Bachelor’s or no

I’ve started my summer reading class, the last requirement before I can get my Academic Certificate in Creative Writing from Phoenix College. This might not seem like a big deal, but it’s been a long time coming.

I started going to college after I’d been living on my own for a few months, and a whole year after I’d started working my first full time job. Getting the necessary hours to pay bills while balancing nine credits a semester was difficult, but doable. Getting my associates took longer than I care to admit. Like any other college student, I changed my mind about my major a few times while getting my associates. First I wanted to be a translator, become proficient in as many languages as I could. It turned out becoming a linguist was going to take several years. So I narrowed my focus to one of the languages I was curious about; American Sign Language. Phoenix College was the only college in the area that offered an extensive ASL program so, after completing four courses at Glendale Community College, I transferred over to PC.

It wasn’t until I’d already transferred that I realized what a challenge this ASL program was going to be. They offered the required classes in the morning and at night. Once I chose a schedule, I couldn’t change it mid semester. It was either all morning or all night classes. I couldn’t take the morning courses because I worked from 8AM to 5PM, and I couldn’t take the night courses because it would mean sacrificing the few precious hours I could spend with my husband. (He has to be up at 5AM every morning and goes to sleep early as a result. So he would’ve been going to work before I woke up and I would be coming back from my night classes long after he fell asleep.) Finding a new job with mid-afternoon to early evening hours that paid me what my current job was paying proved to be impossible. Any online jobs I found needed experience that I didn’t have. So I had a choice to make: get certified as a Sign Language Interpreter or see my husband on a daily basis.

But then it wasn’t really a choice.

With the ASL program off my options list, I finally allowed myself to consider my dream. See, my dad always encouraged me to chase my dreams but to also consider other, more practical career paths that would help me support myself and eventually my family. In attempting to heed his advice, I’d chosen career paths that I’d been interested in but that were also practical and in high demand where I lived. But I felt that God orchestrated this path for me, the one where life kept “intervening” and changing my plans. Because, with no practical career to follow, I finally started considering a degree in creative writing.

And Phoenix College just so happened to have a Creative Writing Program.

It’s only a certificate but with it I can transfer to a university and eventually earn a Bachelor’s in English with Concentration in Creative Writing or just a BA in Creative Writing. It was while I was taking these courses that I saw the most growth in my writing. It was during this Creative Writing Program that I got my publishing deals. Everything seemed to be falling into place. I’d never felt more sure about my career path, more confident in my schooling choices. For the first time in a long time, I believed I could make it as an author.

I still believe I can make a living off of my writing, but it’s going to take time. During that time, I’d like to keep learning and growing. I’d like to have options if/when I “retire” from authoring. Furthering my education could potentially get me a job at a literary agency or publishing company. Hearing my dad’s voice at the back of my mind, I realize getting a bachelor’s would be the practical thing to. I did some research and, so long as the writing classes from PC transfer to the university I have in mind, I would only need eleven classes in order to get my Bachelor’s in English with Concentration in Creative Writing. Even with the payment program they offer, I could only afford to take two classes a semester. But if I take a class in one of the summer semesters, it would only take me two years and one summer to complete my degree.

If I’m totally honest with myself, the only thing stopping me is my own specific interests. Looking at the restricted electives list for this degree, it’s obvious I’m going to have to read and dissect Shakespeare.  I’m also going to have to “analyze” other “classic literary works” from the 1800s. (Raise your hand if Shakespeare confuses you, frustrates you, and sometimes puts you to sleep. Raise your hand if the only classic literature books you’ve been able to enjoy are Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility. Raise your hand if you feel physically sick when you hear the words literary analysis. You can’t see me, but I’m raising both hands right now. And hopping up and down because I don’t have an third hand to raise.)

I like modern fiction. You know, books that were written in my life time. Now, I’m a good student. I can put in the effort and skate by with a B if I absolutely have to. And the reading class I took last summer proved that there are teachers in this world that can assign an interesting book from the 1800s. But I don’t want to grow to hate reading or writing. That’s my biggest fear.

The other thing that’s holding me back is the fact that 12 credit hours are required to be taken on campus. Which is thirty minutes away. I’m sure I could space out those credit hours so that I don’t have to spend too much time driving per semester, but I’d still be sacrificing time in the evenings with my husband. So that’s something to consider…

Fortunately, I have until the end of January to make up my mind. The university I’m looking at begins accepting portfolios from Creative Writing students in February. If they decide I’m worthy to enter into their bachelor’s program, then I’ll move forward. If not, then I guess my decision has been made for me. And, of course, I have to consult my husband. We were both pretty psyched about not having to pay for school anymore. (This summer class I’m taking now has already been paid for.) We’re still saving up to replace his truck; having a school payment for the next two years will definitely slow that process down. Also, kids might come in the next two years and I don’t want to be in school while I’m raising kids. My mom did that. I could see how hard it was for her to balance it all. I don’t want to have to make the choice between homework and spending time with my babies.

