An MFA is also not about impressing one’s fellow students, or even the faculty.
Cut off from daily life, thrust into long hours in close quarters with other artists, many of them strangers, others new acquaintances–the temptation to impress, or at least win acceptance, is all too human. The same insecurities of grade-school children searching for a seat in the cafeteria also manifests, in only slightly more rarified ways, come lunchtime during residency.
In the end, however, there is a single thought which I use to steady myself in this tide: I am not here to impress any of these people; I am here to become a better writer. Because in becoming a better writer, I will be more likely to impress some people who do matter–editors. That process, however, has nothing to do with lunchtime chat, and everything to do with what comes across on the page.
I do my best to adhere to this thought, even if it is wrong–even if it is, in fact, a brutal, careerist world out there, where attending the right parties is everything. I want to inhabit a world where good writing is paramount, even if that world represents a small, undervalued subsection of contemporary poetry. I have seen the power and significance of a receptive audience of one.
It is important to be generous, kind, and respectful in life–because human beings are precious, no matter how well they write. But whenever I have faced a decision to try to further my career or follow my heart, the latter has always propelled me further faster than any of my petty scheming would allow. So, whatever ambition I have, I try to direct it inward–toward writing rather than networking, toward equanimity rather than allegiances, toward actually getting better rather than simply looking good.
It is about as easy as anything else that involves cutting against the grain of cultural conditioning. But my commitment to getting better is ultimately what got me here, to Oregon, to freeze my butt off and learn.