OBL‘s post on rejection has me strolling down Unpleasant Memory Lane this morning. Well, really only Relatively-Unpleasant Memory Lane. Truly-Horribly-Unpleasant Memory Lane still has blocked access, complete with police cars. I don’t go anywhere near there because I’m scared of the police. I could tell you why, but the reasons are located beyond the road block, and did I mention that police are scary? So let’s talk about the thing I was going to talk about in the first place, which is tangentially related to rejection, and may in fact end up being entirely about rejection after all, for all I know. I’m just getting started here.
When I was getting ready to graduate from college, I didn’t know what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. I knew that I would very soon have a bachelor’s degree in English, which would be worth exactly nothing in the marketplace. I knew that I did not want to teach. I had already decided that in the first year of college. Unfortunately, I did not also decide at that time to change my major to something useful. Call it immaturity. I didn’t particularly want to go to graduate school because I was pretty tired of writing papers, but I was willing to go to graduate school and write papers if it meant I could get an actual job afterward that wasn’t teaching. Except what would that be? I didn’t know. I briefly considered getting a master’s degree in library science. Because I liked libraries, I figured it wouldn’t be too odious to spend the rest of my life working in one. My research into this option was not encouraging. Evidence seemed to indicate that librarians were actually going the way of the dinosaur–because of computers or whatever, I don’t remember–as were library science programs. I don’t know if that was actually the trend or not. Here it is, seventeen years later, and it appears that there are still librarians and library science programs, but I don’t know if I would have been able to get a job as a librarian or not. I have a friend with a master’s degree in library science who has a terrible job that she hates, but I don’t know what that indicates about the field of library science in general. Probably nothing. The point is that I decided not to become a librarian. And then I was fresh out of ideas again. So I just slouched toward graduation and figured I would deal with reality later.
That is actually a disturbing pattern in my life. But I digress. Or do I? It’s hard to tell at this juncture. Let’s continue.
So I graduated and went back home with my useless degree, and I got on with a temp service because temping was something I had experience in. I got a job typing, which was awesome because I loved to type. Always have, still do. I’m good at it. I like doing things I’m good at. However, I still harbored ambitions to do something more than type. My creative writing professor had suggested to me, while I was still in college, that I get a MFA in creative writing. She seemed to think that I was talented, which I appreciated, but I considered it an impractical thing, and I had done enough impractical things by spending my parents’ hard-earned money on a private college where I majored in English with no intention to teach. However, after a few months of living with my parents, who were kind enough not to charge me rent even though they probably should have, I had managed to save quite a bit of my own money, and I decided that as long as I was single (and had no family to support) and generally useless anyway (aside from my awesome typing abilities), I may as well go to graduate school and get a MFA in creative writing because if you can’t do that sort of thing when you’re single and not planning to ever have a family that you will need to support someday, when can you do it? So I started applying to graduate schools.
I can’t remember all of the schools I applied to–it was fewer than six, more than three–but most of them were east of the Mississippi because those were the schools my former professor was familiar with and recommended to me. I got into all of the schools I applied to. This is where the memories get jumbled up. I don’t remember the timeline very well, but I will tell you what ended up happening: I decided it would be cheaper and therefore more practical (ha!) if I went to a school close to home, so I ended up choosing an inferior writing program at a nearby Cal State school. The Cal State system is fine for a lot of things, but there are certain schools within the system that are designed for people who don’t mind taking seventeen years to graduate because that is how long it takes to get all of the classes that are required for your degree. My first semester, I was able to get one class. My second semester, I was unable to get any classes. This was when I said, “Screw it, this is the opposite of practical,” and decided I would need to apply to another program, farther away from home.
I got into that program. It was my plan to go there. Then my mother got diagnosed with cancer, and I had made all these really good friends that I didn’t particularly want to leave–in short, I was happy where I was, from a personal standpoint. I decided that the personal was what really mattered, after all, and how practical was it to get a MFA in creative writing, anyway? Yes, I was back to that again. I started thinking that I should probably aim to be more useful. I was starting to get grandiose ideas about my potential for usefulness–probably because I had recently become much more religious, and this was an effect that my religiosity had on me: a sincere desire to be useful to others. So I did the thing I had previously sworn I would not do: I decided I should become a teacher. Because say what you will about teachers, but when they’re doing their jobs correctly, they are certainly useful. Even if they are teaching English.
This is where the story becomes laughably hilarious to me in retrospect. I’m sorry if it isn’t as entertaining for you. But whatever. I moved out of my parents’ house, got an apartment with one of my friends, and entered a teacher credentialing program at a very nearby university, one that was not Cal State and would let me take more than one class per calendar year. That part was awesome. The problem was that, regardless of my new-found religiosity, a desire to be useful could only take me so far. To successfully complete a teaching credential and become a teacher, I would have to actually have some aptitude for teaching–which, it didn’t take me long to discover, was simply not the case with me. I liked the idea of teaching, but it only took me three weeks of education classes to discover that loving something in the abstract would not be enough. I hated doing lesson plans. I hated everything. I was reasonably certain I would hate the students, too, once I got into the classroom, but fortunately I had enough sense to withdraw from the program before it came to that. To give you an idea of how bad a teacher I would have been, my adviser completely supported my decision and helped me get a partial refund on my tuition. So that was awesome.
Unfortunately, that left me unemployed and without a plan, which was the very situation I was trying to avoid. So I continued temping, only now I was depressed, and not just because my mother was dying. I still held out hope for my mother; I didn’t have much hope for myself.
So what did I do? I decided to apply to yet another graduate program in creative writing, because that was really what I wanted to do, even if it wasn’t useful, and I applied to a program that was close to home and also not in the Cal State system and also happened to have some measure of prestige–I believe it was “up and coming,” at least at the time. This meant that it would be competitive, but I had never been rejected by a college or university before, so I believed my chances were at least pretty good.
Shortly after dropping out of the teaching program, I got a job at a newspaper. That would have been October, probably. In November I went on my first date with Sugar Daddy. In January my mother died and I got engaged, in that order. Sometime before I got married in May, I got the rejection letter from the creative writing program. I did not appreciate that. My husband said it was probably just as well, since he didn’t think it would have worked out anyway, me going to school and working and being married and crap. I did not appreciate that either. But to comment further would require busting through the metaphorical road block with police cars that I mentioned earlier, and I’m already at 1,563 words and counting. I don’t think we can go there today.
What I was going to get at with this long and only-interesting-to-me story is that I have often wondered how my life would have turned out if I cared a little less about being practical and had pursued the MFA straight out of college, or if I had not cared so much about staying close to home and saving money or whatever and had attended one of the other schools. Assuming I did not end up dropping out–which is not an outlandish assumption, given that I managed to complete four years of college without ever dropping out, so it’s not like I’m congenitally predisposed to quitting school or anything, jeez–what would I have gained? Everything would have been different. I would never have met my husband. I may not have met anybody. I might still be single and useless today–only with a master’s degree. I would not be the person that I am now. But who would I have been? Would I have been better? Would I have been happy, not knowing what I was missing?
It’s impossible to know. So technically, there’s no point in wondering. But I still sometimes do.