I had a friend once who insisted she knew exactly what MFA stood for — and it wasn’t Master of Fine Arts.

The back and forth about what it means to be a writer, how to become a writer, and whether writing can be taught will never be settled, because it’s a matter of personal preference almost as prickly as religion. The MFA crowd — those who have them, those who pursue them — clearly believe that the couple of years and tons of money spent in pursuit of that degree is worthwhile. And of course, many of the very finest writers have no MFA, and some of them never went to college.

Cary Tennis (the advice columnist at Salon who I think is really good at what he does) had a letter from a young woman who desired a particular MFA above all other things and has come to doubt her goals, her priorities, and her choices. Radiant Robyn Bender sent me the link, but beware, I don’t know how long it will be available to non-subscribers.

So I was reading over his response, which encapsulates a lot of his own experiences as a writing in training, and I got irritated. Very, very irritated. I’m still trying to figure out exactly what button it was that got pushed, but I believe that it has something to do with his tone, which was understanding and kindly and empathetic.

What I wanted to do was smack the kid.

His final word of advice to the reluctant student:

So finish your degree and take care of your writing as you would take care of an animal or a child. Do not send it out into the world to do an adult’s job. Just take care of it and, in its own way, it will take care of you.

This feels so wrong to me, I don’t even know where to start. Too twee, too zen, too something. Practical problems call for practical decisions, seems to me.

I’m still thinking a smack would do her more good. You know the movie Moonstruck, when Nicolas Cage is making moon eyes at Cher? And she’s had enough, so she smacks him and shouts: Snap outta it!