Thursday, January 17, 2008

Married, Young, and in an MFA...

R.P. asks...
I'm wondering, is anyone else married, young, and going into the MFA or already in it? I'm really interested in hearing about that experience.

As long as your significant other understands that you're going to be disappearing into the world of reading and writing a lot of the time there shouldn't be a problem. I'm currently in a low-residency MFA program and while I'm physically with my wife a lot more than I would be in a traditional MFA, I'm in a back room reading and/or writing a ton. I really believe that if you get into a program that demands a lot from you, your relationship will tighten or disappear. Sit down and talk to your husband/wife before getting into it and explain why you're doing it, where you're doing it, and make plans together so that your significant other is a part of the process. The more you value their opinion, the more they'll allow for your space.

Now, if you're looking for someone young, married, and in a traditional MFA program, good luck! :-)


Frode Barth-Winslow said...

I'm young, married, and have a bunch of applications in for traditional "hi-res" MFA programs. We're also having a baby in a couple months. This probably sounds crazy to many people... But we live in a university town, and moved here originally b/c I was doing a different grad degree that required about 10-12 hours of work per day, 6 days a week, with a "break" on Sundays (usually only had about 4-6 hours of work to do on Sundays). Most of our friends are young married couples who are doing similar things (i.e. either one or both of them are grad students). Most of them have babies in fact.

So I think it can be done. The spouse just needs to be supportive. You need to have really good communication about what each of your needs are. You need to be willing to do things like skip a gathering or a cool event to do something really mundane like vacuum and do dishes. It'll isolate you from other people in your program a bit, but it'll keep your spouse from resenting your busy-ness.

You also need to be willing to lose sleep. Honestly. Some nights you'll just have to stay up an extra three hours, at home, with your spouse asleep, and get your work done. Of course, you also need to make sure you have time to have fun with your spouse... Which you'll probably have to schedule...

I guess what I'm saying is, you need to be prepared to refuse yourself the luxury of wasting time. You'll need every waking hour you've got, and then some.

All that being said, my experience is that this has the potential to make you a much, much more dedicated student than most of your peers. The fact that doing the MFA will require daily sacrifices--if you're able to keep a positive attitude, which I personally have a huge problem with--will motivate you to get absolutely everything you can out of it in the time you're able to give it.

bpeyton said...

First off, congrats to everyone who got all their apps finished up! It's so comforting to hear others voicing the same stress factors and concerns that I've experienced during this process.

I, too, am married, 29 yrs. old, applied to 12 programs, and am facing the prospect of relocating with my husband for an MFA program (with fingers crossed for admission somewhere).

As a former elementary school teacher, I completely understand the scary prospect of leaving behind a regular paycheck to return to school, but I also couldn't be more excited about the possibilities. My husband will be working, while I spend the time studying and writing.

Good advice, Mike. As a newlywed, I agree whole-heartedly about needing to sacrifice personal down-time in order to make "spouse-time" a priority. My husband has been so supportive in his willingness to possibly leave behind his job, move somewhere new if necessary, and postpone starting a family until after grad school.

With spousal support and encouragement, I believe it can be done. It has to be, as a matter of fact. There's nothing else I'd rather do with my life right now.

So, here's to everyone out there who was brave enough to put everything on the line to pursue a life of writing, despite the odds.

Now, if I could just convince my mother-in-law that writing is an worthy profession...

R.T. said...

First, thanks MFA Blog contributors for giving this issue a platform.

I'm 22 and my husband is 27, we've been married for almost 2 years. What really helps is that he is completely supportive of my writing and is willing to put off his own PhD work until I finish an MFA program (if I get in!).

Like you both said, it's crucial that your spouse is supportive-- ant not just glum and going along with it.

This past year and a half, I put off further schooling to work and support him so he could finish his MA program. So we're taking turns.

I think it can be really tiresome if only one spouse is getting years and years of education while the other works and keeps moving around. I know of one couple where the husband has taken 6 years to get his PhD and they have 2 babies now.

Sacrifices are a given. It's easy to feel down, too, when money is running out or just very low. That's something we're experiencing even as I work. It's not always easy for a spouse to find a job, too, for the 2 years when relocating for the MFA.

Best wishes to everyone on admissions :)

me said...

It is nice to hear of others in the same boat and comforting to know that other people think this crazy thing we're trying to do (and hoping to get picked to do) is entirely worth it.

In my darker moments, I sometimes question the sanity of quitting a steady job and asking my husband to work, perhaps out of his field, so I can spend time with these imaginary friends I dream up.

Thanks for the solidarity, all.

I hope we all meet up at some fabulous writers' conference someday, touting our books and our sacrifices as badges of honor.

ryan call said...

im 24, been married 2 yrs, and im about to graduate from masons mfa program (as a fulltime student).

someone mentioned taking turns.
its doable.

good luck to the prostuds this spring

Alex said...

