Post MFA Depression: Or How I Wasted The Last Four Weeks Of Summer

I thought I was prepared for the inevitable crash that would hit me when I graduated from my MFA program at Ashland University. I know that first semester out of school can feel a little lonely and isolating. I had even prepared for the time off with piles of fiction books I hadn’t had time to read, folders neatly organized with new writing projects I had been chomping to work on and, finally, just time to relax. I no longer had to write detailed analysis of contemporary poetry collections or deal with intricate rewrites of poems I had already twisted, wrung dry and slaughtered about ninety times to get them to be concise, concentrated flashes of brilliance sure to have my Thesis Committee swooning. Or, at least impressed enough to sign off on the damn thing.

Since my return to school in January 2008, my life was a cacophonous whirl of classes, stacked summer sessions and internships. Grad school was writing and reading and more writing and more reading. I also realized I needed a stronger social media footprint so I began writing book reviews for various sites and started a personal blog where I could post readings and published articles. I sent out every poem or story I thought was ready, did several readings and posted links to it all on my blog. I felt like I was running at 350 MPH in all directions. All this, coupled with the stress of completing, rewriting, revising, and reorganizing a 50-60-page poetry thesis that shifted focus with each pass onto a new instructor.

The week after I got home from my Post-Thesis Summer Session I was more than ready for the next step. Unfortunately, everything thing seemed to come to a complete stop. I had achieved a lot of what I had set out to do. My blog was growing in followers and page views. My reviews were getting lots of positive responses, especially from the authors. And, finally, after taking my first college course in 1983, I had both my BA and my MFA.

Then, this little cloud started to follow me around. This little nudge of negativity that rose up from scrawled notes that I knew instinctively were off the mark and would beat the strength out of my manuscript and mince it into milquetoast. But that didn’t stop this obscure haze of doubt that translated into: “This isn’t good enough”; and “What are you going to do with a degree in Creative Writing anyway?” And for a brief second I doubted the whole process. Doubted walking away from a more or less stable job to dive into my own handmade quagmire of higher education. Doubted the idea of talent and finally having a solid base to step off of to getting published. Doubted that anyone would hire me as a creative writing teacher or even a copywriter. In short, I just began to doubt everything.

Impacting that little cloud was a growing collection of poetry submission rejections and job application “thanks but no thanks” responses. Next, enter the ill-timed MFA program bashing articles that seem to be everywhere lately. I was told it wasn’t a “real” degree; wasn’t “worth” anything in getting a teaching job; didn’t mean “much” in getting a writing job either. Okay, so what was I missing here? How can MFA’s be so admired in other disciplines but be so trounced on in this one? How had my supportive group of talented fellow poets and I succumbed to this false sense of creative confidence only to be told it still wasn’t good enough? It seemed so simple in its initial concept: go to school for the thing that you love and everything else will fall into place.

Well, I found an immediate answer to this growing depression: ice cream. And 15 days of missed DVR’d shows followed swiftly by heavy doses of movies like “Dear John”; “Eat Love Pray” and “Sex in the City” movies 1 and 2, through which I alternated sobbing into tissues with eating microwave buttered popcorn and “Skinny Cow” ice cream in tiny cups that made it seem like I wasn’t really binging at all. Meanwhile, those treacherously scribbled notes on several copies of my thesis reinforced the idea that I wasted a lot of time and money on something that was, at best, mediocre.

I didn’t want to write. Didn’t want to read. Didn’t want to do anything. Well, anything but eat more popcorn and ice cream. Which turned into a craving for nachos, burgers, chocolate, twizzlers and the looming decline into Lays Sour Cream and Onion potato chips. All I needed now was a stack of Joni Mitchell albums and a carton of cigarettes and I’d be back into one of my full-blown mid-thirties depressions.

Then it was suddenly Labor Day Weekend. August had been decimated in the trail of junk food. I had accomplished little more than gain back the 8 lbs I lost and fertilized a blossoming self-deprecating loathing for my thesis with all those well-meaning notes echoing that it wasn’t a book—yet. How could I shift so quickly from a sense of accomplishment to this? And, I hadn’t even gotten my diploma in the mail yet.

It’s funny sometimes how we can get so caught up in such awful negativity. How those seemingly well-meaning voices can get into our heads and nudge us out of what we know and change, even for a brief moment, how we see our own creativity. I would love to tell you I snapped myself right out of it, got my hair done, had a mani-pedi, bought some new shoes, went on an interview and found the job of my dreams and rose above it all. But I have to tell you; I’m not quite there yet.

But this one thing I do know. When I look at that wall with my BA and the space waiting for my MFA, I am so filled with a sense of pride and accomplishment that it all starts to fall into perspective. This is my road: laden with poetry, classic novels and lots of other things, seemingly useless to other people, which warm my heart and hush my panicked soul.

So, adieu, my MFA summer of 2011. I’ve reached the crossroads my academic path has fashioned. I’m clearing away the snack wrappers and climbing back onto the treadmill. However, I am contemplating a one last sugary snack of marshmallows roasted on a large, warm fire kindled with copies of scribbled thesis notes. Maybe I’ll write a poem about how it glows and crinkles in the flames; how the ashes rise up like tiny black birds carrying away the negativity of someone else’s voice in their determined little beaks.