The snow didn’t melt, would not melt for another three months and you’re scared, scared to sit with yourself, the memories slamming away, keeping you up at night, haunting your eyes so that the barista hands over the coffee with no chitchat, she takes the money and turns to the next in line with a glance of relief at his normality, the average build, short brown hair, brown eyes, winter hat and scarf from Walmart up the road, nothing unusual to him. Your Russian fur hat and ski instructor jacket from the seventies with the words Polite written across the back and your accent, that not-quite-right English accent, it’s too much, so you sip a mug of dark coffee and stare out the window onto main street, unsure what to do with yourself for the next few months, next few days perhaps, you are restless but why? Why when nothing is different but for that clock inside, the one with the loud ticking relentessly reminding you that you live on borrowed time, too many died the last few months, eight to be exact, eight friends and you’re only fifty, for fucks sake, you’re only fifty but you’re scared that time is running out, speeding past and you’ll never get all the words out before you die, never get the stories out and onto paper, onto screens, that they’d end up rattling around in the afterlife but as an atheist, that’s no help, not for you so you sit and sip coffee, take notes of conversations around you, twist them up to make them warp and burn in your brain, and then you trudge home through the snow drifts in sub-freezing weather, up the hill and back to your desk. You’re living on borrowed time and someone might knock on that door stop that clock inside and be done.
As Julianna Baggott said in class:
- Breathe in.
- Hold it.
- Hold it.
- Just a little longer.
Funny, yes? But oh my, so true. I look at the stories and sketches I’m writing these days and they each have that basic arc. It’s such a simple lesson. One worth sharing.
Reading lists. Essays. Critical responses. Creative responses. Research. More essays. More readings. Editing. Writing.
Well, yes, it’s began folks and I thought you might like an inside view as to our first week at VCFA, the Vermont College of Fine Arts. The campus dates back to the 1800s, huge imposing brick buildings with columns, ten foot windows, a lawn with a fountain, and steep roads leading into Montpelier, with trees, more trees and a ring of low lying soft hills and mountains. Tis idyllic.
The class is held in a basement though, overlooking the parking lot outback and I feel gypped! Why in here? When there are such great classrooms upstairs, unused with these inspiring beautiful views? We sit, all eighteen of us, around a collection of tables back to back, creating that family mealtime, all facing each other with our books and laptops spread out. First class.
Julianna Baggott is here. Our faculty director and teacher, an inspiration herself, a powerhouse of words and action. Tuesdays we have five hours with Julianna, a focused five hours with a dynamic writer of all genres, she is forward facing, industry facing, with a desire to bring us into the craft of writing wherever we each are as individuals as well as help us find our places and careers as writers. Just what I need. I’ve done as much as I can on my own, in the vacuum of a small mountain village in New Mexico, with a determined pushing and presenting my work as often as possible to the larger world, to the community out there, here. Yes, I’m here. In graduate school and it hits me this week. I’ve not felt this fully myself before. I’m a writer. I’m a grad student. I can do this. I will do this.
- 3 x33: a short fiction collection that is 1200 pages long. And yes, I’ve read it.
- The Subversive Copy Editor
- Story by Neugeboren
- Forgotten Places by Johnson
- Three poems to be reviewed.
- Five essays to read over for a journal I work for.
- Owls by Norden
- Tra Bong by O’Brien
- My Man Bovanne by Bambara
- Masked/ Unmasked by Hunger Mountain
- Upstreet #13
And for my own pleasure and research for a new book idea:
- Columbus Was Right! by Barbara Toy
- Descansos by Harrison Candelaria Fletcher
- Solo, a collection of travel essays
- Susan Sontag
- Grace Perry
Forms Class with Julianna gave us three short stories to read with critical essays to write, three creative responses as essays, one on our own muse and process, a free associative writing exercise, and another on six random words and how it provokes memory.
Professional Development class gave me a smaller assignment of writing a cover letter and to research small presses, their submission processes.
Publishing Class gave me the three poems and six essays to read and review, one to copy-edit, and a mere 36 pages of a copy-editing book to read. Was there something else? Oh, I hope not.
First week. That’s all. Just a few things to take care of. So what did we all do, us students, after class on Friday? Yep, pub. We went to the pub.
And bumped into Tom. Thomas Christopher Greene that is, the President of the college.
It was all in all a good week. Now I’ve got some reading to do, forgive me. I’ve got to go.
Starting graduate school as a grown up is a tad scary. I have plans though. Ways to organize my days. I thought it would help.
- Buy black chisel tipped markers.
- Get paper 24 x 24 minimum. The local print shop gave me rolls of cut-offs.
- Tack paper to wall either near windows or under lights.
- List days of week and fill in deadlines for the next week.
- Mind-map projects, loose tangents, ideas, questions etc. The benefits of this style of brainstorming is that it’s fluid, non chronological and you can keep adding to it.
- Lastly for me, I have a list by priority of ongoing projects. It reminds me to bear in mind how important (or not) that deadline is.
- The best part? I don’t need to find my bloody glasses to read these to do lists.