mfa in creative writing -- what i really do.jpg

Next weekend, Lesley University will open its doors to another 10-day residency for students in its Low Residency MFA Program.

Fifth semester students will be presenting seminars and public readings at the end of the week before they graduate, and before all that happens, they'll stride across the campus and camp out under the trees like gods and goddesses in their own universe. Fourth semester students will be moving quickly from place to place, equally eager and anxious about this being their last set of workshops. Third semester students will be outwardly confident, walking slowly because they've given themselves enough time for everything, rooted securely in the knowledge that they have a full year left to enjoy all this magic. Second semester students will be resolute, relieved to know where classrooms are, excited to work with a mentor they actually got to choose this time around, thrilled to see their writing friends again.

And first semester students?

Mouths open. Eyes spinning in opposite directions. Carrying far too many books. Confounded by the simultaneous urge to laugh and to cry.

Prepping for a low residency masters program in advance might seem overwhelming, but arriving on campus to experience one is more so. First semester students will be wandering the lovely, compact Lesley campus, almost perpetually lost. They'll be early for the wrong classes. Late for the wrong meals. Their pens will run out of ink mid-seminar. They'll find themselves sitting on stairs in violation of the fire code during readings at Marran Theater because the place is unexpectedly packed! Before their first set of workshops, they'll be fighting nervous nausea. After their first set of workshops, somebody will cry. (It was me. That's how I know.) 

That's the important thing for all first-timers to remember. Every single Lesley student, even the ones glowing with effortless ease, have been in your place.

You can't actually prepare for the heavenly, chaotic boot camp that is the first residency. But few people are willing to accept that. So, in case you're gearing up to spend your first 10 days at Lesley (or Goddard, or Bennington, or Palm Desert, or any of the other numerous and prestigious Low Residency Creative Writing MFA programs), allow me to give you what little insight I can.

The following is my response to a wonderful email I received yesterday from a student about to start at Lesley. I hope it helps!

|
I just couldn't resist. 

Jonathan and I began dating in 2003, and married in 2004, while I was still in school. We lived in Livermore, 10 minutes from his job, and I commuted to and from UC Davis for the next two years. The round-trip was 160-odd miles, and by the end, I could do it with my eyes closed. When I graduated with my B.A. in English in 2006, I felt grateful for many things, but Jonathan was definitely at the top of that list. He supported me financially and emotionally that whole time. My education was as much his prerogative as it was mine. 

Six years later, I graduated from Lesley University with my MFA in Creative Writing, and as you can see, not much as changed. My hair color, sure. And my commute time increased a bit since we moved to Norway. Hah! But we haven't lost our style, our energy, or our love.  

Audrey's Graduations.jpg

Just for fun, though, let's look back about 11 years and see how much times (and Audrey's hair) have changed since graduation from Livermore High School in June 2001...

645_1075225074985_4313_n.jpg


|
nnwm2011.jpg
My mind might be breaking. I'm pretty sure I heard it crack yesterday. The office was silent except for the tapping of my fingers on the keyboard. I paused. I considered all the writing I'd done the days before and all the writing I had yet to do. And my mind broke. The sound was like paper being pulled from a spiral-bound notebook, ripping the edge into a messy fray, or the creaking split of a log after a spot-on hit with a freshly-sharpened maul. (Shoutout to Ben Lear for the analogy assist!) Seriously, I heard it echo from the center of my brain.

Why? Because I'm writing a lot. More than ever before, in fact. Like any other exercise, it feels impossible and unnecessary before I sit down at the keys and refreshing and relieving when I finish and get up to walk away again. It might be hard to believe, though, since my blog seems comparatively quiet. Sorry about that. I only have so much writing mojo to wring from my own imagination, mind, word bank, fingers. Recently, I haven't been letting it out here, but I thought you might like to know what it is I have been writing...

Craft Essay

This is the biggest piece of the last submission of my third semester at Lesley University. Like a Craft Annotation on steroids, it's twelve pages of analysis on a single element of craft. After a lot of deep reading and re-reading I finally came up with my thesis: 

The first-person memoir seeks to accomplish many things. If it is successful, the narrator acts as a guide on safari, a conduit of culture, an ambassador to a new society, and a foreign correspondent. Her story is both captivating and relatable, a feat accomplished by pushing herself one step further than pure story-telling. The author acknowledges that she is driving the getaway car. She purposely breaks through the boundary of the page and brings the reader along for the ride through the occasional, precise, and sometimes surprising use of the second-person point of view.

