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I’m not really cut out for having a nemesis, let alone the literary kind, but I acquired one in graduate school a decade ago, and he’s been difficult to shake ever since. This is in part because he’s gone on to become wildly successful and rich and well-known and I have not. It’s a lesson in humility I do not wish on anyone, and it’s taken me years to get past my pettiness in order to write about it with any semblance of perspective.

We’ll call my nemesis Josh, since that’s his name. He goes by Joshua now—Joshua Ferris—but calling him that makes me uncomfortable, so for these purposes I’m going with Josh. We were in the same class at UC Irvine, two of the six they let in. I was 28 at the time, and possessed a shocking naïveté about many things, including: men, professors, academia, workshops, fairness, and life. I had only been writing a few years when I got to graduate school, and my writing teacher beforehand, the incredible and very talented Lisa Glatt, loved my stuff, and basically just encouraged the hell out of me, often writing “Brilliant” across the tops of my stories.

I sort of thought this is what graduate school would be like.

It was not.

I imagined it would be an artist’s utopia of sorts, with lots of cheerleading and gentle suggestions and group hugs. I also believed it would be the place where I met the love of my life.  Not only would I get my MFA but my lifelong search for Jake Ryan would end.  (By the time I got to UCI,  my quest had morphed into The Search for David Benioff).

This is David Benioff and his exquisite wife, actress Amanda Peet. Benioff went to Irvine, and I therefore believed that at least one Benioff writerly-type dude would be at Irvine, and he would be single and fall madly in love with me. Said dude would then go on to write million-dollar screenplays or perhaps Game of Thrones, while I penned devastatingly brilliant literary novels and taught religious metaphor in the works of Flannery O’Conner to inner-city school children.

As you might imagine, none of the above was the case in my experience.  Josh did make me hug him once, but we’ll get to that.

In my first workshop at Irvine, I was slapped to the ground so hard that I went into the bathroom and cried. Cried, people. It was humiliating, to say the least. And so it went. Things were only made worse by the group dynamics and the slow realization that the venerable head of the program, Geoffrey Wolff, had already decided that Josh was The Star, and therefore no one else’s work or opinion had more credence than his did.  Except, of course, Geoffrey’s.

And it wasn’t like I was set free when my work wasn’t being dissected, as the only thing more painful than having my writing eviscerated was having to sit there, uncomfortable and sweaty, while the deed was done to someone else. Especially someone I liked, someone I knew was being totally destroyed while I sat there and watched it happen.

Here is where I would like to clear up the falsehood that everything stays impersonal and antiseptic in workshop, (at least the graduate kind, and moreover that this is vaguely possible, sort of like the concept of pure objectivity in journalism) the idea that people never go after your stories at times simply because they don’t like you and/or they are trying to impress the professor and/or you skewed their shit in workshop last week, and it’s payback time.  Basically, it’s the persistent myth that the person, the writer, can actually be separated from the work. Maybe the first workshop, when you all don’t know one another so well, but then you hang out, you drink, you make-out, you realize you are competing with one another for the prize of attention and praise and connections and publication, you have inappropriate crushes on people who are not available but act like they are, and yes, hello, all of that taints your views of other people’s work.

I get it—really, I do. Criticism is necessary, and often it is valid. Also, some people take it better than others. I am the first to admit that back then, I did not take it well. Some of this had to do with the aforementioned naïvetés, some of it had to do with the way Geoffrey ran a workshop. As one dear friend put it:  “I already have a distant, disapproving father. I don’t need another one.” Exactly.

Which leads me to the part where Josh became my nemesis. We had been friends up until then, or at least friendly.  It happened at the pub, after a particularly brutal workshop of a novel from one of the second year students. It was so terrible, Geoffrey so unnecessarily unkind, that if it had happened to me, I would have been in the fetal position in the corner of the room after the first fifteen minutes. I said as much.

“Well, she needs the criticism,” Josh said earnestly. “I’d love that kind of a workshop. I’d welcome that kind of feedback.”

This from the golden boy whose stories had been universally praised, lauded even, who’d never had one negative thing said about his writing.

