This counting thing is going to become tedious after a while. I hate when I do that. I start off with a really cool concept, and then realize that keeping track of it is going to be complicated. Like when I promised daily blog updates during my time here Ashland. Forget it. You’ll get every other day and you’ll like it. Or you’ll ignore it. Either way, I’m writing when I can–at least here.
Monday saw the onset of the first week of workshops here. The way the residency works is rather simple. Each student is assigned a workshop group for each week, led by one of the professors in the program. The group and professor you work with during the first week will also be your group for the upcoming fall semester. The second week’s group, I suppose, is just a good way to get you acclimated to other professors and students in the program, so that when it comes time to select preferences for the spring, you’ll have a wider idea of what you want.
In any respect, we meet daily from 9-11:45 to talk about craft and, eventually, to critique each other’s work. My professor for this week is Ruth Schwartz. She has a very different way of looking at the world, but I certainly appreciate her sensibility and wonder at the way the world works. It’s definitely different from my way of thinking, but this isn’t all bad when you’re talking about writing. One of the reasons I am in this program is because I want varied viewpoints on my writing, and I know, just a few days in, that I’m going to get that.
After the first workshop we have lunch, and then craft seminars again. Monday’s was led by Brian Doyle, the author who spoke to use the night before. It feels a little more like a performance and a reading than a seminar on craft, although we he does lead us in some fast paced, ‘just do it’ style exercises. The feeling about him, it seems, is rather mixed across the program, with a lot of the professors and students really enjoying his style and manner of expressing himself, while others express a distaste for him and his methods, both directly and through dry witticisms. I, for one, enjoy him as a speaker–so much so that I’m very interested in reading some of his writing–but don’t really think I got much from him on a craft level.
After the seminar, I hit the gym again (I’m feeling much better, even if now, after three days in a row, my legs are throbbing a bit) and relax before dinner. After dinner is a faculty reading, featuring three very different professors reading works. I can see that one of the benefits of this particular program is the diversity of the faculty. While all talented in their own way, no two are alike, and each has his or her own way of expressing what they want to say, as well as his or her own methodology or approach to getting there.
After the reading, a bunch of us who are staying in the apartment complex that is home here at Ashland build a fire in a one of those metal fire pits and sit around just talking. It’s remarkable to me how easy the conversations flow in and out of one another. You have two or three people talking to one another in small groups, but if you get lost in the noise of someone else’s conversation, you simply turn and engage with them. Nobody seems to mind intrusions. People are friendly and want to talk; but they also want to hear your stories, your thoughts, your ideas. Everything. It is such an acceptance. It is fascinating and exhilarating.
Tuesday runs much the same way. This morning Ruth began our workshop by having us focus on some random things she found on the ground on her way in–sticks, feathers, an old shoe lace, and so forth–and then challenges us to write about it. What it is, what it was, where it came from. Again, this is a completely new way of thinking for me, but I found the exercise very interesting and saw, even on my first attempt, how it stretched my skills, forcing me to find meaning in a stick or an tattered shoe lace.
After lunch (you’re following the pattern…like I said…schedule is key here), is another craft seminar, but this one turns into more of a W.B. Yeat’s appreciation group, which I cannot be a part of because I don’t know enough of Yeat’s work to actually appreciate him. The “craft” element of the seminar is lost in its brevity (this one was only an hour), still there is something engaging about listening to people who know a lot about a subject and are thrilled by it pontificate on the concepts for a while. Undaunted, I hit the gym again (another new PR, this time in dead lifts at 355#), then wander over to a local Starbucks and Walmart for a few necessities before dinner and another faculty reading marked by, yet again, the catastrophic variations in writing and presentation styles. I will confess I am mentally playing favorites. The bookstore will be loving all the money they’ll be getting from me before I leave.
In other news, being surrounded by such a glorious conglomeration of writers has spurred me on. So far, I’ve written two short nonfiction essays, with thoughts of applying for the dual discipline trajectory the program offers, as seeing all these gifted nonfiction writers has stirred something in me I wasn’t fully aware of until now. In addition, I’ve written a few new poems, as I continue to grapple with my own insecurities and confusions the only way I know how. On the other hand, I have decided that what I want most out of this program is to help me figure out how to keep my voice and style intact, all while expanding my ability to connect with my reader. This, I believe, is the main ingredient missing in my writing, and as I work towards the end goal of my own book by July of 2015, I truly hope this is a skill I can continue to hone with the help of this tremendous faculty.
Oh, and please feel free to drop me a line via texts or Facebook. As you can see, we are moving fairly constantly around here, but I’ll do my best to get back to you as soon as I can. Thanks to everyone who’s following and reading along. Your support is unmerited, but very much appreciated. Now just promise me you’ll buy my book in a few years when it comes out 🙂