MFA! Now What?
A little over two weeks ago I graduated from Vermont College of Fine Arts (cue the confetti, balloons and back slaps). It’s a huge accomplishment, and a life goal ticked off the old bucket list. I should feel great. I should feel, I don’t know, complete? Instead, I feel a little like Sandra Bullock in Gravity. And like Sandra, I’ve had a chorus of Clooney’s whispering instructions in my ears, trying to guide me through this emotional apocalypse we call achievement (spoiler alert: I’m going to make it).
“Take some time off.”
“Keep writing every day.”
“Let your batteries recharge.”
“Form an accountability group.”
“Dance naked in the rain like nobody’s watching.”
Okay, I admit nobody told me to do that last one. Still, I feel a bit like the puck in a hotly contested game of air hockey. Now, I trust and love all the Clooneys in my life, but it would be great if they could get their messaging straight. In an attempt to find my own sense of equilibrium, I decided to reach out to the people who are going through what I am right now, my classmates (Holla, MAGIC IFs!). Here’s what they said.
“Learn to balance writing, work, and family in a way that hasn’t been possible for the last two years.”
Wow, balance? Wait, I have a family? Will they recognize me? This is an excellent point, and one I know my support system of family and friends has been waiting for. Unfortunately, this also raises the problem of protecting my writing time. Everyone understood when it was for grad school. Are they going to feel the same when it’s just for me?
“I need to keep the momentum going! It sucks to not have a brilliant and accomplished advisor to look so closely at my work, but in a lot of ways I feel prepared to be out there on my own.”
Wait, no higher authority is going to praise or reprimand my every word? (Hold me, I’m cold.) On second thought, I’m on board with this one. The work of the past two years transformed how I think about writing, reading and producing. My inner-critic’s B.S. detector has been honed to a fine edge. Even better, that inner-critic (sometimes) knows when to shut up and see how things turn out (thank you Mary, Tom, Rita and Garret). Momentum, here I come! After I finish this latte. And binge watching Battle Star Galactica (damn you, Cory!).
“I’ve heard horror stories about people not writing for months after graduation, and I didn’t want that to be me.”
Okay, to be totally honest with you, dear reader, this is my biggest fear. I know me. I know I could easily slip into complacency and wake up in August with nothing new on the page. This is the horror. At the same time, I’m prepared to face this fear, name it, and turn it into a cautionary tale, not a bleak reality. How? The same way you eat an elephant, or train for a marathon. One bite at a time (carbo loading is the best).
VCFA alumna Jill Santopolo talks about her ability to hit deadlines while working full time as an editor, training for a triathlon and teaching on The Narrative Breakdown, and it’s the same secret I heard from Rita Williams-Garcia: two pages a day. I won’t let the idea of finishing a novel intimidate me. Sure, that’s the goal, but I’ll get there two pages at a time. I can do that. So can you.
“I will miss advisors’ feedback and on campus workshops but I’m also feeling that it is time to be alone with my work.”
I love that phrase, “be alone with my work.” Isn’t that great? I may have something between me and my Calvins, but nothing comes between me and my novel (I’m writing commando). It was the whole point of chasing the MFA. I wanted (needed) to gain confidence to just write. I started writing with a purpose late-ish in life, after years of wanting without doing (can I get an amen?). I started getting good feedback on my work before VCFA, but I wanted something more. Something that would allow me to do what I now think I really was born to do. Write.
“Through the toll booth” is a phrase that represents transition. I’m living that transition, I’ve taken a giant step through the portal. I’ve found Narnia, Oz and Hogwarts.
Not even Netflix can stop me now.
Here’s your chance to weigh in with your experience. How have you lived your portal fantasy?
Help me, George Clooney, you’re my only hope.
Thanks to Kathie Quimby, Bonnie Pipkin, Callie Miller and Shelley Saposnik for the MAGIC IF advice. YAM!