Wednesday, May 26, 2010
Thesis Reading and Defense
Last Saturday, friends and family gathered in the Martin Luther King, Jr., library to listen to the my thesis reading and defense and those of my fellow MFA graduates. I have been nervous about reading aloud from my book for 10 minutes for ages now, so after I selected a passage, I practiced it aloud all week. I wasn't going for any dramatic effect -- I just wanted to be able to read the darn thing without stuttering. Once I make a mistake while reading aloud, I often stutter and get red in the face.
My fiction professor and thesis director, Nick Taylor (author of The Disagreement) introduced me by using the nickname the screenwriting agent I've been working with has given me: "the poet laureate of bad ass women." Then he switched gears to talk about my, "dare I say it, sensitive side," which I thought was sweet but amusing. I know the female characters in my stories are full of piss and vinegar and that, after three classes with him, Taylor knows my irreverent, no BS side, but I never thought people actually perceived me as "tough." If only they read my blog, they'd know I spend my free time caging communists, playing dinosaurs, and decorating LOST cakes. He tells the story of how I once gave him an Iroquois talking feather.
I don't really have pictures of the actual reading, but my friend was running about snapping them with a much nicer camera than mine, so if he sends me those, I'll have to share them. Overall I was happy with how I read. I don't think I stuttered at all, I remembered to breathe, and I paced myself so that I didn't read too fast. The only problem? By the time it was my turn to read (being at the end of the alphabet never has its advantages, especially in an air-conditioned room) my mouth was so dry that I could hardly speak. Hopefully everyone wasn't wincing, but I was sure uncomfortable at first. Here's a clip, and for anyone keeping track, this section takes place after the section I shared on the blog a few days ago. Isabel has followed Devon to his camp and the two have just shared a meal.
After our readings, we all had to come back up and stand as if we were facing a firing squad and answer questions from our professors and the audience. That was our "defense."
One of the questions was about genre, and another was about marketing. A man who said he was in marketing asked how important that aspect of writing was to us, and after everyone else answered "Oh, I never really think of it," or "I'm just now working on a query letter," I jumped in and gave the answer you get glares for in the classroom.
"Never forget that you're a product," I said. "Since I'm also in screenwriting, I've learned that you're never just selling your work, you're selling yourself, as well. If you want to view yourself as an artist who is writing something literary, then that's fine, protect that part of you by building a mask that you present to the world. I know I write to be published and assume the rest of us do, too, so you've gotta be able to pitch yourself."
The director of my program, Alan Soldofsky, then commented "that's a lot of maturity." At the time I couldn't tell if he was being sarcastic or not (since, as I mentioned before, what I just said slapped the cult of the artist in the face which is a big no no in workshop) but apparently he was being honest. Then the daughter of one of my older classmates asked the question, "what advantage do you have at entering the program at your age as opposed to someone her age," pointing at me.
In the span of a few seconds, it hit me that not only was I the one other female graduating, but that I was the youngest of our group. I'm not used to being the youngest (though to be fair, I think I've been tied for that position with a few of my other grad students for a few years now). If I was going to be singled out and profiled for my age, I was gonna call her on it. "For the record," I announced with a raised arm. "I'm 52." I didn't really think before I said it, it just sort of came out. The room burst with laughter that took too long to die down. For the rest of the afternoon, people were complimenting me on how great I look for 52. It wasn't really that funny, but I think people appreciated the fact that I wasn't going to just stand there and be judged, even though it wasn't something negative. I tried to shoot the woman's daughter an apologetic "sorry, I couldn't resist mate" face but wasn't sure if she got it. I still feel bad from taking some of the gusto away from my classmate's response (she sure as hell has earned her degree and the respect of her fellow writers) but she didn't seem upset, and her response was, "perspective."
After the "defense," Professor Soldofsky awarded us with our "official proof" that we had graduated: SJSU Alumni key chains. I guess the diplomas won't arrive in the mail for a few weeks yet.
The reading was followed by a champagne reception where we all toasted each other as the future of California's writers. Yet on the way to the reception, a woman who had attended the reading was waiting for me outside to let me know how much she enjoyed the section I read, and how her daughters (who hate Twilight) would love to read my book. She asked when it was going to be published and all I could give her was the address of my website where I'd certainly make the announcement when it happened, but talk about a compliment. That's the best response I could have hoped for!
In this picture, you can glimpse the hair decoration that I made in honor of Mickey, Clara, and Junior. It is made of the feathers of a local woodpecker (as far as I could tell -- I usually gather the feathers off the ground when a bird has been plucked by a predator), a white seagull feather to symbolize the white dove who came to visit, and Mickey's hair from his mane, along with beads representing the four directions in the Lakota mandala.
At the reception, three people came up to me to tell me how much they appreciated what I said about being a product. It is admittedly a tough lesson to learn, and one that most only learn through experience. I was lucky enough to have it driven into me in Las Vegas last month and wish we were more exposed to it in the classroom. One woman introduced herself as an artist and said that in a workshop she was taught that buyers don't want just the artwork, they want the story of the artist so that they could point to the piece of art and say, "And you know, the woman who made this..." They want a conversation piece.
Tomorrow is my actual graduation where I have to wear robes and this dumb hood thing. I was gonna be cheap and just use my Rasta zion lion scarf instead, but then heard my mother's voice in my head hissing, "we're going to be sending these pictures to relatives!" and thought better of it. Then... I'm done. I don't think the fact that, after being in school since I was 2, I am finally done, has hit me yet. Nor the fact that I am now leaving the campus where I spent 8 years both as an undergrad and a grad student. It's a lovely place, and a great school. There will be times that I'll miss it.
As for what I'll do after graduation? I wish I knew. I'm living off hope for the moment. I have a new script with the agent and manager and am awaiting their opinions. Two literary agents have requested pages of Sing Moonlight but I also have yet to hear back from them. I've learned not to hold my breath, but I'm hopeful that something will work out soon. In the meantime, I need to get busy working out the outline for my sequel, my new script, and the details of a TV show to pitch...
the other amanda -- Isn't he amazing? I'm glad he's interested in perusing music as a career. And the LOST cake not only looked good (or convoluted) but was very tasty!
Mackenzie's Momma -- Yes, you would have been lost (as were many longtime viewers, though!) and I agree. I have rarely, if ever, had the opportunity to hear him play and he's amazing.