MONTPELIER, VERMONT — This is a tale of defiance, betrayal, and surrender.
- DEFIANCE. I refuse to do it. The graduating student lecturer, greeting sleepy students at the start of the day here at our MFA residency, instructs us to write. Her prompt? To write about something that is painful in our past. I am here at this lecture to learn about use of the senses in writing; why have me write something before she has imparted her wisdom? I have never liked writing prompts, someone else framing my story before I even begin. Then she lectures, and I learn things. She concludes by instructing us to write again, this time folding in senses. I watch my fellow students scribbling in their notebooks or on the back of the instructor’s handout. And I start scribbling as well. My defiance now is pitted against own prejudice toward this practice. I can follow a prompt as well as the next person, I tell myself. I start. And then it flows, the way writing instructors always say it will. And I am angry when the lecturer tells us it is time to stop.
- BETRAYAL. What I have written in that prompt haunts me throughout the day. In those idle moments between lectures and readings–and, I will confess, at times during lectures and readings–it returns to me, calling me. It is still not done, that piece of writing. It asks to be completed. But there is no time. The Vermont College of Fine Arts only has us on campus for ten-day stretches twice each year. The schedule–that omnipresent multi-page pink handout–books us from 7:30 in the morning until 10 at night. You will have to wait, I tell the incomplete piece of writing. If you prove yourself worthy of being continued, I will address you when I return to my writing life after residency. This is not a writing retreat; I am here to learn how to write. I will not betray the pink sheet.
- SURRENDER. I can control my conscious mind, but our subconscious literally has a mind of its own. I awaken the next morning with a knocking; no, a pounding. The incomplete essay has hidden in my mental recesses while I slept, and now it is demanding out. It doesn’t care that to meet its request will require me to be unfaithful to VCFA’s carefully scripted schedule. I get up, put on my glasses, pick up the pink packet, turn to the day’s schedule, and see two morning lectures awaiting me before a mandatory meeting. Those lectures are considered optional, to the extent anything here is. I head to my small desk, and surrender to the prose waiting to be typed.