Posts Tagged ‘VCFA’

Well, that’s that. The 2011 Summer Residency for the Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults is over. Though I know a few stragglers are still in Montpelier with family or are preparing to embark on vacations, everyone else was well on their way before the 10 AM check-out time.

After yesterday’s graduation we fellow Graduate Assistants went down the hill into town and ate crepes at The Skinny Pancake, an eatery most worthy. We had talked of getting an order of poutine for the table to share but in the end it was a good thing we didn’t, our stuffed sweet and savory crepes were good enough. It was the second time we ate out as a group, though we also shared plenty of other meals in the cafeteria, and I think by the end we gelled as a group the way the individual classes do. I would go back and do it all over with dp, Catherine, Christopher, and Pam in a heartbeat.

As these residencies continue I find there are fewer and fewer recognizable faces from when I was in the program, and a whole lot of new faces. The “kids” I met as First Semesters last year were now officially in the middle of the program and it was interesting to see how they’d sort of “mellowed” into things. I think that its impossible to go through the program and not be changed, while still finding your creative spirit and zeal invigorated in the process. It was great to be able to “check in” with them and not feel so much like I was returning to a school full of strangers. Of course, no one remains a stranger in a small program like tis fr long, but still. Then again, the class that will graduate in January of 2012 were the incoming class during my graduating residency of 2010, which means that if I return next summer I will encounter the entire generation of five classes that entered after I left the program. How odd! It doesn’t seem like it’s been that long!

The current graduating class – all of them really, but this one is fresh in mind – is full of brilliant writers who I cannot imagine won’t find their way onto bookshelves and e-readers in short time. Godspeed, you League of Extraordinary Cheese Sandwiches! May your bready exteriors remain fresh and your cheesy souls remain creamy and smooth.

As usual after returning from VCFA I am both exhausted and supercharged. I’m ready to tear back into my writing with zeal but I’m also dying to take a massive nap and get some laundry down. After 11 days in a bubble I have read last Sunday’s paper and scanned some headlines on line just to make sure I didn’t miss any major news. Women’s soccer lost in a shoot-out after overtime, and Rupert Murdoch’s “news” organization is full of the same type of unsavory and immoral characters they promote into office. That about covers it, I think.

All of which to say that I am unprepared to deliver an original story from The New Grimmoire today. Tomorrow perhaps, or Saturday at the latest. I still don’t know if I’ll be pushing off Poetry Friday into the weekend as well. All I know is that, like a vacation, I need a break from the break. One day of re-entry and then tomorrow, day one, 8 AM, lasers.


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the blue in the corner

The VCFA residency officially began today and here I am already writing poetry.  Okay, not “real” poetry, more like thoughts collected in lines and grouped on the fly, resembling poetry.

The opening lecture was by Louise Hawes entitled “Wabi Sabi: the Extraordinary Power of the Ordinary.”  Beyond that I will (can?) say little else; you had to be there.  But for those of us who were there we engaged in a little exercise where we focused on a neglected object and wrote from the object’s perspective.  Again, this just sort of tumbled out.

the blue in the corner

the broad springs that once crossed my belly
have each lost their mooring
unable to redistribute the weight
you placed upon me

you sat in my lap
heard me strain, the pop
surely i should have served you better
lasted longer
or at least through the first year of the warranty

but you would not return me
not to the store
you made excuses that i was too cumbersome to move
that you lost the receipt

and then your attempts to fix me
make me whole
return me to some approximation of what i once was

but i am what i have become~
a broken arm chair with a sunken seat

while you submerge yourself, deeper, lower
without complaint

i refuse to support you
while you refuse to abandon me
which of us is more stubborn?

Yes, I fully intend to fix this chair when I get home. I do have a plan.

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Yesterday I handed in my last packet of materials for grad school.  I still have a week to compile my final paperwork for my degree, but all the heavy lifting is done.  There’s also that little matter of a residency to attend in January – something about delivering a lecture and attending a graduation ceremony – but, yeah, done.

