Friday, June 24, 2011

MFA Residency, Day ??? or I Did Not Fall Off the Face of the Earth

I sat at this funky little bakery/coffeeshop this morning, eating a ginormous cinnamon bun and drinking coffee and giving one last go-over of the last of the workshop stories, basking in the first early hours I've had off since I've arrived. It's been a crazy time here at residency, in all the best ways, except that there's been no time for writing; not creatively, not bloggingly. And so I apologize for my absence.

The residency is already winding down, and my brain is full. Although the schedule is much the same as the January residency, everything seems different. We are at a college campus, for one, and instead of staying at a hotel we live in dorms; instead of one to a room, we are four to an apartment. It is sunny instead of rainy, cool instead of cold. I know the schedule and the people instead of being a stranger who is just trying not to be lost. I feel like I belong, in all the best possible ways.

My roommates are amazing. I was fortunate to pick who I wanted to room with, and they picked me, and so much of the time I spent free on my own last January is spent with good friends this time, and a lot of laughing ensues, and long late nights talking about books and writing. Occasionally wine is involved. It's a bit of literary heaven.

I walk around with my nametag all the time. I sit at home in the dorm with it on, as though I might forget who I am. I am not always here who I am back at home. I am outgoing in a way I never am somewhere else. I walk up to strangers and say hi. I stride boldly across campus as though I belong here in this world where 18-year-olds regularly reside. Here I am nobody's mother. I do not kiss boo-boos or make dinner or clean other's dishes. There are no errands to run, no milk to buy, no one's homework to check but my own. I have given out the occasional band-aid, but I'm not in charge of cleaning the wounds. I laugh a lot, which I think I mentioned, but I also, somehow, make others laugh. I speak up in class, I read my writing from a podium, I do not hyperventilate, although I think my blood pressure goes up. It's conditioned to do so in such circumstances, I suspect.

Every day I attend three to four classes and a two hour workshop in which ten of us students and two advisors (faculty members) sit around and talk about each other's work. We eat together, and in the evenings we go to faculty readings, attend winery readings (oh the hardships!) and literary magazine-hosted events. In the late evenings there are student readings. It's amazing, and overwhelming, mind-boggling, and thought-provoking. It is, in short, everything you could possibly want from graduate school.

The classes have titles such as, "How To Be a Writer Every Day," and "When the Action is Hot, Write Cool," "Do I Dare Put this on the Page?" "First, Do No Harm: Thoughts on Characters and Redemption," "Thrilling, Death-Defying Adventures in Point of View," "The Secret of Once," and "The Body Never Lies."

Brilliant faculty members say things like:

"Fiction that counts is about people." (Jack Driscoll)

"We write to speak to what it feels like to be human and alive in the world." (Jack Driscoll)

"You don't have to be brilliant to write. You just have to work really, really hard... You can write books and stories that are smarter than you are." (Bonnie Jo Campbell)

"A good novel tells us the truth of the character, but a bad novel reveals more about the author." (Marvin Bell)

"We spend a lot of time talking about who is talking in a piece, but shouldn't we spend our time asking who is listening to it?" (Jess Walter)

"Read and steal, read and steal, until you find your own voice." (Jess Walter)

I have much to tell you, but no time here to do so. Hopefully all this information won't seep out of my brain once I'm back home. Hopefully I will remember. When I'm no longer here:


  1. Sounds awesome. Really awesome.
    I'm go glad you're getting to do this!

  2. Wow. I loved this post. It was amazing in the sense that 1. I'm so darn happy for you. 2. I'm so envious. :)

    The "mother" condition is universal. As much as we love our children, sometimes we so desperately want to shed that skin and be "us" again. I so get that, and I'm so happy that you can do that for a little while, especially in an environment that is also supporting your goals and dreams for yourself. That is good for your soul.

    I also loved these quotes, thanks for sharing.

  3. Sounds like heaven. Talking about writing all the time and no one there to call you mom for a week.

  4. So happy this is all working out for you, Heidi!

  5. That's great that the residencies are so different from each other...each their own unique experiences. Living on a college campus again, I think that sounds GREAT. I always felt this amazing energy walking around that environment which just buzzed with learning and the desire to be better. Have a good rest-of-residency.

  6. That is fabulous advice.
    I love the audacity to say "read and steal..."
    It is TRUE!
    I do MANY kinds of art and one the best ways to learn is to copy the masters until you find your own voice.

  7. You have almost made me want to go to university...and considering my lifelong hatred of school, that's pretty impressive!

    Welcome home!

  8. Really, really like the colours of that funky cafe. And I'm happy to hear that your second residency is going well for you. Thanks for sharing the quotes. I love them all!