I just finished writing this. It’s a rough draft of my essay for re-admission to Goddard College’s MFA in Creative Writing program. It’s been two years since I left, or, rather, it will be two years by the time I get back in.
It took a little while to write this, folks. That’s why you didn’t hear from me yesterday.
I’m still working on being able to write at home. So far, I can only get work done while I’m at the library.
Here it is:
In order to fully understand the circumstances under which I left Goddard in March, 2005, one would have to understand the circumstances under which I was accepted into the college and subsequently entered in January, 2004.
I imagine everyone who was accepted into Goddard’s MFA-CW program received a welcome call from Paul Selig. Mine was recorded by my answering machine; I was out at the time, spending time with the family of my beloved boyfriend, my dear Joe who had died suddenly of a heart attack only a few days before, on August 19, 2003. He and I had been together 13 years. Of course I was glad to be accepted to Goddard, but I was physically, emotionally, and spiritually unable to jump for joy.
Losing a loved one, especially so suddenly and unexpectedly, leaves one numb and passionless. I spent the fall in imaginary conversations with Joe, describing to him what I saw as I went about my day: the UMass/Boston campus, and my professor, whose hair and beard, Joe and I would have privately joked, were unkempt–ah, but Joe and I had our code words for such things; I would have described to Joe the student who talked too much, another whose poems were always about being frustrated in Boston traffic, and of course the Red Sox fan who couldn’t help but put baseball into her poems–nine stanzas, in some poems–and in my imagination I explained to Joe what a stanza was. I didn’t think he remembered.
In October I had to put my dog to sleep. Tiger and Joe were the two I loved more than anyone, and they had a special bond with each other as well. I told my brother that Tiger must have died of a broken heart. My brother said that Joe must have needed Tiger.
So I was coming to Goddard in January, 2004 with a load on my shoulders about which I told very few people. Yes, the campus was beautiful, the sky bright, the snow perfect, but I didn’t even feel the extreme cold that winter. I fell asleep during the first few readings I attended, and eventually gave up on going to readings altogether. I was able to absorb the material but did not feel passionate about what I was learning. I withdrew into myself and although I was surrounded by friendly people, I felt very, very alone.
And so my first semester went. I had made no friends at Goddard; in fact, I had no friends anyway except those I knew on the Internet. I was trying to raise a rambunctious new puppy all by myself and get my work done with no support from anyone.
What bothered me most, though, was the fact that I felt no enthusiasm whatsoever about what I was doing. Throughout my college life, I had been an overachiever in my studies, always doing more than what was required, learning for learning’s sake; I loved studying and thrived on it. Suddenly, all that was gone. My work was barely adequate according to my standards, according to anyone’s standards. I secretly hoped that my advisor, Kenny Fries, would fail me. I passed, but two days after I mailed in my final packet of the semester, I was hospitalized in a local psychiatric unit–enough was enough.
Given that I have a psychiatric disability, a hospitalization for me isn’t as shocking to those that know me as it would be if it were my first time admitted. But that doesn’t make it any less painful or scary for me. I returned to Goddard in July feeling fragile and depressed, still wishing Kenny would fail me, because that was what I deserved.
Whoever matches roommates for the residencies deserves a lot of credit. For my second residency, I roomed with Jennifer Rumford, who was and still is a godsend to me. We kept in touch over the course of my second, and her first, semester, encouraging each other and comparing notes. For a change, I had an ally, a friend, and she has helped me more than she knows.
But even with Jennifer on my side, I struggled. I was attempting to write a novel with a very close psychic distance point-of-view character based on my mother. My sister-in-law was quite excited about the project, thinking that as a writer, I’d have plenty of fun “playing” with this fictional “Mom.” But just as my real-life relationship with my mother is shaky, so was my relationship with my character. I began to hate Irma. I wanted to play with her like a doll, put her clothes on backwards, pour bleach onto her hair, and then twist her limbs into impossible positions.
I was hospitalized before the end of the semester but finished in March, then was hospitalized four more times over a period of a year. By that time, I had no hope left of ever returning to Goddard, or even taking an adult education course. I only wanted Joe back. The hospital social worker wanted me to attend a mental health day program, and when I refused, she told me there was nothing more she could do for me.
Time after time, it has been my writing that has saved me. Writing kept me sane during my insane stay at a state hospital (a prison, really) in 1986. My journal saw me through high school, helped me while I considered whether to run away from home. My writing has kept records of people and events I would otherwise have forgotten. And so, having started an informal blog in 2005, I continued it more seriously in 2006, writing in it nearly every day, little essays and words of wisdom, or sometimes simply a notation of events to inform my readers that I’m still here. I began going to the library daily to write, and found the process addicting. My blog readership has expanded to about 20 regular readers along with those who pop in out of cyberspace. And thus I rediscovered myself as a writer, no longer writing fiction, but creative nonfiction, and I take my writing very seriously.
I feel ready to return to Goddard, especially after having found the right combination of medications to keep myself healthy. One medication in particular seems like a miracle pill. It wasn’t until I started taking Topamax (jokingly called “Dopamax” by insiders) that I realized I was in fact again capable of graduate study.
Of course, given that a blog is not yet an acceptable form of publishable work, my creative thesis would consist of stand-alone personal essays about mental health. I am particularly excited to begin work on an essay on “shock treatments,” which would include reflections on my conversations with a “shock doc” and patients (whoever will agree to talk to me), plus my own experiences.
August 19, 2006. Three years had passed since Joe’s death. For the first time, on this anniversary, I was able to grieve, because now I could think clearly. Through writing, I had worked through my loss and gotten rid of the clutter in my head that was keeping me from feeling the sadness I desperately needed to embrace.
My dog had a veterinary appointment that day with his behavior specialist. My dog was particularly naughty. I was too heavy-hearted that day to feel embarrassed; the embarrassment only came a couple of days later, when I sat down at the library to report the incidents to my blog readers, to write yet one more time.