Dear Student,

Welcome to Practical Application, the third semester of your MFA*. Today, you are as prepared for adult life as you’ll ever be, having progressed through the rites of birth, childhood and teenage years in the first semester and your 20s and 30s in the second.

Though in-depth exercises and immersion learning during your first term, you began to experience the world as it unfolded under the guidance of family and teachers, friends and neighbors. They taught you basic skills, presented scenarios for you to consider and test, and modeled behaviors for you to emulate or resist, for better or worse.

After a careful review of your achievements, you have been selected to proceed to the next level of your formal education. Everything that you’ve learned will be tested. We will move outside of the classroom and beyond the training field to a living laboratory where you will apply your increased mental prowess against a backdrop of physical decline.

A departure from previous lessons, your scores during Practical Application will not be based in numerals or letters but in the karma you’ve created to date—the interrelated network of opportunities and conflict that you can only now begin to comprehend and navigate. You are not competing against your fellow classmates, only yourself.

Your overall grade, which determines eligibility into a final term of study, will be based solely on your navigation of the ever-changing curriculum and your ability to cope with ambiguity. Note that prior classes have found this segment rather challenging; it is customary not to pass exams on the first attempt.

Please review the available coursework to select programs that most closely address your specific areas of interest and desire for physical, emotional and transcendental challenges. Though you are permitted to audit any course as many times as you desire, know that you cannot advance to the final term without passing a minimum of five courses. Options include:

Middle Age Weight Gain
Since the mid-30s, your contemporary American physique has gradually expanded each year, bringing a wealth of cushioning fat cells to your waistline and thighs. And the backs of your arms. And your calves. All over, really. Each year, the build-up of cells increases until, in mass protest, they erupt into The Middle Age Belly.

For men and women alike, the sudden sporting of this new protuberance may feel startling, given that it occurs in diametric opposition to one’s moderate dietary habits and consistent exercise regime. Simply put, the pot belly appears overnight and for seemingly no reason.

This course explores experimental techniques for managing adult weight gain, including adamant denial, methods and means of resisting change, hands-on experiments with non-fat soy and a weekly support group that meets at Pinkberry frozen yogurt.

Prerequisite: Advanced Zumba coursework, Pilates membership, custom Lycra fitting.

The Fixer
By now, you’ve earned an executive MBA, which you’ve likely put to good use in your position as a customer service rep or marketing intern, since there are no longer advanced positions available in business, law or finance.

Given that you’re at least 40, it also means that you’re ready to purchase your first house. As you probably can’t afford a decent residence, you’ll need to buy a fixer. Nervous? Nah. You still have the optimism necessary to believe that you know how to hang and texture drywall, paint the exterior of your home by hand, remove and replant significant areas of landscaping, lay irrigation pipe, conduct plumbing and roofing repairs and blow insulation into your attic after working 50 hours a week.

Students will be expected to show up for class in coveralls with a supply of filtration masks, goggles and a six-pack of beer for the instructor. Don’t worry about the carbs. You both have pot bellies anyway.

Recommended reading: Zen and the art of relinquishing your life to the pursuit of home repair.

Illness and Sudden Death
This course illustrates the absolute unfairness intrinsically woven into life. Whereas only a few years ago, your parents reported the demise of their octogenarian friends, you have entered an era where your own peers have begun to drop dead of heart attacks, as well as never-before-heard-of chronic and fatal illnesses, in their 40s and 50s.

In this reflective workshop, you will keep a journal of your own mental processes as you witness these events happening outside your (or anyone’s) control. The personal stories and strength of your friends will make you question your own mortality in ways that were once restricted to memoirs and essays, meaning that they happened to people you don’t know.

You will begin to meet with doctors, learning what a “full work-up” of your blood is and what it feels like to have your breasts compressed between two cold, unforgiving metal panels. You will schedule your first colonoscopy, leading to your first cocktail of Versed and Sentinol. You will begin to meet with lawyers to discuss “your affairs,” struggling to list people you’d actually entrust (and won’t feel too terrible about bothering) with the task of unplugging you from life support.

In-class assignments: drafting a will and medical power of attorney, CBC and chem panel lab series.

Divorce and Dating
Curious about the benefits of this term’s curriculum after reviewing the coursework for Illness and Sudden Death? The good news is that, if you’ve been unhappy with your partner, it’s time for a change-up. In fact, you may be headed toward the most sexually prolific period of your existence, apart from college.

Following your divorce, you will meet a plethora of maladjusted, slightly overweight (or intensely athletic) horny middle-aged people who in no way resemble your previous partner–or anyone normal, for that matter. That’s the bad news. The good news is that you’re all in the same boat: right out of the gate, everyone wants to get laid. You will experience alternating waves of long dry spells and months of gratuitous sex, which will perpetually stoke and slake your desire for sex, dating and marriage altogether.

