I could use help figuring out what to do with my life.
March 19, 2012 4:29 PM   Subscribe

I was recently accepted into graduate school (pursuing my MFA in nonfiction writing) but after doing some thinking, I'm pretty sure I'm not going to go. I'd like some different viewpoints, however. But what's more pressing is that, if I don't go, I'm not sure what I'm going to do with my life right now. And for that, I could use (a lot of) advice.

I feel that my entering an MFA program right now would be something of a waste. I don't have anything I want to work on, I don't have much motivation or drive to write at all, and the main reason I applied was to simply escape Iowa and because I feel useless outside of academia. My sample was built from things I wrote almost two years ago now because I couldn't come up with anything new or recent. I feel like I can do better, really.

But not right now, because my current headspace is extremely foggy and clouded and I have nothing in terms of output. Having come off of three years of drinking, everything is kind of muddled and my moods are so erratic that I would rather get to a more stable point in my personal life so that I don't end up entering a program and shooting myself in the foot. I am unstable, depressed and suicidal most days, merely okay on other days. I need to even myself out. I still plan to leave Iowa. I NEED to leave Iowa. But I need to regain some control over my life. I think that needs focus first and to attempt to do it while gunning for my MFA would do a disservice to both, would undercut progress in my personal and professional spheres.

Neither program really lines up with what I want. I like EWU's faculty, but not the fact that it's a 2YR program. I feel like, in a two year program, I'd spend the first year just readjusting to being integrated into society again (I spend a lot of time alone right now). And one of my big desires out of the MFA is teaching experience, but if I'm not getting a TAship, that kind of kills it for me in a big way. Plus, funding is very, very unlikely. I can't justify taking out more loans, especially for schools that aren't absolutely perfect for me, especially since I already have 60K in student loans from my undergraduate years.

There's a part of me, though, that thinks that this is fear talking. That this is me trying to make excuses. I don't know.

So here's the thing: If I'm not going, then what the hell do I do now? I need to get the hell out of here but I've never really had to make a move like this. I'm looking at a few options (like applying to be a residence hall counselor at the Interlochen Arts Academy) that would get me out of here.

Do I just up and move? I've been thinking about just up and moving away,. I have friends in Austin, in San Diego, and I could probably transfer to a Starbucks in either place while I looked for a better job. In this job market, this doesn't seem like the greatest idea, but staying where I am is immensely damaging for me mentally and physically.

I don't have the most useful skill set, either: my work experience over the past several years has been in café work and sales/event planning, with some work with Upward Bound sprinkled in there. I have experience/skill as a technical writer, as an editor, as a salesman, and doing basic tech support, which are all things I could fall back on, but most of these skills are things I've taught myself and it's hard to back self-tutelage up on a resumé.

So I kinda find myself lost on what to do right now. I've never really been in the position where I need to move without that move being for school. I'm young, only 24, and I don't know much about this whole 'real world' business. I could use some advice!
posted by Modica to Work & Money (19 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
I'm not getting a TAship, that kind of kills it for me in a big way. Plus, funding is very, very unlikely. I can't justify taking out more loans

Even if you had a specific project for your MFA that you wanted to work on, this would be a big red flag about why you shouldn't go to MFA grad school. You don't have a specific project in mind and they're not giving you funding or a TAship, especially given that you want teaching experience. That's not "fear" telling you not to go. It's rational thinking and self-interest telling you not to go.

it's hard to back self-tutelage up on a resumé.

Have you had a job doing those things, even if it was just an ancillary responsibility to your main work duties? Then you've done it, and it counts as work experience, and it goes on a resume. And when applying for a job doing that, you describe this work in more detail in your cover letter when explaining why you're a good fit.

Find a job, put your thoughts together about what projects you want to do, re-evaluate the field regarding which MFA programs you're interest in, and apply later at programs which will fund you and provide you with a better fit when you have a clear direction and goal in mind.
posted by deanc at 4:37 PM on March 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

You just laid out an excellent case not to go. The one thing I learned from my failed grad school experience is this: don't go unless you really want to do the work. If you want to move, move. You don't need an MFA as an excuse to relocate.
posted by StrikeTheViol at 4:39 PM on March 19, 2012 [3 favorites]

Yes, just up and move. Pick a place, go there, and start working. It doesn't really matter than much on what; you'll either happen into a field where you can do good work and feel valuable, or you'll buy some time to keep looking for one of those.
No more school debt. That's just a bag of hurt.
posted by willpie at 4:40 PM on March 19, 2012

I wish that when I was twenty-four I had had the courage to just up and move someplace cool. Instead I went to law school and I'm an indentured servant to my profession because of my student loans.

