4 hours ago
Thursday, August 26, 2010
I kept putting off writing a blog post thinking I'd wait until I had more time. Tonight I realize that magic day probably isn't going to happen, so I'll squeeze in the time now.
As some of you know, I entered my first semester at Vermont College of Fine Arts this past July. They have a superb MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults low residency program. Of course, hearing alumni rave about the program, talking to professors, and seeing the program ranked number one in the country isn't enough for you to truly know how your experience is going to be. For me, it was exactly what I needed.
So in July I flew off to Vermont not exactly knowing what to expect. Sure, I had a schedule, but even that turned out not to give the full picture of what a VCFA MFA residency is all about. Sure, I knew that there were faculty and graduate lectures, readings, and workshops. But I didn't know how special the graduate readings were until I went to one. The graduate is introduced by their last advisor, who talks about their two years in the program. Then the graduate begins by thanking their four advisers plus anyone else who supported them. I teared up during many of these readings and I didn't know most of the graduates well! After the introduction and the thanking they would read a sample from their creative thesis--in every case, the work was fabulous.
Every graduate must give a lecture their last residency to graduate. These lectures are on diverse topics, and are well-researched. There are usually two graduate lectures happening simultaneously, so you choose the lecture that applies most to your work (or something that you don't know much about).
There were times when I needed a break and I simply couldn't go to a graduate lecture. However, I never missed a faculty lecture since I wanted to get to know the faculty members. Lectures ranged from structural issues to voice to language.
During the residency, you are put into a workshop group with two faculty members leading each group (some smaller groups with one faculty members are available, too). You're sent copies of everyone in your group's work (20 pgs) so you have an opportunity to read and make notes before the workshop. I'll admit--I felt nervous about this most of all. For one thing, each person's work is critiqued for 50 minutes. 50 minutes. This seemed...well...long. However, I needn't have worried. The faculty make sure that everyone mentions what's working about the piece first, and they keep to the positive for awhile. Then, yes, they tear into it, but in a constructive way. Usually when I've gone to conferences there's always that one person in your group who doesn't have any tact and thinks insults are the same as critiques. There was no one like that in my group. Truly, it was the best workshop experience I had.
During the residency, you get paired up with a faculty member who will be your advisor during the coming semester. Of course, we were all nervous about it. After hearing the lectures, and getting to know the faculty, I realized I didn't have anything to worry about. Seriously, working with any of the faculty would be rewarding. So I focused on choosing faculty that would allow me to work on my novel and also write a picture book. Still, I was nervous because I had to create a semester plan. That also turned out to be easy, as my advisor converted my ramblings into cogent, intelligent ideas. Then she offered suggestions or told me when I was heading in the wrong direction.
Just in case you're thinking this is too good to be true...there must be something wrong with the program, you're right. There is. And that would be the dorms.
When I arrived, the heat wave was just at its end. But it was still going on, which meant it was freaking hot and humid. I might have been able to live with the heat, but the humidity totally ruined me. The first night I didn't sleep at all. There's no air conditioning in the dorms. The dorms, in fact, are utilitarian. Or, put another way, horrible. I went searching in town for box fans that you could put in the window, but of course they were sold out. Heat wave, you know. So my roommate and I had two small fans going all the time, but it didn't help that much. The dorms that had box fans in the windows were noticeably cooler.
The other thing is that you really work hard those ten days. You're around people all the time; and you're sharing a room with someone. It is worth it--completely worth it, but it's not easy. But it shouldn't be, right?
Oh, and the food. Not always good.
But somehow the dorm, the heat, the lack of sleep, the food...it just doesn't matter. In some ways, it's a bonding experience. We all eat the same food, sleep in the same horrible rooms, and these shared experiences bring you together. Even if it's to go to town to escape the rooms and the food and the heat.
Once I got home, I started working on my first packet. That includes two essays (short, 2-3 pgs
Since I'm continuing to work during the day, many of my evenings and weekends are now going to this MFA program. So...I'm afraid that this blog will continue to be neglected. I will not be doing the Writers' Well until my schedule opens up. Unfortunately, I won't be able to read enough blogs to make it interesting. Every now and then I'll check in. In the meantime, I hope you all have pleasant writing journeys.