Recently the folks over at Brevity have run several blog posts discussing the MFA as a calling card (or not), and because I subscribe to their blog, I’ve read each and every one. I found myself relating to Matthew Schmeer’s post “The MFA as Rampant Careerism” the most, although I didn’t return to college later in life and I’m not currently teaching. However, as a college student, I diversified as much as possible while still in school so that I would have more options once I graduated with an MFA and entered the job market.
I tutored English (and Algebra) for four years as an undergraduate at Tusculum College. I also served as student and then assistant editor for The Tusculum Review, where I first encountered Adobe InDesign. I laid out nonfiction submissions and designed brochures for the English department. Along with other students, I produced a chapbook honoring the winners of the annual Curtis (‘28) and Billie Owens Literary Prize.
During my first year in the University of Central Florida’s MFA, I took ENC5705: Theory and Practice in Composition so that I would be considered for a teaching assistantship in the the following year. That summer I interned with The Florida Review, reading and judging submissions, and proofread the issue about to go to print.
In my second year at UCF, I taught ENC1101 and ENC1102 on a teaching assistantship while juggling my own classes and writing my thesis. Additionally, I served as secretary for the Graduate Writers’ Association, and along with Allison Pinkerton, co-hosted the graduate reading series, PARCELS: MFAs in Progress. I taught a GWA workshop on chapbook design and construction, and I also spoke about this topic as a guest lecturer for Lisa Roney’s undergraduate editing course.
In my third (elective) year at UCF, I taught creative writing courses out in the community on a teaching assistantship through the English Department. With these courses I didn’t have to adhere to a pre-set curriculum, but instead chose my own readings, writing prompts, and overall course structure. I split my time between three locations teaching students who consisted of at-risk teenagers, adult women, and other adults receiving residential care for mental illness and substance use disorders. Concurrently, I worked part-time as a substitute teacher for Orange County Public Schools and volunteered my time to the then fledgling MFA Marketing and Recruitment Committee. I even substituted a class for Laurie Uttich’s undergrad nonfiction writing workshop.
That year, in addition to finishing the required classes and presenting my MFA thesis , I also enrolled in Production and Publication Methods with Dr. Madelyn Flammia with the intent of building professional writing samples that would assist me in the job market. This blog is the result of my work for that class. We were tasked with creating documentation for a real-world client.
When I graduated I applied for a variety of teaching, writing, and library positions, but I limited myself to the Central Florida area, which significantly reduced my options.
So what am I doing now? I create new as well as revise existing technical maintenance manuals for Walt Disney World Resort attractions. I’m not teaching, though I have participated in training new hires, and for a long time, I wasn’t writing, at least not outside of work. I spend eight hours a day, forty hours a week researching, interpreting engineering drawings, and writing technical content using Adobe FrameMaker. I’ve learned about solenoid valves, audio distribution, and computer software, and I’ve seen how Disney maintains its magic. I don’t take my work home with me (though I do often come in at odd hours to document procedures completed during third shift), and I don’t volunteer outside of work hours.
How do I stay connected to the literary world? Like I mentioned in my opening paragraph, I subscribe to the Brevity blog. I read fiction submissions (sporadically) for The Florida Review. I occasionally fill in as an editor for this blog. I read and critique the work of my former classmates. I try to attend local literary events, though that has fallen to the backburner now that I live in west Orlando. And, recently, I’ve started writing again. I took an online poetry course on magical realism through the Poetry Barn, and I’m slowly working on revising the four pieces I wrote during that time.
I don’t view my MFA as a calling card, nor do I think it should guarantee me a teaching gig. I’ve limited myself to the area around where I live, and while I’ve applied to teaching positions, I’m not quite willing to give up my full-time position with benefits to teach as an adjunct when I don’t get interviewed for the few instructor positions available in the area. At the moment I’m content to work my day job and write on the side.
Danielle Armstrong earned her MFA in Fiction from the University of Central Florida in 2015. She hopes to one day combine her love of knitting with her technical writing experience and freelance as a technical editor of knitwear designs.