An Atypical Year with Atypical People

An Atypical Year with Atypical People

The Second Weekend Here

My fiance Rahsaan I our second weekend in the city! [Photo courtesy of Rahsaan Shareef]

August 1st marked my first year in Chicago.

My fiance and I drove here from DC in a UHaul with our cat Sheba meowing in her carrying-case between us. As we reminisce, it’s surreal to think of the First Years heading here from their previous life in their particular way with their specific things.

Note to Reader: There is no typical way of doing this.

I know that now, but I didn’t a year ago. It feels good knowing now that I’m not alone.  A few incoming and prospective students have recently asked about the typical student experience within the program. The answer: there is none. At least, not one I’ve noticed.

all of us

My entire cohort and I out for drinks at The South Loop Club after the last class of Fall Semester. (Peep Author/Professor Patty McNair sitting with us fifth from the left).

Unlike undergrad, it is not safe to assume that everyone is around your age in the MFA program. We all look young and it’s easy to assume everyone is coming into the program three months after obtaining their bachelor’s. Or maybe a year after. And some of us are. But it’s important to understand that that’s not the case for everyone. My cohort’s ages ranged from 22 to the early/mid 30’s.

Because many of us have lived in the real world longer, there also wasn’t a “typical” working life of a student. Some of us worked full-time, others part-time. Some interned. Others volunteered. Some of our jobs relate to our MFA. But not all. We’ve worked everywhere: from museums to retail; from on-campus work-study to Corporate America.

Our lives are different. Two of us are married. Some of us are dating. And some are single. We even live in different neighborhoods. One of us chose to live on campus her first year (although she doesn’t really recommend it for any graduate student unless it’s an absolute, positive must). We each had different commutes to and from school. (The plus for the student who lived on campus was that her commute was a 5-10 walk depending on the weather).

All of these differences and more affect our experience while pursuing our MFA. Which is why there is no typical student.

me and desiree

My cohort member Desiree and I being weird one evening on the train before meeting up with the rest of the crew. [Photo courtesy of Desiree Johnson]

And I love that there’s not!!

me and raymond

My cohort member Raymond and I sneaking photos on Desiree’s camera at Author/Professor Patty McNair’s house during her holiday mixer — she must have really liked us as a class. [Photo Courtesy of Desiree Johnson]

I particularly enjoy our differences in reading tastes (over the Winter Break we compiled a list via our secret Facebook group (yes, we have a secret Facebook group; it’s great for communication!!) of books we recommended for each other to read). I’ve read about half that list so far and it’s interesting how the recommendation fits the personality and writing of the person who recommended it.

Although our program, and the school as a whole, is undergoing changes, something I appreciate is its willingness to work with our differences. Last year’s director even offered Directed Study courses (translation: one-on-one courses) for students with work schedules that conflict with courses offered during registration.

some of us

This is NOT a Directed Study course.  This is actually me and my cohort members Chelsea, Mike, and Desiree at Georgie’s one night.  But I really like this photo and wanted it to fit in here.  [Photo Courtesy of Desiree Johnson]

I encourage any incoming or prospective student reading to rest assured knowing that there is a place for you here. Embrace your atypical MFA student story. Don’t worry about how you can make this fit. Don’t look for what’s normal (because, let’s just be real for a moment: we’re writers. There’s nothing normal about us). And, in the First Day of Class words of Author/Professor Chris Abani: what sets you apart as a writer is “your own particular mix up of ‘fucked-upness’.” This MFA journey can and will work for you in whatever way you make it.

So bring it!

squeezing into elevator

There’s no other mix of fucked-upness I’d rather be squeezed onto a Columbia College elevator with (or any elevator anywhere actually) than these atypical people. [Photo Courtesy of Desiree Johnson – if you haven’t noticed she’s basically our Cohort Historian]