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

 

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What’s In the Box??

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The cat lives.

My manuscript passed.

It is a relief and now I can get back on track with everything else.  I went into the semester with the intention of graduating, making it clear to my adviser and second reader that I needed to graduate this semester.  When I sent off my manuscript, I was worried, but I felt good about the work I had accomplished.  I have been going about this semester with the expectation that my manuscript would pass in Packet 4 and that I would be graduating in January.  I had some brief but very strong doubts that this might not be the case, but in the end, everything I prepared for and expected worked out.

So.  I still have a handful of documents I need to finish, all of which are due in the mail on the 10th (because the post office is closed on Veteran’s Day).  Now that I put off much of that work in favor of rushing through the copy edits for the Pitkin Review, I have very little time to finish, but it is all still very doable.

With that in mind, I have a stack of work to do and it is quite late, so I am off to sleep, then a very long day of work which I hope will allow me some downtime to work on my homework, then a couple of days off in which I will dive into the last bit of work for my Master’s degree.

Even with my expectations going into this semester, it is hard to wrap my brain around The Last Packet.  But that is what I’m on.

LOA *Not the voodoo kind

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Packet 5 (the last of my G2 semester) made it into the mail on Friday just as the post office was closing.  I had it all on track, but I had some last minute issues that pushed me far closer to the deadline than was in any way comfortable with.  What matters is that it made it.  I can breathe again.

Yesterday, I submitted my End of Semester Self-Evaluation.  A troublesome document accounting for all the work I did over the semester, how it meets my goals, and what I plan to do next semester.  It’s a pain and rather stressful to throw together if you’re not expecting it (I wasn’t last semester, this time I was, but not a few days early), but it’s a perfectly reasonable expectation since this program is largely independent study.  I don’t take classes, so how else do they keep track of my progress through the program?

So, with that all out of the way, my second semester of grad school is officially over.  Woohoo!

And now for the good news/bad news.  I won’t be going back to school for another 6 months.  Yup.  I will be dealing with some major life changes (new location, new employment, new who knows what else), which will make it very difficult to continue school during that time, especially with the Teaching Practicum.  In addition, I wasn’t able to finish as much as I’d hoped this last semester, so it will be very helpful to have a little extra time to work on these things on my own before I dive into my third semester, which promises to be more difficult than the last, even without moving right in the middle of it.

I am relieved to have a break from the snowballing pace of this program and excited to have a bit of time to work on my novel without worrying about deadlines or people reading over my shoulder, so the break will be a good thing.  But at the same time, I’m really going to miss all my friends at Goddard.  The community there is fantastic.  It’s just an amazingly wonderful experience to spend a week with a bunch of other crazy writers who are just as passionate about their work as I am about mine.  Residency has been one of the best experiences of my life with the intense focus on writing, workshops, readings, visiting writers, it gets me so pumped to dive into my work and I learn so much in such an incredibly beautiful location.  I seriously can’t say enough about the community and the event itself.  So I will really miss not going up for another gorgeous Vermont winter with all the writers I’ve been celebrating and commiserating with over the last two semesters, especially the G2 Fireballs and the new G1 YA writers.

Taking this Leave of Absence was, surprisingly, one of the most difficult decisions I’ve had to make.  I’m really going to miss everyone and I’m going to miss the energy and excitement of Residency this semester, but taking this break is what I’ve got to do at this point in my life and in the program.

I plan to keep up with this blog so everyone can see my progress without the regular deadlines of school.  Hopefully keeping up with this will help me keep on track with my goals for the semester off so I come back for my G3 stronger than ever.  And I will see everyone again in June for the next Residency!

So, dear readers, keep in touch about your writing plans and progress, because I don’t want to slip out of the loop while I’m away.  Happy Writing!

J

Bring It On

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Distant Dreams

I received yet another rejection letter today.  I didn’t expect to make it this time either, but I did hope.  I’ll just add it to the growing pile: rejections mean I’m actually trying and I’ll never make it if I don’t keep trying.  On the bright side, this piece was an annotation I did last semester and my advisor said it was one of the best he’d seen, so I guess it really depends on the audience.

Dear Jasmine:

Thank you for giving Pitkin Review an opportunity to consider your work. Unfortunately, your piece, “Shakespeare’s Couplets in the Merchant of Venice” was not selected. We highly encourage you to submit work for the next issue of Pitkin Review. We also encourage you to submit to other markets.

We wish you the best of luck in the future.

Matthew Swihart, Esq.

