Whatever you think about the MFA, my own feelings change hourly, the whole “event” was extended time. Like two years of summer in Alaska, the program lit up opportunities to write, read, and think about writing. And, maybe most important, to talk about writing.
A summer session with Lisa Fishman—spent reading diaries, letters, notes, and even “scratchings” (found handwriting)—made the whole project of finding time after the MFA appear possible. In this class, I fell deeply in love with what would become my personal scholarship: manicula and marginalia. Magically—and because of my own personal devotion to her work, scholarship, and teaching—I also sat next to Ames Hawkins. Hawkins’ nonfiction, memoir writing, and transgenre work pushed me and pushed me to tap into experience as part of the writing process, to recognize that a poem need not look like a poem at all.
But the program did end.
From my mentors: James Thomas Stevens, in undergrad, shared that he woke up early and dedicated an amount of time to writing. Practice. Stevens always emphasized reading, practice, and work. In my own teaching, I remind students that none of this (writing and reading) is particularly natural or innate; I use excerpts from Maryanne Wolf’s Proust and the Squid to talk about scholars who echo Steven Pinker’s claim that “Children are wired for sound, but print is an optional accessory that must be painstakingly bolted on.” Lisa Fishman mentioned that there were whole days spent writing—her son stayed with Rick or Henry while she wrote. It was important that she shared this, important that she alleviated any guilt women might feel writing. Tony Trigilio shared research, the activities behind writing. Hours in the archives, hours with primary texts, hours compiling before composition. Trigilio poked at the myths that all poets are writing personal work or are divinely inspired. The work before a poem can be heavy, can be academic, and can require just as much time (if not more) than the actual composition.
Yet, even with these three examples of writers making time and honoring time, most conversations tip toe around the “writing time” matter as if time appears in the dresser drawer while picking out clothes.
Because I loved teaching—the work, research, reflection, and performative act—I let my bursts of time become pedagogy building, student-centered, and invested in their work/words/wants. Mothering is the same and, for my type-A personality, requires as much research. I see myself dropping the morning hours Stevens suggested, feeling guilty about not playing with Avery, and forgetting to use my research for my own compositions. All the advice fell apart.
I didn’t hear the prior: it’s not easy.
So I’m looking for my own strategy. We’re moving into a new apartment today and I’m stomping around, looking for the right place to push a desk against a wall and claim time.