The MFA decision date is nearing, and I’m choosing between two great programs – in many ways, a lucky predicament. The “Nearly Perfect Fit” School is close-ish to where I currently live and I’ve recently enjoyed a full-fledged visit. The “Less-perfect But Still Very Good Fit” School is farther away, and due to financial constraints, I’ve only been able to Skype and talk on the phone with faculty members.
However, when I visited “NPF” School, I picked up a *vibe* from one of the older male faculty members. A “creeper” vibe. He wasn’t outright “hitting on” me, whatever that means anymore. But I wouldn’t want to drop in on him alone during office hours, you know?
I haven’t found any gossip, reliable or unreliable, about this individual, and I know that none of my recommenders or former professors (some of whom are friends with this individual) would take kindly to my probes about his “conduct.”
It’s just a vibe. And I know that these types of individuals can be found in all kinds of programs and departments and professions, everywhere. Maybe there’s one in the other school, and my lack-of-visiting has prevented me from meeting him or her.
Should I let this sway me away from Nearly Perfect School? I would say no to any type of relationship or sexual encounter, so I’m not concerned about being some sort of child bride, but I think about how he might react to a rejection, about cohort dynamics, about my professional reputation. And if he finds someone he likes better than me within the program – again, I think about cohort dynamics and class environments and favorite-playing. On and on. It’s exhausting.
What to do, what to do. The clock ticks.
Not a fucking clue.
Dear Not a fucking clue.,
Well, hello. Let’s try to give you a clue, shall we? But, first, congratulations on your acceptance into two great MFA programs!
But let’s back up a second, here’s a true-life story: This past winter I was in a city, not my own, and I was walking to dinner to meet friends. I had to walk over an un-shoveled overpass and it was slushy and disgusting and I ruined some pretty kick-ass boots. Dinner was good, once I could feel my feet again. The company was great. It should have been a brilliant evening all around, but the whole time all I could do was worry that the slush on the overpass would freeze up hard by the time I had to walk back to my hotel and that I would slip and fall and twist my ankle, or worse. Sounds fun in my head, right?
I’m not saying your feelings are unfounded or that you aren’t really good at picking up vibes or that the slush didn’t freeze over hard (it fucking did, and it was a goddamn nightmare). What I am saying is that I wasted a lovely time worrying about something that might or might not happen when I had zero control over it anyway.
Creepers suck. And, yet, creepers are fucking everywhere. Creepers are MFA professors and 7-11 cashiers and sometimes even the President of the United States (are you too young to remember the 90s?). If women start making decisions based on the presence of lecherous men, well, we’ll be staying home a lot. I’d love to change the culture, I’d love to be able to, for example, walk down the street without any unwanted comments regarding my mouth or my hips, but that’s not going to happen and I’m not going to stop walking down the street. We all need to work hard at changing the culture of objectification, but we can’t stop living in the culture while we’re doing it!
So, please, choose the MFA program that will best serve your intellectual and artistic growth and feed your spirit and offer you the best opportunities for the best chance at the writing life after graduation.
And, listen, some men (and some women) feel best about themselves when they feel attractive to others, and this may be the vibe you are picking up on, the annoying, needy, “like me” vibe. If this is the case, he’s probably harmless. Some people just emanate creepy.
But let’s say this creeper is the asshole you fear he might be. Then what? Then you steel yourself against his advances, say “no” as many times as you can, and realize that, quite often, creepers give up if they aren’t getting anything back. There are plenty of women and/or men who will say “yes.” Sure, you might lose “favored nation” status if you don’t sit on Creeper’s lap, but that’s just a guess, you know? That’s just a worry about the slush turning to ice. There’s no way to predict what will happen, there’s no way to predict if the vibe you’re getting will turn into something huge or melt away.
Believe me, I know it can be frustrating to see how the literary world is as piggish as the rest of the world. At 22, I was crotch-grabbed under a table by a well-known writer twice my age and all I ever managed to do about it was tell the story to as many people as possible so they know what a douchebag he is. And, yet, he just received another huge honor in the literary world, so clearly being a douchebag doesn’t stop a creeper from getting ahead.
How do we change the culture that says it’s okay to prey on young women (and men)? I don’t know. I think we need to talk about it more, I think we need to call out the creepers, publicly. A little shaming might just go a long way.
All that said, if you go to Creeper’s school, or anywhere, and some dude (no matter who the hell it is) causes you to feel threatened: tell someone. Tell the department chair, the campus police, the city police. If you feel like your academic life is threatened, go to the dean. If you feel like your body is threatened, get help anywhere you can.
For now, don’t pass up a possibly once-in-a-lifetime opportunity just because Creeper might creep. Because, frankly, there is no avoiding the creepers, and you don’t want to avoid your life. You owe it to yourself to go after the life you want. For a woman this might mean always dodging the creepers, but go after the life you want anyway…and I’ll look out for the veiled Creeper character in your first book.
I’m proud of you.
Fury lives on the taint between life and writing. Send her your questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.