The Other Reality

A Grad School Story: 2

Posted in MFA, Personal reflections by aryckman on February 27, 2010

So, I dropped out.

If I didn’t feel like a failure before I did now. All the elders in my family are doctors or in the medical field and I felt like this was the letdown everyone expected. I graduated from my small conservative Christian undergrad magna cum laud but now I couldn’t hack it in the “real” world around “real” people.

Oh well. I moved on. I processed my film at a community darkroom. I bought a scanner and worked on my images digitally. I took wet-plate workshops and learned the process myself, turning my bathroom into a make-shift darkroom on the weekends. I worked full time, I did the housework and paid the bills and did all the stuff that people are expected to do. I was able to do everything I wanted to do in grad school at home, on my own time. I also started visiting my grandfather.

Moving to Rochester put me geographically closer to my grandfather than I had ever been before. I started visiting him every weekend and I was surprised at how much older he was and how much he had changed from my childhood memory of him. He needed help putting in light bulbs and picking fruit—too afraid to get on ladders because he’d lose his balance. I realized a favorite swing was gone, probably moved years before and I had just never taken the time to notice. He walked slower and got tired more easily. It scared me.

I began photographing every visit. I’d photograph the garden and parts of the house that I thoughts were beautiful and I’d photograph my grandfather doing his bee keeping. But I didn’t progress past those subjects. I just kept taking pictures of the same thing and yet I couldn’t stop taking pictures of those things. I knew I needed to photograph but I didn’t know how or what to photograph to be satisfied. I’m not sure I knew why I had to photograph either. It was an urge—a compulsion.

So the one thing missing was still a degree. A piece of paper that other schools, potential employers, could look at and approve of. So, I started sending out more applications. This time all of them were low-residency programs. I had worked it out so that I could still attend RIT the next fall, if I had a change of heart. I also had talked with SUNY and they said they would accept me the next fall as well. But I really didn’t want to stay in Rochester any longer than I needed to and low-residency programs would give me the opportunity to work from anywhere I chose. Hell, I could move to Europe like I always dreamed of…

I got accepted into Lesley University and the Vermont College of Fine Arts. Lesley’s degree was through the Art Institute of Boston which sounded awesome. But the acceptance letter from the Vermont College of Fine Arts was personal. They talked about my work. They responded to my work and said why they wanted me in their program. I had also talked to previous students who had nothing but good things to say about the program. Students loved it there and the school wanted me to take part in that. How could I turn that down?

The question of why I wanted to attend a graduate program still wasn’t very resolved. It was almost like I was taking up time—an excuse to not have a job and be successful. Other than the degree itself what would graduate school really do for me?

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