Monday, March 2, 2020

BACK TO SCHOOL


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Let's see . . . life in the two years since I last posted: a couple graduations, both high school and college; CFO job for Chris; added a couple amazing women to our family (we love you, Jill and Abby!); became empty-nesters. 

What is a stay-at-home mom/writer to do when her first job ends after twenty-six years and her second enters the no-contract, no current publisher stage? 

This one goes back to school (it's an Andersen thing--we're very comfortable with homework and deadlines and such.) Being me, I only applied to one graduate writing program and thankfully got in: the Writing for Children and Young Adults MFA program at Vermont College of Fine Arts. It's low-residency, and my first one in January happened to start on my birthday. Because of course an introvert, insecure writer wants to spend her birthday in new surroundings with new people figuring out new things. 

Anyway, my intent was to keep a diary of residency, because I found myself trawling the internet for personal accounts so I knew what to expect, but being me I only wrote it in twice and there's no real ending to the thing but what the hell--here it is for anyone thinking about VCFA and wondering what the ten-day residencies are like. 

VCFA: Residency 1, Winter 2020

Day Four
Is it day four? Is it Monday? Is it still January?
Just looked out the window. It’s still January. Snow on the ground, ice lying in wait, radiator pipes clanking like the building’s about to fall down . . . Definitely January in Vermont.
“How are you?” everyone asks. Even a stranger this morning, possibly a bit concerned by my apparently-vacant stare in the chapel. I was actually thinking something (“I wonder if that organ is playable?”) but that thought was a deliberate attempt to think something other than “Aaaaaaggggghhhhhhhh . . .”
The first thirty-six hours were so crammed with people and information it might have been leaking out my ears. Firsties (First Years sounds so much better, but we’re only first for six months, so . . . shrug) met as a group Friday night with Katie, the program director, half a dozen graduate assistants, and all twenty-four of us that are meant to be a cohort through graduation. The evening involved a distressing number of activities/getting-to-know-you games, but I didn’t actually die so I count that success. Saturday was pretty much twelve straight hours of orientation and welcome and campus tour and ‘don’t you want to eat sausage and sauerkraut for dinner’ and ‘I have not slept more than four hours in two nights.’
By five o’clock on Saturday I had hit the “what the hell was I thinking” stage of collapse. So much work! So many packets! Critical essays and critical theses and at least one hundred pages of creative work each semester and the whole faculty is so smart and at least half of my cohort is young women in their twenties and please can I just go home to my bed!
Two reasons I didn’t. First, I knew Chris would only make me turn straight around and come back. Second, Cory McCarthy gave the opening faculty lecture on Saturday evening. “What if your madness is your method?” they asked.
My madness is obvious: I Take to Flight. How can such a disastrous, destructive impulse possibly be a writing method?
I cried, dear reader, sitting in the chapel listening to Cory and asking myself that question. Because the answer came—pare that phrase from four down to three words. Instead of my psychiatrist’s “you take to flight,” what if it becomes “Take to Flight.” Not a description of running away, but an invitation—or even a command. 


Day 6

Another 374 years have passed but at least I can say as of tonight that we’re a bit more than halfway through. Today had a couple big events. First up—my turn in workshop. It was super helpful, much less painful that I feared, and when Liz Scanlon talked about how beautifully I conveyed atmosphere in the paragraph with the girls walking to Notre Dame in their white dresses and loose hair I thought I might actually die from happiness. (Yes, that was attached to the “there’s an awful lot of exposition in these three pages, look how you can accomplish the same thing with concrete details,” but I. Will. Take. It.)

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