DIY MFA: My Support System

(C) 2020, JJ Shaun

A lifetime ago, I searched for my niche in the world, wishing for a close-knit family to watch my back.

When the path I’d chosen for that family veered in a direction I didn’t anticipate, I left my ex- everything of real value to forge a new life for myself. Dreams of a loving husband, two perfect children, a dog, a cat, and a house in the ‘burbs were left with him. I took advantage of opportunities that opened before me because of choices made by others. I joined the Navy and saw the world.

I won’t say that path was easy. It wasn’t. But, it was necessary to put me where I am now. I made some tough decisions for which I still carry a measure of guilt. I failed in a core institution of American Society (The Nuclear Family) and felt like a failure.

The Navy changed me. I got to experience things I would never have otherwise, not all of it pleasant. But I wouldn’t change a thing—guilt and all. Why? Because I learned. During the five or so years after my divorce, I discovered I’m a writer, not an engineer. After my first deployment, I sat down and started typing my first “Great American Novel.” I was hooked on writing and had no support. It was a “nice hobby.”

I also examined some core parts of myself and finally let my Ego into my innermost desires. I finally admitted that I am a lesbian. Once that door opened, and I stepped through, I realized what had been missing for me to find that dream of “Family.” A series of sometimes painful events led me to where I am today. The rewards have been more than I ever dreamed.

I look back over the last thirty or so years and see the winding path that drew me to now. My children live nearby, as do my step-children. Between us, First Reader and I have four kids, eight grand-kids, and some of them are parents, so we have a gaggle of great-grandchildren. Of course, our family wouldn’t be complete without mention of the various friends who are part of our inner circle. These are our “sisters from other misters” and “brothers from other mothers.” We have kids and grand-kids we didn’t know about—young people whose lives we’ve touched and look up to us as the parents or grandparents they never had. The mind boggles.

Last week, one of my grand-kids pulled me aside to ask for advice on a personal matter. It was then that I realized that the family of my original dream was sterile and looked a lot like Father Knows Best, not Modern Family. Now, I have a support system that was so far beyond the dreams of my younger self that I dared not allow myself a peek. Instead, I learned my way there—sometimes the hard way.

Along that path, I found the perfect partner. In First Reader, I have all the support and strength I need to move ahead on whatever path I choose to follow. She keeps me moving forward, letting me explore side-paths, gently reminding me of my original goals, then steering me back when necessary. She doesn’t let me take life too seriously. In First Reader, I’ve found balance. That doesn’t mean that life is all rainbows and unicorns, either. We’ve had our ups and downs. The trend is always Up. I wouldn’t be where I’m at if it hadn’t been for her support.

I’ve always believed that we don’t make “mistakes” we have learning experiences. The only time I’ve made a “mistake” is when I haven’t learned the lesson, then went back for more—silly me. I try not to repeat the same missteps over and over. I’m discovering that practice doesn’t make perfect. It makes things permanent.

I am embarking on a new journey—pursuing my dream of publishing a book. I can’t afford a traditional MFA, but I found an online program that looks promising. It offers to teach me how to write a better novel and provide the support I’ll need to go forward as a published author. And it’s a fraction of the cost of a degree. The sheepskin isn’t critical for me; it’s the knowledge I’m after. My support system is the foundation of my confidence, drive, and endurance for the long haul.

Ask, work toward your goals, and you shall receive. Wish me luck, ’cause hang on, kids, here we go.

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