Editor-in-Chief, Pitkin Review

I think I was fairly bitter about my previous rejection from the Pitkin (note: the comic I included is now even more appropriate)—probably due to my high hopes with this new school and overconfidence that my piece would be accepted—but I’ve had a long day and I’m exhausted and while I really did hope that I would make it because it would be wonderful to be published, even in a tiny school publication like this, I just didn’t have all that much invested in it.  I must say, though, now that I have another to compare it with, the previous letter was pretty nice for a rejection and rather encouraging too, while this one suggests I submit elsewhere—not that that’s a bad idea, but still “yeah, your work’s not good enough for us, but maybe somebody else will go for this rubbish.”

*sigh*

Anyway, as my pile of rejections is slowly growing—and my hair is beginning to fall out—I am feeling more and more confident in calling myself a writer.  So, onward and upward.  World, bring it on.

J

The Road to Hell

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As my plans tend to, this one got away from me.  I blame wordpress, because I had it set to notify me if I didn’t post every week and I haven’t gotten a notification in months.  With my busy schedule, I can’t be expected to remember AND actually go write a post…  Excuses, excuses, I know.  But here I am, just popping in with a quick update before I get back to watching Friends…I mean writing.

So, since the last post, I really don’t know, since I can’t be bothered to read my own blog.  I sent in packet 1 with 4 annotations and a fair amount of creative work.  I got that packet and response back and was fairly disappointed.  My advisor had less insight than usual and I’ve been so busy I didn’t really write any new creative work; I was planning to just edit the stuff from the first packet and send it in again, but he had very little to suggest in the way of corrections.  So, I spent a few days lost and frustrated—and complaining to all my writer friends—before I decided to just deal with it and do the work without the guidance I was hoping for.  I stuck with the same advisor as last semester because we worked well together and I could see I still had a lot to learn from him, so I think I need to be more clear about what sort of input I need during this semester because I gather that my advisor leaves things up to me because he seems to think that I’m rather insightful and have everything under control (soooo not the case…).

On top of that setback, Life Happened and I was required for some unexpected work and family responsibilities, so I ended up with really about 2-3 days total to spend on packet 2.  I usually spend a good portion of a week or two really focusing on the packet, so I basically just had a meltdown and questioned whether or not I was really cut out for this program.  Then I explained the situation and my ever-understanding advisor gave me an extra week to get this packet in.  So, I can breath a little, but I hate falling behind on the schedule and it’s odd while all my Goddard friends are chatting about sending in their packets when I have different deadlines than them.  In any case, I now have an extra week to get out this packet and my boss gave me a few days off to make up for all the overtime I did before, so I have a reasonable amount of free time to focus on it and can breathe again.

With that burden temporarily lifted, I got really excited about my thesis again and spent last evening/night discussing timelines and species etc with my writing partner, Amanda.  I also got a few inspirations on my nature walk yesterday afternoon (when the block hits, go for a walk in the woods.  Bring a notebook.).  I feel more capable and even if I don’t get a lot written, at least I have a lot brewing and I’m dealing with a lot of the planning and technical stuff that needs to be done.  I’m not super worried about writing a lot of my thesis this semester.  I know what I’m doing now (look at me, all sounding like I know what I’m doing) and I’ll pump out a zero draft in November.  After that, I can fill in the gaps and get down to editing.

So, I breathe again.  Sortof.

Now the issue is the critical work.  I’m still completely lost on the Long Critical Paper (LCP), but at least I have it scheduled out into 3 packets to get it done, so I should be okay about it, but I’m still freaking out at the moment.

Also, Annotations.  I really hit my stride last semester and figured out what I was doing.  I always got positive responses on the work I submitted and all was well.  This semester seemed off to a good start too, especially now that I’ve done 5 of the 12-15 required for the semester.  BUT, now I feel all annotated out.  I got so deep into seeing the world of stories in an up close and critical way, that it started to take the fun out of reading and then I burned out.  I’ve got two books to annotate in this packet and I haven’t a clue what to write about.  Not a clue.  And my brain just doesn’t want to be creative about it.  And I’m too tired (all the time, seriously, when am I not tired?) to get in there and do it, so I don’t even want to think about it.  And now that I’ve got an extra week to do the work, I have to actually turn in something decent.  It’s good to have the extra time, but at the same time, now there’s actual pressure to do a good job, whereas when I didn’t have time to do a good job, I stopped caring about the quality of it all and was ready to just BS my way through 25-30 pages and call it done.

