Let’s be real. During the first year of the MFA,
and I thought grad school would just be these two years where I felt weird all the time and I wrote some good-ish poems (if I was lucky).
But this year will be (and is already) different.
Because school is in full swing at Vanderbilt, because I’m now a SECOND-YEAR student, and because everything is funnier with GIFs, here’s what grad school is like in the from-year-one-to-year-two transition.
1. August is a summer month. Last year, August was about moving to Nashville, getting settled, making a million trips to Target, filling out paperwork, spending hours at Writing Studio training and going to endless meet-and-greets. But this August? I’m still not wholly convinced summer is actually, conclusively, over. I’ve had a few events to attend, and I’ve certainly organized my planner for this year, but mostly I’m just hanging out doing things I did all summer (which, of course, includes going to Target. Some things will never change.). It’s so nice to respond like this when people ask how the school year has begun:
2. There are no more (or far fewer) 5-minute-bio conversations. This year, people know my basic information. I don’t like small talk anyway, but having to give a tiny speech about myself every few hours because I was meeting so many people was exhausting. (Wow, if you couldn’t tell before that I’m an introvert…) I like that people know me, because having those conversations always felt like this:
3. I know all the work will get done. Both semesters last year felt insurmountable at their beginnings (and at their middles…and endings…). I’m usually much more anxious about getting everything done, especially at the beginning, staring down a bunch of new syllabi and the fact that now I have to write the thesis, but I’ll get it done. I have time. I will never have more time to get all the work done than I do now.
4. Grad school issues don’t bother me as much. So much of grad school’s nature bugged the living daylights out of me last year. It’s invaded my vocabulary (which is probably just as well). I spent way too much time (friends can attest to that) complaining about how we always had to find things problematic and how we were all barely keeping our heads above water (which, partly, I still think was an image we felt we had to maintain). This year, though, I don’t think I’ll be as impacted by this weird grad school world. I’m going to spend my energy elsewhere—like, you know, in writing poems. (Oh, right. THAT’S why I’m here.)
5. I know this place. I can talk with the new MFAs intelligently. They can ask me questions and I might even know the answer. I know Nashville. I could recommend plenty of coffee shops and restaurants. I could give directions that would probably get you where you want to go. I feel like I live here for, really, the first time. I can be like, “Oh yeah, I follow the Peach Truck on Twitter and Instagram, what what!” Basically, I know things.
6. I can say what I want in workshop. I could do this last year, too, but I don’t think I really did. But I’m more confident now, and I’m more convinced that I know what I’m talking about. If I don’t get a poem or am fed up with it, I can just say what I really think:
7. I don’t care (in a good way). Last year, everything made me emotional. Disastrous workshops, bad feedback from professors, Nashville’s weather being too hot, having to chat at parties—everything was annoying. This year, though—I just don’t care as much—which is a good thing. I’m still going to work hard, but now it’s not going to feel as much as if this work defines me. I can already feel the ability to let things roll off my back returning. I think now, that if things don’t go as well as I’d like, it’s going to be much easier to remember that I still have my poems. And they can be exactly what I want them to be whether I’m in grad school or not. I’m going to write anyway.
And in the end, if all this doesn’t work out—if I never publish a book of poems—then