Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Feels Like Home

Whenever we pull up in the driveway of our house, I turn to my daughter and say, "Home again, home again?" And she responds, "Jiggety jig!" Then she grins and shows her dimples.

Those are some killer dimples. If I didn't love them so much, I'd want them to disappear before high school so that there's no chance of a blonde hair-dimples-boobs combination happening when she'll be anywhere near 17 year-old boys.

Vermont College's Chapel Hall
But I digress. Home. Ahh. I am home after 11 days in Montpelier, Vermont, at my second residency at the MFA in Writing program at the Vermont College of Fine Arts. It was a packed 11 days, full of lectures, readings, workshops, walking around town, and talking--talking with other students and faculty members, about writing and the writing life, the residency itself, and books... books upon books. (Really, one of the best things about residency, I've found, is the reading list I end up compiling from everyone's fabulous suggestions. Now I'm trying to avoid Amazon like we're college students who kissed last night and don't want to talk about it.)

My first residency over the winter, I'll be honest, was a bit disappointing to me, mainly because the workshop experience wasn't all I'd hoped--though I loved the campus, the snow, the dorm rooms. (Kidding about that last one.) But as anyone who's had their writing workshopped before--meaning you've sat in a room, sometimes around a table, with several other writers like you all coming from various places of experience and ego, and listened to people critique your work--you know it can be a toss-up.

Connie May Fowler
(photo credit:
This residency, I won the workshop lottery. Really, the workshop gods (hmm.. wonder what they'd wear? Argyle socks and elbow patches? A beret?) smiled on me. We're talking laid a big ol' Miss America toothy grin on me. 

How? I was assigned to a special novel workshop led by VCFA faculty members and writers Connie May Fowler and Tom Greene, who is also the president of Vermont College. Whereas last residency I spent workshop in a basement room with only casement windows (and I'm claustrophobic), this time my workshop was held in a gorgeous, white-walled, high-ceilinged room in Chapel Hall (the photo you see above), with nearly floor-to-ceiling windows that looked out onto the quad, nearby buildings, the sky. Ah. And I'm sure this had nothing to do with the fact that one of the co-leaders of the workshop is the president of the College. God bless him.

Tom Greene
(photo credit:

I won't get into the minute details of the workshop (though if anyone's interested in them, please feel free to write and ask), but I will say that it was everything a good workshop should be: well-organized, constructive, enlightening, full of participants who'd submitted high-level work and were fully invested in each piece workshopped. And, most of all, led by faculty who were engaging, honest, invested in us, and so obviously wonderful teachers. I truly couldn't have asked for a better experience.

In addition to the rock star workshop, the line-up of Visiting Writers and industry professionals was outstanding--something I also appreciated about my first residency. In addition to readings given by these people, they also hold "informal talks," where they discuss their writing and professional lives, the industry, and whatever they feel like. We had the outstanding writer Richard Bausch (man could run his own theatre company, he's got so many voices in him), VCFA alum and writer Michael Hemery, writer and translator Maureen Freely (she translated the Nobel Prize-winning novel Snow, by Orhan Pamuk, and her descriptions of growing up in 1960s Istanbul were utterly captivating), and Ron Charles, book critic from The Washington Post (who, with Pres. Tom Greene sat in on a symposium event in which he discussed things vital to anyone pursuing a writing career in this country; it was called "The State of Fiction in America"). Poet Kathleen Graber also attended, though I didn't get to make it to any of her events.

The Visiting Writers series has quickly become one of my favorite things about residency. There's always a stellar line-up, and several chances to interact with and learn from these gifted, successful writers and eminently insightful industry professionals. Even when they're scary... like Charles talking about the chaotic state of the capricious publishing industry. (Still, these are things writers need to know.)

In addition to all this good stuff, I also got to meet and hang out with some fantastic new people. (The lovely, and hot, summer weather made for plenty of socializing outside.) Many of them were graduating from the program, in different stages in their writing careers and lives, and from all over the U.S. and around the world. I'm a "people person," just like my Grandaddy, so it was a pure treat to talk to these folks. What a wonder people are!

Back at home, I'm still processing my time in Vermont, this last residency.

Ha. Who am I kidding?

I'm chasing my 2 year-old, trying to plan her 3rd birthday party, begging my dog to forgive me for leaving her (and for that matter, for having a 2 year-old), trying to make plans and organize with my husband, who's just spent a week with a sick child (she contracted Strepp Throat while I was away), attempting to even get a tiny handle--even a pinky--on our family calendar for the rest of the summer, and debating whether it'd be neighborly to ask my back-door neighbor, an aging electric guitarist with a smoker's cough, to perhaps not rock out after 9 p.m.

Oh, and my first novel debuts September 15.

Heavens to Betsy.

But what I mean to impart is this: I am home. There is, as Dorothy so aptly put it, no place like it. And I return from Montpelier feeling, for the first time, that the Vermont College of Fine Arts is home, too.

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