I was a writing community virgin when I came to the University of South Florida to get an MFA.
My past life wasn’t devoid of community — as a member of the military, friendships were practically thrust upon me. After spending months away from anyone who wasn’t wearing camo pants, I learned to forge relationships with whoever was around, even the guy who said “Hooah,” did a hundred push ups a day, and took it personally that I didn’t cheer for the Ohio State University.
Army friendships are strong, hence the countless movies featuring uniformed bromances. Even the title of the hit HBO miniseries Band of Brothers implies that military friendships are at the level of familial bonds.
I can’t think of any movies about writers getting along famously. A quick Google search for “writers+friends+best+friends+for+life+i+never+want+to+be+alone” brings up The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants. I’ve seen that quite a few times, and I don’t remember any of the characters writing a book. Maybe I missed something.
I was expected to form a community when I joined the Army and again when I entered the University of South Florida’s MFA program.
To me, community is about relationships. It’s about connecting as friends.
So, who are the better friends–writers or soldiers?
The military was about doing a job. It was a difficult job and bonds formed between members because we were going through the same challenges. I became friends with the men and women who complained about the same things I did. We were propelled toward friendship through commiseration.
My writing community experience has been the opposite. Instead of being pulled together by events, my MFA cohort is drawn together by shared interests.
With my writing friends, ideas are exciting. Someone says that we should go to a graveyard for inspiration, and everyone hops aboard. Someone says she wants to write a short story in computer code, and everyone says to go for it. Someone says that we should join that cult downtown with the clown statue out front and the red splatters on the windows, and everyone says not to do it. But, they say it in a nice way that doesn’t make me feel bad for bringing it up.
As writers, we ignite each other.
My military and writing communities have been worlds apart. One was forged out of necessity, the other out of shared excitement. I have lasting friendships from both, but I have sparks at the University of South Florida.
They should make a movie about that. Call it MFA Cohort of Brothers and Sisters. Of the Traveling Pants.