I managed to drop the class.
I started an MFA program. The class I dropped was the literary magazine internship. I thought initially it would be a good experience but as it turned out, we were expected to do the whole magazine from start to finish, along with having short papers, teaching ourselves the software package used in production, weekly meetings with our teams (for reviewing submission and production), traveling to conferences and events after the semester was done to sell the magazine and so forth. It became apparent that I was paying to do a level of work that should have provided me with an assistantship. When I had another bronchospasm, I decided to cut back on my workload and dropped the class.
I’ve been less than thrilled with the program. There’s not a ton of fiction faculty. I previously got the impression that they were friendly to both novelists and to people writing speculative fiction. They’ve previously boasted of a novel writing track and having China Miéville as a guest speaker. (In fact, I caught him speak.) As it turned out, one of the two fiction faculty merely tolerates novelists but makes it clear that the other students are under no obligation to consider it as a novel and that the writer is not to defend it on the basis that there are key points covered elsewhere in the novel. Worse, they’re downright unfriendly to genre work. When I workshopped the first chapter of my possible worlds novel, at one point someone referred to the novel as “adolescent lit” in a way that was clearly intended to be disparaging which spurred on this discussion about whether or not it was, ending with the suggestion that I (yes) insert more scenes about her longing for milk while cutting out the dream scenes where she’s seeing her possible selves in possible worlds. In other words, change it from spec fic to a coming of age story.
Now, I don’t mind if something is legitimately adolescent lit, and I think anyone that turns their nose up at sci-fi, YA or horror in lieu of so-called literary fiction deserves to have their head examined. I do think the nature of the discussion was really intended to convey “we have an attitude towards this kind of writing” without coming out and saying they were anti-genre. In other words, correct me on all of the elements that separate lit fic from genre or popular fiction as if they were universal standards then nudge me away from a clear plot, away from action, away from dialogue until it’s a coming of age story about an alienated post-college woman in Berlin, full of longing and touching scenes and where the “weird” stuff is only hinted at.
That’s another thing. We read a lot of literature but we don’t actually analyze it. I’m serious. We talk about how it made us feel, how much we related to it personally. Well, they do. I sit, get irritated, then approach it intellectually. I actually went off on a classmate recently (who literally can’t get through class without stating how emotional she is) for complaining how a book with an intentionally flawed character didn’t tap into her emotions. I want to read stuff that makes me think, I want to discuss issues presented, I want to discuss the craft theory behind the book. If you’re a 23 year old suburbanite with a degree from an evangelical school, maybe you’re just too sheltered. Let’s actually think about this book so I can actually believe I’m not wasting a large sum of money by being in this class.
Seriously, though, I’m not an unemotional person but I’m not all emoting all the time, either. Nor do I particularly care how a given book or story made someone (supposedly) feel. One reason I like intellectual activity is it takes me _out_ of my emotions, puts in some distance, some perspective. That’s not to say that I don’t use emotions in my writing: I like to convey anxiety, melancholy, alienation, even disconnection and detachment have an emotional component insofar as they stand in relation to the risk of being overwhelmed by one’s own emotions. What I don’t do is just some long and drawn out, overly sentimental tale of someone’s memory of an alcoholic father (sigh) or lengthy expositions on the longing for cheese. Okay, I may insert a scene about the longing for cheese in my second workshop piece and you know it was pointed out to me that I didn’t even let my readers know if there were trees in Kreuzberg so I’m writing in a scene where my protagonist, lost in thought, contemplating the futility and meaninglessness of relationships, walks into a tree.