Thursday, February 26, 2009

Deposits of Seeds and Money.

A part of accepting Bennington's offer of admission was sending a deposit of $500.  I actually don't tend to have extra amounts of money in the $500 range sitting around my starving artist and stay at home mom with a child in private school household.  But a week after I accepted admission, I was supposed to have my paperwork in, with the $500 deposit. 


I immediately made phone calls.  Did anyone have any work for me?  

Mommy needed her locks done.  She'd give me $25 each time and pay for eight in advance.  $200.  She also said she'd pay the difference between what I earned and what I needed.

Aunt Lillian wanted me to do her hair.  She is working toward wearing it naturally.  $50.

Daddy needed yard work.  $200.

Total: $500: $450, plus $50 gap from Mommy.

I want to talk about the yard work.

I went to my father's in the late morning with my puppies.  They ran around his yard while I helped him reseed.  This entailed me digging up a huge patch of grass on an incline, clearing the patch of all grass and weeds.  The patch was several yards wide, and several yards tall.  The clearing took about 10 hours.  I then bagged the yardage, put down fertilizer and seeds and covered the area with hay.

When I finished the job my hands, feet, legs, arms, and especially my back were all on fire.  But I had earned my deposit money.  I loved it the whole time I was working - breaking my back, callousing my hands, scratching my legs that burned with mosquito bites.  I loved it, because it was me working for what I want... place at Bennington, my place as a writer.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Life Goes On.

So, I received a letter in the mail. The envelope said it was a public relations company. I almost threw it away unopened, but I checked it out. It was a letter regarding the Linda Lael Miller Scholarships for Women. It indicated that they received my application after the October 1st deadline, and that my application would not be considered.

I called and asked when they got the letter. October 3rd, they said. That surprised me. I felt sure were it not there on the first, it would definitely have been there on the second - which would still have been too late. I suggested they consider postmark dates in the future.

I got off the phone and immediately got a headache. I have been working in such a one track way toward my future, the future toward which this MFA is an important step, that I have put my present situation in jeopardy. When I should be hustling in cash, I'm applying for funding, and so this needs to work.  I really need to be considered for every scholarship, but repeatedly, for varied reasons, amazing opportunities are not opening to me.

For instance, my essay was not chosen for the Atlas Shrugged Essay Contest.  I was informed by email.  I was not as disappointed by that.  I really hadn't had time to work on that essay.  It was done in a couple of hours, with no time for true editing.  I was not able to flush out any significant ideas.  That was about not giving up, giving myself a chance.  The Linda Leel Scholarship was different. I mailed it too close to the deadline, having been under the impression that the scholarship was a postmark deadline, and not a "received by" deadline.  I had not done my due diligence.  I feel that I would have had a chance of receiving support from them if I had done better.

I had to keep it moving.  I still had the R.O.S.E. Fund and the A Room Of Her Own Foundation's Award of Freedom.  The latter would not notify in time to make a difference for January, but the R.O.S.E. Fund announces in December, funds in January.  That was the only award on which I was really counting  for January.  All others were awards I was working on for the remainder of my academic career.  I had a headache.

Keep it moving.

Ishara and I went home and while she cleaned her room, I sliced four potatoes and four habenero peppers, cut string beans and diced fresh rosemary. I layered a baking pan with aluminum foil, spread in the ingredients, seasoning generously with Adobo and sprinkled in this grille sauce I picked up at whole foods. I then cut in half each of the two large pieces turkey london broil that I'd marinated in the same grille sauce, placing them above the mixture. I covered it with aluminum foil and baked it for half an hour on 400 degrees. 

I had never made this dish before, I was making it up. I hoped it would taste good, and it did. It was a little too peppery though. I often slice habeneros into my meals, but this was more saucey then some others, and the pepper really got into the food. We enjoyed it - Ishara asked if we could refrain from speaking because the food was so good to her. We did drink two cups of juice though. Next time I'll just cut the peppers in half.

I felt better after I'd cooked, eaten and cleaned up the kitchen. My headache had become negligible. Life goes on.

C.R.E.A.M. Get the Money. Dollar Dollar Bill Y'aaalllll!!!!!

I can't say the number of scholarships for which I've applied, or how many essays, statements and letters I have written. I created a table with the details of each potential funding source, and as I applied, I grayed it out and moved on. One of significance is the Ayn Rand Atlas Shrugged Essay Competition. What makes it so significant is what I went through just to apply.

