(Soon to be) Post MFA Blues

Dear Reader:

It’s been awhile since I’ve written to you. Life…sometimes takes over and commands your presence and attention to be placed in other areas. Since I left you I’ve finally finished, defended, and passed my dissertation with distinction. Stick a fork in me, I’m done, Book closed, in less than two weeks I will have my Masters of Fine Arts (MFA) in Creative Writing. Maybe it’s just post-partum blues (my dissertation is now “finished”) that have me down but I don’t feel as excited as I thought I would. Granted the MFA took four years to complete, just like my undergraduate degree but for some reason the time I spent at Stanford seemed longer, harder, full of more laughs, more tears and it was an honest struggle so much so that by the end I was happy, proud, and most of all, relieved that I have ‘made it.’

This isn’t all to say that my MFA wasn’t difficult. I was pushed in new ways, I’d never taught English composition or intro to creative writing before, I’d never even imagined what internal turmoil putting together a collection of poetry would be like, but for some reason it feels different. And that’s definitely not to say I didn’t meet and make great friends, I did. You might even make closer friends in grad school because the cohorts are smaller, everyone knows everyone, and you’re all going through pretty much the same struggles. You ‘get’ each other in ways others can’t fully understand. You know the same pains and gains of teaching, you know how much time and effort it takes to get a piece published whereas others think poems and prose fly straight out of our ……

I also know that there are different lessons to be learned. College is when you’re straight out of high school (for some of us, as it was for me anyway ) and you learn who you are without your parents, and if you go to college away from your hometown and with none of your HS friends, you learn who you are without them. It’s a process of discovery – about the world about yourself. My MFA experience has also been a process of learning what I like to read, how I write, what my habits, pitfalls, etc. are. I also learned harsher lessons like not everyone (even people you love, who love you) is going to like what you write. Literary magazines aren’t going to be the only thing or people to reject you.

But now that it’s finished, I worry – what’s next? I worry especially because as writers, post-MFAers, only some of us “make it”. Sure some of us might get fellowships or residencies or maybe even a Stegner or publish books, but it’s a hard life and for success to come (as in anything) one must remain committed. Committed to the process and not the project (according to one of our many writer tenets).

I sat in on many of my friends dissertation defenses and most got some sort of praise or affirmation – what you’re doing matters. Not to throw myself a pity party (which I can be pretty good at if you know me personally) but I didn’t feel that I got that (and maybe I did – my own defense is a blur since I was so excited and nervous as it took place). But, I hate to admit it but artists, writers, and yes, I, too, need affirmation time and again. It can be difficult sitting here on days or nights when I could be out with friends or doing other things ‘normal’ people do instead of sitting here typing, writing, putting these words down. I feel like I go through periods where I don’t think I need that and then I crave it so much it bothers me. Sometimes writing is such a solitary act it’s nice to have someone tell you what you do matters, that your words matter. But I suppose even then, one should realize that that affirmation and acknowledgement isn’t always going to happen, and so if you really want to ‘make it’ you have to make it yourself. YOU have to put in the time regardless of the praise or lack of it that you get. You have to truly love what you do. And sometimes I struggle with this. I do, indeed, love what I do but I also “do” a lot of things – I teach, I volunteer leading writing workshops for communities, I write, but I also help run a program. And I (for better and sometimes worse) have an addictive personality. When it comes to my job, love, running, life and everything in between I go in full force, heart on my sleeve, and will spend extra time doing what needs to be done, but this also leads to burn out and sometimes, heartache particularly when you’re a workaholic who has somehow managed to not give as much of yourself and your time to family and friends, especially when you don’t give yourself your “me” time.

I’m constantly in a state of flux as I am sure most of us are. I wonder if I am burnt out, if I need a break, but what would I do? Where would I go? And I certainly couldn’t go anywhere now. I am committing (for once in my life perhaps) to stay at this current job 2 more years if we get our grant back. This all probably sounds whiny or meaningless but I am having a quarter-life crisis. I always have a plan. I am a planner. Since kindergarten (and believe me there’s proof in an article on me as Bobcat of the week) I wanted and planned to go to Stanford. I worked my entire life to get there – every class, every extracurricular, etc. Then after Stanford I didn’t know what to do but I applied to the MFA and that was another 3 years planned. But even that got messy with the job opportunity that opened and I took and now at least I have a job post-MFA b/c of that little blip in the plan. So maybe that’s what I needed to get to in writing this… that the right paths will be shown to you at the right moments and you’ll fall into place where you need to be.

So while I have no clue what I’ll do next (if our grant doesn’t get renewed or even after I put in the 2 years I plan to stay) – maybe I’ll apply for PhD programs in Education, or maybe I’ll go to law school after all, maybe I’ll get lucky and be offered different writer fellowships or residencies, maybe I’ll even get a first book published, maybe… maybe if I just wait and try to live my life in a good way I’ll get to wherever it is I need to be.

Thanks for listening to my mini-rant, whine, etc. Dear Reader I have not forgotten you and hope you get to wherever it is you need to be and that hopefully that means you get what or who you need.

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