On Wednesday, I was invited to speak to a group of MFA students at Columbia. WHERE I WENT. Let’s talk about PTSD. The first day of graduate school thirty-something years ago, I climbed the steps to Dodge Hall, tripped, fell and all my shit went sprawling. I always felt it was a harbinger of things to come: many stumbles, one great terrible fall.
I’m looking at the faces of the students and it’s all there: the anxiety, competition, bravado, meekness, the sheer ambition, the massive insecurities. Their questions painted the gulf between their world and mine. I felt happy that I no longer had to spend so much energy wondering if I would amount to anything. I also felt caught up short when they asked why didn’t I pursue poetry, art. Was it failure of imagination, belief, ego? What does it even mean to ask: do you have what it takes? Maybe the question should be: what do you have to give? One young woman really pressed me: why didn’t you become an artist. Why did you make your choice. I took a breath and said I had a mental breakdown while I was in graduate school, and I learned that I needed structure, a regular paycheck, and health benefits.
What about you?
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