A True Non-Fiction Writer Now: I Failed to Delve into Sentimentality at My MFA Graduation.
by Em Bowen
I graduated from my MFA program at Goddard College this weekend. Now as I scroll through what seems like yards of social media posts from my fellow graduating classmates, those amazing (and I really mean it) people smiling next to their diplomas or reaching out with final words on the event that led so many of us beyond ourselves and to ourselves simultaneously, I’m seeing so clearly where I’ve been or rather who I’ve been through all this.
I hardly took a picture of the event. Or of myself with my friends. Or even thought to “require” that someone take a picture. I mean, yea, I thought about it but I didn’t care in the moment. Maybe care isn’t the right word.
I’m not much for sentimentality, at least not now. I was, I think, more into all that at another time in my life where I knew less of my own boundaries and my own worth. That’s not to say the being sentimental involves not having boundaries or not loving oneself, that’s just to say that I was more sentimental in another time when those things were true for me. Part of it seems that I may have the propensity to be too sentimental, to meld into other people and other stories that are in the past or not my own. I also am not able to be with the present moment and fully take in if I’m doing it in a way that feels like finality or scarcity.
I don’t do sentiment gracefully.
Pictures to me don’t tell too much about the moment once you’ve forgotten it a long ways down the line. My internal memory, though malleable as it may be, at least feels like its doing the work to root down the important bits. I choose to be at peace that what needs to stay will and that all else will blow into the wind. I choose this mostly because I have a terrible time letting go of things and a worse fear of forgetting.
Sentiment is one of those tragic flaws of non-fiction. One must skirt the edges of feeling. Name the emotion but not become the emotion. I can’t tell you or show you what something means if I myself am not yet slightly removed from all the mess. Emotion is telling but it is not trustworthy.
I think at the end of this MFA program in particular, I had so much I needed to say and express that I wasn’t willing to engage with sentiment. I was too grateful, too needing to be with the final moments of all that Goddard was for me that I couldn’t mourn it all quite yet. I suppose I’m mourning it now—and wondering if maybe I should have taken more damn pictures.