You might not know this, but I first heard of you in Kansas City. My boyfriend, Alex, he said, "You know, you don't have to be unhappy. We can figure something out."
I said, "No, we tried MFA programs. None of them fit. This is my lot in life."
He said, "Stop being dramatic. Here, listen to this podcast. This is Mur Lafferty. She won the Campbell Award. She went to a place called Stonecoast."
He said, "There's a big house on the peninsula and you'd love it there. So I'll pay your application fee. You write your stories. You blow them away."
So I did. And a month later, Nancy Holder called me. And you know Nancy, she's the kindest, nicest most accomplished person of all time. So she told me to come, and how the hell do you say no to Nancy Holder?
I still remember in great detail the first time I saw Stone House. I'd spent so much time on oil-stained streets and broken buildings and being sick and waiting for biopsies and taking the same route to work every day in a run-down car and when I complained, my father just said, "This is what adulthood is."
Because in the Midwest, we learn to be miserable. We all are permitted to dream until the age of twenty-three (sometimes we don't even get that long), and then we learn dreaming was just an exercise to make sure we would know that inside of ourselves we hold multitudes, but we are the children of cornfields and hobbits don't go on adventures.
Stone House was my Gandalf.
I spoke to people for the first time in years. David Anthony Durham read my first chapter and he took me under his wing. I had worth. I could still sing, although I hadn't sang since high school.
My second semester, I broke down in tears. It was stupid, I'm sorry I did that. But the snow was falling, and everyone had been so nice. I was learning people didn't have to be sad all the time, people weren't mean, people could in fact be quite enjoyable to be around.
A few of you sat down with me at Johnny Rocket's one night in the freezing winter cold and we ate burgers and that was the first time I had gotten to do that in so long.
So I cried and I shouldn't have.
Then you, Stonecoast, sent me off to Ireland.
My whole life, I had dreamed of going overseas, and there I was with a new foreign land under the plane's wingtips and I rushed out into the new world ... sleepily and delusionally, albeit, but still.
And a month before my wedding, I saw Ted and Annie deeply in love. They took me to a pub and I told them about all of my hobbit stories. They called me brave and smart, and I started to believe them.
Winter came and Jim took me on as his mentee. I had a good workshop after all this time. I went to conferences, I met new writers, I traveled all over the country and presented.
I grew up.
And this last month? I landed in Maine one more time to say goodbye to you.
You are made of beautiful women and men who want to believe in the best of people.
You are made of songs and ukeleles and guitars and flutes and bad bar jokes.
You are early breakfasts at Comfort Inn and long van rides with a tour guide that says, "There's the biggest globe in the world."
You are good friends in a rental car driving on a rickety bridge at low tide.
You are Rockin' Robin and Whoopie Pies and lobster rolls and naan sprinkled with spices.
You are hot dorm rooms and warm study halls where we congregate to talk craft and Ghostbusters.
You are friends who stay up late, who hug you, who rally when your first partner dies unexpectedly with four bullets in his back.
You are graduate presentations with corpses, psycho detectives, Luke Skywalker, and brave Black women.
You are acceptance. You are courage. You are way too freaking expensive for community theatre Evita tickets.
You are friends who calm you down at 3 in the morning, who walk back with you three blocks when you forget your purse, who offer to buy you gelato when you run out of money.
You are my graduation cap that read, "I wrote my way out," because I did. Through my hurricane, and here is the eye before it really begins.
You are Hermione hair, you are bobby pins on the floor, you are Kelly's books saying goodbye, you are gross. So gross. Stay gross.
You are Alex.
You are me and him sitting in a car driving through the pitch black darkness of southern Maine forest.
You are a perfect song on our radio.
You are the two years where we've sacrificed, where we've tried to hold onto each other.
You are the cocoon of the dark sky and the tree's shadows that keep us shielded from the realities of our situation. We're poor. We have a new house that's still bloated with unpacked boxes. We have a puppy who doesn't like it when we leave a room and does like it when he pees all over our clothes.
We don't know if we're happy. We don't know each other underneath the writing deadlines and the teaching artist contracts and the twelve-plus hours a day at work for both of us.
We were married ten months ago, and we hit the ground running. I wonder if we even held hands while we ran.
But here, in the dark, we hear, "we're gonna get it together," and my degree is sitting in the backseat. MFA in Creative Writing. In my slip-on flats, I still feel sand. I graduated with Land's End in between my toes.
It's why I was late for graduation, rushing in with my gown and hood every which way like a tornado hit me.
I was out in the ocean, holding my husband, thinking about the magic of the Atlantic Ocean.
Anything is possible.
"I love you," I say.
"I love you," he says.
"Let's do this," I say.
So Stonecoast, you taught me how to write. You gave me great tools. But mostly, you showed me I could be happy. You brought good people into my life. And we need good people when so many bad people rule the world.
Thank you for teaching me how to be a person. Thank you for blessing me with your friendship and your compassion and your patience.
I won't let you down.
Don't let yourself down.
I love you all,