That’s my Mommy (a GREAT grandmother-to-be), my daughter-in-law (Leslie) and granddaughter (Evelyn, I believe) touching up above ... from yesterday’s Thanksgiving with Momma Stella ... where my son-in-law (Anthony) helped her with the wireless headphone we bought her (so she doesn’t get into anymore fights with her roommate).
Speaking of which ... from last week (the “fight”).
MSR = Momma Stella’s roommate.
MS = Momma Stella
MSR: Turn off that television, will ya’?
MS: Go take a walk.
MSR: All day and night with that thing.
MS: And what the hell else you want me to do? Watch you go to the bathroom fifty times a day?
MSR: I can’t stand it anymore.
MS: Go shit in your hat.
MSR: Oh, yeah? I’ll turn it off when you’re asleep.
MS: I’ll turn you off when you’re asleep. How’s that?
MSR: Why don’t you just get out and take your tv with you?
MS: Go fuck yourself.
I love my Mommy!
Last night I submitted my workshop pages for my upcoming last semester of school. If I thought one of my sons (Charles, not Charlie) turning 30 last week (11/19) was a blink-and-it’s-gone affair, two years of graduate school went a lot faster. MFA programs, for all the ridicule they often suffer, are a beautiful thing; one takes what one puts into them. For me, it’s not only been an adventure into literary writing, it’s been one hell of a catch-up on reading authors I never would've known without the program. The friends one finds and the overall sense of community are huge bonuses.
So, here’s my spin on MFA programs (versus common arguments against them).
1. You can’t teach someone how to write.
You maybe can’t teach someone how to write a masterpiece, literary or otherwise, but you sure can sharpen one’s skills. Unless someone is adverse to learning anything, one can always be taught something that progresses their skill levels. Does that mean they'll be publishable upon graduation? No, but the vast majority will be a hell of a lot closer than going it solo.
And ... “most” writers benefit from reading. Reading lists of any sort will ultimately improve any writer’s skills (subconsciously or otherwise). While one might garner as much benefit from a straight literary graduate degree, the fiction/non-fiction writing one does in an MFA program, (although there are research papers, critical essays, etc., as well) is obviously more in tune with their goals.
2. An MFA guarantees you nothing; is a worthless piece of paper, etc.
If one measures success in the form of dollars, pretty much any degree that doesn’t include the letters MBA, JD, MD, Ph.D, etc., is pretty much a worthless degree these days. Usually (my assumption here), when one opts for a humanities degree of any kind, they are in it for something other than the dollars. Teachers, contrary to the moron running Wisconsin, the tea party, Rush Limbaugh, et al, aren’t “in it” for the money. Teaching isn’t the way to riches. Becoming a hedge fund manager might be the way to riches. So might be dealing drugs. An MFA degree will likely not sit you behind the wheel (if that’s what it’s called) of a yacht someday. But ask the vast majority of writers how they earn their living and if they're honest, they’ll confess it isn’t from the sales of their books. I have a political science degree that didn’t do much for me when I was a window cleaner, or in any of the other careers I’ve had (legitimate or otherwise), but what I learned from the pursuit of that degree has obviously influenced every aspect of my life ... and life experience to any author is as invaluable as it gets.
On the other hand, if you’re looking for “guarantees”, the New York City Sanitation Department continues to have a much better retirement package than what authors can depend on. So does pretty much any municipal career, as well as the armed forces, offer better retirement packages than what the vast majority of authors will ever have.
I opted out of a union window cleaning job after ten years. It’s a pretty good gig, with a pension and benefits that extend into the life of the member, but I’ve never looked back. It just wasn’t what I wanted; playing it safe has never been an option for me.
Although half the reason I originally pursued an MFA degree was as a hedge against outsourcing in the field I’m currently employed, using my degree for future employment is no longer a concern. I’m enjoying all this school stuff way too much to want to stop. I’ll begin pursuing an MA in American literature within a year after graduating from the MFA program.
