The MFA faculty at FAU bring an impressive amount of both renowned and prolific authors for students to engage. I’ve had the chance to listen to lectures from Tayari Jones to Jo Ann Beard to Richard Ford. One comment that Ford made that resonated with me was: “Anybody who knows me for very long is going to fall out with me.” While he said this with a mixture of seriousness and humor, commenting on his own work, and his lack of a writing community, it felt true for me as well.
That sense of a fall out is a fear I’ve constantly dealt with in all social aspects of my life. I assume that I’m going to hurt someone needlessly, so emotional distance is protection. However, that attitude is counter to the reason I came to the MFA at FAU. I wanted to invest in a community of writers and take risks. A. Papatya Bucak wrote, on receiving tenure: “It feels like I ought to do something to deserve it,” and that was a feeling I felt early on in being accepted into the program. A feeling that grew when the University offered me a GTA position, and a feeling that continues to grow with the opportunities I am offered through the English Department and the Director Dr. Becka McKay.
Within that desire to both partake in a community and to deserve that community, I have continuously been pushed by my professors to excel. The nudge for success also comes with the support to take more chances, and through this process of escalating demands and adjustments of self-accountability, I see something of my own experience reflected in Papatya’s writing: “It feels like I can try to write something better than what I’ve written before because I can risk failing.” The MFA program offers the opportunity to risk success because no matter what I write, it will be taken seriously, and there is something in that to cherish, something special.
I’m enrolled in Papatya’s course on the Forms of Prose and throughout this semester we have been working toward seeing the value in creating obstacles and restrictions on existing forms to create growth in our own writing. I’ve always valued form in poetry because of its ability to slip into the subconscious and complicate content.
However, the forms in prose have been a different experience. Early on in the semester when asked to define what this might mean, I approached it rather literally: “it seems that form is an agreed upon process to mold content with an inherent suggestion to resist the familiar. But, form only works when it’s symbiotic with content.” This explication of form is light and timid. It feels more like an attempt to have something to say than an actual definition.
And it doesn’t surprise me; I fear the fall out with a professor even more than with a peer. I fear losing the chance to be taken seriously by someone I respect. After Richard Ford spoke, myself and a few peers walked around in a stupor of amazement at his insight and presence; a professor mentioned an annoyance that we hear incoming authors say the same things we hear in the program, and yet somehow from a new voice it is receivable.
Richard Ford’s strongest moment was during a contemplation on the serious nature of writing: “Your work is your work. It’s no less important at the beginning to you than it is to me at the end.” That, to me, is a profoundly powerful thing to say to an aspiring writer. And the professor was right to question this effervescent and short-term atmosphere because classes do deliver what we experience from visiting scholars and authors.
Ford’s quote is also a description of what the MFA does for writers here. I love the burden of earnest expectations to not succeed or fail, but to create with no restraint. At the end of the semester, Papatya asked the class to redefine forms, and looking at my definition, in some ways, it seems that the definition of forms might be synonymous with the MFA degree. “Forms teach writers to learn the necessary tools that they can abandon. Forms are lessons in rules that subsume reader’s wants and needs with the author’s intentions through their obstacles and restrictions. Forms are invitations to apprenticeship with no master but accountability.” I latch onto that last line. As much as I want to say it is the drive of the MFA that propels work, to do so would ignore the reality that the MFA ends.
Last night I was very tired and hanging awake on the lines of a book when my mind woke to a realization. It’s a common one that I have; I see someone in my recent life and remember that we may forget each other, but we will never forget each other’s influence. I am grateful and still surprised that I am here. The conversations that drive my writing community start in the classroom. I know that, I see that in my growth; I want my professors to know.