The year Abra was born, the year I was finishing up my Masters in Secondary Education, and the year I started teaching, I applied to twelve creative writing graduate schools.
I had just found out such schools existed the semester before grad school. I had written my first short story and poem, as an adult, just a year before that.
These schools, notoriously hard to get into, offered the opportunity to write with modest (though it seemed to me at the time extravagant) stipends.
Rejections started coming in while I was Ecuador student teaching.
Eloise, back in Lexington, stressed about my future employment. She went to a job fair in Lexington for teachers on my behalf and explained our situation to every administrator she met. Her description of the eager crowd of teachers vying for a job had me wondering what we would do if I didn’t get into a school and I didn’t get a teaching job.
I secretly hoped that one of the schools I had applied to would accept me. And not so secretly discussed my thoughts aloud about how the three us could survive on 15 to 22 thousand dollars a year, should one of those schools accept me.
Though I did have a spot on the waitlist at two of the schools. One that I had my heart set on. For awhile, this was all I had in terms of affirmation that I could actually write in a serious way. These two waitlist positions that never materialized into acceptance.
I tell myself that I would have chose teaching anyway. The money, proximity to family, the investment of my time and talent to become the best I could possibility, the investment of Eloise’s time and talent in her own teaching career that would be arrested for a year.
It made sense.
But the heart’s not known for its ability to process logic.
And in the words of one of my students: who doesn’t want what they want?
So I tried to do it all. Be a teacher, father, writer, and eventually husband.
Briefly, I was all four.
Over the years, especially the earlier ones, I would obsess over applying to the schools again. I’d pull my best poems together, research the schools, float the idea to Eloise.
Every time I’d stop just short of asking people for letters of recommendation. One time, just short of applying.
Thankfully, Bread Loaf helped ease the pressure I felt to pursue the passion.
During the weeping, the two days I couldn’t stop crying, as the numbness of what was happening gave way to grief, like an explosion after a shockwave, I felt a moment of selfishness and self-pity over the missed opportunity and even, much to my shame and lasting embarassment, said as much to Eloise.
The truth is much of the writer I am is thanks to her. The hours I spent reading books on craft, going to my meetings, workshops, conferences. The hours I spent writing when Abra slept. They all came from her patience and grace.
If you haven’t seen the movie Marriage Story, it’s worth the watch. Two young creative types navigate a divorce in intimate and uncomfortable scenes that capture the complexity of the situtation better than anything else I’ve seen or read.
They have a child. They’ve helped create one another. For reasons specific to their circumstance, they found that they no longer can continue being married.
The last scene is the best.
Adam Driver’s character arrives at Scarlett Johansson’s characters house sometime after the divorce. His son is having a nerf ballet with Johansson’s partner. There’s tension, yes, but not anger or malice, a yearning. Like two separate realities are bending toward the same point but unable to meet. The reality in which the marriage worked, and Driver’s character is the man with the nerf gun, confronting the reality that Driver is the man who finally, though too late to help the marriage, has decided to move to California to at least be the father he wants to be, even if it means not being the artist he thought he would be.
I didn’t give the whole ending away. But I hope, one day, we won’t see two people working on being good to one another and coparenting their child as any kind of spoiler anyway.