I just started an MFA residency today – and I am terrified of failing and not fitting in, but also I am floating a little outside myself watching in amazement as I move among the other students in this beautiful winter-retreat lodge where we are staying for the week. I lucked out and got my own room, which I am extremely excited about, as I was dreading bunking with 25-year-olds – though now that I’m up here on a different floor all alone there is a tiny part of me that thinks, “Aw, it would have been fun and helped me make friends faster if I had to share a room with some of the other women. But the greater part of me is definitely happy to be up here alone.”
It has been my adult-lifetime dream to get an MFA, to have someone push me to get my writing done, to coach and encourage me, to help me keep my storylines moving, to introduce and expose me to agents and other authors. Now that I’m here, I’m afraid of multiple things:
- First, I’m afraid this program won’t actually push or coach me or help me get published – that either I misunderstood what MFA programs do or that this is an especially awful one. (I’m praying that is not the case and am conscious of a terrible habit I have of putting people, places and things down if I’m scared of them. So I want to be careful I don’t start telling myself I’m above it all, and this program sucks, just so I can feel better about my own failures as a writer.)
- I’m also scared I won’t get any writing done and will fail – and they just announced that multiple students have not done their work for three or more semesters, and they’re changing their policy so that students have to hand in work before they can move on to the next semester, or they can only be one semester behind, or something like that. As Stephanie, the program director, said to everyone assembled at the (delicious) dinner, “You’re all paying a lot of money to not get your writing done, and we feel we can’t let that go on for years.” So this tells me that whatever coaching they do, it’s not universally effective…
- And I’m scared I’ll be disliked by these kids and or by the teachers and program director, that in the kids’ case I’ll make them nervous just by virtue of being old (I don’t feel old, but I understand someone in her 50s will seem old to them; I’m older than or the same age as many of their parents, I’m sure.) And that in the teachers’ or administrator’s case they’ll feel… threatened by me. The way some (mostly women) do, even though I don’t always understand why. For example, the administrator could read this blog and think I am saying the program is terrible, which I am not! I am saying I don’t know and my fears are running rampant.
OK, that’s enough expression of my fears; I don’t want to give them more space in my head than they deserve. What I really am is excited that no matter what this program does or offers, I have an opportunity here to focus on my writing with some kind of guidance, with someone watching and waiting for me to do the next chapter (or whatever it is), and that is thrilling. I do feel a make-or-break sense about this, in terms of my ability to feel like a “real” writer, that if I can’t finish and publish a book while I’m here, it’s never going to happen. And I am excited that my writing will be homework, which will give me permission to tell people I’m busy writing and feel OK about that.
I’m gonna go now and read through my colleague’s workshop materials and make notes so I have encouraging things to say to them when we start workshopping our submissions together tomorrow afternoon. And if I have time after that, I’m going to edit my poetry manuscript so it feels ready to send out. That will be my first project here that I will work on with my mentor, who is a poet, whom I haven’t met yet as she’s not arriving until tomorrow morning. My daughter Jamie took the past couple of months reading over my manuscript and offering lots of fantastic editing suggestions and encouraging remarks, so I’m going to try to incorporate those and cut some of the poems so the book is the right length (75-80 pages instead of the 98 it is now).
Wish me luck. I mean that literally; feel free to share your good wishes in my comments. If you’re reading this on Facebook, please don’t comment there, because I haven’t gone on in weeks except to look for birthdays for a calendar I was making, and I’m hoping to keep it that way.
Also, here’s a photo from our first-ever Christmas Night Salon, which I plan to make an annual event. We had so much fun! This is a picture of the Jamies (my daughter and a friend from high school, Jamie Sharken) with their incredible shrinking mothers, me and my new friend Joanne.