Sunday, February 28, 2010


Well, God has thrown a wrench in things.

When I got home from the AML Annual Meeting, I found a slim envelope waiting for me from the BYU Graduate Studies Department. I knew there was trouble as soon as I saw it—long experience has taught me that slim envelopes mean rejection.

And I was right. BYU is very sorry to inform me that I have not been selected to enter the Creative Writing MFA program. However, I have been put on the alternate list.

I was, well, perplexed.

First, I’ll admit it. I thought I was a pretty strong candidate. I have good GRE scores, strong (I assume) letters of recommendation, a portfolio consisting of almost 100% previously-published stuff. Where’s the problem? Yeah, there’s room for improvement, but that’s what school is FOR, right? Maybe it’s my undergrad degree, which is in Humanities, not English. But I really hadn’t thought that would be a problem, since I have the required pre-requisite classes.

But second, and MUCH MORE IMPORTANT: I was very stunned because I have felt all along nothing but peace about this decision. I really have felt that God was good with this and that all would be well. Even now I don’t feel a sense of panic or despair because that feeling is still there. I don’t know if it just means that I’ll still make it in from the alternate list or if it means that God has something else for me interesting to do next year. But it’s weird to have felt so settled and now not know why.

I can’t deny that God has always led me through in the best possible way. When I couldn’t conceive as soon as I wanted to, when we didn’t go to the medical school we had hoped for, through all sorts of moves and job changes—things have always, in retrospect, worked out for the best, even (and perhaps especially) when it has been a surprise and what seemed a disappointment. I still have absolute faith that all will be well for me this fall.

Still, I can’t help wondering what I’ll do with myself if I don’t get in. I had been sort of using this as my solace for winter, a season that is very hard for me. “Just get through this winter,” I tell myself. “Next winter will fly because you’ll be so busy in classes.”

Granted I still have another application that I haven’t heard about, but that one has always been a long shot. The U, from what I can tell, has a reputation of being much more difficult to get into than the Y, especially if you have BYU on your application as your undergrad school. It’s ironic that the U doesn’t like BYU undergrads—and neither does the Y (or, rather, I’ve heard that publication in LDS-oriented magazines caries no weight, and maybe even works against you, in the BYU selection process). Someone who likes to write in a non-critical way about Mormon life can claim a disadvantage at both schools.

So there you have it.

Edited to add: Well, when I wrote all this it was true. And it still is true. But I can't say I haven't had my moments of fear and tears. What if this is it? What if it is really it? What if I never get in? This is something I never had supposed. All my young motherhood life I have been looking forward to returning to school. I can't stand the thought of never, never going back. Of course, I'll try again. But meanwhile, what will I do with myself? I can't beleive how much of my life this feeling that I'd get back to school would be. When my manuscripts get rejected and I wonder if I'll ever get a book published, I think, "It doesn't matter that much; I'm going to school." When I don't feel like I'm writing as well as I want to be, I think, "Well, I'll learn how to make this better in school."

What would I do without that? I don't want to find out.


Michelle said...

I'm surprised too. And perplexed. I just assumed you would get in.

I'm glad you are feeling peaceful.

dalene said...

Perplexed here as well, but reassured that you've put yourself in God's hands, not BYU's or the U's. Best--

Jennifer B. said...


Hang on to that peaceful feeling.

Anonymous said...

Add me to the perplexed/baffled list.

How many candidates do they accept?

I actually walked away from an admission to that program when I married Dean, and I had not a publication credit to my name. I'm sure admission's gotten much more competitive since then, but I'm still baffled and perplexed for you. Maybe someone else will follow their husband to the Middle East (or somewhere) and you'll get their space.

I'm tempted to say something sour grapes-ish on your behalf about how there's no one at BYU who could teach you more about writing than you've already learned on your own, but I'm sure BYU has some excellent writers and teachers, and I'd also guess that you'd love the classes. But the commute might be miserable in winter. (Am I helping at all?)

Anyway, here's hoping it all works out for the best sooner rather than later.

Anonymous said...

P.S. I love your new photo, glasses and all.

Tyler said...

Bummer, Darlene. But I'm glad to see you're staying positive about it all. "Cast not away therefore your confidence, which hath great recompence of reward." (Or something like that.)

When I read your post yesterday, I thought to share a link to the MFA program at National University, y'know, just as a matter of showing you another option. I got my MA through NU and I don't regret one minute of it. It's an intensive, fully online program, so you don't have to leave home to do it (though that can have its drawbacks, too).

Check out the link, if you feel so inclined. I just thought I'd share. And if you have any questions, I'm happy to answer what I can.

(And P.S.: it was a pleasure to meet you Saturday as well.)

Wm Morris said...

I think that the thing that's most frustrating about creative writing applications is that it's hard to know exactly what you need to do (or prove) to get in. This is true to a certain extent of all grad programs, but I would assume (and hope) that unlike, say, a physical therapy program the raw numbers on test scores and grades in relevant classes should count for less than the portfolio. Getting an A in Organic Chemistry and acing the math section of the GRE says something useful about fitness for graduate work in a health sciences program.

I also think that it's ridiculous that preference be given to any undergraduate degree over another.

But really, these decisions often come down to not even who has the best portfolio, but who the faculty think would be the best fits for the program, who they are going to feel most comfortable working with and who they can help out the most (as well as who is most likely to have future success). This is especially important in establishing when a program is starting out.

So maybe the LDS female poet spot had already been allotted. Or maybe for the first couple of classes they are looking those with national ambitions (which you definitely be have, but that's not the dominate message in your body of work so far). Or maybe there was a preference given to recent BYU graduates (there often is). Or maybe they're being careful to not show favoritism to those active with the AML.

Or maybe you don't really need to do this and it's God's way of saying that there are better outlets for your literary talent, time and energies.

I do think, though, that it's a bit frustrating that the info on the program on the website is so minimal and bureaucratic. All grad programs have personalities, but MFA programs especially do and it'd be nice to know more about exactly what BYU wants to do with it.

Cheri said...

I'm stunned and baffled too. I do believe that the Lord's path for us ends more beautifully than anything we can drum up ourselves, but sometimes along the way His was really doesn't make sense to us. Dang. Go ahead and cry and be kinda mad if you want. I never would've guessed this one. I wonder what's next?

Emily M. said...

I am baffled too. You are an amazing writer, and this is just weird. BYU is lucky you applied in the first place!

Kristi Stevens said...

Oo boy, I could have written that post. I'm going through a very similar experience, I know you're already aware of the details so I won't delve into it here. But I am equally as perplexed. Not only for you but for myself as well.

It's made me question my ability to hear answers. But then I feel so at peace with my situation now, even through my tears I can't help but know that someday it will all make perfect sense.

Oh, have you looked into this program.

Just a thought.

Melissa said...

Wow, I'm stunned. I thought it was a given that you would get in.

I'm so sorry. Slim letters are the worst.

Stephen Carter said...

You're way smarter than anyone in my MFA program, Darlene.

In addition to Vermont, there are also low-residency MFAs at Hollins and UAAnchorage..

smart mama said...

surprised as well-