It’s that time of year—graduation season. When you hear the word graduate what comes to mind? An eighteen-year-old going off to college in the fall? A college grad starting out in “the real world?” (Anybody besides me think of a young Dustin Hoffman and Katherine Ross—not to mention the incomparable Mrs. Robinson, Anne Bancroft?)
Whatever image appears when you hear the word “graduate,” it is probably not a 58-year-old woman in a cap and gown. But this past Sunday, June 23, 2019, this 58-year-old was that woman.
I wore a green gown made from recycled plastic (it was an Antioch University graduation in CA, after all!) with a brown-trimmed hood. Walking across the stage in UCLA’s Royce Hall, along with my Azure cohort, was the one of the happiest walks I ever took. Wearing what I call my repurposed Sprite bottle, I graduated from Antioch University with an MFA in Creative Writing and a concentration in creative nonfiction. I am grateful for the journey and so very proud of my hard work and accomplishments (grateful and ambitious—Wolfpack rule #2 https://dianegottlieb.com/women-wolves-and-wambach/).
I am thrilled that at 58, I can say that I have a whole new life ahead of me.
My Gut Did Not Steer Me Wrong.
What a journey these past two years have been. My first step on the path was initiated by my dear friend and coach Michael Frontier, who told me during a phone conversation shortly after the ’16 election that I needed to write. I hung up the phone and went immediately to my laptop, googled MFA programs and found Antioch, a low-residency program in Los Angeles with a social justice focus. I downloaded the application, wrote my admissions essays, sent the package off to admissions and received my acceptance phone call a few months later. Antioch was the only school I applied to—it just felt right. My gut did not steer me wrong.
Low residency allowed me to keep my business afloat while going to school. I went to LA for 10 days, twice a year (what could be bad about that?) while churning out pages each month for my wonderful mentors with whom I communicated online. Reading and writing and writing and reading and two years later I have one book about one-third of the way done, have had several short pieces published, and began my beloved blog, WomanPause, which has connected me to so many wonderful women and has kept me up on news and trends and ideas and possibilities for women entering or well into the ages of freedom.
That’s How I See Ages 50 And Over. Full Of Possibility And Freedom.
Sure there are constraints—sometimes financial, sometimes medical, sometimes family. But most of us who’ve had kids are seeing our nests empty. We mamma birds cannot be afraid to unravel those lovely nests and build some other beautiful and fulfilling space for ourselves in the world.
Diane Gottlieb “Author” Felt Real
During the ten days before graduation, I attended my last residency in Culver City.
This, the first residency with Victoria Chang at the helm (she recently named the chair of Antioch University’s creative writing department) was my very favorite. On the first night, Friday night, I read a short chapter of my not-yet-finished book about formerly incarcerated men to an audience of my peers, MFA faculty, and guest authors. Two other graduating students, Gabriella Emmet Souza and Jasper Henderson read their work too.
I had read with my peers before but never on the same stage with accomplished, published authors. “Opening” for faculty member Tananarive Due, who read from her powerful work in progress, and Maggie Smith, who read several of her poems, including “Good Bones” https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/89897/good-bones, was an amazing, empowering experience.
Diane Gottlieb “author” felt real. What I’ve been working on felt important. And yes. Writing is what I am meant to do. My life until now has led me here, and I am going to ride this baby for as long as I am able.
I’m In Awe Of All The Readers And Speakers
On another night I heard Blas Falconer, a poet who is all heart, read poems about his children and the scariness of living in a world with hate; R.O. Kwon read from her best-selling novel The Incendiaries. Lilliam Rivera, Ingrid Rojas Contreras, Chris Feliciano Arnold and Jaswinder Bolina read from their current works, as did Isha Sesay, whose forthcoming book Under the Tamarind Tree tells the story of the Nigerian schoolgirls who were abducted by Boko Haram.
Each of these readers also gave wonderful, inspiring seminars about craft. I took lots of notes and am still reeling from it all.
During the residency, I also listened to my peers read their work and present their craft talks. It was wonderful to witness everyone’s growth over these two years.
And, I had the great honor and pleasure of introducing my dear mentor and wonderful writer Ana Maria Spagna, whose feedback of my work and whose own essays and books have taught and inspired me beyond measure. This is the piece she read that night: “The Lawns, So Well-Tended” https://www.terrain.org/2019/nonfiction/the-lawns-so-well-tended/
If you have a bit of time, please read it. Her language is gorgeous, her ideas critical for our time.
Gabby Rivera—My New Shero
One of my very favorite, most inspiring moments of the residency was the talk (and reading) given by a Gabby Rivera, a 36 year-old self-described Queer Latinx Culture Nerd—and the first Latina to be asked to write for Marvel comics http://gabbyrivera.com/
Rivera uses language to reach young people who “look like me” and who are hungry to be represented in literature. “Most things that I’ve experienced in my life were not created with me in mind—not a school, not a hospital, not the police—but I have language,” Rivera said.
“Language alone can disrupt white supremacist narratives; images alone can disrupt it.” Rivera gave the example of the Captain America comics, which were created by two Jewish men, Jack Kirby and Joe Simon, during World War II. On the cover of the first issue, Captain America punches Hitler in the face. Rivera sees this as “a moment that raised consciousness,” a moment when words and images on the page made a huge difference in the world.
“You have the right to forge your own path, crack yourself open—go discover yourself,” Rivera urged us. “But don’t forget to hold yourself accountable. Doing the work means taking inventory. Stare every decision you’ve made in the face and own each one. You are powerful enough to evolve. That’s where the magic is, and that’s where you find your light.”
Rivera fills her stories with what she calls “love notes for queer kids of color.” Our culture’s heroes come from other peoples’ images. You don’t have to accept those images, but if you don’t, Rivera cautions, “you have to make your own.”
Rivera spoke about her grandmothers—her abuelas. She has the utmost respect for their strength, their power. I spoke to her after her seminar and told her that her message is not just for youth but for older women as well. I mentioned WomanPause, and she loved the idea! “My abuelas, they’re the most formidable,” she said. “That’s why my grandmas are so important to me.”
And … Always …Always Follow Your Dreams
I’ve written before about feeling the sadness of graduating. I still carry a touch of that. I will miss people and the special community that Antioch provides. But it is up to us to build community wherever we are. It can be in our towns, cities, online. I will continue to take workshops and maybe even lead a few! The future is wide open.
I cannot leave this page without thanking Steven, whose support was a great gift. I thank my kids, my friends, my cohort and mentors, and I thank my WomanPause readers.
This post was more personal than most. But I think the message is universal: If I could do it, so can you. Follow those dreams!
On that note, I’d like to end with a quote from Sarah Manguso. I didn’t mentioned her above, but she was also a visiting faculty author this residency and one of the highlights. Manguso read from her acclaimed book 300 Arguments. I’d like to share one of them with you: “I wish I could ask the future whether I should give up or keep trying. Then again, what if trying, even in the face of certain failure, feels as good as accomplishing? What if it’s even better?”
“What If It’s Even Better?”
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Have A Wonderful Week, Everyone, And See You Next Friday!