ALEXANDRIA, VIRGINIA — So I’m back home from my MFA in Writing residency with the Vermont College of Fine Arts. My car is covered in that opaque sludge that comes from splashbacks of snow and road salt, but I’m going to leave it that way for a few days as a reminder of where I’ve been.
I learned a lot about writing craft at the residency, some of which I’ve shared on this blog. But I want to take a moment to reflect on other lessons learned:
- There are a lot of really good writers out there. My favorite part of residency is the nightly student readings, where first through fourth semester students can sign up for a five-minute slot. Scheduling demands (okay, Washington Redskins games) caused me to miss two nights, but I think those might have been the first two I’ve missed my entire time at VCFA. I am continually stunned at the power and beauty of the poetry and prose of my fellow classmates.
- The power of residency immersion has its limits. This was the first semester I lived off campus, in a motel about 10 minutes away. As a result, I spent a fair amount of time off campus, and not in quaint downtown Montpelier–which is like the set of It’s a Wonderful Life’s Bedford Falls–but in Berlin and Barre, where real people live and work. I found my daily drives back and forth to be a nice contemplative practice, helping me prepare in the morning and decompress in the evening. I also liked spending time in restaurants and bars with people who didn’t give a $#!+ about whether I write my memoir in present or past tense.
- I want to give my graduation lecture and student reading early in the residency. I graduate next semester, and I will be giving a 45-minute lecture and a 20-minute reading. Audiences dwindle at these events as the residency wears on, and alertness level wanes as well. If I’m going to be presenting, I’d like an engaged audience. Of course, if I decide either is going to be awful, then I hope for a slot just before graduation.
- Writers don’t like to organize things. My classmates know that in my day job I run a lot of projects. So they turned to me when we learned someone had to organize our own graduation. To their credit, many expressed heartfelt appreciation for my willingness to take it on. Yes, I have a few things on my plate already. But I demonstrated to my classmates a great trick of project management–delegation. Now every aspect of graduation has a project manager and volunteers; I just need to make sure everyone stays on task.
- I can never live in Vermont. This was my second winter residency, and both times I left in a funk. I was diagnosed years ago with Seasonal Affective Disorder, but I have a portable light box that I use each morning during the winter, and it usually does the trick in my mid-Atlantic home. But in Vermont–where the days are shortened by mountains and the winter sun hides behind clouds full of snow–I find the light isn’t enough. I’m glad I don’t have any winter residencies left.
I’m sure there are more lessons I learned, but I think these will stick with me for awhile, longer than the sludge on my car. Thanks for joining me on this learning adventure!