Category Archives: Grad School

It’s Official!

I Passed!!

I am officially a Master of English!

Sure, this was *technically* taken two months ago, but now it’s for real. Feels good man, feels good.

I should probably thank all the people that got me to this point in my life:

My father, for convincing me I could get into grad school when I was doubting whether I should submit an application at all.

My mother, for letting me vent whenever I needed to (pretty much all the time).

My boyfriend, for being proud of me and supporting me all along the way.

My roommate, who shared this ridiculous BA/MA experience with me.

My professors, for accepting me for who I am as a writer and encouraging me to purse what I love, not just what is considered “literature.”

My cat, for all the cuddles he provided when I was was feeling down.

And to everyone else–my peers, my readers, my co-workers–who gave me the confidence, the support, and the reassurance that this was the right path for me and everything was gonna be just fine.

THANK YOU.

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Graduate Defense in … 3 hours

It’s incredible to think that after so many years of hard work, countless time spent writing and revising, and so many hours secluded from the world with my only my reading list books…I will finally walk into my graduate defense to complete what I’ve been waiting so long to do.

I have always been grateful that I found this BA/MA program (allowing me to finish a BA and MA in only 5 years instead of 6), and I’ve also been very frustrated with some of the unforeseen complications that came with it. I’ve participated in two graduation ceremonies and have yet to receive a single degree (the result of both graduation dates being pushed back to allow for credits to double count). As a result, there were definitely moments when the sad reality of constant delayed gratification (a staple of graduate life) seemed like too much–that I just wanted to take my BA and leave. I’m so glad I didn’t.

That moment of gratification is finally here. At the end of my defense, I’ll either get a PASS or FAIL and finally feel some sort of closure. I am so excited for that feeling, I can hardly put it into words.

The weird thing is that even with only a few hours to go, I’m not very nervous. I read my 50 books and can probably recite my thesis from memory at this point. I’ve quizzed myself and had plenty of practice defenses in the shower. There just isn’t much more I can do. In a way, it seem anti-climactic.

My defense is a two hour oral exam. The first hour will be focused on my thesis–choices I’ve made, things I would do differently, things that worked or didn’t work, etc. And then in the second hour the exam transitions to a discussion about my reading list–how it related to my thesis, what I found helpful, what I liked, didn’t like, etc.

A friend of mine defended (and passed!) yesterday and said the defense was just a really chill conversation–and actually, kinda fun!

I know I am eager to discuss all the books I’ve spent so much time reading, and who doesn’t want to talk about their own work in depth with brilliant professors who have read and reviewed it intensely?

Maybe I should be more nervous. Actually, I’m nervous that I’m not nervous–like something is wrong. But I’m excited. It’s only a few hours away now….and then I am free to read any book I want and write and story that catches my fancy. Oh sweet freedom, you are in my sights!

(and since I won’t be nose-deep in books 24/7 anymore, I’ll actually have time to post again! woohoo!)

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What do you mean, no more workshop?

That’s it. I’m done. Done with graduate workshops and required one page responses. No more 12-13 copies of a story printed out and stapled, (and with page numbers, damnit). No more three-hour classes of back and forth debate, or discussions about everything from the title to the use of onomatopoeia. Finally, I am free of workshop.

Oh god…no more workshop…

This weekly ritual that I’ve been adhering to for two years is finally over. No one is required to read and respond to my work. No one has to think about what it all means, or what my character’s motivations are. No one has to care.

It’s scary to think that now I’m on my own. But I am so glad I had the incredible workshop experiences I did, better this year than last, but beneficial just the same. I think it prepared me for how I need to look at my work when it really is just me looking at it. Now that I know no one will be sitting there, waiting to tell me what I need to fix, it makes me want to take my own personal editing and revision more seriously. But it’s still really scary.

And it’s sad too. I’m going to miss everyone I’ve spent so much time with, and their work–the stories I will never know the ends to! Alas!

