These women were a far cry from my overweight Latino undergrads in Target jeans. Their sandals looked new and expensive. One was probably a lawyer, another the head of an NGO, another a shrink. These women had money and time to explore their creative sides. I was worrying about my sixty-five bucks. The sweat trickled down my temples, collected between my breasts. I could feel my hair frizzing.
“What’s your discipline?” one of them asked.
“I’m a fiction instructor. I’m Diana,” I said, then added, “Wagman.”
“Oh right,” another responded. “You’re the screenwriter.”
It was the first time the screenwriter was said to me in that disparaging tone, but it would not be the last.
Fucking MFA programs. The students were arrogant because they had been accepted by this fancy program. They were also desperate to believe they had done the right thing—that being there would help them, change them, save them in some way. That very first evening, in the introductory meeting, I could smell it: the students’ raw desire, overpowering my own.
I was never a creative writing major, or even an English major. At my state university—the only place that would take me—I majored in drugs, easy virtue, and skiing. Waitressing was a big part of that, too. I’ve taken exactly one writing workshop in my life. I started another but dropped it because I was having an affair with the instructor. I finished my BA in seven years. Then I went to film school because I love movies and I hated my job as a picture framer. I now have an MA that I am well aware is not a terminal degree, from a university not known for its film department. I write by ear, from reading and from my gut. Still, I’ve sold short stories and essays, and those three novels received some good reviews. My second book won a medium-size award, but at this pastoral fucking MFA program all anyone mentioned was my one unsuccessful straight-to-DVD movie. I was “the screenwriter.”
That first night in the damp, unair-conditioned faculty women’s housing, I puked up my anxiety in the shared bathroom. I was hoping this job would make me a real writer. I would know the right people; I would become part of that rarefied world; I would receive invitations and emails from accomplished novelists and New Yorker contributors. We would share ideas and opportunities. We would be friends. My face hurt from smiling so much. My brain hurt from trying to be witty. I washed lots of dishes in the faculty communal kitchen, but the women weren’t friendly and I think I made the straight guys nervous. I decided to give up my high heels and wear the flip-flops I had brought for the shower. I wanted to do it right. I wanted to be cool.