It feels so anti-climactic.

I’ve got some work in for my final workshop that I know isn’t up to the standards of the novel I just finished (hmm, need to start looking for an agent I guess) but I also didn’t have the time to make it top drawer.  Thinking about it, about its flaws and how much work it needs, makes me wonder if I can do it on my own.  For two years now I’ve had one-on-one responses from advisors who would ask the hard questions at every step of the way, making sure my manuscript took a nice, balanced, well-rounded shape.

From here out I have to rely on that voice being inside my head.

For the next month it will be easier to retreat into the world of school just a little longer, to mercilessly edit and refine my lecture and prepare for book discussions and workshops.  Then, come January 20th, the tether is cut and I’m set to glide free.

And that large land mass below, with its persistent and unfeeling gravity, attempting to pull me down flatten me on impact?

That would be fear.

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Today we had our first workshop meeting.  Ours is one of the small groups – six people and one advisor as opposed to ten or twelve people and two advisors.  Our faculty advisor is Tim Wynne-Jones.  And because it is a smaller group we have more time to spend not only discussing workshop pieces but also exploring specific craft issues.

Which means writing exercises.

I have this fear of in-class writing exercises because I immediately get my hackles raised at having to perform on cue.  Irrationally, perhaps – I am a writer after all, I should be able to write simple exercises, right? – I immediately fear I will get the assignment wrong.  Or worse, because I think while I write (and I write slowly) that I won’t finish in time and somehow be seen as less of a writer.  Plus everyone else in the group is brilliant and I’m a charlatan.  At least that’s how it feels.

But today after the discussion of one my fellow workshopper’s pieces we did a couple short exercises – Tim calls them writing games – that didn’t leave me feeling quite so dumbstruck.  I am not saying these are brilliant examples of writing in general, or of my own writing, but that I walked away feeling like maybe I can write on command without breaking out in a sweat and fearing my writer’s card will be taken away.

First we were asked to write a scene that contained a character named Teri, a kitchen, and dealing with aftermath of a date… without actually talking about the date directly.

Teri entered the kitchen without turning on the light.  She removed a glass from the cabinet – the old French tumbler with the chip at the base that she couldn’t help running her finger over.  She ran the tap a bit before filling the glass then turned and leaned against the sink while taking slow, deliberate sips.  She shifted her weight from hip to hip while kicking off her shoes.  Her eyes adjusted to the dark as shades of color began to appear around her.  The dishtowels looked dingy in the shadowy moonlight.  The loaf of bread she had hastily placed atop the refrigerator earlier leaned anxiously toward the edge, ready to fall.  The fruit in the bowl on the counter had somehow deflated while she was out.

Teri took one final sip and wiped away the evening from her lips.

The word anxious is highlighted because originally I had written eagerly, crossed it out, then added it back.  I like the idea that amid all this dour post-date imagery there was something threatening to take some sort of action.  Tim spotted it immediately and I held fast to it during the workshop but realized now that anxiety in a loaf of bread seemed better.  I could be wrong, I often am.

Students of Tim’s, or of VCFA in general, will probably recognize this as an objective correlative assignment.

Next, we looked at adjectives.  No, rather, we didn’t look at them.  It was a quicky, a scene set outside using no adjectives.  No other rules.  Go.

The crows dropped from the trees all at once and alighted on the playground.  They flapped and cawed and danced around the body lying face-down in the center of the basketball court.  First one, then several crows approached the body, tilting their heads for a better view.  A car backfired and the sound sent the crows back to the trees where they waited until it was once again safe to investigate what had happened to their friend.

Okay, I have no idea where the hell that came from.  I half thought I would make the body a fallen scarecrow, but then the basketball court didn’t make sense.  Then I started thinking about crows thinking of a human as a friend and what they expected of him.  Next thing I knew, I was thinking more than writing.  That happens.

So, again, not great writing, but some things I thought interesting.  Thought I’d share.

My piece gets workshopped on Tuesday.  I’m not nervous at all.  Not yet at least.