I’m praying God will show me the way, make it absolutely clear whether this is the right thing for me to do or not. He’s done it in the past. For now, I’ll keep waiting and thinking and doing research.

The end of the semester

Final grades have been officially entered. I received A’s in all my classes (Intro to Poetry, Intro to Horror, and Literature and Film).

Intro to Poetry and Into to Horror were challenging, as I knew they would be. Neither come naturally to me but I discovered that I could create both, after much study and practice. I personally think my horror pieces are better than my poems, but I’m still proud of the fact that I can write them now. I feel more rounded as a writer, and I’m really thankful for my teachers. They helped make these classes interesting for me, despite the challenges. They encouraged me, told me where I could improve, gave me good advice, and provided books I could continue learning from even after the classes were over.

Literature and Film was just fun. I got to watch movies and read stories that are considered classics but I’d never willingly read or watch on my own (Jaws, Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption by Stephen King and it’s adaptation The Shawshank Redemption, The Body by Stephen King and it’s adaption Stand By Me.) I feel more cultured as a movie geek having watched these. For the final project, we were allowed to choose a book and movie adaption to analyze. I chose The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien and it’s partial adaptation The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. It was the easiest, most enjoyable final project I’ve ever had to do.

Despite all the fun and the growth I’ve experienced this semester, I’m relieved to be done. With the completion of Literature and Film, I gained the last few credits I needed in order to be done with my Associates in Arts. After four years and five months of balancing school and work, I can finally say I have a degree. I’ll be getting my diploma in the mail in ten business days. It might not seem like much when compared to other kids my age who stayed home, had the freedom to just go to school, and are now finishing up their bachelor’s degrees. But it’s a big deal to me. I’m done with something I set out to do a long time ago. That feels good.

These last few classes I’m taking in the summer and in the fall are for an Academic Certificate in Creative Writing (an associates in Creative Writing.) After that, the sky’s the limit. I could transfer to a university and get a bachelors and/or masters in Creative Writing if I wanted to. I think I’m going to take a break. I haven’t taken a real break since I started college. A part of me is a little nervous. If, for example, a great job within a publishing company is brought to my attention and I’m disqualified because of my lack of education, will I have the strength to go back to school? Will I have the willpower? Or am I shooting myself in the foot by not pursuing higher education now, while I’ve got the momentum? I’m trying not to worry about it, though. Too often I feel as if I choose to do what I think I have to do. In the area of school, I believe it’s time to do what I want to do. Besides, my husband and I are already saddled with his school debt. I don’t think we could handle paying off any more school loans with the jobs we currently have. In the future, who knows?

I’m looking forward to devoting more time to my writing and expanding my contacts in the publishing world. I’m really looking forward to not having to worry about homework!

Here’s to the future and all it’s possibilities!

2016 Reflections

I know it’s a little late for a New Years letter, but that doesn’t mean I can’t blog about my 2016. I’m calling last year the Year of Change.

My husband and I moved out of our one room apartment in April. My grandparents own several houses that they rent out to growing families and college aged students. They offered one of those houses to us for a very generous rental price and we snatched it up. We had been blessed with our apartment; it was in a safe, clean, quiet environment, with great management and neighbors. But we had a dog that was in desperate need of a backyard and we were tired of not being able to host visiting family members. The school semester wasn’t over yet but we had very little time before our lease was up so it had to be done quickly. The two of us, with the help of a friend, moved everything out in an afternoon. It was a stressful and emotional time for me. I had things organized just the way I wanted at the apartment and it took time to re-organize everything into our new living space. Also it was the end of another chapter and I always get nostalgic about endings. I stood in the middle of our empty apartment after having scrubbed it clean from top to bottom, smiling a little and blinking back tears as I remembered the good times that were had there.

We love our new-to-us house and so does the dog. We were able to host our friends for Pumpkin Carving and Scary Movie night in October, my family for Thanksgiving, and my husband’s family for Christmas thanks to the extra rooms and larger living room space. It’s been a blast. I for one finally feel like an adult. We’re so thankful.

Following the theme of change, both my husband and I switched career paths this year.

My husband had this dream of going to medical school on the island of Saint Kitts (in the Caribbean), finishing his degree in their sister school in Maine, and then doing his residency here in Phoenix. It sounded like a wild adventure when we were dating and, even though I had my concerns about leaving our families and friends and everything we’d ever known, I was willing to go with him. I was willing to be brave and travel to places I’d never been before so long as we were together. But we’ve both wanted to have a family since we were very young. My husband was confident that we could do medical school and raise a family at the same time. Somehow. I wasn’t so sure. Still, we talked about it and prayed about it, until my husband came to me one day and said that he had decided to give up on medical school.

