Archive for futility

How to Explain Your MFA Degree to Strangers.

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on July 19, 2011 by vprime

First, try not to. Tell people that you teach English or you work in a library or that you sell your own hair for money. Don’t tell them you’re a writer or you’re going to hear all about a great idea they have for a novel about a guy who does whatever they do who discovers he’s a sleeper agent for the CIA and has to have sex with lots of attractive Russian spies. If you slip up and mention grad school, just tell them you have a degree in English and leave it at that. Most people will at this point get anxious about their grammar and find an excuse to stop talking to you.

But suppose it slips out that you have a degree in creative writing. Perhaps it is germane to the subject, such as during a job interview. Don’t assume people know what creative writing is, even if this conversation takes place within what is nominally intended to be a writer’s group. People will ask if you write poetry. You should probably say no even if you do write poetry because they are expecting the sort of thing that’s printed on a Thomas Kincaid suncatcher. If you’re interviewing for a copyediting position the interviewer will just frown and say “Well, I’m afraid this job isn’t very creative. You just have to make sure the client’s name is spelled right.” If pushed further you can say you write fiction. They will believe this means novels. Leave it at that. Do not tell them you write short stories, or they will become confused and ask if what you write are “little vignettes” or “chapter books.” If you mention short stories, people may ask what they’re about. For the love of Margaret Atwood do not use the words “magical realism,” “feminism,” or “speculative fiction” when describing your works. Actually, don’t describe your works. Just say you write short stories about regular people doing everyday things.

If you’ve made the big mistake of saying you have a Master’s degree or even an MFA degree you may be in trouble beyond all redemption. Then you will be asked if you have an MBA. Say no. You will be asked why you don’t have a PhD. Don’t tell them that the years you spent on your thesis were terrifying, anxiety-producing bouts of writer’s block punctuated by the sure knowledge that everything you wrote was trite, derivative and dull; and that getting a PhD after that sounds about as tolerable as cutting your tongue off with a pair of safety scissors. Don’t try to explain the futility in getting a degree that would only render you even more unemployable. Just say something vague about not wanting to spend more years in school. You will be asked how anyone can get a Master’s in making up little stories or whatever. What did they teach you anyway? Are these teachers even published? If you use the word “workshop” you will have to explain that it’s more than just reading another student’s story and telling them whether you liked it or not. Do not be led down this path. If you are, you may have to use phrases such as “close reading,” “attention to craft” or “confined to the text.” These phrases will be like silly made-up words with no meaning. Say that you read a lot of books and wrote papers about them.

Do not attempt to clarify that your degree is a Fine Arts degree and as such you spent intensive time on language as an art form. Again, this will make you seem foolish or deluded since everyone knows words are just for Twitting and making passive-aggressive workplace notes. Do not identify yourself, nor let others identify you as an “artist.” If this happens, you will discover a great many people who wish to assist you in your creative endeavours by editing, marketing or collaborating with you on that Russian spy sex novel. Stop trying to explain to your mom that you didn’t write a dissertation. Don’t tell people that while you can get a job as a university adjunct instructor with your degree, working as a cashier at Target pays better. Stop imagining that it is somehow romantic that you don’t have a savings account. Collect rejection letters. Make out your checks to the student loan companies every month. Keep a journal full of ideas for more short stories. Read Nabokov on your breaks at work. Tell people you just like reading and leave it at that.