This past weekend, I graduated with my Master of Fine Arts degree in Fiction from Southern New Hampshire University. The whole experience still feels a bit surreal, but getting to spend one last time at my home away from home with my MFAmily made the whole experience of the last two years even more rewarding.
As writers, we try to capture moments into the perfect paragraph, a lyrical line; a story. I know I'll spend the rest of my life trying to capture the magic of my MFA on future pages. But for right now, I'm going to try to leave some of that magic here.
Two years ago, I returned from my first residency of graduate school. Looking back at that time, I am reminded of a quote from The Curious Case of Benjamin Button: "It's a funny thing about coming home. Looks the same, smells the same, feels the same. You'll realize what's changed is you." When I returned home with a stack of feedback, new friends, and four deadlines, I felt changed. I had finally found my people, and I'm not sure there is anything that changes you more than finding a place you belong.
(**You can read more about that first residency HERE).
I worked with the amazing Robin Wasserman for a full semester on my Falling series, and I learned so much. I couldn't wait to return to the White Mountains to be inspired, and to progress even further on my manuscript.
That second residency felt like a family reunion. It was a beautiful week filled with friends and so many writing lessons I needed to learn as I embarked on that second semester. In a workshop about emotion, the phenomenal Jo Knowles helped open up some of the issues I was having with my story. And when I returned home, I got Jo for my mentor!
Now that second semester, I changed my thesis. I'm not sure who was more surprised, me or Jo (or Robin). By this point I missed the love I'd once had for my Falling series. I missed the excitement, the thrill of writing new words. And so the Dreamer Duology was born.
I returned in January of 2015 to the Mountain View Grand with a fresh story, and a renewed sense of faith in the power of writing.
I loved this third residency, but going home had me feeling real pressure. I wanted to make progress in my story. I wanted to push forward without looking back. And luckily, the outstanding Katie Towler allowed me to do just that. I was able to figure out my characters and their world, which to any writer, is the biggest thing that happens in the writing of a novel.
My final residency was bittersweet. You won't find any posts about it here because it left me feeling both thrilled and absolutely terrified. After talking with Robin, who I received as my final mentor for the program, we both got the feeling that something was not working in the story. With her guidance and endless belief, I made the decision to restart my thesis one last time.
For those who might not know what an MFA entails, usually it is about finishing a substantial amount of work; a thesis. Our thesis had to consist of a minimum of 100 polished and publishable pages. In order to reach that level of craft, it takes revision. But leaving that mountain for the last time, I still needed to write before I could revise.
Looking back on my final semester now, I see how difficult it was to pull through with a story I'm truly proud of. But I did it! And I'm so happy I had Robin Wasserman to lead me through what could have been a disastrous final semester. And now I can't wait to finsih this story and share it with the world!
Now you might be thinking, what do all of these memories have to do with mastering the fine art of fiction, right? My time in this program taught me that you can always keep trying to master this art form, but I'm not sure anyone ever becomes a true master. As writers, we grow and we learn, we inspire and are inspired by the people and world around us, and for that, I'm not sure we ever stop honing our craft.
(I do have the title of Master now).
In my time as a SNHU student, I attended four other graduation ceremonies, and I thought that meant I was prepared for my own graduation. But I'm not sure anything could have prepared me for the flood of emotions I felt this past weekend. Getting to see my best friends who got me through this last semester was both heartwarming and heartbreaking because I knew eventually we'd have to say goodbye. But that didn't stop us from having fun!
The actual day of graduation began with student readings. We all had to read in front of everyone for five minutes from our work. I think the stress leading up to this moment was much worse than anything else. Choosing an excerpt that can stand alone and be understood by all is much trickier than you might imagine. But alas, I chose, and I think I chose well. It was amazing to have so much support and wonderful feedback after the fact. And during this reading, more so than any others, I felt the people and the room disappear as I was drawn into the world I created. It was beautiful.
And then it was time for caps and gowns and pictures and speeches. When I received my hood and my diploma, that is when it finally felt real.
The day of graduation I was lucky to have the support of two families, and I thanked them both then. But I want to thank them again here.
To my MFAmily for making the last two years so incredibly rewarding, especially to Alicia and Erin for making me laugh along the way. To Katie, Jo, and Robin, the trifecta of mentor encouragement I needed to find my story. Thank you!
To my mom and dad for your unwavering belief. To my aunt for taking the journey of the last two years with me both figuratively AND literally. To my sister for inspiring my story. And to my best friend for inspiring me always. Thank you!
I couldn't have done this without any of you!
Now I'm back home, knowing my time in those beautiful mountains has come to a close. I'm not sure I believe in this Master title just yet. Maybe I never will. I think I'd rather spend the rest of my life trying to master this craft, and sharing my words with the world.
For now I think about this quote from Tyler Knott Gregson: "Mountains know the secrets we need to learn. That it might take time, it might be hard, but if you just hold on long enough, you will find the strength to rise up." I think that is what our White Mountains tried to teach us along with the faculty and friends who, despite the end of this program, I know will still be there.
If anything that is the real gift of this program.
Those wise and beautiful mountains are just our reminder that the lives we've built within this program aren't gone, but rather will stand taller the more we write, the more we share, the longer we tell our truths.