Seriously, earning my Masters degree in Writing for Children and Young Adults is a big freaking deal. On the list of things I am proud of myself for accomplishing, it easily falls into the top three. Those three include:
1. Marrying my husband (or convincing my husband to marry me).
2. Birthing my daughter.
3. Earning my MFA.
The order rotates continually, based on my mood. Some days, I consider Fae's birth to be a major accomplishment. Other days I think, All I really did was push, hard, for hours, and it's not like I had a choice. Which anyone who has ever given birth can tell you is totally ridiculous. But I'm self-defeatist that way.
So. My Masters degree.
As our college president is so fond of reminding us, "Vermont College of Fine Arts is the Harvard of writing for kids. Or Harvard is the VCFA of everything else." Which is meant to convey that Vermont College is the best of the best, and that we--as graduates--are the best, too.
But a weird disconnect happens inside my brain when I consider my new alma mater.
I know how amazing VCFA is. I mean, look at it:
I know, right? It looks like the beautiful, artsy East Coast college in an indie film about "finding yourself" and true love and the triumph of the human spirit. And it's all legit.
The staff is incredible. The professors are some of finest writers and teachers in the world. The students consistently publish after graduation (and, in many cases, before) and their books win awards and starred reviews. I know all of this. It's why I wanted to go to VCFA so badly.
But when I put myself into this context, factor me into the equation, nothing adds up right. Maybe it's my upbringing, or my artistic sensitivity, or a nice example of Midwestern guilt, but I cannot see myself as "the best of the best" at anything. Ever. It will not compute.
During my final residency, I had to give a reading and a lecture. My reading came from my creative thesis, a science fiction novel, and my lecture was about creating fictional religions. It's easy for me to look back on these two performances (because I can't help thinking of them that way; I am an actor, after all) and recognize how well I presented them. I'm a good reader. I have no fear of public speaking. But when I consider the work itself, I have nothing but doubts.
I doubt that my reading was as compelling or well-composed as the work of classmates, who are so talented that I can hardly believe it sometimes. I doubt that my lecture will do anyone any good, or that it will spark the kind of useful debate that many lectures do. I doubt anyone will remember me, or care that I came through VCFA, or look forward to the work I'll do in the future.
Actually, I am the "best of the best" at doubting myself. Olympic-quality.
This is where I sit now, in a pool of doubt. I'm proud, and I'm scared, and I'm uncomfortable with the academic distinction I've earned. What does it mean to be a Master? What is "mastery?" I do not feel that I have it. I'm not sure I ever will.
But I have friends, good friends, to keep my head up for me. Friends I made in the program, of course, but other friends, too. Pre-VCFA friends. Friends who have stuck it out with me. And lots of family who love me and believe in me. More than I love or believe in myself. I am very, very lucky.
Jennifer Cary Diers, MFA. Weird, right? Weird and awesome.
2014 is already one heck of a year.