in which I freak out, and then calm down thanks to a timely youtube clip.

Last March, I received a very exciting piece of mail. Probably one of the most exciting pieces of mail I have ever received1.

Fortunately, I took a picture of it. And since a picture’s worth a thousand words, I can show it to you now.

The print is kind of small. You probably can’t read it. Which makes this a failure of a visual aid. But the point of the picture is that this was the letter telling me I had been accepted into my top graduate program – writing for children and young adults at Simmons College.

I first learned that there was such a thing as a degree in children’s literature back in the fall, when I was having typical graduating senior anxiety about what I was going to do with my life. I remember sitting on my bedroom floor and having a conversation with my mom about the next step, and then at the end, casually and half-jokingly slipping in, “You know what I want to get a masters degree in? Children’s literature!” To which I think she said something along the lines of, “That would be a great way to spend a lot of money.”

And I remember thinking, what an awesome an unattainable dream.

And yet, almost a year after that bedroom floor conversation took place, I will be starting the graduate program of my dreams. I will be spending the next two years of my life learning how to write books for people under eighteen. Until yesterday, I was really excited about this. The sort of excited where I could hardly keep myself from jumping up and down every time I thought about it.

Then yesterday, I was struck by a tidal wave of doubt and anxiety.

This monsoon that broke yesterday and washed away all my excitement was prefaced by several things. Storm warnings, if you will.

One, I looked at the loan I am going to be taking out for grad school. Or, more specifically, looked at how much and how long I am going to be repaying the loan for graduate school.

Two, I lost out on my dream apartment in Boston, meaning I have to return to long-distance apartment hunting, which is the most excruciatingly unfun thing I have ever done.

Three, I am knee-deep in a rewriting quagmire in the ‘thing2’ I am currently working on, and I began to doubt whether or not I was actually cut out for this.

Four, I read an article called “The most worthless masters degrees.” Creative writing was top. Children’s literature was so laughably impractical that it wasn’t even on the list – I’m sure the editors had a good chuckle at the idea that someone would actually throw their money away on a degree in children’s literature. Might as well give out a masters in cash burning.

So there I was yesterday at work, pretending to calmly research Drew Carey while in reality everything inside of me was screaming, “WHAT WHAT WHAT ARE YOU DOING!?”

Because what if I never write a book? What if I just be that person who starts a lot of books, or doesn’t even start them, just keeps talking about starting them? What if I never sell the book I write if I do write it? And what if I sell it and no one ever reads it? What if I never have a Wikipedia page?

What if I spend all this money getting a degree in children’s literature and then never work in one of the four positions available in this world for people with degrees in children’s literature? What if I spend all this money for a degree that I never, ever use?

And what if because of this degree, no one ever takes me seriously as a writer of anything other than children’s lit? What if I try to write my Great Gatsby – some angsty, literary novel about cancer and sexuality – and no one will read it because it was written by someone with a degree in CHIDLREN’S LITERATURE?

And then this was all quickly followed by the typical twenties angst about never doing anything with my life that is worth being noticed.

I was understandably freaking out.

I’m not sure what exactly changed, but somewhere between yesterday and now, my calm about the whole situation has been restored. Maybe it was the pep talk my friend Sondheim gave me yesterday when I called her from the lakeshore and pretended not to be panicking. Maybe it was an email I got from Jessi Klein with an extraordinary article about what it means to be a writer. Maybe it was watching John Green videos and remembering that this man, who tops the list of people I most respect and most aspire to be like in this lifetime, is a children’s author who finds ways to write angsty literary novels about cancer and sexuality, and is still taken seriously. Or maybe it was going to Molly’s Cupcakes3 with Nevada and having a solid discussion about The Bachelorette.

Or maybe I just listened to this, and my life was changed. (Everyone working in the arts needs to hear this)

For the next two years, I get to do nothing but write. I’m not going to have to struggle to make time for it like I have been. Instead, I am going to have two magnificent4 years where I have permission to be nothing but a writer. To enthusiastically and wholly and unapologetically do something that I love, and surround myself with people who will help me do that thing better. Two years to, in the words of Neil Gaiman, make good art5. I am walking towards the mountain. Small steps, but I am getting there.

And, so, though this post has absolutely nothing to do with NPR or Chicagoor “Wait, Wait…Don’t Tell Me,” I am sharing my thoughts with you, and my excitement for the next chapter of my life. Because this is my blog, and I can write about whatever I damn well please.

  1. Other than my monthly copy of the American Girl catalogue
  2. I use the word ‘thing’ because I am intensely uncomfortable with any words that describe a work of novel length in application to my own work.
  3. No connection to the MT
  4. Albeit expensive
  5. Seriously, watch this. Or, if you’re a visual learner, click here for more color and less words. Either way, your life will be changed.
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4 thoughts on “in which I freak out, and then calm down thanks to a timely youtube clip.

  1. What an excellent video, and beautiful thoughts. I stole the video for my own blog. As my drama teacher used to say, you’re only as good as the people you steal from. :)

  2. Sophie B says:

    I friended you on FB today while I was at one of my summer internships, because I thought, “wow, this girl is funny and in a perfect world we would be friends.” So I decided we should be friends. I really enjoy your blogs. I feel like I’m reading a conversation I’m having with a friend. Good for you for working in a field you are passionate about. I mean, is there any other way to exist on this planet? I’m having my own senior anxiety about what I should do after I graduate next may and to be honest, I’m seriously considering taking a summer internship in China. I love the language so much I thought “why the hell not, right?!” My favorite phrase that my mother taught me and that is my backbone in life is “you miss 100% of the shots you never take.” Anyway, I love your writing on this blog so I imagine your writing for you graduation program in Children’s Literature will be phenomenal. Good luck!

    • MackenziLee says:

      oh I’m so glad you’re reading and enjoying the blog! Thank you for your comment! Internship in China would be awesome – go for it!

  3. Billy says:

    Gaiman is cool, but for me when things get like what you described, I listen to Donut by Blue Octopus and that always puts things in perspective. It is really all about maintaining your perspective relative to the rest of Us. That is us with a capital “U” as in All of Us….if you know what I mean. ;)

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