The Rodney Dangerfield of graduate degrees, the MFA in writing gets no respect, like what is this guy so angry about and even those with the degree have been known to disparage it. But this consensus mostly comes from literary circles in which I’ve come to travel.
This summer, I returned to my tennis instructor job in New Jersey, and discovered the MFA afforded me a surprising amount of professional respect from colleagues at the club, former students, and new students.
Of course, not yet being published can be tricky. On first dates, women take stock and ask if I’ve been published. I can’t wait to say yes one day, and mention some incredibly obscure journal. At the moment, I temper my response by explaining the different levels of rejection one receives from literary magazines. (the standard reject is a generic rejection letter sent to the overwhelming majority of submitters, nice reject is given to maybe the top one percent and includes some positive words and encourages the writer to submit again, a personal reject will have actual ink from an editor) and mention that I’ve received a few “nice rejects” and maybe even a “personal reject” since the line can be blurry.
Earlier this week I was accepted with a partial fellowship to the Vermont Studio Center. So I’ll certainly be mentioning that on future first dates.
Speaking of first dates, once I reveal I’m working on a novel, women tend to ask, “So what’s it about?” After some hemming and hawing, I explain the premise: A guy in his late twenties, who grew up in an affluent white suburb, got off-track after graduating college, rebelled by joining a band and started delivering Chinese food instead of getting a career oriented job, finds his life in upheaval after his long-term girlfriend dumps him and he ends up getting drunk at a work-party and going home with a young girl who may or may not be eighteen. Not bad, right?
Turns out, everyone assumes I’m describing myself and not my main character. Yes, I’m from an affluent New Jersey suburb, yes I didn’t begin a high paying career job after college. Okay, so I guess I am a bit like my main character, (except for getting dumped by a long-term girlfriend and going home with a girl who may or may not be eighteen) but I see my character/narrator as very separate. I created him basely loosly on a friend with a little bit of me thrown in, but after a month or so of writing, he became wholly distinct. The more I wonder, the more I realize I should accept he is a part of me.
A famous writer, when asked if any of her characters were her, said, “Honey they are all me.” I suppose that’s as true as anything and as good a time to end this post as any.