7/19/2009

Two Weeks

Two Weeks until the premier of "MFA II: Return of the Dream"

Sequels are usually not as interesting as the first movies, especially if they're mid-arc of a trilogy, so perhaps it's better to say "MFA II: Do Over!" but that just sounds like I'm ripping off Robin Hemley's new memoir.

The story thus far - last year I applied to three MFA programs, all low residency and was accepted into all three. Technically, I guess I applied for four MFAs, since last minute I decided to add to my VCFA non-fiction application by applying also to their Writing for Young Children and Adults program. I was wait-listed on two programs (word to the wise - apply early for the best possible slots), but VCFA had spots for me in both the non-fiction program and the children's writing program.

Since I needed to start somewhere at VCFA, I decided to enroll into the children's writing program. I don't know that much about writing for children, definitely not as much as I know about memoir, so it seemed logical at the time. I had a fabulous time at the residency, met lots of cool folks, got lined-up to work with a fantastic mentor. In fact, right now my cohort, the Thunder Badgers are just wrapping their third residency as I type this. I'll always have good memories of last summer.

I needed that residency badly. I hadn't been in a writing community for years and I was dry and crackly from the lack of contact. As I read more and more about Kapwa-tao, an indigenous Filipino term meaning community-self that describes the interaction and interdependency we all possess, I understand that my drive to be at residency has to do with kapwa-tao. Writing is solitary and often people think that once a piece is finished and has an audience, then the circle of giving and receiving is complete. In certain ways, I agree, but that's only from the perspective of the piece. For me as a writer, there is another circle completed when I'm around other artists doing the same things I'm doing, facing the same challenges, and looking at the world in a particular way.

I get close to that circle when I hang out with art-activist-performers, but there's a certain point I've found where writing departs from performance, especially the sort of improv-performing of Gene Tagaban and Swil Kanim. Performing is reflective, but the timing is incredibly fine, the moments fleeting. If you miss a cue long enough to realize you miss a cue, then you can only go back to that moment in a new performance, one you hope will give you that same space again. Most times, the missed cues are so quick that they don't register. Writing is different that way. You can miss a cue and go back to it in the exact same moment because it's there hovering on the page. The more you work the art, the more cues you can see to either fix or just delete. But that takes a different set of skills, a different way of looking at art, and a good community of writers can support that process, just because they know that's what the art is all about.

In some ways, what I've written isn't completely true - revision in workshop is a lot like performing in multiple spaces. The audience shifts, might have a different level of skill, might be looking for a particular voice - this is the same for both performance and writing. But there is something different between performers and writers, maybe having to do with the isolation part, the place where they work their art out. Or maybe it's just the way I roll. In any case, hanging out with performers has been close to what I'm looking/hoping for when I go to a writing workshop, but there's nothing like the energy of the writing workshop.

Two weeks from today, I'll step into the PLU Rainier Writing Program summer workshop, get my dorm room set up, fuss with my materials, feel lost in a new space, wonder if I'll make new friends, wonder if the faculty will like my work, wonder if I'll talk too much or talk too little. I'll likely push myself too hard for the first few days then ease into a pace. I'm hoping not to crash in the middle, but 10 days of writing is intense. I can only imagine what my friend Chie is experiencing with six weeks straight at Clarion West. Somewhere toward the end of the residency I'll be matched up with my mentor-for-a-year. I have an idea/hope of who I might work with. Just from looking at the faculty, I know a couple who I've worked with before and they would be great to work with again. That sort of takes the surprise out of it, but there's comfort in knowing who I might work with.

Today I begin the fussy stuff - getting my workshop commenting done, choosing my workshops (at least first blush), gathering up little comforts (small fan, first aid kit, pix of the family). I'm excited and nervous - many things went right with MFA I, many things went wrong. I'm overly worried about the 'many things wrong' but even that is easing and I'm hopeful for the many things right. I've got messages in my pocket from my performing mentors - Gene and Swil Kanim both speak about doing/being what we are made to do/be. I'm very grateful to Raven and Frog for their wisdom for it gives both an acknowledgment to a uniqueness as well as a reminder to be responsible, all wrapped up in the joy and fun of honor.

A few loose ends to wrap up today too - finishing up the Tao Po! writing workshop, posting to the Babaylan Files, and such. Busy busy summer, but all in all, it's going just grand.