Completing my MFA; Entering the Void

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Photo credit: Heyli Howard (photo taken at E’s high school graduation).

Normally, by this point in the school week, I would have long since written the requisite blog post for my Immersion in Publishing class. This week, however, I’ve been dragging my heels. When I paused to assess the reason for this uncharacteristic procrastination, I realized it was because I was putting off an ending.

With this post, I am completing my last assignment for this class, which is the last class of my MFA program. The moment I post this on my blog (and in Canvas, the online platform utilized by Bay Path), I will essentially be done with my MFA (aside from a few final responses to classmates and one last class this coming Thursday). As much as I’ve looked forward to (even counted down the weeks) to the ending of my MFA program, now that it is upon me, I feel myself hitting the brakes. Why is that?

It’s been a good week to contemplate the nature of endings. My son, Ethan, just completed his last college class on Friday; he’ll be graduating with a BFA in painting and drawing next weekend. For me, that is an ending to celebrate. Back in 2007, when my ex-husband lost everything (thankfully we were already divorced five years at the time and so my finances were no longer tied to his—with the exception of losing child support payments for a time), I had no idea how I’d manage to pay for our two kids’ college educations (although still four and six years ahead). It had always been my goal (was once my ex’s goal too) to do this for Han and E.

In the end, everything worked out. We lived frugally and (thanks to a promotion at work) I saved lots of money in CDs when interest rates were still high. Remarrying helped free up my savings towards Han and E’s college. Plus, my ex was finally able to help out with E’s college. Now, I’ve (*we’ve) done it. I’ve put Han and E. through college. Ethan—bless his heart—knew this distinct goal of mine and he congratulated me (Yes, he congratulated me!) on the day he completed college. So, I’ve done what I set out to do, a commitment made when my ex and I divorced. I’ve completed the raising of those two kids (which is not to say that Han doesn’t still call me every weekend, seeking advice). The rest is up to them.

It’s interesting how easily I celebrate the end of my children’s college years, but my own grad school completion, not so much. I think this is because my own ending creates a void. It’s the void of “what’s next?” especially when you’re a creative and the path is not obvious (as it might be to someone graduating with a degree in mechanical engineering). I see Ethan entering the void as well; he spent yesterday updating his artist web site. Anticipating the void, Kate Whouley, the instructor of my two publishing classes, asked us to draft and submit a signed writer’s contract. My professors have done their part. The rest is up to me.

The void created in the absence of the MFA program is mine to fill. To fill the void, I will keep writing.

The truest thing I’ve learned over the past three years of this MFA work is that I am a writer. Submitting pieces and receiving rejections is a part of the game. Having an essay or poem rejected is an ending (of the hope you had). It creates a void. To fill that void, I’ve learned to do one of three things: revise the piece (again), put it aside to mature (and then revise), or submit it immediately to another publication. This game is always half terror, half hope. But the act of writing (into the void) is what I love and that is why I’ll keep writing.

In honor of this ending, I compiled a list of my top ten hardest endings (in no particular order):

  1. 1999: A soulful friendship lost
  2. 1979: My black tuxedo kitten—Uncle Beethoven—run over by a car
  3. 1986: End of gymnastics career with back injury sustained during a vault
  4. 2016: A soulful friendship lost
  5. 2009: Putting my daughter Hannah on a plane, heading alone to Japan, effectively ending her childhood
  6. 2005: A soulful friendship lost
  7. 1988: The summer before college, when I was too entrenched in a binge eating disorder to feel (or understand) my high school losses
  8. 2014: My mom selling “our share” in the family cabin that my grandfather built and my last visit as an “owner”
  9. 2002: The end of my parent’s marriage, because it came the same year as my own divorce and their ability to parent me (as an adult child) came to an end exactly when I was in need of extra support
  10. 1984: The year my brother Scott headed to California on his red Kawasaki motorcycle, my brother Rob moved to the Twin Cities, and my brother Chris returned to college, leaving me home alone to referee my parents’ chaotic marriage

Not all endings are necessarily negative. And even with the “bad” ones above, I can now see what eventually came in to fill the void (except when Uncle Beethoven died). To end on a positive note, here are my top five endings (in no particular order):

  1. 2002: End of my marriage
  2. 2009: Remarriage ends my years of being single
  3. 2017: Second child of my first marriage completes college and I achieve one of my top five lifetime goals by seeing my oldest two kids through college
  4. 2010: Han home from Japan (end of Rotary year)
  5. 1998: End of short career practicing law

And now, I enter the void; I enter a time of waiting for new structures and experiences to add shape to my writing life.

*My husband, my ex, my ex’s spouse, and me

Posted in Beginnings, Child Leaving, Creative Nonfiction, Divorce, End of co-parenting with ex, Endings, Kate Whouley, Loss, MFA in nonfiction, MFA in Writing, poem, Poetry, publishing, publishing career, Value of MFA, Writing, Writing Angst | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Soul Erosion

You are the seed I am contemplating, as if I were soil feeling nourished enough to offer a place for deep roots, as if I were grounded. I am like a traveler, however, passing through; sections of me eroding, year after year.

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Photo credit: Heidi Fettig Parton

Posted in flash poetry, Loss, Love Poem, Nature photo, poem, Poetry, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Agate Internship

I am posting this video, a “flash seminar,” for my Immersion in Publishing class; it’s one of the final assignments of my MFA in creative nonfiction program. I graduate in just a few weeks! I am experiencing a mix of emotions as I round the final bend in the road.

Posted in Beginnings, Clean Water, Endings, Minnesota, nature sounds, Publishing Internship, Value of MFA | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

My Essay Featured on Agate Magazine

One of the many rewards that flowed from my yearlong training to become a master steward of the St. Croix Watershed is the connection I made with Sharon Day, an Ojibwe water protector and leader of Nibi “Water” Walks. I joined Day on her Kettle River walk; you can read about it here on Agate magazine.

