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.