I was terrified. That first evening we all met at the grad pub in August 2013, I was terrified. I couldn’t possibly live up to the high standards the rest of our class set, and I vowed to stay to myself, go to class and back to my room, not get involved, not give anyone an opportunity to know me, or dislike me.
But you drew me out. You didn’t mean to; I didn’t give you a reason to. I tried not to let you. I think it was your sheer enthusiasm for what we were all doing there, for the shared dream inside each of us. Not “just” to be the writers we’d all already been for anywhere from five to thirty-five years—magazine editors and broadcast journalists and communications consultants and, and, and—but “real” writers, people who write those anachronistic things called “books.”
As thrilled as I was to be accepted to the brand new program, first of its kind in Canada, I felt in my bones I didn’t belong there, not the way all of you did. I still feel that in some ways, still feel like an outsider. But I had to do it anyway, had to try. I was—am—at that stage of life where it’s really now or never. No more putting it off until I have more life experience, until after my time with my mother has run out, until after the kids have grown, until after the mortgage is paid off.
I have life experience, my mother died in 1991, my kids are 29, 27, and 19, and my mortgage, well—let’s just say I seem to be considerably further away from that goal than I was two years ago. But it was worth it.
I didn’t know that then, though. I almost didn’t get on the plane. Almost dropped out halfway through the first term. Almost didn’t show up for the second residency.
Then, to my surprise, I got through the first year. We were halfway there. I didn’t know where the money for second year was going to come from, didn’t know how I was going to cope with the headaches for another year. I considered taking a break and doing the second year later, but I knew that would never happen. As an old friend said to me recently about some challenges she’s been taking up, “It’s never going to get easier.”
So I went back, went on, as did all of you, and here we are. Two years ago, on one of the earlier middle pages of my life, I wanted to be a better writer but I was terrified of being found out to be a terrible person. Two years later, I am a better writer. I don’t know if I’m a better person. Or rather, I don’t know if anyone around me thinks I’m a better person. But I know it doesn’t matter to me as much anymore. And that’s not an insult to any of you. It’s a gift I gave myself, and you have all been part of the gift.
Because to me, becoming a Master of Fine Arts and making it to the middle pages of my book manuscript has not been the only thing to come from the University of King’s College Creative Nonfiction Writing program. I’m also, on these middle pages of my life, surprised to find myself, if not a better person, at least a calmer one. A more confident one. A just slightly less neurotic one. A person who can say, it’s okay if not everyone likes me. Because somewhere in the last two years, I’ve learned to like myself again.
It’s not that I don’t still sometimes wake up in the morning in sheer terror at the thought of just getting out of bed. But then I get out bed and start writing another page of my life. The beginning of my life is long since over, and I trust the end is not as near as I’ve so often hoped it would be. I’m just on one of many pages in the middle of my life, much as I’m on one of many pages in the middle of my book.
Two years have gone by so quickly. I’ve been so proud to see us all closing the back cover of the program, one by one. Master Gough. Master Cole. Master Levangie. Master MacDonnell. Master Simon. Master Osberg. Master Gould. Master Bruhm. Master Duncan Bruhm. Too many to name, but Masters, all. And the title fits. You were all writers of the highest calibre to begin with. Now . . .
I look forward to being less overwhelmed with work all the time (though I don’t really know if being a writer and making a living means ever not being overwhelmed), but I am truly sorry we’re parting company. You are some of the wisest, most talented people I’ve ever met. I think so highly of all of you, and I look forward to seeing you again, whenever, wherever, on one of many more middle pages I trust we all have ahead of us.
Congratulations to the Class of 2015, the inaugural class of the Master of Fine Arts in Creative Nonfiction Writing at the University of King’s College in Halifax, Canada. Well done. Bravo. See you on your book tour. Or mine.
And so it begins . . .