Monday, August 10, 2009

...And Do It Anyway.


In my thirties, I decided that I should do something that scared the heck out of me at least once a year. And I don't mean 'try sushi' or 'drive the LA Freeways at rush hour.' Although, both of those things could, possibly, hold valid fear factors for certain people... People who shall remain nameless... *shudder*

Anyway... I wanted to try something that was so far outside my comfort zone that it would make me break out into a cold sweat, possibly keep me up at night for weeks at the mere thought of how the heck I would ever accomplish it? Okay, I'm a middle child: that need to please, to succeed, and to prove that I, in fact, exist is in the job description.


Writing books was one of my wild hairs. Submitting them for sale, even scarier. Picture yourself stripped naked, holding a flogging strap with a little word bubble over your head saying "Thank you, sir, may I have another? (Name that film.) It turned out, I liked writing and selling books. It became a career.

Teaching writing at a major university extension was like that, too. (I endured an entire sleepless summer wondering how I could conceivably fill a three hour class and BTW, teach anything anyone wanted to learn.) Friends warned me against it, saying it would only interfere with my writing. But I did it anyway, because according to my devious plan, the very idea terrified me. I knew it was a good one. Ten years ago, I conquered that fear and I did not actually expire. I'm still teaching today. Sensing a pattern here?

It's been almost three years since I made the decision to apply to grad school after finding myself smack dab in the middle of an empty nest crisis. I did it with serious prodding from my DH (who understands my middle-child insecurities) but deep down, I relished a new challenge. And I thought it might be a good idea to have a backup plan for the future. Besides writing. Something that might involve a steady paycheck. Like teaching in a real college. So, I applied.

Then, I began to rationalize (Oh, yeah. This was part of the process.) "They won't take me." "I'm too old." "The low residency program is across the country from me. In Vermont. That's just crazy talk." No, I put the application in, I decided, and that was the scary part. I felt vindicated. Relieved. I'd done the hard thing.

Then one day as I was innocently listening to my cell phone messages, counting cracks in the sidewalk, I heard this:
"Hi, Barbara, this is P---, the program director at Goddard. I just called to say congratulations, you've been accepted into the Creative Writing MFA program starting in June..."

The rest I didn't hear. I think I said a four letter word.
By now, this sense of panic was familiar. But this time, I was so scared at the prospect I actually considered not calling him back. It took me two days to even tell my husband about it. But in the end, I did call the director back. And I accepted his acceptance. Because, did I mention? I'm a middle child.

Then, for the rest of the spring, I had a hard time sleeping.

Stay tuned for the stories of my Haunted Dorm Room and other grad school adventures. Meanwhile, inquiring minds want to know: Have you done anything to really scare yourself lately? I'd love to hear.

8 comments:

A Palmer said...

I can really relate to your love/hate relationship with the prospect of going back to school. I was 49 when I started grad school - on probation no less because my GRE's math scores were lousy. I worried about being too old to do it. Compete. My first class, my first paper I misconstrued what the prof wanted and blew it. I was mortified when my paper came back. I could have said to myself, "Yup, I'm just not going to cut it and given up!" But my professor, a wonderful old man, head of the dept., took me aside afterwards and we discussed what he was really looking for. He gave me another chance to do the paper and I aced it. And I aced everything after that in every class and graduated. He gave me another chance and for that I will be eternally grateful. He passed away two years later and the world lost a huge advocate for the elderly. Very cool guy. Your sis, Anne

Alicia @ boylerpf said...

I'm nota middle child but I do love a challenge. My DH and I always laugh when someone says it can't be done. He knows I will do anything & everything to prove that "can't be done" phrase wrong. I think almost any adventure and challenge in our lives worth doing leave us with sweaty palms and butterflies in our stomachs wondering if we can pass muster. If not, the challenge wouldn't be as fulfilling! Love reading your blog...

Holly said...

Done anything scary lately, you ask. How about getting out of bed and living another day? Does that qualify? lol

Sarah said...

Great post Barb - knew they would be!! I guess that makes me the little orange cat on the top of the heap?? Hee hee!
I went back to school a few years ago and it enlightened my life. I found out I was not a mental duck..but a mental swan and other people thought so too. People who assumed I had always been a mental swan. Great things have happened in my life since then and I am thrilled to have had the chance to have gone.
Scary for me is stepping into my artwork part time this Fall..letting go of some of my secure income and Letting Fly.. Yup am scared and it is keeping me awake. But..I am stepping out there.
As for the school thing...yup am heading back there too. Not so scared this time!! Whoo hoo!!
Love ya, Sarah

challee said...

I had a baby! That was scary, but oh so worth it! Liked the last posts! Seems like you are getting the hang of this bloggin stuff! xox

Barbara said...

Chall--Yes, you did and he is my little sweetie! So proud of you! Talk about taking a leap! xox

Alicia--Have we met in a previous life?? lol

Holly--:p) Some days, that's the best (and only) thing you can do.

My sissies--So proud of you both! Anne, you inspired my grad school adventure. I had to keep up. And Sarah, how amazing are you? Love reading your blog.

Elise said...

Hello, I just stopped by and wanted to leave a comment to say how much I've enjoyed reading your posts. I've learnt so much today ! Your photographs are beautiful and I've had such fun looking around your website.

Thank you for sharing your writing and your thoughts and best wishes !

Kathryn Magendie said...

Animal House! (I think)

I never went to college - so in my late 40's I decided to go - it was terrifying! I was almost finished when we left BR to move here - and I haven't gone back yet - but I am - I am going to finish and graduate! :)

Great post!