After one residency, the late Wayne Brown stayed on an extra day after we’d all left.
“Wow,” I said. “Lonely.”
“No,” he said. “Empty.”
Even a ghost town has ghosts.
I have to admit: yesterday, on day 7 of the rez, under the auspices of thinking about music I’d want to buy re-issued on vinyl, came upon Joni Mitchell in my mind, and realized that she was just what I needed to hear as rez comes screaming to a close. The graduates are back to steal the show and take us out in a blaze. But I was sad–sad–at the endings of things. I pulled over and grabbed my cracked copy of “Blue” from the trunk, leaned back and listened to “A Case of You.” Then I listened to “Blue.” Joni I could not live without. I wouldn’t be me without Joni. Wouldn’t have half the courage. That woman is raw, wild, and clear as a bell. After my fix of melancholy, I was no longer alone and I drove on.
Today we gathered with second-year MFA students in a cool classroom over the quad to discuss this difficult thing called writing.
How do you get your work out? Where do you send it? Do you need an online presence? How much, how little? Is there an advantage to being not seen as well as seen? Whose company do you want to keep? What feeds you? What takes away the joy? And how to keep it all straight? Is a work ever finished? Can envy serve you? Do I need to learn the ukele?
Here’s some of the terrain we traveled (from my notes of one hour ago):
Networking vs. forming relationships….what can I offer vs. what can I get? (Advice: you like someone’s work? send them a letter or note on Facebook telling them why)…don’t use publishing to feel legitimate….don’t publish too soon….(some don’t feel their work is “done” when they send it out; others send when they can’t stand looking at it anymore)… someone on the panel wrote for 10 years before a publication….another, as soon as she claimed the desire to write, replete with artist garret-with-typewriter-fantasy, found that the dream of publication came true….blog as sandbox, a place to play and do “less considered” writing….how to keep learning, keep that learner side alive……you get better and better by trying new things and failing….the more your name is out there the better….go on a X-day writing “binge” and tell people about it….we all feel like a fraud….feed the muse by looking at paintings, being social, drawing, or, for one panelist, playing the ukulele.
I am struck by how much we all feel like a fraud (and relieved), at how much it’s about truly claiming your desire to do this thing, be damned, and letting the chips fall where they may (reminds me of when people say that when you stop looking for Mr. Right he shows up), and at how legitimacy remains an issue, it’s just that the stakes get bigger.
This is the message I heard, and why I came away from this morning’s panel so soothed, stepping out into the muggy heat light as a feather: You are not alone. This writing thing is difficult. You have to find your own way. But you are not alone. Ever.
Today we welcomed 98 students and 30 faculty to nine days of seminars, workshops, readings, and study plans; of introductions and old hello’s, conversations in the lunch line, waves across the quad, an agent’s number pressed into a palm, a book recommended, graduation, the thesis table, and my favorite: the faces at the evening readings with that open, “tell me a story” gaze. Tell me, do we ever listen so intently and so openly, so earnestly and desiringly as when listening to a story?
Cambridge! I went walking to see the magazines at the Coop, first outside, then inside, and then at Out of Town News, the kiosk in the heart of Harvard Square, where you can buy magazines from all over the world, on all topics, languages, interests.
Books! I will pursue them this week, at rez on the book table, at sales after readings when everyone is pumped and buzzing with the “live” word in their midst, and the writers among them who have figured this stuff out, who have wrestled with the same questions and concerns, hit the same snags and fears, who have longed and quit and come back and reveled and despised.
I will celebrate books for the beautiful objects they are, objects of my affection and my desire. A stiff uncracked spine. Pristine pages waiting.
A book is like a houseguest. You invite it in, open your own self along with its cover. You feed it with your attention. Nourish it with your imagination. Love it with your soul. Or hate it. But you’re never indifferent.
I will always love books and the people who write them. I feel what I see in those faces listening to a story.
Last day in the woods for a while. We continue to pursue wild things. The wild ones are different. Less pristine. More ragged. Vulnerable. Tough. And staggeringly beautiful.
wild orchids (Shh…we’re not telling where) I think it’s the finding that is most fun. Finding things in their context, where they live and will die. And their altogether indifference to my presence. It is a good reminder that things are going on all the time without our controlling them.
After a day of honoring fathers, I want to remember especially my grandfather, born in Piazza Armerina, Sicily, a man who loved bowling, bocce, dancing, pruning his roses, tending his vegetable garden, where I picked carrots and peas and beans as a girl, and whose love of hard work, growing things, and languages (he started learning English formally in his 70’s) I inherited. He worked as a laborer and always told me to find work that would make me happy.
And my own father, who taught me, among other things, how to play bocce, shuffle cards, play poker, and parallel park, things that I do with a confidence I don’t have elsewhere in my life. But these things…no question. My dad taught me how. Fathers teach us practical things, things that stay with us.
And my favorite father, a man who comes in from mowing and presents me at my study door with an armful of wild roses.
We need fathers. If mothers are our earliest incubators, fathers are our connection to the world. Through dad, we begin to step out, step away. Indeed, our very first steps are likely out of the hands of mother and into the arms of our fathers. We need something to grow toward, to lean into, to pull us up into who we are meant to be.