The Changing of the Leaves

Within the pages of The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald writes, “life starts all over again when it gets crisp in the fall.” I firmly believe this to be true. At least for the last two falls in a row, I have encountered moments that have altered my life path to various degrees.

Around this time last year, I was attending a series of workshops to prepare for graduate school applications. At the time, I was still convinced that I was applying to MFA programs with an emphasis in fiction.  I wanted to be a prolific novel writer, and, if that failed, work in publishing as a back-up. I didn’t want to be a professor or do research; I just wanted to write. I came into those workshops with these firm convictions.

One of my professors had become a really important mentor to me my senior year of undergrad, and he was the one leading the workshops. After one of the first workshop meetings, he and I were hanging around and chatting. I can’t really remember how it occurred, but we somehow started talking about my newfound passion for writing centers. He recommended that I look at a couple of graduate programs with a specific focus in writing center studies…PhD programs in rhetoric and composition. He recommended that I apply to a couple of each type of program, and I told him I would consider it.

I went home that night and did some research on the programs he had mentioned. The programs and their classes sounded awesome! After I looked at those two programs, I googled some more in the area. Every single one sounded interesting and exciting. I was utterly convinced that he was right. I needed to apply to MFA programs in fiction AND a couple of PhD programs in rhet/comp.

The only problem was, when I started to write personal statements for these programs as required by the workshops, I found myself utterly consumed by the statements for the rhet/comp programs. The more I read about programs, looked at courses of study, and thought about the work I would do, the more PhD programs appealed to me. I found myself not struggling to fill the page like with my MFA personal statements; instead, the words and ideas were overflowing. I had many clear-cut reasons for pursuing a PhD in rhet/comp., while I was barely scraping by on genuine reasons why I wanted to get an MFA.

Of course, it wasn’t long after this that I completely surrendered myself to rhetoric and composition. I felt guilty about it, of course. Creative writing had always been my thing, and I felt like I was betraying myself by thinking otherwise. I wasn’t betraying myself though; I was meeting myself for the first time. I could think of plenty of questions I wanted to answer and problems I wanted to solve in the field. I could not only imagine doing research on these topics, but actually enjoying the research and writing about it. And I really, really liked the idea of teaching and studying composition and writing center stuff for the rest of my life. At that point, the transformation was complete.

Around this same time, Halloween brought changes to my personal life. Last Halloween marked a crucial point in my relationship with my current boyfriend. We had been coworkers and classmates during my first year of grad school. When he graduated in May, we stayed in contact and ended up becoming good friends over the summer. While family, friends, and strangers alike assumed we were going to start dating, he was adamant that we would not. However, on Halloween, he finally ended up making a move on me that shattered the illusion that we did not have feelings for each other. Even though we wouldn’t actively acknowledge those feelings again until Christmastime, that night was a definite game-changer.

Now, autumn is here again, and I find myself in a similar state of change and renewal.

After having a near panic attack a few days ago over the sudden realization of the time and money immediately required to take the GRE and apply to my full list of PhD programs, I had to think long and hard about what I wanted to do and how I wanted to do it. After some brainstorming, number-crunching, soul-searching, and confiding in my mother, I finally came to a conclusion: kick ass on my application to the only PhD program on my list that doesn’t require the GRE and, assuming I don’t get in, work really, really hard on my materials over the next year. This allows me to save more money, study for and take the GRE over the summer when I have more time, and work on some additional publications in the meantime.

Immediately after making this decision, I felt a certain sense of peace wash over me. I’m going to have great materials for one program that is an excellent fit for me and my research. If I don’t get in, I’ll have another year to prepare my materials and make myself the best possible candidate I can be. It’ll be another year staying here with my family, my friends, and my boyfriend. It’ll be another year to grow up. I can’t lose either way.

So, autumn is and always will be my favorite time of the year, especially October.  I love the weather, the activities, the scents, the food, the clothes, all of it. But, perhaps what I love this most is how it always offers a chance to begin again. Like the changing leaves, in autumn we can detach ourselves from what isn’t working, showing off our brilliant colors as we open the way for something new to grow.

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Future Hearts

With everything that has gone on in the past week, I find myself imagining several possible futures:

Scenario 1: I apply to all of my PhD programs and get into two or three of them. After campus visits and plenty of pros and cons lists, I finally decide on one. My boyfriend finds a job in the same city and moves there after me. I graduate, get my dream job, and get married. We live happily ever after. Obviously the ideal scenario.

Scenario 2: I apply to PhD programs and only get into one. It is the one furthest away from home. My boyfriend and I break up amicably and remain friends, because five years is a really long time to do long-distance. I graduate and get my dream job, but I’m always left wondering “what if.”

Scenario 3:  I don’t get into any of the programs I applied to (or I don’t even apply to them). My boyfriend and I both get hired full-time (with benefits) at the same university. I decide that I’m perfectly content with this life for the foreseeable future. We get married and start a family. It isn’t the life I had envisioned for myself, but it’s a good life.

Scenario 4: I don’t get into any of the programs I applied to (or I don’t even apply to them). A full-time job never comes up. Nothing changes. I spend the next year doing what I’m doing now, feeling like I’m still waiting for my future to start.

Scenario 5: I don’t apply to programs because I don’t want to leave my boyfriend. Three months later, we break up. I have to wait another year to try again. In the meantime, I work the same job I have now, feeling yet again like I’m waiting for my life to start.

Why are there so many variables? How do I know what the right path is, or what the future holds? How will I ever make these decisions?

Only time will tell.