The People in My Neighborhood: MFAland

The Daily Life Text

I love sport. I love doing it, training for it. I love introducing friends to it.

I love race day. I love the pre-race energy; I love the random camaraderie that springs up on the course. (People ask how you’re doing; people help each other with transition areas; people give each other race food or water when a hard bonk happens.)

I love most of all watching people I know and care about cross the finish line.

I love writing. I love the process. I am learning about the craft. I love the hours when I am in the moment and banging out something I care about.

I love encouraging people to find their voices. I love watching a writer use his voice effectively, when he finally finds it. I love seeing people I know and care about publish the work they’ve worked over and over until this phrase, or that, linchpins the whole thing together.

This past February a Whidbey MFA graduate posted that there was a triathlon the day before residency, and would some of us like to do it with her? Several of us signed up. Hell, we thought, we don’t have a football team, why not do a triathlon together?

So we did it.

I didn’t come to MFAland to make friends. I came because something was or is inherently broken in my writing, and because I needed motivation. I know all too well that when your critique partners become your friends, or when you ask friends to be your critique group, you might run into problems.

But as I watched people I know and now love cross the finish line, and as we celebrated a classmate’s first-ever publication last semester, and as I goggled at the numbers of fellow MFA students and staff who were not racing but who came to cheer and feed us beer and cheese after, and as we mourned the death of a classmate’s brother and another classmate’s close friend, something clicked: You cannot embark on things you love, and invite people in, and not make friends.


On Whidbey

The Daily Life Text

On the island I am covered in words. They are pestery things: it’s a little bit like the imagery and acquaintance conjured up when he said he woke up “covered in a Wookie coat” of mosquitos.

This is not as bad as a Wookie coat of mosquitos, but these words, they pique and annoy. I wake up with them rolling around my brain, which means I wake up feeling like I’ve been in a bowling alley all night. I roll over and notice I’ve burritoed myself into the covers of the ginormous bed I’m in here at the guest house we’re renting.

As I’m trying to get out, I push away the novel I’m studying for my thesis class, it being what I love to fall asleep to, and the crinkling noise tells me that I’ve rolled onto the jewelry catalog a friend has brought for me to peruse. I love the words in this catalog; they are throwaway ones, meant to evoke orgies of consumption.

The walk to the bathroom is only a few feet–two steps and I’m there; another step and I’m in front of the sink–but I can’t seem to make the distance without a book in my hand. I grope around under the covers–ah! there it is, the slim volume of poetry I’ve become interested in lately–and crack open a random page as I take the one, two, three steps to the sink.

The vanity to the sink is large enough that I can set the book down while I’m brushing my teeth and washing my face, but I’m mid-poem now, and I don’t want to end it yet, so I stand in front of the mirror with the book in one hand, and try with the other to squeeze the toothpaste and brush my teeth while I’m reading the poem. It’s not a pretty sight, but it is a nice poem.

I cannot do this while I am washing my face.

Today we are on day 7. Yesterday was graduation day. It was lovely and I cried a lot, but that’s OK. I was really moved by the charge to the students and our friend Mandy’s response, and I it occurred to me that maybe the reason I get so weepy at these things is because we all know what the graduates have been to to get to this culmination of skill and diligence.

It’s a gorgeous morning out as I type, and I’m feeling the need to get up and about. I have a thesis meeting in a half hour or so, and then tomorrow I have to go back to managing the workday as well as managing my own writing.

In short, it’s just another workweek. But here, the work feels like a definite unwelcome intrusion.