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The incoming class is already starting to filter in, their first official meeting is tonight.  The faculty is already there.  The rest of us will be filtering in as well, arriving in time for orientation just after lunch tomorrow. Time again for that thing we call “the res,” or simply “res,”

The Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults bi-annual residency!

So part of me wants to promise to keep regular updates, but I know that’s contingent on any number of factors.  Last time I managed to snag a solo room, so I was able to stay up late at night writing and blogging without worrying about keeping anyone else awake.  Single rooms are incredibly rare, but still, one can hope.

I suppose I could try and Tweet.  But that’s not what I feel like doing in the brief moments between faculty lectures and studetn lectures and all the other good stuff scheduled for the coming scant two weeks.  But all of that is still to come because, as of this moment, I am still maing lists of everything I need to do, and some last minute packing, and everything else I need to wedge into the day before a nice mellow pizza and movie night with my Suze before leaving early tomorrow morning.

It’s a little like camp, where you can’t wait to see the people you haven’t seen since the last time you were at camp.  It’s like summer camp but all the activities are indoor, because if we added outdoor activites we’d end up there for a month instead of two weeks.  It’s a summer camp with a graduation and a prom attached.  It’s a writer’s retreat, and a battery recharge, and a reunion with community, and dorms with cafeteria food.

And I am a little excited.  But not so you’d notice.

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Things were running slow on the old computer today, and realizing I’d had it up and running for several days I decided to shut it down and restart it.

Uh oh.

It wouldn’t kick over, its chrome apple stared at me like a lobotomized hedgehog, the little bar clock spinning and spinning and chasing its tail like the old Warner Bros. Tasmanian devil.  I did the time-honored tech support maneuver – shut it down, count to thirty, start again – but no dice.  Suze suggested I go about my day for a bit, shop for groceries and take a shower, then try again.  So I did.


I knew there had to be a way to do this, to jump-start it and make sure it was okay.  There had to be.  I hadn’t backed-up my thesis externally and didn’t even want to consider a life of recreating my thesis from scratch.  Brainiac that I am, I realized there were other computers in the house and did a quick Internet search for that thing I used to know but had forgotten: the safe start mode.  Shift + start.  And there it was, all in one piece.  A quick disk check revealed nothing broken so I saved my important thesis docs to a thumb drive, shut it down, crossed my fingers and fired it up again.

So far so good.

The week of my last deadline  I dropped the laptop and got a nice little dent where it landed on the power cord connector.  I spent two days holding my breath that I could get the last of my first draft finished before the internal organs bled to death.  I suppose having a full week to get a full diagnostic repair wouldn’t have been so bad – I probably could have pulled files between computers and worked at the library or something – but I’m beginning to wonder if I’m allowing the stress of this thing to cause me to screw things up.  I can’t  figure out how I managed to mess up the reboot but I won’t write off a crazy errant keystroke combination.

I’ll be glad when this is over and I can work on something nice and sane.  Like fiction.

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As I plow my way through my critical thesis I find my mind drifting.  The problem of having to exert so much brain toward thinking critically only makes the longing for creative writing stronger.  I half wonder if this is the desired effect.

That phrase, the desired effect, sticks.  What is it I want from my writing?  What, exactly, is the desired effect?  Beyond the overall impression from any particular story, what is it I truly desire?

A song.

I don’t mean I want the work to be lyrical, or to imply something that borders on the precious, but that sensation you feel when the overall effect is like a song you want to hear over and over, that you never tire of.  A piece of music that lodges itself into the memory banks at such an angle that it refelcts like a prism the time in which you first heard the song, the feelings of that time, simultaneously with the current moment.

Not art, I’m not talking about anything as rational as art.  There isn’t necessarily anything special about the words, or the construct, but something in the way they all come together — song or story or whatever.

The desired effect is something you cannot shake.  The desired effect is something else, something other.

It is something you find when you aren’t looking for it.  But how do you find something you want without wanting it, how do you achieve without trying?


Back to the thesis.

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