MONTPELIER, VERMONT: I’m here at my fourth MFA in Writing residency at the Vermont College of Fine Arts, physically at least. I’ve already attended a lecture and a three-faculty reading, consumed a moderately acceptable dining-hall meal, and signed up for a student reading (I’m up the night of the 3rd). But I feel disconnected, in a way I don’t recall feeling at my three previous residencies.
After my first residency in the summer of 2011, I wrote this about the power of isolation in a safe retreat of writing and creativity:
Isolation has long been used with great effectiveness by churches, rehab clinics, terrorists, and cults. It creates a bonding experience with your fellow participants, one that is shockingly disorienting when it ends.
This time my problem is not readjusting after immersion, it’s accomplishing the immersion itself.
The good news is that I can identify some of the barriers that are keeping me disengaged. While welcoming us at this residency’s orientation, VCFA President Tom Greene said he was jealous of us spending the next 10 days living and breathing creative writing while separated from our working lives.
But I am not completely separated. I have promised my boss that I will check my BlackBerry between lectures and workshops for phone messages; will respond promptly if left one; and will review all work email at the end of each day (which, at a residency, is really the early morning at, say 1 am). I have a top-notch staff who kept everything afloat while I was at residency this summer, and I am extremely confident they will do so again. But my boss is new, and so I have promised to stay tethered.
I am also, for the first time, not staying on campus. While I rave about VCFA, I’ve complained at times about the rather dreary dormitory. But last winter was particularly rough, having to hear into the wee hours of the morning down the hall the younger party students who kept their festivities indoors because of the below-freezing temperatures outside. But the VCFA immersion involves nearly everyone living on campus; you literally don’t leave. I’m on campus from breakfast to late evening, but I still drive several miles each night to a motel in the next town over.
I’m not overly concerned about not feeling completely plugged in yet, however. One thing I know is that residency becomes a blur, moving from reading to lecture to workshop with such rapidity that it’s easy to forget a world exists beyond the schedule to which each of us clings. I think my problem is I haven’t been buried yet, but tomorrow looks exceedingly busy. I also have my first workshop tomorrow; there’s nothing I like better at residency than workshopping creative writing with fellow writers. I am also excited to be in a dual-genre workshop this time, both fiction and creative non-fiction writers.
Don’t worry, most of these MFA Nugget posts will, as per usual, be instructional in nature, passing along the wisdom I digest from lectures and workshops. In fact, I suspect the process of turning those lectures into blog posts will help with my immersion. We’ll see if that proves true with tomorrow’s post.
ADDENDUM, 12/30/12 AT 6:30 ET: I’m definitely more in rhythm now. A great lecture this morning, a fantastic insight learned at workshop. I guess I just needed a bit more time. Watch for a writing-instruction lesson I’ll be passing along tomorrow morning.