Don't be me.
posted by jayder at 4:50 PM on March 19, 2012 [8 favorites]

Don't do the MFA.
Do move.

The worst case scenario for just moving somewhere you want to go is unlikely to be as bad as the tens of thousands of dollars (more?) in nondischargeable debt that the MFA will get you. There's not a very good best case scenario for the MFA either, given your status.

The MFA is a bad choice and moving is a good choice.
posted by grouse at 5:03 PM on March 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

Practically speaking, ditto on not doing the MFA, especially not when you will need to go into debt to complete it. You are still young, and have plenty of time to pick a place and see if it works out. If you already work for Starbucks and can transfer to a different location, even better--moreso if you have stable friends you could crash with for a few weeks while you find housing. Maybe your goal now should be to make a plan/timeline for being out of Iowa within three to six months? Putting aside savings, looking online for info about transferring stores, looking into moving costs, lining up places to stay, scoping out jobs/apartments?
posted by stellaluna at 5:06 PM on March 19, 2012

Well, you should at least feel good about getting in to grad school, which isnt easy.

If you can transfer to a Starbuck's in another state and stay with a friend, there doesn't seem to be a reason not to. Keep in mind that a Starbuck's salary goes a whole lot farther in Iowa than in California.

I assume, based on your acceptance to grad school, that you have a college degree. Given your interest in writing, perhaps you could find work as a writer or editor.
posted by twblalock at 5:11 PM on March 19, 2012

Paying money to get an MFA makes no sense in today's academic environment, because teaching jobs in creative writing are scarce on the ground--even for people who have lots of publications and experience in teaching--so I applaud your decision.

I can imagine that money is kind of tight for you, but if it's at all possible to invest in seeing a good career counselor, I would recommend it.
posted by Sidhedevil at 5:39 PM on March 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

Thanks for the suggestions guys. And for confirming that I am being rational here, not just a coward. My plan is to be out of here by the end of the summer.

So now, the only thing to do, really, is to decide where to go. The only caveat to going to Austin or San Diego is that my friends that are there, while good friends, drink somewhat often, smoke fairly regularly, and I have my sobriety to keep in mind first and foremost.

I have half a mind to just pick a place almost at random and just go. I don't want to live near any of my family which excludes Virginia, Maryland, and Georgia (all places I don't care for anyway). They're fine people, but they're very overbearing, gossipy, and they cover for each other to a fault. I'm tired of their behaviors, their personalities.

I don't want to stay in the midwest (god no), and I'd rather not have to endure more winter. I love the desert and have half a mind to move to Vegas (It's one of my favorite cities, such an interesting and peculiar place) where I have old family friends.

But my all time favorite place is New Orleans. I have a cousin in the area who's one of the only family members I can stand. He's on the fringes of the family as well.
posted by Modica at 5:42 PM on March 19, 2012

"Change your place, change your luck."

It's worth a try. Don't underestimate what being in a new environment with new people can do for you. Even things that feel hard can be hard in a way that feels constructive instead of just pure wearying. You also don't need to make a long term commitment and the stakes are so low. Worse comes worse, you'll have new material to write about.

(But also watch out for "wherever you go, there you are.")
posted by Salamandrous at 5:44 PM on March 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

Sidhedevil, do you think career counselors are very helpful?

I've thought about the idea a lot because I've felt so aimless and ambivalent about all work for so long. I have a few ideas about things that I'd want to do – my current goal is to teach high school English and work my way into education administration and reform – but I have no idea how to get there. I'd be willing to give it a shot if it's thought to be useful.
posted by Modica at 5:50 PM on March 19, 2012

I think good career counselors are extremely helpful. Mediocre and bad career counselors are a waste of time and money. I wish I had specific suggestions for a good career counselor in your area, though the NCDA database might help.

Career counselors, in my experience, are best with questions along the lines of with "Here are some things I'd be interested in doing for a living. How can I get from where I am now to being a competitive applicant for jobs in that field?" rather than "What should I do with my life?" It sounds like you have some of the first category of questions already, so if you find somebody who's well-informed and a good fit, it might be a really helpful investment for you.
posted by Sidhedevil at 5:57 PM on March 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

Nthing the advice to skip the MFA. I enjoyed my program and am glad I went, but it has not helped me careerwise at all, and the debt is occasionally scary. If you don't know that you want to do it, don't.

