2016, Archives, May 2016, The MFA Years

And Thus Concludes…

…the classroom portion of our MFA entertainment package.

Last Thursday I attended the last session of my last class for my MFA. It hasn’t quite sunk in yet, but I’m done with my classes. Forever. My mind cannot fully comprehend how quickly two years can fly past.

That does not, however, mean I’m ready to graduate because I still have to finish my thesis. I had hoped to have that done by now, as well, but this semester turned out differently than I had planned. Don’t they always?

In any case, my last class also turned out to be one of my favorites of my entire MFA experience. I’d been a bit hesitant because the class was “Flash Fiction/Prose Poetry” and the teacher is probably best known as a poet (Terese Svoboda) and I know nothing of poetry.

Terese turned out to be a spectacular human, a great teacher and diplomatic in encouraging my flash fiction and even flash non-fiction while essentially passing over my poetry. I am not a poet, and that is fine. But my weird little short pieces might actually have a place in this world and as she says, “The weirder, the better.” So I left my last class happy and feeling better about my writing.

What I’ve come to accept about myself after these two years is that I’m not a poet (never thought I was, so that’s cool) and I’m probably not a fiction writer. I’ve tried writing fiction and, perhaps one day I’ll get there, but it isn’t easy for me, at least not in long form. For short pieces, however, I seem to have something going there. I have a wildly vivid imagination and so although most pieces are based on something real, I can certainly embellish and spin a colorful yarn.

What I’m probably best at, however, is narrative essay writing. I’m pretty sure I’ll never really understand how to write a book length anything, but essays I can manage and I have enough material to keep me busy for a lifetime.

Trying out so many styles through the MFA–one of the things Stony Brook encourages–has helped me to see where I feel most comfortable and where my writing really shines. Had I not pursued this program, I might not have sampled the other genres, so this has been a useful learning process.

This summer, also as a part of the program, I will also have the opportunity to study for five days with New Yorker essayist, Adam Gopnik, which I am very much looking forward to. I believe that the essays I write now are tighter than the ones I was writing when I started the program, but I’ll get back to you on that after the Southampton Writers Conference in July.

Meanwhile, my current task is to compile my thesis–aka my memoir–so that I can graduate in December. I have about a gazillion pages written, or maybe a couple hundred, but they are not yet in order or well-shaped so my job is to put them into something that sticks together and hand it over to my thesis advisor. With luck, I’ll have something worthy in another month or two.

Beyond that, I am finished with studying and finished with teaching. I wish the latter weren’t the case but my financial responsibilities preclude me continuing as a TA so I will be looking for work to get myself back out of debt, replenish some savings and keep this boat afloat for as long as possible.

Many people question the value of the MFA because, clearly, nobody needs an MFA to be a good writer or artist. Talent, determination and chutzpah are really what matter more than any degree.

That said I’m still very glad I made this investment in myself. I knew I wanted the time to focus on my writing, surround myself with other artists, and learn from accomplished writers and these goals have been met many times over.

The icing on the cake is that should I choose to pursue teaching, once I have the degree, I now have that option available and if I can make it work, financially, I intend to do just that. I believe I have something to give back to the world, and that it is my duty to do so.  Through teaching, the chance to work with young minds is, in my opinion, an honor.

And there you have it. I have not written the “Great American Novel” nor do I have a best-selling anything on the horizon, but I now know my strengths and have a much better idea of how to use them to my advantage. And, just as important, I know where I am not as strong and so I feel comfortable stepping aside and letting those who excel in those areas take the lead and shine.

Before the MFA, most of my writing had been around travel and, I suspect, after I graduate most of it will continue to be around travel. I have had the good fortune to travel extensively and it is how I have become the person I am today. It is also how I became the writer I am today, by learning to share the world around me on the page.

To everyone graduating this semester – or soon – congratulations!!! And to those just starting their MFA, congratulations. I hope the experience brings you as much joy as mine has to me. I will post a couple more times before I graduate but until then, happy writing!

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