All Good Things Must Come to an End or Beginning Musings the Morning of My MFA Convocation
May 25, 2016 § 17 Comments
By Cindy Bradley
In choosing my MFA program, I didn’t have to look far. Living in California’s Central Valley, completing my BA in English Literature at Fresno State University, not wanting to leave my kids and new granddaughter, left applying to Fresno State’s MFA in Creative Writing–Creative Nonfiction as an easy choice.
I had hoped for a sense of community in my MFA program, and at Fresno State, that’s what I found. I’ve had the opportunity to work with and be mentored by some of the top nonfiction professors in the country, to learn alongside my fellow student editorial assistants on The Normal School, and to work on the annual Levine Prize for Poetry, where the late Phil Levine’s presence remains tangible. Teaching a nonfiction workshop for a group of high school students at the yearly Young Writers Conference proved an unexpected delight.
Who else but those who travel with you truly understands the journey you’re on? Kindred spirits, my peers and I come from different backgrounds, yet we’re all here for the same reason: to become better writers. Decades separate me chronologically with most of my classmates, but that doesn’t seem to matter. We learn and grow from each other. Our destinations may be different – some will continue writing and do quite well, others will never write again and be quite okay with that, some will teach, others will publish, all will answer their inner calling which refuses to be ignored – but for the three years we navigate the program, our paths crossing for a year, or two, or the special bond birthed from sharing all three, we’re all in the proverbial same boat. Through workshop we discover each other’s strengths and flaws, respect each other’s needs to both confess and safeguard our private lives in what we dare to tell, we answer the risky “what’s at stake” question first with trepidation, and then with courage as we become more confident in our voices semester after semester.
The personal is impossible to disentangle from the academic. These MFA years have seen the loss of my brother-in-law and brother two weeks apart late during my first semester and the suicide of a close friend’s son (and best friend to my sons) a month later. When I received my brother’s frantic call the night before Thanksgiving, I couldn’t help but think had the school not had their policy of cancelling classes the day before Thanksgiving and had I been in workshop my phone would have been silenced, as would any chance of having our last conversation. My father’s passing a year and a half later, in early May. News of my first essay accepted for publication arrived a few days later, poignant in its dealing in large part with his declining health. Many rejections would follow, along with a handful of acceptances for essays I hold particularly meaningful. Celebratory moments with the births of my second grandchild the July heading into my second year, and third and fourth grandchildren in October and February of my third and final year.
What this means is that in the shifting landscape of my life, the MFA program has been a constant, something I’ve leaned on as much as I’ve learned from. What this means is that it’s impossible to think of these eventful moments in my life without also thinking of the presence of the program, always there, always something to count on. Always reminding me of why I’m here. Reminding me that no matter what, no matter what is going on around or through me, I not only can but I have to write. I entered the program an emotional writer, one who waited for the right mood or inspiration to strike before I sat down to write and I leave the program a disciplined writer, one who doesn’t wait on anyone or anything, instead mustering my own inspiration and motivation. These years have been charged with emotion, fueled by a desire to write and become that better writer and learn as much about the craft as possible. This hasn’t just been an education. It’s been an experience. An unforgettable, life-changing experience. I want to linger here awhile. I want to absorb the emotions, capture this feeling and hold it hostage, soak in the memories and moments and process them all slowly. I’m in no hurry to leave.
Cindy Bradley recently received her MFA in Creative Nonfiction from Fresno State University. Her essays have appeared or are forthcoming in 45th Parallel, Minerva Rising, San Joaquin Review and Under the Sun. She is currently at work on her memoir titled Death, Driveways and California Dreams.