Once upon a time, a girl turned into a young woman, and then into a depressed and world-weary soul, who at the age of 28 decided to go to graduate school in San Francisco to get an MFA in Fiction Writing.
There were two reasons for this:
1) She was trying to get away from a disappointing sometimes-friendship / sometimes-relationship with a guy with which there was no future, and it was making everything else in her world disappointing and future-less; and
2) She had always wanted to write, since she could first hold a pencil and identify words on a page, and it seemed that the only possible way to write was to get a degree that confirmed she was a writer.
The first reason was private (and kind of stupid, so she was ashamed). The second reason was much loftier and easier for her to tell her friends and family.
She was supposed to be in San Francisco for two years. But she left after seven months. She also quit the graduate program before she even started it. She was afraid that people would think she was a quitter and a failure, which many probably did (but didn’t say so), and yet the urge to leave that city and the urge to write—on her own, without academia giving her credit—erupted at the exact same time and grew so exponentially in the first few weeks she was there, that something had to crack.
(She also figured out, years later, that you are supposed to make big life decisions from a position of strength, not weakness. And since she was weak with relationship drama, she’d probably decided to do something she wouldn’t have otherwise done. Or maybe she would have. It’s hard to say.)
But once she decided to leave San Francisco, life got easier (plus, she was stuck there for awhile due to a lot of tedious logistical reasons, so she had to make the most of it). She spent every Saturday and Sunday morning at a coffee shop two blocks from her apartment and wrote feverishly in a journal—about everything. She made observations about the weirdness of the city, and wrote tributes filled with longing about the home she’d left behind. She explored why her heart was always broken, and what she wanted more than anything for herself. She started a novel. Twice she saw a race being run where people were dressed inexplicably as cows and bananas; twice she was rendered speechless by this. She eventually made friends and was blessed with a window into their lives—so very different from hers, but remarkable and poignant and full of comic relief—and even dated a new guy for awhile (a Midwestern transplant who liked beer a little too much).
She spent Thanksgiving by herself on Ocean Beach, standing at the edge of the continent, looking out to the gray Pacific and shivering in the haze. There was something about standing alone on a beach when everyone else was indoors celebrating with loved ones; not because she was a martyr, but because she knew she had survived one of the biggest emotional challenges she had ever faced and standing alone was an act of true self-reliance.
When it was time to go home, she packed all her belongings into her small car and her dad’s pickup truck, and together they made the long trek back to Colorado so she could get there in time for Christmas.
Later, she would take a writing workshop with an instructor who would tell her about graduate school: “You don’t need a degree to write. You just need to write.” And he would help her edit and revise that novel she started back in San Francisco, as well as another novel that would eventually be the first one she published; even more, he would provide the best possible education in writing she could imagine, all without her having to set foot in a classroom or be a good little student (because she had been a good little student her entire life, and it was exhausting) or spend $38,000 she’d have to pay back tenfold over time. She wanted someone to tell her straight up: “This is how it is.” And also, of her work: “This is really good.” Somehow both were all she needed to change her life.
She believes in graduate school for those who really want it. She also believes that if you know in your heart you have the talent, and if you commit yourself to the craft in every way your resources allow, then your writing improves and flourishes all on its own by your very curious, loving, and fierce dedication to it.
She paid a visit to San Francisco a few years ago—the first time she’d been back since she left. And she was able to look at the city with fresh eyes. She still saw its blights and its flaws, and she remembered all the things she had feared and wished were different; but she also saw resilience and defiance, humor and wisdom, and yes, even magnificence, too.
She also believes that people do all kinds of things for all kinds of reasons in their lifetimes, and that only after time has passed can people look back and see why they did it and what it all meant.
Did you stick with me?
Because I’m here, and you’re reading this, and I understand now. May you understand some day, too.