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Source of the Kettle River in northern Minnesota. Photo credit: Heidi Fettig Parton.

Posted in Activism, Beginnings, Citizen activist, Clean Water, Minnesota, Nature photo, openheartedness, Science and Arts, Writing | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Spring Calls Over a Minnesota Lake

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The Work of Adulting . . .

never ends. I’m so pleased and proud to have an essay publish on Grown and Flown this week. The essay explores a few difficult junctures of letting go as my oldest–my daughter–has spread her wings in life. Please check it out!

H teaching her little brother Japanese quite a few years ago now.

Posted in Beginnings, Child Leaving, Daughters, Endings, Exchange Student, Missing Someone, openheartedness, Parenting, publishing, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Pinup World: Sting, Bono, and Ponyboy

Ponyboy, as played by C. Thomas Howell in the film version of S.E. Hinton’s The Outsider’s, that is (that crush burned out quickly, I’m afraid). These were the three faces that covered my walls when I was fourteen. I was a Police fan even before I was a U2 fan. I’d haul home Police albums, in vinyl, from my local library. It was impossible to act cool while listening to The Police in my parent’s living room, on my parent’s cabinet stereo. By the time Synchronicity came out, however, I had a little funky blue plastic boom box (if I’d have kept it, it would be worth some good money now in the collector’s world) and could listen to the album in the privacy of my own room. The Police imploded before I was able to get to the big city of Minneapolis for a concert. I did, however, see Sting live at smaller venues, such as the Orpheum Theater, in the late 90s and early 2000’s. I missed The Police’s reunion concert, which happened in 2009 at a large stadium in my hood, because I was very pregnant with my third child. I didn’t want to waddle through the crowd (and, likely, pee on the floor while dancing because I always dance at concerts).

I never thought I’d attend a concert at the Myth Club in Maplewood, Minnesota. Never (which kind of sort explains why I was a bit of a righteous idiot and never saw Prince play at the Myth and now it’s too late). Even more, I never thought Sting would play this venue. Never . But when–last fall–I heard that Sting would be there on March 2nd, I promptly joined the Sting fan club (which would have been a much more logical development back at age 14 than now) so that I could purchase tickets that allowed me special early entrance to Sting’s soundcheck. Yes, I paid way too much money for the whole experience, or so I thought. After the soundcheck, however, but before the concert, I used a phrase my seven year old is now using: mic drop. I’d already received my money’s worth and more. The soundcheck experience was that good. It was worth it to have a private “introduction” to Sting’s supporting cast: his long-time guitar player, Dominic Miller and two musician sons of note. Joining Sting and Dominic on this tour were Sting’s oldest son Joe Sumner (doing back up vocals and guitar, and a brief warm up set for Sting) and Dominic’s son, Rufus Miller. Joe looks like a taller, more burley version of Sting. He sounds like him too. Rufus looks like a younger twin of Dominic, but he has wonderful 70s-era headbanger hair. And can he ever play guitar. Rufus channels Jimmy Page. And, to be quite honest, I kind of developed a crush on him throughout the evening. I’m considering starting the Rufus Miller fan club. (The below video features lots of Rufus–check him out!)

 

We weren’t allowed to record during the sound check. Sting, ever the perfectionist musician, did lots of fine tuning with all of the different musicians on stage. I was located, however, dead center, right in front of Sting. I made sure I danced like crazy. I was the only one dancing like crazy. Do you think Sting noticed? The only true disappointment of the evening: Sting didn’t grab my hand and pull me up onto the stage like Courtney in Springsteen’s Dancing in the Dark video. But okay, I got over it because Sting was kind, convivial, and gracious throughout the soundcheck (well, throughout the whole evening really). He seemed quite a bit less serious than he had in his earlier years. Sting even played predominantly different songs from his concert set list, so we’d have a unique viewing experience. That was nice of him. Even if he didn’t want to dance with me.

After the soundcheck ended and on the advice of two fellow fans that my husband and I met at the soundcheck, we moved up to the next tier surrounding the floor, to stand against a metal bar, which was a few feet higher than the floor. We relocated before they let the throngs in for the show. In this manner, we avoided the mosh pit, but had fabulous seats (“stands” actually–standing room only at the Myth) where no tall person could stand in front of me, as they always do at concerts. I leaned over the rail to get this shot of Sting playing his very ancient base (I had wanted to ask him during soundcheck if it was from the 70s, from his Police days–but I was too shy, in spite of the dancing).

 

Anyway, it was great to get to know the key players of the evening, including the main warm-up band, The Last Bandoleros, during the soundcheck. The Last Bandoleros played with Sting and Sting played with them; between the soundcheck and the concert, Sting was on stage for about five hours straight (what stamina! his yoga and vegan lifestyle really has paid off). And, in consequence, my 46-year-old body danced for about five hours straight. The fact that I could hardly walk the next day, however, was immaterial compared to the glory of this concert. I’ve been to many concerts in my life (far too many) and this concert comes in at number 3 on my top ten concert list. Number one was a U2 concert in 2001; Number two, a DMB concert in 2008, when I earned front row, dead center, seats at Alpine Valley–because of my seniority in the DMB fan club (long long term member of this one).

So why was this concert so awesome? Because Sting finally, after all these years, played his Police songs. It was like seeing The Police, but better because Dominic Miller and Rufus are such fine musicians. Here, have a listen and see what you think?

Posted in Humor, One love, Ponyboy, Rufus Miller Fan Club, Sting, Sting Concert Video, Yoga | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment