The Socially-Challenged MFA Student

The socially-challenged student. I think about the concept all the time. What does the notion of the socially-challenged student have to do with the wonderfully diverse UCF MFA program, you ask?

Though the MFA program at UCF is solidly based on socially close encounters of the seventh kind (all writers are human/alien hybrids after all, aren’t they?), some of us have different experiences than others when it comes to participating in the many socially-centered, ultra-supportive activities in the program. Some of us might be especially shy. Some of us might have to travel a significant distance to the Orlando area, or need to go to our kids’ soccer games and marching band performances, or have a nine-to-five job that tends to actually be eight to six, Saturdays and Sundays included. We might be the caregiver to a family member or a mentor to high schoolers. Some of us are just, as we say, old and tired. O Time, where do you go? You’re already gone.

Nevertheless, this doesn’t mean we’re not involved in spirit. How many weekends, after a crazy shift serving in a crazy dining room, have I managed to get a few minutes on Facebook to “like” a Parcels post, those beautiful, almost misty, red velvet curtains in the background framing an even more beautiful MFA reader as he or she delves into the depths of their dark places to overcome not only the nervousness of reading in front of others, but the notion that now, at that particular moment, their words will be released into air for all of time, floating through the experience of each and every listener in the venue, maybe even reviewed for an Orlando mag’s culture segment? How many times, after bemoaning the fact that I didn’t have enough gas (read: money) to drive the hour to campus, have I sucked in every word of a fellow student’s description of a summer reading by an internationally-renowned fictioneer who graced UCF with their presence? Countless times. Countless days. Countless ways.

We move through the radiant highs and lows of this undertaking with each other. I rely on my writing peers to fill me in when my life won’t allow anything but a minimal amount of time to spend on my school experience. And they count on me, no matter what, to bring whatever it is I need to bring to the workshop table or the roundtable lit discussion, because, frankly, even though we’re all so different (in such good ways), we’re all in this darn thing together.

Each and every student experience in this program is of equal significance. I’m so thankful that every once in a while I can squeeze in a reading event or a quick lunch with a peer. And I’m grateful that even though I don’t have a lot of time or opportunity to participate in writing retreats or local Orlando literary events, I can still consider myself a part of the wonderful, welcoming writing community here at UCF. It’s a great place to belong.

Mary PetraliaMary Petralia will complete an MFA in Poetry this December. She lives on the east coast of Florida with her family. Her poems appear or are forthcoming in Shooter Literary Magazine, Kentucky Review, Tincture Journal, Anamesa, and others.


One thought on “The Socially-Challenged MFA Student

  1. Great piece Mary, and as a fellow coastal dweller, I relate. For those of us who, for various reasons, don’t always physically partake in readings or the bar-scene, the UCF MFA experience can be supplemented by social media. You make a grand point, however, that more important than attending social events, is attending workshop (and other classes) p-r-e-p-a-r-e-d. This is where the real experience is for the serious writer.


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