“If we’re serious about starting a family in the next few years, I’m going to need a different career path,” he said, to which I heartily agreed. It was hard for him to think of another career at first. My husband is a man of many talents but he’d had his heart set on medical school for such a long time that he didn’t know what else he wanted to do or even where to start looking. He literally received a sign shortly after making this decision. He was at work, helping his coworkers hang a bill board sign about police agencies hiring in the city. (Smee: I’ve just had an apostrophe. Captain Hook: I think you mean an epiphany. Smee: No… lightning has just struck my brain. Captain Hook: Well, that must hurt.) It was so obvious. My husband is strong, smart, quick on his feet, and just. Of course, he should be a police officer! So began the application process. It’s been a fury of studying, taking tests, filling out paper work, and going on ride alongs but it has been a blast for him. The current challenge is the upcoming physical exam. My husband’s current occupation is physically taxing and makes it hard to train but so long as he keeps trying, I’m confident he’ll succeed.

Growing up, my father always told me, “It’s okay to dream but keep your feet on the ground. Circumstances might not allow you to be a writer and stay-at-home-mother as you’d like to be. Think of a subject or area of study you could major in that could help your husband provide for your family should you need extra income.” So that’s what I did. I chose language. I’m already bilingual thanks to my Hispanic father and his family. I’d heard somewhere that being bilingual made it easier to learn other languages, so I thought I’d be a translator. Despite my desire to start with French, circumstances led me to American Sign Language. I ended up really enjoying it. I took four classes and was about to start the Interpreter’s program when complications arose between my work schedule and the class scheduling. An advertisement about a creative writing program on the school’s website caught my eye.

I’ve read many articles about writing query letters, self and traditional publishing, and book marketing. I’ve sent over 100 query letters over the past two-three years and received nothing but polite rejections. Still, the beta readers who read my work insisted I had talent. My writing, which had always been a hobby and an unrealistic dream, was fast becoming frustrating. Did I have what it took to be a successful author or not? With my current career path being blocked at every corner, it was time to find out. I started with Intro to Creative Writing and Intro to Writing Fiction, both of which I loved and aced. I received good criticism from my classmates and some much needed validation from my teachers (adults who had studied this area and could spot the difference between good writing and mediocre writing). I still don’t know if I have what it takes to be successful in the writing world, but I know I’ve got something good going on here.

I’ve read that agents receive millions of queries daily. To stick out from the crowd, you need what anyone else needs for a resume: education, experience, and proof of talent. Once I complete this creative writing program, I’ll have an Academic Certificate in Creative Writing (basically an associates). With it, I can transfer to a university and begin a bachelors in English if I wanted. It’s more education than I had two-three years ago when I started querying. The easiest way to gain some publishing experience is to be published. I’ve submitted some of my short stories into literary magazine contests. No bites yet but I can’t give up. Proof of talent in the writing world is having a following. Agents help with some book marketing but I’ve read time and time again that 90% of an author’s book marketing is done by the author. Having a following/readership reassures the agent that a writer is willing to do most if not all of the heavy lifting. Through blogging, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram I hope to develop my following.

All the while I work on my manuscripts in the hopes that one day I’ll be ready to submit query letters again, this time with confidence. In my endeavors, I’ve learned a lot about writing, publishing, and book marketing. It’s become more and more apparent to me that the fulfillment of this crazy dream is going to take a lot of work, especially for an introvert who was determined not to have a social media presence not so long ago. But this feels right. Whether anything comes out of this or not, I’m going to see it through.

While all of this was happening, my husband was learning how to have long distance relationships with his family. One brother moved to Los Angeles to study film and work. Another brother moved to Hawaii to work in the student ministries department at a church in Maui. The third brother still lives in Phoenix but being a full time student keeps him very busy. My mother-in-law, who suddenly found herself with an empty house, decided it was time for an adventure and took a job in Wisconsin. For my husband, who has always been able to drive ten minutes to see his mother and brothers, this has been a huge adjustment. I went through similar stages of grief and homesickness when I moved out of my parents’ house in southern California to study and work in Phoenix. It’s been hard to go through this with him but it’s made his relationships with his family stronger. Because they’re so far away, his brothers make more of an effort to call and text. They’re learning and growing, and sharing their experiences with their older brother. That part has been fun.

2016, the Year of Change indeed.

It’s hard to think 2017 could possibly top it. But yet again it’s only January.