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

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.”

Final semester, I am in you

My first meeting of the semester with my thesis chair took place on Thursday. Even though I felt woefully underprepared, I think I managed to come across both more coherent and less stressed out than I in fact was. The mile walk to campus is about the perfect length to clear my head before a meeting without tiring myself out. As I suspected, it seems like my advisor is good at this type of teaching, and she sent me home with a decent list of books and articles to look at to help me get a feel for what others have done with subjects I’m writing about.

In the end, even if I hate the final drafts of my thesis, I will have learned a ton during my time at Emerson, and I truly look forward to being able to ask my advisor a lot of questions about research projects. My thesis isn’t a research project, but the couple things I want to work right after I finish this up will be heavily research oriented. No matter how much I end up hating my thesis, I at least have projects I’m truly excited for ahead of me.

I’ve read statitistics before about the high percentage of MFA graduates who quit writing after they receive their diploma. Of the ones who don’t quit writing, maybe half are eventually published. I don’t think I’ll be among the set who quits wrting. I don’t think I have it in me to stop having ideas I want to play with.

The point for now is to not get too bogged down by stress and frustration.

Fall is my favorite season, and one that’s perfectly tailored to cut down on the aforementioned stress and frustration. Long walks in cool weather, beautiful New England fall colors, that crisp edge to the air… I’m looking forward to all the things I love about fall, stress or no stress. Maybe this year I’ll even carve a pumpkin for my favorite holiday of the year, good old Halloween.

And away we go

If there’s something I’m passionate about, I’m decisive. It’s one of the things I like most about myself.

I’ve thought about teaching English abroad off and on for years. It’s not something I talked about much because I tend not to discuss ideas until they come perilously close to being plans. So it came as a surprise to most of my family and friends when I brought it up recently, asking for the advice of people who have done this. Everyone I’ve talked to thus far has been supportive, which reminds me yet again why my people are awesome.

Every once in awhile I decide it’s time to go on a new adventure. The first of these may have been the semester I spent in London, which remains my fondest memory of my undergraduate years. It taught me so much about what I want and need as a person, and is what helped lead me to pursue a master’s degree here in Boston. Boston has been an adventure and a growing experience in its own right, from the frustrations of working a retail job to the deep satisfaction of befriending lots of crazy writers.

Now that my time at Emerson is almost over, I feel it’s time to start planning the next big adventure. Teaching abroad seems like the perfect fit, considering teaching has always been something I want to do and considering I want to experience more of the world. So many years of college has spoiled me, in a way, because I’ve been able to focus on things I love. I can’t imagine going into a job where I’m just a 9-5er straight out of grad school, especially not a job where I don’t feel like I’m able to give back some of what has made my life great.

I’m probably driving people crazy with my confidence that I will find a teaching job abroad, but the truth is I’ve never failed to get something I truly want (I’ve failed to get a lot of things that I sort of wanted). Add to that the fact that I have a lot of qualifications, and I can’t believe I won’t succeed. It might take awhile, perhaps a lot longer than I think, but I’ll get there.


On June 2nd, I will have lived in Boston and in the same apartment for three years. It feels a little odd to be only a thesis away from completing my MFA degree. I’m devoting my summer to getting a couple drafts done on it and will start working with my advisor in the fall.

Writing the damned thing is proving difficult and stressful already, but I expected as much after watching the Facebook updates and Twitter feeds of friends who completed the process in April and May.

For now, I’m making sure I take breaks to remember why I love the city and why I’ve also loved aspects of the Emerson program. Not everything about either place has been wonderful, but when I catch up with people I met at Emerson College I am reminded why we are a good community. As soon as it stops raining for long enough, I’m planning to take a nice long walk around the city and think more about the thesis while enjoying the things I love about Boston. It’s getting into farmer’s market season, and this is the time of year some of the parks are at their most pleasant. The rain gives me a lovely excuse to stay home and drink tea while upping my productivity, so I’m not bothered by the bad weather.