When I arrived in Ann Arbor yesterday, I thought that the rejection letter I had received from the University of Michigan graduate school was already behind me. After all, I knew from the definitive MFA blog that people who were accepted received their letters on February 22. I knew that only 22 out of 1000 applicants were accepted last year, and only half of those in fiction. Generally, 70 percent of applications are for fiction rather than poetry. Those are long odds—11 out of 700. “Don't take it personally,” my professor from Tennessee said. It seemed good advice. I thought I had made my peace.
Tonight, though, as my friend Sonia and I wandered the streets and coffee shops of downtown Ann Arbor, it began to irk me. We sipped lattes and Thai iced tea, and I eyed the bespectacled and bescarfed students that surrounded me. Which of them were already MFA students? Which were professors? Had any seen my work? Had they roughed up my precious manuscript? Read three lines and scoffed?
Sonia and I also went to our first Bikram yoga class today, the original hot yoga. First impression: a carpeted room, heated to 105 degrees, filled with close-packed bodies sweating for 90-minute classes, six times a day, is extremely stinky. The first goal of a Bikram practice is just to acclimatize, to condition oneself to actually spend 90 minutes without leaving the room. It’s one of those limitations that can end up bringing freedom—I had to let go and just experience the heat, experience the feeling of being present in those conditions. Let it go, I kept telling myself. Let it go. Let your expectations for your body (and olfactory organs) go.
Which is what I need to do for graduate school, too. Let it go. I’ve put off applying for so long because I was afraid of this exact scenario. If they said no, what would that mean to me? Would it mean I’m not good enough? Would it mean I should give up? Of course now I know it doesn’t. It just means that it’s not the path for me now, at this time. It means I’m not ready yet, or that there’s a different opportunity around the corner. I need to let this program at this time go, to throw it like a stone into the river and let the water to flow by. “We step and do not step into the same river,” Heraclitus said. “We are and are not."
Everything flows, he also said. Nothing remains still. Let it go. Practice, as Patthabi Jois said, and all is coming.