Today, we have another guest blogger, Edmund Schubert, a first semester fiction student, to give us the scoop on what it’s like to dig into your first residency. Edmund has already become a beloved addition to our MFA family. From his extensive knowledge of Star Wars (a really impressive trait to a certain Associate Director) to his inability to meet a stranger, Edmund immediately felt like he had always been a part of the program. Need an emcee for the student reading? Call Edmund, who will have wacky introductions and a deadpan delivery of each. Need someone to write a clever and charming essay about his time at Converse? Call Edmund. Or in this case, email him. Which is what I did.
Getting It Right: The Story of a Residency
I’m starting at the end, because that’s a viable way to tell a story. Hook your readers with the penultimate moment of action or drama, then rewind and show them how it all began, then hit them with the big finish. In this case, that penultimate moment of action is me, in my first residency for Converse College’s MFA Program, standing in the middle of the college campus. It’s June 8, 2017, and there’s only one day left. I’m loving it so much that I’m already thinking about how I can’t wait to come back for the next residency. The Winter Residency is held at a hotel in town, not on campus like the Summer Residency, but it doesn’t matter: I just can’t wait to get back to this environment and these people and immerse myself again in the craft of writing and surround myself with all the phenomenal people who are part of this program—teachers and students alike.
On the other hand, maybe I won’t jump to the beginning. Maybe next I’ll do something different and unexpected. One of the books my current mentor assigned me to read and analyze is The Things They Carried, by Tim O’Brien. The Things They Carried is a brilliant piece of writing and story-telling (two skills that are not the same thing at all), and through it I realized the potency of non-linear story-telling, so let’s do that instead and jump to the middle of this tale, wherein I’m watching the whirlwind poetry professor do a dervish-dance around the main lecture hall while guiding us through something she calls radical revision. She’s got us rewriting an exercise she just had us compose about a happy memory, only now we’re turning the details of that same event into a tragic memory. The power of perspective. A radical revision indeed.
Even further backward in time we go now, before the beginning, where I’m trying to decide where I want to go to get my MFA. I want—scratch that, write a second draft… I need to connect with real human beings, so a strictly online program is out of the question. But I also have two teenagers in college, too, so quitting my job and going back to school full-time is even less of an option. Low-residency, it is then. Converse’s MFA program is the best of both worlds: on campus for four residencies, home for four semesters. Then one graduating residency, where I pass along an idea or two to the newer students, some nuggets of value that I’ve picked up along the way.
The residencies: ten days on campus, surrounded by other people who love words like I do, immersed in the craft of writing, attending readings by visiting and fulltime teachers, student readings, late night bull sessions, meals and drinks and library marathons writing/proofing/printing, plus workshops and feedback. (Is it any wonder I can’t wait to get back?)
The first day was daunting. I was late to my first meeting with my first-semester mentor. Great first impression, huh? Day two was smoother. Turns out the fastest way from the dining hall to the main lecture hall is to follow my fellow students, people who’ve been there before. They’re more than happy to help. My roommate even gave me copies of stories and critical papers and all sorts of documents so I could have templates to work from.
And now it’s over and I’m home. This is the part that comes after the end of the story about my first residency. I’m writing short stories and chapters of a novel and reading books and books and books, books I would never have read on my own, and God how did I get this far in life without having read this amazing book? Where’s the next one? What should the next one be? For the record, I have a reading list of ten books to read this semester. I also have to write a four page paper about each one. I write between fifteen and twenty-five pages of new fiction for each packet that I submit to my mentor, and I have to submit five packets each semester.
But the most important number of all?
Only 127 days left until I go back again…