Is an MFA worth it? (Part 1)

A few years ago my husband and I shared our most ridiculous dream, the most egotistical, self-satisfying, audacious one. I don’t remember Dave’s (hello, ego) but mine was to be a guest on a major talk show like Jimmy Fallon or Ellen Degeneres. I caught glimpses of guests on David Letterman when I was a little kid up past bedtime asking for a glass of water, or another bed time story, or help buttoning my nightgown, or to clip my fingernails, or to check the weather because I had to know the weather. They always seemed so happy. I’ve watched so many guests plop themselves into the overstuffed chairs next to a desk with a coffee mug and settle in for the show. I wanted to be on a talk show for something I did. Something I wrote, or some amazing talent/business/performance/criminal, yet still funny, thing that I did. Me! I wanted to be interviewed for my accomplishments. I wanted to plop! It was a little embarrassing to bring this up to my husband, someone other than the voices in my head, to yearn to be recognized for accomplishments not yet known, but Dave was understanding. “Yeah, me too,” he said.

In fact, why am I bringing this up at all right now? Having one year of the MFA program under my belt, I feel further from that dream than ever. I’d like to call this year of schooling an ego-shattering, gutter-juice bath of insecurity, sweaty towel snap on a bare rear end, self-inflicted-“you said you wanted to do this”-skills training. Add fifty other egoists to the gutter-juice bath and you have yourself a party. I exaggerate. And for fuck’s sake, I should hope I do. Let’s be honest. It’s the safest space to explore the starving, broke, writer’s life while also earning a respectable graduate degree. Complain? I won’t stop, but someone please make me. One of my professors told us, “It’s writing! It’s not like you’re fucking lumberjacks. It’s not that hard.”

Do I digress? Not really sure where I started. I read constantly. More than I want to, and more objectively than is enjoyed. It’s like setting up an easel to paint the human body, only to find your paintbrushes have been stolen and replaced with an anatomy textbook. Or that fine French wine bottle has been replaced with chemistry equations, or…you get the point. Words are words are words, right? I’m hoping that if enough fly my way something will stick. Bugs on the windshield. They stick like glue and serve no purpose, but they’ve been around for millions of years so something must need them. One summer while I was driving home from Montana to North Dakota I hit a bird on the interstate going eighty. A few feathers stuck to the glass because of the warm temps. It was such a level of punishable heat that bugs were sticking to the windshield faster than I could keep up with wiper fluid, so the feathers weren’t going anywhere. I stopped to fill up gas after dark, only half way through the eleven hour drive, and started cleaning the windshield. Moths and insects buzzed around the fluorescent lights above, barely audible over the semi trucks running in the adjacent parking lot. Keeping the AC going, no doubt. A tall skinny man waited for his gas to pump, standing next to his car holding a small chihuahua on a pink leash. I dipped the squeegee in the cleaning fluid and hit the windshield in one clean swoop and spotted the dead bird lodged at an unnatural angle between my car and roof rack. I screamed, not something I am prone to do in public around strangers, and started immediately laughing at my ridiculous behavior. But I also couldn’t get over the fact that a fucking bird was stuck on the roof of my car, which made me laugh even more. I was bent over, caught between a scream, it was seriously disgusting, and a laugh, am I still screaming? And the guy holding the chihuahua never made a move. He stood erect, poised in my direction, face set in stone. Really guy? Not even a smile, or an eyebrow raised as if to ask me, Hey crazy lady scream-laughing at the gas station in the middle of the night, are you ok? Thank god Dave came back from the bathroom and also gasped and recoiled at the sight of the mangled bird. He took the squeegee from my hand and, from a laughable distance (although not laughable to some still watching us from afar) flicked at the bird until, bit by bit, wing by head, it flew off the roof and onto the ground. Do we leave it? Dave flicked it over to the base of the garbage, we’re not animals.

So is an MFA worth it you ask? One year down and yes. My schedule changes constantly. I read and write and get to complain about it. I drink whiskey when I can afford it, cheap red wine when I can’t. I go to readings and writing events, watching students younger than me flip their cool hair from one side to the other, and shift their weight in their cool boots, and smoke cigarettes that sometimes actually look cool but I don’t like to admit to myself. And I get to spend Saturday nights alone in my basement apartment picking hair out of the carpet because I don’t have a vacuum, don’t really want one because they cost whiskey money and I don’t have the space, and trying to pretend like I know what I’m doing as a writer but really I don’t and who does? They’re just words, are words are words. Do I digress? I’m not sure where I started.


2 thoughts on “Is an MFA worth it? (Part 1)

  1. This made me laugh so hard. Never spend your whiskey money on anything but whiskey. Next time you are in town, come drink some of mine with me…we have lots.


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