The Foolish Man

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I’m at a weird point in my writing process, one I haven’t been at in a rather long time: the very beginning.  I’m trying to write a brand new book, in a whole new universe, with characters I’ve barely begun to conceive, and I have absolutely no idea what I’m doing.  Most of what I’ve written in the past has fit into one of two story universes (my epic fantasy and my superheroes) and even when I started new books, they still fit within those universes and involved at least one character I had worked with before.  Outside of the books I’ve written for those two series, I tried starting two other books that were potential works for my Goddard thesis three years ago when I started the program (I made some progress on Drowning Sarah), but I didn’t get very far with either of those.  In addition, in the past decade, I’ve started three stories for NaNoWriMo that were brand new and I lost with all of them because I couldn’t get past 20-30k.

This new story feels important.  I want to write it, but I think it’s beyond me.  For reasons I’ve mentioned previously, I need a fresh start in my writing.  I need a new story that doesn’t have any association to my previous writing life or to my previous self or relationships.  I need something that I can write that won’t make me feel dragged down by the past.  The problem is, every time I’ve come up with a successful new story idea, I had a writing partner to work me through the tough bits.  Getting through much of this program without a writing partner was a struggle, but I had all the work we’d done in the past to fall back on and we had a brief attempt at reconciliation, during which, I was able to work out the rest of the major issues with my book.  I can’t write on my own.  I spent three years and more money than I’d care to think about becoming a better writer, but I still can’t write on my own.

So here I am, with a brand new story–and I need a brand new story–about something that is deeply important to me and in a way I haven’t seen in much literature and I think it needs to be out there, but I don’t know how to write it and I don’t know how to proceed with this story without someone who knows me and my writing to work through it with.  I am writing random scenes as they come to me and beginning to ask the big questions about the story, consider potential plot elements, flesh out the characters and the universe, and at every turn, I come up against a massive, insurmountable wall.  All the other times I got stuck, I could just look at where the characters ended up or consider what else is going on in the world at the time that could affect it or would be affected.  But I haven’t got any of that.  It’s like trying to build a brick house on sand.

Sometimes I wonder why I put myself through this.  Accountants don’t have this kind of trouble.

J

Master of Fine Arts

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This is my last night on campus.

I am sitting alone in the room I have stayed in 5 of the 6 times I’ve come to campus.  The other time was a room in the same building, but downstairs.  My roommate, Em, shared the room with me 4 of those times, but I have had it to myself since Em’s graduation.  It is a lovely room with sparse furniture in a fairly old style that has been worn down by countless residents, both from the full residency days and from this era of low-residency degrees.

Bittersweet is a word that has come up in my thoughts a lot.  Most of my time here this time has been more sweet than bitter.  I have been wrapped up in the excitement of seeing everyone again, attending workshops, and preparing for the experience of Graduation.  This hasn’t left much time for the sadness of leaving this place.  But now, as I sit alone in my room for the last time, after having said most of my goodbyes, I feel the edge of loss.

This place has been magical.  It has changed me more than I ever imagined and probably more than I know.  I came here to learn how to write and to get that piece of paper to frame on my wall.  Much of the reason I wanted a master’s degree was for the sake of the accomplishment and for the potential higher pay that comes with higher education.  I could have gotten it in anything and when I decided that I wanted a master’s, I wasn’t particular about what I studied.  Knowledge is knowledge.

Six years and 8 months ago, I sat in the Centrum of Southern Utah University waiting to receive my Bachelor of Interdisciplinary Studies.  As I sat and waited, I watched as dozens of students crossed the stage to receive their master’s hoods.  As I sat in that audience, waiting for my own conferral, I realized that that was what I wanted.  I wanted to cross a stage and be hooded a Master of Something.  After graduation, I dove into working as much as I could to begin my student loan payments and rebuild my savings.  I didn’t have a plan and I didn’t have time to jump into a master’s program, so I let the idea percolate and kept an eye out for possible programs, without looking too seriously.  My advisor at SUU–the one who had to sign the paperwork to approve my request to complete an Interdisciplinary degree–had said that I should only pursue that route if I had no interest in taking my education beyond a bachelor’s degree or if I had any interest in teaching, because I would not be eligible for either.  I taught for three years starting the following Fall.  In the summer of 2012–two years after completing that bachelor’s degree–I discovered Goddard.  I began the application process, hoping to be accepted for the Spring 2013 semester.  Unfortunately, I met my fiancé right around the same time and things got serious as I got closer to the application deadline.  I realized I would have to put my education on hold if I were going to continue with this relationship and it seemed worth it at the time.  In the end, the relationship delayed my entrance into the master’s program by a year.  I have been frustrated by this on occasion.  There have been times when I wished it was already over, that I had my degree, that I didn’t have to deal with more annotations, but I could never truly wish that I had been able to enter the program when I might have, because that would mean wishing away all the incredible experiences I had during the time I went and the many wonderful people I met and bonded with.

When I started my first residency, the then program director Paul Selig told us, “People come to Goddard at the right time.”  At the time, I hoped he was right.  Now I know he was right.  Had I come at an earlier time, I would not have taken away the same things I did.  I would not have grown as much as I did because–much like the characters I’ve written about–I wasn’t ready to fully accept the change I was capable of until I let go of everything I thought I wanted and opened myself to new possibilities.

I came to Goddard when I was ready to be here.  And as sad as it is, I think I am ready to leave.  There is always more that could be learned at a place like this, but I have taken in as much as I can at this point and I am ready to move on to the next chapter.

So as of today, I can officially call myself a Master of the Fine Art of creative writing.  I still can’t wrap my brain around it.  Can one really be considered a master in something after studying it in depth for only 2-3 years?  I feel like I still have so much to learn, so many places my skills fall short, but real writers feel that way too.  I am a real writer.  I have a piece of paper to prove it.  But now the real work begins.

J

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Farewell

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Don’t be dismayed by good-byes. A farewell is necessary before you can meet again. And meeting again, after moments or lifetimes, is certain for those who are friends.

–Richard Bach

*     *     *

“Stories don’t end,” he says. “They just turn into new beginnings.”

–Lindsay Eagar, Hour of the Bees

Here’s to the ending of things.

J

New Beginnings

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“All writing problems are psychological problems. Blocks usually stem from the fear of being judged. If you imagine the world listening, you’ll never write a line. That’s why privacy is so important. You should write first drafts as if they will never be shown to anyone.”

—Erica Jong

* * *

“The scariest moment is always just before you start.”

—Stephen King

Because I haven’t posted a quote in a while, here are two.  These are in honor of starting the new semester and really starting my thesis.

J