Monday, July 26, 2010

Articles of Faith

I've just returned from the 10-day summer residency for my MFA program—an experience that is always exhilarating and exhausting in almost equal parts. Just imagine the energy of over 100 writers—whose work is done in isolation—contained on a small island where every meal is shared, every morning is spent examining and discussing and defending our work, every afternoon is devoted to seminars on some element of our craft, every night is given over to socializing. It's a wonder that cinderblock dormitory is still standing on the 11th day.

One thing is certain: few of us leave that island without having shifted in some way. Another thing is certain: when many are gathered for a condensed period of time to grapple with the bare difficulties of writing, it is inevitable that conflict will erupt, feelings will get hurt, tempers will flare.

The centerpiece of every evening on that island are the readings by our faculty. They are held in the largest space on the island, the chapel with its crucifix, its religious icons—the Stations of the Cross, carvings of saints, some I cannot name because I'm not Catholic—its hard wooden pews designed to make one confront the bare difficulties of faith. Because I am not Catholic, because the closest thing I have to a religion is the craft of writing, I spend some certain part of each reading considering my faith—the quality of it, the mysteries of it, the challenges, the rewards.

Four times I have been to the island and four times I have been changed. Four times I have received some blessing that informs my writing and transforms me as a writer.

This time is was this: "Achieve Excellence Daily. Create."

Thus spake Da Chen—who I am proud to claim as my mentor and friend. It was one line from his seminar on memoir...could it be just two days ago? Yes, two days ago.

Achieve Excellence Daily. Create.

And so, to work.

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