I was 60 when I got my MFA in creative writing and writing for the performing arts. It's a mouthful but doesn't it sound important?
It was important. To me. Getting my MFA was something I wanted to do for years but couldn't. It was expensive and taking two years off to be a full-time student was impossible—not with a husband and child and one of those "if you don't come in on Sunday, don't bother coming in Monday" kind of jobs.
But I also had a dream. And when I was 58, I went back to school to achieve it—with a low-rez MFA program. (Thank you, internet). Classes were online and we'd get together at two residencies a year—10 days each—to hear lectures and attend workshops. A close friend was a professor in the program and he loved it. My job in advertising had gone bye-bye in the recession two years before and I still hadn't found another one. So I applied. What the hell? There was no way they'd accept an old lady. But they did. I was simultaneously ecstatic and terrified.
Friends were amazed when they found out—most of them not in a good way.
Alison said, rolling her eyes, a passive-aggressive smile on her face, "I thought you were crazy when I heard you went back to school. You can't afford that."
And Robert said with a nasty smirk, "Hey, I heard you're taking writing classes."
"Actually, I'm getting my masters degree."
"So what are you doing?"
"But that's what you were doing before."
The general consensus was, "What the hell were you thinking? You'll be paying off your student loan until the day you die."
What was I thinking? That I could start a new career with a screenwriting degree in Los Angeles—screenwriting Mecca of the world—and at this age, when 32 is considered over the hill? (I'd insert an emoji with tears of laughter here if I could.)
The answer is no.
Or book writing? Another pie-in-the-sky endeavor that takes a lifetime of dedication and hard work, when my life expectancy is considerably shorter these days?
I wasn't thinking. I was feeling.
Ignoring that naggy voice of doom and gloom in my head, I listened to my heart and bungee-jumped into my future with no plan at all. When a Facebook post announced the application deadline I clicked the link and applied. My heart pounding with joy was confirmation that it was the right decision. The student loan fell into place and although it was hefty, I didn't care.
Does everything in life have to be quantified? Should money be our only consideration in making life choices? We know the right answer but do we ever really live it?
I spent two years and three months reading, writing, watching films and workshopping scripts and short stories. I became a writer. I also became a part of a tight-knit community of smart, talented, exceptional people of all ages. I now have friends who are 70 and friends fresh out of college and the tears in my eyes as I write this are a testament to the quality of the experience.
How can you put a price tag on something as expansive and life-affirming as the pursuit of knowledge? But the question we should really ask ourselves at this point in our lives is how can we afford, in the quest for a life well-lived, to ignore our dreams?
I once read a personal essay where the writer complained about being old and listed all the stuff she would never do—study calculus, become fluent in Russian, learn to fly. Thinking she was 80 and on her deathbed, I googled her. She was a healthy 45-year-old. Seriously? Packing it in that early is like sentencing yourself to a lifetime of hard labor. Not doing what you love is hard. And not doing it for another 30 years is a tragedy.
I had this crazy notion that I wanted to get my MFA. I held it in my heart for a lifetime. And then I did it. Even the craziest notions have a way of working out. They only need that leap of faith to make them a reality.
For those of you toying with the idea of going back to school, I offer this advice: Do it. You will probably die before you pay off your student loan.
But think of the money you'll save.