MPW Farewell

As a rule, I often downplay naming people and things in my blog posts, thus the program where I take writing classes I tend to refer to, generically, as “the program where I take classes.” Today, however, I want to name it: It’s a graduate program at USC called the Master of Professional Writing.  I’ve been taking classes through MPW part-time for two years. I enrolled for a few reasons: because my job offered tuition remission and I’m a big fan of things that are free; because taking classes maintains my student status and thus prevents my mountain of student debt from toppling down on me; and because every semester I saw interesting topics and instructors. I figured I might learn something, and if not, I’d at least be pressured to write. I didn’t enroll because I thought I needed an MPW program. With two MFAs from highly regarded schools,  I didn’t need the degree, and I didn’t need any more friends who were aspiring writers.

That’s what I thought.

I thought wrong.

While it would be impossible for every concept to be new, I’ve been consistently surprised. I’ve gained skills and knowledge in my MPW classes that five years of MFA classes didn’t give me; and though I’d graduated from my screenwriting program with friends and acquaintances in the Los Angeles area, it has been the MPW program that has given me a  community–both a strong student community and an introduction to Los Angeles as a writing (and reading!) community.  I’d come to believe that my screenwriting pursuits were entirely incompatible with a path as a creative writer. Through MPW I have been shown that is not the case, and introduced to a number of role-models who work in multiple genres.  Finally, MPW has reminded me of my appreciation and gratitude for writing and for other writers, which is not a luxury, but a necessity for anyone who plans to persevere in a writing profession.

My current semester at MPW has been the best I have experienced in terms of all of these things.  My classes have been educational and directly applicable to my work; I’ve felt a real affection respect and compassion for the students I share the classroom with. I’ve been inspired by my professors and the literature they’ve introduced to me,  and I’ve been ever more impressed by the reading and events the sponsored by the program and the efforts its administration makes to give us ties to the larger community of Los Angeles.  Friday night, I attended a student/ faculty reading. Afterwards as I wandered through The Last Bookstore in the company of other students, I was struck by a sense of belonging. This is not to say that I spend lots of time feeling ostracized or alienated, but moments of feeling a real sense of belonging occur seldom enough that I notice them.  And lately, when I have noticed them, it’s been during in MPW-related activities: attending readings at bookstores around L.A., volunteering for the department-run journal, participating in professional seminars organized by the faculty on the weekends. Lately, when thinking of the MPW program, I’ve felt uncharacteristically warm and fuzzy.

Which makes it a little ironic that today I received an email saying that the dean has decided that the MPW Program will no longer accept new students. The current cohort will be the last cohort and the program will be discontinued as of Spring 2016.  So far, no reasons for this have been offered, other than the statement that it was “a business decision.”

This will likely not affect my own educational trajectory, but somehow it still changes things– like learning in your senior year of high school that after you graduate the city is going to burn down the building.  You’ll still get to go to school everyday, but when you’re done, there won’t be anyplace to visit, and all the secrets and advice you might have given your kid brother are no longer pertinent.

It’s an odd, sorrowful feeling.

But mostly I feel lucky.  Lucky that I found MPW when I did, and that it has given me so much that I didn’t even know I needed.

MPW Last Bookstore

The Not Comfort of Miles

P.S. This week I learned MORE about Miles Davis. He treated women like shit. He beat his wives and was psychologically cruel.

I’m still looking forward to exploring his music, but this information definitely taints things for me. Kinda like how I don’t think if I’ll ever watch Braveheart without thinking of how messed up Mel Gibson is. And I don’t think I’ll be able to listen to Sketches of Spain without thinking about how Miles made his wife give up her dancing career to follow him around, and how she finally had to divorce him because when he started doing cocaine, “the violence got to be too much.” In other words, he started to beat her up MORE than he was already beating her up.

The Comfort of Miles

Right now, I’m reading Kind of Blue by Ashley Kahn. It’s about the making of the Miles Davis album of the same name, but, in the first chapter at least, it’s about the making of Miles Davis as a fully formed artist and leader of other musicians.

I’m reading the book for class, and didn’t go into it thinking it would have any take home lessons about my own life. And yet, some Davis factoids have resonated with me.

1) Kahn quotes pianist Bill Evans who called Miles “a late arriver” and said, “There are always a lot of early-arrivers who have great facility. Miles had to go through a longer laborious, digging, analytical process, finally arriving at something which is far more precious.”

2) He writes that “Mile’s constantly questioned his ability. ‘It was so bad I thought, I’ll go study dentistry,” he recalled.”

