A few days ago, I read from my thesis along with three of my wonderful, talented cohort friends, and so I’m now done with about two-thirds of the end of the MFA: I just need to format and send it, and waltz through the rest of the semester. Needless to say, it was a “remote reading,” given the whole COVID-19 situation, though I will say that it was a lot less silly than I was expecting it to be. I did do some silly things, like tear apart the office and move my desk so that I could be standing while I read (necessitating, due to the size of the office, that Alia and I watched everyone else on another laptop in the living room), and I may or may not have put on a suit jacket just for the Danny-is-reading part. It was pretty alright, is the point. I thought it went well and people said nice things.
But in the morning I was thinking about Benjy.
Benjy was this guy I knew in undergrad, the graduate student (MFA) fiction editor for the undergraduate literary journal (now defunct) I was editing at the time. He was funny as anything as a person, a wickedly funny writer (I am every few months looking for some published work of his, but alas: it is like he has disappeared off the face of the Internet), and I’m pretty sure he also wrote for the Miami New Times as well. In fact I am sure of it. The girl I’d been seeing at the time liked to say Benjy had a crush on me, but this was always complicated by a) my general disbelief in those sorts of things and b) the evidence of running into him at a Joy Formidable show in Ft. Lauderdale and watching him make out (enthusiastically? drunkenly?) with some woman I’d never seen before. In any case, this was all almost a decade ago now and the world has greatly changed.
But I was thinking about Benjy because his was one of the few (two?) MFA thesis readings I actually remember attending at UMiami. I don’t remember the stories so much other than that at times he had me in stitches, other times a kind of earned sad longing, and that he wore all back: a rather bold uniform in a hot city like Miami, but he certainly pulled it off. I also think I met his dad after the reading, and it all sort of made sense, and all sort of didn’t: folks’ parents are an interesting lot.
And so I was thinking about that, how it had taken place in one of the smaller performance spaces, a little theater – the difference between where I went to undergrad and where I go to graduate school is stark, to say the very least: an excellent illustration of the differences between a well-funded private school and a poorly-funded public one – which was well appointed and beautiful in its way, and there I was on fucking Zoom, because this is now the world we live in. Not that I’m complaining (well, I am).
I’m actually very impressed with the way that the Graduate Program Director managed to make it a reasonably ceremonious, respectable occasion given everything. There is inevitably less pomp and circumstance when you are reading hunched over a computer on your desk in your bedroom (I, naturally, had contrived some unnecessarily complicated system in the office with the standing desk, because dear lord was I not going to be sitting down while I tried to read for twenty+ minutes), but it was good. The work, all of it, was good. I have a really wonderful, talented cohort, doing lots of really different kinds of work.
I’m going to have to miss today’s reading because of work (I was hoping to at least have the reading on in the background, but now I have meetings during half of it), but the cool thing, of course, about doing this is that it can be recorded. And that people’s parents’ (including my own) who may not have been able to attend for one reason or another were able to “be there” and watch. And though I wasn’t able to actually “meet” any of my friends’ folks, it still was nice to “see” some of them.
So, I don’t know. Alia wanted to celebrate somehow and I wasn’t sure how to do so: normally I’d want to throw a big party at the program bar for everyone. But since we can’t do that we’ll do something smaller at home. But the point is that it feels like a big deal and not a big deal, like the end(ish) of something, but also a notable anticlimax. I suppose I still have a lot of work to do on the thesis, and after that, the book.
I can’t remember too well the reactions of my friends finishing their MFAs while I was in undergrad, but I want to say it was about the same. Those of them that were going to keep on with the writing thing seemed to be focused on the writing thing more than the degree; those of them that weren’t so much, were ready to get out.
The work, in the end, might just have been the important thing.