• Bridge Ladies

    Bridge Ladies When I set out to learn about my mother's bridge club, the Jewish octogenarians behind the matching outfits and accessories, I never expected to fall in love with them. This is the story of the ladies, their game, their gen, and the ragged path that led me back to my mother.
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If You Wanted the Sky I Would Write Across the Sky

I’m often asked if getting an MFA is worth getting. Well, if you like to be shredded, if you enjoy alienation, if you welcome debt, if you enjoy spending time in an asylum, if you take pleasure in discovering that poets you once adored are douche bags, if you want your father to disown you, if want to watch your imagination shrivel and your sense of humor dismissed as unserious, if you want a costly useless degree then I would say, you should get an MFA. Go for it.

Curious if any degree you have has helped you.

11 Responses

  1. I often tell people that getting a law degree helped me become a better editor of my writing.

  2. Getting an MFA accelerated my writing/critiquing skills. I was an underbaked 26 year old, and I emerged with a shiny crust, a sliver of confidence, and a class on copyediting that lead to my current career. Many people don’t need that, and many MFA programs instill no confidence in anyone but admissions, but I was lucky and it worked for me.

  3. WP is giving me a fit. Trying again . . .

    “Just because you have a license, doesn’t mean you know how to drive.”

    Said the brilliant husband, once.

    I was at a book event a couple years ago alongside another writer. The bookstore owner asked this other writer, “You don’t have an MFA do you?” She didn’t. For the record, neither do I, and I’ve always been curious if and how my writing would be better served if I did. The bookstore owner said, “I don’t think anybody needs one. I think it can stifle your voice, and some of the best books I’ve read are by writers who don’t have one.”

    Which was great – except a writer friend of mine was in the audience, and she had just received an MFA not more than a week before. I cringed, but to her credit, she had 0 reaction.

    Publisher’s pay a lot of attention to specific ones. It’s like you’re a shoe-in as a literary heavyweight if you have one from, say Iowa’s Writing Workshop, or U of C at Irvine. I get the history. Some of the biggest writers have come out of those programs, but some pretty big writers have also come for the Program of Nada.

    My degree? B.S. Bus Mgmt, and it sits quietly on a bookshelf, doing nothing. It’s pretty, but the ROI has been zilch.

    • My poetry buddies were all like “if you no longer write fairy tale retellings, we’re coming to [your grad school, which definitely wasn’t Iowa] to stage an intervention.” So stifling was a fear. My program didn’t stifle my voice, but my spouse definitely had some long-lasting injuries from his program. So it really just depends. I hate generalizations either way.

      • Sounds like he went to the boot camp version. The, “tear you down to build you up” one. I’m hard enough on myself. I don’t need anyone else saying it sucks. Besides, all I gotta do is go read a few reviews. That’ll do it too.

  4. An undergrad double major in philosophy and political science, along with profs with aggressive red pens helped. Far more papers to write than tests to take, much “explain and defend”, “compare and contrast”; pain in the age of typewriters and WhiteOut and Correctype. Typos seemed to cluster down on the page, the pricks. The final copy had to be free of those corrections, clean and neat, or the red would flow, often sarcastically. I guess that’s why I check my work as I go, as well as after.

    Yeah, it helped.

  5. I was a teenaged college dropout. After three years of bartending, smoking incredible amounts of marijuana, dropping acid and shooting the shit all night long with co-workers, musicians, and groupies, I recognized the wall I had hit up against. I wanted to know more of certain things — things that could be found only through higher education — things that might make me a better writer. So to university did I return, edjumacation for to gain.

    Lucky me, in those days — forty years ago, girls and boys — an education at a quality state university was still to be had in a debt-free manner. It took me five years to earn my degree. I was a full-time bartender the whole time. Worked my ass off. Ended up in hospital at one point, health collapsed. Had med ins through my work, so it didn’t bankrupt me. And I got my paper! BA in philosophy (with High Honors, of which I will ever be proud).

    Why philosophy? Among all the pursuits, why one that had the least immediate commercial value? Because I believed it would “make me a better writer.” Did it? Not directly, though it did teach me how to focus and think.

    That BA is the only degree I have. I tried grad school at various points over the following twenty years, in subjects of more than passing interest — philosophy, history, fine arts, and creative writing — but grad school and I did not get along. There is the game that is played there — and those of you who have been there know this game — and I could not play it. Could not want to. Nonetheless, from each of these experiences I learned much of value, both in the classroom and out.

    The only other degree-like substance which had adhered to my life is the — get this, and I love this name — Post-Baccalaureate Certificate in Litigation Paralegal Studies I earned a few years ago from Loyola University Chicago. Again, I worked my ass off, and again, I graduated with Honors (a 4.0, my friends). This certificate definitely helped me, as I was a new boy in town, seeking decent employment, which I then found. Also, I know now what it means to have standing and subject matter jurisdiction, among many other arcane facts.

    I have saved the best for last. It was a course of study from which I took no degree. None was offered, none was needed. It was Gordon Lish’s private master’s class in creative writing, taught to a select few in Park Avenue apartments. How did I get into that? It will ever be a bit of a mystery. I was then as I am now — nobody. No connections, state schooling (this was before Chicago), barely enough money to attend the classes — all I had was desire. Damn it, I wanted to write — I was writing — and I wanted to be better at it. I had hit another wall and knew I did not have the ability to do on the page what I wanted to do. I was desperate. I think it showed. I think it helped that I had no idea who Gordon Lish was. All I had was desire. Part of what he taught was that if you have the desire and you’re willing to learn and work — unceasingly learn and work — you can make something of some value of your scrawlings and scribblings on page and screen.

    I could write a whole ‘nother chapter on MFA v. NYC, but I must go. Morning is broken and the law job calls.

  6. itdependsitdependsitdepends…I got an MALS from Wesleyan and it could have changed my life…had I let it. Had I hungered more. Sought after more. Had I created a damned platform, pawned myself to social media, etc. Which I did not. My bad, perhaps. But the profs were brilliant and generous.The degree was a ticket to ride. I loved and learned. It got me an adjunct teaching position and opportunities to write nonfiction for literary magazines. So, yes.

  7. I think I have PTSD from mine – it was just too much to work a full teaching load and try to do the program. I made it, but I dunno…the debt…the mental anguish…the dependence on ellipses to create my thoughts…I just don’t think I was ready.

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