Last night I decided to take a look at my manuscript for the first time since turning in the copies to my committee members.  I re-read the preface, and began flipping through the pages looking for excerpts to read aloud at the defense.

And I know I’m writing about grief, and death and cancer, but geeeez everything is so heavy, so serious.   Where is the humor I was going to sprinkle throughout?  Where are the lighter scenes that were supposed to provide emotional balance?

And why didn’t I fix that clunky passage?  Why did I think white space made for a good transition?  Does that scene really belong there?

At the defense I will be asked to first talk about my process, the creation of this thing called my manuscript which is still a work in progress.  Then I will be asked to read an excerpt aloud. For ten minutes, I think.

I could read the first chapter, that would be the easy choice.  It has context, it sets the stage, so to speak, for what comes next.  I’d also like to read something that includes my sister since she’ll be in the room…  but maybe that will be too hard to do.

The thing I’m worried about most is that I will cry.  I’ve already teared up at Elizabeth’s defense, and at Tanaya’s defense.  The whole thing, the process, the work, the future, is overwhelming emotionally.  I’m proud of my achievement, and so glad my sister will be here with me, but I can’t help but wish my parents were here to celebrate with me too.  (Though who’s to say I would have taken this path had they been alive.)

The defense–in some ways even more so than the graduation ceremonies–marks the end of a chapter.  The defense is the culmination of the work I came here to do.  The graduation is just pomp and circumstance, and while I understand the need for ritual, for ceremony, the desire to wear a black polyester gown and a funny hat, the defense marks the completion of an important milestone for me as a writer.  I have a fully formed draft of a book I’ve been working on in some way since 2005. I have an idea of what the story is and I can see a shape to the narrative.  Putting the work into a physical form, printed pages coil bound that I can touch, and carry around with me, make notes on, has helped me see what needs to be done yet.  I even already, before my committee has made a single comment, have my own list of To Dos for the manuscript.


6 thoughts on “Ugh.

  1. Jenn: I was going to say something about there always being things noticed, etc etc followed by my own horror story of my preface, but it’s all things you already know. Instead, I’ll say this: I am very much looking forward to celebrating you at your defense!


  2. Hi Jenn,

    The good news–besides the fact that you’re almost done–is that even your dissertation is a W.I.P. You can make it funnier and more elegant and all the things that you’re noticing now. Still, I’m sure that in its current form it’s thoughtful, powerful, and engagingly you. Feel free, as always, to send stuff my way. And best wishes for your defense–with you, nothing need be defended.

    – NK


  3. Barbara Kingsolver says she cannot look at her books after they are published as she will immediately begin editing. So no more looking at that manuscript until the defense is over! Congratulations!


  4. Several years ago, when I was published in an anthology, I was asked to read at the release party. My parents and several of my girlfriends attended along with a sizeable crowd. I wasn’t worried because I was proud of the piece I’d submitted 6 months earlier. The ending was tough for me to get through (failed adoption), but I told myself I could do it.

    What I somehow forgot was that I’d separated from my husband in the intervening months and the story focused heavily on our relationship. I was choked up on page 1. By page 2 my mother was crying. I stumbled through the reading until I got to the end, at which point I broke down and cried. I was humiliated for doing such a horrible reading. But do you know what I learned? The people listening either didn’t notice, didn’t care, or else thought I was doing it to enhance the effect. I was way more concerned with my crying than anyone else. So don’t worry about it. If you cry, you cry. No big deal. Pause, take a deep breath (or two), and then continue on. You’ll be fine. I’m proud of you, Jenn.


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