8.05.2009

The burning question might be more of a burning itch the poetry world should get looked at

Things I could have assumed about my future before going into an MFA program:

> All it would prepare me to do is teach college.

> I would never look back at approximately 95% of the poems I wrote during those years.

> Although I would learn to put together a book manuscript, I would not write a publishable until I'd written three more manuscripts.


I feel like I was one of the fortunate ones in the end. I had no idea what I was doing when I was applying to programs, and I ended up working with some very student-centered faculty in an expansive, multi-aesthetic embracing program where we were encourage to be colleagues, not competitors, for most of my time there (some external factors did intervene in the end).

I also plunked down an embarrassing amount of money in order to fund that degree. I had a lot of personal debt and went from earning a slightly-above-measley salary in the corporate world to earning room, board, and a miniscule stipend.

It's no fun thinking about poems when your car loan creditor has your phone number on speed dial, and when you're wondering if you'll wake up one morning to discover your only mode of motorized transport in a huge car town has been repoed.

So when I took out student loans, it was partly to pay my tuition, yes, and it was also an attempt to move all of my high interest credit card debt into a consolidated low-interest loan that I will pay off until I've completed my dutiful 10 years of service in the government/nonprofit sector--the only good thing George W. Bush did while leading this country.

But when I consider my life following my MFA, I can say with certainty that I would not have the job I have now, nor would I have amassed the many years of leadership and management experience I gathered to get this job, nor would I have gotten the job at ASU that allowed me to get (almost) another master's degree for free while I worked there that directly contributed to me getting this job.

I call it "Buy one Master's, get one free!"

And when I think about a comparison of "lost wages" from leaving the corporate world versus what I've now earned since, my degree program--and related job experience since--directly contributed to more than earning back anything I gave up. (Except the debt! But thank you, Direct Loans.)

But what about my happiness factor, doing something I love in an industry I love, versus doing something I was kinda interested in for a huge, hulking, soulless corporation that built pretty buildings?

That seems like a no brainer.

But I think most of my relevant education about poetry and writing came after my MFA. My MFA taught me how to devote myself to writing. I used that learned devotion to read voraciously and engage with other writers, and to take myself seriously.

And, well, I can think of at least one non-university place you can do that, for a lot cheaper than the cost of an MFA...

1 comment:

  1. You know, I often think about the same things you're talking about here. The student loans for the arts degree...what that degree actually trains you for...

    I've been thinking about it a lot in the context of health care reform. The one thing that kept me from adjuncting and trying to build a life that could continue supporting my writing in the way I had in grad school is that I am screwed without my insurance. It's amazing how few choices creative people truly have in that scenario. And sad.

    I'm not actually complaining. I enjoy my job and the PhD work I'm doing now in a completely different field, but I wonder what things would have been like if I could have committed to the kind of jobs that don't give you health care...

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