During this period, you may actually discover that you prefer living, dining and sleeping alone.

Note that all assignments involve partners who may not engage cooperatively. Many students repeat this class several times, bringing baggage from their prior relationships. If they’ve recently emerged from a long-term partnership, you will likely be the person they subliminally punish for everything that went wrong before they met you.

Required materials: condoms and red wine. Optional materials include a tiny sports car with baseball cap (to camouflage your bald spot), lavish vacations to escape reality (if you have any money left from your divorce) and a much-younger “special friend” whom your ex likely glares at when you meet on the street.

Health and You: The Body Breaks Down
It’s a question that can leave anyone paralyzed….literally: how did I hurt myself? This interactive session will explore the aches and pains that arise from seemingly normal activity, including a steadily growing stiffness in all of your joints and muscles.

Students will explore stretching and low-impact exercise methodology, such as Pilates and yoga, taught by instructors who are barely of drinking age and can’t understand why their students’ bodies don’t bend like Beckham. (Expect to be asked at the start of each class if you are “so psyched” to be there.)

Working in small groups, the class will participate in field experiments that tend to produce random injury, such as emerging from tiny sports cars (sorry, divorcees), climbing the stairs to your new loft condo, stepping off of curbs at the valet station and reaching for wine glasses in high cabinets.

The ultimate goal is for students to comprehend that they cannot force their bodies into a state of fitness by sheer will anymore, and that a minor fall can easily land them in the emergency room.

Oh yeahL there are also kidney stones, which hurt like a muthafucka.

Equipment: Ridiculously expensive LuLu Lemon yoga pants (not included in tuition), walking poles and the deluded belief that you are able to pull off handstands, crow pose and deep squats after age 50 without injuring yourself.

Adult Entertainment
Bonfires. Raves. Rock concerts. Remember when music pulsed so loud that you temporarily lost your hearing? (You were standing next to the speaker, after all.) Do you recall when drinking jungle juice from lined trash containers or standing in line for two hours prior to a sold-out show, jostled by half-drunk youth in ripped fishnets and leather jackets was fun?

Likely not – you’re too old. (This is also why you don’t hear so well.)

If you believe that the best entertainment occurs at home while reclining on the couch, this seminar is for you. Together, the class will redefine the concept of entertainment beginning with National Public Radio, which we will play at a high volume since most students are hearing impaired.

From Ira Glass and Frank Deford to Deb Amos and beyond, we’ll explore the state of middle age entertainment today, which affords the greatest humble-brag start to any sentence, “Say, I heard a great segment on NPR yesterday evening…” (Note that each year alternates between PBS and NPR.)

Class project: Handmade collages of Steve Inskeep and Michelle Norris.

Inexplicable Ennui

Planning for Your Gradual Demise
By now you’ve guessed that you aren’t getting out alive, even if you make it to the final term. What to do? This course will prepare you to walk the fine line between working long enough to earn full retirement benefits (that’s age 70, for you youngsters) and planning to drop dead the day after, unless you have a busy retirement of cruise travel to distract you. By exercising a lifetime of frugality, you may be able to eat one nice buffet meal on your way out.

Coursework includes making deep bench lists of beneficiaries who will likely pass before you do, since you didn’t bother to have children. Students will consider signing reverse mortgages and learn to calculate the day rate of a laborer who can change their adult diapers on lunch breaks.

Special activities: group sing-alongs, Sunday bingo and learning to dress for funerals and cruises, which are virtually the same thing.

– – – – –

In closing, the University of Life commends you for having lasted this long. Upon closer examination, we hope you discover that everything that you do and experience each day is a triumph. Over the course of this curriculum, we believe that you and your peers will find joy in moments when you demonstrate selfless affection and fidelity for one another with small gestures that are actually quite meaningful.

There is no justification for the final selection of students that we elect to move forward to the final degree program. Some make it the first time. Some are granted second and third chances, others not. Within that, we encourage you to seek humor and lightheartedness whenever possible, especially during the ridiculously hard moments when you or your friends fall ill and die, when you lose your jobs or spouses, when you can no longer run or walk with ease, or when you realize that your lives have diverged from what you thought they might be.

Don’t be concerned with obtaining the right answers to this curriculum, as there are none. The key to matriculation is trying your best whenever possible and acting with kindness toward your classmates. When you approach the dais to claim your diploma next year, all you’ll have is a small beacon of hope or hopelessness pulsating within your cells. Only you will know if you’ve really graduated.

Whether or not your final score is enough is up to you. You—and you alone—will see it.
Good luck.

*Mature, Full Adulthood