Mental health and the MFA

11743143_mI read with interest this piece by Sara Finnerty on Brevity’s Nonfiction Blog. It’s a list of things she wishes she had told herself after her completing her MFA.

I would argue that they are things one should address during the MFA. She writes about failure, about abandoning the goal of getting published and fear of others’ opinions. I think those are things that should be resolved before the degree is finished – or if not resolved, pinned to the mat for longer and longer periods throughout the degree course.

I have always associated the MFA with paid writing. $35,000 or so of tuition seems like a bad investment in simply becoming a better artist or quieting your inner demons. In my case, I have my journalism MA tuition to justify as well, so I’m not writing for fun or to explore myself as a writer. And then there’s the ever-present concern about my age (53 as of two days ago – happy birthday to me!).  One of the reasons I applied to Goucher, and Goucher only, is their focus on profession as well as art.

I’m always thinking about the future, sometimes with pessimism, sometimes optimism, and sometimes with an Excel spreadsheet.  I’m not a numbers person (few writers I’ve met are) but it’s steadying to chart income and expense calculations because for me writing is always associated with income. In fact, that may be an impediment to keeping my thesis coherent – I continuously think of which sections of the work I could sell.

The section of Finnerty’s piece that does feel like she got inside my head and jotted down what was there: #2, Work on Your Mental Health Issues. I have suffered from the dysfunctional thinking she writes about: anger, resentment and more than anything else FEAR have led to me procrastinating, hating myself, sleeping all day and even thinking about what the world would be like without me in it.

Such tremendous fear of failure leads to failure.

My head is much better than it has been over the last couple of years and now that I have a day job I simply don’t have time or energy to hate myself. But I’m not on a career path as a communications professional – I’m too old and there are too many gaps in my resume – so I have to figure out exactly how it will pay to be a writer.  I am extending my leave through the fall semester, so spring 2015 will be my graduation semester. I have about a year and a half to figure this stuff out.  It will take both psychology and a budget. And prayer for guidance.

I have been thinking about this for a long time, but it’s time now to drop anchor or sink.