Then I pulled quotes from some of my favorite books, both those assigned during my time at Lesley and ones I have read on my own time this year, as well as a past favorite. My sources (all excellent reads that I highly recommend):

West With the Night by Beryl Markham
A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway
Running in the Family by Michael Ondaatje
The Little Virtues by Natalia Ginzburg

As is usually the case in essay writing, once I have chosen and transcribed the appropriate quotes from these master writers onto the page, I am inspired to nurture my own writing around them, like a gardener gently prodding her own vines up and around a sturdy, reliable trellis. It took several hours, but I came away with a solid essay on an element of craft which I intend to use in my own writing for years to come.

National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo)

For years I've heard about this writing event. Every November. Writing friends remind me about it, assuming that I would jump at the chance to be forced into a mandatory word count to churn out a work of fiction. Finally, those friends were right. I've spent the last year and a half immersed in non-fiction. I eat, drink, breathe, and sleep memoir. And I can't deny that, after a while, writing about myself and my own life gets old. Boring. Stale. Predictable. I know me better than anyone, and I constantly find myself looking back over my own self-centered blog entries and saying, Why on earth would anyone else care about this? I sound like a pompous ass. 

It turns out that the cure for any tried and true non-fiction writing pompous ass is to pry her away from the mirror and force her to make up stories about other people. Talk about an exercise in humility.
|
ssf_haines.jpg
I will be haunted by John Haines's The Stars, the Snow, the Fire for many years to come. The ease (or grace) with which he handled the brutality of hunting and trapping lulled me into a deceptive calm, but his imagery was too graphic to pass by without a reaction. However, his essay Ice was one I read over and over, not because it was violent, though that brand of his writing was present, but because there was a certain rhythm to the storytelling in Ice that made me want to read it again, deeper, slower, searching for something, a rhythm generated by the way he related time and space.

Many of his essays are told from the here and now, a bold tense. Ice is no different. Haines begins by dropping the reader to her hands and knees in the snow to find the places "away from the sun, in ravines and hollows where the ground is normally wet." In these places, "the soil has darkened and is hard and cold to the touch. The deep, shaded mosses have stiffened, and there are tiny crystals of ice in their hairy spaces" (Haines, 126). Every word generates a sensory experience. I can see, feel, even smell these dark places. 

Haines snaps from that sequence to thoughts of the river. The heavy frost reminds him that the river is changing. "The sound of that water, though distant, comes strong and pervasive over the dry land crusted with snow: a deep and swallowed sound, as if the river had ice in its throat" (Haines, 126). He takes "the steep path downhill to the riverbed" and stands at the shoreline where, "Free of its summer load of silt, the water is clear in the shallows, incredibly blue and deep in the middle of the channel... Here where the current slackens and deepens, the water is heavy and slow with ice, with more ice and more ice" (Haines, 127). With all her senses, the reader is deep in the present tense.

Which is why Haines moves suddenly to a recollection of the past, the way memories come to all of us. Memories are sparked by a sound, a scent, even the feel of a certain material against the skin. In this case, the color of the water and the smell of the ice remind Haines of "past years when [he] came to a channel much like this one, in mid-October with only an inch or two of snow on the gravel bars, to fish for salmon" (Haines, 128). He describes the way he "watched for the glowing red and pink forms of salmon on their way upriver in the last run of the season, "and then the way his gaffing hook "made a nasty gash in the side of the salmon, and fish blood soon stained the snow where [he] piled them, one by one" (Haines, 128). That memory reminds him what it felt like to be part of "something grand and barbaric in that essential, repeated act... a feeling intensified, made rich by the smell of ice and cold fish-slime, by the steely color of the winter sky, and the white snow stained with the redness of the salmon: the color of death and the color of winter" (Haines, 128).
Enhanced by Zemanta
|
naturemorte_cezanne.jpg
Still Life. Stopping before Cezanne's painting, I see exactly what there is to see. A rough-hewn table. Burnished fruits rolling off a solid white plate. The shining curve of a wine glass, empty. Curtains folded back into a thick darkness. A window or wall. And a pitcher painted with flowers.
 
