Now for Some Good News!

Real talk: has any psychologist, doctor of philosophy, or diviner come out with an explanation on why we get those nightmares about being back in school? You know, the ones where you’ve missed (or skipped) a class all year and show up on the last day for the final knowing nothing? Or, it’s the first day and you run all over campus looking for the building or room your class is supposed to be held in, only to not find it?

I have them a lot, for whatever reason. Sometimes I’m in high school, but most of the time it’s college, and the problem is ALWAYS English. Why would I ever skip English? Math I can understand ditching. It doesn’t matter if I’m going to class twice a day. I’m still failing that shit. But English?

And the professors are real teachers I used to have, too. Even my middle school teachers. I can’t remember their names, but I remember their faces. Am I afraid to disappoint them? Do I feel like I didn’t try hard enough back then? I don’t know, but every time I wake up I have to tell myself, over and over until my heart settles back down, “you graduated high school 10 years ago, and college almost six. You’re so far away from the stresses of academic study you need to relax and go back to sleep.”

Only that’s not true anymore, because a little over a month ago I officially became a graduate student.

This is good news! Really, really good news. I know this may be hard to believe because school is a lot of work and expensive and et cetera et cetera, but I am legitimately excited.

When I finished my week at the University of Iowa’s Summer Writing Festival in June, I made the decision to pursue my Master of Fine Arts degree. Other than marrying Jordan, I hadn’t felt this sure about anything in my life. The only question marks were expenses, locations, and type of program. I changed my mind a couple of times on the above logistics, looking at a lot of different options, and narrowed down the decision based on the following parameters:

1.) If I was going to commit to a graduate degree, I wanted to devote 100% of my time and effort into something that was going to be rewarding not just in the immediate sense, but years down the line.

2.) I was actually going to be living with my husband 24/7 without the constant interruptions of international travel for the first time since we got married. I didn’t want to do anything that took me hundreds of miles away for two years. Especially since we don’t want to do anything that takes the chance of starting our family off the table.

With this, a full time program wasn’t likely, but could I still get 100% out of my education? Yes, and that’s when I was introduced to my answer: the Master of Fine Arts Low-Residency format. I talked with the director who ran this program at a major university in Ohio. He explained to me how it all worked, and I looked into the schools that offered low-res MFAs and which were the best. I picked out my schools and sent off my applications.

I got into all of them except one.

Not to toot my own horn, but I really didn’t expect this. I thought I’d be lucky to get into one, if any at all. Now I had to decide which school was best for me, so I went deeper into my research and listened to my gut. On November 11, 2016, I start my first day at Spalding University in Louisville, Kentucky. Now, to those I’ve discussed this with already, I’ve gotten a lot of questions. So, here’s how it all works:

– For now, Low-Res programs are really only offered at small, private universities. Do not be fooled. These are legitimate universities, they’re just on the extreme side of private (don’t believe me? Check out my tuition bill).

– I am only required to be on campus twice a year. Semesters are kicked off with a “residency” in which I attend lectures, workshops, and discussions on the Spalding Campus for ten days. It’s a jam packed ten days where I’ll be running around at about 80mph and sleeping very little.

– During the residency I will be assigned a faculty mentor and we’ll format a study plan for the remainder of the semester. I’ll be assigned around 6-10 books to read and be given deadlines on when to submit work to the mentor over the next few months. I’ll go home and continue my work, reading my assigned novels, writing critical essays, and creating/editing new content for my creative thesis that must be completed and approved prior to graduation. Every few weeks I’ll send off the work, my mentor will review and then call/facetime/email me to discuss my progress and offer criticism and feedback.

– Semesters run from November – April, May – October; and I must go to Louisville for ten days at the start of each one.

I am very happy about all of this. It’s the first time I’ve been excited about school since…probably since forever. I should finish in 5 semesters if I don’t take a leave of absence which means I should be hooded in the Fall of 2018 (the 5th semester is not a full semester, I only attend the residency and give a graduate lecture and public reading from my thesis). I love southern culture and bourbon. Louisville offers both 🙂

Hopefully I’m not giving my academic nightmares more ammo, but one thing is for sure, I am definitely not skipping out on any English classes.


– S.A. Dees