The contest was simple. I had to read the book Atlass Shrugged, with which I was unfamiliar, and choose one of three questions to answer in a 2000 word essay. I finished applying for another scholarship, and then went to the library to get Atlass Shrugged. It wasn't there. I went home and went online to find out what branch had it. It was at the Northwest Regional branch, close to my house. I went the next day, Saturday, before they closed. I'm not a fast reader, but I'm not the slowest, and I can read for hours straight. I'd read the book Saturday and Sunday, and write the essay Monday through Wednesday, when it was due.


That is the longest book I've ever seen - rivaling the Bible for first place. I hustled home, (I had walked, taking a leisurely stroll through the park on my way to get the book I expected to have read by Sunday) and got my daughter ready to be independent for a few days. I then lay on the sofa in my room and read for about 10 minutes before passing out.

The next several days I did nothing but read. I took time to brush my teeth every day, but only showered once. I ate as I read, and cursed chores for standing in my way. Why the fuck do dishes have to get dirty in the first place! I took stretch breaks when I walked the dogs. Otherwise, I stayed in the bed reading all day and all night.

We ran out of toilet paper. I had to go out to the store and get some. I also got food on that run, since we'd run out of that too. Ugh! I don't have time for this shit!

I finally showered Wednesday morning, because I couldn't stand to smell myself any longer. I continued to read, and read every word, (well, accept for some of the redundant, please beat me over the head with these same ideas speaches that covered pages of the book at a time). Did I mention that the words in this 1080 page book were significantly smaller than this?

I finished the book, which I actually really enjoyed, in spite of the fact that it was at times a bit didactic, and began to work on the essay with only hours to go. At this point, it was about finishing more than anything. It represented my desire and determination to go to school, my passion to write.

Ishara (my daughter) expressed her concerns that Monday Night. "Mom, you've been working so hard! I'll be so sad for you if you don't make it."

"Baby girl," I told her, "you better not be sad for me. We're going to celebrate. You see how hard I'm working, you see my determination. That deserves congratulations. Hard work is it's own reward. And even when I get it in, if they don't pick my essay, we will celebrate. Because a letter from them represents the fact that I completed this, I got it in. That's what I have control of. I don't have control over whether or not they pick my essay. I do have control over whether or not I give up, or I fight, you understand? I'm a fighter, and so are you. So let's go."

This challenge was particularly well timed, because Ishara too was fighting for something. We were just beginning the application process for her to enter a new school for seventh grade, her current school having only grades K-6. The first application she was completing was an intense process, and she had already lost much of her work due to a sudden power outage in the community.

She cried, of course. And I told her to suck it up.

"Crying is not going to fix the problem. We'll always face obstacles. The time you spend crying and being frustrated and regretful is simply taking away from the time you can be functioning as a problem solver. You can't get stuck in what didn't go your way. You have to be a solutionary."

By Wednesday night, as I wrote my essay that had to be uploaded before midnight, my contacts began to give out. I'd been reading tiny words for too long. I could see the monitor, but as I went to reference page numbers, I couldn't read the words in the book. I was blinking and rubbing my eyes to make out a sentence, or so, but my eyes kept giving out. I eventually had to take out one contact and use one eye to see the monitor, and the other to read through the book. I did it, read over the essay a couple of times, and then saved and uploaded it at 11:46.

I don't know if it would be their best essay, but it wouldn't be the worst. Worse come to worse, I'd be prepared in advance to write a better essay for next year's contest. The important things were that I did it, and that my daughter saw me get it done.

Together, we celebrated my completed essay, and her completed application. To me, these struggles, the facing of challenges that move you somewhere meaninful, are what my life should always be about.

You know...

I have a friend that teaches at Bennington. When I called him to discuss the program, he had no idea I'd been offered admittance. He didn't know that I'd applied! I was happy to learn that. I didn't want the cloud hanging over my acceptance, that it had been influenced by anything (or anyone) other than the strength of my writing.

Friday, February 20, 2009

My show Rockitude!

Below are images from my show Rockitude.  Make sure you turn the sound on!  You can see video of us performing the original "Payback" if you go to

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Teeeeee for Temple Uuuuuuu! Uuuuuuuuu for Temple Teeeeee!

