MONTPELIER, VERMONT: I just took a nap.
Those five words may not seem particularly significant or profound, but they form a sentence I don’t often type. I tend to crash daily around 3:00 pm (the time of day Robert Goulet messes with my stuff), but I’ve learned to put my creative projects aside at that time and take care of busywork: correspondence, bills, organizing.
But here at my MFA residency at the Vermont College of Fine Arts, I hit the wall. The 1 pm faculty reading–featuring many of my favorite writers here–was riveting. The lecture afterward by a graduating student was both fact-filled and moving. But once those events ended, I crossed the snow-covered quad, made my way up my dormitory’s concrete steps, threw my book bag and coat onto the floor against the pale-blue cinderblock wall of my room, and dove into the too-short bed.
A VCFA residency lasts ten full days. The first lectures begin at 8:45 am. Events continue throughout the day. Most days feature a two-hour workshop in which we critique each other’s writings. Faculty readings occur almost every night at 7 pm. Student readings start most nights around 8:45 pm; one reading I participated in Tuesday night began a little after 10 pm.
And of course we’re all college students, even me, a middle-aged husband and father. That means late nights of socializing. Some things have changed for me vs. college a quarter-century ago. Instead of talking about chicks, I’m talking about the use of metaphor. Instead of shotgunning Pabst Blue Ribbon, I’m sipping Maker’s Mark. And instead of playing “Quarters,” I’m enjoying Scrabble.
VCFA knows it’s easy to burn out at this pace. They warn us–in the student handbook, in a pre-residency email, at orientation–to move at a reasonable pace. Sure, we say. But if you’re a mother of a 10-year-old boy, do you take him to a candy store, tell him he can spend as much time there as he’d like and eat as much as he wants with no worry about paying for anything, but just make sure you don’t eat so much you get sick to your stomach?
We’re not 10-year-olds. We’re adults. But the temptation of the offerings here at VCFA are no different than the licorice and malted-milk balls in front of that imagined boy. Still, I can resist when my body demands it. I have found myself slowing down. Yesterday afternoon I skipped a lecture I was intent on hearing. Last night I skipped the faculty reading. And I took that nap.
I’m awake now, alert and refreshed. I’m writing this post, and will schedule it to post tomorrow morning, the same time my other posts have gone live. And I’m listening to some music, to help pump me with energy. Let me add a detail I swear is true: Moments ago when I put my music player on “shuffle” and hit play, the first song that came up was The Beatles’ “I’m So Tired.”
It wasn’t true. I’m not tired, not at this moment. But if I don’t continue to pace myself, it will be again. So between now and Sunday, when I take the Amtrak Vermonter back to Washington, D.C., I’ll give myself permission to skip another lecture, blow off another reading, and take another nap.
Artists of all types must balance their art with many other parts of life. Are you careful to pace yourself?
ABOUT THIS SERIES: As promised, I am posting occasional “nuggets” of wisdom I am acquiring here at my second residency in the MFA for Writing program at the Vermont College of Fine Arts. Previous posts include “Illuminating Your Story,” “A Window on Your Narrator,” “Creativity and Wasting Time,” “New Year’s Tradition,” “Storytelling vs. Fragmentation,” “Reading Your Work Aloud,” “Revision vs. Re-Vision,” and “Dialogue as Action.”