Nine days ago, my thesis manuscript for my Master of Fine Arts was rejected.
The file info says I spent 4,500 minutes on it, though that doesn’t count the hours spent arranging slips of paper with three semesters’ worth of essays into two piles: Thesis and Slush. It also says it contains 59,072 words and 165 pages (Times New Roman, mostly double-spaced, 12-point font). It’s a 256KB Word file. And it doesn’t count the thesis outline I created as another document, switching back and forth to make sure I created a coherent story matched meticulously with quotes from my Cobra’s flight manual. I thought I was so clever.
I kept thinking of the phrase, “Show, don’t tell,” that overused piece of advice I’ve been sick of hearing since it entered my lexicon in 1999 during Mrs. Rendelaub’s Creative Writing class my junior year of high school. Yet, I couldn’t ignore what seemed to be so basic a principle. I scoured my journals, emails, online conversations, and texts for “showing” material. What better material than the original? And so I added and added and added – editing all the way – and revealed my story as part narrative, part-epistolary novel. I had reverted to what had worked for me during my MFA program application manuscript. I thought it worked.
I created this baby, roaring and proud in its first-draft glory, and turned it in: electrons zapping across two continents and sandwiching an ocean in-between. I doubted, yes, but I hoped. And I waited. For a week, I tried not to think about how my precious cargo would be received, judged. I tried to ignore the niggling thought that I hadn’t quite delivered on my promise hammered out this summer, with a further eighteen months in development. My story had morphed from a graphic novel to a graphic memoir to a traditional memoir to a collection of essays and emails.
Quite swiftly, my program director decided there was too much new material and that I’d need to take an extra semester.
My advisor and I decided that I would turn in a second thesis manuscript a few days later.
Five days ago, I did just that.
Out came a new document, this one dripping with every piece of writing I had done while enrolled in my MFA program. Half-finished thoughts, polished blog posts, rage at life’s unfairness, pencil sketches for graphic novel ideas – nothing was left off. I scoured this list for the thesis-worthy and compiled them into the collection of essays I should have completed the first time around. Off they went in the direction of the first.
Tomorrow is my big reveal, figuring out if this do-over will be acceptable to shape this clay into a Master’s-ready thesis. Again, I find myself holding my breath, but not quite as hard.
I could be angry about this situation. I could be depressed. I could be crying right now, unsure. I could rail against the school, the director, my advisor. I could blame myself for following a wrong tangent. I could take an extra semester I know I don’t need. But I like to think of it this way: now I have two theses, each over 150 pages, ready for inclusion into a future memoir. I have twice the material, twice the inspiration, twice the words. I have a rough draft of over 90,000 words. And I believe, now more than ever, that I have a story to tell. I will tell it.
Sometimes, when life hands you lemons, you need to make limeade. And that’s okay.