No, MFA does not, in this instance, stand for “Motherf***ing Awesome”, though, it must be said, that acronym does occasionally apply to certain aspects of my life. And me.
Only occasionally, though.
In this case, I’m talking about Master of Fine Arts. As in the graduate degree. As in the thing I’ve agreed to devote two years of my life to pursuing and, hopefully, obtaining come May 2017.
I remember it clearly: last April, my best friend and I (really, this is all her fault) were hanging out. She’d driven an hour to come stay with me overnight while Hubby attended a month-long course at Fort Lee, VA. We’d run a 5K race at one of my favorite wineries, we’d done some shopping, and we’d done a lot of pigging out. The next day, as we lazed about before she went home, we were chatting about life and things. You know, like, “Now that we’re thirty, we’d better start figuring out what we want to do when we grow up.”
And she was all, “You should go to grad school.”
In 2012, she started her master’s program in Art History at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, also her alma mater (and mine). I thought it was so cool that she was in grad school, studying something so cool.
Then, the same year, my husband enrolled in his MPA program. And then later that same year, another good friend enrolled to get her MBA.
All around me, it seemed, the people in my life were rushing toward graduate educations, not satisfied with their bachelor degrees alone. Admittedly, I could appreciate that: nowadays, jobs are competitive. Once upon a time, a job posting requiring a bachelor’s degree used to produce a smug smile on the incumbent’s face. Now, that’s child’s play. Want to catch an employer’s attention? Want to write your own checks? Want to sob in frustrated misery for two to four years?
Better go to grad school.
I staunchly resisted. More school was not for me, I said. I was one of those “smart, but would be a better student if she applied herself” kind of people in school. I did what was needed to get by, except in my English, lit, and writing classes (where I learned the beauty of the Oxford comma). Math, my greatest academic nemesis, bested me twice before I managed to eke out the necessary “C” to graduate. On the last day of math class, when I learned I’d passed by department standards, I refrained from hurling my T-78571032324867 graphing calculator at the professor and enjoyed a private, celebratory weeping in the ladies’ room. I never had to take math again.
But I did have to take microeconomics, macroeconomics, biology, geology, religious studies, astronomy, and meteorology to name a few. You can guess how well those went for me.
My best friend was one of the first people to encourage me to apply for a grad program, my husband the second. “But I don’t want to go to school again,” I patiently explained time after time. “I’m in the corporate world. I’ve got a good job.”
I was running at a steady pace in the corporate rat race. I’d once had a misguided notion that I should try to “live my dream” where making money was concerned. I crashed and failed. Wounded, I told myself (much like after riding The Prowler at Worlds of Fun), “Never again.”
A passionless, predictable gig, day-in and day-out, was the safe way to go about things. Steady income, benefits, meetings, and graphs, and charts, and POs, and stuff. Forever. Or, like, until I was 60-something.
But, as fate would have it, that was not in the cards for me.
The company I worked for underwent a series of lay-offs and downsizing. There were three rounds plotted for the head-chopping, and I managed to squeak through the first two. The third go-round, however, I was not so lucky.
So, with the same air of resigned dignity that Anne Boleyn displayed on her day of reckoning at the Tower of London, I knelt (figuratively) on the scaffolding to receive the (figurative) blow.
Actually, I cried all the way home. Then I started figuring out what I’d do next with my life.
The mention of grad school was brought up again, but I swiftly dismissed it. School? School? I had a job to find!
I ended up with a few prospective offers on the table all at once, and ended up taking a chance on a small, privately owned business. My husband had just been accepted to the Omaha Police Department Academy, his dream for many, many years, so it all felt new, fresh, exciting. My job was new, fresh, exciting. The city was new, fresh, exciting. My life was new, fresh, excit–
Then it wasn’t. The small business I worked for had been experiencing a sharp decline in sales (something they’d conveniently neglected to mention during the interview process) and they could no longer afford my salary. Or, like, me.
So there I was, again, without a job and down on my luck.
That fateful weekend in April that my best friend visited me was a couple of days after my most recent job loss. She said, “Dude. Grad school. Creative writing. You can do it.”
This time, I actually gave it some thought. I did love to write. I’d been writing stories and poems since I was a child. I was in the midst of writing not my first novel, but the first one I wanted to seek publishing for (what has now become my MFA thesis, actually. So I will have to finish it at some point). The first novel that marked my decision to be a professional writer when I grew up, whenever that would be. But I needed direction. I knew I was a talented writer, but I also knew I was, for all my years of writing, a novice.
There’d be the education, the sharpening of my writing skills, the networking, the accomplishment.
What did I have to lose?
A month later, I had applied to Creighton University. And a month after that, I got accepted. And about two months after that, I started school for the first time in eight years.
I wasn’t sure what to expect on my first day of classes. I felt like a freshman at UNL all over again, trying to find my way around a brand-new campus, trying not to be the last person through the door, trying not to be stuck in the front row. On that first night of class, meeting my professor and my fellow students, I was struck with one thought: Here I am, back at school, again. Here I am, doing this all over again.
The first day of the rest of my life, and all that sh*t.
Two four-hour classes a week, for two eight-week quarters a semester. Plus, working full-time. Plus, writing my book. Plus, writing another book. Plus, you know, staying alive and stuff.
And that brings me to the “TFF” part of this post. No, not “The Freaking Fabulous”. I mean “The Freshman Fifteen”.
Yeah, it happened to me. AGAIN.
I’d convinced myself that I’d be able to maintain my fitness program while going to school. Heck, I was a gym rat, after all! Four to five days a week, and three half-marathons and dozens of months of training runs under my belt. NO SWEAT. (HA! PUNZ. See what I did there?)
But, I had no appreciation for how tired I would be. How much work there would be. I loved it, I loved the work, because I got to read awesome things and write (hopefully awesome) things and read the awesome things written by my classmates. But it was a lot of work I was unaccustomed to, and it drained me. Lack of energy + lack of motivation to cook + lack of motivation to eat healthy = pounds gained.
I don’t know if it was a full fifteen. Maybe it was more. All I know is, things ain’t right.
Now that summer’s here, I’ve got a goal of hitting the gym at least four days a week. Used to be child’s play for me, but now, it can be a stretch. I’ve got a goal to eliminate my sugar addiction, another big culprit in TFF. And I’ve got a goal to maintain it for the coming year ahead. Now I know what to expect, what it’s like to work full-time and go to school full-time. And now, to add to the fun, I’ve got a part-time editing job with an indie publishing house. And they have lots of authors who are prolific writers, and I’m sensing my workload is about to get cray-cray.
But slowing down is out of the question. As Benjamin Franklin once said, “There will be sleeping enough in the grave.”
If I’m feeling motivated enough, perhaps I’ll try that old Military Diet I posted about last year. And by motivated, I mean desperate and filled with self-loathing. I’m not there yet, though.
Now that the first year of my two-year program is over, and the second year is starting in a couple months, deciding to pursue my MFA has been one of the best things I’ve ever done for myself. I’ve met some really awesome people, some really talented writers, and some really great teachers. I’ve learned that I can balance a metric crapload of stuff at the same time. Sometimes not gracefully, sometimes not graciously, but I can do it.
Sometimes–like my classmates in the same boat as I am, like my best friend who’s now getting her PhD from Cornell, like my husband who’s a proud MPA holder and one of the rare people to realize his life’s dream–I’m really MFA (re: alternate definition).
One year down, one year to go.