3) He notes how even later in his career, Miles wasn’t the best technical player, so he simplified things, found their essence. “Fellow trumpeter Art Famer commented on Davis: ‘When you’re not technically a virtuoso, you have to say something. You have no place to hide.”

Basically, what is comforting for me to remember, is that some artists struggle. And the fact that you struggle doesn’t make you not an artist.

The Way to Generate School Pride (In an Opposite Universe)

Our spelunking school offers a limited number of scholarships, based on need and merit. So, last spring, for the second year in a row, I wrote a five-hundred word essay, printed my hundred page screenpl—ahem, spelunking document, filled out application forms online and on paper, drove across town, paid to park then stood in line to turn in my packet at the designated hour.

For the second time in my spelunking school career, the summer passed. Dead quiet from the Spelunking Division on the topic of scholarship decisions.

And then I heard a rumor. Whisper circulated that scholarships had been awarded. Surely, I thought, something would appear in my inbox to confirm this rumor. A short courteous note perhaps, saying something along the lines of: “Thank you all for your application. Scholarships have now been awarded, and the recipients have been notified.”

Days passed. Then weeks. Months.


The end of summer approached, and for the second time in my spelunking career, my spelunking school announced available D.A.ships—a kind of work stipend applied toward tuition. I revamped my resume, wrote my personal statement, provided my financial details and class schedule and drove across town to hand in a manila envelope full of papers and my hopes by the deadline.

Once again, I’ve watched my inbox. Not, to be honest, with any real hope that I would get a D.A. ship. But with some curious hope again, of some acknowledgment: “Your application was received and considered, but that the positions had been allocated.”

Spelunking classes begin tomorrow. I should probably give up that hope.*

Once, in high school, I had a girlfriend who was invited to prom by a boy. She decided not to go with him, but didn’t bother to tell him. “He’ll figure it out,” she said.

I couldn’t look at her the same after that. That moment marked the beginning of the end of our relationship. But looking back, I see she was young, not fully morally developed, not really that smart.

From grown-ups, however, who are not stupid, one might expect better manners.

Should I talk to them do you think? It’s a dilemma. I did, last year. I wrote my letter, had a meeting with the chair of the spelunking department. I voiced my disappointment. The grown ups looked at me across a table, and thanked me for expressing my concerns.

And then, for the second year in a row, the representatives of an organization that urges me to consider it to be my community (albeit one I’ve paid many thousand dollars to belong to) have again chosen to accord me—and my classmates– the same courtesy and respect one might expect to receive when responding to an anonymous job posting on Craigslist.

*Lest my bitterness be misinterpreted as that of someone who has never been the object of the school’s largesse, I’d like to note that I have indeed received a D.A.ships in two recent semesters and was grateful for them. On those occasions however, my less fortunate friends were not informed, and had to find out through those of us who had received awards.

UFO’s and Conspiracies

One of the things that I like about writing is researching. I’m working on a piece right now, as I may have mentioned, that involves some aliens. And I’ve thought for awhile that the protagonist might work with a guy who is into conspiracies and alien cover-ups and stuff. I want to really ground his dialogue in “conspiracy talk” but I don’t really know what that is yet. So I was sorry to discover that in the last six months I have missed both the 2009 Conspiracy Con, which was in June in Santa Clara, and more recently, something called the “Alienenvent for a New Humanity” which was right here in L.A. in November, and the Annual Ventura County UFO Festival that same weekend. There is a world out there I have never experienced.

Looking forward, I have the time, but not the money to attend the “Earth Transformation Conference” In two weeks in Hawaii, and though I might be able to drum up the money, the timing of February’s “19th Annual International UFO Convention and Film Festival” in Laughlin, NV, is really bad, conflicting both with weekday classes and weekend commitments.
I am happy to see, however that some of the guest speakers for that conference will be in L.A. the week before, for the “Conscious Life Expo” at the LAX Hilton. I’ve spent way too much time on the site today, but think I’ve found a few events with alien subject matter. It’s no Conspiracy Con, but I guess you have to start somewhere.
The expo happens a mere couple weeks before I think my final draft is due. This is lucky, because it is before the deadline, but less lucky because it’s not enough before the deadline and I feel like it will just be the tip of the iceberg in terms of understanding the community. I’ll probably start trying to find some of the speakers on YouTube in advance and see where that leads me as well.
Often I start researching something because I want a couple lines of realistic dialogue, and end up wanting to research enough to make a documentary film.
If you want to find an otherworldly conference near you, you can check out this link.