It’s important to not lose sight of what you do.
Grad school can be a lot of doing what you’re supposed to be doing and reading who you’re supposed to be reading and thinking the way you’re supposed to be thinking. Any education is that way. And I don’t mean to sound like I’m complaining about it. I would have never been introduced to Susan Howe or Douglas Kearney or a lot of fantastic authors and ways of writing and reading if I hadn’t kept with school.
As important as it is to dedicate yourself to an education it is just as important, after all of that is come to a close, to make sure you still know how to act, read and think for yourself. If you don’t, that degree is no more than that ‘piece of paper on the wall’ people act so nonchalant about when going over their scholastic or academic achievements.
After my M.F.A. I took a serious break.
I might have gone out for a couple drinks with former classmates, but I calmed down that pressing need to complete work, whether writing or reading, and attend to this or that requirement for poets.
I needed to take time to myself to re-establish the what and the why of poetry. At least, I needed to re-affirm that I love what I have said I love since I showed my first poem to the Destroyer.
A main reason I took a step back was that I was worried if I had just kept doing what I thought I was supposed to do or what everyone else was trying to do, I would just end up unhappy and trying, rather than doing. The American dream seems to be synonymous with working endless hours and never taking a second to reflect, but I think that’s b.s.
Did I need to race after the dream job right away? No. Bills weren’t gonna go anywhere, and I could work part time and concentrate on my own stuff. Did I need to give up on my dream of publishing a book of poems to get a “real job” and make more money than I ever thought I would need? No. Corporate business and I disagree at fundamental levels (except on prices of dryer sheets and Oreos, omfg). Did I need to do anything other than to work at feeling certain in what I have loved all along? Fuck no.
There is this freedom after finishing an M.F.A. that is so brilliant.
You spend years working yourself to the marrow bone to make your craft exceptional and to fill the pages of your books-I’ve-read journal and then, suddenly, you have all this empty space where professors and peers had been giving you things to write and to read. And it’s all yours.
There’s no one there to tell you what’s due or when. There are no books you have to read. You get to do it on your own, to your heart’s content, without anyone looking over your shoulder or expecting something of you. No papers to write. No presentations to give. Nothing needing defended or shared.
You are free to just live in it.
I used that freedom the best I could. After a while, it felt like I was back in middle school with my little green notebook, writing my little heart out. There wasn’t anything to worry about or to consider. I was just writing. And reading went about the same.
At home, I read books I would have never heard about in school. I read books about starting a business, how the mysterious beast of social media works and I even checked out from the library a few cookbooks (black bean quinoa, anybody?). I read about how habits form and about real magic in medieval times and histories of ideas and discoveries and I read about all the things I’d wanted to have time to read but never could find the time to sit down with.
Of course, I did have bills to pay, so I found work as I think poets tend to, at a whim. I guarded galleries at an art museum for a couple months, blogged about things I knew would never last just to see how blogging went (which didn’t pay any bills whatsoever), thought about starting a few different businesses (which made very little money) and lead a poetry club that had a total of two elementary school students in it (paid a little).
das Gedicht…behauptet sich am Rande seiner selbstPaul Celan
Or The poem defines itself at the edge of itself. From Celan’s Meridian speech.
After my M.F.A. I put myself at the verge of new and out-of-my-element things just to see what the edge looked like, and I’m all the better for it. Did that part-time museum gallery guard gig work out? Nope. Did interviewing for direct marketing, or sales, jobs change my mind about how I want to make money? Nope. Did keeping a calendar and using that weekly checklist make me into a dull, worrisome and less-poetic type of person? Nope. In fact, because of that calendar, I get more writing done every day and I can see right in front of my Oreo stuffed face that I exercised exactly zero times since starting to keep track. Good to know.
In my experiences of disconnection from the familiar, I discovered how much I crave and thrive on writing and reading and how much I need to connect with people in those things. I admit, I’m slow on the personal side of things, but that’s been a long road regardless.
My love of poetry has been rejuvenated.
Since that period after grad school, I’ve written multiple manuscripts, have kept in touch with writer friends and I’ve started actually wanting to go to readings (now, if my calendar would sync up with those readings!). More than that, I’ve started reading poetry in a way that I feel like was kind of lost in the critical eye of school training.
In my M.F.A. I wanted to be out of the program. Out of the program, I want to be outside of reality. Whatever it is, there is always somewhere else to be. The important thing is that my desire to be somewhere else is explored.
After wandering around a bit, not sure of where to go, I can honestly say that getting lost is the best way to figure out where you are.
I can say now, two years out of my M.F.A., that it really was meant to be, so long as our schedules don’t conflict.