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SAILING OVER THE MFA FINISH LINE

I write often about our country adventures because I know it’s fun for friends to read about the award attempts to reinvent our world. I haven’t written as much about my MFA, which is odd considering it has consumed the majority of my time these past two years. I guess I fear the subject is boring to non-writers, but the fact that I don’t mention it often doesn’t mean I’m not still plugging away at this project each and every day.

I’ve cursed myself for enrolling in a masters program during this awkward life transition period a million times over, but now that I am at the end , I’m very proud I stuck it out. Origionally, I imagined we would sell FLEX and I’d have some time for private contemplation – time to devote exclusively to my writing. I had no idea that it would be years before life would settle so I’d have a moment to think, much less write. I was very naive to think that we would sell our business and leave a lifetime of dance behind and it would be as easy as picking up a check, packing a truck and driving away. And carving out a new existence from scratch takes more effort than I imagined too. Leave it to me to aggravate the difficulties by inviting a huge project (35 hours a week on an MFA) into the mix. Of course, I never forget that taking on such a task is a choice. I could have left school when I realized what a stress it would be. Or we could always have bought a nice town house somewhere and cooled out a bit while I got my MFA and Mark learned his woodworking if that was a priority, but doing things in a practical, non-stressed way isn’t us. No, we are more the type to tackle the impossible and fully load our plate just to see what we can do. And we are not the sort of people who let go easily and never look back, so any thoughts I had about focusing forward towards our new home and careers without separation anxiety or sadness was a joke. Ah well, all’s well that ends well. 

Anyway, I turned my thesis in to my teacher a few weeks ago and it was sent back with some very insightful notes. The general impression is that I’ve written a very good book for an MFA student at the start of her lifelong literary journey. Pretty much everything my professor said about the book reinforced that I accomplished exactly what I was setting out to do. Dance is a very dear subject to me, and I struggled to write something fictional that was authentic and without sentimentality or romance yet defined the magnitude of  the art’s impact on the lives of those who sucumb to the siren’s call. Mark (also a dancer) feels I captured the complex issues of love and hate well. I am proud of that. This doesn’t mean I’ve written a good book that anyone would enjoy reading – only that I wrote a story from a “real place”. And this has taught me a great deal. Furthermore, I think it gives me closure somehow. What I do with the book next is secondary. The true value was in the process of writing it.

I next  sent the book to my thesis reader who will return it any day now with yet more notes and my “OK to graduate” form. Then, it will be bound and turned in to the program director for display at the senior readings, only to be forever shelved with a million other thesis’ that no one will ever bother to read. I have to pick selections of the manuscript to read to an audience a few nights before graduation. I have no clue what to recite, but I’ll decide later.

The final thing I must do before graduating is teach a seminar to other students in the masters program. I chose the subject of blogging and online writing communities as a medium of creative input and support. It is a subject that isn’t exactly embraced warmly by the literary world. I’ve had to be careful to find an academic angle to make it work. As such, I’ve done a great deal of reading about blogs. It has made me question my involvement as a personal blog writer on more than one occasion. But for all that I can build a case against my blogging, I have my own reasons for continuing. So, despite the cons, I’ll be around for a while. 

Just to prove I am still a student, laboring in school month after month, sweating to appear intelligent despite my natural tendencies to be a queer-bo romantic, I thought I’d share my outline for my senior seminar lecture. For all that writing a book is difficult for me, teaching a class isn’t. I don’t care what the subject matter is, I can put together a progressive lecture in my sleep. Passing information along in a concise way is my specialty. So, I think this class plan will work. I am relieved to send it off today (a day early). I suppose Jamie Woodman will send me corrections. Ha.  
 
Finishing this outline means I am now, more or less a free individual again. I have no more assignments or material to turn in to school – ever. No more books to read or annotate.  I ordered my cap and gown today. Gee, the last time I ordered cap and gowns I was ordering them by the dozen. They were purple and size extra-small toddler (for the preschool). How different life can become in an instant.   

I’ve collected my research, and I’ll spend a few days organizing my class before I go to give it in June. I’ll make fancy packets of research material and supporting articles for the students, because I think a nice presentation and good material helps people learn. But that’s it. I’m almost done. I’m a smarty pants MFA graduate now – almost.

It feels a bit like when you finish a really long, involved book. You feel a bit lost at first, and can’t imagine living without those characters in your life. And you feel ungrounded because you don’t know what you want to read next. Being cut lose is unnerving. But all you need to do is pick up a new book and you are soon engaged in a new story. Now that I’m closing the cover on my MFA I look forward to whatever comes next. In a way, I am frozen with indecision because I can write anything I want now. The massive choices leave me slightly paralyzed. Do I want to return to my historical novels and rewrite them. Or work on a memoir about moving to the country. Do I want to finish the dance book and send it out to publishers. Or write about teaching a girl to read? So many choices. Well, I’ll follow my heart. Maybe I’ll write them all, dependant on my mood each day.

Anyway, for those who want to be put to sleep, or who doubt I have any intellectual capabilities at all, here is my MFA senior seminar outline. It’s my last official academic outpouring. I can go back to being stupid and corny now. (Big sigh of relief.) And as you can see, a blog can be (and is) more than a letter to the world if you scratch the surface.  

GINNY’S SENIOR SEMINAR CLASS TITLE AND DESCRIPTION


Books Born of Blogs
(Using contemporary cultural trends and technology
for inspiration, research and feedback.)