I've been out of school for 10 years, have a comfortable job, house, and a great relationship. Will it all blow up if I head off to MFA-land next fall?

We shall see! I need some excitement in my life. We've been through it once when she dropped out of work and went back to school...

Everything that's been said already rings true. Communication, concern for your partner, and an understanding that there needs to be room in your relationship for each person's growth and development -- those are all key. It can work.

Unknown said...

Well, I'm old, married, and working 40+ hours a week. I just finished my first low-res MFA residency. Since coming back my wife doesn't see a lot of me either. Neither do my dogs. And I haven't watched a single football game--tough now that the playoffs are under way.

No matter your age, relationship, child-rearing responsibilities, or job, writing means having to give up a lot of other things in normal life. That's true whether or not you're in an MFA.

Then again, consider Solzhenitsyn, stuck in the Gulag, with nothing to do but write. Some people have all the luck.

margosita said...

They have a thread at PW about relationships and MFAs and also balancing between MFAs and life. There is some good advice that is worth a look.

Unless the universe is truly and profoundly good to me and I get into Cornell, where my boyfriend is going to law school (or Syrcause, which is nearby!), I'll be going into my MFA progam in a long-distance relationship. So if anyone has advice applicable to that kind of a situation, I'd love to hear it.

realitywrites said...

margosita - could you please post the link or URL to that thread?

Jay said...

I'm so glad people are talking about this. A couple of months ago I posted a question about babies and MFA programs and people seemed shocked by the idea.

I'm currently finishing my Masters in Creative Writing at Northwestern, which is an evening program. I've worked full time at a pretty demanding job while in this program and my husband also has worked full-time at an even more demanding job while completing his MBA at night.

I've applied to 9 MFA programs and we are planning to go wherever I get in, and we are also planning to have kids during that time. It seems like a lot, but I think we will be able to make it work. We've balanced our careers, school, and friends and family for the past three years, so have faith - it can be done! The key is tenacity and time management. And allowing yourself to freak out every once in a while, but then getting it together again right after.

Babelle said...

You all are life savers. Alex and BPeyton--our situations are the same. It's so reassuring to know other people are facing the same worries. If I were single it would be stressful enough to leave a job and friends I like for two years of exhaustion and penury. Knowing it's forcing my husband to uproot his life and face the financial consequences, as well, is almost unbearable. Reading this post has reminded me that this is truly what I want to do.

bpeyton said...

Hey everyone, this mostly applies to the married applicants, so I'm posting my comment here...

I know there was some anxiety shared among the bloggers about transcripts not being received by schools. For the women: if you had a different last name on your undergrad transcripts than on your application-- that may be the problem.

Despite my efforts to note BOTH names on my applications, I discovered that seven of the twelve programs I applied to still had not matched up the documents. One admission’s personnel said that they are supposed to use both the last name and social no. to cross-reference all files, but it isn't always consistent. It turned out my transcripts were sitting in a little file all by themselves under my maiden name, while my application sat in another file marked "incomplete".

Overall, I was relieved that each person I spoke to at the programs was very kind and immensely helpful.

Hope this helps...

margosita said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
margosita said...


Rose said...

I have a very unique experience, and I'm hoping it will help others out there who are married and looking to pursue an MFA.

I am 23 years old and in a long-term committed relationship (not married). I live with my boyfriend in Washington, DC, work a full-time job in the city and attend an MFA program in Baltimore part-time.

From my experience, it hasn't been easy adapting to these changes. Commuting alone has put a slight strain on my relationship. I work 40 hours a week and attend class on Monday nights from 5:30-10:45. On a typical Monday, I leave my apartment at 8 a.m. and don't return until midnight. But I am making it work, and my writing is not suffering.

What's been helpful for us is honesty and open communication (cliche, but true). It also helps when your partner knows your intentions and supports your decision. This type of support is not just acceptable but necessary.

My boyfriend and I support each other primarily because our education is extremely important to both of us. I can't imagine being with someone who doesn't value my education/writing as much as I do. Luckily, he does. He also just sent in his doctoral applications, so we will both have another hurdle to go through soon.

If this post doesn't truly help you, I hope it at least gives you an example of someone who didn't think they could do it all -- but is doing fine.

malcontent said...

I've had the same problem with transcripts. Many of the schools I applied to did not match my transcripts to my file, because I changed my name upon getting married. I gave each school both names and my social security number, but this seems not to have helped much. This must be a very common issue, and I'm surprised that schools don't double-check these things. The scariest part is that few of them bothered to tell me my file was incomplete.

About the original question, I'm 31, married, and have a child. I agree that one needs to refuse oneself "the luxury of wasting time." I already stay up late most nights to get my writing done, and I imagine that won't change. And while I would like to socialize with other people in the program and make friends, I know my time for pure socializing will be limited.

