14,471 words later

After a summer of note-taking, rearranging, deleting, and breaking down in frustrated tears, I’ve finally submitted my Creative and Critical Writing MA thesis, an exploration of my family history that blends personal memoir with critical theory.

And with that, my time at Birkbeck is over.

Putting together this thesis was a learning experience, to put it mildly. After realizing that my initial choice of topic (the farm my grandmother grew up on in Maryland) didn’t feel as compelling as I’d hoped, I had to pivot. I ended up using the farm as just one guiding element of a broader piece on honesty and communication in relationships and with the self. Once again, I was reminded that good writing emerges from trusting one’s gut rather than trying to force a conclusion or topic.

While I don’t feel 100% satisfied with my thesis – there’s room for further development – writing it taught me about writing, which I suppose is the point.

At the end of August, I was able to take a short trip to Europe, during which I touched the outside of Birkbeck (the school I would have attended in person, had it not been for Covid). Seeing the actual building, the weight of what I missed out on really hit me – but in addition to acknowledging this sadness, I had to remind myself what a wonderful, strange experience this MA has been, despite the circumstances.

Over the past year, I’ve had the chance to explore magical realism and autofiction, two bizarre territories into which I thought I’d never venture. I’m looking ahead at magical realism short story contests and other opportunities to keep my work in these genres going.

And I’ve read so, so much. Thanks to this MA, I have a much broader library of theory and reflection to draw upon in shaping my thoughts and processing my experiences. The more material I consume, the more meaningfully I feel I can engage with others and with myself.

As I’ve come to appreciate over the past year, interacting with the world as a writer isn’t just about putting words on paper. It’s about reading, talking, and listening, and then contributing to the dialogue in turn. This feeling of interconnectedness is what I love about the humanities.

With all this in mind, I have no choice but to keep writing. I’ve relocated to D.C., where I’m working as a reporter at The Cancer Letter. Even though I’m a lot more focused on fact-checking, honorifics, and short, punchy ledes than I was during my MA, I hope to carry the curiosity I fostered during at Birkbeck into my work as a journalist.

Thank you to the RMJ community for supporting this year of incredible growth and learning. The Fellowship is an experience I’d encourage any soon-to-be engineering grad to pursue, no matter where you stand career-wise.

And to all those engineering kids who think English class is ‘easy’ – you’re doing it wrong.

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