In preparation for graduation, we are asked to write a letter to chronicle our journey at Lesley University’s MFA program. Here is what I came up with:
My time at Lesley helped me not only develop my writing but my overall sense of commitment to the writing life. These two years have allowed me to lay down roots into myself by providing me with the opportunity to ground my life through my creative process. Lesley has set the stage for this commitment to transform into a lifetime of developing stories and essays.
My journey as a writer began when I learned how to write in English after fleeing the Gulf War in Kuwait. I would write stories about princesses escaping invasions or monsters transforming into people. Writing was my safe zone, my shock absorber.
But being a refugee made me feel as though I was always in the wrong place at the wrong time- as though my life couldn’t truly begin yet and I had to delay creative expression. I needed to save it for another place and time. Year after year, my mother would set off to explore other cities-traveling to Montréal, Detroit, Orlando, Santa Fe, even San Diego-with the hopes of leaving Rhode Island behind- (which we never did)- since we had to leave Kuwait in such a hurry, I understood that she was trying to make an informed choice about which community to lay down roots. However, this constant re-imagining of my future had the effect of distancing me from my present reality.
I lived in an imagined future, which, for an only child who lived in my mind to begin with, didn’t need much encouraging. From that young age that I was being set up to never truly commit to the present moment, to continue to live in the purgatory of if’s and maybe’s. Little did I know that there was no such thing as the perfect time.
My Lesley journey began shortly after I left my first teaching job. I taught at a charter school with a unique model, one that places teachers with the same group of 15 students all day for all 4 years of high school. One of my students, Ryan, I regarded as a member of my family after our long talks, family meetings, and journal writing sharing. Ryan and his family suddenly passed away from carbon monoxide poisoning from a faulty water heater installation on New Years Day. I had to face the reality that nothing was guaranteed and life was not waiting for me or anyone else. I found it difficult to put off writing and my creative pursuits for another moment.
That summer, I started researching creative writing programs and visited Lesley’s summer session in June 2008. At that time, I had no writing sample, felt little inspiration, and had very little confidence, as I hadn’t written in years and had no idea where to begin. Apparently life had other things in mind because shortly after visiting Lesley I found out I was a pregnant with my son. The pregnancy, birth, and time to myself allowed me to begin the process of committing to my word and when my son was eight months old, my writing sample poured out like a flood. The sample that started out handwritten on journal paper turned into The Birthing Tree, my first story to be published (in the Masters Review), which I scribbled between nap-time and cooking.
After two years at Lesley, I developed my thesis, a collection of short stories. I feel that the stories represent my first years of immersing myself in the writing life well. I have covered an array of themes, narrative styles, and created memorable characters. My strengths include having varied interests-from science fiction to cultural and generational clashes. My ideas will keep me inspired for a long time. What I need to continue to work on is to just keep writing- by giving myself more time with my writing each day and continue learning about the world of publishing and business side of writing. I also need to keep my connections with my fellow writers strong and develop a routine of exchanging stories. I am looking forward to continuing my Lesley connection strong by becoming involved in the Alumni group.
Overall, I feel that were two years were well spent. I learned how to respect myself by respecting my writing time. I learned to quiet that negative voice in my head long enough to let my imagination do the talking at the keyboard and I learned how to feel out a story by listening to the characters. My first semester I developed my scene building skills and with my second semester, I focused on writing realistic and complex characters. Taking on a full time job during my final year threw me into the fire of the writing life and forced me to face some tough questions about whether it was the best idea to continue with the program. Only this time, instead of letting outside forces control my sense of timing, I committed to controlling it for myself and decided to stick it out. As a result, I wrote more than ever in my final year.
My plans for the future include writing fiction, non-fiction and science fiction, and teaching English to middle school students. I plan on attending next year’s RAWI conference-a conference of Arab-American writers, as well as the AWP conference and staying in touch with my Lesley community for years to come. Most notably, my plans for the future include my continue commitment to my writing, as it has served as both my anchor and my springboard.