So, it’s official: I’m going to the University of Kansas for a PhD in Creative Writing and Literature, starting this fall! I broke the news previously on Facebook when I was originally notified of acceptance by the program, but I officially notified the university of my decision to enroll at KU a few days ago.
Here’s how it happened. On Valentine’s Day, while I was eating breakfast, I got an email notification on my Google Nexus, which I use for reading the news in the morning. I opened it and it said, in so many words, that the university had reached a decision on my application for admission. They didn’t say what the decision was in the email, just that I needed to log into the university’s online application portal to see their letter of decision. It was a bit nerve-wracking, wondering what it meant. I actually thought at first I’d been rejected, since I hadn’t gotten a phone call or any other form of communication yet. But then, I thought, maybe I got selected for the program after all and this is just standard operating procedure. Ultimately, I forced myself to finish my breakfast and a cup of coffee, trying not to let my imagination run wild (I distracted myself by watching Downton Abbey), before I ran upstairs to check my application.
Thankfully, the first few words of the letter said, “We are pleased to inform you…” And just like that, my worry turned to joy.
Giselle Anatol, the Director of Graduate Studies in English at KU, called me later in the day for a chat to let me know person-to-person that I was admitted to the program and they hoped I would choose to accept their decision. They’ve offered me a GTA position, complete with tuition waiver and yearly stipend, among other things. And, as I mentioned at the top, I officially accepted their invitation to join. So, after living in Mizzou country for the past twenty-eight years of my life, I’m going to be a Jayhawk.
All told, it’s what I wanted from the start, not just the GTA position with funding, but the acceptance to KU. It’s a striking reversal of what happened when I initially applied to MFA programs back in 2008. Six different schools, all of them turning me down, with my two personal favorite picks turning me down before anyone else. Totally demoralizing. This time, it’s the exact opposite. And, as an extra special twist of fate, one of those two schools that originally turned me down for MFA applications was KU! It’s a really sweet indicator of how things can change within five years, and how far I’ve come in that time.
Overall, I’m ecstatic. One of my favorite writers, Kij Johnson, teaches there, and they have the Center for the Study of Science Fiction, established by James Gunn and currently directed by Chris McKitterick; I hope to hang out there whenever I can. I can’t wait to meet Giselle Anatol, especially after our very pleasant conversation on the phone. I’m also looking forward to meeting the rest of the faculty at KU. One of the best lessons I learned in my time at Stonecoast is that you can learn a lot from a wide variety of teachers, especially the ones you don’t initially intend to study with, and I fully expect that to apply to KU as well. Plus, Lawrence is supposed to be a great college town, and I’ll be fairly close to some friends in the Kansas City Metro area.
I have high hopes that it will be a good, much-needed change of scenery for me. The plan for now is to move to Lawrence sometime this summer, hopefully mid-to-late July so I can take some time to acclimate to the area and prep for the school semester in relative comfort. Before that, I want to drive up to Lawrence to meet everybody in the English department and scout for apartments, or see if there’s anybody in the department looking for a roommate.
Getting picked up for enrollment at KU has made me very reflective lately, in a good way. It’s a nice change of pace from the brooding introspection of the previous year, spurred by all the obstacles and difficulties I encountered. This time, I’ve been looking back fondly on good times with my family, since I’m going to be leaving them to go out of state for school for five years, and beyond that hopefully somewhere else for a tenure-track teaching position. My parents have been very supportive and loving the past four years, letting me live with them while I completed my MFA program and tried (and failed) to find full-time teaching work. I’ll be glad to strike out on my own, but I’m still incredibly grateful for the time I’ve been here with them.
My acceptance at KU has also prompted me to realize that even after graduating with my MFA, I’ve continued carrying out my own personal, customized education. What did I do after getting my diploma? I agreed to manage Weirdfictionreview.com for the VanderMeers, and even before then I was reading materials for them and offering advising opinions and copyedits. I’ve been doing a lot of reading since January 2012, as part of that work and also on my own prerogative. Why have I been doing this? Deep down, I realized that I wasn’t the kind of expert I wanted to be, not yet anyway. I also felt like it was time to take another leap in my writing, to change my methodology, and I wasn’t sure of how to do that. So, it was time to sit and simply absorb things, and become more widely read and knowledgeable.
What the PhD means is that my personal education will become “official” once again, because I’m pursuing a degree. That said, I wouldn’t have been able to join KU without engaging in the education I laid out for myself the past year. I would have still wanted to be there, but I wouldn’t have nearly as good an idea of what I wanted to do. My studies of the past year have enabled me to know what I want to do once I get to Lawrence. So, after what I feared was the futile sturm und drang of 2012, all of that time wasn’t for naught after all.