Tag Archives: MFA in Creative Writing

While I’m Supposed to be Doing Packet Work…

Goddard College Clockhouse

Goddard College Clockhouse (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What I learned at my first Goddard residency.

Right now, I should be reading The Pastures of Heaven by John Steinbeck, as prescribed by my advisor, but after a week since residency, I need to describe my experience–even if it is in vain, but especially if it helps anyone decide whether or not to go for an MFA.

I knew this: when I came home, my living and dining rooms would be different colors. Life before the residency would have warm tones–my living room was a shade of beige that I would title “uncolor,” and my dining room was a mistake from the first year we bought our house–not pink, as my husband likes to call it, but “rosedust.”

I can’t say what I expected of the residency, specifically, only what I thought would happen as a result of it. I wondered if my youngest son would stare blankly at me upon my return, forgetting the crevice of my neck and shoulder where his little peach-y head sat just a year ago; forgetting the night I held him in my great-grandmother’s rocking chair as my tired eyes followed a single firefly around his bedroom; or forgetting my name that, when he said it this way, made me wonder if it was accidental: “mum-mum.”

I wondered if my oldest son would cry himself to sleep every night and both hate me and love me more for it.

I wondered if my mother’s worries were true: if I’d be abducted–by anyone–locals, college students, or aliens, then sold into a jam or potholder-making business, and with my cell phone stolen and memory erased, cease to exist as I once was. Or worse, I could have just ceased.

I thought maybe I would realize what a marvelous genius I was, that I would sit at my Formica desk in my building that smelled musty (as though Raymond Carver had really never left) and type away on my old Mac that I’d romanticize was an Underwood typewriter and emerge on the last day of residency with a manuscript that would exempt me from the next 3 residencies. And didn’t we all, really, wonder this? No, me neither.

Here’s what I realized.

There is a large population of people with dietary restrictions and a host of glorious food at the Goddard cafeteria to meet them. There was probably leftover bacon at the end of breakfast every day. Yes, there was bacon at breakfast. Every. Day. And there should never, ever, be bacon leftovers. Seriously, I ate more than I ever did at home, and I feel like I lost weight while I was there. Mystical.

Regardless of how long it’s been since I’ve been in school (6 years!), I could still find my inner “student.” I took up the director of the program when he advised us to break from workshops on occasion. Sometimes I “skipped school” and Skyped instead, feeling strange in my room while those who walked in and out of the building overheard me talking to my son about three-year-old matters like superheroes, potties, and bunk bed sleepovers. Sometimes I sat on a hill with the sun overhead, reading. Sometimes I ate slice after slice of homemade bread with fresh butter from the cafeteria between meals. Once, I took a nap. Being a student again was, in fact, easy.

Every college has a frat house. Goddard has the Music Building. Behind it is a seemingly perpetually lit bonfire. Behind that is a forest that friends tell me is reminiscent of the movie, The Village. There are also fireflies.

Every college has a ghost. I wasn’t the only Goddard student set on capturing evidence. I will say that I found what the cast of Ghost Adventures would consider solid evidence: my camera would not work in the Martin Manor (the haunted building), but would once I left. There were orbs in the upstairs hallway. There was an opaque film over photos I took and retook in the allegedly haunted room. This is just my evidence. And also, Ouija Boards work. (Disclaimer: these are views of the blogger and do not reflect the views of Goddard College.)

Every college has a student from Western New York. Or Appalachia. Or Central Iowa. Or [insert your little-known place here]. Really.

I realized this: writers are just fun to be around. I made friends like I was in Kindergarten–every person had no clue who I was–I could have been someone I’d never met.

I met a vegan shoe-hound from Brooklyn who prides herself on being mistaken for a drag queen on the NYC streets. I met a blond-haired teacher who can sing Journey in front of strangers at the request of any playwright. I met a potato-bug of a guy, a beanie-wearing, screen-writing, skeptic-turned-believer. I met a woman who lost someone in her first few days of residency, but sucked it up and stuck it out, and was there when I left.

When I got home, both of my sons knew who I was. They hugged me and smiled and hugged me and smiled and then asked me for a snack. My oldest showed me the two rooms, now painted in cool tones. The very walls had changed–a muted turquoise called “Emperor,” and some kind of quiet charcoal color.

For the first few days, my oldest son asked me if I liked the new walls, and then he reminded me how much he missed me when I was gone.

Still, a week later, as I write this, the residency colors everything. I can still smell the fresh paint in the house.

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Dear Johnny: To My Son as I Pack for Goddard

English: Colargol with a suitcase.

English: Colargol with a suitcase. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Dear Johnny,

On Thursday, I leave for Vermont.  Specifically, Goddard College, for a residency in creative writing.  Remember this when you decide that your Silly Putty masterpieces are worthy of a career in sculpture, that your crayon drawings or chocolate-syrup-fingers are on to something artful, or when you want your comedic presence to be shared with a room of people in the dark, who laugh at your will.  Art is often thought of as the least-practical route, but is looked to, by everyone, for meaning, when reason ultimately fails.  And it often will.

Today, you told me that the “countdown chain” I made you was “reawwy awful” because I put you in timeout.  When I was little, Mrs.Ewanow, my Kindergarten teacher, had us all make chains with 25 Lick-N-Stick links, alternating red and green.  I brought mine home to my mother.  We hung it on the door to the basement, and I tore one away each day, though when I felt really anxious to unwrap the presents under the tree, I wanted to take two links away.

Today, when you told me you didn’t like my chain, I thought, Well, it serves me right for thinking I could compare to Santa.

I’ve tried to tell you so many ways that I am going.  Here’s how it went the first time I broke it to you:

“Johnny, I’m going to go to work.  For a whole week,” I said.

“Yeah?” you asked.  “Are you going today?”

“No,” I said.  “Not for two weeks.”

“Okay!  Well, wanna build a train track?”  you asked.

Sammy is so little, Johnny.  Today, you tried to knock him over with your whole left side.  You scratched him on his back like a cat would.  You hugged him with so much love you left ten little white fingerprints on his tan back.  He loves you, too, so he just smiles.  Promise me this will not change by next weekend.

You get your dramatic, sensitive side from me.  Your grandmother is our opposite.  Her fingers are split and calloused.  Her eyes are darker and stronger than her coffee.  She is so small, but like the trunk of a tree, she is unwavering.  As a mother, she did whatever she wanted.

Her first day of work was the first day I went to Kindergarten.

And now, I am vanishing for a whole week.

So, what does one week equal in pre-school years?

I will be home in eight baths.  Or seven re-runs and two new episodes of Phineas and Ferb.  Or in ten chicken nuggets.  Eleven juice boxes.  Nine pairs of Spiderman underwear (if you don’t have any accidents).  Eight bedtime stories and missed-kisses goodnight.

It is hard for me to understand.  I am doing what I want, too.

Someday, you will tell me it was right.