Sunday, July 10, 2011

Me and the MFA - Part 2

I’m here. At Hamline. An MFA student, carrying my bag of books and my (very busy) schedule around with me. Scurrying off to the library, taking a million notes in every lecture, meeting and talking with someone new every day. I’ve been here 3 days and it feels like two weeks already. They call this an “immersion” program and they’re right. I’m so fully immersed that I can hardly imagine the world back home!

Mind you, I nearly didn’t get here, no thanks to Virgin Australia airlines. Their staff’s behaviour at Melbourne airport was so unbelievable that even now I can hardly credit their “so sad, too bad” attitude.

Imagine setting off on one of the most important things in your life, knowing how vital it is to be there on time and not miss the first day, where so many crucial things occur. And then to be told you’ve been taken off your connecting flight (with no consultation) and you should just “go home and come back tomorrow”. No attempt to help you get on another flight or advise you what else you can do. Thank goodness for my terrific travel agent who rebooked me so I arrived only 6 hours late.

Virgin, I hope you feel my wrath through the airspace. Won’t forget, doubt I will forgive.

But I digress. Once here, I was able to finally relax. The first day was the all-important orientation, first introductory session, library session, Q&A – all that stuff that totally sets you up with everything for the course. Without it, I’d be floundering and way behind on everything.

I’m excited about the resources that Hamline offers online. The library class showed me all the books, but since I’ll be 12,000km away, it also showed me how to use the databases and online resources. On Day 2, when we had a session on how to write a critical essay, I could see how vital that online library will be for me.

I’m excited about the workshopping! Over the years, the workshops I’ve been in, both as a teacher and a writer, have often focused more on nitpicking the piece of writing, paragraph by paragraph. Here, the emphasis is on discussing the core elements of character and plot and voice, examining structure and creating an in-depth conversation about what questions the piece answers and what questions it raises. It’s a different approach and one I am already enjoying. No need to copy-edit (and how I hate having to do that and point out errors, simply because it sucks up so much time).

Of course, I’m nervous about my turn (in two days time) but I’m also looking forward to it.

This residency, the focus is on plot, so we’ve had two lectures on this already. The one yesterday brought in elements of structure, but in a more defined way, and plenty of new ideas that I will think about later (there will be many things for me to ponder later as all this new knowledge sinks in). Today’s lecture was on plot in picture books and for the first time, I understood how plot can work beyond the problem-based story. Sure, those other kinds of plots are harder to write, but when you get them right, they still work.

I’m excited to be among such a great bunch of writers. This is the thing about courses like this – for a period of time, you are among those who understand what it is that you are trying to do. We’re all here, on the same track, working hard to increase our skills and write something amazing. Everyone here shares. Everyone (even, or especially, the faculty) knows how hard this is, but also how worthwhile it is, and how much it means.

As one of the faculty said on the first day: “We are all in the same place when we start a new story, not knowing if it will work, or how to make this one work.”

As always, I’m on squirrel watch. (I take photos of squirrels everywhere I go!) So far, the count is 3 squirrels and 4 rabbits. I haven’t been fast enough to get a squirrel photo yet, but I will!


Aimee said...

I don't know which to be more jealous of, your residency or your proximity to squirrels! (My tip for getting good photos: carry nuts with you everywhere - I found the $1 packs of raw almonds from Walgreens particularly handy to keep in my handbag. The greedier ones won't be able to resist stopping for a nibble.)

Lorraine said...

It all sounds great, Sherryl, especially after your hectic trip.

Peter Pearson said...

So glad you found your way to us, Sherryl. Hopefully all the airplane shenanigans were worth it!

Sherryl said...

Aimee - didn't think to use my stash of cashews! But saw 12 squirrels by the end of the stay.

Sherryl said...

They sure were, Peter. And I wouldn't have wanted to miss your great performance at the talent share either!