MONTPELIER, VT: This is supposed to be a ten-day celebration of two years of hard work. At the conclusion of this Vermont College of Fine Arts residency I will hear my name called and be handed a diploma signifying I am a Master of Fine Arts. So why have I been so crippled with anxiety from the moment I set foot on this campus two days ago?
I have been asking myself that repeatedly, including over a Margarita at a pizza place in the neighboring town of Barre that I fled to my second full night here (usually I don’t escape town until later in the residency). One thing either muddling or clarifying my thinking–I’m not sure yet–is a current preoccupation with my MBTI categorization of INTJ. What the heck did I just say? Well, MBTI means Myers Briggs Type Indicator, a long-established system in which we answer questions about ourselves and are categorized as one of sixteen personality types.
Recently I read a book in galley form called Creative You: Using Your Personality Type to Thrive. It will be published on July 2nd and I’ll have a blog breaking it down that day. The book helps you identify how your MBTI guides your creative process, but I’m using it to help identify my sources of anxiety. Since this is a blog, and bloggers love bullet lists, perhaps I should work my way through the possible causes as a blogger would:
- Social anxiety. This is a possible culprit. The “I” in INTJ means “introvert.” There are about 150 students and 30 faculty here on campus. More people know who I am than at any previous residency, because as a graduating student I’ve been here every semester every other student has been here. I should add that I am very good with names and very good with faces. I am very poor at matching names and faces. Thus every encounter is a potential mine field of embarrassment.
- Performance anxiety. Because this is a graduation residency, I must give a 20-minute reading and a 45-minute lecture. My reading is this afternoon, my lecture on Saturday (mere hours before graduation). Yes, I’m nervous about both, particularly my reading, because I don’t know if I made a good selection of what to read. Yet I don’t think this is the real source of my problem. I do a lot of public speaking in my professional life. I am an “I” but I know how to play an “E” in front of a microphone. But the extent to which I do have anxiety about these is unique to this residency because they are new tasks for me.
- Housing anxiety. This semester I again chose to stay off campus. I booked a room in a local woman’s house sight unseen that proved to be most unpleasant and uncomfortable; it was an impulse decision that was definitely not consistent with my personality type, and it cost me. The housing was most definitely not contributing to my mental well-being. Last night, however, I relocated to a professionally run inn just off campus that is a phenomenal improvement. I suspect this source of anxiety has been resolved.
- Real world anxiety. It’s not always easy for me to transition from my professional and personal life to this bubble of creativity. Last semester was a difficult transition for me. But while things are crazy at work, my co-workers have things well in hand, in part due to their skill and competence and in part due to my INTJ-driven advance planning. I begin teaching an online course two days after graduation, which has me anxious because it is “new,” but what is really new is the format–online–not the course, which I’ve taught before. But it’s possible I just need to be here a few more days to fully immerse and leave aside things not of Vermont.
- Future anxiety. In Creative You, authors David B. Goldstein and Otto Kroeger label INTJ “The Visionary.” I am described as someone who is “future oriented but paradoxically have a practical side as they strive to execute plans.” Yup, guilty as charged. I spend far too much time looking at possible futures, but I then spend a lot of time in the present setting things in motion to make the best possible future happen. This MFA program was set in motion to create a future where I am a better writer who has more publishing and teaching opportunities available to him. And now I’m almost done with what I set in motion. So what next?
“Are you about to graduate?” That is the perfectly innocent question every single person I’ve seen here has asked me. I don’t know the answer. I don’t know the answer because I don’t know sufficiently what my future holds. At each previous residency, I had a six-month future: Select advisor. Work out semester writing and reading plan. Execute. Return in six months. Now other students are going to interview potential semester advisors and I’m in my room rehearsing my graduation reading. What happens now? I’ve already expressed concern that I won’t keep writing. But it’s more than that. There are too many possible futures in front of me right now. I want to set plans in motion to execute one of them, but they are like those little light squiggles you see when you squeeze your eyes tightly shut. When you try to focus on one it just flits away laughing.
I know many of my readers would love to have an MFA, or even to have a single residency experience. Please do not take this post to be a pity party. I am blessed to have had this experience. I have learned a great deal. I have forged connections with amazing people. I have more possible futures now than I did before. But I also have to learn to turn off my “Visionary” identity for the next week and try to savor the moment I am currently in, a graduation residency filled with mentors and friends.