Ass Backward

Date of Award


Document Type

Thesis - Closed Access

Degree Name

MFA in Writing

First Advisor

Jacob Slichter


This is my first time writing a thesis, so I’m not exactly sure what the conventional expectations are for an Abstract. That said, I think that even if I was familiar with what a standard MFA writing thesis Abstract looks and sounds like, I’d most likely ignore it. Because if there’s one thing I’ve learned during my time in this program, it’s that I do my best work when I do my own work. In the fall of 2020, my first semester in the program, I enrolled in Jake Slichter’s nonfiction workshop “The Situation and the Story.” At the time, I was not familiar with Vivian Gornick’s literary Ur-Text on how to analyze the components of personal narrative as both a reader and a writer. I mean, I think that’s what it’s supposed to be about. If you dear Reader, happen to be Jake Slichter, (HI JAKE!), then perhaps you can attest to how consistently and energetically I resisted absorbing and incorporating Gornick’s approach into my own process. My energy was fueled by impatient distaste that the metaphysical process of self-exploration via narrative be subjected to the wrenching of stringent parameters defining its breadth and depth.

Or perhaps maybe I’m completely missing the point, and I couldn’t wrap my head around Vivian Gornick’s Concrete Abstract Approach to Narrative because I’m just a touch stupid (as we all are sometimes). All of these things may be true. I deny nothing. I accept the possibility that you, Reader (Jake or not), may judge me by my work, and find it lacking, overwrought or in desperate need of an editor, etc. I also accept the possibility that you find my work mildly drolly amusing and/or enjoying the experience of hanging out with me here on the page enough to keep going. And last but not least, I accept the fact that I don’t have control over any of those possibilities. I’m serious. I understand it, and at this juncture in time, I find myself okay with that.

I’m feeling pretty proud of myself, because I think I figured out that this here Abstract is a great place to do some throat clearing of the writing variety. An opportunity for me to flex my adoration for long, twisty setup sentences, a meandering stroll over to the point of what I’m writing about, dilly-dallying before I reach the place where it all connects and I get at the emotional core of this thing, that Point of Emotional Evocation, aka place of outreach to you, Reader. I am proud of myself because it means I have absorbed the wisdom generously shared with me by Victoria Redel in the spring of 2021, when she told me about the sign she used to have hanging over her desk that read, YOU HAVE PERMISSION. “And that can mean whatever you need it or want it to mean,” she said. I tell it to myself when I’m thinking and creating: you have permission, and my gosh, it’s like twisting the hydrant just enough that the water comes gushing. Also, the thing that T. Kira said, which is to write for the sake of writing, not write for the sake of publishing, and to write as though no one is ever going to read whatever it is you’re writing and just let it fucking rip. (I added the F-word.) Also, Jake’s allegory about not holding drumsticks too tight is a big one…I tell that one to lots of people because it’s so beautifully elegantly simple and comprehendible and makes people go, “Huh…” and that’s the best, I love when they let their mind really absorb what you’re sharing with them.

So…to recap: Practicing being honest and true to my artistic impulses whenever possible? Check. Releasing myself from the prison of obsession with how others may judge me? Check. Giving myself permission to push boundaries and try new things and maybe fail but maybe not, and just to write and write and write and write? Check.

I guess now I’m ready to move on from here. Bittersweet, of course, but you can’t stay in one place forever, not in real life, and not in the Abstract.

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