Thursday, September 1, 2011

One Woman's MFA Is Another Woman's WTF

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.


Danny said...

Rereading this makes me super angry all over again. I wish I could get my hands on this woman and bombard her with insults that would leave her with tears on her cheeks and a hole in her heart.

Word verification: nonfu. The definition of "nonfu" is "That woman's opinion."

HazelandMare said...

UGH! Well, I hope next time you bring donuts to the office, you hide all the donuts from her because she is mean and snobby and judgmental and people like that do not deserve donuts! I am so sorry she put you through that! If it makes you feel better, I'm applying to a grad program in art for next fall. THE WORLD NEEDS ARTISTS. We rock, no matter what her royal boring frumpiness thinks. UGH!

Jess P. said...

My favorite part of this story is that she said "Congratulations- what TYPE of MFA did you get?" as though an Masters of Fine Arts in a subject other than poetry would be practical in her worldview. I pity her for her lack of imagination and empathy. She clearly needs an MFA.

Meghan said...

Tell her that the Computer Science program is being eliminated from the University of Cincinnati because it is not considered lucrative endeavor. Seriously.

elledoubleyouu said...

Congratulations on being able to "summon your Audrey Hepburn" and responding to that woman with a degree of class she obviously doesn't possess.

♥ LW

andrea jean said...

That reminds me of when I was studying for my Master's in library & information science, and *so many* people said "You have to go to SCHOOL for that?!" or "What do you learn, the Dewey Decimal System?" UGH.

You handled it brilliantly.

Sarah O'Holla said...

I agree with all of the commenters. You are a "life long learner" as we say at my work, and those are the people who will thrive in today's world. Let's talk about all the lawyers with fancy law degrees who cannot get a job right now.

But I can tell that you already know all of this because of this wonderfully written blog post. Way to go with the Audrey style too!

PS- Andrea, I totally got those comments while getting my MLS too. Such as, "You need a masters to learn how to wear your hair in a bun? And shush people?" Seriously.

Monica {bohemian twilight} said...

while i feel for you, that you were hurt, you must forgive me over my main reaction...

how funny this is. seriously, aren't we humans so hilariously ridiculous? the folly of the human condition, it never fails to floor me man.

how boxed in we are, how blinkered, how narrow, how tightly wound, that we cannot see the great scope of the universe.

i mean, you gotta laugh right along with people like that... just at a different thing. ;)
and then go on and live your rich beautiful life.

♥ Nadine said...

Jeez Louise, that woman makes me so angry. I don't even know her, but ignorant people like her really make me angry!

But I'm proud that you managed to channel your inner Audrey!! You know what, some people are just not worth the nerves.

You do what you want to do! It's your life, your passions, your decisions. I find it hard sometimes not to feel hurt when these people judge me, but on the other hand: it simply doesn't matter what that woman thinks.

Gah, you should have told her that you couldn't give a shit about her opinion. Oh well, just forget about it. All the important people in your life stand by your side, not?

Here's to a happy weekend. xo.

Suzy said...

That you have achieved a Master's degree is an achievement in itself and is nothing to be laughed at, I'm just at the end of mine and I know how tough it is.

I've done my MA in Women's Studies so I get plenty of laughs all the time at how pointless it is.

Everything you said at the end there is positive though so well done you for not letting silly people like that get you down. Oh and congratulations on finishing your MFA, super big deal!! Suzy xx

The Skirted Wordsmith said...

Fuck that artless bitch.
What a pathetic soul -- one of those people who think nothing of the journey because they are solely focused on the end of the road. Don't worry, you can sleep soundly knowing that no one will ever love that old bag, and she will wither and die a lonely, pointless existence. She can be buried with her money.

Autumn said...

I'm sorry that people are close minded. I am in a "practical" field, but struggling to balance. I think balance is important regardless of what you are doing. Happiness is also important.

Good job being classy when others aren't.