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.