While on my every other day “run” the other day and while listening on my iPhone to Michael Chabon’s Manhood for Amateurs— and let me say now as an aside that 20 years ago, I most certainly would not have been doing any of those things– I listened to his essay “Cosmodemonic,” which is about his time in the Master of Fine Arts writing workshop at the University of California, Irvine “twenty-odd years and nine books” later. I like Chabon as a writer– really really liked The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay— and I did not realize until reading this collection of essays about growing up, culture, reading, women, children, etc., that he is, more or less, my age. We’ve had very different lives and careers, obviously, but in terms of being of a certain age and with certain interests, I can relate. For example, like Chabon, I too was one of the (if not the) youngest person in my MFA cohort. Unlike Chabon though, I did not a) “score” much with the women in my program, b) smoke big bags of weed, and/or c) go on to have an outstanding career as a novelist.
Six years ago, I wrote on my blog (one that is about 3 versions removed) answers to some of the questions that Chabon considers in the opening pages of his essay here: “Should I get an MFA in Creative Writing?” I pretty much agree with everything I said then and it’s still available via the wayback machine web archives. But this is all on my mind this morning because of the 20 year thing. When I was at the CCCCs last week, I got a ride to the Bedford/St. Martin’s party with Cheryl Ball, who was also in Virginia Commonwealth’s MFA program, but exactly 10 years after me, and I told her how I was reminded that I graduated from the program 20 years ago this year. Her jaw dropped. I know. Maybe it’s something about the sound of “twenty” that sounds more serious than, say, “nineteen.”
I don’t know what this all means, other than I’m getting old (and tomorrow is my birthday). Annette and I were discussing mid-life crises a bit ago and she was wondering if I was going to have one. I don’t think so for all kinds of reasons, though I do wish that I had managed in the last 20 years to actually write and publish a novel. This is not a regret, really. Putting aside talent/abilities for a moment (I would rather not face the question of whether or not I had/have “what it takes”), I decided a long time ago that I enjoy steady and reasonably paying work far too much to live the kind of life it takes to get a first novel off the ground. And I also of course like the idea of teaching and doing more academic sorts of work, obviously. I still write lots, and, as I mention in my older post about getting an MFA, I think my experiences in a creative writing program helped me a lot with the academic writing I’ve been doing since the MFA.
I think this is probably true for the vast majority of folks I knew back in those MFA days. Through the blessing and curse that is Facebook, I’ve managed to connect and reconnect with a lot of the people I knew back then, and, as far as I can tell, most of them have morphed into real jobs of one sort or another. In that sense, I think the MFA has turned out to be a lot like a lot (most?) college degrees: you start in a place with a set of lofty goals and dreams, and then, after one thing leads to another, you end up in a different place.