On the MFA – Creative Writer, I See

In short, an MFA in Creative Writing & Literature is not recommended. It’s nice networking— many of your instructors will have taught some of the greats and will in fact be some of the greats, but like all creative spaces there is a fantastic degree of subjectiveness to which the weak hinge their self-worth. A number of would-be writers leave MFA programs abruptly after receiving criticism, the abandoned chapters haunting till this day the few readers having connected to characters and words of abandoned works.

If you are a creative, your MFA course of study will require the type of classes you loved as an undergraduate and this isn’t math; there are no definitive right or wrong answers. If you rub someone the wrong way in the arts, you can be crossed out like a big x in a tic tack toe box, with no accountability on the part of your instructor. 

Then there is the fact that you, as a student, are an instructor in your own right. Peer critique weighs on your shoulders in the knowledge you may indeed play a part in someone leaving the program because the oh-so-many voices are just too much. One cannot control how sensitive others are to criticism. Take it like a champ say some; get a little bruised—it builds character. Remember everyone hasn’t walked the same line, had the same experiences. If you are currently a matriculated MFA student, ask yourself: “Who are they to tell me about me?”

During my time as an MFA student, I was a single mother of three daughters freshly relocated from the Midwest to the best city in the world, and commuting to Southampton for class. Money was very tight in those days; there were times I couldn’t afford a cab from the jitney stop to the university, or vice versa (shout out to Matthew Miranda and Michal LoCourto for the help!), and there were times I made executive decisions I believed would lighten my load. These were small choices, like stealing Sprite from a restaurant when I was supposed to be filling my cup with water.

From the Jitney to the university was a long walk and on that day of theft all I really wanted was two ninety-nine cent sandwiches. Should I really chuck up four extra dollars for a combo meal consisting of disgusting fries and diabetes causing pop? I once read somewhere businesses pay a few cents for each soda sold to consumers. Talk about a killing. For restaurants with disposable cups, the real cost is in the containers. The water cup was the size of the rinse/spit cups used at a dentist office, worth about four gulps. As a non-soda drinker that was enough to help settle my stomach. Only I went back for more, and as I did I noticed a lady with children watching me. Yes, I’m filling my cup with soda. Twice. Does your dad own this joint? Am I decreasing your generational wealth? Because my generational wealth is running out fast trying to earn a degree in an expensive city from a program that offers it’s writing students no stipends or significant financial support. Yes, constructing fresh perceptions and insight, that’s what each MFA’er is tasked with doing for ourselves and each other. We shan’t hold a corporate perspective if we are to write character-driven; and don’t you know not to judge your characters?

It’s even worse when it’s an employee acting as watchmen for a corporation, as if papa owns the company and they can’t cut you any breaks. Like when I went to Barnes and Nobles that same morning and asked for change for a twenty. “Can you break this for me, please, so I can have exact change for the Jitney?”

“My register only opens for cash transactions.  When that’s the case, I can.”

“Ok, great.”

In the meantime I look around unsuccessfully to see if I can purchase something. Not happening—I’ll be bamboozled if I pay $9.95 for a book mark.  We were in a recession, after all.

Great, the register opens at the teller next to him.  “Oh! Hey sir, do you mind giving me change for this twenty?”

“Oh, no, I can’t.  I could see if it were a dollar or something; I could give you four quarters.”

Well, thanks fairy.  You’re just awesome.  I hope making a moment in my life just a little bit more difficult makes your day brighter.

I check the price of a small object—cat magnets. They’re cute.  $14.95. Yeah, right.

To the MFA’er: inspire me a little, you know?  Who in my program walked I don’t know how many miles from the jitney to Southampton with eyes and nose cicles just to make it to class? I was two dollars short of a taxi ride on that particular winter day—the same two dollars I’d given a cabdriver in tips earlier the same the week.

It all comes down to the dollar. How about the time I held on to my last $10 for dear life since the bank had all my funds tied up. That, too, was a case of an employee being a little too faithful to Big Daddy Employer.  By bank processing I can barely make it to class because my funds—which were in a student account—wouldn’t be released until the next day. You know my money can be transferred into my savings, but you won’t click those few buttons to do it. Do you think New World Order bank cares about, you, Miss “I’ve been working here twelve long years”? Trust me, they don’t. 

So I graduated with a 3.98, a sore disappointment for an MFA graduate. I made one comment in one class in which one of the professors ran away, and before I knew it I’d been singled out by the class aid and ended up with an B, later increased to an A-. Apparently, I’d bothered her with my criticism of her work and she thereafter held a sourpuss countenance every time we met. Happiness should be a required characteristic of anyone in a position of authority.

Why? Because people abuse power. They abuse power because they can and–if they’re bitter, they take great pride in their ability to make others uncomfortable, in watching them squirm. “Yes, I can lie about your attendance.” “No, I cannot give you change.” “No, I won’t click those buttons even though I see clearly the funds are available.” How predictable it all became. And I think it’s pretty sad when you can predict the actions of others. Did anyone ever love a predictable character or plot? And that, dear lovely, is why I cannot recommend pursuing an MFA. Your parents were right: get the engineering degree.


  • Margery Hannah

    “A writer writes, aways.” (Larry Donner, Throw Mama from the Train) The musings of Margery Hannah, a multi-genre writer, on an array of subject matter through a literary lens. Every raindrop has a story.

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