Thursday, November 11, 2004

Insular Environments

Yesterday my friend Laura asked me what I thought of this.

It brought to mind my childhood. You see, I was raised in a very insular protective environment and one of my main instructors in life was Professor Mom. Some might say she didn't give me enough criticism, some might even say she nutured me to the point of coddling -- you see, every single day she would tell me that I was the most beautiful girl in the world. She was a most beautiful girl in the world, so of course she'd know. I was young, impressionable, inexperienced and I believed it.

When I left her protective cocoon and immersed myself into the brutal world of middle school, well, I had to face the truth. I was not the most beautiful girl in the world. Her saying it did not make it true. I wasn't even the most beautiful girl among my three friends. My offers "to go" (steady) were rejected by everyone, from Skeet Foggerty to Chucky Hatcher to Mickey Popanski. Nobody wanted "to go" with me. Not the popular influentials boys nor the wimpy dorks. I was hurt, angry, confused. I was certified to be "the most beautiful girl in the world" and it was getting me nowhere. I was bestowed a useless degree. All the other girls were being asked to slow dance and I was alone on the bleachers cramming down pizza-flavored Combos.

JH interviewed me a year after my post-Mom experience and oh yes, here are the transcripts. I must have been kind of bitter because I said, "That woman lied to me. In fact, I overheard her telling my little sister she was the most beautiful girl in the world." and "She clearly played favorites, my little sister got the Thriller album while I was given John Cougar's Uh-huh." and "I was never introduced to mascara or lip liner, in fact, her "no make-up" policy actually hindered my becoming the most beautiful girl in the world."

But the story doesn't end there. It might for some people, but those people were never most beautiful girl in the world material. You see, Mom planted the "most beautiful girl in the world" seed and there was no denying my desire for it. So I stopped feeling sorry for myself and started studying beautiful girl craft. Some of the more influential books were:

Christie Brinkley's Outdoor Beauty and Fitness: Here I learned that "lips don't tan, they burn!" and the best way to avoid fatty foods is to replace the word "cream" with "fat." "No thank you, I don't want any sour fat with my baked potato!"

Helen Gurley Brown's Sex and the Single Girl: This was before the Internet and the only place a girl could get step-by-step instructions on how to give head.

I also learned a lot from peers, they were always full of good critical advice, like Missy Thomas's recommendation that I brush my teeth. And Jenny Shoemocker's point that I didn't need to use the entire tube of gel in my hair. Less is more! I owe a great debt of gratitude for all of their biting snickers and eye rolls.

It was a slow, ardurous process, many times I wondered if I had what it took and pondered quitting, but after years of intense study and grueling work, I am proud to say that I'm finally the most beautiful girl in the world. Not because Mom certified my status, but because she taught me to believe it was possible.

So let's stop kicking encouraging teachers in the nuts. Who cares if some poets gets a couple years of attention? Who cares if for a short amount of time they think they're more talented than they really are? There's plenty of neglect and criticism out there for everyone. That's what editors are for.

5 Comments:

At 2:56 AM, Blogger Matthew said...

I've written three comments in this box and erased all three. I am not sure what I want to say. I've got my MFA and no regrets about it.

I looked at it as nothing but two years in which to write and not think about other things. I looked at it as a chance to work in a community of writers and to test my visions against their aesthetics. It was great in that respect, and that's all I asked from it.

Maybe if I had aspired to teach in an MFA program some day, I would have asked for more rigor. Rigor I did not find there. But there was rigor to be had for the asking, that seemed clear. After all, we were graduate students in an academic institution full of resources; the burden of rigor fell upon us, not our program, just as it would in any graduate program of any kind anywhere.

And gossip? It was currency. It was annoying. But it was as avoidable as it was inaccurate.

 
At 3:22 AM, Blogger Matthew said...

I've written three comments in this box and erased all three. I am not sure what I want to say. I've got my MFA and no regrets about it.

I looked at it as nothing but two years in which to write and not think about other things. I looked at it as a chance to work in a community of writers and to test my visions against their aesthetics. It was great in that respect, and that's all I asked from it.

Maybe if I had aspired to teach in an MFA program some day, I would have asked for more rigor. Rigor I did not find there. But there was rigor to be had for the asking, that seemed clear. After all, we were graduate students in an academic institution full of resources; the burden of rigor fell upon us, not our program, just as it would in any graduate program of any kind anywhere.

And gossip? It was currency. It was annoying. But it was as avoidable as it was inaccurate.

 
At 10:41 AM, Blogger Charles said...

Hmm...these grapes are sour...

I don't know if it's because I'm ensconced in an MFA program right now and because I'm happy (and not someone's favorite pet), but I felt like this article (and its accompanying interviews) were a lot of whining and carrying on. If those programs were so bad, none of them needed continue.

And so what if we have MFAs now instead of dark, lonely cafes for our poets? Were those days really any better? I hear so much poo-pooing of the "rampant" MFA in our country, and I say: thank God. Thank God so many institutions are putting focus back onto creative writing, and poetry especially. Because creating MFA programs creates undergrad programs, gets students interested in writing earlier, supplies them with the broad reading experience that so many criticized in their peers. Double-edged sword blah blah blah.

I have worked my ass off in my program. Why? Because there were opportunities to do so. I could have coasted right through, but I edited a magazine, expanded and curated a library of contemporary journals for our students, interviewed visiting poets & gave their introductions at readings... MFA programs are as valuable as the poet wants them to be.

 
At 3:25 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

my thoughts exactly.

jenny
http://home.comcast.net/~mywordsarebetter/index.html

 
At 3:56 PM, Blogger destryridesagain said...

I don't give a rats ass about MFAs, but thank god for the big block from which we were chipped that we ARE the most beautiful women in the world.

We come from a long line floosies, lesbians, and strong, willful, smartass bitches who, though they cackal, are anything but regular. Beauty is in the insanity, the will, the wanting, , the joy, the giving, the loving, the laugh, the Chanel No. 5.

Some blonde ass ninny gave me a book on being a Diva. It threw it back in her face and said what a bunch of amateurs. We suckled on Diva juice, the real stuff, the stuff from which blood lust and raw rough life is made.

Funny to hear we both studied with furry mouths.

 

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