It’s equally as difficult to capture the soul of a low-residency MFA program in a short explanation as it is to draw a concrete picture of the concept “dream.” But I’ll try.
The short of it is that for the past nine days, I’ve been sitting in class. Some of these “classes” are very traditional in the sense that an instructor with a prepared lecture speaks on a topic illustrated by assigned readings. In these seminars, we have learned about the body (i.e. scene and sentence) and the soul (i.e. character and conflict) of our writing. Other “classes” are actually workshops – small groups of students who have read each other’s writing and have commented on what works in the piece and what doesn’t. At night, we have been attending entertaining and poignant readings by both published authors and students.
The long of it is that this experience has been completely different than anything I’ve ever done. My classmates and professors have ranged in age from their early twenties to their seventies, work their day jobs in everything from art to oncology, and hail from all over the the world. This diversity lends itself to learning about writing and writers in more ways than I ever imagined. I’ve been in and out of creative writing courses and workshops since high school, but in their nature they have been one tentative toe in the water. This past week I was immersed – all the way to the bottom, in the deep end of the pool.
Writing is breathing while we’re here. Even in the cafeteria after seminar, even in the bar at night, even in our dorm rooms at unreasonable hours after the bar – we are writers and we are talking about our craft. And we are similar to each other in this aspect, which is something that a lot of us don’t get in the “real world.” We are building up our writing stores for the six months we are cast off on our own.
For “low-residency” means autodidactic. We are given a map and some peripheral direction but beyond that are on our own. The lessons we have learned here we must take back to our own writing desks, to our couches, to our offices, to hold us over until January. It’s scary to be cast off back into the real world, but I don’t think that I can retreat back into the writing vacuum I inhabited a week ago. I’ve learned too much.
So put simply, I’ve been taking classes and gathering reading and writing assignments that I will complete, in four different submission packets, throughout the semester. But really I have been submersed in writing, learning how to breathe in this sometimes alien environment, and how to occasionally come up for air in order to be able to go back down for longer periods. I know I will eventually be ready to graduate, once I’ve experienced this grueling week three more times, but for now, two years seems far too short for this life-altering experience.