Ode to the Low-Residency Converse College MFA Program
I am always seeking the next high. I do not mean the kind that comes from pretty pastel pills in prescription bottles or that a descent into drugs has driven me to destitution. I mean the artistic high, the peak of creativity, that next period of days or weeks or even months where I am not only driven mad with thirst to write but also possess an endless emotive well and enough sources of energy to sustain that kind of maddened writing.
This is not a post about daily dedication to wordsmithing or the occasional drudgery that building a life manipulating language demands. This is a post about the magical meeting places of minds or ideas or particular people that we as artists are gifted only so often, that we dare not ever take for granted, waste, or worst of all, forget about when we have wandered off a peak and back into a valley.
In late May/early June of this year, I traveled to Converse College in Spartanburg, SC (a small, sleepy town of surprising and vibrant creative energies) for the second residency of my MFA program. The days that followed--living, breathing, speaking (though sometimes not speaking at all was just as good and necessary, too), and sharing with fellow artists--brought me to such a high that a month and a day later, I am still elated and shaking and bursting with it.
At my first residency this past January, everyone described to me the magic of the Converse experience, that in fact people have met, fallen in love, and divorced because of the intensity of the days we spend together in the program (What could be more wild and writerly than that?!). However, I thought to myself, Uh huh, sure, we'll see...At that time, my well was dry and my energies withering. Then the magic happened to me. I too fell in love--with Converse and every single person there immersed in the same experience.
This time around, I got to see not only the people from the first residency (some of them graduated now and already greatly missed), but also met a new set of students and visiting faculty. Every day we all rose early from our dorm rooms--yes, you read that right, downed strong coffee, learned in lectures, participated in workshops, lost ourselves in the evening readings, drank too much, read not nearly enough, scribbled lines of poetry and character sketches in the charged seconds between scheduled sessions, and sipped the ingenuity that flowed from every present mouth possible at every moment possible. It felt like coming home; it felt like setting off on a new adventure.
And what do you do when you leave such an intimate and inspiring experience? Cry? Of course. Feel like you have a half-dozen phantom limbs reaching out in different directions to those people who are no longer right beside you? Certainly. Do you tumble off the peak into the darkness of the valley? Maybe, however slowly that inching descent, but I hope not.
I hope you stay connected to the places and people who fill you up. I hope you are continually seeking, have the insight to recognize that you can have this feeling again. You can make it last. You can discover new sources that feed your creativity when old ones no longer serve. Most of all, realize the power and importance of your personal brilliance. Own that you have something to say that needs to be said and can be said through your work alone. I hope you create a life of highs. I know that is very much my mission, one that I have intentionally pursued every day after leaving this latest residency.
My writing is better because of others. My world is better because of others. I am better because of others. Thank you, Converse, for refilling my well yet again and for giving me the gift of so many of the people there who continue to pour in daily drops or even weekend-long doses of the energies that I need to keep madly going with my maddening writing. I can only hope that I am magic for you, too.
All my love,