Thursday, September 22, 2011

A Middle-Aged Mama Has Her Mid-Life Crisis

For some reason last spring it occurred to me that being a full-time professor/mother/wife, while fun and fulfilling, did not occupy enough of my time and sanity. Days chugged along quite satisfactorily; the kids were happy, the husband well-fed and agreeable, my students had enough funding to keep them in rice and beans. Myself, I had a routine, one that kept me writing in the mornings, blogging and editing in the late evenings. I managed on my six hours of sleep, and felt pretty good about life, love, and all the other things in the world.

Then summer hit. Ennui settled in with the humidity. I hit walls – with work, with writing. Life felt aimless. It drove me crazy.

I considered withdrawing my life savings and buying a Maserati sports coupe. I contemplated running away to Italy or maybe Maine, to shelter at Haystack awhile. There were quite a few days I almost did NOT take my exit and kept driving, driving, driving. Restlessness thrummed under my skin like an electric current.

But I am not gutsy enough to throw myself into too much adventure. Perhaps all I needed was something to percolate the spaces between my synapses. I decided to pursue a dream I’ve had ever since I started writing 5 years ago. So on a whim I applied to a graduate program in creative writing – and got in.

Going in, I had reservations – this was an MA program, not an MFA. I was not/am not sure whether I’d rather go the MFA route (more on this later). But for now I am an official student in the Johns Hopkins MA in Creative Writing program. I am quite certain I am the oldest student in the class. I am also quite certain I have less exposure and training in the humanities than my classmates. Walking around the Homewood campus reminded me of Chapel Hill, which of course vaulted me back to my own undergraduate memories, my mispent youth.

The MA is part-time, of course. One course a semester. This semester, Contemporary American Writers. One class in, and already my brain’s flexing like Gumby. Asking the provocative questions:

• When I ‘like’ something I read, why do I ‘like’ it?
• What are my core set of beliefs regarding life? Regarding art?
• How do writers elevate life into art?
• Why do I write?

I have never sat in a classroom with a dozen other people passionate about writing and reading and art. Wow. Even though my first class occurred during one of the worst emotional weeks of my life, for almost 3 hours I forgot my grief, my anxiety, my frustration. For 3 hours I was transported and re-energized.

We’ve been discussing this video, a TED talk by Shea Hembrey, a contemporary artist who took on a phenomenal challenge -- he became 100 artists. Take a peek, and tell me -- would you, could you, do this with your art? Your writing? Why or why not?



  1. congrats linda for chasing your dream .. so many put it off and wait for the "right time" that never comes. This is the right time for you and success will follow as well as so many wonderful new challenges, friends and tremendous experiences - all good things ahead..

  2. Wow, that video is so amazing, funny, subversive but inspiring as well. This is a wonderful post, the essence of both the video and your restlessness and the leap you made to do the MA is that you needed ideas, thoughts, feeding your imagination and creativity. When everything is focussed on production and getting by we begin to be starved of these things. It's a mid-life crises that makes sense to me and I wish you great happiness and satisfaction from your new avenues and can't wait to hear more! Thanks so much for sharing.

  3. Sounds like a pretty good mid-life crisis to me! What's the difference between an MA and an MFA? I'm doing an MLitt (master of literature degree) in Creative Writing right now - well, I officially start on Monday but I've been to subject talks and meeting people and whatnot this week.

  4. The question you ask about Hembrey is a very involved one. First of all, what's he doing? Is it hubris, or is it an opportunity to consider what kind of art different types of people in different cultures might produce? On first glance I can't think of an easy answer. The Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa - 1888-1935 - created over 100 "heteronyms", poets that he created, complete with biographies and individual styles. I consider Pessoa's work to be radical and profound, given the time that he did it. In today's world, Hembrey's project is not nearly so radical or profound; what stands out on first glance is incredible energy and intellectual curiosity, but there seems to be a 'wow factor' that might keep the focus on Hembrey, the old cult of personality. What would I do? In poetry I am creating a body of work by a person very different from me, although I'm not ready to share this with the world yet. In the visual arts, once upon a time, I wanted to create three very different bodies of work, place them in three galleries as three artists simultaneously. Then I wanted to pose as three very different art critics and review each show. Today I think such games have lost their novelty. I'm interested now in hand-crafted objects, particularly those that don't reproduce well and can't be passed around on the web - a kind of art that's about tuning out and getting back to the rough ground and clear, pure seeing.

    I'm glad you're enjoying your classes, Linda. I love the kinds of questions you're asking. Did you really consider spending a fortune on a sports car, or were you just being funny?

  5. Congrats on your acceptance to a graduate program. I'm proud of you for chasing your dream.

  6. I think in the beginning that students vacillate between feeling that everyone else is better, and then that they are better than everyone else...It sounds really weird, I know...and neither thought is true... YMMV. I tend to think that the work may shape your core beliefs on life and art as you go. I never really found it useful to dwell too long on why I write poetry. I just do. You might, however become more in tune with your "sensibility" as a writer.

    Best of luck! Keep us posted on this! It's exciting.

    And I believe that sports cars are the perfect remedy for mid-life crises! You'll never know if that GranCabrio won't magically make you 25 again, unless it's in your driveway!

  7. Thanks all for visiting -- and what a plethora of responses! Thank you for the encouragement and support (and Michael, for goading me towards this dream).
    Louise, we must compare notes. The MFA is considered a terminal degree, the MA a step towards a PhD. Now, the MFA is not so much a terminal degree in terms of landing academic/teaching positions. I have no desire to go for a PhD. But let's talk...

    Alison, I needed space to slow down. The past 5 years have whirled by, and now I need to slow-write, to absorb, to ponder...

    Mark, your comments as always 1) make me think more deeply, 2) teach me something new (like this Pessoa fellow), and 3) remind how effing brilliant you are. I'll be following up with you offline.

    Stephen, thank you. I will need all the luck you can send me.

    Anon, yes, just write. And yes, very exciting. I agree with you that work<==> life/art. I also beleive that beautiful fast cars can be perfect remedies for the slump -- my neighbor certainly smiles the most when in his new 50th birthday porsche! Thank you for dropping by. Peace...

  8. So excited for you, Linda! Best of luck with everything. And the video? What charisma this Shea guy has. What imagination.