Monday, June 17, 2013

Summer Residency | Final Days & Thoughts on No. 4

I always front-load my residency week because I know that by the end of the thing I'll have a hard time even sitting in chairs or concentrating on long conversations. So Friday the only task I gave myself to do that was of any consequence was to make it to workshop in the afternoon. (And the sitting in chairs part--I'd say I was only about 72% successful.)

I'd already made it to enough lectures to cover my contact hours (basically like making sure we cram a quarter's worth of classes into our week of residency), so that was an okay thing to do. Although, me being me, when I ditched out on breakfast I still felt guilty about it. Because, you know, I yam what I yam.

I made everyone take a picture in our last nonfiction workshop...

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My last fiction workshop was Sunday morning. Made them take a picture too... even had to drag in a random from the parking lot to take it for me.

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And just like that, I'm done workshopping at UCR. AND I'M SAD ABOUT IT, KIDS. Next quarter (my last quarter), I'm only taking thesis units so I won't get to be a part of the workshop process, which is when we sit and discuss each other's work and offer feedback. While workshopping can be tedious or frustrating or boring or really uncomfortable when it's not good, when it's right it's SO right. And more often than not it's been right in this program. My first time it was just really empowering to hear people talk about my story as if it was a real story... I remember feeling like who was I to have anything to say about other people's work? And now I've come to feel like that conversation, my role in it, the discussion that takes place in that room (and over email, or Skype, all the other forms it has been taking lately) is so integral to my writing process. Kind of amazing to figure out that something you've been doing alone for your whole life is really about human interaction. And to learn that you have a valuable voice in that process.

So yeah, I'm going to miss that thing--or more accurately--I'm going to continue to hang on to those connections that enable me to do that thing whether I'm in a UCR workshop or not. Because I need that shit.

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The highlight of the last evening is the graduation ceremony. Since our school is tiny (about 100 people?) it's not a cap-and-gown thing, but more of a sit at tables and listen to people give speeches thing. It's a really personal night, and then there's always a party. There are always myriad opportunities to run around with my camera and make everyone take even more pictures.

There were only about 11 graduates this time, but several of them, especially, are so dear to me. There might have been some big, drippy crying on my part. All of the speeches were just so wonderful. It was really special.

Also, I couldn't help but think about my own imminent graduation. Yeesh.

But for now: good teaching, good learning, good friends, good company. All of those things blurring together in a beautiful celebration of our attempt to make human connections with the written word.

For these people, I am thankful.

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Residency gets a big thumbs up.

If there's one picture that captures my experience this residency, it's this:

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Bless those women, and the man behind the camera. Our patient, smiling photog.

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So, this was number four. Four times I've driven myself down the long stretch of California and then taken a turn left for the desert to hang out at Nerd Camp for ten days. As I said last time, each residency has had its own challenges and comfort level. The first time I went, I spent most of the time completely terrified of everything and everyone, and most of the time hiding in my room when I wasn't in class. It was nice to let go of that fear for the second residency and know that I knew who my people were when I came back, but also to know that I really could sit down and talk to anybody and it was going to be okay. The third time I went, I had confidence about what questions to ask the visiting guests... I knew which lectures I needed to hear and I had much more of a sense of direction. I felt as though I belonged in the literary conversation, at least as someone qualified to ask and start to seek out a particular path. By that residency I knew I'd formed writing relationships that would stick with me well beyond this program.

This time was completely different again. This time I came to realize that these relationships I have aren't just centered on our work. That these people I've been at residency with have already come to be some of the most important people in my life (and, they're already not just with me when we're at residency).

On a career level, this residency felt a little like a job interview. Parts of it, at least. Certainly the one-on-one meetings with editors and guests did, when I was pitching ideas or seeking work, but at some point this time I came to notice that my time in Palm Springs has really been a long exercise in proving myself before the watchful eyes of my peers and professors, while also (on a personal level) figuring out just exactly where I fit in the literary world. Not that this means I had to be something I'm not--in fact, I feel like this is probably the first time in my life I've been able to step away from any preconceived idea people have of what I might be (something I've always struggled with, growing up and then teaching in the same small town) and just be who I am. And it's a cool thing to go somewhere fresh and be really really yourself and then have people find you competent. I don't know. Is that a strange thing to admit?

Also this residency was also a little bit tinged with sadness because I only have the one trip left. When something's about to be over, I can't help but ruin it a little by beginning to think about how it's going to end. I wasn't able to keep myself from thinking about how all things change, how time means you can't hang on to people the way you want to even if you try. Enough things in life have already shown that to be true. But I guess if I'm grateful for anything related to that, it's the fact that it meant I tried to enjoy my time while I was there as much as possible and not blow anything off. No going to bed early (even though that was stinkin' hard). No wasted opportunities in class. Sometimes time is a good motivator, and in this case it made me bolder than I think I would be otherwise. It made me ask for what I needed, and it made me say what I felt. And, maybe I cried a little.

As with all of my previous residencies, I am so glad I found this program. I'm exhausted, I have a metric ton of laundry to do... but I know I came home a changed person.

I love my school.

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