On May 19, 2012, I graduated from Hamline University with a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing.
What a writer does after completing an MFA program, depends, of course, on the writer. I have friends and colleagues who are—let’s assume everyone is writing or trying to write in the midst of their crazy lives—teaching, founding small presses or literary journals, writing reviews, blogging, having babies, moving to new states or returning to their home states, and getting stories, essays, and poems published. Oh, did I mention blogging?
C Lee Tressel is moving back home and blogging about it here. Charlie Broderick is reading every book she owns and blogging about it here. Jenny McDougal and Kate Glassman are starting a literary journal, Versus. Renee Beauregard Lute has a new baby and is blogging about it here. She is also writing reviews for The Review Review and getting her stuff published. Lots of former MFA students are blogging. It seems to be all the rage. Or at least, it keeps us writing in a way that feels somewhat connected to the outside world. We hope that our former peers are reading some of what we have to say so that we don’t feel completely cut off from the supportive community we formed at Hamline University.
I think it says a lot about the quality of Hamline’s program that 1. students form a supportive (not competitive) community, 2. we want to remain a part of it after we leave, 3. we are driven to not only seek publication for the body of work we generated while in the program, but we want to be active members of the literary community at large (see the journals, presses, radio shows and reading series launched by Hamline alumni. Oh, did I mention blogs?).
Back to feeling cut off. Isolated. Alone in the world. We all know that writing is a solitary task. It requires countless hours of time sitting alone in front of computer, slaving over the right word. And punctuation! Writers are punctuation nuts. If you have writer friends on Facebook, notice how many grammar humor posts come up in your feed. Never mind that I write fiction, I pride myself on proper use of the semicolon. Ellipsis versus em dash? I rock it. One of the first things I noticed when I met Jenny was her tattoo of a semicolon; I openly admired it as a writer’s affection for a particular symbol that marks the flow of language. (& aren’t ampersands lovely?) The thing about writing is that if you are not part of a community, you are alone, which is why we are all driven to remain a part of an active literary scene. Maybe some of my peers have never felt isolated. I realize I generalize. So, let me say that once one is part of a community like the one at Hamline, one does not want to be cut loose in the world without friends and colleagues.
So, here I am on my little raft, cut loose. MFA complete. Life resumed. What am I doing now?
Since graduating in May, I have applied for two grants, developed a course on gender, taught said course at Hamline, formed a writers group with some fabulous Hamliners, and begun training a service dog. This is it, folks, the great crossover event: read about Seva at The Wonder Dog Blog. (Did I mention blogging?) It turns out that training a service dog is a full time job. It is like having a baby in that she needs constant supervision. For the first two-plus months I did not get a solid night’s sleep—I’m still recovering from the resulting exhaustion. There is worry and illness and biting. Lots of biting. Babies don’t bite their parents. The unforeseen consequence of taking on a dog is that I have had no real writing time since graduating. I’ve never had a dog before. I did not know that if I want to work at my desk, she needs to be in a crate. If I don’t want to crate her—and I don’t like to crate her more than absolutely necessary—I need to work at the dining room table. There I sit, ergonomically incorrect, and monitor her activities across the kid gate. If she’s napping (like a baby), all is well. If she’s jumping at the counters, whining to go out, scratching the woodwork, or incessantly squeaking her toys, well, I’m screwed.
Besides the constant supervision, being a service-dog-in-training means that I cannot dump some kibble in a bowl and walk away. I have to get out the kibble and clicker, ask her for a behavior, wait for it, click it, then feed her a piece of kibble. She eats about three cups of food a day one piece of kibble at a time. It is a labor of love and one I do not regret. I am still figuring out how to balance this new commitment with my commitment to writing. The take-away lesson: O’ Writers, be careful how many labors of love you take on and when!
As I find this balance, I will write more about writing. And if I’ve been gone awhile, check out The Wonder Dog Blog and you’ll know why!
Get Your FREE Guide to ReVision
Join hundreds of Word Essential writers to receive inspirational writing tips and advice.