Last week, I started grad school at Vermont College of Fine Arts to pursue an MFA in writing for children and young adults. I first learned about the low-residency program a few years ago after reading the book jacket of Jandy Nelson’s incredible young adult novel, I’ll Give You the Sun. Since I devoured her book — in fact, I love it so much I’m rereading it now — I went on the VCFA website to learn about the program. I subsequently attended VCFA’s annual Writing Novels for Young People retreat three times and simply loved the experience and the wonderful community fostered there.

Although I had a million and one reasons to avoid going back to school — how could I leave my home and family for 10+ days twice a year, and how would I fit in the 25+ hours of study (which for me will be many more since I’m not a fast reader or writer)? And what about my 22-year nutrition career? Even if I were to be accepted, would I be worthy to study among so many talented students? Would I have earned the right to learn from such an esteemed faculty?

Fast forward to now. Fears and all, I applied, was accepted, and am now a proud VCFA grad student. And I could not be more excited.

The residency was incredible. Really, it defied description. The faculty, graduate assistants, and VCFA staff worked so unbelievably hard to make everyone feel welcome, and it took little time for me to feel at home. Any concerns I had pre-residency about making friends or not feeling like I belonged subsided soon after I arrived, and within a few short days I felt so comfortable with my amazing fellow first semester classmates aka firsties/onesies (pictured below)  We spent so many hours together each day at meals, workshops, lectures, a dance, and at graduation and found ourselves sharing so much about our lives and our work. We couldn’t help but get close and feel a kinship with one another, and I cannot wait to spend the next four semesters with these kind and talented souls!

Although my daily routines (workouts/sleep/eating habits) were a bit off, I did my best to balance the demands of grad school with taking some time for self care. Thankfully, there are lots of hills in Montpelier, Vermont (and stairs in College Hall), so I easily fit in plenty of walking on most days. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t shed any (or many) tears. They came easily and often, partly because it was surreal for me to even be there, partly because I was so fatigued and, at times, overwhelmed (often from thinking/talking about of painful parts of my novel and life). But with each passing day I realized that was par for the course for many writers whose work comes from such a deep and personal place.

What I realized during residency was that although I’m going to VCFA to deep dive into the craft of writing—especially fiction writing—I’m also going to learn about myself. To explore my memories and experiences, and to feel (and even rediscover) the joys and pain of my past. Through that exploration, and by devoting myself to meet the program demands and allow myself to become the disciplined and ritualistic writer I’d like to be, I look forward to writing books that teen me would have enjoyed—or needed—and to share them with today’s teens. And I can’t wait to get started.