At the Universtity, the English Department traditionally sponsored a welcoming party for the MFA program at the beginning of each academic year. Fortunately, it wasn’t held on campus grounds, but in the home of a student. She was a retired English teacher-turned-professional MFA student as she had been working working on her degree for nearly a decade. The benefit of an off-campus party is the warm atmosphere only available in someone’s house, a gorgeous spread, and the alcohol. The last item is definitely essential as it facilitates socializing, but more importantly, it’s expected. The one that was held in my first semester in the graduate program would be the last one of its sort.
I had the impression that the English Department wanted to end this whole party business. The year before, I heard from a friend that the department chair Dr. Muir was quite bitchy and garulous when he asked her for the funds to buy refreshments for the party. Perhaps it would be the last banal fall semester for a while and Dr. Muir just appeared unprofessional. My first semester in the program, however, was marked by September 11.
In years past, there was some idea that there would be a party and the date would be announced. The semester’s arriving class, however, had no idea. We were all horrified by the attacks, stressed out afterwards, and frightened by the developments that were rapidly happening on a national level. And life had to go on. We wrote our stories and poems and read them for the workshops, read literature for our classes, and worked at our jobs. We went back to some kind of normalcy, whether we liked it or not. There was, however, no sign that there’d be a party to welcome the new crop of writers and poets.
As part of that new group, I was disappointed. Were we unworthy of a welcome?
Rosalyn and I e-mailed one of the co-directors of the program about it. We both got responses that amounted to that it wasn’t going to happen. In the e-mail I got, the esteemed master poet said something about since there was this “great spiritual wound,” it didn’t seem appropriate for us to be throwing the party.
Using 9/11 as an excuse? This was definitely exploiting this event to do something that this director probably wanted to do in the first place. Cancelling the semester and giving all of us a sabbatical, a few months to heal, would have also been appropriate if we really want to measure the appropriateness of things based on how “spiritually wounded” we all were. Of course, we didn’t get that. So a party to help welcome our group was definitely a step for us to to move on.
After some effort, the efforts of those of us who lobbied for the party paid off. The retired English teacher-turned-professional student took on the role of hostess one more time. There was food and drink, and the program co-director welcomed us. We had an opportunity to come out into MFA society, and we got paired up with more senior classmates as our mentors. And everything was going well with wine-facilitated conversations in the kitchen and the living room until we all heard a thud come from the middle of the house.
At the bottom of the staircase that led from the living room to the basement floor, Rosalyn took a fall and bumped her head. There would be no more parties at the retired teacher’s house.