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To MFA or Not To MFA September 30, 2009

Filed under: MFA — Annie Maier @ 10:56 pm
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September 30, 2009

For 3 years, ever since quitting my day job to edit and write full time, I’ve been contemplating whether I should get an MFA. Some days, I think yes. I love learning. Love reading and writing and explicating. I love sharing the energy and experences of other writers, and hearing/reading their stories. Most of all, I want to be a better writer and I want the opportunities to expand my craft and my horizons. Despite all of that desire, however, I could never pull the trigger. MFA programs are expensive, I told myself. I’m busy. In addition to my own reservations, detractors began to appear everywhere. I won’t rehash their complaints, but most seemed to decry the fact that an over-abundance of middle-aged women with expendable incomes had created a glut of cookie-cutter programs churning out cookie-cutter writers. Just what I’ve always wanted to be.  I went back and forth, back and forth. Requesting information, shredding information; reading up on programs, ruling out programs. I’ll go. I won’t go. Maybe I’ll go. I’ll never go. Do it. Screw it. And on…

Finally, this spring, I made a decision. I would apply. So I said. Outloud even. To lots of people. Some I didn’t even know.

Did I apply? No. Why? Well, MFAs are expensive. And like most Americans – many of whom really are middle-aged white women! – my expendable income is no longer expendable. I hesitated. I was almost lost. But then, an epiphany! 

A couple of months ago, a friend invited me on a rafting trip to Colorado. Even though such a trip has long been my dream, I had to say no. Why isn’t important, but that no was the culmination of a year’s worth of missed opportunities, failed communication and private disappointment. Following a week in Seattle, where everyone around me seemed to be rushing forward and greeting life while I was treading water in a mudhole. I fell into a dark and lonely funk exacerbated by too little sleep and too many games of FreeCell. Then came the epiphany.

I came home one day in September to see that my neighbor, a perfectly lovely woman with whom I’ve actually shared words (spoken), had had her front garden edged with tumbled stone. I’m a level-headed person. I don’t weep too often, rarely cause a scene and never yell. But this day, I threw a fit. I cursed the woman, her stones and my cat. I banged things, I threw things and I shouted at my husband when he asked what was wrong. Then I caught myself hurling vexations at her tree. I love trees. I name them, talk to them, pat them in passing. And there I was, telling this woman’s tree I hoped it would die. Soon. Encased in stone.

You see, I’ve been telling my husband for two years that I wanted to edge our front garden in stone. I knew it would look lovely, and it did. In her yard.  I was pissed. And then I was enlightened. 

I cannot stand still any longer. I will not stand still any longer. An MFA will be expensive, particularly if I get into Naropa – the school of my dreams. It will be tough, challenging, at times even frightening. It will require something all introverts hate – lifting my head and letting down that invisible shield. It may require travel – something I rarely do alone. But, it will be worth it.

The way I see it, I can either continue holding back and possible drown in the muck of my ordinary existance, or I can toss myself forward into the abyss, and see what wonders await me.

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5 Responses to “To MFA or Not To MFA”

  1. Oot Says:

    Don’t throw things at my cat (or my father)! And on that note, methinks I need to make a quick jaunt down to Charlotte my next break.
    I love you and I’ll always be your travelling companion. Physical, spiritual, emotional, whatever.
    Om mani padme hum.

  2. Russ Says:

    Annie, remember that you declined the secretaries positions so you could work on your MFA. No backing out now.

    Be careful talking to the Dogwoods though… thier bite is worse than thier bark.

    Go for it.

  3. Love it! You go, girl! I’m jealous. An aquaintance of mine who lives nearby is working on her MFA and she travels to the New England area for month-long intensives. Her husband cooks and does carpool for their middle school son–makes me very jealous. There’s something in making the actual decision that forces the details to work out. So, tell me about talking to trees….is it out loud or in your head? …People names? …where is Naropa?

    • Annie Says:

      Thanks Marie! You’re right about the details…
      Naropa is a liberal arts university in CO. It was founded by a Tibetan Buddhist teacher (Chögyam Trungpa), and the MFA program (the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics) combines poetry and prose with spirituality contemplation. What bliss!
      As for the trees – I mostly talk to them out loud. To name just a few of the ones in my yard – there’s Weepy, Cherri, Henry and Sugar. Oh and Cherokee.
      What school does your neighbor go to?


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