I have learned that I am not eligible or Federal Financial Aid. This is because to be eligible as a graduate student, I must have at least 90 credits. I have 60. Accept that I actually have 90. Let me tell you a story.

I left Temple University in December of 1992, having struggled through two years of studies. The struggles were based on my emotional instability, as one who was surviving having lost my virginity to a rapist that I thought I liked. I had a break down that fall semester and dropped out. I pulled myself together, or time healed my wounds a bit, or life continued, whatever it was, and I applied and was accepted to New York University. I received about half the tuition in federal grants and small univeristy scholarships, and my family helped me to fund the remaining budget.

I loved my studies at NYU. I was trully focused, having finished my first semester with all A's, one B+. The latter grade was the result of my having missed my final as scheduled. I had been babysitting and the child's parents did not get there in time for me to make my class. The grade on the final was therefore dropped a whole letter grade. I otherwise had earned an A in that class a well.

The second semester was one of independent studies. I was in the Gallatin School of Individualized Study, focusing on Arts and Education. I had five independent studies with artists in Philadelphia, where I still lived and from where I'd been commuting. On one of my many trips to NYU to meet with one of my faculty advisors, I stopped to talk to the Dean. I learned then that I was losing my funding. Retroactively.

Apparently, I was in default on a Perkins Loan. The loan amount was $400. It was from my time at Temple University.

Temple started sending out bills to collect on this one of two Perkins Loans (the other I'd paid off). However, the bills were being sent to the wrong address. The loan went into default since I never paid it since I never got the bills. Of course, I never got notice of the default status either. This status was established in 1993. However, Temple administrative staff did not report this default status until the Spring of 1996, toward the end of my second semester. Thus at that point, all of the federal grants I'd been awarded were taken back because - as we all know - you cannot be in default on a loan and receive federal funds.

I paid the loan off immediately - it was now almost $800 with fees. That changed nothing. I was not eligible for aid, and I was now in debt to New York University for almost $10,000.00. I therefore never completed my undergraduate studies and my credits are in limbo land, non-existant until I get a transcript which I cannot get until the balance is paid off. Of course, since I am a starving artist and a single mom, I cannot afford to pay NYU any part of that $10,000.

Now, here's the scary part: I have no idea what happened at the end of my second semester. I had to change my focus from finishing my requirements and meeting with faculty to meeting with administrators trying to figure out how we could get the whole funding thing straightened out. I'm not sure what got turned in and what did not. I'm not sure if I passed all, or even any of my independent studies. I may have all passes, but I may have all fails. I've never seen my grades from that semester, and I have no transcripts from NYU. My records were frozen immediately.

So, I now have a new challenge, which is to find ways to fund my education. My plan:

To apply for any and every scholarship and grant that is remotely applicable to who I am as a student, and what I'm studying, while petitioning NYU to forgive my dept and release my records which would (hopefully) give me the 30 additional credits I need to be eligible for Federal Aid. Should I discover that I have any failures on my transcript, I will petition the Gallatin School to change those grades, even though they are ten years old. Considering the strength of my first semester, I'm sure they can't disagree that it is unlikely that I would have failed to complete my work during the second semester. Right?

By the way, the Financial Aid Departments at both Lesley and Bennington were sending me correspondence saying that I was in default on a loan and needed to get that squared away. Another default? I had not idea what they were talking about. I reviewed my records for my Stafford Loans and they were not in default. I went to get a letter stating as much but then, when I applied for transcripts, Temple did not send them out because their records also showed that I was in default on a loan. My inquiries determined that the loan that I was listed as being in default on was the $400 Perkins Loan I had paid in 1996. It was November, 2008.

Thank you Temple University.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

And Then There Were Two...

I found the image below on the page of a fellow blogger:

I decided to send my application in to Bennington. What would it hurt? I thought it would be good to know how I would be recieved by another program. I didn't send it in months in advance like I intended, but just weeks before the deadline. And something incredibly stressful happened.

I was offered acceptance.

I had to make a choice!

This was stressful to me because I'd been in relationship with Lesley for months, working on the B.A. Waiver essay and touching base about the process. I hadn't recieved my letter of acceptance yet, Bennington was giving me a week from their phone call to give them my answer. I really liked both programs.

This is how I discovered Blogspot and the Creative Writing MFA blogs that are on here. I tried to get advice. Who knew both programs intimately? Apparantly no-one who was reading my desperate pleas. I realized that noone was going to make this decision for me.

