Monday, January 4, 2010

Not a Nike commercial

Today, in an attempt to get my head back in the work game, I was sending out emails to my old/new Canadian clients. I have a contract with them right now that I am very excited about. I also have another grant due on Jan. 16, so I need to juggle a few projects.

During the course of these emails, one young woman with whom I've had friendly contact before (both through working with her in November and then emailing about a project I did after that trip) was telling me about her  Comps for her PhD program. She is 27-- so young!

I have come to realize lately one of the reasons it's so important for me to get a PhD (or maybe an MFA, or both). I have always known about myself that I wanted to get a PhD, even though those nearest and dearest to me who have PhDs (and whom I have watched suffer) think I'm insane. Especially if I insist (and I do) on waiting until the kids are out of the house (and, let's face it, probably out of college too) to get it. I won't make them endure a) the poverty and b) the absence of their mother that a PhD program would currently require.

And especially if I don't think the PhD will get me a job. I don't. As in the movie Barton Fink, the wonderful Tony Shalhoub says, "If you throw a brick in this town, you'll hit a writer. And when you throw it? Throw it hard."

One argument that someone from my past *cough* had with my wanting to pursue a Masters Degree was that, "The world doesn't need anymore English majors."

Well, technically, one could argue that the world doesn't need anymore people, period. That doesn't mean I should kill myself, and the lack of a need for English majors doesn't mean I shouldn't return to school. And the fact that nobody reads poetry doesn't mean I shouldn't write it.

Isn't therapy wonderful?

I should specify that my degree, when I get it, will be in creative writing, just as my BA was. What I have come to realize, though, looping back to the point, the reason why I want to return to school is that it will give me the time and structure to do Another Really Big Writing Project.

I am slowly typing up my Masters Thesis and posting my poems here (duh) in part so I will have a digital copy. But that's not all: Writing poetry begins, for me, with listening. Listening to a lot of poetry, reading a lot of poetry, and the very act of copying my poems is helpful. The feel of each word, the rhythms and alliterations and images. Sometimes I break lines differently now, and sometimes I read them out loud to myself. Denise Levertov has a great essay about line breaks in my poetry bible, Claims for Poetry, edited by Donald Hall. She says that you have to break the lines where you pause when you are reading the poem, so sometimes, I have to break the lines a little differently now.

Another argument, though, that I heard in graduate school, was that there is a kind of musical tension between the line breaks and where you would pause in speech that adds to the poem. Even though I think that can be interesting and legitimate, I prefer the Levertov philosophy. I have been talking to some of the art kids here. Amazing painters, these kids. We talk about how we get called all the time for becoming lazy, for doing the same things over and over again. When you don't want to try something, like a sestina or an aubade or a haiku, I think that shows in the writing. They tell me this is also true in their paintings. The key is to be able to throw yourself so hard into something you don't want to do (a structured poem, in my case) to the point that your work in this arena is as passionate as the work you do when you may truly love what you are doing, but you are not stretching, off-balance, uncomfortable.

I have heard, and I believe, that we are never really capable of learning, stretching, and growing unless we are a little off-balance and out of our comfort zones. I've been out of my comfort zone a LOT in the past month, and yes, I can also feel the growth that has seeped in through the cracks of my facade.

Anyway, graduate school. This lovely young PhD candidate shared with me that there is a prestigious online MFA program I could look at. Of course, there are some in the U.S. too. Though, when I consider the cost of such a program (um, student loans? I don't think so. Been there, done that). So, I think I'd rather try to get a teaching stipend and get my education paid for. Which will mean waiting until the kids are old enough for me to travel to graduate school and commute. My neighbor got her PhD by commuting. Depending on where I were to go, maybe that would be possible for me too.

The University of Iowa also has summer creative writing workshops. Every year, I say I am going to take one. And every year, I never do.

There is never a good time to have kids. Maybe there is never a good time to go to school.

Maybe you just have to do it.


  1. Oh, if we didn't have kids, think of what we'd do (and do to ourselves knowing we had no other responsibility but ourselves!)?

    You couldn't pay me enough to go back to grad school, unless it was something I was absolutely crazy about. And then, you'd still have to pay me. Then again, I still have a little bit of PTSD from finishing my M.S. this August. :P

    Good luck, whatever you decide!

  2. have you considered teaching english comp 1 and 2 online? You could teach for any institution from your computer. You might want to consider a Master's Online Teaching Certificate. Just a thought...

  3. "a little off-balance and out of our comfort zones" - that's the key to skiing (which I don't really do anymore). My friend tells me if you aren't falling down, you aren't really trying.

    Iowa is one of the better programs in the country isn't it?

  4. Much as doctoral study was not the right course for me, I still say (when you're ready) go for it. The folks in creative seemed to have a better time of it than I did -- maybe because I wasn't focused, maybe because I was at the wrong school for what I ultimately wanted to do with/for my studies. I can still probably make some connections -- though Jack is doubtless better at it than I. And if you're commuting, maybe I can meet you down there for a drink from time to time.

  5. @ Oroboros. Indeed. Iowa is perhaps THE best in the country.

    @ Gina: I don't think Missou is for me. :S

  6. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  7. Oh, Katie, I wish you hadn't removed the comment! I was just coming to say that that first link may very well save me from myself!

  8. I removed it to format the link put I can't get it to accept the link. Why is that?

    Graduate School in the Humanities: Just Don't Go

    And then there is:
    Is Graduate School a Cult

    (I think it is-- and I work there)

  9. "the fact that nobody reads poetry doesn't mean I shouldn't write it."

    People do read poetry. It just doesn't get published that often and sold in bookstores. Now that there is the Internet I think there is more poetry than ever being written and read and more opportunity than ever.

    I think about my novels. I have no idea if I can get them published. I don't know if anyone would care if I had them published (not all of my readers completed the series)....but I will continue to write. Because I like it.

    What about writing poems and then doing podcasts of yourself reading them? What if it were done in the context of a poet and novelists' group, all writing and then reading aloud. There could be a corner for teaching, another corner for people who want deadlines...

  10. Gack! Blogger, I think. But the "Just Don't Go" one is priceless. They both are.

    I keep thinking of "Good Will Hunting:" You can get a great education for about a dollar fifty in late fees at the library.

  11. I was thinking about the cult one while talking to one of my students yesterday who clearly should not be there.