What happened next was that I simply lost my shit. Lost it big time, much to the horror of my fellow colleagues. “What the fuck are you talking about?” I said. “You have no fucking idea what that is like. NO FUCKING IDEA.”

Everyone went quiet, staring at the table and sipping their microbrews.

“She should welcome our opinions,” he said, calmly, matter of factly.  “I mean, of anyone, she needs the most help.  And you know what? Everyone else in workshop says ‘thank you’ when it’s over. Not you, though, you comment and argue. Why can’t you just say ‘thank you?’”

All of my frustration from the previous few months of terrible workshops, not to mention my total loss of confidence, my Daddy issues, and the knowledge that there was no David Benioff II at Irvine and probably never would be, led me to say this:  “No one means it when they say it, Josh. No one. And for the record, I don’t give a fuck if you never read or comment on anything of mine ever again.”

I’m pretty sure all the air went out of the room. Josh was red-faced and I was shaking. I felt better for having said it, all-powerful for a moment, and then, well, I cried. Again.

Then Josh made me hug him, and we sort of made up.

But from that moment on, our animosity towards one another was established, and it followed us around for the next two years. This isn’t to say that we were nasty to one another in an outright way, just that Survivor-style alliances were formed, deals were made and workshops remained uncomfortable. Josh continued to be universally praised and my work got mixed to dismissive reviews.

To be fair, sometimes I liked his stories and sometimes he liked mine. His attitude was never malicious, it was simply maddeningly superior.  Outwardly, he had not a shred of insecurity. It was hard not to hate him for this.  And I will say, too, that he was a man obsessed. While the rest of us were screwing around with our crushes and debating whether or not to use our middle initial when published, he was writing. I mean really writing, all the time, sometimes a rumored fourteen hours a day. (I don’t mean to say the rest of us weren’t writing; we were. If any of my fellow Irvine-ites were also writing fourteen hours a day, my apologies. I, most assuredly, was not.)

I did have one moment of victory, however, in a workshop led by Mark Richard. He did his best to level the playing field and didn’t play favorites; he genuinely encouraged all of our writing. Josh had submitted a piece of the novel he was working on at the time, written from a women’s point of view. She was about to have a mastectomy, the next day in fact, and everything he had written indicated he had no idea what a woman who was about to have a mastectomy would feel like. He also had her referring to her sexual organs as such:  “The rusted anchor of my loins.”

I had him. He had written something pretty shockingly bad and I had him. I lowered my sights and pointed out that, purple prose aside, not once in 30-odd pages did he ever have this woman think about her breasts. He had her traipsing around town in the middle of the night, frequenting porn shops and staring at row after row of other women’s breasts but never considering her own. This, I said, was male fantasy, not reality.

Every one was quiet, pondering.  Mark drawled, “Josh, you know what? I didn’t think about the breasts either, but she’s right. You need to listen to Abby and have this woman think about her breasts. ”

I smirked, fully satisfied. Josh reddened and sat silent for the rest of the workshop. He was overheard to have said this to Mark afterwards: “Abby is not my audience.”

As we left the workshop, a friend said, “You were totally vindicated. Totally.”

“Yep,” I said—and then it was over. The moment and then graduate school. It would be years before I realized that almost none of it, at least what had happened in workshop, mattered at all.

As we tucked our MFAs into our back pockets, Josh got a fat scholarship none of the rest of us knew we were eligible for and a referral to Geoffey’s agent. I went back to cocktailing and Geoffrey’s comments on my thesis amounted to an abstract comparison to the Newport Jazz Festival of 1955, which apparently he had attended. I still have no idea if this is a good or bad thing.

The summer after graduate school, I managed to get an agent, and in a strange twist of fate, it was the same one Josh had signed with. We shared her for a good handful of years, discovering it early on after getting a group email in which she hadn’t hidden the recipients. Apparently, within hours of receipt, we had both written her and asked, “Um is that the same Josh/Abby that went to Irvine?” Yes, she wrote, and then to me: ” I take it the two of you aren’t friends?” Nope, I said, not even close.

