Feelin' the Post-Grad Funk
It's that time of year again; graduates everywhere are celebrating their accomplishments and looking forward to what's next. It's a time of hope and opportunity, a chance to reflect, and maybe freak out a bit.
I’ve always had a tough time with transition. At the end of something, I often feel a little lost and unsure of how to move forward. This was definitely the case when I graduated from Sarah Lawrence College now nearly a decade ago. I had no plans in New York, while my boyfriend at the time (now husband) had a job and a life in Burlington, Vermont, not far away from where I grew up. I agreed to move back for a year. That was nine years ago and now that we own a house and pets and chickens, we're not going anywhere. At the time, committing to anything seemed hard.
I graduated with a B.A. in Liberal Arts, which allowed me to study a bit of everything. I graduated and was faced with that pesky question - now what? I knew I wanted to go to grad school eventually, but I had no idea what to focus on. Creative writing had always been my passion, but I had the idea in my head that now that I had one arts degree I needed something more "practical." I started working as a paralegal at an immigration law firm, testing out whether I wanted to go to law school. It didn't take me long to figure out that I didn't. But I'd made a two-year commitment and not sticking it out felt like a failure, so for two years I worked in a boutique firm that didn't feel like me at all and lost my sense of self. My therapist reminded me (regularly) that not being happy in one field didn't mean that I had failed, but meant that that job wasn't for me and there would be other opportunities. I just had to create them for myself, which felt scary and impossible.
I didn't write a word (save for legal memos and petitions/applications) for a year after graduating. My depression came back with a vengeance. I felt stuck, unsure of how to move forward. Desperate for a sense of community, I Googled writing groups and found myself at the Burlington Writers Workshop. I diligently went each week to meet other writers and discuss each other's work. I found my community. Several of us split off into a smaller group and, seven years later, we still meet monthly. I found my people and it gave me a sense of grounding, of purpose. It motivated me to write again. I was rejuvenated every time I got to discuss writing and books with these brilliant and supportive writers, now some of my closest friends. It took me a few more years to realize that I could pursue this passion professionally and to find an MFA program at the Bennington Writing Seminars.
I graduated with my MFA in Fiction in January and found myself facing the familiar question, "Now what?" Finish the short story collection that comprised my thesis, submit the finished stories feverishly to every lit mag I can find, edit books, and try to make writing, editing, and teaching more at the forefront of my life, that's what. I have goals and a plan, and yet still found myself anxious about the next phase. Fortunately, my Bennington cohort and I have kept in touch and many have lamented a similar sense of anxiety about the next phase in our careers. "You're doing all the things you need to be doing," a dear writer friend told me the other day, as we compared post-MFA funks. She admitted that she didn't write for almost a year after getting her MFA and is just starting to find her stride again. It's a process, I have to keep reminding myself. No matter how anxious and ready I feel to move forward, it takes time, and patience, and hard work.
"The only form of failure that matters is not writing," Garth Greenwell told us in his commencement speech at our graduation. This struck me so much that I have it written on an index card on the bulletin board in my home office. It reminds me to keep writing, keep failing, keep trying. I'll get there.