Marginalia, Graduate Blog

Commuting / Thinking

Jenn Tatum

My morning commute to school on the Brown Line, which takes about 40 minutes door-to-door, allows me to do a lot of reading, grading, writing, and most recently, obsessing about my thesis and what it is I am doing here at Columbia.  Lately, I’ve been opening up my notebook (you remember the picture of that sexy spine from last week’s post) and leaving it open. My pen never touches the paper; instead, I just stare out the window. I would like to call this writer’s block, but it isn’t, because I could easily write down ideas that I’ve been tossing around in my mind, random bits of dialogue from other passengers, found words from the advertisements on the walls. I can write down something, but lately, I just stare out the window and think.

I’ve been thinking about the past two years here in Chicago, in the program, and the changes that have happened in my life and my writing. I’ve also been thinking about what I’ve actually done while I’ve been pursuing this thing called an MFA, the reason behind why I value a degree in Nonfiction, and why I chose to pursue it.  When I get stressed, I begin to question if I’ve done enough, if I have tied-up all loose ends and really pushed myself to my potential. I’ve attended two thesis development workshops, I’m working on half of what will be my final thesis, and I will be discussing it with Jenny Boully, my thesis advisor, this week. I’ve had a lot of things to stress about. So, I think.

I think about the space that a Graduate Program creates for you to make connections with other writers, about the available resources and on-campus events, about my writing and my writing process, and how everything has changed — some things in really large ways and others in more minimal ways. These experiences and elements of the Creative Writing – Nonfiction MFA program are each so crucial to my MFA experience, because when this is over and I’m posting pictures of graduation on Facebook next year, pacing back and forth around my apartment trying to figure out what I actually did during my MFA and where to go next, I want to know that my three-day trek from California and the excitement that was built up prior to my arrival in Chicago was able to sustain itself, that I sustained my excitement about this chapter in my life by seizing that excitement and by taking each and every opportunity that I heard about, and even searching out opportunities that I didn’t know existed, in order to make the most out of the time that I have spent here at Columbia and in the city of Chicago. I may leave Chicago once I’ve graduated. I may stay. But, while I’m still in school, still a student, I still have all these resources and brilliant people at my fingertips; I want to know that I made the most of it.

And I think I have.

I’ve challenged myself to try on different styles of writing, to try on different jobs, to create an opportunity where perhaps there wasn’t one before. Did I need an MFA to be a writer? No, of course not. People write without MFAs. I can write and try new styles of writing outside of this program, and I have. I can send my essays to fellow writer friends and ask for feedback. I submitted and published a few things prior to applying at Columbia. The MFA doesn’t make me a writer. Pursuing the MFA allowed me to take literature classes, theory classes, and workshops, and it taught me the importance of a writing community, about the business of writing, about publishing and reading my work in public. The MFA taught me how to teach, how to challenge my own students in their writing, and gave me experience balancing a professional and creative workload. I think I may have managed to figure this out on my own — and sure, some people do — but for me, this path, taking the chance to come to Chicago and then actively deciding to take every opportunity that I possibly could along the way, was a sold choice. This choice is something that, when I sit on the train and reflect on (i.e. stress about) whether I have really done all that I could have, I end up thinking, yes, I have been actively participating in pursuing my degree — not just to writing but to immersing myself in writing and the writing community.

Commuting / Thinking

My morning commute to school on the Brown Line, which takes about 40 minutes door-to-door, allows me to do a lot of reading, grading, writing, and most recently, obsessing about …

Creative Writing - Nonfiction MFA Jenn Tatum, jtatumcotamagana@colum.edu
600 S. Michigan Ave. Chicago, IL 60605

The Graduate Experience