My husband believes in my writing and wants me to do this. Every once in a while, he feels overwhelmed by the amount of time I spend writing, but, overall, he understands.

It's all about making writing a priority and making time. It can be hard with children, but it can be done if you are not too attached to your sleep or leisure time. Good luck to everyone planning to balance multiple responsibilities.

Amy said...

I'm married, 40 years old, have three school-aged children, and am in the Rutgers-Newark program. My husband was also laid off one week into my program, and is now doing a consulting job that requires him to be away 4-5 days a week. I also work part-time.

It's hard. But it can be done. I have a lot more gray hair than I did in September, though. My mother-in-law died during my first week of the program as well, so I consider it a minor miracle that I made it through the first semester with my sanity intact. I rely on friends and babysitters on the nights that I have class or readings, and my kids cling to me on the days that I'm home, which makes it difficult to write (I usually try to read around them, and writing happens while they are at school or asleep). But it's been so worth it.

I don't sleep a lot and my house is a dump, though. My husband understands, though. He spent our entire honeymoon writing his Ph.D dissertation, so we're used to sacrifice.

Tiffany said...

I'm 28, married, and have a high energy 14 month old boy who has yet to sleep through the night. Despite my constant exhaustion and frustration at not being able to do any writing while I'm watching him (at least on my computer...if I let him near it, it's all he wants to play with), I'm not worried at all about getting through grad school under these terms. I applied to 12 schools, and the whole family will be moving to wherever I get in (hopefully we'll have a choice, though), and we couldn't be more excited. We live in Los Angeles now, and I only applied to schools in towns that are much more affordable than LA so that my husband doesn't have to work as hard to sustain our lifestyle. And we're willing to make sacrifices, too. I think that's the key -- make the sacrifices, keep doing what you love, and it'll work itself out. Oh, and stop thinking so much. Just do it.

Teaching Poet said...

What a great thread! You are all offering great advice.

I'm 27 and married and have been living in Boston. I've mainly applied to low-res MFA programs, but I have a few traditional programs I'm waiting to hear from.

My husband is now thinking about working on a PhD, which would mean a serious pay cut. I've also considered cutting back my hours at work so I have more time to write and glean everything I can from the program I choose. Money isn't everything, but it sure makes life more fun.

My husband is totally supportive and I support him working on a PhD; it's just a matter or who's going to support US in our nasty habit of accquiring more and more education (this will be my second master's degree...).

I wish that my spouse was willing to move so I could apply to more traditional programs, but he's tied to the universities that are dangling the carrot of a full-time professorship to end his adjunct miseries.

I've already been accepted to Queens of Charlotte and Vermont College. I'm waiting on other schools.

I know that we can pull through--we have friends who have a 1 year old and are both working on PhDs and are pretty much living in different states! But they're okay and I think we will be too. I like what Mike said about scheduling time with your partner. It makes a world of difference.

Unknown said...

This is regarding the MFA and marriage.

I live in the San Francisco Bay Area and finally met my most wonderful life partner a month before NYU called me with an MFA acceptance last March. I deferred admission for one year so that I could get married--and so we could figure out what in the heck we were going to do.

The fall semester begins in August, and we are now making plans for New York. My husband's job requires that he stay in the Bay Area. I'm 37. We want children and time is shrinking. Talk about stakes.

The last two fertile years of life in exchange for an MFA? Well-timed, cross-country conjugal visits? My husband reassures me every day that he's there for me no matter what...but, I'm flummoxed.

LiliFlour said...

I'm 32, married, applying to low-residency programs and one traditional MFA in my area.

Day, I don't know what to tell you about the whole fertility thing. I suppose you could put some eggs aside now? Lord, I sound like I'm telling you how to make an omelet.

Why does it have to be NYU? Why not a local or low-rez program?

Bess said...

I'm 33 and not married but committed to my kid's daddy. We have 3 kids, 4, 2, and 9 months. My oldest will be starting school when we move (assuming I get in one of my schools, oh please please please), so I could only look at places I would feel comfortable sending her to school. Plus I can't afford to apply to more than the 4 I am. If I don't get in, I'll try next year. My boyfriend is also going to school and we are used to being broke and busy. He is incredibly understanding and though I know it is going to be hellish, I don't doubt it can be done. It will also be an adventure, as all but 1 of the schools are out of state, and 2 very far away.

Though I know it's going to be difficult and I am going to stress myself sick a lot, I'm willing to take the chance. After 10 years of serving, news writing, executive assistantships, and medical transcription, I know what I want.

I also think the life experiences of divorce, having kids, and just being a little older are not disadvantages. Without the last 10 years of working and thinking and living, I wouldn't have developed the voice I have now.

So I'm nervous as hell but mostly awaiting my hopeful admission with alacrity!

Unknown said...


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