Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Small Cakes

Perhaps it's because I've just come back from the 10-day summer residency for my MFA program—with what feels like a burgeoning summer cold—and the reality of the final semester looms large.

Perhaps it's because the Wondergrandchild is halfway around the world in South Africa, a trip she left on while I was gone, a trip I envy and which thrills me because just imagine that!

Perhaps it's the heat and humidity and the cicadas buzzing.

Perhaps it's that my mother-in-law is in the hospital, admitted for kidney stones and an infection, and is now dealing with sepsis.

Perhaps it is all of that, though I'm willing to consider that the underlying issue for my malaise is that I'm working on completing a first draft of The Memoir and I realize how much there is yet to do. No matter the reason, there is this: I am edgy, on edge, feeling as if my center is not quite holding.

But there is also this: Mr. Handsome Man has taken position on the section of desk I've designated "the editing room." He's sprawled out, appearing deep in sleep until I begin marking up the pages at which point he maneuvers his upper body onto the paper, wanting only to be as close as he can. His closeness is designed to keep me seated, available, working.

He needs me to stay with him as much as I need to stay with the work. But there are cicadas and there is the summer heat and there is the idea of one I love so dearly being so far away and there is the fact that one I love in a different way is in pain and there is the fear that I am not quite up to the task at hand.

Is it any wonder, therefore, that I keep thinking that operating a cupcake truck would be an easier way to live?

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.