“I’m not surprised,” she wrote back. “You two are such different writers.”

A few years later his novel came out (the one he claims to have written in fourteen weeks, for which he got a rumored quarter-of-a-million-dollar advance), and he was lauded as the Second Coming of Franzen. Nominated for the National Book Award, movie options, publishing in the New Yorker, inclusion in the Best American Short Stories. He’s a fine writer, full of precision and brain, not to mention insanely polished prose, but still:  all of the above remained stunning for me and a made me more than a little bit nuts to witness.

What was I doing during this time? Cocktailing. Vaguely writing, working on a story collection that would go absolutely nowhere.  Taking care of my sister during her bout with cancer.  Josh, meanwhile, could be found seemingly everywhere I turned, and although I had let go of a lot of the animosity in the preceding years, I can’t say it didn’t get under my skin.

When it did, I would try and think about what the agent had said:  We are entirely different writers and, as such, weren’t competing at all. I would tell myself that his success had no bearing on whether or not I would have any, and dwelling on it only amounted to a shitload of wasted time and some very ugly mood swings. This worked pretty well, and this is also why, many years ago, I stopped Googling him.

So what’s the point in writing about it now? In talking to my boyfriend about this piece, he said, aptly, “Okay, but here’s the thing — he’s not really your nemesis anymore, anyway. Right?”

Right.

And in thinking about it recently, I wonder if he ever really was. A nemesis by definition is a source of harm or ruin or one that inflicts retribution or vengeance, and I can safely say none of these thing were inherent in Josh’s intentions or behavior. He cared more about his own writing than he did about me— than any of us, really—and wanted only to achieve his goal of becoming a successful writer.  And well, he has done that in spades. What happened between us was more a function of weird group dynamics and our respective personality flaws than anything direct or deliberate.  What I’ve come to realize is that using him as my appointed nemesis served for a long time as perhaps my best reason not to write.

In letting him go, I’ve been left to grapple with only myself and have come to realize that I’m the only nemesis I’ve ever actually had.  I’ve been forced to come to grips with what all writers must face at some point: No one — and I mean no one — except for you, and maybe your mother, cares if you write. (And even your mother cares only in an abstract way, hoping that whatever you’re doing is making you happy.) The number of words you manage to put on the page every day impacts exactly one person. You.

In that spirit, I continue to put words on the page and try not to let any excuses or the voices from the past get in my way. As Lisa Glatt sagely told me during my tenure at Irvine: “They will tell you to shut up your entire career. You can either listen to them or keep writing.”

So I write, even if it’s over here in the almost-dark. At the same time, Josh is out there, really out there, with a second novel that was customarily trashed, working on his third with the kind of pressures and expectations I can’t imagine. I can finally appreciate that difference for what it is, and embrace the beauty in being unknown and for the fact that I am still writing. On my best days, this carries with it a freedom that borders on the infinite.

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Abby Mims ABBY MIMS' fiction and non-fiction have appeared in a gaggle of lit mags and anthologies, including (but not limited to): The Rumpus, The Santa Monica Review, Swink, Other Voices, Women on the Edge: LA Women Writers and Cassette From My Ex. She was nominated for Pushcart Prize for her short story, "The Way They Loved the Dead," published in the Spring 2011 issue of The Normal School. She has an MFA in Creative Writing from UC Irvine and currently resides in Mountain View, California, where she is at work on a memoir, Love in the Time of Glioblastoma. You can read more of her musings at www.abbymims.com.

43 Responses to “Et tu, Nemesis?”

  1. DM says:

    Nice piece. This really summed the group dynamics and jealousies of graduate workshops.

  2. Markham says:

    I can read this and relate even if I didn’t directly have this experience, it reminds me of someone you worked with who gets further along in their career than you, a former teammate, etc., sometimes you think it’s deserved, sometimes you think “you lucky motherf****er”

    It also makes me think I want to avoid other writers, kidding, kidding…….kinda…..