Anyway, that’s where I’m at in this lovely Packet 2.  And we’ll see where it goes from there…

J

 

Long Time, No See

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I realize it’s been a rather long time since I posted and I need to do something about that.  After last semester ended, I didn’t have much Writing stuff to write about because I wasn’t doing it regularly and, obviously, didn’t have school stuff to write about.  I intended to get back into the routine once school started up again, but that didn’t really happen.  I’ll try to do better now that school is in full swing.  (Btw, I’ll be more motivated to keep it up if I know I’ve got readers, feel free to say hi!)

So, quick updates: I believe I posted about Residency.  Again, it was AWESOME and reminded me why I’m doing this.  Now that I’m actually doing this and not partying with all my writer friends, it’s a little harder to remember and the motivation is slipping.  Always looking for motivating suggestions!

My first packet of the semester was due last Monday.  I finished it up on Friday (after a rather violent battle with my printer and quite a few tears.  Note: I intend to buy a new one before the next packet is due.) and got it to the post office 30 minutes before they closed.  I assume it is now in my advisor’s hands and that at some point, it will make its way back to me.  Hopefully with some positive feedback.  As far as that packet, I am proud to say that I turned in 4 annotations (the most I’ve ever done in one packet!  Also, that puts me at 5 so far for the semester which is 1/3 of the max I could do, and that’s in my first of five packets, woohoo!), the usual process letter (5 pages), and 18 pages of creative work (6 of Sarah, the rest of William).

Now, I’m bogged down with 4 days in a row of 11+ hour shifts, so it’s all I can do to stay alert enough to take care of the baby.  I’m listening to and reading 3 books at the moment, because at least I can listen while I entertain the baby and then he’s being educated too, and then, hopefully, by next week, I’ll have a few books I can write annotations on.

I still have creative work to worry about.  I haven’t written much new since Residency and now that I’ve decided on my thesis, there’s all this pressure about what I write and that it has to be good and worthy and all, so I’m feeling paralyzed and blocked about the work and basically just terrified to even try, so I’ve been focusing on the other requirements (mostly the reading because it’s so time consuming).  I really need to get back into the habit of writing regularly because even if everything that comes out is crap, at least I’ll have something to work with and if I know it’s going to be crap and I’m going to write it anyway then I won’t worry about it and maybe something good will come of it.  In the words of Sarah: ugh.

And, last but not least, this semester I have to write my 20-page Long Critical.  I have never in my life written such a long essay so the very thought of it overwhelms me.  I’ve had a general topic since the beginning of last semester.  I discussed it with my advisor as an option for one of the two Short Criticals (5+ pages each) and we both agreed that it was a more suitable topic for the Long Critical.  So I’ve had that sitting around gathering dust for six months or so, but now I need to refine it.  I have a few ideas on how to narrow it down, but nothing solid yet and I don’t even know where to begin my research.  I need like two secondary sources but it is NOT a “research paper” as the teachers at Goddard have made very clear, so, I really don’t know what it is.  I guess it’s a Long short critical and a short critical is just a long annotation.  So, it’s one of those 3-page papers I’m writing all the time now, only stretched into 20 pages.  God help me.

And so, with that, back to work and thinking about writing.  I will try to be more diligent about the blog.  And about writing my thesis.  And breathing.

So long for now…

J

 

Stranger in a Strange Land

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There is no foreign land; it is the traveller only that is foreign.

—Robert Louis Stevenson

This isn’t writing related, but I came across it and loved it, especially with my history and love for traveling.

On a completely unrelated-to-this note: Today is the official start of the 2014 Fall semester at Goddard College, so while I’ve been tinkering away at readings, annotations, and creative work, now it’s time to buckle down and really get to work.

Here’s hoping, beyond all hope, for a smooth semester.

J.

The Final Countdown

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This is it, one more sleep before I head off to Vermont for Residency #2.  I’m nervous and worried about residency and the semester for all the reasons I’ve discussed before, but I’m also very excited to meet up with my friends again and for all the cool workshops and everything else.  The drive will be at least 8.5 hours according to Google Maps; hopefully the weather will clear up and the traffic/construction won’t be too bad so I make decent time.  I mostly just want to be there and settled before dinner which is 6-7, but I don’t have to be checked in until 11am on Friday, so I’ll be fine whatever happens.

Here’s to the new semester and new adventures!

