Higher Education: 75% Complete

Barbara Jwanouskos is ready for Winter Break!

This is our first week out for Winter Break at CMU and that means I’ve completed 75% of the Dramatic Writing program. What?! How’d that happen?

I remember when I began last year, the first semester seemed like it took about three years, not three months. Everything seemed to go by so quickly on the one hand, and so slowly on the other. Then came spring semester, and I felt a little more savvy. I knew not to wait until the last minute to get my assignments done and we were given more to work towards. It made the fall semester look like a piece of cake. Over summer, I had a chance to reflect and decompress. I wrote my thesis play and made plans for teaching “Introduction to Screenwriting”. I prepared for my last year in graduate school. And now, I’m almost there. I feel like I can see the crest of the mountain.

It’s weird to be in this position. As I’m back here saying hi to friends and family, falling back into old routines, I made a comment the other day to someone that once I’m done and back, “it’ll be as if nothing ever happened, and yet, something did”. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad that the program packs a lot of punch and crams it all in a short amount of time. The looming question is, “what’s next?” How do I take what I know, what I’ve developed and apply it to “The Real World”? That’s where I’m at right now – in the constant headspace that is wondering what happens when I’m back.

Certainly, I’m making plans. There are things I would like to stay involved in and for all its flaws, the San Francisco Bay Area theater scene is one I’d definitely like to stay enmeshed in. Then, there are the personal goals to submit more writing out to theater companies and playwriting awards/opportunities. There are the goals to push myself as a theater artist and play the role of the producer, director, maybe actor? I don’t know! Why not, right?

I think if school has taught me anything about myself, it’s how I learn and how I work towards completing a project. I know what that looks like when the work is successful (from a variety of different angles) and when it isn’t. For me, discovering this process is almost like managing your emotions or a physical conditioned. It’s a process where I’ve tried to remove to sometimes remove myself experiencing it, and just look at what’s happening around me.

Then, I see that, you know what? Writing late at night doesn’t work well for me. I’m more of a day writer. Sure, I can write before dawn if I have to, but it’s not when my best work happens. Or, that if I have a vague map of what the story is and where it’s going, I can plow through a rough draft in no time flat. But sometimes I don’t, and though it takes longer, the writing is often more surprising and interesting.

Now, I just look at all this knowledge as something to play with and develop. How can I keep polishing these skills when I’m done with grad school? Staying connected to the theater community, seeing plays regularly, participating in opportunities that pass my way, and writing new plays – those are some vague ideas. I suppose the only way I’ll know is come June when I’m back here…

As I reflect back on my decision to go and where that journey has taken me, I do think I ultimately made the right choice for myself. But it’s not over yet, and it still won’t be over once I graduate. The true test will be in applying everything I’ve learned to the plays I write after school. What will they be like? How can I describe them to people so that they are interested in seeing more? I guess we’ll see!

For now though, pass me the plate of gingerbread cookies! It’s time for Winter Break!