I rarely have trouble sleeping, but for a period of two weeks recently I got about four hours a night, every night. I kept waking up early in the morning, then tossing and turning for hours, unable to go back to sleep. My mind was always racing. I couldn’t get it to slow down.
Since January I spent long hours prepping for my two final exams of my MFA in Creative Writing, the eight-hour written exam and the two-hour oral defense. I wrote sixty pages of notes, studied nearly 200 pages of annotations, and read and re-read the latest draft of my MFA thesis. In late April I passed my written exam and my oral defense, and, finally, I was officially an MFA.
But the sleep problem didn’t happen before the exams. It happened after.
Despite all the stress and the studying, my sleep in the days leading up to the exams was fine. Maybe not eight hours, but six to seven. I woke up rested every day. I was nervous but excited.
I thought the day after I passed the oral defense I’d sleep ten hours, exhausted from all that work, but I woke up earlier that Saturday, and that Sunday, and it took about sixteen days for my sleeping habits to get back to where they used to be.
I asked a friend of mine about why she thought my sleeping was so poor, especially after the insanity of these exams and not before. She said it was my body decompressing after weeks of stress. But I tended to think it was something different. Something about what was coming in the future, not something that happened in the past.
As soon as I passed my oral defense, a giant question mark poked out from the top of my head, and it’s been there ever since. The truth of the matter is for the last eight years, I’ve had a clear idea of what was coming next. When I moved back to Reno from Los Angeles, I knew I wanted to do two things: write novels, and get an MFA in Creative Writing. Every day for nearly a decade I’ve been working at these goals, writing book after book, eighteen now in total. I finally got an agent, after seven years of hard work, and have some potentially exciting news on the horizon.
And I did everything I could to get an MFA. I applied to ten schools in late 2010, and was rejected by all of them. I kept writing. Started substitute teaching. I applied to be a grad special at the local university, just to get my feet wet in the world of academia. I took three workshops, two in fiction, one in non-fiction. I applied to MFA programs again in late 2012, as well as an MA in English at the University of Nevada, Reno, which at the time didn’t have an MFA in Creative Writing. Every MFA school turned me down. UNR accepted me. I decided to do the MA, that it would be a great opportunity while I improved on my writing and applied to MFA schools in 2014, the last time I was going to allow myself to go after the dream.
I figured if after a third round I wasn’t accepted to any of the MFA programs I applied to, I would move on, keep writing but forget the MFA. I would have a Master’s degree come 2015, and that would be enough.
But then something kind of magical happened. During my time in the MA program at UNR, I received word that an MFA in Creative Writing program was to begin at the school, and it did, in the fall of 2015. The timing couldn’t have been more perfect. I would be graduating from the MA program in May of 2015, and I would be able to slip right into the MFA program with only a summer’s break. I applied. I was accepted. I became one of the seven fiction writers in UNR’s inaugural MFA class, and I spent the last three years teaching and studying and writing to my heart’s content.
This whole experience has been a blast. Every semester I would strategize about what I wanted to write in the next six months, what my teaching course would look like, what I needed to do to prep for the upcoming MFA exams, even when they were still two years away. I was always one step ahead of the game, always clear about what the next month would bring, the next week, the next day.
That all changed at the end of April.
It’s May 23, and I just graduated on Saturday. Everything’s official. I’m done.
And I have no idea what’s coming next.
This is not to say I have nothing planned in the coming weeks and months. I’m going on a vacation in a few days. I’m about to add a new furry member to my family. And I’m still writing every day. In fact, I have my writing schedule planned through August. I’m starting heavy revisions of my young adult thriller Nightmare Road I wrote in 2016, for my agent. I’m doing final revisions on my MFA thesis novel Virgin State of Mind, for my agent. And I’m writing two new screenplays from scratch, for me.
But as of now, job wise, I don’t know what’s coming. Am I going to be teaching in the coming school year? Might I pursue something that’s not teaching? Will my agent sell my book soon? Is a new opportunity coming I couldn’t possibly prepare for?
Here’s what I’ve found as I continue this journey. There’s an excitement to not knowing. There’s even joy in it. My life has been so structured, so planned, for eight years, that I’m at peace right now not having a clear 360-degree-view of what the future holds. I still have dreams, big dreams, but I’ve decided, finally, to relax. To work hard on what I love, to think positive at all times, and in the end, let the opportunities come as they may.
I have no idea where I’ll be a year from now. Or even six months from now.
And I’ve made peace with that. I really have.
Now, hopefully, I can try to get some sleep.