Speeches and Boston rain

Having attended a college that prides itself on communication programs and media arts, all the speeches from the graduate program commencement ceremony are on youtube. Emerson College streamed the whole ceremony live, which is great for people whose families are far flung. Tony Kushner (playwright and screenwriter) gave the address, and I would say it’s the best commencement address I’ve seen live. He was funny and he kept the focus of the speech away from his own work and centered on themes related to graduation and the future of we the graduating class. I did not feel like it was a 20 minute speech, and I admit I was surprised when I saw the time stamp on the youtube video.

The saddest part of graduation, for me, is that the reception afterwards was supposed to be outside. By the time we left the theater, rain poured down. Neither my parents nor I had remembered to bring umbrellas. I would have liked to say goodbye to the wonderful faculty members I had the pleasure of working with while at Emerson, but I didn’t want to wander through the rain only to discover no one bothered to stick around for the reception on Boston Common. No one I asked knew if they’d set up tents or not, and the invitations had said the reception would be held “weather permitting.” I did see my thesis advisor (Megan Marshall) briefly, and I wish I could have delayed a little to ask her how her new book is coming along. I enjoyed her book on the Peabody sisters and I’m quite looking forward to her book about Margaret Fuller. All of us graduate students were being herded out of the theater and into a plaza outside, which at least had an overhang to protect us somewhat from the rain. We stood in our graduation regalia texting or calling our families to let them know where we ended up, since no one had bothered to inform the guests that we’d all been sent outside.

Once I found my parents,  we wandered over to a nearby restaurant instead of getting soaked in a quest to find out if anyone had stayed for the outdoor reception. Our waitress happened to be an undergraduate at Emerson, still a year away from graduation. She immediately identified the purple and yellow lining of my master’s hood as Emerson’s colors and we chatted a little about the school. Someday she may be an editor I’ll work with. Delicious food and a chat with a fellow Emersonian served as a good ending to the day.

As I had hoped, attending graduation provided a good sense of closure to my experience at Emerson College. I’m happy I have my master’s hood for my graduation regalia, too. Someday I may need it if I choose to teach at a college or university. At present, teaching college students isn’t something I particularly want to do. My writing career is not yet advanced enough for me to have a hope of finding gigs that pay well, so for now I’m exploring other teaching options (and career options in general) that might pay all the bills.

I’m… done?

I still find it a little difficult to believe I’m done with my Master of Fine Arts degree. The diploma itself has sat on my desk since January, protected by the stiff cardboard envelope it was mailed in. Until I walk in the graduation ceremony on the 14th, I don’t think I’ll feel like I’ve finished. A piece of paper with my name on it doesn’t seem as concrete a finale.

The months since receiving that expensive bit of paper have been filled with me wondering what to do next. Teaching abroad had seemed like a sure thing, but circumstances dictated that it won’t happen this year. Maybe I’ll get into one of the programs I like on try 2, maybe I won’t. For now I’m working on getting some teaching experience and generally figuring out Plan C.

I’m continuing to study Japanese because I enjoy studying, not because I feel I need it. During my thesis semester, studying helped keep me sane. To a nerd like me, making and studying flash cards is soothing and having the structure of studying something is also a sanity saver. I started to pick Japanese up again faster than I expected, so I suppose all that time I spent watching anime and half-heartedly studying Japanese as a teenager did pay off. I can say a lot more than just 私は日本語が少しわかります(I understand a little Japanese), and I can back up that sentence with evidence. Once upon a time, my fluency in any language other than English was limited to a few pleasantries (please, thank you, hello, goodbye) and the all-important “I don’t speak this language.” For French, Spanish, and German, that’s still more or less all I can say. I’m still surprised how often I was stopped in Europe by natives asking for directions (my favorite was in Amsterdam, where the woman went on to say “English! Second time this has happened today”). Apparently my choice not to dress sloppily paid off, and I managed to somewhat blend in.

One of the best things that’s come out of me beginning to shed my monolingual status is the international community of language learners. I never realized how many fantastic online communities there are, where fluent speakers take the time to correct speakers who are not fluent. I like helping people who are trying to learn English and it’s invaluable to have people correcting my still-sketchy Japanese.

There are other things I ought to be focusing on, such as my writing career, but for now I’m taking it slow while I decide exactly what I want my focus to be. I write, or at least work on plotting and development, almost every day. That too keeps me sane while I figure out all those larger life goals.

