We’re getting jobs. We’re getting our stories published for the first time. We’re drinking champagne. We’re eating cheeseburgers on toast.
The little boy nodded more vehemently, and the mother lifted her eyes from her book and smiled, listening.
‘I bought her a rocking-horse and a doll and a million lollipops,’ the man said, ‘and then I took her and put my hands around her neck and I pinched her and I pinched her until she was dead.’” —It’s nearly Halloween and I’m writing a horror story, badly, and I wish I’d written “The Witch” but Shirley Jackson got there first.
- Autumn, 2004: Turned 18 in September. In early November, made t-shirts with Alice which said “Vote Kerry!” like that was a thing we were actually excited about doing. My t-shirt also included song lyrics of the “I am an adolescent with far too much knowledge about the 1960s” variety. Wore said t-shirt to vote for the first time (under a sweater). Watched CNN all night. Depression. Two days later, my roommate and I watched C-Span with her visiting mother, and after several calls from New Yorkers expressing their grief over the election’s outcome, my roommate’s mother scoffed, “I swear, sometimes I think these people forget what happened on 9/11.” Managed to contain horror.
- Probably did not vote in 2006. I’m trying to be honest here, people.
- January, 2008: Watched New Hampshire primaries while drinking pomegranate juice and champagne with my friends. Had an opinion of Hillary Clinton based almost entirely on Saturday Night Live sketches, which is to say—negative. Felt bad for Mike Gravel. Only 402 people voted for Mike Gravel in that primary. Still feel bad.
- November, 2008: Rapture! Fist-pumping! Hologram Will.i.am! Blowing noisemakers on the subway! Everyone shouting “OBAMA!” at each other! Copied this comment from the New York Times website onto my blog at the time: “The cup of God’s wrath is about to be poured out on a nation whose leaders and people applaud abortion and infanticide.” Ha ha ha! It’s funny because it does not set the tone for the political discourse of the next two years!
- The Next Two Years: Read the boring parts of newspapers, made faces at protesters outside of Planned Parenthood, watched Seasons 1-6 of The West Wing.
- Twenty Minutes Ago: Used this website to learn about candidates in my new home, Pennsylvania. 100% match with the Green Party.
I was going to answer this privately, and then I decided that what the world really needs is a passionate, impractical defense of MFA programs, written by someone who is feeling very defensive lately.
Anyway. Do you love writing? Do you love being around other writers? Do you need time to write and time to discipline yourself? Are you comfortable with the idea of having no marketable skills or anywhere near a guaranteed job in your future despite time (and possibly money) invested in a degree? Can you handle the criticism of family, friends, and the internet, should they view your life choices as foolish at best, PERSONALLY MURDERING LITERATURE at worst? If your answer to all these questions is yes, then I see no reason why you should not apply to as many programs as you can afford. That’s my main advice. My main advice to anybody is to follow your own foolhardy dreams.
But you say you’d go tomorrow if you could afford it, so you don’t really need convincing on this score, I’d imagine. The most common advice I received was “Don’t go if you don’t get funding” and “Choose programs based on writers you want to work with.” I followed neither of these excellent pieces of advice. That’s right! I paid for my first year of destroying American literature out of pocket (i.e., loans. My loan pockets). After that, I got a research assistantship that covers my tuition. If I was doing this all over again, I would probably apply to schools with better funding. I had an attitude of “I am going to follow my dreams AT ANY COST, LITERALLY,” and while I don’t regret going here, I was pretty hungry and resentful all last year. (This is pretty easily researchable via this book [kind of] and lists like this one).
The second piece of advice is probably a good one, too. I mean, in theory. I mean, if you don’t want to be listening to James Franco list his writing teachers on Fresh Air (AMY HEMPEL GARY SHTEYNGART SHUT UP FRANCO) and scoffing. But the best advice I’ve gotten has come from other students and writers whose work is nothing like my own. The best advice I’ve gotten has probably been when Chuck Kinder* told me to name one of my characters Elvis. Don’t apply to programs on the basis of having heard of all their faculty. That’s a good way to never learn anything.
Apply to schools in cities where you’d want to live for two to three years.
Study for the GREs for longer than one week.
Apply because you want to, not because you feel like it’s the only way to become a Real Writer. It’s not. It’s one of many ways to become a Real Writer. Never let anyone make you feel like if you do this, you are not a Real Writer.
E.B. White in The Paris Review
Maud Newton’s recent post on White is making me feel better about that story I haven’t finished yet that should have been done on Wednesday.
Kevin: Pretend you are Peggy. Or something. I’m out. Get it done. I’m counting on you Coyle. I’m Don Draper. Sorry babe. I can’t except love because my dad got kicked by horse. Accept. Sorry. A horse. I’m drunk. I’m out.