I’m also interested in non-fiction and poetry. The way these applications work is that you apply directly to whatever you would like to focus on.

MFA programs, like many graduate degrees, come in all shapes and sizes. Creative Writing is considered a fine arts field, so the MFA is a terminal degree, or the highest degree that can be awarded for that field. This is confusing though, as there are a growing number of PhD’s in Creative Writing. There are many resources out there that can talk about the pros and cons of the PhD, and opinions on the lessening effect higher education has (ie “everyone” has a Master’s degree now/Bachelor’s degrees are the norm).

The most competitive MFA programs generally take a small number of students each year, waive tuition, and offer a living stipend (enough to cover rent). Some programs are 2 years, others are 3. Either way, one usually takes workshop classes (reading and evaluation your own writing as well as helping others with their work), teach English 101 to undergrads, and spends the final year creating a book length manuscript which will be what you shop around trying to get published.

Right now, I am leaning towards 3 year programs, with guaranteed (or close enough) full funding for all of their students. In other words, I’m not interested in paying  tuition if I don’t have to!

Here are the schools I plan to apply to for their MFA programs:

Iowa State University
Louisiana State University
McNeese State Lake Charles, LA
Michener
Ohio State
Purdue in Indiana
U Central Arkansas
U Florida Gainesville
U Mississippi in Oxford (Ole Miss)
U New Mexico
U New Orleans
U South Carolina in Columbia
Virginia Polytechnic Institute
Wichita State University

I will be posting updates with my application journey this time around, from writing my samples and personal essays to the decisions as they come in. Ideally, the majority of my writing samples should be done by August, then I will be able to start submitting applications October through January. Most of the decision letters will get mailed or emailed to me mid-March through the end of April. If you come across this and have any questions for me about the application process or what I went through last year I am happy to share. Wish me luck!

33 days left in Pittsburgh

There are officially 32 days left until I leave Pittsburgh. It’s strange how much this city has become home to me. It’s now in second place for “Longest amount of time living in one general geographical area”. First place is still Western New York, though I would argue that Amherst, East Amherst and Lockport(-ish) are all so different that it shouldn’t really count.

I came to Pittsburgh as a freshman at Carnegie Mellon University in the Fall of 2010. Now I have 32 days left in my life as Assistant Director of Admissions at CMU, living in a row-home and shopping at Giant Eagle.

As my first entry, this is my official declaration to the world that I am going for it. After two years of living a fairly average and socially acceptable life (for a humanities major anyways) I realized that not only was I unhappy, but the one thing that took up most of my time (my job) was preventing me from doing anything about it. After being rejected from all nine MFA graduate school programs that I applied to, I knew I needed to take drastic action.

In 32 days, I will finish selling off my furniture, pack up what’s left into my car* and drive across the country from Pittsburgh to San Francisco where I will be living with my boyfriend and working exclusively on writing stories for my applications. I hope you will join me and see how it all works out!

Also, my name is Jackie Sizemore.