In the Middle of My Dream by Abigail Reed
A year ago, I was going through an identity crisis. I was only a semester and a half away from graduation, and the pressure to have a plan for what comes next was getting to me. More than this simple question, I had to consider what am I good at? What should I focus on doing after finishing undergrad? After spending hours upon hours in a classroom, I was forced to consider what I was really good at. I knew I wanted a career, not just a job.
For an English major, there is a surplus of options. The media loves to poke fun at the English’s majors by stating it’s the most pointless degree to get. But there are plenty of options. Editor, writer, copywriter, copyeditor, grant writer, administrative assistant, marketing, teaching, and even more. I was drowning in a sea of possibilities.
Determining what to do took the form of considering what I loved doing. For me, the moments that stood out were the hours I spent working as a tutor in the Ada Stokes’ Writing Center. I applied during my junior year thinking it only made sense. I didn’t know then that I’d find a spark with each student I helped, that I’d feel satisfaction after helping them accomplish a writing task, or after providing clarification when there had been a cloud of confusion. I only took the job, thinking it made sense as most of my family consists of teachers and instructors. I didn’t expect that I’d find my passion. I didn’t expect to find my calling.
As the fall semester ended, I knew the next step was applying to graduate schools, specifically Master’s programs related to English and writing. My hours in the Writing Center had made me realize that I wanted to spend even more hours in the classroom, but this time in the front of the class. I wanted to help my future students find that joy in writing and learn to approach it as a process, rather than feel intimidated by the task of making a perfect product.
In spring, I applied to two graduate schools. Ultimately I decided to stay where I felt most comfortable and at ease, in Mankato, at Minnesota State University. I was thrilled to be offered a graduate teaching assistantship. In the months to follow I would try to mentally prepare myself for the dream to come true; I would be in charge of one English composition section. I would be standing in front of the class at last.
Now, I’m in the middle of that dream. I’m in the thick of my first semester of grad school and my first semester of teaching. The school that I call my home has now changed from a private college to a state university. My peers and cohort consist of other dreamers, those pushed forward with the desire to write, to be published, to make a difference in some ways.
My program is the Master of Fine Arts (MFA) in Creative Writing, which obviously means there is a large focus on writing. When I was first accepted into the program, I was excited, but soon the uncertainty set in. I had never considered myself a great writer, even though I had taken several writing courses in undergrad. How would I make it through three years of writing, and even more than that, produce a final thesis of a book length collection of my own creative pieces? I was here to learn and gain experience for teaching, being published wasn’t exactly my goal. I kept most of these concerns inside, trying to blend in with the rest of my cohort. Yes, I love writing as well. Yes, I’m so excited to take a workshop class.
During MFA orientation, our group of professors shared with us the benefits of the program. We would each have a reading list of 40-60 texts we needed to read throughout our program, and we would all be encouraged to attend the many reading and writing events involved in the program. I sat there, on the outside of one of the professor’s porches, sweat lining my brow. Maybe it was from the heat of the day, maybe it was from the pressure of transformation. I would have to become a dedicated writer, I knew that then. The casual approach I had in my undergraduate degree wouldn’t be enough.
After the sharing of all of this information, one of the professors interjected. “I realize now, this might be terribly overwhelming. Just remember to take care of your writing, your studies, and your teaching first. But, remember, it’s not pretentious to care about your writing. You are here to write. You are writers.”
Most of my days consist of time spent closely reading texts. Not because there’s a test I’ll have to take, but I’m reading to “steal” (read: learn) techniques from the writer, for my own writing. I spend an hour each morning, with my technology on “do not disturb,” as I let my mind run wild with ideas for stories, personal essays, and other writing projects. I don’t feel guilty about this, like I did when I was in undergrad. I read prose for workshops, providing my peers with feedback of praise and suggestions. I turn in my own writing for the workshop and look forward to hearing the feedback from the class. I fall into a rhythm.
Most of all, when I stand in front of my English composition class and talk about the writing process, it comes from the heart. I see myself in my students. I was (and still am sometimes) so scared of writing, so afraid to commit myself to it. After all, writing demands your all.
During an individual conference with one of my students, she revealed to me that because of my class she is so excited about writing again. My heart was singing, I was so proud and thrilled to hear her say this. Her eyes sparkled, “I’m so excited to try now, to push myself, and see what I can do.”
I couldn’t have said it better myself.