Friday, I will be returning to Boston for my third MFA residency. I will be rooming with my friend, Sue, again and I look forward to hanging out with another fond friend, Alice. We’ve become comrades in writing arms. I enjoy catching up on their progress (and their lives). We share a similar sense of humor and all three of us are quite down to earth when it comes to processing the educational experience. Makes for some fun conversation at mealtimes.
Last time, I wrote freely about all I was feeling and experiencing. Later, I found my posts were passed on to some of the teachers I’d been discussing, which made for some discomfort on my part. Not that I’ve expressed anything but respect for the instructors in the program – but still, it’s easier being an “invisible” student in the crowd then the annoying (if not mildly amusing) student analyzing and cataloging the professor’s motivations, style and personalities. Considering this, I’ve wondered if I should blog about the experience this time. Perhaps it’s a bad idea to be open and honest about your perceptions on life when you can’t control the audience or their reaction to it. But then again, perhaps the only thing wrong with doing so is that we are trained by social constraints to be “polite” and address life on a surface level. What is wrong with honesty, anyway, if it is wrapped up in good intentions?
Then again, what is the point of writing about writing? Who cares about one “beginner” writer’s view of the MFA experience?
The thing is, I believe someone might. I have a friend or two who aspire to write – friends who are sincerely interested in my journey into this new territory. They may even decide to follow suit and try this MFA thing someday if it turns out to be a significant element in my development. Frankly, even my dance buddies find my plunge into the cold sea of a new career (or hobby or whatever you want to call it) interesting. I think the parallels between dance and writing are striking. In some ways, when I talk about my struggles to write, I am preaching to my former dance students, showing them by example how to make a commitment to their art. Learning to master a skill is difficult – on the ego, the heart, the mind. Perhaps my willingness to put myself on the line will inspire others to tackle a dream from the bottom up – to do whatever it takes to build a foundation for their aspirations. I’ve always tried to teach my students to address their weaknesses rather than hide behind what they naturally do well. Lay down your ego and conceit and dig in to broaden you gift! Learn what you don’t know, like it or not, cause, while it is disheartening at times, you’ll be stronger for it in the end! Whether or not this lesson will ever sink into their thick little heads is another matter altogether, but it’s my nature to harp on what I believe.
As such, I will be writing about my MFA residency again, assuming the spirit moves me to do so. My writing friends will then be able to picture what such a journey is all about. Perhaps they will learn along with me, so they won’t have to go through the grueling process themselves. If nothing else, they will have a picture of me sitting in those lectures trying to grasp that elusive thing that separates good writing from bad. The idea of me scratching my head with a furrowed brow will make them smile.
I received my Faculty Mentor evaluation this week. It was very positive. Lovely. I was called “a most eager and dedicated student” . . . and, “a most prolific writer” as well. I write “clear, incisive and insightful annotations with great skill and forthrightness.” (Stand back so I can take a bow). But I also couldn’t help but chuckle at one line. “As such, Ginny is both challenging and a pleasure to work with, and she has made great strides in the novel this semester.”
Hummm. I am “challenging” to work with? These MFA teachers are such wonderful writers, they are very like word masters. They can say what they want in perfectly accurate, subtle ways. So, the way I see it, this innocent line really means I’m a big, fat pain. I guess you can say, I keep them on their toes – but since they are not dancers, being on their toes is uncomfortable, if not annoying. I am a “challenging” student. Shit. Don’t get me wrong, to be challenging is not a bad thing. But it can exhaust a teacher who isn’t in the mood – sometimes going through the motions of teaching is all you have the time or interest for. It would be nice if I were a student they enjoyed working with, rather than a test of their teaching efficiency.
Well, if I could be someone else rather than who I am, I’d try it. I get pretty tired of myself. Unfortunately, I don’t blend in as well as I should in certain elements. But for the record, my intentions this term are to listen quietly, ask only necessary questions, and to avoid coming across as “challenging”. Yep, I wanna be one of those invisible students who are more brain than mouth, just attendees that smile and do as they are told, then go home and write something decent as proof that they were listening.
Can this be accomplished? My husband sincerely doubts it. He laughs at me when I insist I won’t be noticed this term. “That’ll be the day,” he says.
Well, just you wait and see, bud. I can be a face in the crowd too.
But for all I plan to be subtle at the residency, for my friends I feel compelled to blog the highlights about the educational experience. Some things are important to share, and events that create personal growth and change qualify. Education – a heightened understanding – changes a person in subtle ways.
Now, I have homework to do to prepare for my jaunt into MFA obscurity. My next mentor is a bull, already pawing the earth and preparing to charge. She is on a “recognizing the elements that make strong scene” kick this term and I think our manuscripts are red capes flashing in the arena. She has her horns dipped, ready to charge. I need to be prepared for the dance I’ll be doing when she comes at me.
Do I need to tell you how much I look forward to it?
P.S. For those of you who love to read, get the short story “We Didn’t” by Stuart Dybek. It is one of the pieces I had to read for this residency and I thought it was exquisite. Really. Loved it. Man-o-man, I wish I could write like that! Maybe I was drawn in because this one is a very sexy story – but its poignant too. Everyone who loves literature should read it.
And if you enjoy short stories, The Best American Short Stories of the Century, edited by John Updike is a fantastic read. I was assigned one story in this thick book, but found myself reading quite a few, compelled to read “just one more” even though I had tons of other required reading to do. The book is a compilation of some of the best stories ever written. Exposure to this kind of literature isn’t just entertaining. It makes you think and feel. Get a used copy at Amazon. Read it in spurts when you don’t want the commitement of an entire novel, but you want to feel touched by a tale. I will read the entire thing in time- a story always at my fingertips when I want to be moved. Only wish I had time to wade through it now. Unfortunately, this one goes on my pile of “Books I’m determined to read when school is over” stack. It’s one daunting (but much honored) tower, let me tell you.
Must get some work done. Bye.