On Revision

My MFA thesis is due in 11 days. I could submit it how it is right now, but I will take the remaining days to make it tighter—to edit out the helping verbs and the unnecessary words and maybe even a whole section that I now realize, after this reading, doesn’t belong. I’m tempted to go through my 60 annotations—the three-to-four-page papers I wrote during the two years of my program about 60 books and literary devices the authors used in those books—and apply the lessons I learned to my thesis. Will 60 new revisions be too much? Will 60 new revisions be enough?

When is the revision process complete? Surely there is a point where doing more is too much. Or, will more time always provide more opportunities to select a perfect word that creates the perfect tone in a phrase, a sentence, a paragraph? Will another week invite me to a metaphor I wouldn’t have thought of—that I couldn’t have thought of—during the previous week?

Virginia Woolf once wrote about how her memory of something today is different than the same memory remembered on a different day. Is revision the same? I can revise and edit my essay about hot toddies today, as I’m recovering from a bad cold, and those revisions and edits will be unlike the revisions and edits I would have made three weeks ago before the invasion of my sinuses and lungs. I can revise and edit my essay about the manic episode I had ten years ago tomorrow afternoon after I read a news story tomorrow morning about climate change and a word catches my eye and catches my brain and latches its way into my mania essay.

As time passes, I’m not who I used to be. Or, rather, I’m more of who I am. I gather more material like the victor of a hand of poker collects the kitty. I reach out as far as I can and wrap my arms around the moments of the mundane and the marvelous and pull it all into my space, into my pile. But one day those moments will no longer accumulate. There will be a due date and it will be time to turn in everything as it is.