I called Lesley's and Bennington's Directors and let them each know about the other's acceptances. I spoke with faculty with whom I was familiar at both institutions. I asked a variety of questions. The differences between the programs were not in the areas that were really important to me.
At both programs I would be empowered to study in each of the genres I write: non-fiction, poetry and fiction.

Their residencies are for almost the same amount of time. Although I do prefer longer, Bennington's is slightly longer.

They are both in cold areas (I hate cold). Lesley is in Cambridge, an upper class urban area. I do like the more country environment at Bennington seemed (more like a retreat).

I could not ignore the established reputation of Bennington. On the other hand, I liked the idea of being a part of the developing reputation of Lesley's program.

Lesley seemed to have more of an emphasis on diversity, with more students and faculty of color.


I tossed and turned at night. I lost my appetite. Then I made a decision.

I called a friend and asked him how to announce my decision to the program to which I was not calling. He said to send an email. "Do not call." He was adamant. I don't know why. Maybe he felt calling would complicate my ability to make and go through with my decision.

I looked over all the emails from both schools. There were so many from Lesley, particularly updating me, sometimes several times a day, regarding the progress of the B.A. Waiver. The last email stated that the Dean had signed off and he was walking the Waiver to the Graduate office to get the letter offering admission. That it would go in the mail that day.


When I first heard from the Director at Bennington, I recalled the fact that my status as an applicant without a BA was missed at Lesley. "I don't have a B.A. You know that, right?"

"I'm not sure I know that," he answered, "but it doesn't really matter. We love your work."

I composed an email, expressing my regrets to one school. Then I made a phone call, expressing my decision to accept to the other.
I am now, officially, an entering student in the Bennington Writing Seminars, and will be focusing on Non-Fiction.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

To Where I Disappeared...

Yeah, so...

Almost every day over the last several months, I've been like, "I need to post, I need to post!" However, this was an intense time for me. My daughter graduates from 6th grade this year, and the process of applying to schools to which she can go for 7th through 12th has been INTENSE! Further, I can't afford her tuition, and have to throw fundraisers to pay the balance after her scholarship. That fundraiser was a concert, and it took up sooooo much time. Of course, I still had to cook, do laundry, clean the house, do homework, be active at her school and bring in dollar dollar bills.

Just had the concert on February 7th. It was awesome (I'll be posting links soon enough.) The above image is of my back (I was on the phone) and my girl who helps me out on backgrounds was making fun of me (they say crack kills), along with the bassist who took that picture with his phone. My life is crazy, but I do have fun!

I'll probably post on this blog every day or two till I catch up to present day life. My everyday life is bananas, so stay tuned.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Catching Up

I did not send my application out well in advance to Bennington. However, I did call Lesley, and learned that they liked my work. Both departments to which I applied, poetry and non-fiction, were actually, apparently, from what they said at least, excited about my work. (Excited!) And so the decision was made that we would begin the B.A. Waiver process.

The way it works, I learned, is that, although I would work in both disciplines (that being poetry and non-fiction) I would have a declared focus. My B.A. Waiver would concentrate on that focus. I believed my focus should be non-fiction, as I felt less confident in that area, in spite of the fact that every writer I know who has read my work critically has indicated that they saw that as my area of strength. However, we decided to go the poetry route as I had a greater number of faculty advocates already in place in that genre. The process is as follows:

  • A letter of support is drafted by and signed by two members of the faculty.
  • My work is reviewed by estabished poets who are not affiliated with the University.
  • Letters of support are submitted by these poets
  • My academic credentials are reviewed by two members of faculty who are not in the Creative Writing Department.
  • I write an essay that discusses my academic, life and professional experiences that show that I have, through a combination of those experiences, earned the equivalent of a B.A.
  • I submit a Professional Vita
  • These items are put together in a file that goes to the Dean who then, after reviewing everything, does or does not sign off.
  • If I had less than 60 undergraduate credits, the file goes to the Provost. However I do have 60 credits (whew!).
  • Once the Dean signs off on the above which represents the Department's request that I be allowed to be admitted for graduate studies, I would get a letter of admittance.
I began to work on my essay right away. I was greatly encouraged by the Director, who indicated that he had already initiated enough of the process to be confident that I would be admitted to the university once the appropriate steps were taken. Thus, for all intensive purposes, I was accepted into the MFA program!

I did it!