If you want to get into education, there are a few tracks you can take. The first is to get a master's in education. You can do this in a lot of places--you don't have to go to the "best" school. Another option is to try to find a teacher placement program where you commit to teaching for a few years in exchange for free or reduced-tuition grad school. Many districts are desperate enough for teachers that you might be able to qualify without grad school at all, especially if you know Spanish.

You'll most likely need a PhD to move into major administration or policy. Unless you have a passion for this, I would teach for a while before investing in that kind of education.

Maybe move, and substitute-teach wherever you land for a while before making up your mind.
posted by elizeh at 7:30 PM on March 19, 2012

I'm glad you're not getting an MFA. I had a nearly fully-funded one, and I'm still not sure if going was the right decision (though I did make some great freinds there).
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:39 PM on March 19, 2012

elizeh, my major problem/fear when it comes to getting into teaching is that my grades in undergrad were quite poor. I graduated with a 2.34GPA, was unable to cope with my depression and then my drinking got out of control and I shot myself in the foot there.

I feel like, because of my GPA, I'm sort of screwed for a lot of education programs, especially Master's programs. That's why I wanted teaching experience from an MFA experience. I am awesome at standardized tests. I got a 35 on the ACT, got in the 97th and 70th percentile on Verbal and Math on the GRE. But my grades, my grades are crap because I was just a wreck.

The two things I feel I have going for me are first, that I'm black and there's a huge lack of black teachers around the country, and second that I do speak some Spanish and I'm pretty good with languages in general.
posted by Modica at 7:45 PM on March 19, 2012

If you want to go into teaching, you can follow two paths - go to grad school or get job experience.

You can ask for a deferment for the schools you got into - many times they will let you enroll the following year if this year won't work for you. That will give you a solid timeline to work with in which to solidify your sobriety and self-motivation. Don't let that stop you getting out of Iowa - as a matter of fact, why wait until the end of the summer? Talk to your manager and get a transfer someplace cool, work as many hours as you can til you move and after you get there, and keep in mind you are working to be in a place where getting a masters the following year will make sense.

The other way to get into teaching might be to work for a volunteer program - I know someone (a musician) who taught math in philadelphia right after college as part of teach for america. There are probably other similar programs who could work with. As you get job experience in the real world your grades will matter less and less.
posted by ianhattwick at 8:24 PM on March 19, 2012

To beat a dead horse, if you aren't getting fully funded don't go to graduate school in anything.

Except med school I guess.
posted by bardic at 9:33 PM on March 19, 2012

I have very little practical support to offer, but honestly you sound like you have a lot of really , really great skills - events planning? Good with languages? Strong writing capabilities? You're clearly smart and there's some seriously employable stuff there. Now is absolutely the time to be building up your confidence out in the world rather than sequestering away in academe (and building up debt) if you don't have a specific outcome in mind.

Moving away sounds like a great plan, and I second the volunteering suggestion above for getting teaching experience. I did something similar in my twenties and it was exactly what I needed to help work out my strengths on my own terms. My advice would be to really research where you're headed and line stuff up to do before you get there (eg having a place to stay ahead of time and some concrete volunteer activity/job organised from the get go) to help with the transition - especially if you've been having depressive episodes. It might be an idea to frame it as a project, eg you'll just be trying out [new city] for, say three-six months, so you don't have to feel like it's this huge endeavour in which you must sink or swim.

Best of luck, you can totally do this :)
posted by freya_lamb at 8:49 AM on March 20, 2012

If they're not going to support you by funding you, then just don't go. An MFA is for people who want to do creative writing; is that really, REALLY what you want to do? You mentioned that one big drawback of the program is that there's no teaching involved, so it sounds like you have a hankering to teach.

So go be a teacher. Find a teaching job outside of Iowa, or just move out of Iowa and substitute for a while to see if you really want to be in a classroom all day long with whiny cretins who couldn't care less what you say to them.

But don't go for that MFA. You can write in your free time, once you land that job outside Iowa.
posted by ditto75 at 7:51 PM on March 20, 2012

« Older It's a birthday #!/bin/bash   |   Name that Tune! Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.