“But Why?”

One forthcoming novel. Two in-print poetry collections. A slew of online and print publications. A full-time instructor’s position at a Virginian, private liberal arts college. Assistant Director of the Bridgewater International Poetry Festival. Craft Talk contributor for The Tishman Review. These are some of the few attributes of me, Nicole Yurcaba, that I actually like, so when I tell people who I am and what I do, and then I add “…and I’m returning to grad school for my MFA,” people look dazed. They scratch their heads. And then they ask, “But why?”

Let’s put it this way: I’m a haphazard recipe, a complex person often described as a “difficult creature” by those who truly care (and they are few) most about me. Some of my complexities are ethnic and cultural (I’m Ukrainian-American). A few of my complexities are more personal (I’m goth—yes, with a lowercase “g”), and I am one of many Americans suffering with depression and a testosterone imbalance). However, I’m open about my complexities because my complexities form who I am, and who I am shapes what I write, and I always believe(d) that the best writers add mass quantities of experience to the pot known as The Page; then, they add a dash of hope, a sprinkle of brutality, a pinch of personal awakening, a sparse amount of personal reckoning, a few hints of self-ordained or society-inflicted suffering, and VOILA! I take my imperfections, and I make them physical or verbal art, and I believe that in this life, that’s all we can really do, and hopefully something readable and communicative forms from this possibly explosive mix.             ‘

So, why the MFA pursuit? Along with being a complex person, I’m also a lifelong student. Since childhood, I have been a natural scholar, curious and questioning, rebellious but responsible. I read medical journals not only for the sake of learning complex symptoms and sciences, but also to relate to my father who served as a Vietnam War combat medic. Then, I translate what few stories my father will tell me about his gory Army days into poetry. On my more emotional days, I paint abstract portraits of nighttime cemeteries where mourning ladies trace Existence’s name into headstones, or I listen to The Sisters of Mercy’s Floodland on vinyl while reading Robert Littell’s Cold War novels, and then I think about the struggles of being a Slavic woman in America, a nation which still, apparently, enjoys dabbling in Cold War-style espionage and collusion. Then, I write about my struggles with cultural preservation, body image, and political dismay. On days when I’m teaching my composition classes and working with a colleague to organize the Bridgewater International Poetry Festival, I look at my position, my colleagues, and my art, and I think how fortunate I am that I stumbled into the magical Land of Academia, a place where as a Ukrainian-American writer and a gothic subculture member who in public has often faced discrimination because—OH! THAT FISHNET TOP AND THAT SHORT SKIRT WITH BONDAGE STRAPS! HOW OFFENSIVE!—and—gasp!—as one of those poets, I can thrive in my individualism, my creativity, a solid support system, and my words.

Simply put, I crave learning, and I love transforming, and I especially love showing my students that, yes, one can be a scholar and still have more to learn.

When people ask me “But why?” about why, at 31, despite possessing an established academic and writing position, I’m enrolling in an online MFA program,  I’m fairly certain that these are people who definitely don’t know me very well. I’m always looking for the next opportunity to spend time working and writing with other writers. I’m always looking for the next physical, mental, or academic challenge, because facing and overcoming chosen and unchosen challenges shapes me into the person and the writer I am today.

So, when people raise an eyebrow and ask “But why?” when I inform them of my return to graduate school despite my establishment in the academic and literary worlds, my answer is this: I’m Life’s student, and I take my imperfections, and I make them physical or verbal art, because I believe that in this often tumultuous life, that’s all we can really do.

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About Nicole Yurcaba

Nicole Yurcaba, a Ukrainian-American poet and essayist, teaches in Bridgewater College's English Department. She serves as the Assistant Director to the Bridgewater International Poetry Festival, and her poems appear in such venues as The Lindenwood Review, Chariton Review, Artemis, Junto Magazine, and many other online and print journals. Yurcaba is an MFA candidate in Lindenwood University's online MFA program.