Fourteen years ago, on June 6, 2000, I stood with my family at the Canadian cemetery by Juno Beach. We had arrived at the commemoration ceremony partially by accident; unable to find a camping spot, we’d parked our VW Westfalia in the cemetery parking lot, and awoke the next morning to find ourselves surrounded by armoured vehicles, teary-eyed veterans, and soldiers with machine guns. I have no doubt that it was being there, along with coinciding visits to Vimy, Verdun, and numerous other WWI/II sites in northern Europe, that taught me the importance of remembrance.
Although this week’s photo was taken at the Coin Museum in Bogota, Colombia, its location isn’t that important to me. What matters is what this open door represents.
Since I left on this trip in March, I’ve embraced the reality of waking up in a different city each week, with no sense of where the day will take me. I’ve learnt not to try to control the future, and accepted the idea that the relationships I make in my life will define me more than the places I visit. Despite this, the last nine months have been overshadowed by an impending decision which could ultimately shape my entire future… grad school.
In September, I submitted an application for an optional-residency (internet-based) MFA program in creative writing through the University of British Columbia. This week, I was completing an application for the holocaust and genocide studies program at the University of Amsterdam when the e-mail from UBC came: I’d been accepted.
As thrilled as I was, I also met this news with a sense of dread. I had to make a decision, now. There was no sense having my professors write references, or paying a $180 application fee to Amsterdam if I didn’t need to.
I was torn. All year I’d been debating which career path to follow: writing or history. The latter seems more practical and stable, and studying in Amsterdam would help me integrate into Dutch life. The writing degree seems like a dream come true, and would let me live and travel as much as my wallet could support it, but what kind of real future would it hold? Do I want to be serving tables for years just so that I can hunch over my computer a few hours a day, with no promise of even finding a publisher?
Life decisions are never easy.
Last week, I was talking to a new Peruvian friend about the importance of valuing one’s happiness over a prosperous career. Why waste your years earning money to support a mediocre life? Focus on your happiness, and somehow the rest will work out.
The problem was that both writing and history are my passions. Both excite me, perhaps equally.
So what did I finally decide?
This morning, I sent the confirmation of acceptance to UBC, and canceled my request for reference letters for Amsterdam.
I realized that writing and history will always go hand in hand for me. If I write fiction, it will be historical fiction. If I teach history, I’ll use my spare time to write. There is a chance that I will eventually end up with a master’s degree in both fields. But right now, UBC offers me a shot in a highly-competitive program, and I know I won’t get a second chance there if I turn it down.
Maybe I will never make a living from writing, but I’m willing to try. After all, I’ve been writing almost as long as I can remember. Vacations have always involved reading and writing: I have a row of travel journals on my bookshelf and I attempted my first novel at age ten while in Europe (yes, it was history-based). Right now, a career in writing is just a dream, but everything starts with a dream, doesn’t it?
So, did I make the correct decision?
Right after sending the emails, I headed to the airport, where I discovered that my flight to Colombia faced a five-hour delay. And how did I spend this time? I stood in the bookstore, reading the backs of all of the bestsellers, and I only reluctantly tore myself away when the staff began giving me looks.
That on its own has answered my question.