  3. Fox says:

    This sounds like a lesson on how NOT to approach a workshop. Joshua Ferris comes off as having the right perspective — cool, calm, able to listen to criticism — while Abby sounds like a hysterical whiner stuck on petty grievances and unable to get past her own envy. The perfect evidence of this is when he “messes up” and makes a simple mistake on a story and she gleefully eviscerates him in the workshop. What a sick, sick perspective. You’re there to help other people, not destroy them.

    • JSA Lowe says:

      Calling a female writer “hysterical” and “sick”—not very original, Mr. Fox. Also I think you’re interpolating the “gleeful evisceration.” Mims is writing transparently and honestly about how it really feels to be the butt end of a workshop for semester after semester, while some other writer, having been mysteriously crowned as “it,” is routinely exempted from real critique. There’s nothing “sick” about finding this devastating, perplexing, and mighty hard to surmount. Of course, in the end, it’s possible to benefit from being repeatedly brutalized in workshop—ultimately a writer can mature from such experiences and learn to discriminate among sources of dismissal (whose praise really matters?)—but it’s not an easy row to hoe and I see no point in your being so ad hominem and judgmental, especially when this writer’s effort is bent toward honesty and self-examination.

      • Fox says:

        I didn’t get the idea that Ferris was “routinely exempted from real critique.” It’s just natural that some writers are much much better than others (I think Ferris is one of the best young writers working today) and others who are not as good get harsher critiques. It can be natural to feel envy but you have to rise above that.

        I’m not trying to offer ad hominems, though there’s nothing wrong with exercising judgment. I have nothing against Mims as a person, though it seems like the way she approaches workshopping is handicapping her ability to grow as a writer. You misinterpreted what I was calling sick — what I was calling sick was her desire to destroy another human being for a small mistake. This is petty and this is wrong. God knows we all have vindictive little moments like this, but I hope Mims usually rises above this.

        Also, I don’t understand what the author being female has to do with my comment. This isn’t about gender.

        • Pennsylvania says:

          I would say it’s about gender, to some degree, for the same reasons why it is problematic and important to note that a male writing a woman’s perspective on a mastectomy and overlooking any conscious rendering of that woman’s own breasts is much much more than what you repeatedly call “a small/simple mistake”.

          • Fox says:

            Pennsylvania, don’t be so condemning. Not getting the perspective of the opposite gender “just right” the first time is a small oversight and one that can be corrected on the next draft. Writing is a process and whenever you workshop something you make thousands of mistakes. I want the people who workshop me to be nice as they correct my mistakes, just as I try to be nice to them. Both my writing groups pull this off magnificently. Criticism + kindness. So yes, it’s most certainly a small mistake.

            • Pennsylvania says:

              If you think that gendered perspective issues are small and easily corrected, then you must be mighty brilliant!

              • Fox says:

                It’s not about the size of the mistake. Whatever mistake others make, you treat them kindly and without malice. And if you are a writer, Pennsylvania, you understand how frequently these mistakes are made.

                • peter preciado says:

                  “It’s not about the size of the mistake. Whatever mistake others make, you treat them kindly and without malice” REALLY? Wait, maybe this man has short term memory loss. Or any term. Is it just me, or did his first post say, “while Abby sounds like a hysterical whiner stuck on petty grievances and unable to get past her own envy.”
                  Or is this what he means by, ” Criticism + kindness.”?

                  Wait, Fox, is your real name, JOSH?

            • Reality says:

              Fox, like Josh, you claim you want criticism but get rather defensive when someone criticizes you or your work. And if you want gentle and kind criticism, I suggest you look at the vitriol you posted in response to Mim’s essay. Oddly enough, Mims herself pointed out in her essay that the criticism lobbed against the other writers (except to Ferris, who seemed to be the teacher’s pet) was anything but kind or constructive–it was often nasty and dismissive.