J

Silver Linings

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Yesterday I got my last response letter from my advisor this semester.  He briefly told me that my critical work was good and that he was pleased with what I was learning and that I was in good shape for next semester, then spent 3 pages (of about 4) telling me what’s wrong with my creative work.  I know I’m here to learn and the more I know what’s wrong with my work the more I can improve and I want to be a great writer and I know I have a long way to go, but it’s still a lot to take in.  He made lots of suggestions and tried to explain how to look at things to improve my issues, but my brain can’t absorb it all and rather than taking the criticism as a point for improvement, I just come out feeling like the crappiest writer in the world.  My head hurts trying to wrap my brain around how to apply it all.

The semester is over.  My final packet will arrive in the mail soon with the rest of the comments from my advisor, but I don’t have anymore deadlines or any required work, reading or writing, until the new semester starts at the end of June.  I’ve narrowed down my thesis to two options and both draw me for different reasons.  My advisor says I can go into the next semester with both stories, but I’ll need to pick one very quickly.  I tentatively plan to spend my “summer vacation” working on the two to see where they go, but both are very blocked and knowing all my work is crap doesn’t exactly put me in the mood to write more of it.

As frustrating and mentally and emotionally draining as the whole process is, I just can’t think of anything more worth doing.  It’s taken me a very long time to come into this, to both realize and decide that I wanted to be a writer, and every time I hit a point like this, a point when I just don’t know how to go on, I look for other options, other things I want to do with my life, and this is it.  There just isn’t anything else I’d rather be doing.  Every path is hard; every choice brings suffering of some sort.  There isn’t anything else worth suffering through.  This is what I want to do with my life; this is what matters to me.  It’s hard, so very hard, on every level imaginable, but I have to put my effort into something and this is what I choose.  The decision is made.  I’m here, and this is what I want.  There’s nothing left to do but just keep writing.

J

This too shall pass

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At the end of the closing session of my first residency at Goddard College, the faculty handed out notepads, pens, and envelopes with the instruction to write an encouraging letter to any of the Goddard MFA-W students (ourselves included) to be mailed at some point during the semester.  This is apparently a Goddard tradition and the idea behind it is that at about mid-semester, things get very hard and we start wondering why we’re doing this and if we’re going to make it, so these letters are meant to boost our confidence and give us that little extra push to make it through to the end.

I hate being put on the spot like that; I never know what to say.  As I didn’t know who else to write to or what I would say to anybody else, I just wrote a letter to myself.  I was already feeling out of my depth and knew I would desperately need that extra push before the semester was over.  Around the third packet, I started watching for my letter because I was feeling that this whole ordeal was completely futile and that I would never amount to anything as a writer, even if I did manage to survive this program, but the letter never came.  Some of the other Fireballs (our “G1” or first semester group) complained in our Facebook page that none of them had received letters from anyone and I finally gave up looking, wondering if they ever even intended to mail the letters.

Today, my letter finally arrived.  It was a brutal morning.  My second day in a row on less than 6 hours of sleep while working 11 hour days and first thing this morning, my boss made it painfully clear that I was failing to live up to her expectations.  Exhausted and defeated, the day wore on and I had to keep reminding myself that I took this job because it was one of the few with a schedule that would allow me to continue at grad school and be a writer, which is what I want to do more than anything.

This afternoon, I went outside to check the weather and decided to check the mail while I was at it—though I’d already received everything I was expecting, so I wasn’t anticipating anything for me—and there was my letter to me.  I found it a bit funny that it arrived the day after our final packets were due, so there wasn’t much point for the letters, though some of the other Fireballs mentioned that they had finally gotten their letters, so I wasn’t all that surprised.

My letter said:

Jasmine,

You are a writer.  You are doing great work.  Look at what you’ve done so far.  Remember why you’re here, why you’re doing this.

You can do this and it’s all worth it.

Just keep writing.

This too shall pass.

-Illegible signature-

These sentiments are exactly what have been going through my head to keep going all semester, so it wasn’t necessarily helpful to find them in the letter—though I did vaguely remember what I had put in the letter, and the memory of it was helpful in reminding me why I had to keep pushing forward.  What surprised me was the last line: “This too shall pass.”  At the moment, I’m not overly concerned about getting through grad school; yes, it’s hard, but it’s also a great experience and I’m studying and learning things that interest me and improving my skills in writing, which, as I’ve mentioned, is very important to me.  What I hadn’t expected was just how hard this job would be, how exhausting and overwhelming and frustrating and time-consuming, even though it’s only three gruelingly long days a week.  When I read that line, I felt some semblance of peace.  Yes, my job is rough, but I chose it so that I could do what I love (I seem to do this a lot), and it will pass.  What matters is that while I’m here, I can write, I can study, I can work towards achieving my dreams and even though a lot of life is hard and just plain sucky:

This too shall pass.

J