Following a 25-year summer break, I now find myself back in school full-time. Three weeks in to my MFA at Stony Brook University, I am slowly beginning to find the rhythm of being a student again.
One thing for certain, this isn’t even vaguely reminiscent of my undergrad years. I was a full-time student then, as now, but apparently the definitions have changed.
Within the first three weeks, I’ve already submitted over 50 pages of writing, read a book and a quarter, several essays and done at least half a dozen in-class writing assignments. Granted, that’s what I’d signed up for, but I hadn’t quite realized how quickly it would consume my life. That said, I continue to pinch myself when my teachers share insights or quote literature or give us other glimpses into the elusive “writer’s life.”
Once a week, I travel approximately five hours in either direction from Brooklyn to the Southampton campus for a three-hour course with Roger Rosenblatt. The class falls in the category of “special topics” and is titled What We Write About When We Write About Love. We all simply call it the “Love” class. And yes, five buses, six trains and a thirteen-hour day for a single class are all totally worth it.
Rosenblatt is a generous and delightful professor, and I use those words with purpose. He gives us every ounce of his focus when we are together and, an entertainer at heart, he delights us to no end with his side-stories or references to music or sports or life in general. Each week we are expected to submit two 250-word pieces on love. Love of just about anything imaginable, as long as it is love. And well, really, what isn’t.
My other classes are, luckily, located closer to home at Stony Brook’s Manhattan campus. On Tuesday evenings I study fiction – specifically the novel – with Susan Minot. Equally gracious and doubly graceful, she deftly manages the class with both a kind soul and a strict adherence to structure. “We are here to discuss the writing,” she says regularly, redirecting us when we get off topic. “In this class, we are only concerned with fiction,” she reminds us when we relate stories from our lives.
As with Rosenblatt, (and Bank, below) I am a huge fan of Minot’s writing and sincerely hope that if I can glean even a drop of her wisdom to write a single word more eloquently, I will have learned more than my share. With mannerisms evocative of a dancer in motion, she brings her thoughts to life in every movement and word.
Last, but certainly not least, is my third class – memoir – with Melissa Bank. Again, each week I am in awe that not only am I invited to spend three hours with yet another acclaimed writer whom I respect, I am even encouraged to share my thoughts.
The privilege of heartfelt discussions with authors one esteems is, to me, unparalleled. Bank’s commentary on our writing is always thoughtful yet without fail, specific and uniquely towards improving our work. She doesn’t gloss over inconsistencies or praise us without reason, yet she can make even the most hesitant writer (usually me) feel they have tremendous potential. And, perhaps we all do. Only time will tell, but I’m certain she will be the first one to read us later and say, “I knew this writer would succeed!”
So far, so good. This MFA adventure is proving to be an extremely time-consuming one, but a journey I am so lucky to take and as each class concludes, I am more and more convinced that I am at the right school at the right time. Now, back to my homework!