Life after an MFA: Can I call myself a writer?

Velicia Jerus Darquenne, MFA ‘18, is the guest blogger this week.

I never thought I would be the next J. K. Rowling or Stephen King, or even Dorothy Allison or Silas House. I knew that I didn’t want to teach like many people who earn their MFA, at least not right away. I knew after the MFA program, I would get a job to pay the bills, hopefully one that granted me enough time to write on the side. Many people asked me why I would bother going another $20,000 in debt to “not use my degree.” I wanted to study the craft of creative writing. I loved writing. I felt like I had stories to tell that would help others understand human nature. These answers rarely satisfied anyone but me.

I learned in undergrad that college was more than the simple equation I was told growing up: College + Degree = High Paying Job. I come from a family and society that doesn’t value a degree, especially a liberal arts degree, unless you are making more than your neighbor pipeliner without one, and still then, they weren’t happy with the decision. By my junior year of undergrad, I was told that I “educated myself out of the family.” That displacement was something I had often felt growing up anyhow, but hearing it said by an aunt hit me like a wave. I didn’t fit in.  

More than anything, that’s why I applied for an MFA program: I was looking for a family. I was looking for people who wanted to talk about literature, read language that inspired themselves, and write a series of words that made others whisper the ultimate compliment: I wish I had written that. For two and a half years, those residencies on West Virginia Wesleyan College’s campus meant everything. I was home. I had place and space.

But then it ends.

I have spent the year since graduation with a void, an emptiness, that I understood too well. The immediate connection was gone. I struggled to write a sentence in that year, to take the time I should to write. I had family, who once understood that I had a packet of homework due, now asking if writing was a really a job or “just a hobby.” Their definition of job requires a pay check. They didn’t understand needing to work at the craft, taking the time to read and write, let alone paying to get printed in a journal that only paid in contributor copies. Without the MFA family and their deadlines for packets, I felt lost to the world of writing, like I no longer understood it or belonged in it.

I got a job with a law firm as a legal administrative assistant. I didn’t think I would ever feel at home there, but it would pay the bills. Lawyers still give me the eerie suspicion they are all half-demons like Balthazar/Cole from Charmed.  But there were glimmers of hope, even there in a law firm, of writing appreciation. Not long after I started, an attorney with round John Lennon glasses walked out of office with no shoes, hiked up his pant legs, and asked me who was on his socks. It was Edgar Allen Poe. He had heard I was an English major and thought I would appreciate the socks. I did, more than he knew then. In less than a year, I got promoted to paralegal because they prefer their paralegals to have a masters. My MFA degree felt appreciated. Then, the gentleman training me tells me about himself. He has a BA in English and MFA in creative writing fiction. My same degrees! Again, I felt validated for not teaching and valued for my degrees. For me, no place is home without writing; however, I am finding it in places I never thought to look before.

Thankfully, the MFA family doesn’t disappear completely after graduation. I had peers reaching out, tapping my shoulder, checking on me, asking if I was still writing. I have been disappointed to repeatedly tell them not so much and give my line of excuses because, from my point of view, it looks like they are having no problem writing; it’s only me. My heart is healing, and I am learning to cope on my own after the MFA.

But more importantly, I am learning to give myself permission, to write and not write, and to still call myself a writer.

Velicia Jerus Darquenne is from Clarksburg, West Virginia. She earned her BA in English from Fairmont State University in December 2015; while there she interned for  Kestrel: A Journal of Art and Literature  and currently serves as Media Editor. Darquenne won the 2016 Best Prose Award from  Whetstone , Fairmont State University’s undergraduate literary journal. She has published in  Crack the Spine ,  Pretty Owl Poetry , and  Saw Palm: Florida Literature and Art .

Velicia Jerus Darquenne is from Clarksburg, West Virginia. She earned her BA in English from Fairmont State University in December 2015; while there she interned for Kestrel: A Journal of Art and Literature and currently serves as Media Editor. Darquenne won the 2016 Best Prose Award from Whetstone, Fairmont State University’s undergraduate literary journal. She has published in Crack the Spine, Pretty Owl Poetry, and Saw Palm: Florida Literature and Art.