Inside the MFA: Settled not Stagnant

Posted on Thu, Feb 18 2016 9:00 am by Miriam Karraker


I’m only about a month into my second semester and my life already feels thick with the usual things like books, lesson plans, articles, internship tasks, applications for summer funding, and poems crammed into whatever spaces are left on the ever-growing to-do list. What’s strange and somewhat surprising is my newfound sense of being settled here, amidst the barrage of tasks. Settled, but definitely not stagnant. Over the break I started an editorial internship at an independent, nonprofit publisher in town (I won’t say who, but I’m very much thrilled because they publish many of my favorite poets and essayists) and I’ve got a good routine. It also doesn’t hurt to have the opportunity to do an independent study on contemporary publishing, giving me both academic credit and the opportunity to work hands-on in publishing.

Twice a week, I’m interning with people who care about literature outside of an academic context. I feel pretty refreshed knowing that many of these people are also writers, who wake up before the work day to work on their own writing, and who understand that the life of a writer requires constant monitoring of work/life balance. Further it’s refreshing to see people consider publishing as an industry built on relationships between communities and individuals. And even further, that good art comes from a variety of aesthetics and backgrounds, and good publishing should be committed to allowing these voices to have space.

This semester I’m teaching twice a week, which means that I finally have a decent writing schedule. I’m learning that teaching does not have to dominate my life, though teaching is definitely something I value and actually allows me to think about my own work in more interesting ways. I’m usually one to do things well ahead of deadline, but to be more protective of my writing time, I’ve gotten a little bolder with my time management. I’ve learned two things: the first being that compartmentalizing the time I spend on teaching to specific times of the week makes me feel more balanced and enjoy teaching more. Grading is another issue, and weeks in which I have grading require much more of my time, but I’ve learned you just have to roll with this and make it work. Second,  I’m finding that lesson planning the day before (or even in the hours before) I teach actually makes class run better. This might be because the lesson plan is still fresh in my brain or maybe I drink more coffee with a smaller window in which to do things. Either way, I have more time to write, and more time to do nice things like see my family and go to a museum on weekends. I’m finding that my list of poem ideas is growing rapidly with this newfound commitment to allowing at least some leisure into my life. That’s not to say I don’t feel stuck at times, but I’ll save my feelings on writer’s block until next month.

Miriam W. Karraker earned her BA in Religious Studies and French from Lewis & Clark College. She is an MFA candidate in Poetry at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities. She writes for Bitch Media.