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In August 2014, I made the move cross-country from Conway, Arkansas to Quogue, New York for grad school. After two full days of driving through highways, turnpikes, toll booths, and drawbridges, all while pulling a U-Haul, my father and I made it around New York City’s southern exterior onto Long Island.
I had many reasons for choosing to attend a university in Long Island, New York. Having graduated from the University of Central Arkansas in Conway, I’d spent most of my life in the same town, going to school with the same people. While there are pros to this lifestyle, there are obvious cons: The inability to really explore myself and my beliefs, the constraints of having lived in only one type of culture (and climate), and, for me, the lack of a master’s of fine arts in creative writing that took less than four years and would allow me to explore multiple genres and experimental fiction. Oh, and the fact that New York City is a hub of the literary world, and Long Island an extension of it. I relished the thought of living just a short drive away from Sag Harbor, the whaling town from Moby Dick, and the possibility of running into authors like R.L. Stine, E.L. Doctorow, and James Salter. (The last two sadly died this past summer, without my meeting them.)
The MFA Program
My choice to enroll in the MFA program at Stony Brook Southampton was simple—the program allowed for cross-genre study, had respectable names attached to it (Alan Alda and Marsha Norman especially, the latter of which I was honored to study with this term), and it was the only program that accepted me. Decision made. So I rented a house with four other writers from my program—one from Michigan, one from Queens, and two also from the South. We dealt with the culture shock together.
Despite what I thought, Long Island is not like the rest of New York. It is, apparently, a one-of-a-kind place, where abandoned Porsches line the roadsides and there are more deer than people. In the Hamptons, you’re likely to see traffic stopped on Main Street for crossing swans and celebrities like Billy Joel and Jimmy Fallon shopping at the same store as you. You’re never more than 20 minutes from a beach, a bar, or a deli. Yet it’s still New York and, obviously, not Arkansas.
By coming to New York, I’ve learned a lot of things I never expected: how to shovel three feet of snow from my front steps, how to catch a train into Penn Station (and back), how to avoid hitting deer that insist on running in front of my car, how to roast marshmallows over a gas stove, how to see in a room with no overhead lights and one lamp, how to buy expensive regional trash bags from behind the counter, how to pronounce words like “Quogue” and “Ronkonkoma,” and so many more.
I’ve had to accept things like paying $700 to rent a room in a non-winterized house with four other people, living 20 twenty minutes from the nearest Walmart and 10 from the nearest McDonald’s, paying more for gas and groceries in a month than I usually do for clothes in a year, having — instead of a mailbox — a P.O. box that is guarded by a vindictive old woman in a tiny shack, and waking up to a herd of brazen deer blocking my driveway. I’ve survived a blizzard, crippling homesickness, and Hamptons house parties. In the year and a half since my move, I’ve become a whole new person.
In the end, that’s why I moved—to evolve. I knew that if I didn’t get out, go somewhere new, and do something different, I’d always regret it. For me, it was the right time in life to chase that dream of going somewhere big and doing something great. The memories I’ve collected, the friends I’ve made, the skills and lessons I’ve learned, all make the times I wanted to give up and hop a plane home, were all totally worth it. I can now say that I had the guts to make a change that terrified and excited me.
After I graduate, I’ll be returning to Arkansas, to the land of the cheap living and the six-month summer. I’ll miss how New York gets a real fall season and the ridiculousness that is living in the Hamptons as a poor graduate student, but I got what I needed from my time here. I’ve proven, more to myself than anyone, that I can make it on my own. The MFA is just an added bonus.