Getting a late start to motherhood, my husband and I adopted two girls from China- our youngest arriving just after my 36th birthday.  Before I held my daughter for the first time, I was a committed type A personality and a leader of a national child advocacy organization.  I traveled around the state (and sometimes the nation), lobbied politicians, and organized communities.  

From preschool teacher to a Masters in Social Work to a National Head Start Fellow, and finally to the State Director of Stand for Children, I followed a vision for social change. Then, after two decades of professional growth,  I tried to become a parent. I filled out paperwork, waited 14 months for a letter from China with a picture of our daughter and finally brought home our eleven-month old daughter.

I’d always imagined working child in tow- a model for what a strong woman can accomplish.  I envisioned my tiny child holding signs on the capital steps that said “I’m worth your vote”.  That was before the reality that we had missed the first year of our baby’s life truly sunk in; losing another minute suddenly seemed unbearable. Then my maternity leave ran out.

My activism flew out the window, and I joined the unlikely ranks of stay at home mothers  (a legion, I must confess, I had unfairly written off as drippy coffee drinking Elmo watchers- out of touch with what is important in this crazy world). Fast forward two years: I need coffee like a drug, confess to owning a life-size blow-up Elmo, and have a closet full of yoga pants. I consider staying home with my children both a privilege and the most challenging job I’ve ever had. . 

With an eye toward the future, two years ago I started to give some serious thought to the next stage of my life.  While I suspected opportunities existed for me to return to my former profession, I discovered I wasn’t enthusiastic about the idea.  My work had required youthful energy and optimism, tireless pushing and committed leadership.  I didn’t feel like I still had that edge, or could balance all the responsibility. More importantly, I realized that I had a brief window of time, before my girls went to school all day, to re-invent my career and give my desire to be a practicing writer a chance.  

I am a third generation aspiring author.  My grandfather wrote hundreds of stories, yet never published, and my mother started several non-fiction projects she didn’t complete.  For years, I’d kept journals, and written poetry, essays, and stories.  I never showed anybody my work, but always wished I knew what to do to become a “real” writer.  To me this means waking up in the morning writing stories for several hours, trying to publish them, seeking grants to support my work, and having the credentials to teach others the tools of creative writing.

 An on-line course through University of Iowa was my first stop. The Iowa Writers’ Workshop is widely known as the best of the best, and while I couldn’t actually travel there or apply to the program, I was able to have access to their faculty,  knowledge, and  respectable name. This was the first I’d ever shown my work to anyone and it was scary. But, taking classes, getting feedback from someone I respected, writing regularly, and having a structure to develop self-discipline was an amazing experience.

Several short stories and poems later, I knew I needed and wanted to do this for the rest of my thinking life.  The voice inside that kept urging, tugging at me to DO SOMETHING NOW finally got heard.  When I am working on a story I see the world in vivid colors, hear conversations with a new ear, and experience the wonder of discovery much like a child. While I have so much to learn, I am starting to finally take my interest seriously.  I’ve stopped feeling so shy to tell people what I’m working toward.

With support from my family, I began to apply to graduate programs in the Spring of 2008.  My goals are to catch up on lost time by studying the craft, working with mentors, developing a routine, and building a peer community.  When I finish, my expectation is to have a short story collection, and the beginning of a novel. I hope to be more marketable as both a published writer and a teacher. 

I applied to low-residency MFA programs on the advice of author Anthony Doerr.  I aimed high and applied only to the top ranked programs in the country.  I figured I had nothing to lose but time. Miraculously, I received a call in October (three days after my 42nd birthday) from the director of the top-rated, and mythically difficult to get into, Warren Wilson MFA Program for Writers, congratulating me on my acceptance into their program.  

A dream is turning into reality, and I’m prepared to dig deep and make this new career a success. Welcome to my journey.

penelopyfly’s blog



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