MFA, Year One: The Disconnect

Today is just a regular day at the office. It’s Memorial Day weekend, so things will be slower than usual. I’m running on coffee and three hours of sleep, wondering if this day will seem longer than eight hours. I’m looking forward to a three-day weekend and the weeks that will follow, although it will be strange not having class twice a week. I ended the semester yesterday with an in-class essay on why Donald M. Murray is right when he says writing should be taught as a process, not as a product. I went straight home after to watch Star Trek and take a nap. I am officially finished with the first year of a three-year (part-time) MFA program. It’s been an interesting, to say the least — a busy year. Between work, school, editing, writing, mentoring, I’m tapped out and ready for a break. But, I suppose the most defining part of this year was how frustrated I felt a good portion of the time — a feeling that is completely foreign to me when it comes to college, and this kind of frustration goes beyond the administrative quirks that plague every university. It was the first time in my academic career that I felt disconnected from most of my peers and my professors, spring semester more than the first.

I’ve been comparing my social experiences to the MA workshop classes I took in Ireland, even the TESOL certification course I took in Schull, Co. Cork at Atlantic SEAL. I’m not sure what I expected when I started this MFA program, but I realized that I thought many of the social elements would be similar. Perhaps if I were attending school in a city like Savannah, GA, but there is something distinctly Californian about this MFA program; we are geographically spread out across Orange County. We all have jobs, whether part-time or full-time, and half of us have significant others, which means less time for social activities, but not begrudgingly so. I see one of my peers outside of class on occasion.

The MA program in Ireland had a set course schedule for the entire year, and everyone in your program was in every one of your classes. I saw my classmates every day. While some might balk at the idea here, the screenwriting program I was a part of instantly built a strong commodity on the top floor of converted boat house that could never get warm enough. After the first day of class and introductions, we stopped at the end of the asphalt road leading to the film school and looked at one another, unsure of what to do next. The tallest one, Mike, looked at (or over) everyone, and a big grin appeared on his face as he said, “Right. Pints?” Down to O’Connell’s we went, which set the tone for the rest of the year. We did many things together outside of class, mostly involving drinking pints of Guinness and Carlsberg, playing Dead Space while nursing hangovers; the commodity was intoxicating. I had never been in a more welcoming atmosphere in my entire life — an experience that I have not felt since moving back to California in 2011. There have been close moments, but nothing like Ireland.

Is this disconnect because of geographical location or is it because of an age difference? Even though three, four, or five years in your twenties doesn’t seem like a big difference, it is. Much of your early to mid-twenties is spent exploring and growing as a person. We are a much different person going into our twenties than we are exiting our twenties. This is not to say I do not like my classmates. I do, I love ’em, and they all impress me every day with their talents and unique experiences and perspectives of the world. They are wonderful writers. Yet, I feel still feel disconnected. Maybe it isn’t the age difference so much as it is something else? I feel disconnected from the world in general, and usually when I feel that way it means I need to take a week-long vacation to photograph abandoned buildings, but I don’t know if I’ll get that chance this summer.

Maybe the real reason is how much death has been around me since the start of the year. My boyfriend’s grandfather passed away New Years Eve. A former professor, and father figure to me, lost his daughter. February marked 6 years since I lost a good friend of mine in a motorcycle accident. I lost my grandmother in April. One of my best friends lost her sister-in-law to suicide and her father to cancer within a month of each other. One of my boyfriend’s friends lost his sister to cancer. We also found out that his former band manager, James Leveque, passed away, who is one of the most genuine, sweetest people I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. So much death. I see color, but no vibrance. I hear sound, but no music. There is movement, but no dance.

Since I felt more disconnected this past semester than last, maybe all the deaths surrounding my life at the moment is heavily adding to the situation. I hope that by re-connecting with those I am closest to in my life and having a few months break from several responsibilities, I can get back to where I was, or at least figure out how to manage my empathy that feels too hard for everyone around me. And I suppose I should end this with at least one good thing that came out of this school year: I don’t shy away from non-fiction writing anymore. Give me the right topic, and I’ll write away. I’ll write through the hard stuff, even if it means tearing-up while I am at work.

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