Not to mention the adorably self-aware emails:

Hey All,

So as I read my end-note again, I think it might sound a little passive-aggressive?  That certainly was not my intent, I really do want comments on thematic cohesion, lack of plot and conflict, etc.  I think I was just trying to say that my insecurities regarding this piece are about both the content and form of the piece.  So comments about length, pacing, sections that don’t work within the form would be appreciated also.  Was this email even needed?  Anyways, thanks for reading!

Oddly enough, as glad as I am to be done with workshop, I know the first thing I’ll do when I graduate and move to Columbus is seek out a writers’ group. Something about it seems so natural now. It’s a second nature. Guess I did learn something from grad school after all.

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This Made My Day!

As I mentioned earlier in my post about the Farewell Reading, the event was a huge success. We had a packed room and not enough chairs to seat everyone. Part of this was because some grad students offered the reading as extra credit to their ENG 111 & 112 classes as long they submitted write-ups about the experience afterward.

Well, a friend of mine, who actually put the whole reading together, had some of her students in attendance and just posted this on my Facebook wall:

It pretty much made my day.

No, it made my week.

No–this validated my decision to go to grad school.

Also, if anyone is interested in that awesome band, Ellery, that I mentioned earlier, Tasha is actually the singer/songwriter/female half of that musical duo. She’s pretty amazing, and so is her poetry. Seriously, check them out!

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My Farewell Reading

As the semester wraps up, it’s starting to become more and more real that I won’t be coming back to Miami next year. It will be the first time in five years where Miami won’t be my home, and I won’t have classes to attend, or homework to complain about. It’s weird.

But the end of the year, though bittersweet, is always accompanied by some great events. Like the “Goodbye Forever” final grad student reading. Not only was it the last reading of the year, but it was the very first time I got up in front of a (very large) crowd and read my own work. For everyone outside of the fiction program, it was the first time they’ve heard or seen something I’ve written. It was exciting, scary, and as soon as it was over, I wanted to do it again.

I’d say I did alright. I practiced a little before hand, but not enough to allow me brief glances at the audience. The whole “eye contact” thing would have been great, but I figured for my first go at it, not flubbing the words would be better. I even got some solid laughs! I may have preempted the biggest joke in the story by chortling at it first, before actually delivering it. Everyone said it was endearing, but I’m going for the hard sell, deadpan delivery next time. It’s what the story deserves.

The other readers were amazing. I got to hear a number of the second years that had also never read before and damn, I am sad to see them go. Check out the names on that flyer because you will see them in print someday. And definitely catch them at a reading if you can, because they are great.

Unusual for a reading, but a great treat, was listening to a short concert put on by Ellery (www.ellerymusic.com), which consists of one of my grad school friends and her lovely husband. I’d never heard them play, but they have had quite the success in recent years and actually only went to grad school to try something different.

I, of course, bought both their CDs and you should too. They are fantastic. And if you ever get to see them live–wow. Just, wow.

It was a great night–sad, but wonderful. There are so many people that I hope I keep in touch with, or at least see again sometime in the future. Somehow it feels like grad school lasted an eternity, and yet my time with these people was way too short.

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Working Through My Reading List

I’ve been working through my reading list, diving head first into as many books as I can at a time, and as much as I would love to review each one, I just don’t have the time to sit and let a book simmer in my mind before picking up the next one.

I would love to say I’m not struggling with this, but that would be a lie. I think everyone struggles with their reading list because when you’re putting it together, you aren’t entirely sure what you’re getting yourself into. You haven’t read all the books on the list, you may have heard of them, but you’ve never sat down and read looked through each one, or even browsed more than a few pages. But you put them on your list because someone recommended them, or because their description sounded like it applied to your thesis. I don’t think this is the wrong method, but it does open you up to some troublesome scenarios.

Take T.C. Boyle’s World’s End for example. Honestly, this book is too long and too unfocused for my tastes. I am more than 100 pages in and I just want to stop. I can’t because I have to finish it for my exam, but I really, really want to stop reading this book.

