I always love the last week of the semester because we spend the entire class reading student work. Throughout the semester, all of our classes are conducted in the same format: the students sit in a semicircle around the professor. But during the last class, we students take turns sitting in the professor’s chair when it’s our turn to read our work. I don’t know why, but this always seems to formalize the process: it reminds you that you are writing for a real live audience; that the words you compose are not for you alone. I think that in order to write effective fiction, you can’t ever forget that.
In both my classes this year, the caliber of fiction I heard was outstanding, and I felt really proud to be included in such a great group of writers. The diversity of voices and narratives reminded me once again just how many rooms there are in the house of art. I heard stories about broken families, death, love, pet stores, an ice house full of witches, an old man making his last run on a jet ski, the Marines, autism, classic cars, a taxidermist, baseball, and so much more.
After class, we went out to the bar(s) down the street from Columbia. I spent too much money, drank too much beer, and stayed out way past my bedtime. But that’s one of the best parts of an MFA program: the friends you meet. The obvious benefit of the program is that it’s helped to improve my writing, but another thing I’m grateful for is that it’s also helped to me step outside my normal social circle and get to know people from all over the country and from all walks of life. The friends I’ve made in my program are as diverse as their writing. It’s funny, because as a high school teacher I noticed how quickly friendships form for my kids over the course of a school year. Young people are constantly meeting each other and building relationships, some of which will fade, but others which will become lasting friendships. But when you grow up and become an adult, you have your established friends (and I’m lucky to have an amazing group of those already), but you don’t really meet new people or make new friends the way you once did.
But going to grad school, and especially arts school where it’s basically a requirement to lay your heart on the page each week, changes all that. I know that many of the relationships I’ve formed over the past two and half years, both with teachers and fellow students, will carry on in my life long after I’ve received my degree.