The Downhill Slope
Being on the downhill slope of my MFA is strange. My first two and a half years here were spent, like everyone else, building, worrying, pondering, and procrastinating my thesis. There were constant late night worries about my defense and my thesis reading, especially the closer they came. I’d never done a reading of my own work before. I couldn’t gather enough information about what happens in a thesis defense. The two events loomed ahead. They cast a small but persistent shadow over everything else. Even the year before I came here those two big events stood like pillars I could see in the distance.
“Won’t you have to do a defense? How do you defend fiction?” I remember my roommate in Florida asked me as I shuffled through a folder looking for the right stories to include in my application. I had a job at Disney World then, driving group after group of visitors around the small African animal reserve there, spieling the same spiel. I talked to strangers, I answered questions, I tried to make stranger’s children stop crying and get pumped about rhinos. I presented to and interacted with hundreds of people every day, despite my introverted socially awkward nature. Still, the thought of standing in front of anyone, literally anyone, and reading my fiction was terrifying. It was the first thought I had when I received my acceptance letter. For a wild, crazy second, I considered ditching the MFA idea entirely because of how much I didn’t want to give a reading. I could stay at my minimum wage job forever, where public speaking wasn’t a big deal to me anymore, never face a crowd of people listening and judging my carefully written words coming out of my clumsy, ill equipped mouth.
Fast forward from three years to now; I’m all done. My thesis reading was in November, an entire lifetime ago. I defended my thesis at the end of February. All my graduation requirement boxes are checked. Both events happened and both times I lived and continued to function in the world relatively unscathed. Since then I’ve been in limbo, floating around the department and the CLP, going to work, reading Colorado Review submissions, spending as much time as I can with my MFA friends.
I have to admit it’s been an adjustment going through the world without working on my thesis. True, I know I’ll still work on it, but it’s different now. I did a first draft, a second, a third. I defended its right to exist. It feels sort of like an empty nest syndrome–I harbored this thing I created and nurtured and sometimes hated for years to the point I forgot where I started and my thesis ended. I hugged the physical copy to my chest the day I dropped the final version off to my advisor. I was afraid if I looked back I’d want to work on it more, to flip through it another time, tweak this scene or that scene.
It’s not that I don’t feel a sense of accomplishment, I completed the one goal I had when I came to this MFA; I wrote a book. An entire book from the first to the last page. I also wrote a lot of short stories and got critical and essential feedback from my professors and cohort I know has molded me not only into a better writer, but a writer to begin with. I feel like I have a space in the writer world I didn’t before. But still, there’s an untethered feeling after accomplishing something that has been my life’s focus for so long.
Although, as I write this, I’m actively pursuing putting my thesis out into the world. I’m also considering how to begin a second novel, which feels insane since a lot of the time I didn’t think I would ever make it past the first. I’ve been experiencing an undirected floating feeling after all my big MFA events have happened. But perhaps it doesn’t have to last for long.