The end is nigh

I had trouble deciding on a title for what I had nicknamed Sir Thesis of Doom, because everything is more ridiculous and giggle-provoking by adding “of Doom” to the end. I narrowed the choices down to two and then polled a few of the fantastic people who participate in National Novel Writing Month here in Boston. They all voted for the title I had been leaning towards, and so my thesis is now officially entitled “Paper Turtles.” Continue reading

Reprieve

I managed to complete the rough draft of my thesis more or less on schedule, which means I get a brief reprieve. It does mean I have to fully revise and to oranize my thesis by November 18th, but generally editing and revising goes a little bit faster. There are usually fewer surprises.

The next week should be a little bit more relaxed, which means I get to catch up on sleep. The prospect is exciting.

I’ve realized that I may potentially have time to participate in National Novel Writing Month this year, since the revised draft will be turned in November 18th. Chances of me completing the 50k are slim, but it may be fun to take a few noveling breaks while revising. I’m not sure when my thesis defense (they’ve stopped calling it a defense, but I can’t remember the new title) will be, but mostly likely the very beginning of December. I’ll see what happens.

The Blogenning Theme of the Week: Writer’s block

For me, writer’s block is usually a product of stress and exhaustion. Usually it comes when I’ve taken on a lot of projects and haven’t had time to step back and look at the larger picture. With nonfiction I already know the whole story, and the question is how to tell it and which points are the most important. If I get lost it’s that I get lost in the logistics and my own doubts.

So how do I get past writer’s block? Generally I either switch to a different project for a few days and write less for a few days while feeding other parts of my psyche. I’ll take a few walks, go hang out with friends, spend extra time lost in a good book, or wander over to a museum. All are methods that work. Usually, if it’s a block rooted in logistics, a few days of shaking up the routine will dissolve the problem.

Blocks coming from my own doubts, however, are a lot more difficult to deal with. That’s when I have to take a few days where the most I write is a few paragraphs of notes and maybe a page of cathartic whinging. Usually I return to the place where I know writing is a craft and skill with which most people have to accrue lots of practice before the kinks are worked out. Sometimes it takes a lot longer and I have to wander farther away before I find my way back. Writing isn’t easy, and anyone who thinks it is either isn’t a writer or is one of the rare few who either has a direct line to the muse or who is lying through his or her teeth for the cool factor.

Writing can be a lonely process, so having other people who have struggled with the same things is always helpful. I’m fortunate to have so many people around me who get it. National Novel Writing Month is the best thing ever for connecting with other crazy people — I mean, writers.

Which reminds me, if I start flirting with the idea of participating in NaNoWriMo this year in any more time consuming sense than attending write-ins to work on my thesis, please talk some sense into me. It’s addictive, NaNoWriMo is, and this year I can’t afford to indulge my addiction.

List of the Week: Things I did today while avoiding the news

There are days I’m glad all my TV comes from streaming sites such as Hulu and Netflix, as well as that I can easily choose what articles to click on. Today’s post is about things I’ve done instead of watching or reading ten-years-later coverage.

  1. Walked around my neighborhood a bit, reminding myself how pretty it is. My favorite tiny front garden is almost completely overgrown with flowers, half hiding the fish pond with the plastic alligator floating in the water.
  2. Learned about the hazards of drunken elk in Sweden courtesy of the BBC News website.
  3. Wrote for awhile to stave off the dreaded Sanity Eating Beasts who will devour me if I am neglectful of my thesis.
  4. Completed another lesson in an audiobook language course.
  5. Started to work on eating more mindfully again. My diet hasn’t been bad lately, but getting into healthier habits now means stress will have less impact on my immune system during cold and flu season (I hope). 
  6. Brought an art magazine at work since I knew Coworker Who Talks Lots would be filling in for my usual. coworker. Knowing I won’t get any meaningful work done leads to far less annoyance.
  7. The art magazine has renewed my desire to find time to paint again. Someday, inner artist. Promise.
  8. Read a couple articles on current politics linked to by friends on facebook and twitter.
  9. Called my parents mostly just to say hi and that all is well.
  10. Cleaned out my backpack, which led to me forgetting my wallet and walking a little extra in the gorgeous weather during my lunch break. File under “more reasons a five minute walking commute is the best thing ever.”