I've purposely avoided blogging about the academic side of my MFA experience. There's time for that later, if necessary, and in any case, part of my required residency work is to submit reactions/analysis of the seminars/workshops/etc. Actually, I didn't intend to necessarily blog about this residency at all. Sometimes there's no plan. Sometimes I just need to write.
Flipping through the radio stations on my way home from the Reading last night, I happened upon Krista Tippett's interview with Brene Brown on NPR's "On Being". If you haven't already caught Brown's Ted talks on Shame and Vulnerability, I highly recommend them. It feels synchronistic to have ended up in the middle of her interview last night after a difficult afternoon at school. Without realizing it, Brene Brown was exactly what I needed.
Our capacity for wholeheartedness, she says, can never be greater than our willingness to be brokenhearted. In other words, in order to experience and express our full capacity as humans (and artists), we need to entirely let go of expectation, of comparison, of perfectionism. In fact, Brown created two lists in her research on shame and worthiness and found that productivity, busyness, exhaustion, and perfectionism are incompatible with wholehearted creation and authentic joy.
Yesterday was a tough one. The first thing scheduled was a Meet the Mentors panel, in which the students had an opportunity to ask questions and get to know the working style and expectations of the mentors in the Creative NonFiction track. Afterwards, we were expected to rank in order our mentor preference and submit our list by 9 a..m. today. Although I intended, as a first semester student, to raise my hands in surrender and simply request that the committee place me where they saw fit, I left the panel presentation feeling dejected. I have fifty or sixty pages of a manuscript and many questions about how to proceed, yet it appears as though none of the mentors are willing or able to read more than twenty pages per student per month.
As I wandered out of the seminar room I felt genuinely lost. I need guidance, I felt, and was concerned that none of the mentors would be able to provide answers to my questions. Figuring the exhaustion and lack of exercise was contributing to my mood, I headed to my car to switch into walking shoes with the intention of wandering in the cemetery for a while between workshops. On my way off campus, though, I veered back into the main building, up to the fifth floor, and into the faculty offices.
"I don't know where to go with this story. How do I find the guidance I need?" I asked one of the core faculty members.
"Put your fifty or sixty pages in a drawer", she told me.
In other words, just start writing from here, from a different place. Don't worry about what I've already done, she advised. Just write the new pages, and in the process of exploring and working with the mentor I will eventually know when the time is right to take out the old pages. I'll know what to do with them then. Release my expectations and my need for perfection. No mentor can tell me the answers.
It's strange, but sometimes the same advice we've heard before suddenly takes on new meaning. Where in the past it would have been frustrating, now it sounds perfect. I need to release who I was as a writer, the control I've exercised on these pages so far, and step out into the void of unknowing, be vulnerable, surrender entirely.
Do these thoughts this morning make any sense? I don't know. Here I am, five minutes to nine, releasing control of this morning's blog. It's time for class.