Monday, March 22, 2010

My response to St. Mary's MFA program in nonfiction with no funding:

Before I post the letter I sent to St. Mary's, I have to say, this was the most difficult decision I've had to make in a long while. This is not because it's "OMG St. Mary's" or because "this is my one shot", but rather because it demanded I define myself in a way I haven't yet bothered to. Am I a writer, or am I a runner? I would have, before this acceptance, replied: "I'm both" but in a boastful way and perhaps not knowing what it means to say such things.

After a week of hard thinking, of helpful notes from friends, I've come to the conclusion that I really am a writer-- AND a runner. I cannot separate the two. What that actually means is both elating and heart-breaking. I'm not the sort of person that can ever just leave one or the other behind; I can't become a solid writer who doesn't run, nor can I become a runner who doesn't write. I just don't survive well that way. Many friends suggested that two years is not so long-- couldn't I give up running and work my way through the MFA? The response, for me, is no. I need both in my life to be happy.

Perhaps many out there are shaking their heads at me right now, and thinking "well there it goes, you'll be nothing and nobody forever." But I don't think so. I know what I want and I know what it will take to get me there. I have to keep working hard and I have to keep believing. And that's what I'll do, no matter what else comes my way. And, heaven willing, one day an opportunity will come that allows my two passions to live side-by-side.


Since our chat last Wednesday, I feel as though I’m on a turbulent airplane ride: some moments, I’m elated that I have such a wonderful opportunity before me to attend the MFA program there in nonfiction; and in other moments (say, when another bill arrives in the mail) I recall my situation as a recent graduate of two Master of Arts programs. You would laugh, perhaps, at the number of colleagues, friends and family members I have asked for advice from: I’m sure the number is well over thirty. This is by far the most difficult decision of my adult life.

As I hope you know from our discussions, my only hesitation is the financial burden the program would require. The structure of the program, the courses I would be attending, the pieces of writing I’d be writing (which I’ve mused about in recent days as well!), as well as the beautiful place I’d be living are all very positive aspects of the program I know I will miss out on-- not to mention, working closely with you. I have wanted to attend your program for a long time and so it’s difficult for me to say that I would ask to defer my enrollment until next year.

A year is at times a long stretch and sometimes not so much. I hope, given the extra time, that I will able to put my personal affairs in order enough so that I will be able to enjoy the experience the MFA offers more fully. I know there is no guarantee of scholarship funding next year-- but I hope this year will allow me to save a bit in advance, as well as improve my writing as much as I’m able to here, on my own.

I’ve decided to make this a positive year: I will continue to improve all aspects of my life. After having seen St. Mary’s and meeting you, I’m confident in my abilities to work hard and I’m not giving up on my dream of being a writer. I know now: it’s possible, even for me. I just have to work harder for it.

I want you to know that I have been thinking of another subject we spoke of: an opportunity to become a Fulbright Scholar. After days of churning in my mind, I do have an idea that I think could be (perhaps?) interesting and useful. As my writing samples demonstrate, I have an interest in the history of things and also a love of athleticism. In a creative nonfiction seminar I took at UNR, I wrote a memoir/research paper which investigated the history of women’s long distance running in the United States (a fascinating history, actually) while I recounted my personal experience helping a very young girl (an 8-year old) complete a three mile race for the first time in her life.

The possibility of a Fulbright made me question: what would it be like to experience the historical foundation of something like distance running as it’s being made? In many African countries (particularly in North Africa) women who want to pursue an athletic career have a very different history -- and concerns -- than Americans do. While an American woman now might have trouble balancing work and training (or family and training, or in my case, graduate study and training), what sort of balance do those women face?

And what of faith? In my thesis/novel (or the manuscript of it, anyway), my protagonist struggles with issues of faith (which I think are central to any endeavor with no apparent “reward” -- like long distance running.) Why run 26.2 miles if you don’t believe you are able to -- and if you don’t have some belief that there’s a reason why you do this? Of course my view of all this is based on a “Western” model -- I come from the States -- a primarily Christian society. What about someone who comes from a Muslim country? Do their notions of such “faith” (i.e.: faith in one’s actions or in one’s self) differ? Why or why not?I envision a narrative laced with historical fact and lots of other female runners from this other place. What are their stories? Do they parallel my own? I can’t say if this is terribly interesting to you, but it is to me. I hope you don’t mind I shared my rambling thoughts ....

Also, I know this is also a lot to ask, but I would be very honored if I could send you a copy of my “novel” in the future. I’m still working on it, but I would love to hear your thoughts about what I have written so far.

And so, in closing: thank you countless times for this opportunity. I am honored, elated and saddened-- yet, I know I have a wonderful year ahead of me and many beyond that filled with my life’s work: miles ran and pages written.

Kind regards,
Rebecca A. Eckland


Anonymous said...


I just want to say I really admire and respect your confidence in the future. I just found out I will be taking a break from student life next year, after 3 non-stop years of M.A. hurdles, and as disappointed as I am about not going immediately on, my mind can't help but stray to what it feels like to consistently have weekends off to do (or not do) whatever I want.

Congratulations, truly, I absolutely think that was the best decision,and I am excited to see you around Reno/Tahoe this year.

elaine said...

MFA? We don't need no stinkin' MFA! :) Seriously, I know it sucks, but you will succeed with or without that degree on your wall. You're a) too damn stubborn, and b) too damn talented. And, you always go big.

You're right, too -- situations like this are an opportunity to define yourself and be true to who you are.

Not to mention it's got to be extremely satisfying to be the one turning St. Mary's down this time. HAH.

Chrissy H. said...

It sounds like you've made the right decision for yourself, at this time. The MFA isn't the end all, be all of writing, and I believe you are well on your way to becoming the somebody you are meant to be!