Friday, August 7, 2009

The Summer Before the MFA

by Eric Tanyavutti

I like to be prepared. If there’s anything that decades of procrastination and laziness has taught me, it’s that events in life (my life, at least) tend to be less painful if I prepare. (Strangely, I do not apply this rule at all to my writing time or writing space; in fact, I tend to do exactly the opposite. But that’s another subject.) Yet if there’s anything this summer has taught me, it’s that there is no amount of planning and organizing that could’ve prepared me for the enormous task of getting ready for grad school.

After compiling my to-do list a few months ago, I was crushed by the enormity of it all. There seemed to be too much to do and far too little time. My fiancée and I had timed it out such that we had to move twice -- once to her new place in Chicago, and a second time to my new place in Champaign -- in the matter of weeks. We were downsizing our large two bedroom apartment to a more affordable one bedroom (in both places). Less space, which means less stuff. Less stuff, which means throwing things away. And throwing things away, things that you seem to always have a sentimental attachment to, is never pleasant. I also needed money to save as much money as possible, so I stayed at my place of work perhaps several weeks past when I should’ve. Working 40-50 hours a week while trying to move, study, write, and prepare is an inhuman prospect at best. Most nights after work was spent on the couch, simply vegging out. There was also the studying. Like Jennifer so eloquently covered in the last post, I spent more time preparing for craft classes, reading craft books, textbooks, handbooks, chapbooks, than I did writing in the whole summer and before, probably all the way back when I started to seriously consider applying to grad school. I don’t think I’ve been a writer in over a year. And still, even with all that preparation for grad school, I do not feel anywhere half as prepared to class and teaching as I want or intend to be. It’s a horrible feeling.

And then there were all the little things. The frantic rush to “use” my health insurance one last time before leaving my job for good. Thanks to that, I now have a hole in my head where an impacted wisdom tooth used to be. Forwarding addresses. Closing accounts of old utilities, opening a half dozen new ones. Spending hours in line at the DMV to get the license and passports renewed.

So I close with this. It seems to me that this summer has been one of the most stressful I’ve had in a while. Where I had (mistakenly) thought after getting accepted, “Gee, now the hard part’s over, thank goodness I can finally relax,” I’ve actually found it to be a ton of work. Is this the experience others have been having? How have you been coping (or not)? Has the amount of work and preparation surprised you (or not)?


  1. Wow. Whenever I read about how hard everything is surrounding and/or involving grad school, a part of me shrinks inside of myself, and the other part convinces myself to ignore it and surge onward. haha.

    Good luck with everything. I'm sure I'll be blogging something like this within the next year or so.

  2. Congrats on the engagement! The logistics of actually moving to grad school are grueling, you're right. I did not know how difficult this part would be. I'm glad you did this post because it needs to be said. I'll be making my second move in 6 months when I finally take off next week for my second cross-country drive in 6 months to finally get to Charlottesville! I feel your pain.

  3. Damn I'm glad I don't have to move.

  4. This isn't my experience...yet. I am almost two weeks away from moving, but my first move will be on Sunday from LA back home to Adelanto, California. I still have not packed anything, and I am frantically selling off my furniture and other incidentals to lighten the load for my trip.

    I am beginning to feel the twinges of fear and anxiety that go along with moving, particularly since I am crossing over several time zones, and that kind of temporal adjustment is always irritating for me. I also just quit my job, so I know all too well how that can get in the way of having a productive summer.

    That being said, I am sure that once we've moved, excitement will rear its head in our direction...there is that honeymoon period that seems to coincide with starting somewhere fresh and new. Well, hopefully there is anyway.

  5. My partner is in Denmark for graduate school and we really wanted to spend the summer together so I got a lot of the pairing down stuff and driving a uhaul to the other end of the state done early. All my boxes are currently neatly arranged in my mother's garage. As soon as I get back into Denmark I just need to move them the two hours into SF. I'm hoping getting my stuff to SF will not be half as stressful as getting my stuff from south Cal to north Cal was, but I'll have to wait another week to find out.

  6. My summer was actually pretty relaxing, but then again, I did not do the amount of reading and studying that I felt like I "should", but I forced myself to relax and enjoy my last summer in Ohio. The packing and moving were a little stressful, but not terrible. I moved yesterday and am now unpacking and settling in.

  7. As soon as I got accepted and made my choice, I entered into the worst writer's block I've ever had. Cannot produce even 250 words a day (without immediately riding the backspace back down to blank screen) Before, I felt I had nothing to lose and submitted like crazy, just to connect with some, please god, any reader out there. Now, I feel like...I better produce something worthy; I better not waste anyone's time. I thought acceptance would boost my confidence, but it seems the opposite has occurred. My program (University of Washington Seattle) starts in 5 weeks and I haven't given notice at my job yet, even though it will be impossible to keep working there during grad school. I can't believe I've procrastinated that unpleasant task, too. At least I get to quit!Great to commiserate with you all; I wish you all the best, in life, love and art.

  8. Hey Lisa! Someone should do a study on the psychological effects of getting into an MFA program. It messes with you! Good luck this year!


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