Back to School – The Other Side of the Desk! (MFA Musings)

1146933_10151861075109434_2012575828_oMy vacation was over. No more Wednesday evening sailing on the Hudson! Back to school, only this year, I was no longer the teacher! I was still lodging with friends when I attended my first MFA class. Bold or blend? Ah, those pesky first impressions; I opted for  compromise rather than conformity, putting on the  more neutral Central Park t-shirt and my matching apple green pants. When Emma asked me jokingly if I had remembered to pack my books and pens, I had the same “Mom!!” knee-jerk reaction I’d had in kindy!

It was a 5:20 PM class and I allowed myself plenty of time to get to our mini urban campus on Park Avenue South, not because I am not already adept at navigating the New York subway (don’t get me going on the G, which is as regular as the verb to be), but because though I may have spent the last 25 years in laid-back time zones, punctuality is where my Anglo-Saxon heritage kicks into high gear. I arrived at the subway stop nearest the school, and the law of unknown-undergrounds ensured of the four different exit possibilities, I guessed the one furthest from my destination. It’s okay, I told myself, this is not foreshadowing my skills of navigating an MFA program.

Thankfully there were signs welcoming students to the university in the hallway by the elevators, or else the unimposing entry is easy to miss. Ding, the doors opened into that tiny room that resembles a cage packed with strangers. I observed good elevator etiquette and shrank into my allotted space reserving all eye contact for the buttons in front of me, but itching to see who would get out with me on the third floor. I followed two chatty confident women onto the Stony Brook premises. They must have been second years (or maybe fourth, as I discover many people take longer than my visa-imposed two years for the degree). They disappeared into a classroom and I realized I was lost in the mini labyrinth that is the SB Manhattan campus. I retraced my steps to the entry and actually read the large signs on the welcome notice board indicating the direction of my meeting room.

I arrived half an hour early; so had ten of the twelve students taking this class. I was happy to see a great cross section of ages, though more than half the class is probably a decade or two or three from their first degree. Not all are 1st year MFA students, one or two are taking this class for ‘fun’ (if one can term a class on ‘the uses of affliction: reading and writing illness’ fun) and others are approaching their thesis. The Monday class is engagingly co-led and M & D immediately put us at ease with a warm welcome and enthusiastic introduction to the format our three-hour classes and course-work will take. I glanced at our first assignment. I haven’t read Woolf in decades. The last wolf book I read was 32 pages and dominated by three belligerent pigs.

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Who Is Afraid?

As we went around the table introducing ourselves and my palms became sauna slick, I became certain of three things:

a) I am the only children’s writer in the room

b) Eleven students seem to have their shit together

c) We’re in for a great ride

My nerves and disorientation dissipated a little when I discovered that two of my three teachers this semester have lived in France and are fluent in French. How cool is that? It’s been a month already and I am into a great study groove, dividing my time between the local Brooklyn library and 61 Cobble Hill café. I have some deep and insightful classmates tackling some amazing stories, and I know I shall grow as a writer through this MFA.

“The only way that we can live is if we grow. The only way that we can grow is if we change. The only way that we can change is if we learn. The only way we can learn is if we are exposed. And the only way that we can become exposed is if we throw ourselves out into the open. Do it. Throw yourself.”

C. JoyBell C.

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23 Responses to Back to School – The Other Side of the Desk! (MFA Musings)

  1. Linda Boyden says:

    Good for you, Joanna and I must say I am a bit envious! You’ll rock it.

  2. Thank you so much for this marvelous overview of your first experiences of MFA-land! Daunting and exciting, all rolled up in determination. I will read updates eagerly, tinged with a touch of envy! All the best to you, my friend!

    (And Emma’s question reminded me of my dad’s question every morning as I headed out the door to university. “Do you have your books and your brains?”)

  3. Sigh. Just the thought of your feet ruffling leaves on city streets in apple green jeans has me envious! But that you picked out ‘the eleven’ straight off reveals your motivation, and now I cannot wait for the next post!

  4. Sylvia Liu says:

    Great post – I love it. Looking forward to hearing more about your journey through MFA land.

  5. Joanna says:

    Thanks, Sylvia, i’ll try and blog regularly about the course.

  6. I know you too well to know that in a really short time you will be a shining member of the class, full of confidence and having a ball! Will enjoy hearing about your great journey. And it will be fun to see how far you will have come in just the first year!

  7. Krista says:

    Very exciting, Joanna! I’m also looking forward to hearing more about your MFA journey. Once upon a time I lived in NYC and loved it.

  8. Cheers, Joanna! As we’ve talked about, it’s about the journey–for yourself and for your craft. You’re well underway with both! xo

  9. Cathy says:

    And so you have thrown yourself – great quote!
    Exciting stuff – I felt like I was right there with you!

    Surely your classmates are blogging at the moment: “Can’t wait to get to know my classmate is a fantastic children’s writer!”

  10. Wow! Good for you Joanna! You were very brave to march into that classroom! I bet there were other students who, when you introduced yourself, thought wow! a children’s writer! She really has her #$%# together! 🙂 I’m glad it’s going well so far and seems to be a worthwhile experience. Sometimes I miss being in school 🙂

  11. Rosanne says:

    Sounds like the beginning (of part) of a wonderful journey. Enjoy!

  12. I’m in awe of you taking this next huge step in your life and career, Joanna! I’m also just a teeny bit jealous although as one of those you mentioned who is nearly 3 decades past her first degree, I’m not sure I can put up with term papers and exams anymore.

    May your journey through this MFA degree be a wonderful one filled with not just learning but also a sense of renewed wonder in the writing world!

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