Friday, November 16, 2012

Escape Goating: Megan Hesse's First Semester as an MFA Student and GTA

Escape Goat. That was the moment I felt like a real, exasperated teacher, when I was reading a student’s paper and found the words “escape goat.” Presumably they meant “scapegoat,” except that they weren’t using that term right either. Grading papers has been a surreal experience for me. After all, it was only a little over a year ago that I was an undergraduate, and even right now I am still a student myself. So to be in the position of teacher is very strange. And then suddenly, escape goat.

I was terrified of starting the MFA program at FAU for a number of reasons that didn’t involve teaching. I had no idea what the community or the courses would be like. Even though my goal was always to be a creative writer, my undergraduate degree was in Literature and I’d never been among a community of writers. Instead of using guilt to harass my friends and family to read my work, I would finally have a group of people going through the same struggles and triumphs as me to turn to. But there were fears there too: everyone would be smarter, better, more talented than me; a chosen circle I had no hope of ever breaking into. Or classes would be too difficult, professors would look down on me in disgust, and I’d be doomed to be shunned for being mediocre.

My brain gets a little carried away sometimes.

But that’s not what happened. The MFA writing community at FAU contains some of the most helpful, welcoming people I’ve ever met and/or harassed. In just one semester I’ve learned a ridiculous amount from them and the professors, and I cannot wait to learn more. To finally be among other writers gives me an admittedly sentimental feeling of coming home that I would of course never publicly admit to having.

Oops. Don’t tell anyone.

My other fear though, was of time. How would I ever hope to balance teaching more than forty students with my own coursework and possibly have time for creative work besides? It was daunting, to say the least. After I finished undergrad, I took a year off and got a job tutoring high school kids for the SAT. The idea was to make money, and now that school was finished, have all the time in the world to write. Except I didn’t. What I did do was join a gym, watch a truly horrifying amount of Pawn Stars, and explore the uncharted edges of the internet. I finally had time, and I found myself doing absolutely nothing with it. Meanwhile, despite the forty-odd students and the coursework, I have written more in this one semester than I did in my entire year off. Somehow, though it’s meant many late nights and some frantic scribbling, I’ve found the time. I’ve started to grow and learn about myself as a writer in this program, and for me that’s pretty exciting, and well worth the occasional escape goat.

Megan Hesse graduated from the Honors College of FAU in 2011 with a BA in English Literature and is currently enrolled in the FAU MFA Graduate program. By day she attempts to publish stories and make a name for herself as a writer and by night she fights for justice as Batman.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Between a BA and an MFA

Being away from the university for six years gave me invaluable insight into the doings of the world, and this sounds corny, but many disparate experiences can occur within someone’s absence from a campus.  The two and a half years I spent in Hungary gave me many things, including a two fingered grip on a rich and complex language.  Upon returning to USA, I worked in the bus industry, including city transportation and private buses, which is another dichotomy rich with material for a creative writer to navigate, due to often complete income disparities, and even learning a city inside and out. I believe it is a plus to have had a school ‘break’ and to be in my early thirties, for after years of debating societal expectations, I feel at home here in the academy.  I guess it would be possible to cut and paste the narrative of The Alchemist here. 

Moving to a new state is a challenge for many new graduate students.  For some around the country the change may be slight, but moving to South Florida feels as though you have been transplanted to a different region entirely.  The culture is unlike any other in the United States, and exists at the far end of a peninsula; few parts of the United States, in my experience, can claim such diversity.  A newcomer can explore Caribbean, South American, European, and even the culture of the Northeast right here in Palm Beach county.  However, with the palm trees swaying and lines of pelicans crisscrossing the breaking waves, it’s easy to surmise the greatest benefit of living here is the ocean.  All of these new animals and objects with exotic names like mangrove, conch, and the ever present curly-tailed lizard offer a boon to the creative writer. 

It seems to me that having a gap between an undergraduate degree and master’s program gives a sense of validity, in the sense that you have tried other things and this is the conclusion you have come to. However, after a six year lull, one may view fundamental concepts like theses and criticism as abstract amoebas at first glance, but after concentrating, certain geometric shapes become more apparent.   A regained sense of keyboard adeptness that was caught in the sheets of propriety reemerges to form semi-colon trophies; in a sense you must learn how to remake your bed.   The community that I've been a part of here is much closer than it was in undergrad; this is a plus in my book, and many of the individuals you will meet share a common interest; I state the obvious because it should not be understated.

The reentry into academic life can look a little daunting, but after the first semester you get your sea legs back and in a sense become the captain of your own boat; it also becomes apparent that the helm of the boat is approachable. The multitudes of opportunities begin to take shape and present themselves along a coastal exploration of self.

Growing up Ian Rice lived in Georgetown, Texas, Cedarville, Arkansas, San Marcos, Texas, and Ruston, Louisiana.  He graduated from Texas State University in Spring 2006 with a degree in European Studies and then moved to Nyiregyhaza, Hungary where he worked as a conversational English teacher in Zrinyi Ilona Gim.  After leaving Nyiregyhaza, he moved to Budapest for six months where he taught ESL to business professionals after receiving his CELTA.  He moved back to Austin, Texas and took some creative writing classes at Austin Community College (while working in the bus business).  After gaining essential material and the rest, he applied to the MFA program at FAU, and voilà: he is an MFA candidate for poetry.