the value of invaluable things

by Sandra

It’s February 8th. Three months and seven days remain until I am officially done with school. Naturally, it is at this point that two things start to happen: I start to wonder what comes next, and many well-meaning but ultimately clueless and misguided people pose the question, “so, what’s next?”

And even though it is not much of an answer at all, the best one I have so far is simply, “I don’t know.”

It’s true that something will happen after graduation. For one, I will need to start paying back my student loans, and in that way school has had a very definite value, to the tune of 100,000-plus dollars—well, 100-grand and a masters degree—that’s the tangible, actual value of these last two years, a culmination of classes and writing, workshops, professors, concentration changes, grades, theses, GREs, permits to register, student i.d.s and writers’ conferences.

See, a writing degree is not like a medical degree or a law degree, which are pathways to a very definitive end—you finish school and become a doctor or a lawyer and you go on to make a gazillion dollars. But graduate with a professional writing degree and do … what exactly? Go back to temping? Join a squatter community? Get another MFA? Who knows? There’s no certainty, and that’s the hardest part about writing, at least creative writing anyway, because so few place any tangible value on it.

Even writers question writing. Find one, any one of them, and ask them—they’ll tell you of the exquisite torture that comes with writing: long hours alone in a room, the constant distraction of the Internet, the nagging feeling that it’s all so futile, that words don’t mean anything, that there are worthier pursuits in the world, that they should have gone to medical school, that it’s so hard why am I trying anyway?

So what is the real value of school? That’s a question I’ve been asking since the day I set foot on USC’s campus and it’s only been within the last week or so that I’ve begun to figure it out. To be honest, I’m surprised it took so long, and if you know me at all you know where this is headed: to relationships.

This past weekend was Lindsey’s birthday party. We dressed in ’60s-inspired clothes and drank ’60s-inspired cocktails; there was much merriment. The next day, Superbowl Sunday, I was tired and a little hungover, and spent the day with many of the same people I’d partied with the night before. Together we suffered from the same malaise as we lazed around, barely speaking to one another half the time. It was comfortable—no pretense, no feeling the need to be “on,” just a roomful of tired writers (and their significant others), all quietly questioning their chosen paths, and watching football, of course.

So it’s community. Ha, I almost laughed out loud when it dawned on me. Isn’t it always community, always relationships that are of utmost import? Yes, indeed. A group of us are headed to the Association of Writers and Poets (AWP) annual conference in Chicago this week. At a recent informational meeting, Brighde encouraged us to be bold in our networking, to not be afraid to walk up to writers we admire and to tell them so, because she also said that the way we meet and interact with writers and publishers and editors now will lay the groundwork for our future careers. I think she’s right and that’s already been happening over the last two years.