SPELL FOR SURVIVING YOUR MFA

by Kyla Jamieson

After Joni Murphy and Morgan Parker

 

Pressure to produce writing

that will be appropriated

as cultural capital by the institution

(“MFA alumna _________”)

will push you into yourself, press

your tongue to the roof of your mouth.

You will not know how to break

this curse. Don’t let not knowing

stop you from trying.

 

Write spells for surviving days

and weeks and months.

 

Write to dispel fear and compliance.

Distinguish between risking safety

and risking comfort.

 

Don’t let institutional betrayal

chase you from the rewarding

risk of trusting people.

 

Use the privileges that protect you

to challenge the inequalities

that anchor them. Remember

that you did not earn

these privileges; there is no lifetime

guarantee.

 

Reject the idea that tenure

makes one person’s taste

or relationship to writing

more important than another’s.

 

An ability to navigate

bureaucracy helped you into these

rooms the same way it has kept

others circulating among them

for years. Work to open the doors,

not to stay in the rooms.

 

Forget everything and eat pastries

and artisanal ice cream, not

because you have a refined palate but

because these are the consumer choices

you can afford. Illusory comfort

is still comfort.

 

Call Adèle. She writes poems

because she has too much love in her

and if there is anything you need

to remember it’s that writing

is more connected to love

than to the institution where you trade

time for funding that spares you

from aesthetic labour.

Appreciate this reprieve

but do not surrender your voice

in thanks for it.

 

Be a good enough student. Do what is

required, not what is expected.

 

Write spells to distinguish being

of service from being a martyr

from being exploited.

 

Your self-care may be interpreted

as misbehaviour. Don’t let this

keep you in rooms that trigger you.

 

Write to connect even in a hostile

environment. Isolation seems like

protection but it is exile.

 

Stop hoping for apologies. Make

what you need: I’m sorry

for gaslighting you, for punishing you,

for blaming you for a man’s

aggression. I’m sorry that I added

to your oppression when I could have

alleviated it. I’m sorry

that I treated you like a radio

turned up too loud.

 

Toss kale with olive oil and lemon

juice. Sprinkle with hemp seeds

and dried cranberries. Add roasted

vegetables and mix. Let meals

remind you that feeding

yourself is a necessity

that extends beyond the kitchen.

It is not a luxury. It fortifies

your resistance.

 

Write spells for falling asleep

without your laptop open.

 

Watching Nashville on Netflix

until 4am may be a thing you do

but it is not nourishment.

It is coconut water when you’re hungry.

It is coffee when you need sleep.

Try to stay hydrated ~and~ sleep, ok?

Make sleep a priority. Protect it.

Even from pleasure.

 

Come on your own hand. Come

on other people’s hands. Remember

that penetration is painful for some;

don’t speak in ways that other them.

 

Be prepared to be lied to.

This inevitability has never

made you into a liar. It’s possible

that you’re too forthright.

Consider lying more.

 

You hate sycophants, probably

because you were one. Do your best

not to regress and to have compassion

for people who act like you used to.

 

Do not pre-masticate your identity

for others. It’s complicated.

 

Write spells for protection

from aesthetic monoculture.

 

Take rest days. From exercising

and from not exercising. From the internet.

From school. From people and from solitude.

 

Prioritize your goals over ‘learning

objectives,’ your education over the aims

of an institution that hinders your growth

as much as it enables it.

 

Eat food. I said this already but it’s important

and you often forget.

 

Draw plants. Grow plants. Water yourself.

 

Look in the mirror. You don’t have to

put makeup on. Look at the page.

You don’t have to make it palatable,

even though you can.

 

This poem doesn’t need to answer

to anyone who says it isn’t a poem.

It’s for you. It’s for you in a way nothing

and nobody else is.

 

This is a spell for surviving your MFA.

 

 

ABOUT

Kyla Jamieson is currently surviving her MFA at UBC. You can read another piece she wrote for our blog here.

Image: Into the Water by Sonia Alins via Tumblr

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