Description AS IT APPEARS IN STUDENT HANDBOOKS:This class will explore the pros and cons of blogging, web writing communities and other pop culture venues available to writers today. Books will be reviewed that began as blogs, but evolved when they developed an enthusiastic audience with a discussion about whether a blog is a viable free writing forum that promotes daily practice and a foundation for ideas, or is more of a self-publication venue that wastes time and encourages the writer to unleash unpolished work that would better develop with time and space to ferment privately. The seminar will also explore the blogging trend as a method of research and realistic character development, look at successful author’s and publisher’s blogs, and then turn the attention to on-line writing communities. For those who are concerned about writing becoming a solitary pursuit when the MFA ends, this class will provide resources for staying connected, inspired, and creatively fueled by tapping into current cultural fads with wisdom and care. 


All reading materials will be handed out in the class.


CLASS OUTLINE:
I.  INTRODUCTION:
In some ways, the beauty of writing as an art form is its simplicity. All you need is a pencil and paper to begin orchestrating an original expression, something that may have the potential to become a poignant work, resonating with readers long after the pages have been put aside. However, it is said that art also reflects life, and as our culture evolves to include technology based sensibilities, should the artist adapt? A study of classical literature often is the foundation for a deeper appreciation of literary style and technique, but where do we draw the line between commercial enterprise and authentic social portrayal when we engage in pop culture interests? Some authors believe it is best to avoid any endeavor with the potential to be a “fad”, thus tagging their work as less than serious. Others boldly venture into new waters to explore the vast potential of new artistic avenues today, inviting criticism and skepticism from literary purists.


What is the right choice, the safe choice, the best choice, for an aspiring writer who hasn’t yet developed enough of a following or a reputation to take risks without critics instantly discrediting their work? Moreover, where do we draw the line determining what is procrastination (wasting valuable creative time) and what is considered viable research and valuable input? Can our best work thrive if we only engage in focused efforts born of solitary concentration, or do we enrich our material by inviting thought, experience and influence from the outside world for mental contemplation? 


Taking advantage of technology based writing communities all depends on whether or not the author can explore new writing venues with an understanding of their pros and cons. We must tread lightly on commercial venues, respecting change yet not questioning the inherent merit or disadvantages that come with embracing it. Engaging in technology based writing endeavors demands an open artistic mind and no small measure of self-discipline.  The key is balance and developing an intellectual understanding of both the positive and negative elements whenever we venture into areas of unproven (as yet) artistic resources.



II    Introduction TO BLOGGING: pass out articles to support the follow discussions.
      1. What is a blog?
Short history of the blog. Social impact of the blog.
Introduction of books sold as result of popular blogs.
Introduction of literary blogs and renowned author blogs.
The dangers of blogging.
a. Vanity press or viable format for free writing practice?
b. Is a blog considered publication (thus giving away your work for free or limiting future sales potential?) Is plagiarism a threat?
c. Blogging for bucks – article about staff positions as professional bloggers. Discussion: does blogging provide on-going free writing practice and enhance discipline due to the fact that you have an audience, or does it encourage an author to release unpolished work too soon?
d. The literary community’s opinion  – article: Bloggers Need Not Apply, from the Chronicle of Higher Education, about how bloggers will not be considered for Academic positions in many universities and why.


    2. Discussion of blog surfing as a source of creative fuel to ignite characterization,     
        story development and/or research for fiction.


a.   Read select pieces from the book I Blog Therefore I Am giving examples of inspirational creative springboards.
b.  Discuss methods of finding blogs written about select subject matter.
c.  Can you trust a blog? Does it matter if you can or can’t authenticate the material if it is used for fiction or poetry? Discuss the moral issue of perusing blogs as a creative resource.
d. Short introduction of this author’s experience with blogging and my personal thesis evolution with passages that began as personal essay, then changed to first person commentary, to diary entries, and settling finally on blog entries as a fictional form of expression to support the story. How does this affect the book?


III INTRODUCTION TO ONLINE WRITING COMMUNITIES pass out resource list.
    1. Discussion (as time permits) to address: 
a. Online writing critic groups
b. Literary online communities
c. Online literary contests and magazines.


     Discussion: Can online communication with other writers become a useful substitute resource for collaboration and feedback after graduating and leaving the secure environment of the MFA community?


IV. CONCLUSION: There is no right or wrong in regards to honoring literary tradition and/or embracing new vehicles of written communication today. Each individual author must decide if web communication, in its many forms, will aid the development of their personal art.



  

About Ginny East Shaddock

Director of Heartwood Retreat Center, Ginny is also a writer. This is her personal blog with essay form writing about life and reflection. My entries are often lengthy and random, because I'm not here to promote or sell anything. I'm not expecting followers - just find this format a good place to think with the pen.

4 responses »

  1. CONGRATS!! Give yourself time to revel in this accomplishment.. before the PhD, ok?? 🙂

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  2. So that’s how you spell “queer-bo.” And I thought it was simply “the gay tequila of choice.” Best wishes in finishing your MFA, and look forward to hearing all about your 3-Day experience.

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  3. Cory, you’re hilarious!! And Ginny, congrats to you! I can’t wait to read more of your material. Good luck with the conference. I’m sure your group of students will learn a lot from you. You’ll probably have the best presentation. 🙂

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  4. CONGRATS! You have made it over the finish line. Looking forward to hearing more and now you have another finish line to cross in your marathon! Congrats!

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