Saturday, July 19, 2008

Girls Gone Wild

Here’s a question: when you are supposed to write 25 pages + every four weeks to send off to your mentor, when exactly are you supposed to blog? Bigger question: if you blog, will you give away your good ideas and send your mentor 25 pages of crap?

I survived the ten-day residency, but not without some serious teeth gnashing. Who knew Maine in July does not look and feel like the Christmas cover of the L.L. Bean catalog? I knew there wouldn’t be snow, but I think I was expecting reindeer and the need for crewneck sweaters and wool socks. Instead, what I got was heat and humidity and a dorm room without AC that was on the first floor, so if I opened the windows the smoke from various nicotine addicts (poets, mostly) wafted into my room.

Also, it turns out when you are middle aged the cozy, good times of dorm life feel a bit more like prison, including the 1” foam mattress and communal showers. I did get compliments on making my room extra cozy with cardboard fold up iPod speakers, postcards pinned to the bulletin board for artwork, a scarf stretched across the jail house bed, and Petey, the stuffed parrot that Z won for me in Oregon last month, resting patiently on my pillow. This decorating was not because I’m a Martha Stewart wannabe, so much as it was that I was miserable for the first four days and thought making the space mine might help deal with the homesickness. It turns out, the room still looked like something from “Oz” (Unit B, not Em City) and it didn’t help much.

Basically, I felt like I was in prison for the first three days because of the digs and having virtually every moment of my day structured. So to survive, I had long phone conversations with friends, my mother, and Z, who is in Zimbabwe, and was so busy whining and being miserable and giving in to crying jags in the privacy of my cell that I failed to notice a lot of first semester students were miserable too. I also didn’t take in to account the beauty that surrounded me and the excellent opportunity for learning and communion with other writers that I’d paid good money to experience. I’d like to tell you that I had an epiphany that led me to some Zen-like, be-here-now state, but what I had that made it okay is this: a lot of stout and a tequila shot.

That’s right. I graduated from college without one drunken episode to my name, which had more to do with my not really liking the taste of alcohol (when compared with, say, Coke and Pop-tarts) than it did the temperance oath I signed when entering my alma mater. And then at 41 I discovered that the secret to surviving dorm life and new-experience social anxiety is to get drunk with some people in your “major”, go to a talent show, drink some more, hug people you just met like they are long lost friends, sing Stevie Nicks songs in the women’s room with two poets, some novelists, an essayist, and an erotica writer, and then stagger off to bed.

If only I had known this in 1985.

Aside from reliving a youth I never had, the program ended up feeling like a perfect fit for me. There is warmth but nobody will be blowing sunshine up my nether regions. The faculty appears to be supportive and is focused on practical matters like publishing as much as they are “Art.” My contemporaries feel like just that—most of us are coming in on equal footing, with a variety of strengths and weaknesses.

It’s going to be a lot of work. It’s going to cost a lot of money. It’s going to be the genesis for some angst-ridden blogs. But I think it will be good, and in January I’ll get to find out if Maine in winter lives up to those L.L. Bean covers when I return for my second residency as a seasoned pro.

Best of all, in January I’ll be in a hotel and not in a jail cell.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

What Not to Wear

I’m on my way to Maine to begin a low-residency MFA program in nonfiction. I’m not what you would call a person who plans ahead (hence my antiquated age when finding true, excellent love and deciding I needed a more substantial degree to support my career), so it’s hard for me to fathom the next ten days here, let alone the five semesters it will take before I can add the F to my earlier M and A. Last night, however, I was planning ahead. I planned ahead for the rough, industrial sheets I’d be warned would be on the bed in the dorm I’ll be sleeping in for 9 nights. I planned ahead for the possible muggy, breezeless weather with a sexy little red mini fan. I planned ahead for a tight schedule and wrote up reading assessments on evaluations forms I’ll be expected to complete at the end of the sessions I attend.

I also planned my outfit for today. Celery cropped pants and an apple green sweater. It seemed like the right mix of I’m-not-a-total-slob and I’m-too-buys-with-my-writing-to-be-a-fashionista. I felt quite good in it until I caught a glimpse of the mirror in the airport women’s room and realized the look I’d accomplished was really just good old Midwestern Jolly Green Giant.

And so the journey begins.