by Jennifer Skura
“So…this…uh…this is the last time we meet? In real time? There’s no check-in with our advisors or anything before graduation…uh…right?” I ask, hoping I’m wrong. Over the past two years, my Goddard College Master of Fine Arts writing advisors were my personal dramaturges, editors, confidants, heroes. I wrote messy drooling verbs and they sent back letters with through-lines and extra napkins. My advisor tells me I’m correct and gently states “…the next time you arrive on campus…you’ll be there for, well, graduation. Not much for me to tell you except congratulations on all of your hard work.” The vortex of a black and white circular staircase spins before my eyes, a scream queen paws her puffy cheeks, a band of toy soldiers arc their bayonets, all of them aiming at the same target—my gut. When did this happen? How did we get here? We’re finished?! I just got started!!! No really hey really, the advice you gave me about two minutes ago… that’s the moment I worked my way up zero, you get it? Don’t go! I’m ready now. Now, I’m ready to write!
The night before the last check-in with my advisor, I was sitting on my couch wrestling with another version of my teaching practicum essay. It was my fourth draft. Starting again from scratch. I distract myself with the usual tortures, the booming existentialist in my head who always asks the big, tiny questions. She sounds like Orson Wells: “WHY-why-why-y-y-y?”
Why am I having so much trouble writing an essay that was once described to me as the “meeting minutes” for my practicum experience? Why am I writing this paper as if it were to be a Times best-selling autobiography and I’m already dead? Why am I sitting on this couch again in that way that cramps my neck so badly that I can’t turn my head for three-days straight instead of using the $99 ergonomic desk chair I invested in almost two years ago after I sent in my inaugural freshman papers full of pinched nerves and penguin poop during my first semester? Have I learned nothing? How much ergonomic support do I need before I realize, I don’t need more props to hold me up in order to do my thing? My writing isn’t something that is separate from me. My writing is me. Just keep doing it and like Martha Graham says, “keep the channel open.” I get Orson to relax, go back to my essay, and let my subconscious take the wheel. We end up waxing guano about a dead rat I found in the garage and I tell myself I’ll get us back on the road again, tomorrow.
At the top of the call with my advisor, we discuss the joys of teaching and he gives me tips on managing a classroom. It’s then I casually confide I’m having trouble “checking off the remaining requirements” until graduation. “My teaching essay…it’s…still…not very good.” He knows my kind well enough: “It’s not a memoir, it’s just a recap. Your thesis is what’s important. Set a timer and get it done.” I write this down as if I didn’t know and try to conceal my true terror about life after Goddard by saying nothing at all.
“REGRESSION-un-un-un?” Orson Wells echoes in my head. Of course, I’m regressing. This ending is a beginning. I’m about to be another toddler with an MFA set loose on the playground after school. I hope the audience comes early to pick me up. I hope they bring my favorite snack.
I raise the volume on my phone and change the subject to my thesis. We go over the notes he and my second reader sent in response to my latest draft. Another tire blows out, as I realize I wasn’t as close to my destination as I thought. The good news is that this time, I don’t feel I have to get a new car. This time, growing pains feels like a normal process—progress. I’m not a lemon, I’m writing for good reasons, and I know how to change a tire now. I used to drive through a sea of nails.
The best part of beginning again after so much ending again is that my own rate of revelations happen much faster. I have a map. I made it myself with Goddard experts who enthusiastically shared their compasses. I think back to my first semester and the time I spent muzzling Majesty Wells inside a bloodstained trunk while I looked for my keys. This is better. There are clean restrooms ahead and Orson is just another passenger dozing under pulsing streetlamps.
I look at the time and realize I’m stalling before the end of the call. I don’t want to let go and am desperate to feel better before I do. “One last thing…before we, uh, hang up…” We pause, honoring my true confession. “I am… afraid. I’m scared of what will happen to me, to my writing, after graduation. If I don’t have a deadline looming, an MFA to work towards, a compass showing the way… I’ll be doing this without…” I can’t even say it out loud. My advisor sighs with empathy, and shares more wisdom: “Yep… it’s really hard.”
Nobody writes because it’s easy, we write because like Hannah Gadsby says, “like it or not, your story… is my story. And my story… is your story… Do you know why we have The Sunflowers? It’s not because Vincent van Gogh suffered. It’s because Vincent van Gogh had a brother who loved him. Through all the pain, he had a tether, a connection to the world. And that… is the focus of the story we need. Connection.”
Before we hang up, I thank my advisor for all he’s done, and we wish each other luck for our journeys. I sit for a while, dumbstruck, looking for relief in the grain of the kitchen table. The timer I’d set for our meeting rings. I get up to turn it off and a few minutes later, I buckle my seatbelt.
Jennifer Skura will become an alumna of the Goddard College MFAW Program this summer of 2019.