Monday, May 14, 2012

On graduation

I have this theory that words are cyclical, that all periods of serious production are followed by their necessary blank slates, that white noise that fills the gap between projects. I can't help thinking of all the unnecessary words in the world - the slogans, the cliches, the maxims, the polite repartee, the conversational habits of the universe - and wondering if as writers our job is to sieve it all down, sort it all out, until the only words that are left are the ones that matter most. The ones we've really got to earn.

I defended my master's thesis last week. I ended up turning in five stories that follow the same characters on the southern coast of Spain, four other stories (linked in theme but not in character/setting), and a working draft of the 100 word story project. It totals about 140 pages and feels like a promising but unwieldy baby, this beautiful yet messy monster that hasn't yet discovered the true source of its power. All of this, and still I feel the need to winnow, to pare it down, to find its roots. It is an exciting feeling. One I hope to fuel as the years go by and the characters grow with me.

My goal now is to produce another four or five stories set in Spain, to improve the narrative voice, diction and cultural cues to the point where I could structure a novel in linked stories. I hope to work on this manuscript for the next year (or more, whatever it needs, honestly) and then to apply to fellowships and work residencies abroad, where I could more fully delve into the voices of expats abroad - the voices I still remember but can't fully imitate.

Beyond that, the future is as endless and bizarre as this wide net of words. My defense was early; I still have four more weeks of grading, homework, planning, filing. I will soon be moving back to the Bay Area, where, for the first time in more than three years, I will be living in the same zip code as my boyfriend. I have been applying for jobs like crazy - teaching jobs, writing jobs, school jobs, anything that involves writing and people and environments where I can really throw myself into creative projects. This week sparked the first of several graduations - the air is ripe with the angst and excitement of programs ending, chapters closing. Sometimes I hate nostalgia, though I give into it with such ease. I have started contributing to Fictionade, a new subscription-based e-magazine, which shows great promise.

This weekend we drove down to Santa Barbara (my alma mater) for a friend's wedding. I still remember the fog of that final spring - how anticlimactic it all was, the moisture in the air until mid-May, when the beach was suddenly overtaken by the hot breath of the Santa Ana winds. It was the hottest I'd ever known Santa Barbara to be; in those final weeks of college I remember going to bed with a wet wash cloth across my forehead, watching the shadows on my yellow co-op wall as the heat trapped us indoors. The climate was telling us something. Move along now, it said. You've done what you came here to do. Go find other things to do, other places to be.

I can only imagine what heat Davis promises me, in these last few weeks. The messages are louder this year, but maybe that's because this time I'm really listening.


gteamhj said...

Re. that "Move along, now," message? Not coming from your 'rents, who relish your presence and have treasured the last two years. We also look forward to what's next, however, and will add the next zip to the Garmin. xxx

miss J. said...

I know, I know! I feel lucky to have gotten to share so many dinners and evenings with you guys. There are many more to come, regardless of zip code! xo

April Halprin Wayland said...

I LOVE the message from the washcloth, from the heat. You've pared this one down so beautifully. Wow.