So, almost a week ago, I received my graduate degree in creative writing.
It was a difficult, taxing, wondrous two year process. Whatever skill I might have as a writer today, it is a quantum leap ahead of where I was in January, 2011. I read umpteen literary works and analyzed them with a writer’s eye. I dissected even more of my fellow students’ work, and they did the same to mine. I turned that trained writer’s eye on my own work; a novel that was in the “once upon a time” stage two years ago and is now a polished work nearly ready to begin shopping.
I will write many more things. Some will probably be bad. Some might be quite good. With each new endeavor in words, the thesis I am so proud of today will be a little less shiny and new. There will be new literary toys to play with. What won’t change with time’s march is the experience I had in graduate school.
We called it the bubble, the shire, and the enchanted forest. Outside of the bubble, we were all parents, spouses, or employees with mortgages, responsibilities, and maybe dog shit on the floor. Inside, we were just writers. We related to each other as such. We talked about the craft and our works and great books. Even outside the bubble, it lent some heft to our literary pursuits. It was my responsibility to write. I had deadlines to meet!
I met fascinating people in the bubble. Many I’ll call friends for the rest of my life. Some permanently altered me with the gravity of their skill and the force of their being. I used “skill” deliberately as opposed to say “talent” because skill recognizes the hard hard work it takes to achieve mastery of a craft.
When my current novel has long since become, I hope, just the first of many, I will still carry lessons and memories from my time in the bubble. For the rest of my life, I can say Jessica Anthony was my mentor. I talked books and writing and shit with her. Matt Bondurant and I got drunk and argued about books. I badgered and quizzed Craig Childs about how he looks at the world and puts it in words. I had Jacquie Mitchard, Ann Garvin, Mitch Weiland, Katie Towler, and Rick Carey analyze my work. Merle Drown patiently guided me, and we talked about writing and life over beers. I learned from Diane LeBequets, Bob Biegebing (sp?), Wiley Cash, Mark Sundeen, Jon Searles and many more. That’s a frickin’ all star team of letters.
That was just the faculty. In the bubble, students of all ages and demographics found common ground as writers. In high school, I was the oxymoron of jock and nerd (I was an all American wrestler and straight A student) and was always fascinated by clique dynamics. We didn’t have cliques in the bubble. We were all writers. While people certainly connected with some more than others, our peer review workshops were entirely supportive and about helping one another to become better writers. You’d tear apart someone’s writing, their art, their soul, they would do it to you, and that was an incredible bonding experience.
I made friends that I hold close to my heart, and I know little about their daily lives. I don’t know how they earn a living. I don’t know the names of their significant others. I do know their writing. I know their values. I know the lens with which they look upon the world. I made friends with whom I probably diametrically disagree on politics, religion, shopping at Walmart, and any number of other issues. We shared our writing, our craft, our art, and our souls.
Little else matters after that.
I’m Darren, and I’m a writer. I now happen to have an MFA, but it is far more significant that I am part of an MFA community.