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craig arnold might have broken his leg and fallen off a cliff and “could not” have survived

I feel sad about this. I am going to publish craig arnold’s last email to me — which I feel in a way was probably one of his last 20 or so “transmissions” to people before he “disappeared” into a volcano or something on a small island off the coast of japan.

my condolences to all his real friends and family. I am not pronouncing him dead, and I don’t beleive anyone else actually has either. But it’s been several weeks.

I read something about him this morning on some blog somewhere.

In the past I did not want to publish the full text of this letter on my gimmicky blog, but now I am feeling like I should publish it.

Thomas Patrick Levy,

Okay, I suck. I’m really really sorry not to have answered this sooner. My excuse: I’m on a very small island off the southern tip of Japan that has no cellphone service and, shall we say, sporadic internet access, when they go out back and hand-crank the generator.

Anyway, thanks, belatedly, for the nice note. I’m going to assume somewhat narcissistically that I’m in the Great Deal Of rather than No Respect For camp, i.e. that you bought the issue of Poetry because the poem said something to you and not to ritually stick pins in it or anything.

As far as MFA programs go, well. You catch me at a vulnerable moment, for a number of reasons I won’t go into. Which program are you in? I could say that it all depends on the program, the right fit for the right writer, sufficient time and support. But it also depends on what you want to get out of it, where you want to go as a writer.

– Are you in it to buy yourself some time to write? Take the time and do what you can with it.

– Are you in it for the professional credentials? The whole world of writing is changing. MFA programs are no longer a fast-track to a job teaching creative writing. They weren’t even before the current economic meltdown, and now they’ll be even less so. The publishing industry is changing, too. Keep that day job, in other words.

– Are you in it for the connections? It is certainly easier to make connections through one’s peers and one’s professors. The academy functions on that sort of connectivity. It’s not impossible to make those sorts of networks outside the academy. That’s what the web is for. But in the end it all comes down to talent, dedication, very hard work, and a certain willingness to take risks and to sacrifice other things for writing. And, of course, luck.

– Are you in it for the sense of moral/emotional support? This is really the best think you can hope for from a program, to find even only person whom you can trust to be a reader for you (and who you can be that reader for) for the rest of your writing life. Doesn’t have to be everyone in the workshop. Doesn’t have to be a professor. Have you found that person?

MFA programs aren’t for everyone. There are other ways of writing. The world seems to have gotten along for 3,000 years without MFA programs. I can’t really offer you much advice, though, without more information about your circumstances. Also, you seem already to know in your heart what you want to do — you don’t say, “I’m trying to make up my mind whether to quit,” but “I want to quit.” No one in the world is going to find fault with you for quitting an MFA program, if that’s what you’re asking (Except maybe the professors who admitted you).

Sorry, this probably isn’t very helpful. Maybe tell me why you want to quit and I’ll understand a bit better.

Cheers, CA


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