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A Creative Writing Thesis: Digging for Gold


by Mary Liza Hartong, Creative Writing **Winner of Best Overall Blog Post**

This month, I sent the first draft of my thesis to a friend. My precious, one hundred and thirty-three page thesis, my memoir, my heart and soul. She handed it back after a few days.

“I can’t believe Dartmouth is actually giving you a masters for writing stories about yourself.”

“You think this is easy?” I balked.

“Everything already happened,” she shrugged, as if I had photocopied twenty-four year’s worth of black and white composition notebooks and called it a day.

“Writing takes work,” I pushed.

“Eh,” she finished.

It was then that I remembered my friend studies physics. No disrespect to acceleration, gravity, and whatever the hell else those eggheads care about, but frankly, writing a memoir is pretty hard. First of all, there is the matter of remembering. As a child of divorce, there are plenty of stories I’ve buried that I never intended to be time capsules. I wanted them gone. Disintegrated. And here I am, shovel in hand, hoping they are right where I left them so that I can polish them up and make them worth something again.

This process has come with an unexpected perk: my sisters remember, too. Sometimes I’ll call and read them a story I’m working on and they’ll say, “Wait! Don’t forget what Mom said after that” or “No, we were detained for three hours, not two.” They hand me little nuggets of gold, details that lend the whole piece an extra sheen. And yet, some things they do not remember at all. Where I have a crisp memory of my mother kicking my father out, my oldest sister only remembers what we had for dinner that night. A small gesture can be lost in the dirt if I do not dig deep enough for it. As a writer, I have to constantly keep up the belief that my work is important. I suppose my physicist friend feels the same, that if she doesn’t complete the equations on time there will be hell to pay. We are, both of us, invested in the act of discovery.

So, perhaps I have fooled Dartmouth into granting me a masters for such frivolous work. Perhaps they have paid for a decadent foray into narcissism. But perhaps, like me, they know the value of memory, the value of digging, and the value of gold.


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