Of course, this painting on the wall of Oslo's National Gallery isn't Cezanne's only work titled "Nature Morte." He painted this scene or one quite like it many times, over and over again. And even though I took Art History classes in college, I couldn't have begun to tell you why. Until yesterday.

Last semester, I had the opportunity to work with author Jane Brox. Even though I received sound, encouraging feedback on each of my submissions to her, I still felt that I was struggling. Of course, I had to meet my deadlines with her while living in an empty house in California (all of my possessions were on a cargo ship somewhere on the Atlantic), missing Jonathan (who had moved to Oslo ten weeks ahead of me), and then I had to find the time to write, revise, and submit one last time while making the final move overseas. I pulled it off, but barely, and I was thrilled when summer came and I had a break.

Jane saw me through those tumultuous few months. She handled every submission with care, and when I received her critiques by mail, I read them hungrily. Two or three times. She has a way of putting her finger through the pulse to the true heartbeat of any problem. Or, as she's more generous than I am with my work, I'll say she found a way to outline the foundational "challenge" I was facing when it came to my writing.

Yesterday I pulled out her critiques again, and today I pulled the following quote from one of those critiques and took it to heart:

"In a way, yours is the challenge of the still life painter, who places before her a mortar and pestle, a ceramic bowl, a few onions, and a copper pot to paint. If the painter sees only those objects as physical things to be painted and nothing else, then the painting can't really go beyond the realm of an exercise. But painters like Chardin or Cezanne or Morandi saw something more in the objects they set before themselves to paint: the objects in front of them and the ideal. They brought to the canvas particular ideas about shape and form and color and perception that infused their work. They spent countless hours arranging the objects so as to give the whole specific shape and form and flow. These things might not be apparent to the casual observer but they are apparent to anyone who really looks at the work. They were painting the objects and they were painting much more than the objects at the same time."
|
acoe_orwell.jpg

In college I studied Shooting an Elephant (1936), an essay included in this collection, which recounts George Orwell's time as a young British police officer in Burma. The essay has haunted me in the years since. 

It was the brutality that stuck with me, the killing scene, one which goes on for several pages as Officer Orwell fires "shot after shot into [the elephant's] heart and down his throat" while the beast refuses to die. But more than that, it was the brutality of his reflections about the time, the place, the Empire occupying the place, the native people, the class system, and the self who suffered the execution of the elephant "solely to avoid looking a fool" (Orwell, 156). That honesty cut me to the bone.

In his famous essay about life at a boarding school in England as a youngster, Such, Such Were the Joys... (1949), Orwell opens with the horrors inflicted on the little boys who wet their beds. Today we acknowledge that this is an innocent phase in every child's life. We also know that most boys struggle with the training longer than most girls, but this story is only the first of many. Orwell goes on to relate the punishments and canings, the bullying, the accusations of latent homosexuality, the prejudices of his headmaster and instructors, his own laziness. Nothing is off-limits.

By being willing to touch on every subject, willing to treat nothing with undue deference or discretion, Orwell accomplishes as unbiased a study of childhood as possible. Children, he believes, live in "a sort of alien under-water world which we can only penetrate by memory or divination. Our chief clue is the fact that we were once children ourselves" (Orwell, 44). This chief clue is what drives Orwell's writing about his past, and he transcribes his memories as well as possible. Accuracy, though, can be relative.

"In general, one's memories of any period must necessarily weaken as one moves away from it... But it can also happen that one's memories grow sharper after a long lapse of time, because one is looking at the past with fresh eyes and can isolate and, as it were, notice facts which previously existed undifferentiated among a mass of others." (Orwell, 5)


Enhanced by Zemanta
|
winter.jpg
Venturing into the wilderness at any point in life will have an impact on one's personality and lifestyle. It is always an adventure, and it is always dangerous. When Rick Bass and his then girlfriend Elizabeth rode their truck over a severely rutted road into the outback of northern Montana, they were planning to spend their first winter among glaciated mountaintops, moose, and big trees. They made this leap into the wild almost entirely unprepared. In his memoir Winter, Bass chronicles the first year spent snowbound in Montana. As he begins, he makes no attempt to hide the fact that he and Elizabeth were "wondrously poor" or that "the sharpening of a pencil [was] an adventure" for them both (Bass, 2). These admissions of helplessness are rare, in my experience, particularly for a male author, and particularly on page two.

