June 27, 2018

My MFA Education


I recently attended a local writing festival hosted by the low residency MFA program at OSU-Cascades. We don’t get a lot of writing related events in Central Oregon, so I was super excited to see this one pop up. The first session was held at our local library. It featured readings from MFA staff as well as a graduate of the program who has gone on to be published. It was interesting in that most of the readers read unpublished work, stuff they are working on, instead of from a published book they could be promoting. Even the graduate read some fresh work along with something from her brand new book. Then they held a panel and we got to ask questions about stuff like inspiration and intent and other deep things.

Then we scurried across town to the OSU-Cascades campus for the second class. This was the class I was most interested in. It was about adding empathy to your writing. I’m a pretty no-nonsense person. I feel each person is responsible for themselves, their decisions, the consequences, their actions and reactions. It isn’t quite so hard and fast as all that, but it’s an over-arcing belief system I follow that doesn’t breed empathy. So I was all sorts of excited to learn how to create more caring characters, tell a more compasionate story.

And then we were given an assignment. Choose from several pictures our instructor shared and write about it. Collaborate among our tablemates to develop a story or choose a story from those written. My table consisted of three of the MFA students, a professor from the program, a writer friend of mine and myself. The picture we chose was a crowd scene. The focus was of a young girl holding a protest sign, which read something like, ONE CHILD IS TOO MANY. She was looking off camera, in the opposite direction from the crowd, behind her, and she had a concerned look on her face. A police officer stood in front of her, with his back to the camera, his arms held out as if to corral the crowd. He too, glanced over his shoulder in the same direction as the girl.

Each of us took five minutes or so to write something about the picture. My writer friend tried but just couldn’t relate to that photo, so being a rebel, wrote about a different picture altogether. The professor and I both chose to write about the same guy in the crowd. The man stood out because of his height and his hat, so it wasn’t too surprising we both focused on him. Our stories weren’t all that different either. In the end, we ended up allowing one of the MFA students to read his story because he focused on the cop and his story was filled with empathyßremember, the assignment.

I guess it’s no surprise that given five minutes to write flash fiction, I resorted to type and forgot the assignment. Oh well. Hopefully, I learned enough to add it to my writing in more relaxed circumstances. However, I thought I’d share my flash fiction with you for the fun of it.


I don’t know what I was thinking wearing this orange hat. In the woods it acts as my safety net, so no hunter will accidentally mistake my tall ass for an elk. Here, it feels like a target for the protestors. They’re across the way, pushing, pushing against the line of police. Their line shoulder to shoulder against the anger. And here I stand with my single police guard and my bright orange hat, a head taller than anyone else, saying, “Please, use your right to bare ams on me.”

Have you ever done a flash fiction exercise like this? It’s a great exercise to develop your writing chops. Now I want to organize a FF contest. Who's in?

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