              What’s interesting is that you condemn her for not being able to take criticism, yet equate her very valid criticism of Josh’s huge gap in perspective as “destroying” a person. Someone’s being hysterical here, but it isn’t Mims, it’s you. Josh himself said (before she lost it) that he wished people would criticize his work more–when she later did, he got defensive. As did you, on his behalf. Fleshing out a character and writing accurately about how a woman would react to losing a breast is not a small detail. Not knowing the number of tampons in a box is a small detail. But considering the fact the entire story was about a woman who was going to lose her breast, the *male* writer would have done well to listen to the actual woman who knows a thing or two about how she’d react if she was going to lose her breast. That’s not a small detail, that’s actually a huge gap in perspective. It’s telling that you hand-wave that like it’s nothing but then snipe about how defensive Mims is in reaction to criticism. Doctor, heal thyself and all that.

              You could stand to learn some humility. Mims did and demonstrated it when she wrote about what a waste of time her animosity was; she also demonstrated this when she gave him his due as a writer and as a hard worker. I hope that you mature as much as she has appeared to.

  4. Jerilynne says:

    It sounds like sour grapes to me. By your own admission, he worked hard, and you didn’t. It seems like he gots the just fruits of his level of engagement, and his talent, and you didn’t. How sad for you, to carry this around.

    • Reality says:

      “And in thinking about it recently, I wonder if he ever really was. A nemesis by definition is a source of harm or ruin or one that inflicts retribution or vengeance, and I can safely say none of these thing were inherent in Josh’s intentions or behavior. He cared more about his own writing than he did about me— than any of us, really—and wanted only to achieve his goal of becoming a successful writer. And well, he has done that in spades. What happened between us was more a function of weird group dynamics and our respective personality flaws than anything direct or deliberate. What I’ve come to realize is that using him as my appointed nemesis served for a long time as perhaps my best reason not to write.”

      Reading is fundamental.

  5. Jerilynne says:

    Also, I don’t understand why it was necessary to lash out at Ferris by calling him by name. I don’t buy the end of this, where she talks about learning and growing. This piece was about hurting someone else out of jealousy. It is disgusting.

  6. Serbian-Canadian in Mainland China says:

    I am sorry to say — heck: I am not sorry, it’s just a fact, but I am being civil, I don’t even know why, as the anonymity of the scereen and a keayboard between us and the fact I am not going to use any trigger words to alert the FEMA and the CIA and the who knows what, and besides I am in China so I don’t give a rat’s arse if I do alert them — I have never read anything of yours before today and nothing at all of Ferris’s either.

    In fact, I ahve never even heard of either of the two of you b efore toda, so I really cannot judge abotu the quality of either’s writing. What I do know — and the fact that I feel I want to even share this with you should show you that I do care (not just about criticising, but it plays a good part, seeing that I am a quadruple Scorpio) is this: on the first photo Google Search pops for him, he does look like a big, neat, perhaps vaguely vulnerable, but stoic boy. And you look like a suffering woman with a put up smile. And that makes a difefrence in a brainstorming place like your MFA workshops.

    As for the writing and nemesis, my usual reply to editors who do not want my writing (if I reply to them at all) goes along the lines that it is hard having to deal with people who are unable to understand my writing, while some — the élites, as I explain to those hoi polloi editirs — do, and all the while waiting for the future generations that will on a larger scale.

    And you know what? I honestly believe in this, even though I am (perhaps?) not as “successful” as your Ferris in terms of money (and mind you this equation of money and “success” is very Yank; we in Europe and Asia do not necessarily think so, and with the demise of the US as a world power you guys should really learn not to either).

    Anyway…

  7. MSurly says:

    You two need to fuck.

  8. James Robison says:

    Funny, wonderful piece. I used to sit in on the U.C. Irvine Workshops–long story–and they were wildly different from my grad workshops at Brown, and the ones I taught at the Universiity of Houston and, more recently, the University of Southern Missisippi. Seems crucial that a workshop has a congregational, singular view: Us against the world. Not me against you.
    I give the author credit for adding this pivotal observation.
    “And I will say, too, that he was a man obsessed. While the rest of us were screwing around with our crushes and debating whether or not to use our middle initial when published, he was writing. I mean really writing, all the time, sometimes a rumored fourteen hours a day.”

  9. Michael says:

    Did a few of you even read the essay before commenting? The main premise IS her realization–years later–that it’s fruitless to compare your success (or lack thereof) to others. It’s an incredibly honest piece.