Being someone who appreciates being in control  of my daily outcome, I find the wilderness a challenge, wilderness being in all cases that place beyond the borders set, excavated and marked, by civilians. Everything past those straight lines and fences is wild, and chaos springs eternally in the wild, like ragweed or eucalyptus. Over the years, though, I've realized that if I pass through the gate and into those less charted territories feeling even slightly prepared, I enjoy the journey into chaos much more than I enjoy any stroll down any sidewalk. That said I have had the opportunity to read many books which might count as wild, less controlled than the rest because their narrators are unreliable or their settings entirely unfamiliar. If I don't trust the author to guide me on the hunt, I find it difficult to enjoy myself as a reader. This has fueled a way of writing in my own life which is confident to the point of arrogance. I only write about what I know. If I don't know, I don't let on; I'd rather fake it, draw a line, stake out the high ground and hold it. This, upon completing Winter, I believe to be to the detriment of my writing.
Enhanced by Zemanta
|
speak_memory.jpg
Whether painting for his reader a train's boxcar or a rare butterfly, Vladimir Nabokov handles the description with precision. He wields his weighty vocabulary like the sharpest of pencils and sketches every detail of the object in question. I could see the segmented panes of glass in the doors on his trains. I could conjure the dainty butterfly's wings, the artful eye markings on each side. My journey through his memoir Speak, Memory felt much like a walk through a gallery full of line drawings, the most detailed, and perfect black and white line drawings imaginable. He inspired me in so many ways. I could have opted to write about his use of time juxtaposition, propping up the past in relation to the present for the sake of explanation, or about his careful use of specific objects, a tablecloth or a pair of spats, in any sequence to symbolize the greater significance of that particular time. But what I've decided to touch on instead is Nabokov's use of color, simple color, ordinary color, to enhance his line drawings and draw the reader's eye and mind exactly where he wants it to be without complicating the original goal of the moment and memory.

I first noticed his deft use of color early in the book when he describes watching from the dining table through the second story window as his father is tossed in the air by a group of grateful peasants, presenting his family with "a marvelous case of levitation." The memory is a unique one and Nabokov positions his reader by his side at the table in order to view it. We know the layout of the room, his father's political position in relation to the peasants, even what comprises the meal served on the table before them. Those are the graphite lines on the white paper. But the point of the memory has to do with the specific impressions of the young boy at the table who sees "through one of the west windows... the figure of [his] father in his wind-rippled white summer suit... gloriously sprawling in midair... [then] on his last and loftiest flight, reclining, as if for good, against the cobalt blue of the summer noon" (Nabokov, 31). The reader has her bearings, but really comes away with the memory of a flash of sprawling white against blue. It's the color that makes it memorable.
Enhanced by Zemanta
|
dlgttdt_fuller.jpg

The cover of the current edition of Alexandra Fuller's Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight is split down the middle by a vaguely tribal design, the title to the right and a black and white baby picture of the author on the left. Young Bobo Fuller's mouth is wide open in a squall and her shoulders are squared for battle. If this photo were described by the author, though, she might say that the child's shoulders are battle-squared and her mouth is screaming-wide.

Fuller is masterful when it comes to compounding her descriptions, harnessing her adjectives to one another with hyphens. Her word choices are simple, words that are familiar to one whose childhood hinged on a wild, sometimes barbaric plain, and rose from a landscape peppered with gunfire and dotted with packs of dogs. She describes her childhood in these terms. The patted-down red earth. The boiled-meat smell of dog food. The neck-prickling terrorist-under-the-bed creeps. The oven-breath heat. These hyphenated descriptions set the tone for the memoir.

