to MFA, or not to MFA

Thursday, January 26, 2012

As a former English major, all-time literature lover and enthusiast, and creative MA-student-to-be, I find myself usually defending and/or explaining exactly what I want to do career-wise. I don’t mind it at all – it is my passion and I love sharing what my goals and ambitions are. For those who don’t know, I’d like to lay it out here and discuss my academic goals as well, because the writing and publishing masters is fairly novel and definitely unique – I believe there are less than five specific programs in the United States.

The most simple explanation is that I want to be a writer. Specifically, my interests are fiction short stories and novels. Being a writer is a part of who I am, and I always will be regardless of money or any other factor. I love poetry and am working on getting some pieces published, but prose is where my heart is. While doing this I would like to work as a fiction editor, or, if the publishing industry doesn’t fit, a college-level writing instructor (I’ll be getting certified to teach in addition to my Masters). So, why graduate school?

I agree with the belief that graduate school, specifically the creative writing MFA, is not necessary to become a writer. You can’t be taught how to be a great writer, and  an MFA/MA doesn’t mean that you will be published, successful, or good. But for some people, myself obviously included, it is a viable and relatively affordable (in the case of DePaul) option right out of the undergraduate education.

It inserts you into a like-minded community of writers which doesn’t easily exist outside of such graduate programs, and, more importantly, it establishes a solid two to three years of intense focus on writing. As anyone who writes or wants to become a writer knows, this is indispensable to the craft. The coursework is mostly based around workshops, where you are writing, critiquing, and being critiqued. I've craved this type of community as long as I've been seriously writing.

Finally, at the end of the day, it is advanced graduate work – a goal I’ve had since the beginning of college. The WAP program is essentially a combination of the MFA with a business-oriented focus on publishing. I think it's the perfect balance of practicality in this sense, as it grants networking and exposure to the industry. I'll also be able to work full-time if I wish/have time.

This might all sound like I’m trying to sell the program to you as if you are a potential student, but as I said, I am very excited about what I am going to be doing for the next several years. Mostly, I just wanted to offer a more in-depth explanation which I feel such an MA requires. I’m thrilled to have found such a tailored program. You can read more on it here, from the perspective of a graduate:

I want to speak more on the academic creative writing debate, and I probably will on my other more writing-focused blog. But as far as my purpose here, obtaining a creative Master is exactly what I want to be doing at this point in my life. I'm not just trying to be published (which, interestingly, is not really all that difficult); it's not about that. I want to be a great writer. I have many ideas about the direction my life will take, and this is a really big step toward one of my truest dreams.

nest flight

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

I've got about a month. Well, a little over a month, but February almost doesn't count. A month until I pack up my life, leave behind friends, familly, and Texas, and move to Chicago. I will always have a home here of course, and I'm not relocating to rural China or something, but this is a big step. It's strange to think of how the time, the time of "moving out", seemed so far away once, but now it's as if one blink of mine equals a week passing by.

My life is about to change in a big way, and all I can do (besides prepare, obviously) is wait. Wait, for the forward motion of time. Wait and slowly move my things around and eventually into boxes. Wait on a landing strip and set foot from a plane into Chicago snow. Wait and fall asleep in my bed, on my first night in my new apartment. Wait and take notes again as I sit in my first class of graduate school. Wait...

The emotions I have at the moment are nothing like in the months before I went off to college, but they are similar in an unsettling way. The nerves are a familiar friend, but consider them matured - hang on, I consciously and sanely decided to pursue more education?  You enjoy your student loan payment? How about moving to a big ole city where you kind of know about three people? It's not just the logistics of moving from Texas to Chicago, either. Is it that I'm unsettled that I'm about to be...well, resettled?

I'm counting on my brief adventure across the pond to ease the shock of urban dwelling. If I can successfully fend off a fast-talking, probable human-trafficking Abu Dhabi man, surely I can handle another city. Mostly, I'm excited about all that Chicago has to offer. Anywhere from food to people (clearly my only priorities in life), I'm counting on some inspirational exposure.

Yes, I might die of frostbite and will pine for a Texan summer when I am shivering under a ridiculously heavy coat as the wind off Lake Michigan tries to blow me back down south. Did I mention I'll be living in a studio apartment, in an attempt to fully realize my dramatic transformation into a starving-creative-grad-student-type persona (but really, I'm actually poor)? Consider the woes of rural folk moving to the city. I could very well be mugged or frequently misunderstood because of my 'accent'. But the second I start referring to a sandwich as 'sammich' non-ironically, I'm packing up and hightailin' it back down south.

None of us really like change until the initial shock wears off and we can see the beneficial results. It's not far from how we cried when our mothers left us at kindergarten on the first day of school, but then couldn't wait to go back the next day. I've grown accustomed to living with my parents again, and as someone who really loves and enjoys my family, I have no doubts I'll be homesick--I'm a total homebody anyway. It will be a bittersweet departure, but I know I am ready. I've been ready. And, for the rest of my life, I want to chase that feeling - the challenge, the growth, the unfamiliarity, the unsettling.

new year, new changes

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Hello anyone out there,

Here at the outset of 2012, I am at the brink of some big changes. 2011 was a terrific year that for a long time seemed so far off, and now it has passed along with all the of the hats it has worn. It was the year I graduated college, the year I said a lot of goodbyes, the year I got into graduate school, the (near) year I spent with my parents, the year I worked in retail, and the year I had ample time for personal reflection and growth. Meaning, for a strange period in my life, I had a lot of time to myself living here in the house I grew up in.

I'm thankful for it - it was like some bizarre sort of post-grad, extended summer vacation. I don't know if there will ever be another period in my life where I'm allowed such laziness, but for a few months there wasn't any direction. For writers, it's the hackneyed blessing and curse -a lot of time alone with your thoughts which we always want, but once we have it, we can't write well. The timing of my graduate school applications meant I didn't have a final answer for a few months after  I moved back home, and so I spent a lot of that time worrying and stressing rather than relaxing. I didn't get a part-time job, because I wanted to be sure I didn't need to apply for a real, full-time job. I'm not sure where I would be if I hadn't been admitted to DePaul.

That being said,, it seems I've never really understood the importance of contingency plans. The tried and true formula has been: I want something big. There are no alternatives. I'm going to put everything into getting that something, and if I don't get it, the results will be catastrophic. Now, I know some who find that approach to life admirable. That it's ideal to have serious ambition and relentlessly pursue it at whatever cost. To me, it is ideal, but as I get older I can't help but think a dash of moderation would be wise.

Having at least some sort of back-up plan in many aspects of life means less stress and more happiness. As someone very prone to worry and over-stress, I need it. So, consider one of my resolutions this year to be this: feed that ambition and don't think of failure as an option, but prepare yourself to be (at least moderately) okay in the long run if things don't work out. I don't think it's settling or holding yourself back by any means. It's watching out for your heart.

2012 is set to be another big year. This is the year I move to a big new city on my own, and the year I begin graduate studies. The year I actually set into motion one of my biggest life dreams of becoming a writer. I'm hoping it's a year of many things - health, happiness, growth. Some more concrete resolutions in no particular order: run a half marathon, get published, write/read even more, become conversational in Korean. Less concrete: continuously challenge myself, stop overthinking. Be not afraid to be content with existence. You know, the usual jazz. Let's see how the journey goes.

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