This heatwave is really starting to piss me off. Seriously. I’m beginning to take this personal like. I walk to work and by the time I get to my office, sweat is dripping off my face and pooling in my keyboard. But my grandma always told me to count my blessings so I think how much better I have it than those poor souls I passed on the way who were chiseling up the street with a jackhammer. I think how lucky I am that I’m not suspended from the roof of a 15 story building on what is basically a backyard swing washing windows.
And more than anything else, I thank my lucky stars that, I shudder even at the thought, I’m not teaching creative writing for six months a year.
The discussion of Lynn Freed’s Harpers essay Doing Time: My Years in the Creative Writing Gulag is as hot as the concrete outside. There are a bunch of posts and items about this on the internet so just do a search for “lynn freed gulag” and you’ll find tons of discussions. I’ll do a roundup of some of the posts later this week when I have some time.
In all fairness, Freed does have more than a few defenders. There are a lot of voices out there who feel that Freed did nothing more than say what needed to be said. I’ll include some Pro-Freed posts in my roundup later.
Freed’s defenders almost all point to what they see as the tyranny of the MFA. They share Freed’s belief that creative writing cannot be taught and they feel Freed’s pain at having to entertain losers who just want a couple of credits. And there is some validity to those points.
But here’s the bottom line… Freed, and anyone who shares her opinions, does not have enter a creative writing classroom. Simple as that. If teaching creative writing is such torture, just give it up. Do something else. As Freed said, being a doctor or lawyer would allow her to work part time and write, then why not go to med school?
I’m not naive. I don’t think all teachers are dedicated or even nice. I don’t put them on a pedestal; they’re not role models. Hell, I had a history professor that got drunk during class. But to publish an article where you basically admit to stealing a paycheck and that you’re miserable doing something that so many people would love to do is just wrong. I feel the same way when a rock star complains about having to shoot a video or when an athlete complains about training camp.
Some of Freed’s defenders have said that people are attacking the messenger, not the message. That Freed is correct in her criticism of writing programs and that folks shouldn’t be so venomous towards her. I disagree with this statement. After all, Freed is talking about herself when she says that if a student says the wrong thing, she will give his work scant attention. Freed is talking about herself when she says she enters a semester angry and bitter. Freed is talking about herself when she says she’s not a good teacher and a good mentor. She’s not criticizing the institution of creative writing, she’s talking about herself. She only mentions one other professor of creative writing in the entire article. Oh yeah, and in case you overlooked her multiple mentions of this in the article, her marriage sucked too and she’s divorced.
Freed may have intended for her message to be a critique of creative writing classes. But what the message ended up being was one of personal bitterness, vindictiveness, arrogance, condescension, and misery.
And there is one point that should not be lost in this discussion, something that Freed’s defenders who claim she is correct in her criticisms of creative writing programs should note… according to the bio on Lynn Freed’s website, “Ms. Freed is Professor of English at the University of California in Davis.” On that note, let’s go back to the essay itself. When offered this permanent half-time tortureship, Freed leapt at the chance because “there was no question of turning down the offer: the job came with tenure…”
I knew a creative writing teacher who didn’t think it was possible to teach the art. He took a one-semester position, did it without complaint, did it well, and when his time was up, satisfied that he had proven to himself that writing can’t be taught, he left the academic world never to return. At least he has the integrity to follow his beliefs, unlike Freed who is so tormented, so tortured, so bedeviled by teaching creative writing that she curls up into the most invincible position of all in the academic world: tenure. Basically a lifetime, invulnerable, untouchable position where she can continue to
cash the checks oops, I mean, suffer for years and years to come.