Ran across this the other day and the following excerpt prompted some questions, good ones.
By JOEL LOVELL
Published: January 3, 2013, NYT Magazine
In an interview several years ago with Ben Marcus for The Believer, Saunders defended the time spent in an M.F.A. program by saying, “The chances of a person breaking through their own habits and sloth and limited mind to actually write something that gets out there and matters to people are slim.” But it’s a mistake, he added, to think of writing programs in terms that are “too narrowly careerist. . . . Even for those thousands of young people who don’t get something out there, the process is still a noble one — the process of trying to say something, of working through craft issues and the worldview issues and the ego issues — all of this is character-building, and, God forbid, everything we do should have concrete career results. I’ve seen time and time again the way that the process of trying to say something dignifies and improves a person.”
I’ve always thought of an MFA in Creative Writing as a luxury I’d love to indulge in once my offspring are out of my house. Of course as the economy is what it is and our class position is considerably low, it’s not likely my offspring are going to be on their own anytime soon.
So, what if an MFA program is what actually what I need? I can see the value in the process, and “grinding” craft-intensive experience of an MFA program to bust through my bad habits and what feels to me like far-too-substantial sloth.
I have former undergrad pals who are finishing up their MFAs and I can see the benefits in their work. Compared to mine, their development and self-confidence seems much accelerated. But I also see their financial sacrifice and their debt load, both things I’m loathe to take on for myself, as I already struggle in a day-job that pays precious little for the professional requirements and expenses (licensing, re-certifications, assessments, uniforms, travel, fitness and skill training, etc). When I can barely pay the rent and juggle between insurance one month and utilities the next, an MFA financial commitment seems completely irresponsible.
So the BIG question is, how to find the work-around? What things can I do to come close to the process while I wait for that luxurious day when I can get myself to Iowa or some place relevant?
I’ve been here before. I moved to LA back in the early 1990’s to pursue an education in commercial music. While I was working in the woods of NH to earn the money to move, the school I was enrolled in went under after almost 50 years in the industry. There was and still is another program, The Musician’s Institute, but I was so emotionally devastated, along with other dispositional issues, I abandoned the dream, the path and the plan outright.
Back then I was a pretty committed religious person, a holdover from my family of origin. Everything I did was cloaked and enmeshed with “G-d’s will” and other bondage and baggage. When I encountered the obstacle I bailed and figured G-d was either punishing me for a lifetime thus far of poor decisions or pointing out that I was indeed nothing special and not worth my needs being provided. In retrospect, this was the worst possible decision and outcome for me. There must have been workarounds. I had no idea what they were but I never really investigated what they might be.
Since those days, I’ve watched many a young musician cut through the crap and find ways to do what they love and are: musicians. Sure LA is full of frauds and counterfeits, full of wannabes who never make it for the sheer force of compression and limited opportunities. With the advent of the Internet, however, the work-arounds seem to have gotten a shot in the arm. So here I am again, facing a work-around or fail situation.
This time, older and presumably wiser, I’ve got a book of scribbled work-around possibilities, not the least of which are some local summer workshop and conferences. Funny thing about these opportunities, my undergrad advisor told me outright, “get thee to a workshop, two a year minimum.” She also pointed out as a parent I should be very diligent to choose based on scholarship opps and genre specifics.
Sounds like a plan for this year, part of the answer to the BIG question.