Thursday, March 22, 2007

Plan B

It's been almost a week now since the last of the small envelopes turned up in my mailbox. I found it as I walked out the door to work last Friday, and spent the fifteen-minute drive in stony silence, with Damien Rice filling up the hollows in my melancholy. The first people I saw when I got to work were two of the people I like most there, and when they saw my face, they looked concerned and Maggie said quietly, "Did you hear?" I nodded and sucked my lips in, trying not to cry. "Plan B?" she said. "Which was really Plan A in the first place?"

When I walked into the breakroom to put away my coat and purse, I actually did start to cry. I collected a hug from another co-worker, took some deep breaths, and refused to talk about it anymore, because people don't usually trust the recommendations of a crying bookseller, and I wasn't going to be able to talk about not getting into any PhD programs without crying.

By the middle of my shift, after a few hours of mostly solitary work and then reading to children in my pajamas (for Friday Night Pajamarama), I was no longer in danger of crying. But even now, a week later, I'm still confused. Maggie was referring to the plan I didn't want to detail here unless life really came down to that. For a while I wasn't actually sure what to hope for, because if I got into a PhD program, awesome, and if I didn't, I would get to try out this new plan, which I'd been kind of excited about.

So the plan is this: I have an opportunity to make money by writing for a friend's website--enough money, if I do it right, to go down to part time at work, and probably eventually quit. Writing regular articles for the website will take up some time, but not so much time that I wouldn't be able to write fiction and submit it to publishers. Writing fiction is what I've really wanted to do for as long as I can remember, and if I retrace my thinking over the past few years, I realize that my desire to be a college professor originated with a desire to have a career that would allow me time to write. Until recently, I've been ignoring certain bugs in that plan. For instance, if I have a PhD and I'm teaching at a university, I have to do research and publish scholarly writing. I kind of enjoy writing literary criticism. But. How much time and energy would that leave me for writing fiction? Probably not much. In a way--and you probably won't hear many people say this--getting a PhD would have been a cop-out for me. That was me playing it safe. Because jumping naked into a big swirling pool of pure writing? That's scary. There's no guarantee of money in it, and creativity is an unpredictable beast. Writers become alcoholics for a reason.

So this is Plan B. But yeah, sort of Plan A in the first place.

I'm not saying I'll never get a PhD, because I think it sounds like fun, and I think I will someday be able to get into a program. Also, not seeing graduate school in my tangible future has changed my self-perception slightly. Before, I was just passing time in a bookstore before I went on to more respectable things. Now there's a possibility I'm stuck. Getting unstuck will be a frustrating and painful process, and I won't lie: I'm scared. But if I can make it work...

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6 Comments:

Blogger Laura B. said...

Amber -
I admire you so much, and I am happy for you. Plan B sounds like a beautiful plan A. I am sorry about the PhD programs, because I know how much (even on a different level) you wanted it, but you make valid points about why it might not really be the best situation. You are a brave, strong, intelligent, beautiful woman - I am proud to know you!

3/22/2007 7:50 PM  
Blogger Amber said...

Thanks, Laura. That means a lot.

3/23/2007 10:38 AM  
Anonymous Natasha said...

Plus, with Plan B you get to drink lots of beer and wine with us for another year. When we're not busy sorting clothes at the hospital, of course. :)

P.S. I think you're brave, too, for accepting this so well.

3/23/2007 5:56 PM  
Blogger Loralee Choate said...

I walked away from a very promising career. Everyone thought I was nuts. In a way I guess I was, but I wanted it. There has been regret and sorrow and jealousy over the years, but I have had so many experiences that I have absolutely made it worth it.

I agree with everyone else-you are handling this very well.You have a lot of grace in that tiny body, you know that, Amber?

3/26/2007 8:39 PM  
Blogger erin said...

Amber -

You are not along. I didn't get into any programs (well, waitlisted at one, but I'm not holding my breath). I still haven't heard from one school, but at this point it's so late that it can't be good...

So, Plan B for me too, I guess. I got a last minute app to a school with a late deadline, so I'm giving that a try, but otherwise...

Your post rings true for me too. Really, I just want to be a writer. And there's enough ways to self-educate out there (workshops, conferences, etc.) that it can be done. It's just a lot scarier doing it without the framework of school, ain't it? Anyway, sorry about your little envelopes (I call them mean, skinny envelopes).. we'll have to get together and commiserate :)

4/02/2007 2:10 PM  
Blogger Amber said...

Erin-
That sucks. We should try to keep in touch. We can use the writing thing/no grad school thing as an excuse, but really I just miss talking to you.

4/03/2007 11:06 PM  

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