I read that in 1979 there were 79 MFA programs across the country. In 2014, (Flavorwire: “27 Writers on Whether or Not to Get Your MFA”) there were 854.
I took my first creative writing class at a community college in 1980. There weren’t that many in the class. A dozen? More or less. Everyone else on campus, pretty much–students, faculty, staff–thought us impractical, quixotic losers. I’m sure especially me. Given I was in my early 30’s, divorced, with three children, and needed to think about career and living independently. Everyone (including family) thought I should have a more realistic goal than a desire to be a poet. And they were probably right. But I couldn’t do it, cuz I’m a fucking dreamer.
Even my creative writing instructor didn’t think much about his students: a bunch of wannabes. But he liked me. I wrote a journal, because I didn’t have a clue about how to write a story or a poem (other than a rhyming ditty). We could write whatever we wished, including journals, and letters, if we couldn’t come up with an idea. So, I wrote a journal. He edited my entries, and commented more and more as I continued to turn in my writing project. He taught me so much. Including about life.
I didn’t get involved with him while he was my teacher. That came later. I don’t regret it, and I do. I regret I was vulnerable. Had I not been, that affair would never have occurred. It lasted a year before I finally said, “I don’t want to do this anymore.” He looked crushed, and said, not looking at me, but straight ahead, at nothing, “Yes. I knew this day would come. Of course. It has to be this way.” He was 50. Married. I was 32. I wasn’t in love with him. I liked him because he was a poet.
The aroma of fresh brewed coffee permeated his office. He used a cone to brew his cup of Peet’s. (Peet’s was then a small store on the corner of Walnut and Vine in Berkeley. It was the only place you could purchase Peet’s. It had a rather cult clientele–“Peetniks.” I still prefer Peet’s to Starbucks.) He was six foot, had a goatee, a small mustache, wore corduroy dungarees, and a blazer with patched elbows. His blond hair, in a conservative cut, but long at the crown, was parted to one side, and he constantly swept back the hair that fell over his forehead and his eyes. His blue eyes were like two small beads. He wore small, gold, round, wire rim glasses with a thick lens, and he had a bit of a schnoz. Not handsome, but he looked to me like a beatnik. He was the first college educated man I ever knew. We talked about poetry, poets, writing, writers, and artists. And life.
At a reading a few days ago, a chick I met about three years ago, who has an MFA (as most of the readers I meet at readings), and who I hadn’t seen for a while, asked me, “Are you still writing?” I said, “Of course.” She laughed a little, and said, “Good answer.” She teaches middle school, is probably in her late thirties. Never married. (My youngest child is over 40.) She seems to like my poetry, but since I don’t teach, and I don’t have an MFA, she, and others I know like her, seem to think themselves “the real writers.” I guess they think what I do is a fucking hobby. I don’t even like what most of them write. It’s all the same boring shit. It’s rare, extremely rare, I like any work I hear from anyone with an MFA. Three, maybe four, two of whom I first met twenty to thirty years ago.
It’s my fault. I haven’t pursued publishing adamantly enough. My son goes, “You don’t go to all the readings like they do.” I told him, “Going to readings doesn’t make you a writer.” Besides, I hear most of them say, “I want my voice heard, my stories heard.” That isn’t my motivation or goal. Mine is to create art. My son called me pretentious. I said, “I don’t matter. It’s the work that matters.” He goes, “Psh.” He’s published too, in small mags; he doesn’t have an MFA; he works a corp job, but he’s also a political activist and involved in the community. He’s lived here thirty years. He’s very social. I’ve only been here ten years. I’m more reclusive. I worked on a community project once, seven years ago. I had to put up with egos and condescension. But I really wanted to be part of the project, so I didn’t argue. A couple years ago, I was asked to participate in a poetry book publication, with the same community organization. I started to, but realized it was going to be the same shit as last time. I withdrew, and even told them not to publish my poems. Sure, I want to be published, but I don’t want to be hard up about it.
Anyway, what’s on my mind right now is mostly my mother, and my health. She has dementia, I have heart issues. I see a cardiologist on Friday. I’d been putting it off, cuz, well, I’m scared.
My resentment over my mother’s narcissism has been put on a shelf. I feel badly for her. My sister said my mom got up all night and insisted she wanted to see her mom and dad. She’s 93. My sister was dragging at work, losing sleep. So, she put my mom in a care facility. I hear she gets scared and kicks her feet and refuses to let the staff approach her. She keeps telling them to call my sister’s husband to come pick her up. It breaks my heart. She told my daughter, “My mom doesn’t know where I am.” I don’t want to go there, as that little crappy town is nothing but darkness for me. I told my sister I’m getting a new phone, so maybe I can see my mom via vid call. I haven’t seen her in ten years. I’m doing this for her, not for me. “I don’t know how to use it,” my sister said. I told her, “I’ve never used it either, but I can learn.” So, hopefully my sister will cooperate, and I can “visit” my mother from a safe distance.