"Let us not be ashamed to speak what we shame not to think."
-Michel de Montaigne

Thursday, October 21, 2010

To MFA or not to MFA? That is the question...

You know, there is something to be said for people who get out there and make it without the vestige of the almighty M.F.A, aka the 'I'm a mother-f*#&in-artist-so-recognize' degree, or Master of Fine Arts.

I think there is some sort of pull-yourself-up-by-the-bootstraps romanticism about it that appeals to us. A sense that this person was either so wildly talented and/or ambitious that they cheated the system and went blazing into anthologies everywhere without paying tuition to learn the craft. Who am I talking about? William Faulkner, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Ernest Hemingway to name a few. But it's the same with any profession--we love a good underdog story. How many times must we read about Michael Jordan getting cut from his high school basketball team? Or Einstein failing Math?

Why? Because these stories give hope to the average person that they too, could be a genius, a basketball prodigy, or a literary great who just hasn't been discovered yet. But some part of me thinks this kind of legend-leeching gives people false dreams. There will never be another Einstein, after all.

I love this picture that I've coupled with this blog post because in some ways I feel like this explains the curse of a writer, or at least, a creative person: "Just because you are unique doesn't mean you are useful." Ouch. Some part of me recognizes that this must be true. I am not performing life-saving surgery, or even helping someone save 10% or more on their car insurance--I'm writing. Writing about things that, in many cases, never happened.

I think getting a MFA is part of this fear, and maybe that is why I'm seriously considering it.

Don't get me wrong, MFAs open doors and create a certain caveat when you are publishing and speaking and doing all the peripheral puffery that comes with writing--particularly poetry. BUT. Why else get it if you weren't afraid of being useless? Jobless? Without insurance? Without prestige? Some people, granted, do it to become professors; but I think if they were honest, they'd tell you they'd rather be holed up in a cave (or bar) writing their magnum opus without having to grade scores of terrible student first drafts.

So maybe I'll MFA and maybe I won't. I'm leaning toward won't. But who's to say? I want to be useful and talented. I need health insurance too. Just remind me to delete this blog post before I apply to the Iowa Writer's Workshop or Vanderbilt...I can't have an Admissions staff Googler reading this and ruining my statement of purpose.

Though I did fail English one semester in high school. And wouldn't that make a lovely addition to Michael Jordan, and Einstein, and Hemingway? Har. Har. Har.

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