It’s funny how things change. I spent nine months applying to, and waiting to hear from, graduate schools in America, holding my breath to see if now is the time I’ll realise a dream I’ve held for four years: to get my creative writing MFA.
Early 2014 saw me play an agonising waiting game of “what will my future look like?” By April, I finally found out that I’d gotten in to all the programs I applied to.
I took a deep breath.
I turned them all down.
‘I cannot see in my 28th birthday in this job,’ I typed to Calum over Facebook.
This part of the story takes place earlier, in the middle of March sometime. I hadn’t been happy at work in a while.
It wasn’t a bad job. Great colleagues, a relaxed office, an editorial calendar largely directed by my own informed choices – but I wasn’t making a difference. What I was doing didn’t contribute in any way that truly mattered. Not to the company, and certainly not to the world. I wasn’t learning. There’s only so far you can push yourself within somebody else’s game before it becomes painfully obvious that you need a different game.
‘Hand in your notice,’ said Calum. Resign now, give your leaving date as the day before your birthday, and whether you get into graduate school or not, know that you don’t have to go into that office on the first day of your 28th year – the first day of the rest of your life.’
The next day I was made redundant.
My leaving date would be May 21st, the day before my 28th birthday. The universe is funny like that.
I’d been eager to get home: mum and dad would be waiting in my kitchen, having collected the key I left under the mat. My housemates would be home soon. Calum was on his way, my brother en route.
As we’d all sat down to the meal my father had created, my extended, beautiful family together and laughing, in my kitchen, perfect in imperfection, I thought to myself, ‘I don’t know how I’ll leave this.’
She was due to arrive within the hour, my housemate text. Where was I? Would I be home to meet her?
I explained that I was in my tiny bed fully clothed, hiding under my duvet.
Why? she asked.
I wasn’t sure myself.
Amy was emigrating to Australia at the end of the month, and it was great that we’d found someone to take over her room. I’d had little to do with the decision myself, what with me intending to flee the country not long after anyway. That’s why I was happy in the single room at the back of the house. My living here was only ever supposed to be temporary.
I curled up into a ball under the covers, scared of the conviction I felt resolving within my tummy.
‘Knock, knock,’ my housemates said, entering my room not long after.
I spoke out in muffles from my self-made fort. ‘I want to take Amy’s double room,’ I said. ‘I’m not moving to America. I’m staying.’
Lots of people have asked me what changed. How I could make such a “sudden” 180-degree shift in my Big Plan. But, you see, that’s not it at all. I wanted America, my MFA, the adventure, so that I had a way to make time for writing full-time, as a way to finally get published, and to teach. Being made redundant took care of the “time to write” part, and I’m getting increasing amounts of teaching work. I’m already living my dream life. I was just so busy planning the future that it took me a moment to recognise the absolute perfection of my present.
Lean in to what feels good, I told myself as my new year’s resolution. Well. This all feels pretty fucking good.
Dad wanted to take a big family vacation before I moved to America, and booked the four of us a villa on Sardinia. Then I wasn’t going to America – but the holiday was already paid for. SORRY NOT SORRY. That was where the next part of my plan began. To start my 28th birthday off right, I decided to fly out to Italy ahead of the fam, to Milan, to see Alma Rada and eat pizza and take long hikes and recalibrate because that’s what people whose entire Life Plan goes to shit should be able to do. That turned into flying to Sardinia early to spend some time by myself for a few days. Which became getting the boat to Rome once my family return to England. Which morphed into a month in Rome, teaching, for no other reason than I’ve missed it. At the end of that month I’m going to Sicily for a while, because I’m on a roll now and so why not? Last week I got an email offering me drama workshops in Saltzburg in mid-July, which will finish off my trip nicely. I’ve sub-let my room out for the next two months, to a friend waiting on her house sale to go through. I’m never more myself than when I’m travelling – except this time, I’ve got a home to come back to.
That leaves one last thing: my manuscript. The book I came to London to sell. That’s my next project – it has to be. And so, when that question comes up, the only answer I can give is “write”. That is what I will do next. I don’t care how I pay rent, what odd jobs I must do to survive in order to do what I was born to do. For now, I have been gifted the opportunity to correct my sails. I haven’t altered my destination – perhaps just the journey to get there. I’m navigating different winds and I’m buckling down accordingly. I do not know what will happen. Just that it will. Life does.