Then again, you also open yourself up to books you had no idea you’d be blown away by, like If on A Winter’s Night A Traveler by Italo Calvino, who is quickly becoming one of my new favorite authors. This book is meta, written partially in the second person (“you”) point of view, and completely blows your mind. It’s a bunch of beginnings to stories that you, or rather the “you” character, begins reading only to be taken on a wild journey to find the endings. It’s incredible–an insane task that only Calvino could have pulled off.

At the moment, however, I am actively reading Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses, which is not at all what I was expecting. I’m only about 30 pages in, so I can’t really judge the book yet, but I did not expect it to be about the lives of two Indian men who fall from a plane in the opening lines of the book, mixed with digressions, dreams and other unique forms of storytelling. I am excited to keep reading this book, and I think that’s a pretty good sign.

Also taking a back seat is Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen. This one, I’ll get around to finishing eventually, but I am just not a fan of Austen’s style of writing. Wordy and hyper-focused, I feel like I can read 3 pages, zone out, and not absorb a thing. Her prose just kicks me out of the book rather than pull me in it. Her dialogue, however, is fantastic, and that is, after all, what she is known for, so I definitely can appreciate that.

So that’s where I am at with books right now. I pulled a big stack of them out of the library and they are due back pretty soon. I don’t want to keep them out too long since I know they are on other people’s lists, and having a deadline to finish definitely helps me push forward.

Two months till exam time! Only….20+ more books to go….

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A Visit from Garth Greenwell, Author of Mitko

This week I attended my final fiction reading as part of my graduate program and it could not have been a better note to end on. We were pleased to welcome the 2010 winner of our own Miami University Novella contest, Garth Greenwell, for his novella, Mitko.

There are a million things I want to say about this writer, but I don’t want to gush too much. He is originally trained as a poet, though says he hasn’t written a poem in over two years because of his new love for the novella as a form.

If this is how poets write prose, I want more of them to make the switch because this book is quite possibly one of the most stunning works of language I’ve read in a long time.

The story of Mitko revolves around the relationship between an American teacher (the narrator) working abroad in Sophia, Bulgaria and the male prostitute, Mitko. The narrator becomes consumed by Mitko, wanting more than just the transactional encounters he pays for, only to realize that anything he thought he might have with this man was an act, a lie, and that it has simply always been nothing more than a transaction.

The sentences are long and fluid, the words are beautiful and chosen with care, and heard aloud, particularly in Greenwell’s own voice, the auditory appeal of this book is astounding.

We also had the pleasure of meeting and talking with Garth in two classes before the reading. He is an absolute joy to talk to, or really, just listen to. Here comes the gushing, but listening to a brilliant person talk about his life, his art and the country he lives in is fantastic. He told us about his job teaching high school in Bulgaria and how it came about because of his need to feel a little lost after being on the straight line of the academia track for so long. He actually dropped out of his PhD program at Harvard and went off to teach high school, first in Michigan, before deciding to teach abroad. It was only by chance that he landed in Bulgaria, and he has been there now for three years.

He talked about how being surrounded by non-English speakers, never hearing the language, made writing in English a very private experience. Every morning, he says, he gets up at 4:30am and writes until 6am, as it is the only time he has, and writes with a pen on paper, in bed, in his dark apartment, alone.

He also spoke to us about work in translation, about the clashing of traditions, of languages and how all great changes in the world were the result of people reading work in languages, or translated from languages, that were not their own. And now, students don’t feel this need to read in translation as much because we don’t have to. But his advice:

“Read as promiscuously as possible.”

Something about hearing his story, watching him talk and engage us about our craft and our desires, really got to me. Maybe it’s me coming up on my own looming graduation and movement to the next stage of my life, but I think maybe, he might be right about the whole “being lost” thing. And, as he told me when he was signing his book, teaching high school did amazing things for his writing. I wouldn’t mind seeing what all that’s about.

My one regret after this reading, and it was shared by everyone in the program, was that Greenwell wasn’t able to go drinking with us. Instead, he had to leave right away to return to Michigan to do another reading there. It would have been a pleasure to talk with him more.

“Place provides the form that lives will fill.” – Garth Greenwell

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