I spent yesterday pretty much entirely in preparation for the MFA kick-off party. The focaccia was fun to make — apparently my muggy apartment is the perfect environment for yeast bread — and there was only one complication. I had decided to make two, as I knew there would be a large number of people at the party and I wasn’t sure what the expectation for quantity would be. In this case, I definitely overestimated, but that was fortunate, because the focaccia on the lower rack in the oven got a little burnt. I rescued it before anything too terrible happened, but I didn’t want to bring burnt food to a party. So I’m cutting it into pieces and freezing them for later because I don’t mind a little carbon on my food. Yay leftovers!
This particular program — and MFA programs in general — is kind of famous for its parties and I can see why. We basically took up an entire neighborhood block, including the front of lawn of the Director’s house, his daughter’s house, and several homes that are often rented by MFA students. The school police came through a few times and told us we had to stay on the lawns with our beer or we would be charged with public consumption. Apparently this happens with fair regularity.
I met just about everyone in my year — there are 12 of us total, I believe — and was happy to find everyone is as excited and nervous as I am. We hung out and drank beer and ate food and got to know one another. By the way, my job from last year makes excellent small-talk. I met two of our professors. It was a relaxed atmosphere. People broke off into little groups, but they weren’t exclusive and I wandered throughout the night (read here: 7 hours). I am one of the youngest people in the program, but not the youngest, which is nice. I think there will be an interesting mix of approaches and ideas in workshop.
(Tangent: I did observe that I was the only one, or one of the only ones there, who went to a small, private liberal arts school for undergrad. A lot of my classmates were from UNC. It wasn’t uncomfortable or anything, but it really emphasized for me that the experience of the SBC student is uncommon. A few times I discussed the SBC English & Creative Writing faculty’s involvement in my application process and the listener was always surprised by how much interest they took and how much time they spent helping. The program here is small and intimate, but that’s what I’m used to, so I think my acclimation process will be different — not better or worse but different — than my classmates’. I’m not usually all gung-ho SBC, but it was an interesting realization to have.)
The alumni outnumbered the current students by at least 2-to-1 so I also met a fair number of grads, who told great stories and gave solid advice.
The best was later in the evening, delivered by one alum who wasn’t all that steady, but gave (unexpectedly?) the most thoughtful comments of the evening:
(1) Don’t overdo it on the alcohol.
(2) Take advantage of what you have here, because you will never get this much time to write again.
(3) Find the 4-5 classmates whose opinions you really respect and establish a connection with them, because you will have those readers for life.
I’m going to carry the last two around with me because I often get asked, “Well, what’s the point of the MFA?” or “What job can you get with that?” It’s a difficult degree to explain because it doesn’t get you that professional edge the way other Masters degrees do.* It gives you two vital things as a writer: (1) time and (2) a community. And I know I’m probably not stopping here with degrees. I have other interests. But I have these two years to work hard on my writing and I am going to make the most of them, certainly.
Anyway, in other words, the semester’s off to a great start and I am truly excited for classes to start tomorrow.
*I’ll talk about this system a little later. There’s a lot of debate in the literary community about the decreasing value of the degree.