I am a poet working in Silicon Valley. There is certainly an apparent disjunction between these two parts of my identity. However, these two occupations of mine mesh more seamlessly than one might immediately suspect. I've found that the orderliness of my 9-5 day provides an important balance to my after work artistic life, grounds me in a way that is wholly necessary for my poetic self to both flourish and stay focused.
Colleagues and co-workers in each of my two "worlds" are often interested in how this seeming dichotomy works. I haven't met anyone else in my particular "Silicon Valley Admin By Day, Experimental Poet By Night" situation, so I find that I am met with kindly inquiries into how this came about, etc. These conversations are largely fun and fruitful, and help me gain an even better grasp on how, exactly, I divide my time.
All of this being said, I was confronted with an entirely new response that really threw me for a loop. Forty-eight hours after turning in my thesis, a woman employed at my company congratulated me, then asked what particular MFA I had earned. When I responded with, "Creative Writing. Poetry," she burst into a fit of uproarious laughter. The woman was positively gasping for air. Everyone else in the room was clearly uncomfortable, and my jaw was quite literally on the floor.
"You're not serious!" she said, still laughing. "That reminds me * gasp * of when * gasp * my friend got a degree in Ancient Greek! What could you possibly do with a degree *gasp * like * gasp * POETRY?!"
Fighting my initial urge to burst into tears, pick up my pile of file folders and walk away, I managed to summon all of the Audrey Hepburn I had left, smile ruefully and comment, "I'm so sorry you disapprove of my education!" At this, I changed the subject, all the while taking deep breaths and doing my best to keep my hands from shaking.
I've been thinking about this for the last several days, going through various stages of sadness and anger and pity. The realization I've come to, though, is that I'm truly grateful to have the capability to exist in both of the worlds I have chosen. I have a rich artistic life that I have worked hard to cultivate, and I live in a city that celebrates my medium and encourages my success. Additionally, I have a great job that fulfills my needs for organization and stability, while providing a platform for me to pursue more financially risky, creative endeavors as I so desire. The harsh reaction of my co-worker helped me realize that this ability to thrive in dichotomous arenas is unique. And while some might not appreciate just how important, how hard-won, how genuinely vital an MFA in something like Poetry can be, I realize it now more than ever.