Generosity and Optimism

Ira B. Perrine and Me
MFAs cost a lot of money. Upwards of $30,000.

But a cookie at my local bakery?

Not so much.

Every Tuesday and Friday, in a small corner cafe, writers come from around Seattle to write alongside Robert J. Ray and Jack Remick. For two hours, we talk shop and creative process and life. And then we write for 45 minutes.

We read our rough work aloud to each other. Sometimes we give reader response. Sometimes we just listen. But only Bob and Jack give critiques.

And between our sessions, there’s a lot of chatter online about local readings, publications, craft questions, and general encouragement between all of us.

And all of us send our stuff to our two ringleaders. Who email back critiques, tips, lessons, and samples from their own rough work, saying, “Here’s how I approach this problem. Give it a try.”

Which means for less than $300 a year (tallying up all those cookies), I’m earning my MFA.

Off the books. 🙂

When I asked Jack why they’re so generous with their knowledge and so dedicated to their students, he said that he and Bob learned a long time ago that if you keep an idea to yourself, it impoverishes it. The drive for ownership and credit in academia can rob ideas of their power; insights get clogged up with ego and fear.

But if you share your process and your wisdom, these become enriched. Generosity, oddly enough, makes us richer.

“Besides,” Jack added, “we figure it comes from the collective unconscious. You’ve got to give it back.”

Of course trust is a big part of that sharing. And we talked about that, too. The imperative that teachers never violate that trust.

It seems to me very optimistic. But also necessary.

Because he’s right: we have to share ideas.

Like Ira B. Perrine did in Twin Falls, Idaho. Throughout the 1880s and 1890s, he farmed in the Snake River Valley Canyon, taking advantage of the river to irrigate his crops and selling his produce to the locals.

But then he decided it was high time to bring that water to more than just his own farm. And he drew up an irrigation plan for the area. He never made much money off it, though others did. But his idea, once presented, moved ahead and forever changed that region of Idaho.

Foolish or foresighted, optimism can reshape the world around us. But first, it requires that leap of trust, that involvement of community. I am lucky to have such generous mentors who are teaching me what education is really about–and what an arts community should really look like.


Published by M.C. Easton

Novelist and teacher.

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