Perspective: Why “to MFA or not MFA?” is the dumbest question I have ever heard
If I was given a nickel every time I mentioned I had an MFA in writing and someone told me in not so many words that it was not worth money, I would have paid my student loans off years ago.
First, I would never consider telling someone their dreams were worthless. Second, the debate is so tiresome. I understand people don’t want to “waste time” or “waste money” or “make a major wrong life step.” Still, to think that hard about it means those people who say mean-spirited stuff like “it’s not worth it” have missed the point altogether.
We hear the sentiment “If you do what you love, you will never work a day in your life” all the time, but when someone actually adheres to that as a life mission statement, we tell them it’s a mistake. It’s not worth it. Perhaps those who say that need to look within themselves a little deeper.
I didn’t make the decision to get an MFA lightly. I wanted a new direction, an authentic direction, not a direction someone else felt was good for me. I wanted to do something that moved me. I had dreamed of focusing on my writing in that way for a long time, but had been afraid for one reason or another. One day, I heard one of those Story Corps interviews on NPR. In this particular interaction, a husband was interviewing his wife. She had stage IV cancer of some type. I don’t remember now what type. He talked of her strength and how she had not let her cancer stop her from following her life dream of getting a Master of Fine Arts degree in visual arts. That story stuck with me. After hearing that story, I wondered why I was waiting any longer to follow my heart and do what I wanted. I dreamed of teaching and writing and being home more for my children. I dreamed of being in a wonderful community of writers and making lasting friendships. Mostly, I dreamed of doing something I was so passionate about that I would literally tell people who thought I was crazy to bag it.
Some did think I was crazy, but I had had a lifetime of being sane, of being the good girl and doing what good girls do. Good girls are practical. Good girls do what they are told. Good girls do something like major in something that everyone around them thinks will be good for them, even if everyone around them has no idea who that good girl really is. So, I embraced crazy. I embraced the idea that I’d read in Anne Lamott‘s book Traveling Mercies that you have to leap and the net will find you.
I lept. I went for it. I didn’t think about the stupid debate. I just knew that I would make the darned thing work for me because I wanted to do it. I learned that rather than fear that the net won’t be there, know that the net is always really there. I wanted to dive into the study of something I loved. I was tested in many ways. My first attempt at getting into schools failed, but I tried again and got accepted to two schools. That, of course, was not the most difficult test. Ironically, I was diagnosed with cancer in the midst of grad school. In the midst of working full-time, raising two children, and attending grad school, to be exact. I didn’t let it stop me. I finished. I did it. I wouldn’t change it or say it wasn’t worth it. I am doing what I love. I am writing. I am teaching. Do I still have loans? Yes. I’d have them if I did something others thought would be more “worth it.”
I posted a status on my Facebook page that says how I feel about this topic best. I posted it because I heard, yet again, someone who does not have an MFA tell me how worthless or useless it is to get one. I am proud of my MFA. I worked hard for it. I knew going into it that it was not the end all, be all to my writing career, but there is no end all, be all. There are only choices we make in the moment that help us see that this moment is all we have. We have to keep writing. We have to keep taking the path we know deep within is right for us.
Here is my Facebook status posted 3/2/13:
I got a Master of Fine Arts degree in writing because I followed my heart. I listened to the creative Crissy within. I got a bachelor of science degree in sports medicine because I was too young and naive to think for myself. In essence, I did what everyone thought I “should” do. I love words. I love inspiring others to discover they might love words as well. Nothing makes my life resonate more than spending a day working through even a single line of my novel. I have not taped an ankle in more than 20 years and I don’t miss it. I was never able to get a halfway decent job until I started writing. It baffles me how often I hear people tell me in not so many words how my writing degree is some how worthless. Not one person ever told me going into sports medicine wouldn’t be worth it. Perspective:/