Monday, July 9, 2012

MFA Monday: I'm Back and My Head Didn't Explode!

My fourth residency is over, and I didn't blog a single day. I don't know why every time I go, I think I'll find the time. Time is something there is not a lot of at residency!

I admit my third residency back in January was a bit rough. I can't explain why, and it wasn't that I didn't learn a lot, or have great time with friends. It hardly rained at all - a miracle for Seaside! We even had a bonfire on the beach! But it was hard. Made me rethink writing, and my abilities, and the decision to shell out money for a degree I might not be very good at.

Last semester, though, I buried my head and worked my tail off. Harder than I've ever worked before on writing. Not just longer hours, although that too, but I worked harder to get it right. To learn and absorb more about writing, to implement it, to craft a story well and then hone it. Characters, setting, pacing, dialogue, abstracts, tension, conflict, revision, word choice, ideas... I tried to take it all on. Not all with success, but I can say I've never grown more, faster. Painful, but worth it.

(If I could draw what my brain felt like in May, it would look like this. Only less blue. And I wouldn't have the mischievous smile on my face.)

BUT: I didn't end my semester feeling great about everything. I produced a lot of less-than-stellar short stories. I made the mistake of working to please my advisor, of secretly harboring hopes that he would send my work back with the MFA equivalent of an A++ and say I'd managed to master it all. This, even as I knew I'd picked him specifically because I didn't want that, because he is tough and demanding, because I wanted to grow more than I wanted my ego massaged. There were a few weeks I felt like giving it all up - that I'd never make it.

But I came out of that hole in time for residency #4, mainly because my friends there ramped up the excitement shortly before we went, and in the end, I'm really just a hopeless optimist.

And this time around, it was amazing again.

I got more out of the classes. I made time to get coffee every morning and sit in the library and write some. I wrote every day. This is the first residency I've ever done that, and I loved it.

(This is the library at Pacific. Isn't it amazing?? I sat by that big window, behind the stained glass, in big comfy chairs with my feet propped up on coffee tables. I wrote 30 - 60 minutes a day here.)

I was sitting in classes three to four hours a day, in workshop an hour and a half, in faculty readings about an hour and a half, and graduate presentations about an hour a day. 

I roomed with some of my favorite writers in the whole world. (Aren't they beautiful? Every time I think about not seeing these people every six months I cry.)

We had a little apartment and stayed up late drinking wine and diagramming sentences and talking about commas and watching My Drunk Kitchen. Only writers could dub this a perfect night.

We did our share of socializing, too. We weren't entirely geekish. We went out to parties in the dorms next door and talked about commas with whole rooms crammed with drinking people. Because, while on the whole there are a lot of near-alcoholic writers, they all STILL care about commas.

We went to wineries...

...where there was a nearly unlimited amount of wine and blackberries.

And other stuff. But who cared about anything except the blackberries? Not me!

We toasted. A lot.

We ate and drank and laughed and talked. A lot.

We listened to Ann Hood read a piece she'd written in honor of her daughter who died, and we all cried. We listened to Craig Lesley read from his memoir Burning Fences and we all laughed so hard we cried.

We left. Our work here was done.

(Wait! Is that a blackberry on the table?? Someone should eat that!)

I went out to eat at a bunch of great places I don't have pictures of. :(

The first day I went to a place called "1500 Subs" and they only had 15 subs. What a rip off!! (Okay - it actually was a good sub sandwich, and I laughed so hard with Katie while eating it, I didn't care how many were on the menu. Also, I got massive blisters walking there in sandals and spent the rest of the night walking the campus barefoot.)

I also ate Tai food (with one of my past advisors), Middle Eastern food (a special going away dinner with my roomies), Pub food (to celebrate/cry over graduation with my graduating friends), and pizza at my favorite joint - Pizza Schmizza - with two of my favorite newer friends.

(Some of my favorite graduates. Don't get me started. I'm crying just thinking that they won't be back.)

(And some of my favorite "sophomores" and Pizza Schmizza fanatics. Stolen from my friend Katie, because her picture was better than mine.)

I had a fantastic workshop group, with the best leaders and best readers, and I walked away feeling like I actually could write - and knowing how to do it better. I wish I'd taken a picture of that group of people. It was my last workshop ever at Pacific, and it was a heck of a way to go out.

There was EPIC karaoke, in which we stayed up WAY WAY WAY too late and sang a lot and had a blast. 

There was, like always, major stress around advisor pairings. There's no guarantee that who you want as an advisor for a semester will be the one you'll get, and while it always feels huge and critical, it's nothing like THE LAST ONE... the advisor you get for thesis seems so important. Well, it IS important. And rumor was that this was the most difficult pairing ever - that a huge amount of students wanted the same few advisors, and we all sweated a little over it.

But in the end, everyone I know got who they wanted, even me.

So those two good-looking and talented men are my workshop leader (Jack) and my thesis semester advisor (Pete) (again). Seriously, I could not have gotten any more fortunate than to work with them.

So after the pairing there was a lit magazine party that went long long long into the night in which everyone celebrated on an outdoor patio lit by candles and scattered with wine and chocolate truffles. It's a rough life.

And after that, everything was downhill until graduation.

Ah, graduation. Where a million tears were shed. Mostly by me.

So many of my friends there in cap and gown, on to bigger things in life. Hard to believe next year that will be me!

And what does one do after graduation, you might ask?


(and get each others' text number to stay in touch!)

And pretend like this is not the last time things will ever be like this.



It appears there was much wine, eating, and partying.

There was. But also, a TON of learning. But I can't put everything in one blog post now, can I? :)

For now, I am home, with five months to gather my writing wits and produce enough quality work to bind into a leather-bound-by-monks thesis. I am loving writing again. I am missing my friends like crazy.

And with a little luck, I'll be back on this blog later to tell you more. :)


  1. Love this post. You make me want to graduate too.

  2. What a great post. It's great that you love writing again. Right now we are in a not talking to each other phase.

  3. Thank you for taking us on your MFA journey! Congratulations on all your learning! Painful learning tends to be the best lessons.