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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The End

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I am on campus for the last time.  The fact that I’m graduating is finally beginning to sink in.  I have my graduate reading tonight and graduation will be tomorrow.  I’ve decided what to read; I just need to get it to the right length and practice it a few times.  I still need to write my graduation speech.  It will be short and sweet, but I don’t know what it will be about.  I have a lot of people I want to thank, but I should say something inspirational too.  I’ve considered taking something from my Process Paper, but that was quite long and I’m not sure there is anything that I can be used out of context or condensed enough to be appropriate for my 2-3 minute speech that will also include thank-yous.  I have some time to think about it, and for something so short, I would prefer not to spend too long preparing it.  I’ve been thinking about what I would say in my graduation speech for at least three semesters now, and yet I have no idea where to even begin.  I feel like I should maybe do the speech before the thank-yous, but I’m not sure.  I will ponder on it and I have had a few thoughts percolating already.

Coming back to campus has been an odd experience.  Building up to this, I was afraid I’d spend the whole time crying over the ending of all this because I started welling up every time I thought about it for months before, but it hasn’t been like that.  When I got here and got into my room, it felt like I was home again.  There are two places in the world that feel like home to me: my parents’ house in Maryland and here.  Here I can be myself.

It was very quite when I first got here, but with lunch and opening session, everything got back to its usual crazy self.  I thought I would be sad, but it’s just been exciting to see everyone again and talk about everyone’s projects and catch up and everything else.  The thing that has been most weird is that now I am the Graduating Student.  I remember my first winder residency exactly three years ago.  I was new and wide-eyed and in way out of my depths and we had a handful of students on campus who were G5s and G6s and graduating students.  I remember talking to them and wondering how I would ever make it that far.  They were experienced and had all the answers.  And now that’s me.  I don’t have all the answers, but I have quite a lot of them for the Goddard experience.  I’ve offered to answer more questions and give feedback on thesis revisions to a number of people and I hope they will take me up on that so I can stay in touch with the Goddard community.

Goddard is a magical place and Paul Selig was right when he said that we all come here at the right time.  I have changed in so many ways since this all began.  I was already in a place of transition and I was ready for a positive change.  The change here wasn’t all positive here, but I am a stronger person and a better writer than I was when I came into this program.

The most asked question I’ve gotten since I announced my graduation is: “What are you going to do now?”  I’ve come up with a variety of answers for that, some specific about what I plan to do over the next few weeks and months, others very general about what I hope to do with my MFA.  The truth is: I don’t know.  I don’t know what I’m going to do now.  I don’t know what my future holds and I don’t even know where to start.  But I know I can do hard things.  I know I can get through an intense program with impossible goals and the emotional hell that was my personal life.  I learned skills for critical and creative writing, research, endurance, and organization.  All these things can translate into other areas of my life, including countless careers that may or may not have anything to do with writing.  Most importantly though, Goddard has taught me this:

I am a writer.

If I can write, I can do anything.  And so can you.

J

 

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