De-nied!

Yesterday at work I took a break with Zee German, a disgruntled German expatriate buddy of mine. During our conversation — I don’t remember what we talked about, but at some point he likely switched into his travel/enlightenment agent mode to suggest I visit “the better part of the vorld” — I told him, “I hope I don’t get into grad school so I can go to Europe for a month or two.”

When I got home I opened my mailbox and found a letter from The University of Iowa’s Department of English. It was light, thin, and my name and address were affixed to the front with a nondescript white label, the kind taken from a larger sheet. I had been expecting it since the day I applied to the Iowa Nonfiction Writing Program in December. I sliced open the top and pulled out the single sheet folded inside.

Dear [Quiet Man]

This year, the Nonfiction Writing Program was overwhelmed with over 120 applicat…

Blah blah blah — whatever. I scanned the rest of the text and found what I was looking for at the beginning of the second paragraph.

I’m afraid we are unable to offer you a place in the NWP this year.

Sweet! I didn’t get into grad school. Europe, here I come!

Needless to say, I was far from crushed. To tell you the truth, I felt relieved and a little liberated. Of course I was a tiny bit bummed. I felt left out and inadequate…for a few seconds. The months and months of fruitless job and apartment searching I’ve done since college has hardened my skin and resolve; I can easily brush rejections aside and move on. I accept them as necessities in life. Without rejection the euphoria of acceptance wouldn’t be as sweet. Plus, rejections are great interior decorations. I pin rejection emails and letters from my writing submissions to a wall in my room. The letter I got yesterday will be pinned up soon.

Also, it helps I knew I wouldn’t get in, was hoping I wouldn’t get in. Frankly, I have no clue why I applied. I thought I was ready, thought grad school was the next step for me. But I began to doubt my reasoning when I hit “submit” on the UI’s web-based submission application (complete with $60 nonrefundable fee). The truth surfaced from my emotional depths: I wasn’t ready and I didn’t want to go.

I miss learning, the workshop experience, and the camaraderie and competition I felt while in the classroom with other enthusiastic writers. I miss 10 am classes, napping in the lush chairs on the fifth floor of the Main Library, and walking campus on cool autumn days. Ah…college. But I don’t miss the tuition bills, the assignments, and the deadlines. I don’t miss registering for Monday-Wednesday-Friday classes so I could work all day Tuesday and Thursday (so I could pay the tuition bills), the chains of curriculum and prerequisites, and the stress.

During the limbo between sending my application and receiving the decision letter yesterday, I realized grad school was not for me. Sure, I would love to sit in a classroom again and discuss style, tone, structure, and metaphor, but I don’t want to be bogged down in academia. Right now I prefer writing and the freedom to do whatever I want. I could write in grad school, too, but it would be in the looming and ever darkening shadow of expectations and deadlines. It would be forced. I’d be chained and uncompromisingly committed to the academic process for two or three years.

Chained. That’s exactly what I don’t want to be — personally, socially, and creatively. The fact I won’t be chained to grad school caused me to rejoice and treasure the creative freedom I have. Rejection by the NWP opens new doors. In my head swims a giant school of writing projects, and now I won’t have to put them off until “after grad school.” I can pursue the growing interest I have in literary journalism, continue writing personal nonfiction, and even work on my novel. My novel! Now I can truly commit myself to it (and not for the first time, either). Rejection from grad school has liberated me from the rigid and inhibiting plan I almost trapped myself in.

And I can go to Europe — Ireland, the UK, France, Belgium, The Netherlands, and, of course, Germany. I couldn’t do that if I had classes scheduled and tuition due. I want to go in the late summer or early fall, when the tide of American tourists has receded and soccer season is in full swing. Wait, that’s when college football season is in full swing. Hmm… I’ll have to think about that and call my personal travel/enlightenment agent for suggestions.

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