    • James Robison says:

      Yep, Michael, never fear, that came through shadow castingly large and solid.

    • Kavita says:

      Glad that someone pointed this out to those commenting — the main premise is her realising the futility of comparing herself with someone else.
      Love how the writer’s boyfriend puts it — “He’s not really your nemesis anymore, anyway.”

  10. Hannah says:

    Awesome line:

    As one dear friend put it: “I already have a distant, disapproving father. I don’t need another one.”

  11. Mike says:

    Fascinating insight. So glad I did not pursue an MFA.

  12. fantastic, piece, abby. i think what some of the readers here are missing is that she was young, and full of ideas, a talented writer who ran into a buzz saw that was a golden child in a program that was brutally honest. all good lessons, here, and to share this, to be so raw and honest, well, that takes a lot of guts. i just finished up my MFA and while i don’t have any stories nearly as good as abby’s, it all rings true. it’s easy to say that Ferris came off as cool and collected, but his work wasn’t being routinely torn apart. i’ve been in these workshops, these environments, it is never fair. all you can do is fight for your own voice, and contribute and help others where you can. what, you’ve never been jealous? seriously.

    one quick story. i had bit of fiction accepted while i was down in my MFA program. it was accepted the week before we were to have residency, and i asked the professors what to do, should we workshop it anyway, should we pull it? they said to workshop it, see what people thought, and then talk about it. it’s be a learning experience. tell them it had been accepted. well, that didn’t go over well. in fact one guy yelled out, “i guess they’ll just take anything these days.” wow. i’ve had students and professors say my work wasn’t thesis material, wasn’t even worth reading past the first page, and now that novel is being shopped by my agent. people get petty, they get jealous, and they get mean. they also can be kind, supportive and giving.

    great piece, abby, thanks for sharing.

  13. Irvine is an odious school, on a par with Iowa (I’m not all surprised by your experience). Josh Ferris is a deeply overpraised writer. I’d take yours side on this any day.

  14. Chris Roberts says:

    Ferris’ slagged out first work is a running joke at most workshops. His “prose’ is absent one verity and his “voice” surges across the mind an errant spasm. Hack on Hackster.

  15. Sharon Harrigan says:

    Abby, I have had nothing but good experiences in my MFA, but I have heard a lot of stories of meanness at other places, and I truly appreciate your honesty.

    • peter preciado says:

      Would you mind sharing where your MFA program is? I am looking into MFA programs in writing, mostly screenwriting/directing, but also creative writing. I have seen so much of what the author talks about even at undergraduate level writer’s workshops; it really discourages me. It often seems the result of a talented(or not) and frustrated(almost-successful) professor who sets the tone of the work shops and often the entire program. I imagine this is true of all academic programs, which is what makes some spectacular and some horrible.

      • K says:

        @peter preciado: I went to San Francisco State and the workshops were the complete opposite of what’s being described here (thankfully). The teachers are extremely careful to not let this kind of thing happen and to make the workshops actually useful to the writer. That is to say–reflecting the work back to the writer and helping push the writer deeper into the piece and pushing on places to go further into the story, not setting up who’s-best kind of contests. Blech. That just feels like it’s not useful to anyone. Would highly recommend! (No screenwriting, though.)

        Loved the piece–brave and honest.

        • peter preciado says:

          I am going to SFSU starting next fall! Although I will spend my first year in the UK. But it is great to know you had such a good experience there. Yes, my MFA options are somewhat limited, if I am going for screenwriting. UCLA is GREAT, but I can’t imagine the competitive feeling there. I may hold out and see what happens. The unfortunate truth sometimes, and even more so in the film industry, is that the connections are more important than anything else. Another reason UCLA is a good program. And crazy expensive.

  16. Jendi Reiter says:

    Why is it so surprising to some commenters that bullying can happen in workshops, just like any other social environment? And that students who aren’t on the receiving end develop a privileged obliviousness that really is a failing on their part, whether or not they are good writers? Everyone deserves to be spoken to with respect. They shouldn’t have to earn it by being “better writers” than the other guy. Props to Abby for being so honest about her experience.