3. MFA’s are way too expensive and just another university cash cow ...
There’s no doubt education in general is way too expensive, especially in the richest country in the world. It is a beef I have with our economic system in general, but when in Rome, one needs to make decisions. To pursue something I want and opt for a more Spartan lifestyle, or go for the money, that is the question? Knucks (borrowing from Billy) says: To thine own self be true, amici ... to thine own self be true ...
As for the cash cows MFA programs have become ... yes, there’s no doubt they are cash cows. Universities across the country now literally recruit students for all of their programs for the sake of fattening their coffers, but unless a program (any program) is purposely engaged in blowing smoke (out and out fraud), then individuals pursuing such degrees are doing so of their own accord. I know of no university program that guarantees its students either publication and/or riches beyond their wildest dreams. While most MFA graduates may not find a publisher, something especially difficult these ebook days, what they learn about their craft will always be proportionate to what they’ve put into it, making the degree itself an accomplishment equal to their efforts. Such satisfaction may not be acceptable to those critical of MFA degrees, but that in itself is kind of the point. Quote the ugly Knuckster quoting Billy again: To thine own self be true.
For me, the MFA program I’m enrolled in at Southern New Hampshire University is another tool, another guide, and/or another step in a constant pursuit of what I love (writing and reading). Yes, reading too. I came in with a fairly good reading background (having played catch-up since I turned forty), but that background has been well expanded and will continue to expand. The financial cost of the degree (especially to a socialist), is irrelevant because I choose to make it so. At fifty-six, I’m sorry, but there’s not enough time left in my life to give a shit about the cost of something I want badly enough. Ten years ago I worked 6 and 7 days a week for a year and a half, doing 12 and 14 hour shifts on the weekends to put money toward a house that has devalued $50K since its purchase ... but I also bought a drum kit I enjoy playing from time to time to offset the pain of that devaluation of our “American dream”).
American dream my ass ... my dream (America has NOTHING to do with it) has been my wife, family and all the neat things I enjoy doing like working, writing and going to school. Getting an MFA in fiction and later an MA in American literature, should I live that long, will be further fulfillment of my dreams.
All of the above said, I do wish the programs (all of them), could add two full terms (making it a total of 8 semesters) AT THE SAME COST (i.e., freeze the cost and expand the length of the programs), but that goes to my feeling about education in general in America. Wouldn’t it be great if his words were treated the way I believe Mr. Lincoln meant them to be treated: a government of ALL the people, for ALL the people, by ALL the people?
So which moron is responsible for the NFL rule that states if a coach throws a challenge flag on a play that is automatically reviewed, they don’t review the play? Bad enough the replacement refs robbed Green Bay of a legitimate win early in the season, now we have the NFL rulebook doing the same. Unbelievable. Somebody should inform the geniuses in the league front office that football isn’t one of the other 3 major sports; the season actually counts for something. There are only 16 games, not 162 or 82 ... stealing a win from any team is a very big deal. That was one bogus TD, amici ...
And how ‘bout that RG III? A phenom, amici, pure and simple. But his speed is what will hurt him down the road. The kid is literally too fast for his own good. Watching him get tapped on his way out of bounds and seeing him roll for 10 yards was scary. This guy is destined for as much pain as he is greatness ... but he sure is entertaining. A GREAT athlete.
3 Cheatriot TD’s in 52 seconds vs. the Yets ... oy vey.
As for the Y-E-T-S, Yets, Yets, Yets ... oy vey, could it get any worse than yesterday? I called them the keystone cops about two minutes before Chris Collingsworth did on national tv. No, really, ask my wife. If I didn’t dislike their owner as much as their loudmouth coach, I’d want to see Ryan fired for turning out to be one big fraud. Lord knows how or why they did so well his first two seasons in Moonachie, but he’s turned this team into mud the last two years. I’ve gone from feeling sorry for the mismanagement of Mark Sanchez to feeling sorry for Tim Tebow. Moonachie Green is a disaster program and because all shit flows down, one has to believe it started at the very top: Owner, General Manager and Head Coach.
What can I say, I’m on a Stones kick this weekend ...
And the Principessa Ann Marie and myself still love this one by Harry Chapin ... speaking of great writing ...