Friday, September 11, 2015


What I've Learned in the First Two Weeks in the MFA

1) As with undergrad, days blur easily. I didn't notice until after this weekend that the first Friday of the month had come and gone without an update from me to you. (Insert guilty, cringing face.) While I don't expect I'll be able to keep up the semimonthly quota, I will nevertheless endeavor not to let this blog fall away to the wayside during this semester. Feel free to subscribe via Facebook, Twitter, or e-mail to help keep track of my whereabouts, too.

2) 1.5 hour commutes (x2) are most productively spent resorting to audiobooks to keep up with class readings. For a delve-in-deep, write-in-the-margins book lover, it's a hard transition -- but in grad school, necessity trumps taste. (Advertisement: Librivox is a great resource for free audiobooks in the public domain.)

3) Re: above, the biggest struggle is when cool words come up and I have to repeat it to myself like an idiot until I can look it up in the Dictionary later.

4) Southern Connecticut State University is very crowded, all the time, so that every time I step into the hallway I feel like I'm stepping into a raging river of people. Thankfully, the International Education office where I work during the day is a quiet haven, full of kind colleagues, so the introvert stays happy.

5) Re: above, I love my graduate assistantship position. For the time being I'm doing clerical work for the out-going students office of International Education, where 99% of my small band of colleagues are either current or former MFA students. Clerical duties might sound boring on paper, but I assure you that small tasks are beautiful for allowing the introspective creative mind (mine, at least) to breathe -- and I get to learn a lot about studying abroad. I've a lot to learn still, but I'm enjoying it.

6) Grad school is code word for "geek heaven" -- i.e., it's where people truly, fixatedly passionate about a particular field gather for meaningful discussions and study. While I was grateful to have a great deal of this at my undergrad program, there's something about grad school where the seriousness and focus of study becomes elevated, because everyone here feels invested in the literature we read. It's refreshing.

7) Re: above, my creative side needs the scholarly side to remain active. I thought I'd hate taking three lit courses on top of my workshop, but already my lazy brain is crying "Thank you." In fact, when I had to drop one course for time-management's sake, I was heartbroken to cut Shakespeare's Language, after we'd spent the first class in impassioned argument over what Old Willy meant by "stone" and "others." Meanwhile, Victorian Novel continues to bring back childhood memories, while Harlem Renaissance provides a much-needed historical perspective.

8) The quality of workshops depends upon the quality of people . . . And part of that quality is about diversity. When applying for MFA programs, I had fears of ending up in a homogenized, sophomoric bunch from whom I could learn little. But I'm glad to say that our class is refreshingly diverse: we have a single mom writing non-fiction, an Indiana native who grew up on a farm, fresh-outta-undergrad youngsters like me writing about family crises. The range of age-groups is something for which I'm particularly thankful, as I know it ensures varied degrees of skill and insight.
9) The quality of workshops depends upon the quality of people (continued) . . . And part of that quality is about picking and choosing. While your chances of finding exceptionally skilled writers increases with grad school, every workshop will still have writers whose style and input you relate to, and those you don't. In my first class, we were asked to read aloud some of our work, and judging by what I heard, there are already a few people whose writing I admire more than others, and are therefore people in whose advice I'm likely going to be more interested. That may sound mean and narrow-minded, but it's how the writing world works. Developing your writing is not a democracy; you pick only the advice you trust the most.

10) Being comfortable matters in the adult world. I'll admit that I entered the school year in fear and trembling, but very quickly I was made to feel welcomed by my colleagues and like I had a reliable support group. (On Day 3 I was already asking submission advice from a classmate.) I'll be honest: I'm a terribly sensitive person. I've fared well under pressure and the fear of judgement, but I'm a wimp who needs encouragement along with criticism in order to feel like what I'm doing is worth continuing. Here I feel relaxed (at least until the workload increases), encouraged to pursue what I love, and (lo and behold) like it's going to be a fun semester -- which provides a different kind of freedom to write than what I usually allow myself. Sometimes, we blossom most not when we are pressured, but when we are comfortable -- and maybe that's what I'll find here.

11) I'm very, very, very happy to be here.

Grace and peace to you.

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