I keep reading on the internet about a “MFA postpartum”:
You have worked at your degree for 2 or 3 years, maintained a high level of productivity and stress, been around other writers, talked constantly about writing, taught writing, hammered out a thesis, and now you’re…done.
The job market is extremely poor. Your fantasies of being accepted for a fellowship or an academic teaching post are dashed pretty immediately (unless you’re a rockstar and went to Columbia and have already published a book or something, at which point, we all hate you).
You’re watching some of your peers go off to pursue Masters in other fields (ones with job potential after they graduate) or PhD programs in creative writing. You wanted your MFA to be the end of your educational career, but now you’re realizing that a PhD in Creative Writing may overtake your MFA, and you are wildly jealous of the fact that your peers enrolled in one are saving themselves from entering the pain and desolation of the job market for another 5 blissful years.
You go through a dry spell. No writing, no submitting, for some length of time. You wallow in self-pity, thinking, “I’M A TERRIBLE POET/WRITER/ESSAYIST!” Come August, you stalk the school supply section and ogle notebooks with creamy pages, ballpoint pens, and cleverly-patterned file organizers. You watch those who can afford to buy them (and have actual need for them) come and go. You weep uncontrollably.
You go through periods of insomnia. You hate your job (if you’re lucky to have one). You hate your apartment. Sweatpants start to be your go-to outfit on days when you aren’t working (and sometimes, when you are). You flounder. You stalk Submittable and Duotrope, waiting endlessly for decisions on pieces you submitted while you were still in your MFA program. When you get rejections, you mentally tack them up inside your brain and go to them whenever you’re feeling particularly irritable and self-hating. People find you increasingly and increasingly surly. Your writing ritual has now become a self-flagellation ritual of stalking the poets/writers/essayists who are doing better than you.
(Want to hear how this might affect you in the long-term? Read this.)
My graduation for my MFA has really thrown me off. My month-long stint in Spain was my last formal “class”, and the final portfolio I had to turn in by July 25th was my last graduate-level work, and then my commencement is August 12th. I feel like I’d already be farther along in the “grieving” process if I wasn’t in this weird limbo state of “I don’t have any more work to complete, but I still have several weeks before it’s ‘official.'”
Am I in a full-on MFA postpartum? No, not yet (and hopefully NEVER as bad as the above). I know that every time I’ve done something that was my “last” (LAST portfolio EVER! LAST graduate workshop EVER!), I’ve had a bit of a cry. I’ve also been feeling uncentered, like, “I was a MFA student for THREE YEARS, and now I’m a….what?” My writing ritual is still working. I’m still submitting (though it’s annoying in summer when all of the journals I want to be published in are conveniently closed). I have this book I don’t quite know what to do with yet, but I have it! I do feel disillusioned by fellowships and the job market for academia, but I’m grateful that I currently have a job that I do like, and I’m hopeful that something in that area will work out sometime down the road (who knows?). I also think that come August, when people do go out in hordes to buy massive amounts of notebooks and folders, I’ll cry again because I love school, have always loved school, why can’t someone pay me to be in school forever and ever and ever?
Why so hopeful? I read an article yesterday where the question the narrator continually asks herself is, “Do I have enough?” I do. I have enough. My life isn’t perfect, but wow, I’m about to graduate with an MFA in poetry, something I absolutely love. I have a writing ritual! A fancy blog! My husband and I are looking to buy a house in a city I never thought I’d commit to, but I might be committing to in a big, big way, and I don’t know how my life is going to end up, but it’s enough, right now, it’s enough. It’s all so much enough, that it’s pretty unbearably wonderful.