She writes in the first-person present-tense, but the tone is not omniscient and looking-back, the way one might think an adult memoirist would write about such tormented circumstances. Rather, she calls upon the way a child would describe what she sees. This is especially true when she recalls her mother:

Mum sitting "yoga cross-legged" as her beloved dogs sit "prick-eared" and watching. And after death of baby Adrian, once the family moves back to "working-class, damp-to-the-bone Derbyshire," it is Mum "sleeves-rolled-up running after two small children" (37). And upon the family's return to Africa, Mum is "don't-interrupt-me-I'm busy all day" (42). These are word portraits, culled by a child watching her conundrum of a mother as she ages, pulls through the death of a second child, and devolves from "being a fun drunk to a crazy, sad drunk" (93).

|
ritf_ondaatje.jpg

My monthly submissions to Lesley University's MFA program each include two craft annotations. When we "freshmen" were first presented with this requirement at our initial residency in June, the idea of writing a craft annotation about any book was enough to frighten many of us, but I was intrigued. After all, while I've continued to read and read and read since my graduation from UC Davis in 2006, I've missed the opportunity to analyze my readings in writing.

(That probably sounds a little crazy to some of you. Let me explain.)

When the movie Pride & Prejudice was released in 2005, people raved. I raved. As a child, I was addicted to the 1940 version. Sir Lawrence Olivier was the only Darcy I could imagine, and I would daydream about him. Soft cheeks and immaculate sideburns, the way his tongue softened the Zs in the word "Lizzy." I would sometimes alter my voice to accomodate Greer Garson's breathy British accent. This confused my teachers in elementary school, but on the whole they were understanding. My fifth grade teacher, Mrs. Busselen, never batted an eye, failing even to chide me for a three-week phase in which I signed my name at the top of all my assignments as Elizabeth Bennett.

(Where am I going with this? Stick with me.)

Anyway, the new version of P&P came out and, even as someone who loathes remakes of my favorite classics (Cheaper by the Dozen with Steve Martin as a slapstick father? Sacrilege!), I found the metamorphosis of the period piece disarming. Especially when I realized that I left the theater no longer daydreaming about the genteel 1940s Mr. Darcy, but viscerally craving the brooding 2005 Mr. Darcy. 

In two hours all he'd done was scowl and look down his perfect nose, he'd danced once with Elizabeth, saved the entire bevy of Bennetts from destitution, and then... oh yes, he'd walked across a field.

Outside the theater, I could close my eyes and command him to walk across that field again and again. Mist and morning ebbed around him as his legs stalked between the rolling clumps of reeds and blue-green grasses. Toward me.

He had bewitched me, body and soul.

(Seriously, I'm getting there.)

I called him to mind over and over. Jaw. Voice. Eyelashes. Everything. And it pleased me.

That ability to replay a moment and feel the twinge of pleasure again, to shock my heart into skipping a beat, is one of my favorite parts of being alive. I hope everyone does this, not only with movies, but with life. Stop for a second and remember your first kiss. Matthew's lips tasted like rootbeer on the February evening. Remember sinking the game-winning, at-the-buzzer shot. Three--two--one--Pancoast with the three! Remember the best compliment you ever received. And remember how you glowed in the echo of those glorious, memorable moments.

I do this with books, too. After I've read a book like--oh--The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver or The Book Lover by Ali Smith or Manhood for Amateurs by Michael Chabon, my greatest desire is to relive the experience of that heavenly read. But that's harder. No flawless lips. No broad shoulders trailing a cape-like coat that flickers around mud-caked boots. Only words. The turn of a phrase. Rhythm. Vocabulary. Wordsmithing. Unless I repeat the best of these aloud, or write them down to share with someone else, I don't get that same pleasurable shiver.

So for me, the craft annotations at Lesley U have filled that void. I now have an avenue in which to share my favorite parts of a reading.

The true goal behind the craft annotation is to prove that I've not only read the books in question, but I've also gleaned something key about the craft of writing from the talented authors. That key is something I must be able to shoulder and take back to my own cave to further my evolution as a writer.

For my first set of craft annotations, I wrote about Alexandra Fuller's Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight and Michael Ondaatje's Running in the Family, two colorful memoirs. The following is the craft annotation I submitted for Ondaatje's work. (And to tie this in with past entries, in Hermaphrodite Flake - Part II I wrote that "I was alone with the nearly-noontime sun and the memoirs of a Sinhalese poet." Michael Ondaatje was up on the rock with me.)

|
intent.jpg
Budget Rental Vans squat curbside on the street. College boys with sinewy arms and authoritative expressions hoist their hastily labeled boxes up and into efficient stacks. They are leaving. They are through with this college town. New places and new challenges await them elsewhere. I know not the distance any of them will travel in the coming days, but it is clear that changes are afoot, and each young man is looking forward to a change.

