You know that feeling you had when you were a kid? You'd go to bed on Christmas Eve, absolutely giddy at the thought of what tomorrow would bring. I remember going to sleep right next to the Christmas tree at my grandparents' house, convinced that I could stay awake to spot Santa leaving me, say, She-Ra's bad-ass horse, Swift Wind. And of course, I never could stay awake. The next morning, the magic spell would still be intact: the tree lit up and the toy I'd wanted so badly sitting there next to my overflowing stocking; everything was as close to perfect as I could hope for.
I've got to be honest. I didn't expect the MFA experience to be perfect. I did an MA program in a different field before this one, and when I finished, I was frustrated, seemingly more unemployable with my higher (though not terminal) degree, and without any real additional knowledge or experience to show for it. So, I went into my current program with open, even jaded, eyes. And you know what? They're losing their jadedness. I had serious concerns about burnout, or even my ability to write so consistently. I've always been the kind of writer who works when inspiration strikes. And that's usually only once every month or two. But being here, having a structure and deadlines, specific forms to adhere to? I love it. More than I ever thought I would. One semester in, and I'm still having fun.
In the last few weeks, I've seen Margaret Atwood, Aimee Bender, Tom Sleigh, Carl Phillips, and Kate Daniels read; I picked up former New Yorker poetry editor and current PSA president Alice Quinn from the airport; a fellow poet and I chatted with Tom Sleigh one morning about poetry, The Life of Brian, and the state of Syria and Lebanon. The weekend before last, all of us students attended an all-day symposium about work opportunities outside of academia with four published writers with MFA's who now work in different fields (while still publishing). Last week we all went out for drinks with Carl after his reading (which he said was lovely and something many programs don't do). And last night, before her reading, we all went out for Indian food to celebrate the publication of Kate's new book, and then heard her read her challenging, unflinching, amazing poetry.
All of this is to say that every damn day feels like Christmas here, if your favorite kind of Christmas is one filled with books and other people who love writing. Even when I'm writing a paper about how a stanza works in a poem or forcing myself to learn the form of a rondeau, or spending hours staring at one poem with no idea where to go with it: all of it contains a little bliss. And I really think being here is the best-case scenario.
When I applied to schools, I tried really hard not to get attached to any of them preemptively. I chose only schools I felt I would genuinely be happy at (primarily based on location and funding). I didn't spend much time researching faculty, because it's such a craps shoot where you'll get in. I'm lucky to have ended up with teachers whose work I admire and whose teaching skills I appreciate. For those of you currently in the application process, one thing I learned was to shoot high. So many people on this blog ended up places they never thought they would, myself included. Don't apply to schools unless you genuinely want to go there. And also? Keep a sense of humor about all of this. You're all about to go headlong into insanity. But I really think it'll be worth it.