Saturday, September 12, 2009

Then and Now: MFA v. PhD So Far

It's hard in these first weeks of my PhD to not think back to those first weeks of my MFA. Part of me admits an emptiness. Athens, Ohio, is a good place than people swear by, and I like it, I do, but it's not Montana. I love you Montana. And I will continue to drive with your expired tags on my car until the Ohio DMV carts me away.

And I miss my friends. I miss stumbling around Higgins, the intrepid forays into remote Montana bars, the nervous sweat of that first workshop table as we wondered if this MFA meant we could really be writers. I have talked to other MFAs and Post Traumatic MFA Disorder is a candidate for the DSM IV. It's taken me a year to level out.

This time around the giddy factor is way lower. When I got my call from Judy I was floating for about six months. The call from Ohio was more of a relief. I had somewhere to go before seeking employment from Lucky Dogs.

And stranger, somewhere along the way, I suspect with all the moving, I lost my social phobia and became reasonably well-adjusted at meeting new people. Say whaaa??? Or maybe the last year just completely broke me. I have given up so utterly, so completely that now life can begin.

People always said I seemed happy and confident but it was a painted shell, I swear. Maybe the smile on my face finally froze that way. I'm still absorbing the shock of this transition. The problem now is that most writers and academics are all socially malformed. This occurred to me at the last get together, as we stood eyes shifting, gripping plastic cups of Yellowtail Chardonnay. But at least I know now if someone acts snarky, or self-absorbed, or incapable of looking me in the eye, that this has nothing to do with me and more to do with did somebody forget their Lexipro today?

O, writers.

Socially adjusted or no, don't worry. I'm not about to chant the Kappa Gamma pledge. I'm still in search of the pariah smokers, and the person (yes, you there, hiding in the study) scraping the inside of her arm with a pin. These people shall always be my true loves.

It IS nice coming into a program with some success. If anyone tries to get snooty I can wave the Fall Gettysburg Review in their pinched little sorry face. For my MFA, I felt much more like I had to prove that I belonged. In quiet moments, alone, I feared my acceptance was a total fluke. I shook for weeks in fear my first workshop submission and couldn't look at my typewritten responses for weeks after.

I feel pretty seasoned now. Leathery, even. As I watch first years scurry to recreate the Fresh Comp wheel, I know I will simply churn through the syllabus so I can get home to write. The irony being, now that I'm relaxed in front of my students instead of hyperventilating in a paper bag, that I'm more popular teaching rhetoric than I ever was showing movies.

1 comment:

JayTee said...

great post! thanks for sharing. as someone who just started an mfa, who tosses around the idea of continuing on for a phd, i appreciate this.