I walk. I know that I do, but I can't hear the sound of my steps on the crumpled brick path. I cannot hear anything except my own breathing, shallow and strange.

A moment ago, I exited a beautiful Georgian inn after two hours of critique, the last one dedicated to me. My writing lacks intent.

I've been thinking about this for three days. Without a doubt, it's true. My writings about my travels have been journal entries. That's all. Flowering, verbose journal entries that are pinpricked by subtle humor only recognizable to those who know me and can hear my voice reading them. Not funny. Not deep. Not unique.

It's taken three days of hard thought, notes on scraps of paper, restless sleep, and an entire package of Keebler Fudge Stripe cookies to figure out why that's true.

When I write without intent, it is because I have lived without intent.

The things I care about in advance, sweat over and fight for, those things I have written about well. When it furthers the cause of my life, I treat the writing of an event or insight with deference. I select my words; I conserve my energy.

Many times, I sit down to write for the sake of writing. Worse--I sit down to write because I feel that I must, because I haven't done it in ages, because I don't feel the call, because I'm avoiding it, because writing is hard. And the reason writing is hard is that it forces us to answer questions we don't want to admit we hear, questions that we are ashamed to admit we know the answers to.

Heretofore, this blog has served multiple purposes. It has given me an avenue for my writing, allowing me to keep my hand in the craft whenever possible. It has been a platform for sharing my experiences in life with my closest family and friends. And it has allowed me to argue my opinions and strive for my ideals.

It has not been entirely honest.

I sugarcoat my life. My stories shared are edited, you might even say censored. This is the virtual world I can manipulate at my whim. What you see is a young woman who prioritizes her writing and states her arguments succinctly, shares the tales of her travels. I know that because it's what I've opted to show you.
|
LaPenitient_Rotari.JPG
The paper plate is translucent with grease. I can make out the faux wood grain of the plastic surface beneath. My book lies face flat and wedged open on the table beside me. I cannot read now. Red sauce coats and drips from my fingers as I manipulate the molten cheese and rip the crusts apart. Every bite is precious and I feed myself with both hands, fast and fluid. 

Chewing is unnecessary. 

Crying makes me hungry, and that's what I did today. The long swim I've been taking in the ocean of information here at Lesley finally wiped me out. It had taken a turn for the dangerous, the unhinged, and I was drowning.

Critique. It's why I'm here. I am paying for the time and opinions of qualified critics. My application included several non-fiction essays, mostly pulled from my blog, and that's what my large group took a stab at today. Taking part in critique is terribly important to a writer, especially an aspiring writer. Like everyone else here, I needed to know where my pieces were on their journey. I needed to know where the mark was, whether I'd hit it, whether I'd passed it, whether I'd lost it.

My writing is beautiful. 

There is also too much of it. I overwrite every point, stepping on whatever subtle truths lie caked in the mud of the creek beds of my mind. 

My narrator's tone is often arrogant, didactic, and, thus, alienating. I don't trust my readers to think. I hound them with hyperbole. 

My vocabulary is elevated to a point where it becomes useless to my audience. Often, my writing lacks intent.

When I write about places, traveling to them and exploring them, I fail to make my readers feel as though they have been there, too.

My writing is beautiful.
|
rearwindowset.jpg
Choosing not to write tonight would be too easy.

I could snap my laptop shut, flip my alarm clock on, swallow a pill, and turn out the lights. I could listen to the cars humming on Massachusetts Avenue nearby (or "Mass Ave" as the locals call it) and wonder about the shadows of strangers in dorm rooms across the street. Then I could feel a strange desire to watch Jimmy Stewart in Rear Window and spin my blinds shut. I could wince as a police car siren sounds on the street below, grimace as the wail swivels and vibrates against my eardrums, but choose to keep the windows open anyway on my first cool summer's eve in Cambridge.

