You know how you felt at the end of summer camp? YAY. I’m going home. WAAAHHHH. I’m going home.
Yesterday, I was packing by 7:00 a.m. At 8:40, I was trotting this path to shiny, elegant College Hall at Vermont College–for the very last workshop of the summer 2010 MFA residency. For the next two hours and 15 minutes, I was with a small group of smart, passionate writers all wrestling with questions: what does it take to create a work of fiction that staples readers to their chairs and won’t let them wander off to make a cheese sandwich? Then–boom-de-boom–back to Noble Hall to listen to a fascinating lecture on “For Esme with Love and Squalor”…more packing…lunch…taxi to Burlington…fly to JFK…fly through thunderstorms to Kansas City…drive home. Can we all say “Welter Of Emotions“???
Every class chooses its own name. This semester’s Thunder Badgers were one of the biggest graduating groups, so the schedule was more relentless than usual. But wow. They delivered lecture after lecture, reading after reading that had me stapled to my seat.
Now we scatter…fiercely trying to hang onto the artistic life of a writer in the midst of hundreds of reasons why we can’t. Or shouldn’t.
When I was creating Lanie’s stories, I eventually decided she needed an aunt. Someone who would introduce her to birding and muck around in the back yard garden with her. (Notice Lanie’s great new boots and binoculars–against a backdrop of an amazing gift one of my Vermont students gave me to celebrate our tough-but-wondrous-journey-of-a-semester together.)
Yes, sometimes we need exasperating, exhilarating other people around us. It’s pretty easy to figure out where the aunt idea swam up from. In Ethiopia, I grew up far from my blood aunts and uncles, but we called all our parents’ colleagues “aunt” and “uncle”–a pond of affection around me as I navigated a tumultous and confusing childhood. My big family…my husband’s big family…made that pond for my kids. Now my daughter is doing it for her niece and nephew.
In the solitary and often-disturbing writing life, I’m grateful for the playful, intense, story-loving community that gives courage for the journey.