The Apprentice

“We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master.”—Ernest Hemingway

Word came during my last days in Seattle, when I was living out of a suitcase and tripping over rolls of paper towels and a growing pile of jetsam destined for Goodwill. After the initial indulgent Facebook “Guess What?! Squee!” post, I filed the warm glow. I didn’t have the emotional reserves to consider what the letter really meant. What it could mean. And how much it really hurt to say, “No. I can’t accept.”

So, I didn’t. Consider it, that is. I got through that final, wretched week, made the final, back-breaking part of the move, started one job, then another. I tumbled headlong for my funky little ville –  its sea breezes and sunrises over Mount Baker; the deer wandering on beaches, porpoises weaving in the bay, eagles floating just above Doug firs; those fine Friday nights sitting outside the Pourhouse, watching tipsy bocce ball matches and dogs chasing seagulls; walking my brief commute instead of timing a drive to avoid the inevitable Seattle snarls. In a few short weeks, it seemed as if I’d left the old life in the dust, with nary a glance in the rearview mirror.

Then the follow-up e-mail came. “We want you. We haven’t heard from you. Will you come?”

I recounted here the night in November when I battled rain, the nasty Mapquest Wench and my night-driving terrors to walk unfashionably late into an info session about a local university’s MFA in Creative Writing.

I wrote my personal essay. I cringed over my sample piece of writing. I fretted about the letters of recommendation, wondering if faculty from my Masters degree would remember me, nearly twenty years on (Lord, it’s happened. I’m middle-aged. It’s no longer “Oh, my 20th high school reunion is next year; it’s “I completed a Masters degree. Twenty years ago.).

But I got the darn thing in. Eleventh hour. End of January. My first – my only – MFA application.

I had it all planned out, in the unlikely event I was accepted. I’d cut back to three days of work during the academic terms. The tuition was shocking, but we’d just paid off the car. Spread out over two years, the tuition and fees could be easily managed, no need for a loan, Bob’s your uncle.

Then things got messy. Crappy, really. We decided it was time to go.

And they decided to admit me. With a scholarship.

There’s really no use in trying to make sense of why things happen the way they do. I stared at that letter, sitting between the rubble of an old life and hopes for the  new one. I may have laughed. I know I cried. I think I heard in the distance Blind Boy Fuller crooning and finger-picking, “I Got the First World Blues.”

I hoped someone would make the decision for me. Or that a shining light would beam down and show me the way to “Here’s What You Should Do.”

There was grace in the form of a deferment. Of all people, I know how life can change in a year’s time. Or in ten minutes.

Acceptance into a Creative Writing MFA program felt like finding the Golden Ticket in a Willy Wonka chocolate bar. I’d get to see the inside of that mysterious house on the hill. I’d be an invited guest, learn all the secrets and emerge a changed writer. A real writer. Right?


About a mile from my house is Fort Worden State Park. If the film An Officer and a Gentleman appears in your pop culture lexicon, then you’ve seen Fort Worden. As well as the Port Townsend Paper Mill. And the inside of Room 10 at the Tides Motel. I’ve stayed in that room. Don’t you. Trust me on this one.

The Tides Motel: Room 10

The Tides Motel: Room 10

Fort Worden – besides being a sublime place to run, to picnic, beachcomb, catch some astonishing views – is home to many arts and crafts endeavors, including Copper Canyon Press and the Port Townsend School of Woodworking. It also houses Centrum, one of the Pacific Northwest’s premier arts organizations. Centrum’s Jazz and Blues, Fiddle and Chamber Music festivals are world-renowned, as are its dance programs. Were I an artist afloat, I’d sure as heck want to land a residency there. It is the temple around which this Mecca for creative souls is built. At least I already live here. Which is so very near to there.

And for two weeks each summer, Centrum hosts the Port Townsend Writers’ Conference. You can opt to spend your mornings in a Master Class with a Famous Writer or Poet and afternoons attending your choice of workshops; or you can attend the afternoon workshops only. Lunch and evening lectures are free. One week or two, depending upon your budget. And your courage.

Of course I planned on signing up for the conference. I can WALK there, for Pete’s sake.

But I kept putting it off. The folder sat on my desk for weeks. I started then cancelled my on-line registration twice. Not because of the money. Or the dodgy state of the job. Or thoughts that I should be busy finding another (pretty much worked through that one. “No” is the approach du jour). I couldn’t decide if I wanted to do a morning Master Class and if I did, which one? With Famous Author or the guy I hadn’t heard of? Or maybe not Master Class, but just the afternoon workshops? One or two weeks of afternoons only? Or one full week with Master Class and afternoons? Or?

I’m not an indecisive person. I brook no dithering. So, what’s the problem here, Julie? Sign up, already.

I realized by clicking “Confirm” on the registration form, I was making a statement about myself, identifying myself as a writer in a forum populated by published authors, some of whom make a living with their scribbles. I’d be expected, you know, to write. Intimidation and insecurity kept my finger hovering, wavering and finally, withdrawing from that final click.

But hey, wait. I’m published! Somebody wanted me badly enough for their MFA program, they offered me what funding they could. And neither one of those has anything to do with being a writer. The only rules, qualifications, expectations are those I’d saddled myself with.

I hit “Confirm” yesterday.

Much to my relief disappointment expectation, my dithering netted me a spot on the Wait List for Master Class with Famous Writer. I’m Lucky Wait List Contestant #3. Not so bad, really. And if a spot doesn’t open up, well then. It’s two weeks of afternoon workshops for me.

Of course I’m going. It’s what I came here to do.


View from Fort Worden, Port Townsend, WA

Next year will be what it will. Next month is spoken for.











PS I’m trying out this new contact form thing. I’m not sure why or how it’s different than “Leave A Reply” Let’s see what happens…

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