But choosing not to write would also be an alarming waste of the knowledge I've amassed today. My first day of seminars turned out to be a grueling twelve hours long. True, the seminars and lectures were interspersed with two meals in the cafeteria and another public reading, but those aren't true breaks. No, here at the Lesley MFA residency, one never stops learning.

In the morning, our incoming Non-Fiction class learned about workshopping. We discussed the elements of a positive and productive critique, how to find a balance of candor and tact in everything we communicated to our classmates. It isn't easy. I'm far more candid than tactful, but I do strive to be as helpful as possible. 

Still, an author's writing can become like her child, her helpless, squirming infant. While that infant may only know how to bawl and suckle and gurgle, in the author's eyes, the baby can do no wrong. If a well-intentioned critic opens by telling the author that her baby has all the career potential of a rodeo clown, the author will certainly disregard everything else you say. (She might even slap you, so step back!) 

All that is to say, I came away with some useful ideas about critique which I will use this week and which I hope to see used when my classmates get the chance to dissect me on the table.
|
lesley.jpg
In Annie Dillard's The Writing Life (my Bible while I'm here) she  writes that poet Saint-Pol Roux used to hang a sign on his bedroom doorknob at night while he slept that read: The poet is working.

I now think that's possible! Simply being here is jump starting my creativity. I awoke this morning with poetry oozing out my ears. (Please don't take that sentence into account if you're looking for proof!) So far, though, I can't tell if it's because I'm in the process of rebooting my brain and all the literary power and history of Boston and Cambridge is on my side... or if it's simply that I am one of those students who wants desperately to please her professors. Am I inspired or intimidated? 

My night's sleep was rocky and not nearly long enough, but I was excited to begin the first residency of my first semester!  I showered and attempted to blow my hair dry.  In this humidity, drying anyone's hair is an arduous process, but mine is especially thick and requires extra effort. Ill-prepared for such a task so early in the morning, my arms quickly tired, and when my right wrist sagged under the fatigue, the back of the hair dryer snagged a clump of my hair and wound it up tight in the motor!

I pulled it as far away from my head as possible and fought to switch it off with my thumb. When the motor finally whirred to a laborious stop, I cringed. A massive clump was knotted through the guard and around the blades. Still supporting the heavy dryer with my right hand, I fished in my toiletry bag for my pair of nail scissors. (It's funny how decisive I can be in a strange bathroom when death or injury is the line.) In seconds I was free of the clump and the dryer.

When I turned it on again, the blades groaned and picked up speed. A swirl of white smoke nosed its way up toward my nose and the acrid smell of burnt hair filled the bathroom. I opened a window and continued the drying process, this time making certain I was clear of the wretched motor.

Clean, dry, and clad in something summery, I swung my bag over my shoulder and went out to explore the campus. It was, in a word, a perfect day in Cambridge. Only 80 degrees and with low humidity. Tiny, fluffy clouds sashayed through the clear blue sky. Birds twittered in and behind and under the branches of a bush sagging heavily under bunches of blue hydrangeas.  For the first time, I saw my dorm. A greenish-gray building with a broad, white front porch.

I stepped back to take in the whole fa├žade and tripped over an empty bike rack. The top piece connected with my kneecap and sent a hearty twang echoing down Wendell Street.
|
sunet.jpg
How odd to watch night pull toward me from across the sea. My plane touched down at Logan and I shook my head, refusing to accept the glitch. We taxied, and the shadows pushed out long and westward. 

No, I thought, the ocean is supposed to swallow the setting sun, to reflect the bit remaining above the horizon so that the day at the beach may last longer. 

But the glassy harbor was dim, cradling the dainty hulls of dozens of white sailboats, their sails glowing in the last rays of the sun fading behind the city. 

I deplaned with the crowd, gathered my bag, and hurried to the taxi stand.  We'd landed early and I wanted to catch a glimpse of the famed Boston skyline before dark.  

"Lesley University!" I told my taxi driver. "In Cambridge, Massachusetts."

I know he didn't need to know what state my school was in, but I was too excited and too proud to care.
|

About this Archive

This page is a archive of recent entries in the Lesley University MFA (Low Residency) category.

Favorites is the previous category.

My Family is the next category.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.