Uneasy as ABC
By Kelley Davidson, Graduate Assistant, Bluegrass Writers Studio
“I’m getting my MFA in Creative Writing.”
The old woman at table 61 looks up from her coffee and asks me, “Well, what are you going to do with that?”
She’s asked me what I’m studying, an ordinary question. Most of my customers ask me the same thing during our interactions. Sometimes I lie and tell them that I’m going to be a nurse, and they ooh and ahh about what a lucrative profession that is, and that I must be really smart.
But it’s too early in the morning for me to lie today, and I’ve decided that I don’t care what she thinks of me. I don’t want to be waiting tables right now and I don’t have the mental strength to dig up the basal nursing school knowledge I remember from my sister’s time in that degree program. So I tell her the truth.
I’m used to people asking me what I’m going to do with my degree. Many people aren’t even aware that one can earn an MFA in Creative Writing, and oftentimes I’m proud of spreading awareness. But she repeats her question, this time with more condescending gusto: “No, but what are you going to do with that?” She rubs two fingers and her thumb together, the universal symbol for cash. She wants to know how I will make ends meet.
I immediately recall the stereotypes she’s thinking of: the Starving Artist, the Suicidal Poet. I know she thinks that I’ll be waiting tables forever, or that I’m mentally ill. Maybe I will be waiting tables forever, and maybe I am mentally ill, but it doesn’t mean the degree I’m pursuing is any less valid than whatever she got her degree in (a PhD in Meanness, I presume?).
I have some words for the lady at table 61, and anyone else who finds it appropriate to question my path: Writing is really, really hard. In fact, I’ve spent two days editing this little interlude. I could edit it for two more days. Why? Because I am a writer, and that is what we do—and I’m getting an MFA because I want to learn to do it better. Writing is labor, but that labor isn’t authenticated by the amount of monetary capital I receive for it. And while it’s a nice incentive, literary success is not necessarily measured in publishing deals.
Creative writing doesn’t exist to serve some quotidian purpose. Its purpose is to be appreciated and contemplated. After all, there may be only solution to a math problem, but there are countless different ways to write a story, even if we do only have 26 letters to work with. The misnomer that writing is “easy” and therefore unworthy of intense study does a massive disservice to the scholars and writers who have written every book you’ve ever read. A writer’s job is to show proficiency over the billions of words that exist, and to give those words the opportunity to illuminate their readers.
Looks like I'll have to change that burnt-out bulb at table 61.
Published on September 17, 2014