After the MFA (and Counting)

Someone I know is about to graduate her MFA program. I told her congratulations, expecting her to be excited. But she’s not looking forward to graduating. She told me she’s afraid that—without the deadlines that come with being in a program—she won’t be motivated to write anymore.

This conversation occurred at work, at the end of the day, when I just wanted to finish up what I was doing and get. the. hell. out. of. there.

Still, I said words of encouragement and gave what I could of practical advice.

Then she said, with a look of horror on her face, that she was afraid two years will go by and she won’t have a book published, and what then?

Um…

Dude, I graduated my MFA program in 2002. And do you see me flouncing around with my published book (yes, I imagine that when you get a book published—a book written under your own name, mind you—you become so excited you start flouncing around with it or maybe run around waving it through a meadow)? Or do you see me sitting here behind this desk with an extremely pained look on my face because you’re making me feel like crap?

When no one is around to make me feel bad about myself—it is very easy to make me feel bad about myself, you can do it without even trying—I think fondly back on getting an MFA. I think that, yes, I may have been too young when I started and not yet “ready,” but, also, it was a privileged existence and I am lucky to have had it, book published at this moment in time or no. I think about how, after, I tried to get published; I gave it a good solid shot. And at least I can go to bed saying I made an effort.

I also think I shouldn’t be so sensitive.

Right now, I am writing this post instead of writing my book. It is Thursday morning. A girl in a hooded sweatshirt (hood up) and black sunglasses and a sneer on her face sits in the corner near me counting out crumpled dollar bills from her crammed pockets. Now she’s got them all smoothed out and wraps them in a hair elastic. A man asks me if the newspaper on the chair nearby is mine; I say it was there when I got here, it’s all his. I look at the clock. I sigh. This is life after the MFA program. An hour and counting left before I have to go to work. No meadow to flounce through. And no one to keep me on point except me.

It’s a lonely existence, but—dude—if you really and truly want to be a writer you will keep writing even when no one’s watching. That is all I have to say about that.


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