Lessons Learned

I’ve discovered some surprising things about doing a master’s degree at this point in my life, which is to say, mid-life. First, I have had to slow down – way down – to focus on it, and that has been a blessing. Second, as I’ve slowed down, it’s opened up space for considering questions like, What is life? and, Why am I here?, and, What lessons should I learn from events that happened to me as a child?, and, How can I apply them to my life today?, and, finally, How can I make my life be more about service to others?

This is the third month of my first six-month “project period.” I am in a low-residency program through Antioch University, Los Angeles, and each project period follows a 10-day residency. So, every June and December I go to L.A. for 10 days, during which all the MFA in creative writing faculty and students gather for lectures, seminars, readings and workshops. At the end of the residency, you are assigned a faculty mentor (you get to submit a first, second and third choice), whom you work with for the subsequent five months.

My mentor is Donald Morrill, associate dean of graduate and continuing studies and the Dana Professor of English at the University of Tampa in Florida. He’s the author of four nonfiction books and two collections of poetry. While there are three core faculty on the L.A. campus, the faculty mentors for this program come from all over the country, as do the students. The five other students in my mentee group are from Los Angeles, Washington D.C., Nebraska and Illinois.

Each week we all check into an online forum to encourage each other and to discuss books we are reading as a group. Each month I send 20 pages of new writing and two book annotations to my professor and he responds with suggestions and comments. I am getting so much out of this already, including the realization that, as daunting as it seems, writing 20 pages of new material each month is doable. (I say that now, but it’s only the third month.) When I go back to Los Angeles in June for my residency, I’ll have completed 100 pages of my memoir. Also, I love reading the books I am about the craft of writing, and I’ll share some of my thoughts about them here as well.

One other aspect of this program that I really like is the opportunity to “genre jump.” As a creative writing student, you are asked to declare an emphasis. So, since I am writing a memoir, I am a creative nonfiction student. But one can choose to do one of the four project periods in another genre (the other two are fiction and poetry). So, in June I will genre jump into poetry for six months. My goal is to perfect enough of my poems (I’ve been writing poetry steadily for the past five years or so), to put together a collection to submit to a literary publisher. Then I will return to the memoir for the remaining year of the program.

There are other requirements of the MFA, which I’ll blog about next week. Meanwhile, you keep writing, and I’ll do the same.