  17. George says:

    Very interesting read. I buy your honesty–just taking a look around this comment board shows some of the dynamics of a workshop.

  18. MR says:

    I appreciate this in a weird way because my nemesis (from an undergrad program, oddly enough) is someone I’m truly friends with. We both went to great MFA programs for our respective genres–his wildly better-funded than mine–but he has experienced a much more mainstream rise than I have. Our publications have been similar, though mine were a bit delayed. Since I’m in nonfiction, a lot of the honors he’s achieved are ones I wouldn’t even be eligible for (open to only fiction and poetry), which means we can’t really be competitors in any real world way. But then they led him to fellowships, the Stegner, Breadloaf, etc. etc. All to say, I really like the guy personally, yet I can’t say it doesn’t burn my biscuits when he reports yet another success. Similar to the author here, I’ve realized he was a scapegoat I held onto for my MFA years to keep myself from writing. His success in his genre is because he’s a great writer, not just because he’s in that genre. It was more a product of my own fears and doubts than any real competition. Who knows, hopefully someday I’ll be able to be happy for him!

  19. Barbara says:

    As a (mostly right now) creative nonfiction writer, I really enjoyed this essay, its tone and message. However, a minor kerfuffle ensued when I posted the link to a Facebook group I belong to, which comprises MFA program aspirants and current students. It garnered 153 comments. The majority of them were not pretty, and while they tried to stick to content, seemed to devolve into ad hominem attacks on the writer. In other words, my merely reposting your essay led to the kind of response you discuss in your more unhappy workshop experiences. Whoa. So, in addition to the many humane, honest points I think you make in your essay, the additional thought I took away from putting your work, not mine, out there is: find your audience. (And it’s quite possible that it will not be found in your workshop, I guess.)

  20. [...] then there’s Abby Mims’ article in the Nervous Breakdown on jealousy – we all face it! Her honesty is [...]

  21. hank cherry says:

    There’s something to say for jealousy. Harboring grudges, reading comments on an essay about all those things. Graduate school for writing is like and endless marathon of Nightmare on Elm Street movies. Workshops breed contempt. Competition. Opinions. Yeah.

  22. Miss Redd says:

    The only thing more boring than reading writing from former MFA students is reading writing from former MFA students about their former MFA experiences. Geez! Self-involved much? It’s good to know that if you don’t understand solipsism when you go in, someone will teach it to you.

    • Reality says:

      Actually, there is one thing that is actually more boring than the things you mentioned: reading a pissy comment complaining about how boring the essay was. I want my 10 seconds back, Miss Redd.

  23. JackDunne says:

    Huh . . . maybe you’ll feel better knowing that any single rerun episode of “Keeping Up with the Kardashians” has at least three times as many viewers as Joshua Ferris has readers?

  24. mary says:

    i just read this piece and thought it was great. We all envy. I didn’t bother reading more than a couple of the comments, but fuck the naysayers. Writing and publishing anything is a brave act. Writing and publishing a piece that details your own human frailties and humiliations is the bravest act.

  25. Calderon says:

    You consider yourself a serious writer, and Joshua Ferris is your nemesis? Could there be a more damning (and succinct) indictment of MFA culture?

  26. [...] somehow makes it more official. I’m going to self-motivate, I’m going to commit. If Joshua Ferris can write up to 14 hours a day, then I can write for at least one hour. I’m starting [...]

  27. [...] (Want to hear how this might affect you in the long-term? Read this.) [...]

  28. Tom Hansen says:

    The best workshops have profs who have enough awareness to understand how much criticism each student can deal with and how hard to push them and that also know when other students cross the line and the criticism becomes damaging. My grad school–UBC–was rather soft. I often wished the critiques were tougher. But alas. Paul Bowles said in ‘The Sheltering Sky’ “suffering is equally divided among all men: we each have the same amount to undergo” and while the exact accuracy of that statement could be disputed I tend to feel that something approximating that applies to hardship. We all have difficulties, some not as apparent, and success brings a new crop of problems.

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