A blog on reading, writing and life

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Conversations I'd Like To Have

A few months ago someone in my (former) MFA program’s Facebook group posted a link to a list of 10 new literary journals. I spent some time examining the list and visited the website for each of the journals on the list, reading some of their material if it was available online, and looking at the format and guidelines for each one. Then I responded to the Facebook post, first thanking the person for sharing the link, then saying that I was glad that some of the new online journals were doing a Monday-Friday content, and ending with “A big problem I have with most online literary journals is that they try to resemble print journals as much as they can, rather than responding to the unique way people interact with the web.”

My opinion on this matter is something I feel passionately about, and is something I’d love to discuss with other people who love writing and care about the future of literature and publishing.

Instead I was met with radio silence.

If this was a singular event, I’d think I was being paranoid. But this has been a regular occurrence among people in or have graduated from my writing program. Every time I express an opinion that is even slightly out of line, even when I go out of my way to be civil about it, I get ignored.

My junior year of college, I literally spend dozens of hours a week arguing with a street preacher in public. I get that my idea of “constructive discourse” isn’t necessarily the norm. It has taken me some time temper my speech for people who aren’t secure enough in their opinions to yell them at strangers. And though I understand shouting-matches are generally taboo, I can’t understand why MFAers are unwilling to have any debate on vital issues affecting what they claim to care about.

Those were the days.

In my undergraduate community, I was encouraged my peers to express my ideas, even if they were unformed, because I might learn something by the process of putting my thoughts into conversation, and that by having a debate, not only would I learn about the other person’s position, but they might ask me questions to consider my own views in a new light. In a good debate, even if neither side changes their position, they might gain a deeper understanding of their selves and the world. I was surrounded by people who cared about rhetoric—which I should mention, is one of the foundations of a classical liberal arts education.

My experience as an MFA student and alumni has been the opposite of this. Anything that whiffs of contrary opinion is ignored. I have a lot of thoughts on contemporary literature, publishing, and writing programs. I'm sure many of my ideas could be wrong. But unless someone is willing to provide me with insight I haven't considered, I have no way to correct my mistakes.