by Kristen Ringman
From the moment I arrived on campus, I felt the magic of Goddard. It wasn’t just the gorgeous woods fringing the campus. It wasn’t the music building, where the students gathered every evening and often remained until morning. It wasn’t Darla, the little dog that Program Director Paul Selig always had by his side. It wasn’t that I felt I could say anything to anyone, and there was a good chance they would understand me better than my friends or my family. It wasn’t the dances we had at every residency, where we all moved as if we had always danced together, as if we knew each other from the inside out.
It was all of those things. I was home in the way that I felt at home in India, only I had a community of people who felt closer to me than family.
My advisors pushed me in ways that no one had before. They guided me to that space where my inner voice could be heard clearly. I crafted a manuscript that I wanted to be cross-genre so badly. I read cross-genre works and I taught poetry. But my book had a voice of its own. And people like Bhanu Kapil, Kenny Fries, and Elena Georgiou heard that voice and encouraged it when it shifted into lyrical fiction.
I wanted to publish my Goddard thesis, Makara, right away, but it’s true when they say: your MFA thesis is not ready for publication the day you get your diploma.
Goddard also taught me how to submit to the literary journals and anthologies that would fit my words the best. I learned to play to my strengths: the things that make me unique. Whenever one of my excerpts from Makara got accepted, I took that as truth that my whole manuscript was ready and I sent it out anyway, collecting the rejection letters that every writer must learn to swallow.
In 2009, I traveled to New Zealand to edit my memoir of the dogs. I researched the young life of the woman I worked with in India, who died of cancer in 2005, by going to meet her mother in Tauranga. Traveling always inspires me to write poetry on handmade local paper, to take pictures, and to see my life and the world a little clearer.
Also in 2009, my partner and I bought an old boat, fixed it up, and lived on sailboats until 2011. We sailed up and down the east coast of America, I wrote a YA urban fantasy novel, and occasionally, I went back to Makara. Sometimes I worked on it for months, and sometimes I threw myself into the sailing or my poetry or my other novel, because Makara needed the space I gave it just as much as I did, and as much as it also needed the blocks of time I spent editing.
Our books can’t be written all at once. My absence from Goddard taught me that. Life taught me that.
In 2011, I was unexpectedly pregnant, and this change in my physical form only added to my energy as a writer. I won a Fellowship to A Room of Her Own’s Women’s Writing Retreat in New Mexico. It was during week 35 of my pregnancy, but I did it anyway. Attending that retreat connected me to agents as well as publishers. Makara and my memoir both got attention, and Makara almost got me an agent.
Attending the AROHO retreat reminded me of my Goddard experience, and not just because they had a dance where everyone let go. Retreats connect writers to writers, and writers to agents/publishers. I think all writers need to attend retreats, because the bulk of our work is so solitary that we don’t often realize how much we can benefit from community until we join one. Especially one where we are able to be wholly ourselves, as well as possibly meet our future agents and publishers.
Soon after the AROHO retreat—like magic—a small press publisher contacted me. He published Makara in December of 2012 and in 2013 it was a Lambda Literary Finalist in Debut Fiction. You can watch the video, Why I Chose to Publish Makara, made by my publisher, Raymond Luczak, here:
None of this would have happened for me without Goddard.
And though I still wish I could go back and be a student there again, and I still dream of one day becoming a Goddard Advisor for the MFA program, I can feel the magic of Goddard every day—no matter how far away I am in the world. Goddard is there, like a guardian fairy or a unicorn, whispering over my shoulder, reminding me to listen for the true voice within my words, to work hard, to edit out anything that distracts from that voice, and when it comes, to let it illuminate the page, teach me something new about myself, something new about the world.
Kristen Ringman graduated from Goddard College with an MFA in Fiction in 2008. Her first novel, Makara, was published by Handtype Press in 2012. She is currently writing a YA science fiction trilogy set in SE Asia, spending time in Thailand and New Hampshire while planning to sail around the world, posting poems and excerpts on her website (http://kristenringman.com), blogging about life, traveling, motherhood, writing, running, sailing, and dogs here: http://balancingbetween.wordpress.com., and tweeting @KristenRingman.