To my left is a picture of my writing room for the last week.
That's right. I took my work to Disney World and converted my fancy room at Alligator Bayou number 37 Port Orleans Riverside into a writing studio.
I would do something scary, like submit something, and then I would run away and take a boat to Disney Springs or a bus to Epcot. I structured it this way because I knew that it would be a lot more fun and productive to do all the scary stuff from Disney.
It is an exciting time in my writing life. I was just named one of the CSArtists for 2017 at the Omaha Creative Institute, for one. I'm actively submitting stories. My writing group is the best writing group I could ask for. My writer friends and I are planning a writers' retreat for April. And did I mention my writing studio was a Disney World room for five days?
Things are looking up for ol' Jen.
But with great opportunity comes great responsibility. In the last year and a half, I've learned how to conduct myself via email. I've learned how to brag without being braggadocios. I've learned how to walk through the fire and write from the heart all those things that are scary to write.
But I'm finding that as this week rolls on, even Disney can't give us all the courage we may need in the coming years.
But I also know that I'm capable of holding my own and standing up to keep walking. I am capable of advocating for myself and for my dreams. And there is no better motivation to get things done than deserving another Disney vacation.
That's what this all is for, really. Disney vacations.
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,
Last residency, Liz Hand gave a seminar on the Sublime. And that word has fit this month so perfectly.
Just because I haven't been keeping up with the blog does not mean I've not been doing anything. I've been writing every day, going to conferences, meeting new amazing people, and traveling as much as our pocketbook can allow us. Yesterday morning, we drove up into Rocky Mountain National Park and watched the sun rise through a blizzard. It was a sublime experience, for sure.
I'm also starting to see all this hard work pay off. I guess at the end of a project, you don't remember all the cookies you consumed, all the long walks you took, all the nights tossing and turning in bed. It's just like one day you wake up, and boom. There is a finished manuscript and you wonder how it got there.
Maybe it's like labor. We writers forget how painful it was so it won't be the only one we create.
This year was supposed to be an experiment. We were supposed to see if I could make it as a writer, if I was any good, and if we could survive on a diminished budget. I think the answer is yes. I think we're going to be okay.
And the thesis is mostly done! Here I come, Graduation!
What is this?
Dawson is a writer. This is her blog. In it, you shall read about reading. And writing. And cheeseburgers. Sometimes there are tangents. Huzzah.