Sometimes I go on the internet and find things that…enrage…me. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t go hunting for this kind of thing, but having spent my whole life in and around education, there’s a whole swag of odd things that sweep past me on a daily basis.
There’s crazy politicians who think teachers are overpaid (but not CEOs), parents who believe their 2-year-old kid (and only their kid!) is a gift to humanity, music students who download copyrighted works while wondering why there’s no money in their industry, and this guy. (Why is it a guy? Why does it always have to be a guy?)
His first hard truth is:
Writers are born with talent.
Hear that? That’s your literary jaw being punched with a critical iron fist. His main thesis is this:
The MFA student who is the Real Deal is exceedingly rare, and nothing excites a faculty adviser more than discovering one. I can count my Real Deal students on one hand, with fingers to spare.
Let’s stop here. Firstly, who does he expect to be teaching — literary greats? People who are already sufficiently skilled enough to be published? Authors with a six-novel contract on their hands and have a few hours to spare on a degree?
Of course you’re not going to meet the ‘Real Deal’ writers (whatever that means) at the start of a MFA class. You’re the teacher, they’re supposed to leave the MFA course as the real deal. That’s your whole freakin’ job.
It would be like me getting upset with students who can’t speak English or understand business when they start a course I’m teaching. What am I supposed to do with them? Educate them? OMG! What an original idea.
Naturally, there’s (a few) students who walk in with all the skills already and just want the paper, or have such low self-esteem they haven’t realised how good they are just yet. They’re great, and wonderful to discover, because they’re already my equal. But, they’re supposed to be few and far between. If they weren’t, I wouldn’t have a job. (And, come to think of it, neither would you.)
If you didn’t decide to take writing seriously by the time you were a teenager, you’re probably not going to make it.
I don’t even know where he gets the science for this. People can learn (and master) second languages starting well into their twenties. Many can do it much, much later. Yes, it takes longer. Yes, it’s harder. Of course, if he linked to some (I don’t know) research that would be great.
Oh, and if we apply the same logic (is that what we call it?) to the world of businesses then you could say that if you weren’t taking your career seriously by the time you were a teenager, you probably aren’t going to be a successful entrepreneur.
If you complain about not having time to write, please do us both a favor and drop out.
I’ve been nice up to this point. I’ve listened to you talk and give the ‘hard’ truths, but now we’re mortal enemies on the field. You do not get to complain about this, ever. Not when you’re in your job, not when you’re out of it.
You are paid, paid, to teach. That is your job. It’s not supposed to be easy. Your students are not there to make it easy. They are not there to generate good outputs for your year-end evaluation. They are not there to hand in every half-thought-out, poorly constructed assessment you put together at 3am in-between binge reading sessions of Tolstoy.
You are there (in a professional capacity) to find a way to make them want to do their assessments. Everything is about them. If they don’t want to do it, then you’ve designed it wrong. The reading assigned isn’t filling them with a burning desire to learn more, it isn’t pushing them to new heights. Essentially, you’ve managed to disengage someone from their passion. That’s a skill, but not something you should be proud of.
They say (in the conferences I’ve been to) that 90% of student complaints and disengagement arise from the teacher’s method and assessments. 90%.
And before you start yelling ‘it was a low-residency’ program at me, I taught at-risk kids. A chair was thrown in my class. I got hauled (and tossed) over hot coals because my CEO thought I marked too hard and cost his company money. I’ve made mistakes, I’ve erred on my path, but I know (and even then I knew) it was me making those errors. Don’t you dare put this on them.
Your classes were boring, your content uninspired and your inflexibility too damning for people who had lives. Or had a different opinion than you.
It’s all you, bro. Suck it up and go cry in the retirement corner.
If you aren’t a serious reader, don’t expect anyone to read what you write.
I don’t even know what this means. It’s like Twilight never happened, it’s like 50 Shades of Grey never occurred, the fantasy genre never ripped off Tolkien and Nicholas Sparks doesn’t exist.
Ryan Boudinot seems to believe, with all his heart, that the new literary novel about a cheating professor with a sophomore student is actually original. Worse, he says this:
Conversely, I’ve had students ask if I could assign shorter books, or—without a trace of embarrassment—say they weren’t into “the classics” as if “the classics” was some single, aesthetically consistent genre.
Right, because it’s not the lecturer’s job to explain that the classic genre is actually a diverse collection of literature to a student. Or that, historically, it has been traditionally about middle-class white males and the very definition of ‘classic literature’ is changing with each passing year. Or perhaps he could’ve advised they should start their own ‘classic’ list, with books that challenged them in unique ways to think about the world. Then required them to search out other novels that were in different styles but covered similar themes.
Great work, shutting down that conversation with a look of disapproval Professor Boudinot.
No one cares about your problems if you’re a shitty writer.
The fact is very few people care about your problems even if you’re a very good writer. That’s why we learn (in MFA classes we’d hope!) to modify our story to encompass and appeal to a wide variety of people. It’s why we learn how to take a personal issue (social anxiety) and turn it into something compelling (a bad-ass assassin who can read people’s emotions well, but is also nervous in day-to-day conversations). The fault of being scared connects the reader to a fantasy (being a hard-ass who gets the job done) even though in real life we’d never go to the next step.
Is that the worst part? Don’t be stupid, listen to this:
Just because you were abused as a child does not make your inability to stick with the same verb tense for more than two sentences any more bearable. In fact, having to slog through 500 pages of your error-riddled student memoir makes me wish you had suffered more.
Right, because reading someone’s 500-page (probably double-spaced) work is worse than being abused as a child. As someone who has worked (on occasion) with individuals who have had self-harming tendencies, I can only say there is now a sphere of fury in my stomach.
I hope Seattle City of Literature fires you for simply making that statement.
I feel like I should say that I agree with him on the last three points: showing how smart you are probably isn’t the greatest way forward for your writing career (although Murakami has made a name out of it), you don’t need help getting published anymore, and spending time in the wilderness is great for growth. Although, there’s nothing wrong with asking your teacher if you’re a ‘real writer’ yet. You’re a student, you’re learning and you’re supposed to have insecurities. It’s the teacher / lecturer / tutor’s job to help you. Within reason. Not at 9:00pm at night. Not at 1:00am in the morning. And definitely not over drinks at their house.
In all honesty though, it sounds like whoever had previously hired Ryan Boudinot just lost access to a really awful teacher. And the education sector can (and does do) a lot better than him. So, my advice to future MFA students is this: shop around for your course. Meet the faculty, find out if they love books or love teaching and go with the latter because some assholes aren’t worth giving your money to.