On Finishing (and Not Finishing)

13083376_10208025110598318_8559129665999619841_nI’m not finished with grad school, though this is technically my final submission. So I guess I’m pretty damn close. Yikes.

I already turned in my thesis and even sent it to print. I have a reading and a party on Friday followed by a champagne toast the following Friday and official graduation the Saturday after. Yet, I’ve firmly established that I won’t be finished with grad school projects until the end of May. I accepted the task of copyediting a full-length manuscript late in my publishing internship in part because it would drag on past graduation, not despite that fact. I could easily have said no. The truth is, I don’t want it to end.

Not the internship, not the publishing class associated with it, not the thesis work, not the writing prompts, not the extensive reading, not the due dates, not the discussions, not the presentations, not the research, not the interviews, not the hours and hours and hours of revisions, not even the true suffering that was part and parcel of my memoir writing.

I’m downright existentially exhausted. Part of me wants a serious vacation—or at least a really extended nap—right now. Completing edits and organization and formatting to my thesis over the past two weeks made me want to throw it all into a fire a few times. Tears were shed when my laptop’s hard drive crashed the week before that. And the self-imposed pressure of submitting a newly revised piece to a journal just-under-the-wire-close-to-midnight-on-Sunday-right-before-they-closed-acceptances-for-the-season made me question my sanity and overblown sense of self worth. But the reality is that I just don’t want to be finished at all.

The MFA program has been stressful: I’ve felt alternately really dumb and kind of smart, disappointed and elated, like a hot mess and an organizational genius. I’ve lost sleep and haven’t seen friends, skipped out on parties and ordered take-out far too much. I’ve drunk a lot of wine. I’ve worried nearly constantly that I was missing some kind of deadline and that I was probably a fraud. I miss my husband, whom I haven’t seen enough of even though he’s right downstairs. My laundry has piled up and the lack of vacuuming has generated furry tumbleweeds in all the corners of my house. My dogs definitely did not get enough walks (or belly rubs—or snacks, they tell me).

But I’ve learned that no one else really cares about my dust and that the dogs will forgive me for the lack of walks, like they forgive everything, saints that they are. I’ve also learned to be pretty fantastic at juggling and that when I want something, I can make it happen. I’ve learned so, so much about writing that I can’t even put it into words, which demonstrates how much I haven’t learned about writing.

When people, witnessing me practically tearing out my hair, have said of the program, “Oh, I bet you can’t wait to be done!” I have replied, “Well, sort of, but I love it,” reaffirming what a truly deranged person I am.

Though I like to think of myself as a planner, I’ve started dragging my feet on the final projects—like this one, which, as of this writing, is due in two hours and twenty minutes, but who’s counting?

Suddenly, I find myself frantically thinking about everyone I’ve met because of this program and giving myself further to-dos: writing thank you notes, buying books for presents, tracking down secondary email addresses. I am scared of being finished because it means disconnection. I’ve lived long enough and had enough experiences to know that what I’ll miss is the community of people. There’s nothing quite like finding your tribe. So, of course I don’t want it disbanded.

This is part of why the Writer’s Contract we had to pen now makes such good sense. I promised to myself, my teacher and my classmates that I will not actually be finished—that this work will go on, and that the connections will survive. I will write at for least an hour five days a week. I will submit work to journals at least once a month. I will workshop a piece with my small sub-set of classmates once a quarter. I will continue my search for an agent.

When do I make the shift from graduate work into this post-graduate self-disciplined technically accountable-to-no-one stuff? Tomorrow? Next week? June?

I fear I will wake up the morning after graduation—and then the morning after that one last copy-editing project is turned in—and wonder what to do with myself. I fear I will feel terribly alone.

It’s why, even thought this piece is due by midnight tonight and I’m very tired, I ran out after an all-too-quick dinner with my husband to attend a reading by a professor. Because I knew it would feel so great to be in a bookstore and to hear stories and to buy books and to be hugged by people who know me and get me. Because I don’t want to be finished.

If there is a finish line, in this case, I don’t care to cross it. I want to continue running in a way I never have before. I’ve never felt so sure that what I started shouldn’t stop.

 

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5 thoughts on “On Finishing (and Not Finishing)

  1. I love this post and I know something of this feeling! I’ve had lots of creative people say that as soon as they finish one thing they have to plunge wholeheartedly into the next–to keep the magic going, the magic of being inside the process, inside the work. Congratulations to you, Anne, and May it always be so!! May there always be a next project that consumes your creative energy and drives you crazy in that special way!

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