After years of dreaming of joining an MFA program, painstakingly honing a packet of 15-20 poems, and spilling into tears at my first acceptance letter, I am here inside a verdant Virginia pocket. Chapbooks lean against a folding chair in my new living room. Drafts lie piled about my desk. The coffee pot huffs hourly from its prominent center-stage counter spot.
The days are redolent with writing possibilities, workshops, peer advice and inspiration. But as I bless my coffee mug I find myself slipping into a cross-legged position on my rather splotchy tan carpeting, opening my laptop and pulling up my Netflix account. Always number one on my instant cue, Angela Lansbury’s made-up face blooms on the screen, twelve seasons beg my cursor to take my pick, and I settle in for the newest murder or conspirator plot to clutch the small town of Cabot Cove. Dear next forty-two minutes, Murder, She Wrote, it is.
As my days passed, I skipped episodes where super sleuth Jessica Fletcher travels to China or Chicago, wanting only to watch the episodes where I recognized Sheriff Metzger or the town Doctor, Seth. I only wanted to watch episodes located in the small town where everyone seemed relatively crotchety, interested in antique bedside tables, and the salon’s endless stream of trivial gossip.
There were definite intervals where I paused, said to myself, “I am twenty-five years old. Why am I watching a bunch of retired characters solve mysteries between the rotations of their knitting needles?”
Suddenly the reason became apparent. When we move to a new place, to a new program where the requirements and standards and expectations still feel a bit murky, where our peers are still somewhat foreign to us, it is easy to feel lost and to want some sort of solid ground.
More importantly, when we enter into new territory we often experience a slight loss of our identities. Our very selves might develop blurred boundaries as we try to fit into our new space and experience.
Perhaps this is why Cabot Cove, the small town where our heroine lives, is such comfort to the new MFA student (who is perhaps a bit too interested in murder mystery television and who found no other coping mechanism first). The small town with its predictable characters, excepting those passers-through who do the dirty deeds, gives the MFA student a sense that somewhere people are getting on, day after day, in a fairly organized and predictable peace. Vicariously, the student can feel connected to that world, and perhaps find a bit of solace for the present transitional whirlwind period.
Also, the fact that the town is riddled with retired and elderly folk who are set in their ways, can be of help to one who is twenty-five, working to find new edges and boundaries of herself in a new place. It is comforting to see characters living with a little less worry on their shoulders, and a lot less need to be seen and validated and praised.
As the list of Cabot Cove episodes dwindles, my new MFA community has opened up. I learn that even work itself becomes company to the writer, and a writer becomes company to him or herself. That identity takes time to re-emerge and take shape after a long drive and days of unpacking. It takes time to realize that your writing is still your writing and in order to truly make yourself and live you have to note that characters on television are out doing, never watching. And in the case of Jessica Fletcher, she is writing. Even when the charming but not so clever Sheriff comes banging on her door for her help solving a crime, Mrs. Fletcher regretfully leaves her desk, reams of paper stacked before her, a half full sheet curled in her typewriter.
Michelle Potgeter is currently earning her MFA in poetry at Virginia Tech.