Just before I went out to work at a coffee shop this morning, I lowered the temperature in the house to a chilly 58 degrees. I’m experimenting with going below 60 to save energy. Unfortunately, I forgot to raise it again when I got home, and only noticed after the sun went down. The house got dark, the temperature outside dropped dramatically, and the cats started wandering restlessly around the house, looking for warm radiators. When I realized that my fingers were cold, I got up from my desk, walked into the living room, and raised the thermostat to a whopping 64 degrees. One cat is soaking up the heat on the radiator cover near my desk, and the other three are curled into tight balls in various spots around the room, making it clear that in their opinion, I was not a good mom today.
Outside, white holiday lights are twinkling on a neighbor’s house across the street. They are peeking through the space between the window and the window shade I drew shut above my radiator-heated cat. It is winter in New England, and as I sit here I realize that almost a year has passed since I graduated with my MFA from Pine Manor College.
I “finished” a new essay this month. I write the word “finished” in quotation marks because I’m never sure anything I write is really finished. Usually when I look back at piece after a few weeks or months, I find many things to revise. But I’ve been working on this particular essay for several months, and have revised it numerous times. I’ve incorporated the comments of a couple of trusted readers who read an earlier draft, and I’m at the point where I feel satisfied with it — for now.
This is a big step for me. Although I’ve drafted quite a few new essays since earning my MFA (and one or two bad poems), this is the first essay that I didn’t start writing during the program that I have “finished.” Of course, editors might not agree — only time will tell. But this was important to me, to feel that I could continue to produce new work after the MFA without the support of the bi-annual student workshops and my trusted faculty mentors.
I suppose some people would say that completing one new essay in 11 months might not be something to crow about. Of course, I’ve done a lot of other work in those 11 months; I’ve revised and published older essays and have done more journalistic work, and I’ve written several new drafts that just aren’t ready yet. Still, I’m forever dissatisfied with myself. I have, at times, felt pressured to produce more “good” work, and to do it faster. When I’ve felt that pressure, I’ve tried to remind myself (or I’ve let others remind me) that all that matters is that I get it right (whatever “right” means). I’m not great at fooling myself into thinking something is good when it isn’t. I tend to really know, somewhere inside, when I have gotten it “right,” at least right for me. A certain shiver goes up my spine as I’m reading my final draft.
At this moment, though, the shivering is more about the temperature than my writing. Maybe I’ll live it up and nudge the thermostat to 66 degrees.