I guess these are those interesting times we’d been taught about in school, huh?
As a child of the ’70s, the first thirty years never felt like they carried the import of being an era the way each and every day of 2020/2021 has. Like all of us, I’m about ready to live days that won’t make the cut for history textbooks of the future. Or VR Histori-casts, or whatever.
The challenges of emergency mental health (high risk, constant emotional intensity, predictable unpredictability, violence, variety, etc.) have mostly intensified under the vagaries of the pandemic (staff shortages, overall distress increases, fragmented primary care, increased access to opioids/overdoses, etc.). And as the mental health surges tend to follow the medical health surges, I have to say that I’m really not looking forward to the spring (or the years to come…?)
But, enough of that. It’s been a wonderful year for personal growth and this next one is positioned to be even better.
Back in 2010, a writing workshop leader, Michaela Roessner encouraged me to consider a low-residency MFA in writing. I couldn’t do it at the time, and for the next ten years I couldn’t bring myself to really consider the time and financial commitment to make it happen. But thanks to Covid, and online pivots, it became a doable possibility. And Michaela was right.
At the first residency at VCFA I was so nervous and overwhelmed with impostor syndrome, I could barely babble out an answer to any personal question. In every interaction I felt myself over-compensating or retreating with embarrassment.
Had I ever even really read a book? Have I ever truly written? What am I doing here?
But now, it’s 2022, and I sit with close to 250 pages of new fiction, at least thirty books read that I truly had not known existed twelve months ago, and a feeling of community. I am privileged to say that I may come through the pandemic with work I’m proud of, an expanded education, and new friends (that I’ve yet to meet in person). That is far from bad.
I write this in part because for the last ten years, as I searched for information on MFAs, I found my way to discussion boards with a binary classification of benefit/evil. For me, someone who had stalled in his creative work, who needs the structure of deadlines and invested readers, and whose vacation allowance sat sadly idle for two years, this has been lovely.
This last term, I’ve worked under Douglas Glover, who pushed me into new forms and approaches to creative generation. While Doug writes about many things (Don Quixote, slavery, the early Canadian colonies), as he told me in one our conversations, is always writing about love.
Which has highlighted something for me, especially going into my third residency. Every writer will tell you what they write about. Just this week I’ve heard writers say they write about families, intergenerational trauma, geography, child abuse, identity, the mythic. Well-established writers and apprentices alike can boil down thousands of hours of creation and creativity into a single word or idea!
A potential advisor asked me to tell him about my work. There I was, as tongue-tied and blank as I was a year ago. Not this time, as an impostor, I can stare at the stack of pieces I’ve sweat through and accept that I’m a writer. No, it’s no longer about verbs. I write. I read. I have read and written and critiqued and shared and published. The next step is different.
What do I write? Who am I as a writer? What do I want to do with all these words?
Sure, there’s the perspective that the market will decide, the stuff that sells, the stuff that gathers interest will point the way, but for the next year, it’s not about the market. I have a thesis to do, more work to create, and I have to (get to?) make decisions. I can write and collect and focus my work on whatever is meaningful to me. Forget agents and publishers, at least for a moment: as a writer what is it that I will make?
This year I wrote about Medusa and superhero furniture and the soul and love without commonality and suicide and Kafka and Zeus and about mothers who get to control their kids’ aging and a dozen other things both silly and sad. But, I’m still searching for the words that I feel comfortable to define it all.
It is daunting, yes, but also so damned exciting. And it’s great to not be doing it alone.