This spring I reached the half way point on the MFA in ceramics program at Fort Hays State University as a low residency student, which has me reflecting a bit on the whole experience. I remember having a discussion about the possibility of attending grad school with my husband a year or two before I applied to FHSU. He told me that even if I spent two years on top of a mountain "finding myself" my problems would still be here when I was done. I have to say that my grad school experience as a low residency student has been anything but hiding away from my problems on a mountain top. My first semester of grad school consisted not only of embarking on a new, somewhat overwhelming adventure that left me feeling like I had taken on too much, but, to add to the whole experience, my boss at the community college where I worked was dying of cancer and my husband tore his ACL and needed surgery half way through the semester. While things have gotten better health wise for my husband and we now have a wonderful new department chair at the college, it's taken me a while to stop feeling quite so shell shocked and to be able to fully engage in the artistic experimentation that should take place in grad school.
Being a low residency student in my forties means juggling kids, home, work and school. It seems like every semester I drop some commitment or another so that I can have time to focus on my classes, but I still end up feeling overwhelmed by the end of the semester. Gone are the days of volunteering at the kids' school and weekends are filled with work and catching up on classes instead of playing and relaxing. Rather than being a place to hide from the world, grad school for me has been more about distilling my life down to what matters most in an attempt to find that life/work balance that is so essential to being a successful working woman these days. While there are certainly days where I feel like just throwing in the towel and giving up on my dream of an MFA, on the whole I'm quite satisfied taking on the challenge of such a degree and I'm finally getting to the place where I really feel like this degree could happen, even though I know that I still have two years full of hard work ahead of me.
One of the things that keeps me going is looking at the brave women around me who are also taking on that same challenge of balancing work and family. My boss at the college juggles raising her two young children while chairing the ceramics department and making her own artwork. I know it's not always easy for her, but it's such an inspiration to see her positive attitude and enthusiasm even when I know she's struggling to find balance. Similarly, in my graduate ceramics group there are several other women who are juggling raising their children with their career and educational pursuits. It's nice to know that I am not alone in this and that there are women in similar situations that I can turn to for support when needed, in addition to the help and support that I receive from my own husband.
My latest body of work for school speaks, to me at least, of this feeling of being crazy busy and draws heavily from the "broken" part of me that feels like there's nothing left to work from but the shards of what life was like before. So, I work with shards, creating beauty from the broken, pushing the limits and boundaries of clay to create something new and uniquely April. As Matisse once said, "Creativity take courage," and I am working hard to find my courage.