The alarm rang too early. Despite falling behind and entirely forgetting to make the final dinner for the yoga retreat, in record time I got five pots of water boiling, found a container of fettucini, some trail mix to sprinkle on a green salad, and foraged tomatoes from various corners of the kitchen for a sauce. All this despite the meddling hands of kindhearted (but hungry) yogis. When the alarm rang too early, I had almost conquered my dream.
Last night was the start of the MFA program. I was nervocited (Esme's word) all day at the office. By the time I got through the evening orientation, the cocktail hour at a nearby hotel, and then up the 405 back to the Valley, I was beat with shaky energy. Like a steaming teapot spout, I spewed everything out to Darby that I could remember of the day, and then fell into a fitful sleep of lumpy pillows, boney shoulders, cramped feet, and forgotten yoga retreat meals. And at 6:00 a.m. the alarm.
But, despite it all -- meaning, despite myself -- I am optimistic. I am hesitantly encouraged by the tone of last night's orientation. We are to have mentors, the presenting faculty said, and if we don't know what questions to ask, the mentors, we are told, will help us to find direction. We are to have different mentors every semester. This is to ensure that we are nurtured into becoming our own artist, not a mini version of any particular writer. Each of us has a unique gift to offer, and having a variety of mentors, they tell us, will help us discern what advice/guidance we need to develop our own voice. And during this intense ten-day residency, they tell us, we should call home, we should eat well, we should get exercise, take time for ourselves, journal, meditate, skip seminars, be a whole, healthy person.
All this information -- the reason for different mentors, the urging to take walks -- made little fireworks go off in different places of my psyche. At Berklee where I studied music ten years ago, the modus operandi was completely the opposite: Sacrifice for your art. Run yourself ragged. Two to six a.m. recording sessions, grab a disco nap, and then back to class at nine. Perform and record as much as possible, help out your fellow students on their projects, smoke cigarettes to break up the sessions, drink coffee to stay awake, eat donuts when you're hungry. And on the academic front, write hit songs according to the usual formula: V C V C B C. Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, and Phil Ochs had no place in the noisy practice room halls of Berklee College of Music.
Berklee was a grand experience. I don't regret it for a minute, but it took years after graduating to settle into a healthy balance. Antioch is showing different colors. Holistic, integrated colors. Colors that meld with the painting of my current life, guided by balance and physical health, sunshine, and joy. As I write this morning, I am eating fruit from the platters they set out in the student lounge. First seminar -- Reading Like a Writer -- begins in twelve minutes. Onward to Day 2.
I'm thankful for my swim lessons earlier this year. They taught me how to breathe while in over my head and overwhelmed with sensation -- and how not to drown. This summer, the metaphor of breathing, learning how staying afloat, and understanding when to open my mouth or keep it closed helped me immensely during the most challenging moments of my stepparenting life so far. The lessons I learned in the pool were invaluable in my home, and in helping me to soften into the turbulence of teenage-hood in a blended family. The child who once laughed and loved me easily is growing, testing, changing. She is a glorious being and I am endlessly honored to be one of her parents, but being a stepparent is an interesting role. Sometimes we have it easier than anyone, but many times it's the most thankless role there is. Every Saturday when I returned to the pool, the lessons I learned there solidified. How do you go with the flow when the swimmer in the next lane is doing butterfly laps and churning up whitewater? You learn when to open your mouth, and when to keep it closed.
Now, on the cusp of a new adventure -- this week I begin the course work for my MFA in Creative Writing -- I am again thinking of the pool. I am thinking of the fear I had the first time I jumped in, of the self-consciousness I felt floundering in my beginning strokes, the fatigue that each session wrought in my limbs, the strangeness of showering and undressing in the locker room.
The 10-day residency that marks the official beginning of my work begins tomorrow at 6 p.m. I have been reading like a fiend, trying to get through the required reading and pre-residency assignments, but I have also been taking conscious time with Darby and the girls. Even as I type here, there is an unfinished game of Shrek Monopoly precariously open on the coffee table, inviting the pounce of little paw feet. I have a date with the family to finish this game tonight right after work, and hopefully the cat will not disrupt the properties. Over the next ten days I will miss bedtime stories, choir concerts, and acting class demonstrations. I will miss dinners and early morning dream-swaps with Darby.
Oh, but what will I gain? That is a mystery that is only beginning to unfold.
Meanwhile, since this is what I have been doing lately, I thought I would share with you some of the books I have been reading. Perhaps, if you have just finished your latest novel and are without another on the nightstand, you will be interested to try one of these. Never fear, my copies will be back at the library shortly.
This one -- The Awakening by Kate Chopin -- was one I have been intending to read for years. My singer/songwriter friend Rebecca Loebe claimed it was her favorite, and urged me to read it during our Berklee days. Later she later wrote a lovely, moody song titled "The Awakening by Kate Chopin" so you can probably guess this was my soundtrack through the week of reading. (Listen to the song here. Buy it here -- support indie artists!).
I think ideally I would write a blurb about each book I list, and this is something I may do in the future, but for now I have more writing/reading to finish before class tomorrow night. For now I will leave you with images, and the urge to read books.