Musings from Mama Bird
I am in. Finally!
In a little more than two weeks, I will begin working on my thesis, one of the final requirements for the Master’s in English degree I embarked upon four years ago.
In 2008, I was sitting here, at my desk, debating whether or not I even wanted a master’s degree, let alone do the work required of one. I would be part of the first class studying in this particular graduate program at this particular university, and when I looked through the course requirements in the catalog, I was unsure if I really wanted to learn about professional editing, online literary research, or pre-1800 British literature. I skimmed over the courses geared toward the creative writing capstone track, but as a creative-non fiction writer for so many years, I had little interest in writing fiction or poetry, genres I had dabbled in but was barely competent in constructing. I also considered my full-time work schedule and Mom commitments and questioned if I would be availed the time I knew I would need to complete the degree requirements. More than anything, though, I wasn’t sure I was ready to go back to school or even wanted to. By the time I earned my bachelor’s degree in 1985 from The Ohio State University, I was burnt-out. Fried. Over it. Back then, the thought of ever returning to the college classroom made me want to puke.
I admit, though, the allure of adding a master’s degree to my academic achievements sucked me in, so I decided to apply to the university as a non-degree student in order to test the waters of graduate studies, and I enrolled in one class. For sixteen weeks, I spent the majority of my weekends learning how to research any topic on the web and weed the good from the bad in terms of legitimate internet sources. By the end of the semester, I was able to hone my research skills in such a way that when I turned in the annotated bibliography of more than thirty-five literary and scholarly resources, I was confident that pursuing this degree could help me turn my pet project of several years, In My Mother’s Room, into a viable memoir and thesis project. Then I earned my first “A” and I was hooked, energized with a confidence and pride that was different from anything I had felt in a long, long time.
So I applied as a degree-seeking student and got admitted, another accomplishment. For more than two years, I studied literature, learned professional editing skills, and engaged classmates and professors with critical thinking skills I didn’t know I had. I wrote poetry and prose and creative non-fiction in workshops that thickened my egotistical writer’s skin. I read dozens of books and wrote research papers and honed pages and pages of creative and academic writing. This guinea pig class of the English program exposed me to gifted faculty and peers who were far more talented than I, but as a result of their (mostly gentle) critiques in our workshops, I became a better writer. This fact hit home when I read a bit of my memoir draft to an Introduction to Graduate Studies class, and a young woman left the room in tears, later explaining that she could relate to so much of what I’d written, she couldn’t help herself.
A year-and-a-half ago, I finished my last course requirement. I have a 4.0 (!) GPA, and I needed a break. I also needed a plan as to how I would convince the graduate program director that I could turn my memoir into a viable end-product of the MA in English: a thirty-page academic paper, a thesis, and the successful defense of my project in front of the faculty who would serve on my jury. Taking classes had been easy; it was this independent study/thesis process that held me hostage and stopped me dead in my tracks. Still, I’m only allowed two more years to complete this master’s degree, so in April, I defeated the nagging voice of doubt, met with the first prospective jury member, and began writing what would be a sixteen-page prospectus detailing how I would go about this. After one revision, he approved it. Then another faculty member approved it. And yesterday, I received an email from the program director telling me she had approved it as well.
I whooped and hollered, then logged onto my student portal to check my fall semester schedule.
Now I’m challenged with writing at least 30,000 brand new, never-before-workshopped words that will, I hope, find a place in my memoir. I will spend hundreds of hours, I know, writing and revising and writing some more. I will try not to take my mentors’ critiques personally, and my weekends will no longer be mine. But a year or two after the guinea pig class of 2008 graduated, this middle-aged woman and mother of the empty next will (God willing) receive her hood and diploma and say so long to graduate studies…for now.
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